God as Donald Trump: Trying to Make Sense of Praise and Worship (part 2)

God as Donald Trump: Trying to Make Sense of Praise and Worship (part 2) August 23, 2018

Why is praise and worship a thing within Christianity? What god would need or want praise? God demanding worship is like Kim Il Sung (or Donald Trump) demanding worship.

Let’s continue with Christian apologists’ justifications for praise and worship of God (part 1 here).

2. Because God’s relationship to us is analogous to those of other people whom we praise

Many Christians point to people we praise—our parents or our children, for example—and then imagine an analogy with God. Let’s look at these human relationships to see if the analogy holds up. Pay close attention to the verbs used in these relationships.

Your relationship can be to someone nominally lower in status—your children, your employee, or someone serving you (like a flight attendant, wait person, or barista). You might praise, love, or congratulate your child. You might praise or thank your employee or server. But this has nothing to do with worship.

Your relationship can be to someone nominally equal in status—like your neighbor or romantic partner. You might love or adore your spouse (and obviously, that’s romantic love). You might respect, appreciate, or thank your neighbor. Praise might fit in, but it does have a hint of superiority. If I’m praising you, I’ve put myself in the role of a judge, and I’ve judged your behavior to be noteworthy. Here again, we see a poor fit to one’s relationship with God in that there is no worship.

Finally, your relationship can be to someone nominally higher in status—your parents, your boss, or a celebrity (like a well-known actor, politician, or scientist). You might honor, respect, or even revere your parents. You might celebrate or congratulate a politician or scientist. Here, again, praise has its place, but it’s used sparingly. “Jim, I’m impressed by how quickly you finished up that last job” works if Jim is your employee or son. But if Jim is your boss, this might sound like flattery (unless it quickly moves on to a larger discussion). The risk of flattery rises the more often you say it.

The best case for praise might be with a celebrity who doesn’t know you (“Senator, your getting that bill out of committee for a vote was brilliantly handled!”). Flattery wouldn’t be a risk assuming they were in no position to benefit you. Worship is possible with those higher in status more so than any other relationship, but we universally see this as a dysfunctional relationship. This is the domain of dictators.

Look at the verbs used in healthy human relationships. Not only is worship not one of them, but praise is primarily used when talking to a subordinate—your child or employee, for example. Inverting that relationship can be weird. You can praise your boss, but that tricky element of judgment comes into it. “I’ve evaluated your performance, boss,” you say, “and a couple of points stand out. I’d like to go over them, if you’ve got a moment.”

A heartfelt paragraph with sincere praise every now and then would probably be well received. Much more, however, and it sounds like flattery. And if it’s weird praising up in the domain of human relationships, imagine praising God.

One response might be that “praise” isn’t really the precise word for whatever it is you’re supposed to do to God, but if not “praise,” then what? You wouldn’t know it’s a poor fit looking at church signs and Christian parlance.

Let’s return to the Christian defense of the idea that God is way, way higher than any person and so deserves or demands way, way more praise:

God is inherently infinitely greater than we are. He created the universe. He gave us life (as parents also do in a lesser sense). He loves us and blesses us in so many ways. So we praise Him and worship Him for Who He is. . . .

[We can agree] that respect would be appropriate. . . . I don’t think it’s inconceivably far from that to conceptualize worship, in proportion to how great a Being is. (Source)

So we start with human relationships but then crank the dial to ∞. It’s like the relationship of you to your father (or spouse or employee) except infinitely more so.

But “more so” how? Take your relationship with your father, then imagine your father becoming more sage-like so that human failings fall away. He’s now very wise, very patient, very knowledgeable, and so on. Now make him more sage-like than any person. Now more than any sage of fiction. Now make him perfect, godlike.

We’ve stretched the you/father relationship to its limit, and it could change in two ways. First, your praise and adulation could stretch to fill the gap. You go from giving your father appreciation, respect, and thanks to giving him praise, adoration, and worship. This is the Christian logic in defense of worship.

But it could happen another way, a more reasonable way. An ordinary father might like a little adulation now and then, but as he travels this progression from ordinary person to sage to god, those human desires fall away. Donald Trump might say, “I liked that; tell me again how great I am!” but no sage worthy of the label would, and no perfect god would tolerate praise and worship. Instead, they’d coach humanity into a more mature relationship. They’d leave behind a static relationship built on worship, as summarized by the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Instead, it would be a dynamic relationship focused on human society learning and growing.

The Christian response will be that, like it or not, worship is central to humanity’s relationship to God and that the Bible and tradition confirm this. But they are convicted by their own analogy. That Christians see their god as a petty Bronze Age tyrant rather than a wise sage is more evidence that Christianity is manmade.

Continued in part 3.

the most inconsistent, the most monstrous
and blasphemous representations of God
that can possibly be conceived by the human mind
— deist Minister Joseph Barker,
referring to the Bible (1854)

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Image via Pixabay, CC license

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • God is the ultimate dictator.

  • RichardSRussell

    Oh, WORship! Ha, ha, ha, here I thot you were talking about WARship, which is much more consistent with the God everybody raves about.

    • Ficino

      The Yamato!

      • epicurus

        Which is also sunk, sitting at the bottom of the ocean, hmmm.

  • Michael Neville

    There’s another superior-inferior relationship, that between a bully and a victim. Sometimes a victim will suck up to a bully in hopes of lessening or preventing the bullying. Since the Christian god is notorious for threatening punishment for the slightest infractions of his often arbitrary rules, kissing his ass might deflect spending eternity in Hell.

  • eric

    My turning away from religion was a slow process of many straws being added on. But one of the bigger straws was, during confirmation, having some bishop whom I’d never met and meant nothing to me come in for the ceremony, and being forced to kneel and kiss his ring. I’ve respected – and therefore treated with respect – many pastors. But any organization that demanded that sort of gesture, to someone you don’t know…well let’s just say it made an impression on me.

  • Pofarmer

    So this is OT, but I’ll take good news where I can find it. SSM Health, the Catholic chain out of St. Louis is selling two of it’s hospitals, including the one local to me, to University Hospital Group out of Columbia, MO. I just learned that they are selling their Maryville, MO facility to Mosaic Healthcare out of St. Joseph, MO as well. So much for not having secular health care. I can’t wait for the crucifixes to leave.

    • Kevin K

      Seems as if there’s a move afoot to sell off not-for-profit hospitals to for-profit entities. My little corner of Eden has the same thing happening; the Catholic hospital is being sold to a for-profit group.

      Frankly, I don’t see it as being a net benefit. With the possible exception of getting the goddamned priests out of the ob-gyn clinic.

      • Pofarmer

        With the possible exception of getting the goddamned priests out of the ob-gyn clinic.

        Absolutely.

    • Just a business decision? I wonder if the financial problems of the Catholic church nationwide are forcing this retrenchment.

      • Pofarmer

        I always thought the Catholic hospitals were separate from the church proper. I’m not sure how that works. The group in question is SSM hill.

    • Greg G.

      I’m sure the crucifixes will be gone the day it becomes a Jewish hospital.

      • epeeist

        I was listening to the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. This was a special edition covering the pope’s visit to the Republic of Ireland.

        The RCC has its fingers (or perhaps its whole arm) into education and health care in the Republic, however it is being mooted that this may start to change.

        I find it amusing that the pope was greeted by a prime minister who is openly gay.

        • al kimeea

          The news mentioned the last time The Nipple-headed Old Man in a Funny Dress visited Ireland being gay was a crime

        • epeeist

          No contraception or divorce either. The last blow was the referendum in favour of abortion, albeit fairly restricted.

  • Kevin K

    I’ve been in the position of being the object of deserved respect.

    I would be appalled if that respect turned into anything close to “worship”. Any mature individual (contra the narcissistic Cheeto living in Washington DC) would reject worship as being demeaning to the worshiper and a degradation of earned respect. I can’t imagine the gods thinking worship is a useful or beneficial thing.

  • Bob Jase

    What has god ever done to be praised for? He’s never had to work for anything let alone struggle for anything. He isn’t educated, never needed to study or take a test, never been told by a superior that he wasn’t living up to his potential. And he certainly hasn’t been able to form any close relationships with anyone – if you listen to his worshippers he’s an inconsistant, petty, indecisive schizophrenic who creates universes in six days in his manic phase yet can’t correct the problem of evil no matter how much time he’s given.

  • Len

    If you praise God the way Christians want you to, then you’ve either put yourself in a position to judge him and you’ve found him worthy of that praise, or you’re praising him because he told you to (eg, because he says he’s so great) so you’re just pandering to a bully.

  • These religious practices were developed when kings ruled. Reading about the colonists in America, they praised their king, whom they referred to as a benefactor. The king financed their trip to America and “granted” them land to farm, but they had to send a percentage of the produce back to England in order to repay their debt. After farming the land for an obligatory amount of time, it became theirs. Of course, it cost the king nothing to grant this land to them as it was his only by having claimed it, not by purchasing it or earning it in any way. The king wasn’t really a benefactor, yet this is how the colonists saw him (in the beginning, anyway).

    In many ways, this was a holdover from ancient times when people thought that kings were minor deities. The invisible gods demanded praise and sacrifice, and the visible demi-gods did, as well.

    It just flat doesn’t work with modern democratic people. Perhaps this is part of why the evangelicals like the current president. He mirrors the behavior of their god. They haven’t had a human to lavish worship on since 1776 when those damned enlightenment scholars got all uppity and rebelled against the divinely appointed sovereign!