As an atheist, I reject all gods and all religions alike. But this does not mean I spend an equal amount of time and effort arguing against each one I do not believe in. Since it is invariably the fundamentalists and conservatives of a given religion who feel the need to proselytize and preach to others, who attempt to gain secular power, and who – in some instances – use force and coercion to impose their views on those who believe differently, I mainly target them and their arguments, as opposed to the moderates and liberals who do not try to impose their beliefs on others.
More specifically, since the power-seeking fundamentalists and invasive proselytizers in the nation I live in are mainly right-wing evangelical Protestant Christians, it is their views I spend the most time educating myself in and learning to refute. This essay is derived from my understanding of the Bible and conservative Christian theology and explains one of the principal reasons (other than the lack of evidence) why I reject the Christian fundamentalists’ god.
Simply put, the Christian fundamentalist god is a colossal screwup. Anyone who reads the Bible can see for themselves that he just can’t do anything right. He designs an originally beautiful and immaculate creation which almost immediately becomes polluted with sin, suffering and death. Both times he tries his hand at creating free will, his created beings immediately turn around and reject him. He chooses a people and continually attempts to redeem them from their fallen state, attempts which continually prove to be complete failures. He dispenses punishments for the evildoers and the wicked that utterly fail to stem the spread of evil and wickedness. He deals with crimes and transgressions by lashing out in childish rage, killing not just the evildoer but, often, all the innocent people around him. His final, crowning attempt to save the world from its sin was almost unanimously rejected by his chosen people. And his repeated promises to return to the Earth to set everything right have now been thoroughly broken. I find it impossible to believe that an omniscient and omnipotent deity, if there was such a being, could so consistently and thoroughly screw up; the contradiction between what this god is claimed to be able to do and what I am told he did do is so stark that it defies all reason that such a being could actually exist. But even if he did, such a sorry excuse for a deity would be deserving of no one’s worship – which makes the audacity of his followers all the more incredible, to insist in the face of his long string of failures that he is a wise and loving ruler worthy of our adoration!
Let us consider in more detail some of Yahweh’s more notable blunders.
In the beginning, according to the Bible, there was nothing but God and the void. After a timeless eternity, God decided that this was an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and in six days created the heavens, the Earth and all the life upon it. Adam and Eve, the first couple, lived in a bounteous, peaceful paradise where all was bliss and there was no unhappiness, no pain and no death. So far, so good. Unfortunately, this was to be the first thing Yahweh would get right for a long time.
As it turned out, at some point during those first six days God had also created the angels, to serve him and praise him for all eternity. However, one angel didn’t care for this arrangement. Satan – who according to some sources was the highest and wisest of all the angels – denounced God, declared war on his maker, and convinced a full third of the heavenly host to join his rebellion against the throne. How he was able to accomplish this is not clear. Did God create one-third of his angels defective?
At this point, God could have used his omnipotent power to zap Satan and the rest of the rebel angels out of existence entirely. Or he could have changed them with a snap of his all-powerful fingers, fixing the flaws in their personalities and returning them to a state of goodness and obedience. But he did neither. Instead, for unclear reasons, he actually engaged the rebels in battle, and of course defeated them easily. He then cast them out of Heaven and created a fiery pit called Hell in which he would imprison and torture them forever as punishment for their treason.
This solution was much crueler than the other options described, since it produced an enormous amount of unnecessary pain and suffering, whereas the other options would have produced none. Still, it would have sufficed to end the threat that Satan and his followers represented – except for one thing. Somehow, God failed to specify that the rebel angels would actually have to stay in the fiery prison he created for them. Instead, he allowed them to leave whenever they wanted, to roam the Earth tempting and inflicting suffering on humans.
And of course, this is exactly what happened. Almost immediately after creation was complete, according to the fundamentalists, Satan took the form of a snake and traveled to Eden to entice Adam and Eve to sin. He easily succeeded in doing so, apparently because Adam and Eve were also defective; God’s complete failure to warn or protect them doubtlessly also played a part. (God’s failures in regard to the whole Eden affair are too numerous to list here; for a full catalogue of them, see “Sins of the Father” and “That Fateful Apple“.)
So, again, God failed. For the second time, his experiment in free will backfired, and his created beings disobeyed and rejected him. Adam and Eve joined Satan’s rebellion and were tainted by sin.
At this point, God could have forgiven the humans, who after all had sinned only out of ignorance, and used his almighty powers to cleanse and redeem them. But he did not. Instead, he threw a temper tantrum, tossed them out of his Garden, and condemned them with a curse to live mortal lives of suffering, toil and death. But apparently God’s aim was off, because it wasn’t just the two of them who were affected. The curse fell upon the entirety of creation, affecting not just Adam and Eve, but every other living thing, all of Adam and Eve’s descendants, and all the descendants of every other living thing for all of time, even though all these other beings were completely innocent of the apple incident, even though most of them did not even exist at the time. The original perfection was shattered and twisted, the curse of sin infected all living creatures, and the entire Earth became a place of suffering and death.
By now Yahweh’s original creation was a failure, in ruins. One-third of his angelic servants had rebelled and abandoned him, his perfect world was ruined and spoiled, his human children were lost in sin and darkness, and Hell was empty as the demons roamed the world and tempted humanity still deeper into evil.
Apparently unable to deal with this, God inexplicably turned away from the universe for a while – perhaps to sulk. For many centuries he was absent from the world, doing essentially nothing while it slid deeper into sin. Unsurprisingly, when he finally chose to come back, things were a mess. Humanity had become a race of hopeless, irredeemably evil sinners who had forgotten about him. (“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” –Genesis 6:5).
At this point, a solution was needed – this evil had to be stopped. God could have used his powers to make all the sinful people and only the sinful people vanish, blinked out of existence instantly. But he did not. Instead, he spoke to the last righteous man on earth, Noah, and told him to build an ark and take aboard his family and two of every kind of animal. He did so, and God sent a massive, catastrophic flood which decimated the planet and wiped out the sinners, as well as killing millions of innocent animals, plants, and human infants and children in the bargain.
Finally the floodwaters receded. Noah disembarked and released the animals to somehow survive on their own in the now lifeless and barren earth, with no food and no supportive ecosystems, and he and his family repopulated the globe. But once again, God had failed. Though the worldwide flood had been sent to wipe out evil, it utterly failed to do so. Noah’s descendants spread throughout the world and, within a matter of years, forgot God entirely and became just as sinful and evil as the pre-flood people. In fact, Noah’s very first act after the flood, after sacrificing some animals to God, was to plant some grapes so he could make wine, following which he promptly got drunk, passed out, and slept naked inside his tent. Noah’s son Ham accidentally looked into the tent and saw his naked father; for this terrible crime Noah, apparently with God’s approval, cursed Ham’s son Canaan – his own grandson – and all of Canaan’s descendants to a lifetime of slavery.
But, in any case, Yahweh was undaunted. Flush with pride at his “victory” over sin, he again took some time off to pat himself on the back. And when he returned, he noticed that the people of Earth had banded together and were building a mud-brick tower high enough to reach Heaven.
At this point, God could have moved his Heaven higher up – perhaps higher than the few hundred feet it must have been at the time – and enjoyed a hearty laugh at the silly antics of his creations. Instead, he panicked, expressed real fear that they would actually reach him and become as powerful as he was, and frantically responded by scattering the people of Earth, confusing and separating them by afflicting them with many different languages. (It should be noted in passing that God eventually forgot about this whole affair and allowed later humans to build much taller skyscrapers with no ill effects.)
Perhaps realizing by now that his large-scale plans kept failing, God decided to think small in his next attempt. He selected a man named Abraham, appeared to him, and vowed that his descendants would be the Almighty’s chosen people, would enjoy divine favor (“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” –Genesis 12:3) and would inherit a great nation. Suitably impressed, Abraham left his home at God’s urging and set out to the promised land.
God’s promise passed from Abraham to his son, Isaac, who in turn had two sons, Esau and Jacob. As Isaac’s firstborn, Esau was supposed to inherit the divine promise through a blessing, but Jacob deceived his dying father into giving the blessing to him instead. God, despite his omniscience, apparently was also fooled and honored the blessing, allowing Jacob to unfairly steal his brother’s rightful place and become the sire of the chosen people. Jacob and his twelve sons became the Israelites, and the divine promise passed to them; Esau and his descendants, meanwhile, were condemned to live in the harsh desert and serve Jacob’s descendants, setting the stage for millennia of ethnic hatred, strife and war.
However, Yahweh apparently forgot about his vow to protect and bless his chosen people, and they were almost immediately enslaved by the Egyptians. For several centuries, God’s chosen people labored in bitter captivity, continually beaten by their overseers and forced into backbreaking work building monuments and hauling massive blocks of stone. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were rewarded for their faith by living and dying as slaves, trusting in a deliverance that never came for them. And what was the reason for God’s allowing all this? The Bible gives none. It does not say that the Egyptian captivity was punishment for any misdeed, nor does it say it was intended to teach the Israelites any lesson. As far as we know, it happened simply because God inexplicably failed to deliver on his promise.
However, after about four hundred years (a time period far longer than the United States has been in existence), God finally noticed what was going on and decided to do something about it. He manifested himself to an Israelite named Moses and promised to use him as the vehicle through which he, God, would free his people.
At this point, God could have used his omniscience to determine exactly what punishment he had to mete out to Pharaoh to cause this. Instead, he began to punish the entire nation with progressively worse punishments, thereby inflicting much pain and suffering on innocent people who had no hand in the decision anyway. However, each of these failed to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites, and since God must have known ahead of time that they would fail, the inescapable conclusion is that he caused vast amounts of innocent suffering for nothing. Pharaoh was not persuaded to free the Israelites until God killed every completely innocent firstborn child in Egypt. Why didn’t he just punish the one person responsible with something that would have been adequate from the start? Who knows?
But after all this innocent death and suffering, the people of Israel were free, and God led them out of Egypt. Then, through Moses, he burdened them with a long and arbitrary set of rules covering every aspect of daily life – what kinds of animals they were not allowed to eat, what activities they were not allowed to engage in on certain days of the week, how they had to mutilate their genitals to show their faith in him, and so on – and specified the horrible punishments for breaking any of them, most of which involved death in various cruel ways. The Israelites hated these rules so much that they rejected God’s deliverance, preferring their slavery in Egypt. (No surprise there. According to fundamentalist Christians, the Mosaic law is impossible to faithfully follow. It is little wonder the people preferred their Egyptian taskmasters – at least they could please them some of the time!) As punishment, God forced them to wander in the desert until most of them had died. This included his great prophet Moses, who had given his entire life to leading the Israelites out of Egypt and was rewarded for his service by never even getting to set foot on the earth of the promised land.
Finally, God allowed his people to enter Palestine. Unfortunately, it was already occupied by other people who had taken up residence there during Israel’s Egyptian captivity and by now had been living there for generations. At this point, God could have invited the native Palestinians into his covenant, given them the same laws he had given the Israelites, and established an egalitarian society where people of all races could live together in harmony. Instead, he ordered his people to invade and slaughter the natives, killing them to the last man, woman and child, specifically instructing them to show no mercy to anyone under any circumstances. What followed were a series of terrible, bloody battles in which tens of thousands of people died violently. Finally, God pronounced his campaign of genocide a success (Joshua 11:15) – but this was not true. Somehow, he had failed to notice that many of the people he had ordered his chosen to exterminate were still alive (as is shown by repeated biblical references to them after that point; see, for example, Judges 3:5). There was even one instance in which some of these people had survived despite God’s efforts to kill them, apparently because their iron chariots defeated his omnipotence (Judges 1:19).
However, after all this death and bloodshed, the Israelites were at last in the promised land. At this point, God formed them into a loose confederacy of tribes and appointed the judges to govern them. This failed. The people continually fell into sin, routinely suffered punishing military defeats from neighboring nations, and were repeatedly enslaved. Each time this happened, they cried out to God and he raised up a judge to save them, after which they promptly fell back into sin.
After several iterations of this, God became fed up and decided that there was only one way to break this cycle of sin and retribution: establish a monarchy in Israel. His first choice for king was Saul, who turned out to be a complete failure. Saul fell into sin, suffered punishing military defeats from neighboring nations, and finally committed suicide rather than be captured or killed in battle.
God’s next choice for king was David, and just once – for the first time since creation – it looked as if he might have made the right decision. David and his son Solomon succeeded in rallying the Israelites behind them, and ruled over a glorious and powerful united monarchy, God’s ideal state and the culmination of his promises to his chosen people (although God did break his promise, in Genesis 15:18, to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates: Israel was never this large even at the height of its power). However, Solomon’s son Rehoboam proved to be an inept ruler, and in a move God failed to do anything to prevent, his united monarchy, after existing for only two kings, shattered into two separate, warring kingdoms. The vast majority of the tribes seceded, joining the new state of Israel in the north, while only a tiny rump state named Judah was left for David’s throne.
In subsequent years, things got even worse. The kings of both nations continually fell into sin, taking all the people with them, routinely suffered punishing military defeats from neighboring nations, and were repeatedly enslaved. The crimes of Israel finally grew so intolerable that God threw a fit and sent the legendarily cruel Assyrian empire to destroy them, carrying ten of the original twelve Israelite tribes off into slavery where they vanished forever from history.
The kingdom of Judah still existed, however, and God tried one last time to save it. He raised up a devout king named Josiah, who was faithful to a degree undreamed-of by any of his predecessors (“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” –2 Kings 23:25). Josiah instituted religious reforms, burning the groves and smashing the idols of pagan religions, and made a great covenant with the people to follow the law of God. It seemed as if Judah might finally be saved from disaster – and then Josiah went out to battle with an invading Egyptian army, God failed to protect him, and he was promptly killed by an Egyptian arrow.
The last few kings of Judah were disastrous sinners, undoing all of Josiah’s reforms. Realizing that once again he had failed, Yahweh threw another of his temper tantrums and allowed the Babylonian empire to destroy his nation entirely, razing his holy temple to the ground and carrying the last of his chosen people off to slavery in a distant land.
A lesser deity might have concluded by now that the experiment begun with Abraham was a failure, but God was determined to see things through. Grudgingly, he let some of his people return to Israel and rebuild the Temple, and he appointed prophets to keep them on the right track this time. This failed. The chosen people continued to sin, becoming prideful, legalistic hypocrites, and refused to turn from their ways despite numerous punishing defeats and eventual enslavement by the Romans.
At this point, God realized he had one last chance to redeem his people, and he came up with a daring, drastic plan to do it. He descended to Earth and took mortal form, incarnating himself in a human body. Upon reaching adulthood, he sought out his people and told them he had come to give them a completely new message, abandoning his old promises that the Messiah would be a king and military leader. He revoked all the old, cruel laws he had once given them, letting them know that he had changed his mind, that they were no longer necessary. In their place he substituted new, simple principles, teaching them about forgiveness, about their shared humanity, and most importantly, about the deep and abiding love he had for every one of his precious children.
For once obeying the law they had been given so long ago, the Jews promptly seized this incarnated god, charged him with blasphemy, and killed him.
Christians, of course, claim that this was what God had in mind all along, that only through the shedding of his blood could we be forgiven for our sins. However, I am not so sure. Throughout all the millennia God knew the Jews, he failed to ever tell them that this was the method of redemption he had in mind. There is not a single prophecy anywhere in the Old Testament that clearly predicts the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of an incarnated god. Besides, God is supposed to be all-powerful. If he wanted to forgive us, why couldn’t he just forgive us? Why was the agonizing and bloody death of an innocent person necessary for human salvation? Perhaps it was not, and God’s propagandists only attributed this significance to it afterward to avoid this debacle being labeled as another complete failure.
In any case, God returned to Heaven and appointed apostles to spread his new faith to the Jews. This failed, as the evangelists were viciously persecuted and soundly rejected in town after town, winning relatively few converts. Flustered by his chosen people’s rejection of him, God had no choice but to abandon them entirely and pass his promise of salvation on to the Gentiles, creating a new religion called Christianity. A church formed and almost immediately fragmented into numerous squabbling sects, all deeply divided as to the nature and intent of God.
At this point, God could have simply stepped in and set the record straight by letting all concerned know what he really meant. He failed to do so, and the church continued to splinter, breaking off into many smaller sects and denominations, consumed by infighting. God could also have sent more signs and wonders, as he routinely did in Old Testament times, to let the world know that the new religion really was of him; but he failed to do this as well, and for several centuries Christianity remained a small fringe group on the verge of extinction, heavily persecuted, its followers routinely tortured and slaughtered by the authorities.
It was only by luck that the new church caught the eye of a Roman emperor and survived. (Of course, God may have had a hand in this, but his inexplicably waiting so long to do it can be considered a failure. Certainly it was no comfort to the thousands who had already been tortured to death or mauled by wild animals in great stadiums for the edification of the masses.) But finally Christianity caught on, and became the dominant religion of Europe.
At this point, God could have used his dominance over the civilized world to bring forth a new golden age of enlightenment and peace. Instead, he suddenly decided to completely stop sending new revelations and miracles, and his church stultified and dragged humanity down into the Dark Ages. Knowledge declined and superstition and ignorance ruled; innocent people were imprisoned, tortured and killed in vicious inquisitions, scientists whose findings contradicted holy scripture were silenced and forced to recant, and plague after plague decimated humanity because, incidentally, God had failed to tell people that washing one’s hands, and not whipping oneself or singing hymns, would keep illness away. New denominations arose that almost immediately became embroiled in savage religious wars, including a series of military expeditions called the Crusades that sent millions of people to their deaths, and conquistadors in foreign lands enslaved and slaughtered millions more in God’s name. (Somehow, throughout all the thousands of years he had been speaking to humanity, God failed to ever provide a single clear-cut condemnation of slavery.) Kings and popes claimed divine right, stifling democracy and free speech. And all this time, the lot of the common man remained full of misery and suffering.
At any point during this time, God could have stepped in to stop these atrocities and correct people’s ignorance. He failed to do so, and it was not until the Enlightenment, when people rediscovered the principles of science and democracy and began to investigate and think for themselves, that things began to improve – no thanks to humanity’s cosmic absentee landlord.
And this brings us to today. God has been silent for thousands of years, perhaps realizing that the problems of this world have grown beyond his ability to contain. Humanity now has the power to completely destroy itself, and nearly has done so on several occasions. We are multiplying beyond our planet’s ability to sustain life even as we destroy our environment, recklessly expending our natural resources, driving species to extinction, polluting our water and air. Terrorism and armed conflict threaten our safety. Weapons of mass destruction continue to proliferate. The Christian church has fractured into hundreds of sects, some of which are tainted by allegations of institutionalized sex abuse, others of which are convulsed and splintering further over the issue of ordaining gays, and false religions abound. People continue to kill and die over religion, and nowhere on Earth do they do so more fervently or more often than in what was once God’s promised land. And, to hear certain Christians tell it, by far the worst sins of society out of all of these – gay marriage and safe and legal abortion – continue to gain ground and societal acceptance.
Soon, according to the fundamentalists’ millennialist theology, God will become sick of it all and throw his ultimate temper tantrum, consigning this entire failed experiment called creation to the flame. Soon, Judgment Day will come, humanity will be wiped out, and Satan will have won. Only a select few, a small fraction of all the people who have ever lived, will have made it to Heaven, while billions upon billions of souls will be in Hell, condemned to endless, eternal agony in the flame. The screams of the damned will completely drown out the joyous songs of the saved. And this is supposed to be a positive outcome? This is what God’s grand plan will amount to in the end?
Things didn’t have to be this way. At so many points throughout history, God could have acted differently, even in small ways, to alter the destiny of his creation. Yet at each critical juncture, at every single step along the way, he failed to do so. Again and again, he failed.
He could have wiped Satan out of existence, changed him to be good again, or at least actually imprisoned him in Hell and not allowed him to roam the world doing evil. Or, instead of leaving the first humans ignorant, unprotected and vulnerable, he could easily have made them so powerful and wise they would have recognized Satan for what he was and rejected him on sight. Even if he had not done this, he could have forgiven the first humans for their transgressions, or at least only punished the two of them and not cast the curse of original sin on the entire planet. It cannot be overemphasized that taking any of these steps would have made all that followed unnecessary. All of God’s subsequent plans were merely an attempt to clean up the mess he made by allowing all this to happen in the first place!
Even if all these things had happened, God could have made many different decisions afterward to produce a better overall outcome. For example, he could have stayed with the world after the fall, not allowing it to slide into sin; or, if things came to that, he could have used a miracle to selectively eliminate the evildoers, rather than sending a flood that killed millions of innocent living creatures while simultaneously failing utterly to eliminate sin as it was intended to do. He could have ignored the attempts of humans to build the Tower of Babel (which would itself have taught them a good lesson about humility), rather than punishing them for it with the confusion of languages which would only lead to more misunderstanding and division among people in the long run. He could have ignored Jacob’s attempts at deception and bestowed his blessing upon the son it was supposed to go to, preventing millennia of ethnic hatred, resentment and strife. He could have kept his vow to Abraham and prevented the Israelites from ever being enslaved, or at least sent only one sufficient punishment to Pharaoh to obtain their release rather than building up to it and making innocent people suffer pointlessly.
He could have given the Israelites laws that were actually possible to follow, rather than impossible and restrictive ones that would inspire them to hate and resent him. He could have invited the native people of Palestine into his covenant rather than setting the horrible precedent of sanctioning warfare and genocide in the name of God. He could have instituted democracy among his people rather than absolutist monarchy since, after all, there is no guarantee that the son of a good king will be a good king himself. In this way, bad rulers would have been promptly removed from office rather than dragging the entire nation down with them. He could have actually protected the good kings from harm by enemies. He could have given his people messianic prophecies that clearly applied to Jesus, so they would not have rejected him. He could also have chosen to forgive sinners merely through his omnipotent will to do so, rather than through the torturous death of an innocent which itself inspired his followers to commit countless acts of retributive bloodshed throughout the centuries. At any of numerous points throughout history, he could have stepped in with just a little clear guidance, letting confused humans know what he really wanted or meant. He could have exerted just the smallest amount of his omnipotent power to steer people away from sin until they were wise enough to avoid it on their own. He could simply make his presence more obvious to prevent any one of the numerous problems and arguments humanity finds itself afflicted with. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say – at any time in history when it was possible to make a good decision, Yahweh made a bad one.
And these are just the improvements possible in the plan he actually did use. If God had wanted to make radical changes to this plan, there are many that would have resulted in a tremendously better outcome.
To name one, he could have created, instead of defective humans and angels, free-willed beings who would all freely choose to obey him and do only what is good. Despite what Christian apologists say, this is clearly possible. Although Christians believe God never sins, he is still believed to have free will. Therefore, whatever quality God possesses that enables him to avoid sin, he could have given this quality to his created beings as well. Perhaps it is his holy nature that causes him to detest and avoid sinful behavior, or perhaps it is the intelligence and rationality necessary to fully understand that sin is a futile and self-destructive course. (Surely Christians would agree that this is in fact true?) Doing this would have eliminated the need for a Hell entirely.
Or, rather than waste time setting up a religion called Judaism he only intended to supersede eventually anyway, God could have taken human form and performed his sacrificial death and resurrection immediately after the Fall. In this way he could have eliminated millennia of sin and strife as people futilely attempted to obey impossible laws. With the transforming power of Christ in their hearts and that many fewer arbitrary and bureaucratic restrictions to follow, the Israelites would have been far less tempted by idolatry. With the option of salvation open to everyone, God could have prevented at least one cause of the racial and religious exclusivism which provoked so much hatred and caused so much suffering and so many deaths – both in the pre-Christian period as the Israelites warred with their neighbors, and later on as Christians persecuted and killed Jews for being “Christ-killers”.
Most radically of all, God could have dispensed with the whole idea of creating a world of imperfect material beings. Why did he need to mold us out of fallible clay? Why not make us of pure spirit, free of fleshly temptations, free to roam infinite space at will? God could have made us all gods, free to create our own worlds, our own paradises. He could have given us infinite freedom, and instead he imprisoned us in these cages of muscle and bone, imprisoned our souls in vulnerable brains that often obscure our true natures from shining through. He made us able to suffer and feel hurt, made us able to become sick and injured, made us able to die. Why did he do this? Why did God create beings as limited as us, when he could have created so much more?
Of course, the atheist’s answer to this question is the simplest. I do not, of course, believe that all the events described above actually happened, or that God was behind the ones that did happen. I am merely pointing out that, even if taken on its own terms, the Christian story implies a deity who is massively incompetent, and this creates a fundamental contradiction with the tenets of Christian belief that there is a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good. Since the facts of this world’s history are not open to change, and since we are justified in believing things would be much better if there was such a being, the most likely conclusion is that no such being exists. Though some Christian apologists claim the choices God made must have been the best ones possible, based purely on their belief that those are the choices he made, this argument is circular. To genuinely refute the arguments presented above, they would have to show why the choices I describe would have led to a worse world than the one we live in, and this is a challenge I do not think they can meet. What could possibly be a worse overall outcome than the large majority of humanity ending up in Hell forever?
If there really is a god – as unlikely as I consider that possibility to be – the Christian story is a slander on him. It depicts him as so poor at understanding the psychology of others that he simply cannot make free-willed beings who all desire of their own accord to be in fellowship with him. It depicts him as so inept that his will can be thwarted and his plans ruined by the acts of beings who are infinitely beneath him. It depicts him as so short-tempered and malicious that he would think nothing of punishing evil with acts that also inflict massive harm and suffering on those who were completely innocent of the deed. It depicts his power and his imagination as so limited that he cannot think of any way to stop evil other than with destruction, mass death and bloodshed; and it depicts him as so bereft of ideas that, whenever he does destroy evildoers in this fashion, he starts over again with a small group of people who turn out to be just as evil and rebellious as those he destroyed. It depicts him as setting out to make a perfect creation and then blundering so completely and so finally that he will ultimately have no choice but to consign the vast majority of his creations to the fire of torment.
Can a rational person really accept this? Does it make sense to believe that this scenario is the crowning work of infinite goodness and wisdom?
For my part, I cannot believe this. I reject the Christian fundamentalists’ story. I reject the theology of a perfect god who set out to bring forth good and brought forth evil. I reject the gospel of universal sin, I reject the gospel of total depravity, and I reject the gospel of eternal pain. I cannot in good conscience or sound mind accept such a bafflingly and frustratingly illogical system. This world is what it is, indifferent to us and sometimes cruel to us, and we cannot change that – but we can stop deepening the insult by telling ourselves that it is presided over by a benevolent deity who approves of the way things are. Instead, we should set aside these unproductive myths and use our intelligence to improve conditions in this life, both by using science to bring the natural world under our control and by improving morality to put an end to the ceaseless and pointless hatred so many people have for each other. Ironically, the belief that there is a good god has often proved to be a powerful impediment to progress, as believers reason that to try to improve our lives is a blasphemous rejection of God’s ideal order. However, we are now mature enough to look beyond that superstitious fear. Whether a god got us to this point or not, it is now up to us to do better. We have the tools, and we can and should use them. That is a worthy goal in life, and that is what atheism teaches us.