The Parable of the Terrible Father

This is a guest post by Kiel Christianson.

***

Once there was an extremely wealthy man who had one son. This man’s wealth was seemingly without limits, and his love for his son was said to be boundless. The son’s mother had died in childbirth, so the father was the sole parent and guardian of his son.

The wealthy man promised all his wealth would be endowed to his son, as long as the boy did what he was instructed to do throughout his life. He told the boy to take care of his home, to keep it clean and tidy. The father told him to watch over their neighborhood and help protect his neighbors. He told him to work hard and maintain the integrity and profitability of the family business, from which all their immense wealth derived.

Most of all, he said, the boy must love him, and love him without question, no matter what the son saw, heard, or thought about the world around him.

As the boy grew, he followed his father’s rules meticulously. He kept the family home immaculately clean, inside and out. The son helped all of his neighbors in times of need, from assisting with yard work to comforting them in times of their own personal loss. His largess and kindness spread far beyond his immediate neighbors and friends, throughout the city, state, and nation; he set up food banks and soup kitchens to feed the poor, assured financing for schools and housing for the poor, and fought for justice and peace among people and nations. The family business thrived under the son’s watchful eye and active involvement.

In short, the son did every single thing that his father had demanded of him beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Every single thing except for one, that is: In his heart of hearts, he did not love his father. He did not like the way his father would allow his employees to suffer, how he would turn a blind eye on hungry mothers, children in need of medical care, and people who worked under the father’s auspices who wore ignorance as if it were a badge of honor. These people were the worst of all, for they worked actively to block advances in medicine, in social programs, in environmental stewardship, all of which would benefit hundreds of millions of people, and they did so in the name of the boy’s father. They misrepresented the man’s wishes, whether they did so on purpose or not. Either way it did not matter to the son. As far as he was concerned, his father might not be able to ease all of the world’s hardships, even with his immense wealth and power. But the man could have, at least, set his craven employees straight — or even better, fire them all — yet he did not.

So the son could not bring himself to love his father without question, and wondered, quite often, whether he was able to love him at all.

Nevertheless, he obeyed every other commandment from his father, and did so with deeper devotion than any other relative, employee, or toady. As a reward for this profound level of filial piety, the father one day called his son to him, and said this:

“Son, you have done everything I have asked of you, and you have done it all better than I could ever have expected of you or any other person. Yet I know that you do not love me.”

The son replied, “Father, you can make people do things, but you cannot make them feel things. Surely you, in all your wisdom and acumen, realize this.”

The father said, “I require love. Because you do not love me, I am sending you away. I will never speak to you again, nor will any of my employees, friends, or others from our family speak to you or acknowledge your presence. You are persona non grata from now on as long as any of us may live. I am only doing this because I love you so much.”

The son left the opulent mansion that had been his home. The father claimed to feel great sadness, but he had demanded love, and that love had not been forthcoming. That was that, and the son died poor, sick, and alone after intense, prolonged, and abject suffering. The father, although he knew this would happen, never once softened his stance, and neither did any of his operatives.

Thus ends the parable of The Terrible Father.

***

Kiel Christianson is an associate professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Illinois. Along with scientific articles, he publishes poetry, essays, political commentary, travel features, and restaurant reviews, and he is also a senior writer for GolfChannel.com.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • New_Atheist

    “The son left the opulent mansion that had been his home.”

    Oh, according to popular Christian dogma, it’s much worse than just being forced to leave the house. Imagine instead that the father personally built a torture chamber in his basement where the son would experience agony and suffering beyond any human comprehension. Now, imagine that the father, instead of simply sending his son away, locked him in this torture chamber…forever.

    That is what we are supposed to accept as “perfect love.”

  • Dad

    “But he loves you!”

    -George Carlin

    • Miss_Beara

      I wish he was still here.

  • Mario Strada

    …and after leaving the mansion, the son met with his investment banker. They both flew to the cayman islands where they invested the untold fortune the Son had accumulated throughout is work for the Father.

    Upon returning to the mainland, they both met with an attorney and started their proceeding for declaring the father insane.

    Meanwhile, a nurse in one of the father’s many health care holding was able to have access to the father’s quarters in the mansion and gave the father a drug that made him insane. Thus the court case lasted only a day and the father was committed to an institution.

    The son eventually found a bride and they had a son. Sadly, the bride of the son died in childbirth, but the Son raised the grandson on his own and become very fond of him. So fond that one day the son promised all his wealth would be endowed to the grandson.

    …..

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Well that was 5 minutes I’m not getting back. Without doing a literary critique, there are two major issues I have with this.

    1. It’s terribly predictable. We all know exactly where it is going and what it is going to say.

    2. It fails to say anything new or interesting. This is horse so dead and beaten, it is a smear of meat paste on the sidewalk.

    We all understand the point it’s making, and it isn’t a terribly interesting one. This has been said before, and said better.

    • pRinzler

      But other than that, I thought it was great!

    • kielc

      Parables aren’t literature. Nor are they rife with surprises. Nor do they say anything new. They present lessons in allegorical form. And this one is simply pointing out what a terrible father God would be if there were a “God the Father” (a very common Christian metaphor).

      • TCC

        Um, yes, they are literature. I don’t know where you would’ve gotten the idea that they aren’t.

        • kielc

          Granted, they are written and have their own kind of basic structure. But they don’t build tension in the same way as typical literature. The ending of The Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, is also completely predictable.

          • TCC

            I think you have far too idealized a view of what constitutes literature. What you’re talking about is perhaps bad literature, but it is literature nonetheless.

            • kielc

              I would agree with this. My earlier point was simply that leveling literary criticism at a parable is like applying culinary criticism to microwave popcorn.

              • Jason Hinchliffe

                I’m not leveling literary criticism. I’m saying I don’t find the “lesson” interesting. Don’t take it personally. I’ve had enough of my work ripped to shreds over the years. A lot of people here seem to enjoy it. I’m just not one of them.

    • Drew M.

      This has been said before, and said better.

      I’d love to see an example as I thought this one was pretty good.

      • Jason Hinchliffe

        You need me to find you examples of people pointing out the absurdity of devotion being more important than good acts in the quest for salvation? Are you new?

        • Drew M.

          No, just wondering if you were pulling shit out of your ass. Usually when people write things like that, they have specific examples in mind.

          Are *you* new?

          • Jason Hinchliffe

            This is the first argument we all made in high school when we first started to really think about what was in the bible. Both Dawkins and Hitchens have pointed out the absurdity and I’m not going to pore over youtube videos trying to find it.

            However, there was a professor from Purdue who made a far more interesting argument about the absurdity of God’s love. I can’t remember his name (because I read it almost 20 years ago while I was studying philosophy at the University of Toronto, so no, I’m not new). He paints a picture of a baby deer burned in a forest fire and challenges the theist to reasonably justify the suffering. In short, even if God is mysterious, the very realistic picture he paints has almost certainly happened many times, and God does not intervene, yet if he were who scripture claims, he certainly would to limit the Deer’s suffering. It’s a vastly more interesting take, as it challenges the theist to respond to a specific weakness in their dogma rather than just pointing out what on the surface looks clearly absurd with an (in my opinion) overwrought parable. It fails to capture or examine the dissonance in the scripture. Just having a parable, that the author admits isn’t trying to be new or interesting seems pointless and bizarre to me for any purpose other than for atheists to rally around and cry “Har har, Christians are stupid!”.

            All things being said, it’s my opinion that this work is sub-par, and that the people are letting it slide because it agrees with their world view. It agrees with mine too, but frankly, I would have gone a completely different direction with it. It’s far too grandiose, and tackles what I see as a rather banal and well discussed problem that really didn’t need a parable about it, and certainly not one that fails to bring something fresh to the discussion.

            • Drew M.

              Thank you. That far exceeded what I was hoping for with my first reply.

            • 3lemenope

              The Evidential Problem of Evil–aka the problem which asks us to consider if a tree, on fire, falls in the woods on a baby deer, on fire, if any relevant sounds are made–is normally credited to William Rowe, who is famous not only for this devastating retooling of the Logical Problem of Evil but also for doing so without invoking train tracks, madmen, or P-zombies.

              • Jason Hinchliffe

                Yes! William Rowe. Thank you.

      • Dr Skeptic

        How about a real world example? And what finally made me a non-believer: a news story about 6-7 years ago where the police had issued an Amber alert for a guy who had abducted his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter. Apparently they found that he had videotaped himself having sex with the child and was selling it online. Christians, what the f$&k “special purpose” does your omniscient and omnipotent God have for this innocent child?

  • Blacksheep

    The concept of salvation is complete forgiveness for any shortcomings – and that would include not loving God. The whole point of Christian doctrine is total acceptance despite anything we do that is contrary to God’s wishes. Let’s say that according to Christian doctrine, it’s a sin not to love God. That same docrine teaches that our sins are forgiven.

    “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
    1 John 4:10

    • Art_Vandelay

      Wait…so you’re saying that there are no ramifications for rejecting Christianity?

      • Blacksheep

        Adopting Christianity is different from being “forced” to love God. Christianity is much more about being thankful / responding to forgiveness.

        • Kodie

          Imaginary forgiveness. You love a person who doesn’t exist because he generously grants forgiveness for being a normal human animal, so you fall to your knees, I think it’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? Being sent to hell for not doing that is also a little dramatic. That’s what Christianity is about – dramatizing this boring little world into an impossible epic starring YOU.

          • Blacksheep

            If I didn’t believe that God existed I would agree with you for the most part. The existence of God changes everything.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Tell me, to whom should I address the medical bill for the migraine you’ve induced?

        • Art_Vandelay

          I consider myself a very grateful person and one that responds to forgiveness but I still think your God not only mythical but if he existed…kind of a douche. Are there ramifications for that or do I get to be immortal?

          • Blacksheep

            If God does not exist it’s a moot point, and if he does than we hardly get to choose his personality.

            • 3lemenope

              A nagging theology question becomes, if God does exist, does God get to choose God’s personality?

              • Blacksheep

                Yes, I understand your point. because if God can choose his personality wouldn’t he choose the perfect one? And would it seem perfect or make sense to us?

            • Art_Vandelay

              So Christianity doesn’t make any claims about God’s character or personality? Aren’t you the one telling us that he’s compassionate and forgiving? Where did you get that idea if not from Christianity?

              • Blacksheep

                I never said the Bible made no claims about God’s personality…I said the WE don’t get to choose it; it is what it is.

                • Art_Vandelay

                  Right…but this idea that disbelief is the only unforgivable sin contradicts the idea that he is compassionate and forgiving.

      • Blacksheep

        I never said that – I’m mainly responding to the idea that we are “forced to love God” and that morality is tied in some way to our salvation.

        Yes, I believe that there are ramifications for rejecting Christianity.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Like …? What are these ramifications?

          • Blacksheep

            What are they? The Bible references hell, and separation from God, etc., as ramifications, but it’s difficult to paint a clear picture. (looking at greek tranlations, “hell” sometimes has a literal translation of “Garbage heap outside of the city walls”, etc). I would boil it down to two points for myself:

            1. Whatever the ramifications are they don’t seem very good.
            2. I hope I’m wrong, and that my Christian brothers and sisters who don’t believe in any form of hell are correct.

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              Then we get back to “love me or else”, which is sickbadwrong and abusive. You’re going in circles here, Blacksheep.

              • Blacksheep

                I’m making a careful distinction. It’s not “love me or else” it’s “Follow me as best as you are able or you will be lost.”

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  But that requires prima facie belief that this being exists. If this being is all-loving and all-forgiving, it will forgive the lack of belief based on my poor, human best. If it can’t forgive that, it’s neither all-loving nor all-forgiving.

                  “Do X or else” is a threat. Whether X is love or belief, the “or else” tacked on at the back is not nice. As a theoretical question, do you think God would accept “I think you exist, but you’re an evil, immoral asshole that I refuse to worship or pay any attention to other than acknowledging your existence”? If I treated God like I treat Glenn Beck, does that count enough to get me out of Hell/bad consequences?

    • Carmelita Spats

      Substitutionary atonement is barbaric and highly immoral and makes no sense…It’s crazy cultspeak…Substitutionary atonement makes about as much sense as my neighbor hopping up and down on one leg and stating emphatically that he just took a blowtorch to his nuts for my mortgage. We can do better. We have better standards. We are more moral than Yahweh-the-Yahoo.

      • b s

        “he just took a blowtorch to his nuts”

        I wonder what image they would have to hang on the church walls if THAT had happened (Edit: happened to Jesus)?

      • Art_Vandelay

        It’s times like this, I hate when I only get 1 up-vote.

    • C Peterson

      Honestly, if that’s the sort of theobabble that is running through your head, it’s a miracle your brain is intact enough to support your respiratory system!

      • Stev84

        Fortunately for him breathing is autonomous and doesn’t require any thought.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Wait, so in that case, why would I bother saddling myself with all the insanity and hatred of women that’s inherent in Christianity?

      • Blacksheep

        Christ was probably more inclusive toward women that any religion was at that time, showing compassion, healing, and befriending. And women play important roles throughout the Gospels. For exmple, Mary is the one who found the empty tomb, the men were nowhere to be seen.

        But I’m not clear on your question – I never said that one shouldn’t follow Christ, my point was that forgiveness takes away the burden of trying to prove oneself worthy to God.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Forgiveness assumes we did something wrong against that person. I can’t hurt God, and if/when I hurt people, it’s their option to forgive me or not. This can be based partially on my own atonements for wrongs committed, but certainly isn’t assured.

          If God made us, we don’t have to prove ourselves “worthy” of anything. He fucked us up, he can deal with the consequences. I don’t need to be forgiven for being human. It’s condescending in the extreme, bordering on abusive, to punish people for doing something you told them to do and then telling them you forgive them for it anyways.

          EDIT: Timothy. Anything you say about Christianity being nice to women is negated and then dropped into the negatives by Timothy. Also the fact that Mary Magdalene isn’t considered a disciple says an awful lot about how women were considered: I’ll give you a hint, the answer is not “as equals”.

        • The Other Weirdo

          If my sins are forgiven, as you say, regardless of what I do contrary to God’s supposed wishes that I follow Christ, then why would I saddle myself the insanity of Christianity? And which Christ? There are as many Christs as there are denominations.

          • Blacksheep

            I said that following Christ is ALL you have to do. If you are in Christ you are forgiven – but for the circle to be complete a response is necessary.

            I don’t know of another Christ…

            There’s Buddha, whose last words were “Never stop striving to work out your salvation”, I prefer Jesus’ “It is finished.”

            …and no time now, but I have reasons (outside of the emotional) why I believe that jesus is christ.

            • b s

              I prefer Jesus’ “It is finished.”

              And yet, here we are 2000 years later…

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              I prefer “An’ it harm none, do what you will.”

              It’s so much more… positive.

    • Puzzled

      So…why be religious?

      • Blacksheep

        I assume you mean why be religious if you are saved no matter what?
        One of the main thing Jesus spoke out against was people being “religious” without having a changed heart. I have no interest in being “religious” per se, Christianity is about living with a changed heart in response to God’s forgiveness.

    • trj

      Let’s say that according to Christian doctrine, it’s a sin not to love God.

      You can’t f*cking demand love and still call it love.

      • Blacksheep

        That was my point – it’s not demanded.

        “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…”

        • baal

          Love me or the other thing happens*.

          *burning in hell.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            Classic abuse — “Love me OR ELSE…”

          • Blacksheep

            “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
            1 John 4:10

            • baal

              But aren’t you on about redemption when I’m complaining about the salvation side? The RCC makes that distinction; I don’t know about your denomination or the ‘pan bible’ view.

              • Blacksheep

                I look at it as one in the same – if we are made perfect through Christ, we are redeemed and saved. (The Church I attend is Presbyterian, it’s more about the pastor and community than the denomination).

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          “Love me, love me, say that you love me
          Leave me, leave me, just say that you need me
          I can’t care about anything but yooouuuuu!”

          We call that attitude needy and unhealthy when it’s expressed in a song. Just sayin’.

          • Blacksheep

            “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…”

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              So then he doesn’t care one bit that, given all the extant evidence at my disposal, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t exist. There won’t be any ramifications whatsoever for my lack of belief, should I turn out to be wrong?

              • Blacksheep

                Hopefully I didn’t imply that. I was responding (above) to the idea that we are forced to behave in a ceratin way to gain salvation “forced to loce God”. My point is that all that’s necessary is faith.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  We’re having this conversation in two places. See below; lets try to keep this to one thread.

                • Blacksheep

                  Thanks.

                  Need to go back to work, which is getting in the way of my life :)

        • trj

          “[love] is not demanded”.

          Then why would it be sinful to withhold your love from God? Or were you just being hypothetical?

    • Trickster Goddess

      You are right. According to Christian doctrine, you can do anything you want — even rape and murder thousands of people — and god will forgive you and accept you into heaven.

      The only condition to qualify for his forgiveness is to profess your love of god. So they only way for him to forgive you the sin of not loving him is if you start loving him.

      Sorry, no loophole there.

      • Blacksheep

        The Bible makes many, many points about works being evidence of faith, like the parable of the sheep and the goats. On a technical level you may be right – but the Bible is beyond clear that while salvation is a gift, good works are evidence of faith.

        • Kodie

          As I understand it, you (or someone similar to you) believes if you love god, he will turn you into a good person, but you can’t try to be a good person to impress god (whatever it should mean to be a “good” person is up to the reader, or more than likely, to the group they belong to and whatever causes they value). It is not for god and it is not for other people, it is to feel the swell of pride as god has granted you the “goodness”! You know he loves you because you see how able you are to be a good person.

          Look, validation is a natural human craving, but it seems a little weird to feel terrible about yourself otherwise. Not every human will appreciate your efforts, it’s true, but it feeds you this delusion that every smile of appreciation you make is spreading an illusion of goodness from the sky. You don’t take validation from their smile, you take that smile and turn it into cosmic validation from something that doesn’t exist. Why is that person-to-person interaction just not quite enough to fulfill you? Because you’re making it about you and not them.

          • Blacksheep

            You are certainkly describing human behavior, but not Biblical doctrine. The Bible warns us about being prideful throughout – it even goes so far as to say “our best deeds are like filthy rags” to back up the point about grace, not works that save us.

            It’s really not about being turned into a good person – lots of people can be good – it’s about being turned into a saved person.

            Also, the result of contemplating God’s forgiveness is to feel at peace – not at all terrible – about oneself.

            I understand your last point, but I really think it’s a blend of fully appreciating and taking validation from the “smile” on a 100% human level, and finding room for God in the mix as well.

            • Kodie

              It’s really not about being turned into a good person – lots of people
              can be good – it’s about being turned into a saved person.

              You said good works was evidence of faith. Now you are saying it’s not.

    • cary_w

      “The whole point of Christian doctrine is total acceptance despite anything we do that is contrary to God’s wishes.”

      You know, Blacksheep, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I appreciate your comments here because I believe you are honestly trying to stand up for and explain the good side of Christianity and you are clearly not a troll only coming here make nonsensical rants and insult people. But it is statements like the above that make me question the whole concept of Christian morality. If God is all forgiving and offers total acceptance even if you break His rules, then what incentive is there to follow His rules? It’s like the kid who knows his parents will never follow through on their threats, pretty soon he just starts doing whatever he wants because he knows the punishment will never come and he will always be forgiven.

      I often hear Christians say that an atheist can’t have morals because he has no moral code to follow, but I am beginning to believe the opposite is true, that a Christian does not have true morals because he needs God or the bible to tell him what is right or wrong. For example, I know that sleeping with my neighbors husband is wrong because of many reasons: it breaks promises we all made to our spouses, it will probably lead to heartbreak for someone, I wouldn’t want someone else sleeping with my husband, it is detrimental to society as a whole, and I just know in my heart it is wrong. To me, this is what morals are, a combination of logical reasons and feelings. Not sleeping with him because God said it was wrong doesn’t seem like morals, it’s just blindly following rules. And what if God doesn’t exist after all? Would you suddenly think it’s now OK to sleep with your neighbors husband?

      So my questions are: is it really “morals” if you are only following orders? And if God will forgive anyone for anything, then what incentive is there to do the right thing?

      • kielc

        I once had a religious friend ask me how I could keep myself from not doing evil things all the time. “If I didn’t believe in God,” he said, “I’d be raping and killing any chance I got.” All I could do was say, “Because those are terrible things to do to people.” He just looked at me blankly, and I realized he had no morals whatsoever. Only a leash.

        • Blacksheep

          I’ve heard Christians say that too – i honestly feel like it’s nothing more than a badly thought through statement.

      • Blacksheep

        Thanks cary_w.

        In my opinion, Christianity turns the whole “good behavior = reward” formula upside down, and with good reason. Moral behavior based on punishment or reward is hollow. The paradigm shift with Christianity is that the desire to be moral comes from the idea that we are already forgiven and loved, not based on works, but on faith.

        Christianity teaches that we are not saved by the quality of our faith, (How much we love God, moral behavior, etc.) but by the object of our faith, Jesus.

        The incentive to do the right thing is much less about incentive and much more about a change of heart. I’m paraphrasing Tim Keller here because it rings true for me: “The more I contemplate that salvation has nothing to do with my behavior, the more radically it changes my behavior.”

        • cary_w

          Sorry, but that still makes no sense whatsoever.”… the desire to be moral comes from the idea that we are already forgiven and loved…” I want to be moral because I want to be a good person, I want the love and respect of those around me. If I already knew I was forgiven and loved, then there’s not much reason to keep trying to improve myself, why do I need to keep trying? I can see the appeal of Christianity to someone who is in the depth of despair and feels unloved by everyone. Then the idea that Jesus still loves them and forgives them could bring some comfort and give one a reason to keep trying to build ones life back, but I don’t get it for someone who already has a normal life. When someone says “Jesus loves you” I want to answer, “so what?”. It’s much more important to me than my friends and family love me, they are real and they are the ones I spend all my time with. How does Jesus loving me or me loving Jesus have any effect on my life?

          • Anna

            It really seems designed to be a religion that appeals to people with low self esteem. I just can’t see the attraction of a deity at all. I feel like I got enough unconditional love and caring during my childhood, so I don’t have a need for a supernatural parent to love me and take care of me. I enjoyed my childhood, but I wouldn’t want to go back to my childhood. I like being an adult and relating to other people as an adult.

    • DavidMHart

      You’ve heard the expression ‘ought implies can’? It means that in order for us to have a moral obligation to do something, it has to be possible to do that thing. Now I’m sure you understand that it is impossible to consciously decide to feel an emotion that you just don’t feel. No matter how hard I try to persuade myself that I like the taste of mustard, I can’t suddenly decide as a matter of policy to like mustard (even if there were practical reasons making it expedient to pretend to like mustard). Likewise I cannot love a being that I have no reason to think exists, and anyway, would find it impossible to love a being who demands love on penalty of eternal torture – such a being would be infinitely cruel by definition, and I have a difficult enough time loving even moderately cruel people.

      • Blacksheep

        “…find it impossible to love a being who demands love on penalty of eternal torture… ”

        “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
        1 John 4:10

        Nothing is demanded, we are responding to God’s love.

        As far as God existing or not, that’s a different question, and a tougher one to confront.

        • DavidMHart

          Ah, so you don’t believe in Hell then. I apologise; you are far more compassionate than those of your fellow Christians that do.

          Though I will say that the claim that we are responding to a god’s love rather presupposes the existence of that god, and it is that question which we need to settle first before we can be justified in claiming that what we are ‘responding to’ is actually a supernatural being, and not just something going on in our own brains.

          • Blacksheep

            Sorry David – I do believe in hell – or at least that there is some consequence for not following Christ, based on what theb Bible says. But It’s not a matter of compassion, believe me. I hope that my Christian friends who believe that there is no hell are correct. The concept of hell / any kind of eternal suffering makes no sense at all to me.

            Yes, of course – this whole converstaion is based on the existence of God, and whether or not there is a god. And I agree – settling that first (Which is probably impossible) would be ideal!

  • eric

    The story doesn’t really capture the collective punishment aspect that God shows pretty much throughout the bible. To get it right, the story should have the son occasionally doing minor things wrong, and the father responding to each by punishing innocent bystanders. Example: one day, the son left a dirty fork in the sink. The father took him aside, told him he was angry and that the boy would have to be punished. So the father fired the mansion’s 500 maids and had the government deport their families. (Here’s some bonus theology: when the son objected, the father explained that he was really quite merciful. After all, the women had been working in the country illegally for years. He (the father) had stayed his hand the entire time. So his swift and sudden change in policy on this day was no more than a perfectly fair and righteous judgement.)

    That would also give a bit more justification for why the son did not love the father.

  • Puzzled

    That sounds a lot like…oh, wait, I see what you did there.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    If I were a Christian, I might point out that the father in this parable actually *did* do something to ease the suffering of others. He ordered his son to help them. Of course that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a dick…

    • kielc

      Right. A terrible father. Hence the title. And a serious crack in the “God the Father” metaphor.

  • Crystal Bandy Thomas

    All I really want is a very clear shot at NOT having to perform the mental gymnastics of either xtians OR athiests… I’d really like to put it all to rest… It;’s really pretty simple…Proof or No Proof ` Thank you Kiel for an entertaining guest post… and dare I say it, bugger the less than complimentary here…

    • Baby_Raptor

      Oh, yes. Everyone who doesn’t share your appreciation of the post should just Fuck off. Why? Because Crystal Bandy Thomas is apparently the sole arbiter of what is and is not an appropriate reaction to blog posts.

      Lady, get over yourself. Judging people because they don’t share your opinions is stupid and immature. Surely you’re better than that as a whole.

    • Space Cadet

      What are some examples of mental gymnastics done by Atheists?

    • Crystal Bandy Thomas

      Well, heck…readying my post over…I should have never hit that Enter button. I apologize for being rude and inappropriate.

      • baal

        Darn! you apologized before I could get out the relevant XKCD webcomic.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Post it anyway?

          • baal
            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Ah, yes, THAT one!

  • JET

    …and then the son woke up from his terrible nightmare, swore off hallucinogens, and lived happily for the rest of his natural life.

  • Anna

    It seems so obvious to us, yet theists are convinced that their deity is the “good guy” in this story. They seem to be unable to conceive of their god as immoral or unjust or unloving. It doesn’t matter what it does or how it treats people. In their eyes, it gets to make all the rules, and it’s right because it says it’s right.

    • Kodie

      The whole idea of submission is because they know it’s bad. They accuse atheists all the time of being mad at god or wanting to do everything he tells us not to, and are in denial. They believe us to be wanting god in our lives but too proud to ask god forgiveness. And they believe atheists of being restless and empty and trying to fill that hole with drugs and anonymous lust and material wealth and other shallow or even dangerous behaviors or attitudes. They have some idea that god is bad but no-god is even worse. I will not say that humans (including atheists) do not develop bad habits, and coping mechanisms which are ultimately unfulfilling. These are the kinds of pains of being alive and what’s available sometimes. They think that’s a symptom of being apart from Jesus and denying what’s obvious and rebelling because you don’t want to straighten up your life. I mean if you think about addiction that way – it’s not helping you, actually, but if you are trying to convince a smoker all the great reasons to quit, they would often tell you they’d rather keep smoking and also get out of my face, or whatever. This is basically where a theist is coming from. It should be easier not to spend the money and not to handle a cigarette than to continue to do so, that is how they see atheism as ruining lives when it’s the most obvious thing by now to every smoker that they should try to quit sooner rather than later, so should atheists wise up and accept Christ as our savior and lord already! Before we die of throat cancer!

      The act of submission as I’ve come to understand it is not to begrudgingly please a master but to relieve yourself of that grudge and just roll with it. God is, after all, so forgiving, that’s the most important thing – he doesn’t just love everyone, he loves you particularly. He just has a spiteful and jealous way of handling that love, and the best way to be about it is to forget all the challenges to his authority and incomprehensibility and just let it happen. Stop being too smart, stop trying too hard, and it will just go a lot easier. And we atheists do this to a certain degree. We can’t stop the rain so rather than gripe and pout and tense up about it, just submit to it. Put on your raincoat and go do what you had to do today. Things go much easier if you let the rain be rain. Complaining about it feels good for a second but it’s a form of self-pity and wastes energy. Kids are kids, dentist visits are dentist visits, waiting in line is waiting in line, so basically dwelling on the negative is to rebel, and the opposite of that is to submit to it, which removes that extra layer of negativity so it can be the least negative way possible to experience it.

      A submitting wife doesn’t resent a husband who expects her to fetch his slippers, she’s not passive-aggressive and wait for him to ask because she knows it will be worse. To submit to the situation is to know it’s not the best, but it’s better than something else, such as being threatened with adultery or beatings if you don’t and having to live in a motel because your husband doesn’t love you anymore. She brings the slippers because things work a lot easier when you know what you can and can’t change. And I think that’s been true historically – women didn’t have a choice or the faculty to change anything, so they went much easier to be passed as property. To be “chosen” is love, and to not be chosen is loser-ville and nobody loves you. Forget that love is money paid to your father and if you are not worthy, he doesn’t get paid. This is still a popular concept. Being a beautiful princess bride being the loftiest dream of many young girls and many young women and many older women still, and being the desperate old maid with lots of cats and pretending that yoga and your career keep you going, people still think all that’s crap and that every woman just wants to tie down some free running available (or even if he’s not available) man with at least a pulse if not some cash. Why would she want to do that? We had created a culture of men who expect certain qualities in a wife, but we were raised to consider these qualities limiting and enslaving while still desiring to be chosen. Men can be different but it’s difficult to change what everyone expects. This is why Christians think divorce is from women’s liberation – isn’t it? It’s because marriage isn’t that satisfying for a lot of people who wanted it. In order to maintain the marriage, someone has to lie down and accept that it’s going to be unpleasant for the duration, just to make it as pleasant as it possibly could be. They are threatened with a much worse option, just like Christians are taught that being separated from god, either willfully or having been abandoned, leads to living a horror. It’s much better to be comfortable.

      I am going off on a tear here but I’ll try to wrap it up. Submitting to whatever involves a little bit of lying to yourself, if not a whole lot. I don’t think it involves a lot of denial of god’s worst aspects for many Christians, but acceptance that it’s just the way it is. God is a monster, but he’s the only deal in town. Rebellion, as they like to call it, means calling god a doodyhead and seeing where that takes you. It’s like calling your boss a doodyhead. It probably wouldn’t end well and how are you going to eat? Festering resentment at your boss privately will make you sick, and plotting to kill him isn’t going to solve your problems, so just submit that work is going to suck and magically it doesn’t suck quite as much. You might even be more productive and get a raise or a recommendation for a better position in the company. What they don’t get is that god is imaginary. They think he’s quite obvious, and they know what he’s capable of doing when he’s angry. It has often been called an abusive sick relationship, but what are you going to do if you are in that relationship? If god is that real to them, they have a choice to deny him out in the cold cruel world, and a choice to accept him for what he is for what little protection they imagine he can give them. They don’t see the choice to discover him imaginary and that life can be comfortable and healthy without him.

      TL;DR – submitting to god acknowledges he is not that good.

  • Kirby_G

    I dislike the fact that the son died poor sick and alone.

    In order to be a more true-to-life parable, the son has to leave the father and realize that everyone who doesn’t love the father is just as rich and happy as he was with the father. The father’s requirements and demands just made him feel guilty and unworthy, and without them he could lead exactly the same life as always, but without those feelings.

  • Tak

    I am a little fuzzy on this parable. If the son is supposed to be the good Christian it fails because the son was acting perfectly (which we vile humans can’t do) and couldn’t love the father fully without question (which Jesus did) so … who does the son represent? Maybe I am being too literal. Still if being cast out of the family to die alone on the street is the worst thing that happens to the son in the parable, he got off pretty light.

    • Kodie

      The son represents the person who tries to please god through striving to achieve perfection but doesn’t love god; or the son represents the humanist who does things because they are the right thing to do not because he was told to; plus I know it’s a parable so his actions are supposed to be “good” but he’s judgmental of people who don’t do like he does. I’m not sure why he should or shouldn’t love his father, his actual father. I don’t want to waste time reading it again. I know the father is claimed to be benevolent but acts like a dick, but what makes a family? It’s ok not to love people in your family, but then they don’t have to house you.

      Is this father the only game in town? It seems like that’s the point of the parable. The more I think about it, the less it makes any sense to me, but I don’t think it would impress a Christian either. Actually, I think more and more the story of god and Christianity is a parable based on human-level relationships. He’s the “father,” and yeah, he’s a lot like people I know. Parents have some kind of love for their children I’ve been told you can’t imagine unless you have kids of your own and I don’t, but having been a child, I know what it’s like to love my parents even if they’re not perfect and at times, not love them as much, or question whether I would have the nerve to fully disassociate with my family. I know my mother loves me like parents “just do” but that doesn’t stop her from saying inaccurate things about me or judging my character. Should I not love my mother back, it would hurt her so much, more than I can hurt her. So I get that life in god’s world is dysfunctional like that, and everyone who believes in god just thinks that’s how it should function.

      But I kind of think that if you don’t love your father, while he’s not really trying to impress you, and all he does is keep you on staff of his business, he doesn’t have to continue to keep you around if you don’t love him. If you don’t love him, then why is being sent away a bad thing? You just fucked up your only gig. I think the parable is meant to say that god is a bad guy because he sent his son to hell even though he was a good person, but if you don’t love the father, then being sent away shouldn’t really be that awful unless the father in the story is really a dictator and the real only game in town. For example, North Korea. Rejecting dear leader is the stupid choice if you know what’s good for you. I think the story doesn’t make sense unless you get that it takes place in NK. Most other places, you just rebuild your life using your best qualities and skills. This story makes it like rejecting god results in homelessness.


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