“We Are in No Position To Judge His Actions”

I read every issue of World Magazine growing up, and one common advertisement in that publication was for Worldview Academy. I recently took a look at what they teach, and was struck by this:

God is the creator and we are part of his creation. As a result, we are in no position to judge His actions. He reveals Himself to us, and we have an obligation to love and obey Him.

I never attended Worldview Academy, but there was a time when this made sense to me. It’s the message I received at my family’s evangelical church, through the Christian homeschooling literature I was exposed to, and from my parents. I believed it—but no longer.

Today, when I read things like this I experience an almost physical sense of revulsion. Perhaps it’s questioning authoritarian parenting and patriarchal marriage arrangements that has led to the absolute horror arguments like this generate in me. I no longer expect Sally or Bobby to obey me without question, and I certainly don’t obey Sean without question. That God would be above question? Nothing is above question. Period. If I have nothing else, I have my mind and my ability to think for myself, form my own views, and ask questions.

Of course, the fact that I don’t actually believe there is a God makes this whole thing even weirder, because from that perspective it’s people creating a God whose will is not to be questioned—how does that even work? This is probably so obvious I don’t need to say it, but in the hands of a conniving or controlling leader (or even just a human one, really), that’s a recipe for religious authoritarianism and abuse. This doctrine hands any leader who claims he (or she—I’m looking at you, Debi!) knows the will of God and is able to convince others so a tremendous amount of power.

This idea that God’s word is law and must be obeyed without question is also dangerous on an individual level. I remember talking with my friends about what a person should do if God told her to kill her mother. Our conclusion was that if we were sure it was God telling us to do so, we would have to do it. And there are cases where our thought experiment hits reality. In 2003, Deanna Laney, a homeschooling mother in Texas, believed God had told her to stone her sons. And, given that God’s commands are mandates and not to be questioned, she did just that. Joshua and Luke were only 8 and 6 when their mother murdered them. Their brother Aaron, a toddler, barely survived. Deanna was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

But divine command theory doesn’t just create danger on a collective or individual level. It is also harmful on an internal level. When I think of being required to obey an entity, any entity, without question I feel smothered inside. I need freedom to breathe, freedom to question, freedom to explore. In the patriarchal Christian homeschool world of my youth, I believed I was required to obey my father. Period. (Okay, so there were a few exceptions, like if he were to command me to sin, but even then some manuals disagreed and said obedience was still required.) The day I claimed the ability to question my dad and have different views from him I felt frightened, but also like I could fly. The whole world had opened up and it was beautiful and technicolor and full of possibilities. I knew I could never go back.

And yet, Worldview Academy goes on teaching the evangelical youth whose parents send them there that what God says goes, period and no questions allowed.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • NeaDods

    I have zero problem judging a divinity that fails the toddler test. (If you’d punish a toddler for doing it, I won’t worship a divinity for doing it.)

    Religious people say I’m an atheist because I’m angry at God. I see no proof of god, but I see plenty of people who want to put a supernatural stamp of approval on their bad behavior.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    Of course, the fact that I don’t actually believe there is a God makes this whole thing even weirder, because from that perspective it’s people creating a God whose will is not to be questioned—how does that even work?

    Assuming that this isn’t rhetorical, I believe it’s because theists need some kind of larger-than-life sock puppet to give their sociopathic edicts any level of credibility. Think about how hard it would be to justify something like “let’s rape/enslave/murder everyone who has skin darker than mine” if your only precedent for doing so was because you specifically thought it was a good idea. The first objection of “you’re just as human as anyone else, so fuck you and your racism” becomes a lot more obvious and easier to counter with. On the other hand, if you say that GOD ALMIGHTY said to do it, then far fewer people are actually going to doubt it because hey, the Bible already shows God ordering genocides and holy smiting extravaganzas with the same casual tone ordinary people use to order cheeseburgers, so how COULD they question whether or not you actually heard God say so? Thus “you’re just as human as anyone else” becomes “I’M just as human as anyone else, and I can’t prove that God *didn’t* say that.” Madness ensues, if only because no one wants to challenge the presumption that there IS a God completely out of reach of most, sitting upstairs and making weird plans to sculpt the course of history. It’s a time-honored tradition to use the concept of God as a sort of super-spackle to fill in all the holes in one’s own knowledge of the universe. Pretty much all of the most degenerate aspects of religion can be traced to simply “God works in mysterious ways.”

    Obviously, God has never needed to actually exist to function adequately as a scapegoat. To that end, your credibility as his mouthpiece scales directly with whatever political power you already have in your ring of influence – which is likely to be substantial in any community whose constituents already give the benefit of the doubt to 1) authority figures 2) who are claiming to represent God.

    (there are a lot of other factors too, of course, like theism’s innate hostility to any form of critical thinking that doesn’t simply validate itself circularly, and that creepy fetish it has with being ‘childlike’ and the wide-eyed naivete the label embodies, but that could make my comment go on forever and I’m overdue for sleep. So this is my 2c on the topic. and that ended up being a lot longer than I was expecting initially)

  • Boo

    This reminds me of the documentary ‘In God We Trust’. It is about a group of people trying to remove the Christian flag from a public monument in King, North Carolina. They interviewed an idiot redneck, who said he wanted to find the person responsible for trying to remove the flag and beat him into the ground. He said he knew that God commanded him to turn the other cheek, but he was ‘tired of doing that.’ Then the interviewer asked him if he would kill his young son if God commanded him to do so. This idiot, without hesitating, said ‘in a heart beat.’ I found that to be the most bizarre thing I have ever heard. If a normal person could pick and choose a God commandment to break I would think they would choose to not kill their children. When someone is told what to believe their whole life, even when it doesn’t make since, I think it messes with the rational thinking part of their brain. After a while people start parroting the things they are told, and never stop to really think about how stupid they sound. They don’t even realize what they are really saying.

    • Jolie

      If God would ask him to kill his own son, he would do it.
      If God would ask him not to impose his own religious beliefs onto everyone, or to be respectful to non-Christians, apparently he wouldn’t.

      The one thing this makes me think of is an action-movie mafia henchman who would kill for his villain boss, but would have the villain’s head head and take over if he ‘softens up’.

      • Boo

        I think you are right about that. As I was growing up in the church I always felt like there was an unspoken competition going on over who could be the most righteous. Everybody starts making up ridiculous rules that nobody follows. Pretty soon everybody is just lying about who they are, and holding vulnerable people to impossible standards and making them feel horrible when they fail. In a way they are doing exactly what you are talking about. They feel like their god is too soft on people and they need to take over, and set the world straight.

    • persephone

      Their god never seems to tell them to kill themselves and leave other people alone. *sigh*

      • tyler

        suicide cults

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        No, they always try to take other people with them.

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

        I dunno about that, the Heaven’s Gate cult didn’t actively try to take others with them.

      • The_L1985

        Jonestown is the origin for the idiom “drinking the Kool-Aid,” and as I recall, the only people that died were the cult members, from the poisons they added to said beverage.

      • Christine

        But when you consider that there were armed guards to make sure that everyone drank the flavour-aid (I can’t remember which knock-off it was, just that it was a knock-off and not a generic), it does go into what Basketcase said.

      • The_L1985

        True, but still it was only members of the cult itself (and their children–not sure if the kids count as members or not), not outsiders.

      • Christine

        It’s the closest that I can think of too (although I think that there are some less famous ones where it was more voluntary.)

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      It doesn’t just damage rational thought. I’m sure it damages natural empathy. You have to stomp down both to get that authoritarian.

  • KarenJo12

    That’s not even good Biblical exegesis. Abraham argued with God over the destruction of Sodom. Jacob actually wrestled with God. Jesus asked God “if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me.” many of the Psalms are just grumbling. How do they handwave away those passages? I understand that in most of them God goes ahead with the smithing, but they say that we owe Gid unquestioning obedience even though many characters praised for their Godliness and faith argued with God.

    • TLC

      Oh, yes and Amen. People who say you can’t question God are people who haven’t read and understood the entire Bible.

      This whole “instant obedience” thing is dangerous on so many levels. The first and most obvious is that it’s nothing but mind control. Those who preach this want congregations that don’t think, don’t examine, don’t question so they can do what they want with their followers.

      If this is taught in a church that also has prophetic practices, where they teach you to “hear God’s voice,” then you have a bunch of people who think “the Lord told me” and they’re doing all kinds of crazy stuff — even when it contradicts the Bible. Two of the three churches I attended taught this, and I saw the havoc this can wreak in so many lives.

      God can handle questions, research, waiting, thinking and testing. As it said on one of my favorite church signs ever: “Jesus died to take away our sins — not our brains.”

      • KarenJo12

        “Jesus died to take away our sins, not our brains”. I love that.

        There are also lots of passages in the Bible where disobedience to the authorities is actually praiseworthy. The Hebrew midwives in Exodus and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel come to mind. These bits can be dismissed by saying they were disobedient to ungodly rulers, to whom we don’t owe allegiance, but then what happens to the commands in Jeremiah to “seek the welfare of the city [Babylon] and in Romans to obey the Roman magistrates?

      • Alice

        Plus Abraham and Moses did more than question, they directly asked God to change his mind about killing people off, and God seemed to consider their requests without laughing or yelling, “Who do you think you are?!”

      • http://empiricalpierce.wordpress.com/ EmpiricalPierce

        “Jesus died to take away our sins — not our brains.” Jesus died for our sins. He came back as Zombie Jesus for our braaaiiins…

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

      To add a few more:

      At one point (I think it was after the Golden Calf Incident), God wanted to wipe out the whole nation of Israel and start over with Moses. Moses not only questioned God, but talked God out of it.

      When God told Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued with God until God promised to spare the cities if ten righteous people could be found there.

      Job spends the entire book bearing his name questioning God. And while God comes along and says, “Who are you to question me?” (which I think is kind of a jerk thing for God to do), God also made it clear that he found Job righteous. Apparently, the fact that Job shouldn’t question God, the fact that he went ahead and did it anyway didn’t change his standing with God.

      • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

        And I see that I should have read the original comment more closely. Some of my examples were already mentioned.

      • KarenJo12

        Those examples bear repeating.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Yeah, the Jewish conception of “obedience” is much different than the evangelical one. Lots of wrestling (emotionally and physically) with God, and it’s portrayed as a good thing!

      • Caddy Compson

        Coming from an evangelical background, I can tell you that the evangelical worldview would benefit in many, many ways from actually listening to how Jewish people read their own holy texts.

  • DataSnake

    Allow me to change a few key words to show just what that “obey without question” attitude has led to in the past:
    “Herr Hitler is the Furher and we are part of his Reich. As a result, we are in no position to judge His actions. He reveals Himself to us, and we have an obligation to love and obey Him.” — quite a few people at Nuremberg

    • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

      THIS is what made me ultimately give up on the Fundy idea of God. Realizing that that version of God was a tyrant along the lines of Hitler. Just because Hitler (God) had nearly unlimited power and had every power to send you to a concentration camp (hell) didn’t make it the moral thing to do to sycophantically worship and obey him.

      I don’t believe that God exists. I believe in a loving, kind God now. I’m a progressive Christian. But I did believe in that God for a long time, and rejecting him under the idea that the truly moral thing to do WOULD be to rebel, even if it would get me sent to hell was terrifying.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      Upvoting this is not enough.

      Well said.

    • Nancy Shrew

      Also when Satan starts to sound more likable.

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

        TBH, I consider Satan the good guy in the Bible. God lied to his creation and fully intended to keep them ignorant. Satan? He came along and gave A&E the gift of knowledge!

  • eamonknight

    I never had a problem, back in my fundy days, with the notion that God deserved our obedience. But certain ministers (yeah, I’m looking at you, Gothard!) claiming that *they* knew what God wanted , so obey *them* was another matter. (If anyone ever tries that, and then follows it up with the “spirit of rebellion” card, give ‘em the hairy eyeball and walk away….).

    • TLC

      Don’t forget the part where they puff up indignantly and sneer down their noses at you, “Are you questioning God’s prophet?” Uh, well, as a matter of fact, I am!

    • Scott_In_OH

      Yes, this an important notion for liberal Christianity: sure, God is perfect, but none of us–even those in charge–can be sure we know His mind, so there is room for honest disagreement. Catholicism even has a doctrine of “informed conscience”: If you’ve honestly investigated and thought about it, and you’re sure God is telling you the Church is wrong, you should go with your conscience.

      Of course, that approach can eventually lead you to question your entire faith in God (if He’s out there, and so many people are trying to figure out His will, how come they get so many different answers?), but it doesn’t have to. In fact, it can be more resilient in the face of human disagreements than fundamentalism is. Fundamentalists have to assume everyone who disagrees (even that nice Methodist lady around the corner) is a heretic, while liberals can think lots of different people have uncovered parts of a Truth that we’ll never fully comprehend. God will be pleased we’re all giving it our best shot.

      • mary

        As a nice Methodist lady, I endorse this comment. :D

        I don’t really identify as “liberal”, but the idea that leaders, or even God, are not to be questioned makes no sense to me. I am good with God being infallible, but that’s no reason we shouldn’t want to 1. Make sure we’ve got our directives right, and 2. Know what’s going on and why. WHenever I hear an organization discourage honest questioning and rational argument, I want to run screaming. Really, if God made everything, including logic and science and all that, then something being factually true is synonymous with its being in line with God, no matter the person or worldview that discovers it. The whole “turn brains off” thing just smacks of fear to me- what, are you afraid that if you look closely enough it’s all a mirage? I’m not, and for me, scrutiny only strengthens faith. (Albeit may tweak the details a bit….. like not interpreting all of Genesis 1 as a literal, scientific retelling. :) )

      • Christine

        Upvoting was not enough to express my agreement with pretty much your entire comment.

  • Sally

    This is more of that crazy-making stuff you get when you’re in a self-reinforcing system.
    I think you have to question things to know you have the right God. And if you need to make sure you have the right God, then there you are, questioning God. How would they justify this thinking when talking to someone from another religion they want to convert? You can’t. You don’t say this kind of thing to them. You say, “Please scrutinize both our Gods, and you will see that my God is the one and only true God.” (And then you bring them into wonderful human fellowship and help them with their earthly troubles, which is very attractive and what actually draws them in.) The kind of edict Worldview Academy is proclaiming is only possible if they’re talking to people already believe in their God. But since it makes no sense to use on the non-believer you are sincerely trying to convert, that tells me they have no concern for the non-believers. And that misses the whole Christian message. Missing the whole Christian message is kinda ironic coming from people who are making rules about the Christian God.

    • Angela

      Actually in my experience people are not encouraged to scrutinize God. They are encouraged to pray and open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.

      • Sally

        I guess it depends on who you’re exposed to. And I should clarify that I’m talking about people who compare “truths” about Gods. “Let’s look at your God Vs my God” (i.e. truth claims about our Gods). I think if you are exposed to people who “witness” to people who don’t worship another God, then you likely won’t hear these comparisons. But if you are exposed to people who evangelize among people of other religions, then you do hear these comparisons.
        And my point is that making the claim Worldview makes shows that their mission has nothing to do with reaching people of other religions (which is a huge part of the rest of the world and certainly part of the Great Commission).

      • Angela

        Probably the difference lies in the fact that I was raised Mormon. As everyone is aware Mormons certainly try to evangelize everyone but members are constantly warned not to engage in open debate or logical argument (although I’ve frequently seen Mormon missionaries disregard these instructions). Instead you’re supposed to testify to them and encourage them to ask God which church is true (and if they get the *wrong* answer it’s obviously because they’ve hardened their hearts or denied the Spirit). I was always told that the reason for this was that man cannot convert people’s hearts, only the Holy Spirit. Actually though it probably has a lot to do with the fact that Mormonism doesn’t really stand up well to scrutiny;)

        Anyway I did get that you were making a larger point and it was an interesting read as I’m really not familiar with Worldview Academy at all.

      • Sally

        Interesting to learn how the Mormons do it, given that they do work among people of other faiths. I wouldn’t have guessed that they avoided comparing Gods. Still, I’m guessing they also didn’t lead off with, “Yahweh is the one true God. Do not question that and obey him now!” (Not that you were saying they would!)

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

      But since it makes no sense to use on the non-believer you are sincerely
      trying to convert, that tells me they have no concern for the
      non-believers.

      I have long been convinced that the vast majority of attempts at “evangelical outreach” are nothing more than those doing the “outreach” performing a sort of self-congratulatory act of public piety. “Look at me, reaching out to the heathens! I’m a great Christian!”

      • Sally

        I think I have known both humble, sincere missionaries and also the kind you talk about. Honestly, if you take the NT seriously, especially the book of Mark, it’s pretty hard not to argue everyone should be a missionary (a real missionary- and I know we could debate that definition). I dated a couple of guys in college who went on to be hard core missionaries, and while their message horrifies me now, I do respect their honest response to the Great Commission.
        Meanwhile, I remember noticing a lady at church many years later was growing her hair out and I asked her about it. This led to her sharing with me that they were going on a short term mission trip. Apparently since they were going somewhere for a few weeks where she wouldn’t be able to blow dry her hair, she was working on a drip-dry style. Umm, OK. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t sincere on some level, but it just highlighted for me that this mission trip was very much what you are talking about. She was living a modern, comfortable, American life and squeezing in a mission trip to round things out (and making sure she would look good doing it). Now I am fully aware that I’m judging her. It wasn’t that the hair thing told me she cared more about her hair than the people they would minister to. It was the having her cake and eating it too (modern American life and being a “real” missionary) that the hair thing highlighted in my mind.
        I think every honest Christian has to find a way to fulfill the Great Commission, and people get really creative calling themselves “tentmakers” (earning a regular living and evangelizing in place), short term missionaries (I think that’s the most obvious guilt assuager), or even Quiverfulers. I do think there are what I call real missionaries who live it out in a humble way, though.

      • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

        I do think there are what I call real missionaries who live it out in a humble way, though.

        I tend to agree with you and have more than a few friends I’d put in that category. One of the things that I noticed — which I suspect is at least partly an extension of the humility you speak of — is that they tend to be a lot more relationally-minded than the Publicly Pious Missionary-Wannabes. For example, they’re usually the people that tend to hang out and talk about other things in our respective lives and mutual interests rather than giving their Dutiful Spiel and splitting. Plus, when we talk about matters of faith, they tend to welcome much more nuanced and “messier” conversations rather than expecting to strictly follow some Script Guaranteed to Win.

    • Lizzie

      Exactly!

  • AAAtheist

    “… When I think of being required to obey an entity, any entity, without question I feel smothered inside. I need freedom to breathe, freedom to question, freedom to explore. In the patriarchal Christian homeschool world of my youth, I believed I was required to obey my father. Period. … The day I claimed the ability to question my dad and have different views from him I felt frightened, but also like I could fly. The whole world had opened up and it was beautiful and technicolor and full of possibilities. I knew I could never go back. [my emphasis] …”

    Yes, Libby. THIS. A hundred times THIS. A thousand times THIS. A million times THIS.

    Whenever people make the argument (for their god, their organization, their worldview, whatever) that something is beyond questioning, they’re arguing for slavery, whether they recognize it or not.

    One of the definitions of slavery, from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is …

    slav·ery [noun] {slā-v(ə-)rē} 2: submission to a dominating influence.

    Compare that to …

    “… God is the creator and we are part of his creation. As a result, we are in no position to judge [my emphasis] His actions. He reveals Himself to us, and we have an obligation to love and obey [also my emphasis] Him. …”

    Note the parallels and see how this sentiment is ripe for exploitation in the hands of charlatans, abusers, and even true believers.

  • Angela

    I can accept that if there is a higher power that humans probably have limited abilities to comprehend him/her/them/it. Several people like to believe in a mysterious and mystical god and appreciate that not everything can be explained and that’s ok too. However, when you believe that god engineers “tests of faith” to coerce people into doing all manner of things they find nonsensical and repugnant just to test their absolute obedience and devotion that’s dangerous.

    • AlisonCummins

      But would such a higher power be ignorant of our limitations and judge us for them?
      If we can’t comprehend the higher power then we can’t treat anything we think we understand about it as absolutes, only as very partially successful attempts.
      The whole thing is very weird to me.

      • Angela

        Why do there need to be absolutes in religion? We don’t use them in scientific discovery or any other way of obtaining knowledge. Instead we accept that we don’t have all the answers and probably never will but try to make the best sense we can of what information is available. There *may* be absolute truths in the universe but even so I think we need to be honest and admit that our ability to discern them is deeply flawed. Over the course of history most of the ideas humans have held as absolute truths have since been disproved and abandoned. When you declare something to be absolute you immediately shut down any opportunities for further reflection, discovery, and understanding. It is what causes people to burry their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that some of their beliefs may indeed be harmful or dangerous. Honestly, I can’t see the value in absolutes at all.

      • The_L1985

        Which is why only a Sith deals in absolutes.

      • tiggy

        Is that an absolute?

      • The_L1985

        Shh, don’t tell Obi-Wan. :)

    • Gillianren

      I’ve been saying for years that the main tenet of my faith is “I could be wrong.” But I also think any God worth worshiping would know that humans get things wrong a lot, even when they mean well.

      • Machintelligence

        You missed the point of faith. Faith is the little voice in your head that says you should believe the little voice in your head. */sarcasm*

  • MyOwnPerson

    It bothered me to see some patriarchal types who knew that women were getting a raw deal. Their attitude would be, “I’m sorry I had to do this bad thing to you, wife/daughter/sister, but God commands it of me so it can’t be questioned.”

  • Justin

    This has always been the theists favorite answer when they are confronted with their God’s heinous actions in the Bible. If you attributed half of the biblical God’s actions to a man, he’d quickly be considered the most evil individual in all of history. Yet because these actions were committed by God, suddenly it’s perfectly fine, because he must have had a reason we just can’t understand.

    • Gillianren

      This theist doesn’t believe in the Bible as a sacred text or a reliable history. Neither do quite a lot of other theists.

    • Sally

      I agree with this glaring flaw. It’s one of the many reasons I gave up Christianity.

    • Katty

      To further Gillianren’s point: You are accepting certain theists’ belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible and arguing from that perspective. The Bible as a literal, truthful account of “what God did” is an absurd notion to many Christians and should be as well for those who don’t believe in God in the first place.

      I would agree that many fundamentalists’ interpretation of the bible paint a pretty horrible picture of what kind of god they believe in. However, I resent the over-generalization of your comment (“the theists’ favorite answer…”). I guess I fall under your definition of theist (since I believe in God), but I would never use the argument that prompted the OP because it comes from a place that is completely foreign to my theology.

      • Justin

        It holds for theists in general because even without the Bible, you still have to do deal with the copious amounts of moral and natural evil in the world. And the most common philosophical objection by theists to the problem of evil is that we can’t ‘know for sure’ that God doesn’t have ‘morally sufficient’ reasons for allowing bad things to occur. This is little more than a watered down version of the Christian’s objection.

        Also, I don’t care if most Christians don’t take the Bible literally. If they don’t, they are cherry-picking. You can’t just accept the pieces you like as historical divine revelation, and wave the rest away as man-made corruption.

      • The_L1985

        Most Christians do not believe that the Bible was written by God. Rather, the Bible was written about God.

        As an ex-Christian, this makes total sense to me. Rather than some deity handing down The Big Book Of Instructions, it developed more or less organically, as human authors struggled with what the concept of God meant, and what was the right thing to do.

      • Justin

        Most Christians may not believe it was explicitly written by God, but they certainly believe that the portions they like and agree with, at least, were inspired by God. And then your back to the problem of cherry-picking. How do you decide which portion of the Bible is inspired and which was written purely by man?

      • The_L1985

        “Inspired” still doesn’t mean “written by God.” And really, even the literalists cherry-pick, because so many Biblical passages blatantly contradict each other.

        Here are a few samples, compiled by Gus diZerega (an author I happen to particularly enjoy), as given in p. 138-142 of his book Christians & Pagans:

        Ambiguities and Apparent Contradictions in the Nature of God

        1. God cannot be seen (John 1:18; Exodus 33:20) and God has been seen (Genesis 18; Exodus 24:9-11, 33:11, 32:30; Isaiah 6:1).
        2. God cannot and has never been heard by anybody (John 5:37) except that He speaks to Moses (Exodus 33:11).
        [...]
        Contradictions and Ambiguities in Biblical Theology
        1. We can fall from grace (2 Peter 2:20-21), and not fall from grace (John 10:28).
        [...]
        4. Jesus says that everyone who asks receives and everyone who seeks will find (Matthew 7:8-11), yet he also says few will be saved, even when they try (Matthew 7:14-23, Luke 13:24, John 12:40).

        Any Christian who insists that the Bible is totally free from all error is incorrect, simply because ALL of the things above cannot simultaneously be true. However, if you assume that the Bible was written by men who were inspired to write what they believed about the nature of the Divine, then the contradictions are (somewhat) resolved. After all, if God exists, and is truly beyond anything a single human could ever fully grasp, then we are like the blind men from the fable, each arguing about the nature of elephants, and as my favorite version of that fable goes “Each was partly in the right, and each was partly wrong.”

        Two different people can be inspired by the same thing, write about it, and get two totally different, even contradictory, works. I’m not sure why you are surprised by this.

        (By the way, I’m a theist, but I am definitely not Christian.)

      • Justin

        You are correct that if the Bible was ‘inspired’ it doesn’t mean that it was ‘written’ by God. But as Christians use it, Divine ‘inspiration’ means that God ‘guided’ the author through the Holy Spirit and kept it from error. This is what -most- Christians believe about portions, at the very least, of the Bible.

        And you’ll see no argument from me about how literalists behave or about the supposed innerancy of the Bible.

      • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

        Or some theists (there you go again, confusing “theists” and “Christians” for synonyms) may simply not view their deities as omnipotent and therefore capable of ending all evil.

      • Justin

        I’m not confusing either. Rather, I pointed out the similarities in their arguments. Also, any deity that isn’t omnipotent couldn’t be described as God in the traditional theistic sense as it’s commonly used.

      • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

        So you’re effectively erasing every deity that doesn’t fit your preferred definition of divinity? Neat!

      • Justin

        Indeed. Any deity that lacks even the ability to stop moral or natural evil couldn’t have possibly created the Universe or even manage it. So if such a being exists, it’s utterly irrelevant to human existence.

      • The_L1985

        But what if the deity is not omnibenevolent? In other words, what if the deity has the ability to stop all evil from happening, but not the inclination?

        Furthermore, what if there are multiple deities, who were willing to put their differences aside long enough to create a universe and set its laws, but couldn’t agree on what to do with it after? Wouldn’t that equally account for the “problem of evil?”

      • Justin

        If an ‘evil God’ exists, who would care? It would be a being utterly unworthy of worship or acknowledgement.

        As for your polytheistic situation, it guts itself on Ockham’s Razor. Why consider multiple immaterial deities when not even one can be proven?

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

      Excuse me, but “theist” and “Christian” are neither synonyms nor interchangeable.

  • Glia

    I feel like the Worldview statement conflates two related but separate arguments.

    Argument 1 is “God is much greater than us, and beyond our understanding. Therefore, we cannot judge his actions from our limited perspective.”

    Argument 2 is “God is by definition perfect, and his actions are, by extension, optimal. Therefore we should not attempt to judge him based on the actions (or their effects) that we can see.”

    The Worldview argument uses the premise of Argument 1 to get to the conclusion of Argument 2, and it doesn’t follow, for one obvious reason: if we are not capable of judging god’s actions, than we cannot say they are good. If we are incapable of judging god, than we are equally incapable of judging him to be right as we are of judging him to be wrong. This leaves us able to only judge the apparent results (meaning specifically, their effects on our own lives), which, in the absence of any direct and unambiguous revelation, puts us right back to the point of judging by what we can see.

    • Sally

      Hmm. I’m still thinking about this. Just to join in the fun of trying to apply logic to their statement, here might be another way to look at it. I actually can’t get past each argument of this version being flawed, let alone get to the point of conflating them.
      Argument 1: God created us, therefore we are inferior to him. [This is flawed because why can't the creation be equal in some ways, even superior? Computers (to get back to Rilian's example) are superior calculators in speed to people. Why couldn't God create something morally superior to himself?]
      Argument 2: Inferior beings aren’t worthy of judging superior beings. (Again, why not? Besides the flawed premise that we’re inferior morally just because we’re inferior other ways, maybe we’re in a *better* position to judge the morality because we can see first hand, as inferior beings, what the act in question is like for our fellow inferior beings in a way God can’t. In other words, God might say raping is OK (he does at certain times in the OT), but since God can’t be raped and we can, we’re in a *better* position to determine if that’s moral or not.
      I hope my attempt at logic here wasn’t too bad. It was fun to try, at least. I’m open to correction and feedback, of course.
      Meanwhile, Glia, I’ll think about yours some more.

      • Glia

        I think your logic is great! You’re addressing a little bit different of a point from what I was doing, is all (I was saying “let’s grant the premise, and see if the logic follows.” You are saying “Also the premise is garbage.” Which is true!) Both are valid, and I really like your analysis.

        In particular, your assessment of 2 (with the example of rape), is something I thought about A LOT when I was de-converting. It took more the form of an objection to the idea that Jesus, during his human incarnation, suffered everything that humans did. But I was, at that very time, suffering not from doubts about God’s goodness or his plan, but about his existence. Which Jesus, as part of God, could not possibly have experienced. So how could God, who knows everything, possibly know what it is like to not know this very important thing? And how could I reconcile knowing something God didn’t? It was stressful and confusing, at the time.

      • Rose

        When I was about fourteen I was having really bad period cramps while sitting through a church service while the pastor said something about Jesus going through everything we go through. I suddenly realized that Jesus, being male, never had a period or had to suffer like I was suffering at. It was kind of a silly thought, but honestly, the idea that one man in a specific culture in a specific time period experienced all suffering is kind of stupid. Not to mention it smacks of a huge amount of erasure.

      • Sally

        “So how could God, who knows everything, possibly know what it is like to not know this very important thing? And how could I reconcile knowing something God didn’t?”
        Excellent point. This kind of stuff bothered me too. I chalked it up to paradox for a long time, but at some point, the paradoxes stacked up too high and it all came crashing down.

      • Scott_In_OH

        I chalked it up to paradox for a long time, but at some point, the paradoxes stacked up too high and it all came crashing down.

        A great metaphor.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Some people claim that if you’re personally affected by something, that makes you LESS qualified to judge whether it’s good or bad. I think that’s stupid and wrong but I don’t know how to explain why.

      • Sally

        Well, I think the argument would be that if you’re personally affected in the specific “case,” you’re not objective. But I’d argue that personally affected is different than capable of being personally affected. I shouldn’t be in a position of actual judgment (formally) of someone who raped my sister, but I could be the judge in a case where I don’t know the people. Whereas I shouldn’t be the judge on another planet where some life form can experience some kind of wrong I can’t experience.

      • Rilian Sharp

        I was thinking of that same-sex marriage thing where the judge involved was gay. I read some people saying he couldn’t ne objective. In another example, I was arguing that if the omnipotent God were real, he’d be responsible for me being raped and therefore he’d be evil, and the person I was saying this to said that I was being selfish, that God would have bigger concerns, that it only seems like a big deal to me because it happened ti me, but in the grand scheme of things rape is NBD. You see, since it was personal for me, I couldn’t see that, but the person I was talking with, since he’d never been raped, he could be objective. Even though it COULD happen to him, the fact that it didn’t preserves his objectivity. Eyeroll isn’t enough, so I roll my whole head at that.

  • antimule

    >>God is the creator and we are part of his creation. As a result, we are in no position to judge His actions. He reveals Himself to us, and we have an obligation to love and obey Him.<<

    How can you even tell the difference between God and Satan then?

    • phantomreader42

      Satan kills fewer people, abides by the terms of agreements he makes, and has better style.

  • Rilian Sharp

    I don’t agree that you’re obligated to follow the orders of your creator. Someone once tried to explain it ti me by comparing it to a programmer and a computer. A computer does do exactly what it’s told, but not out of morality, but because it’s not capable of doing anything else. If a computer doesn’t do what you want it to do, YOU made the mistake, not the computer. So or we’re like computers designed by God, then we are doing exactly what God designed us to do. It wouldn’t be POSSIBLE for us to do anything else. But now suppose that computers could reject their programming. Why would it be obligated to do what we said? We built it with the ability to do its own thing, so if it doesn’t do what we want, that’s our own damn fault.

    • smrnda

      UPVOTE! As a programmer, I’ve found programming has taught me a lot of life lessons – one I export to dealing with children is that if kids aren’t doing what you think they should, maybe you’ve been programming/teaching them wrong. (Perhaps simply by setting a bad example.)

      The other issue is that computers have to be set up to manage exceptionHandling – when users try to get the computer to do the wrong things, so in some cases we set up programs to disobey the actual user. They also have to be set up to disobey instructions from other programs if they happen to cause conflict (like 2 programs both attempting to access and change the value in a memory register at the same time.) People are smart enough to know that computers *should* disobey instructions that are potentially harmful.

      • smrnda

        Note – exceptionHandling isn’t always handling users asking programs to do ‘the wrong thing’ but it seemed like a good non-technical way to provide an example.

      • The_L1985

        Well, yeah, it works. “Asking programs to do something that the program isn’t designed to do” is a bit long-winded, and still leaves out quite a few cases. :)

    • Sally

      Excellent analogy!

    • Sally

      And you bring up a good general point that the creation isn’t obligated to obey the creator in the first place. That’s as arbitrary as all the other “rules” about God. (-Not to be confused with the rules we have made for ourselves to function as a society.)

  • Rilian Sharp

    As to whether we should judge God’s actions. Assuming a creator God exists, imbued us with the ability to judge, so again it’s his own damn fault. Whether we judge accurately is irrelevant to our ability to MAKE judgements. YOU, crazy xtian, may choose to distrust your own mind and assume that God is good no matter what, but I choose to trust my own mind, and if my mind was made by God, then surely God knew what he was doing. Anyway my judgement would be meaningless to a God, since I can’t hurt him in anyway, so why ever would he care? Because I’ll go to hell? He caused that too, since he’s the programmer. It’s all his fault. Everything.

    • Rilian Sharp

      And the good things that God does don’t make up for the bad. Rainbows and hugs don’t make up for rape and murder.

  • Christine

    As bad as everyone has pointed out the “never question God” theology is, it’s not the biggest problem with this teaching. It’s the unspoken ‘if you are told [by someone in authority over you] that something is from God, you shouldn’t question them.’

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    This type of thinking is what creates leaders like Mark Driscoll.

  • busterggi

    God, who I don’t believe exists either, would be in no position to judge us. Human beings have limited knowledge and untrustworthy senses to obtain that knowledge We have to struggle to survive (most of us anyway), get ill & injured, suffer emotional distress&/or outright mental illness and know we will ultimately die with no promise of any future existance.

    God wouldn’t have a clue.

    • Things1to3

      I’ve heard it argued that this was the point behind Jesus birth and life. His death was to “save” us, but the reason he was born and lived was to give God a better, first hand understanding of a humans perspective.

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

        Isn’t God supposed to be omniscient, though? Wouldn’t that mean, by definition, God would understand a human perspective?

        I’ve heard that argument before too, but it just never made any sense to me with all the other stuff people kept claiming about God.

      • Justin

        It’s logically impossible for ‘God’ to understand the human perspective, though. By nature, he is considered omnibenevolent. That means that he is utterly incapable of evil, that all his thoughts and desires are ‘good’ by definition. He’s literally incapable of even feeling temptation.

        Given that the ‘temptation’ to do ‘evil’ is one of the most central human experiences, how could God possibly understand us?

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

        Well, you’ve just pointed out yet another logical impossibility in the triple-omni conception of God, haven’t you?

      • Justin

        Indeed. It’s even worse for Christians. In the Gospels and throughout the New Testament, it’s asserted that Jesus was tempted in ‘every way that we are’ and yet he never sinned. Yet this isn’t compatible with the belief that Jesus was God, since the Bible also explicitly says that God cannot even be tempted by evil. Jesus would have to be ‘God’ and ‘Not-God’ at the same time. Of course, when this is pointed out, they try to fall back on the ‘mystery of the Incarnation’ and how it’s beyond our ‘understanding’. They use that excuse a lot, don’t they?

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

        Yeap :/

      • Sally

        Fully God and fully human. You have to live with that “paradox” unless and until the paradoxes stack up so high they all tumble down at some point. The best way to avoid that tumble is to avoid stacking them up in the first place. But boy, if and when one does allow them to stack up and sees the whole thing just tip and crash, what a relief to no longer have to do the mental gymnastics of both accepting paradoxes and (the more important one), keeping the paradoxes far away from each other.

      • Leigha7

        In the exact same verse that says God can’t be tempted by evil, it also says “nor does he tempt anyone” (it’s in James 1 somewhere), yet there are several examples in the bible, mostly in the Old Testament, of God deliberately tempting people. Jesus being tempted by the devil during his 40 years in the desert (the only concrete example I know of) is no less contradictory than those.

      • The_L1985

        Oh yes. I always say “Omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent: Pick two.” Because having all three is what makes the problem of evil…well, a problem.

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

        Oh yes. Though Justin thoughtfully pointed out a problem in just one! Omniscience in and of itself is a logical impossibility in the Christian god context.

  • disqus_0lZXkBrl0I

    What’s the point of prayer except to change God’s mind or talk him into something? People pray that someone who is dying gets better, or to help them find a new job, or for good weather when they go on vacation, or for their kid’s baseball team to win, etc. If we were only supposed to be obedient, why would people bother with prayer?

    • Scott_In_OH

      It’s a big theological debate for some people.

      I was raised to believe that prayer was about God changing us, not the other way around. If God is omniscient, how could a human point out something He hadn’t already considered? Instead, we could say anything we wanted to to God, but we had to allow ourselves to be transformed in the process, since that was where true progress lay.

      Psychologically, I think it’s a lot like pouring yourself out to a friend who’s a great listener, even if s/he doesn’t really do anything.

      • Guest

        But doesn’t John 14:14 say “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”? Do you just discount that bit or say it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean?

      • Scott_In_OH

        I think the argument is that if you’re praying right, God will lead you to ask for the right thing.

    • Stev84

      And what about God’s Plan[TM]? Why do puny humans think they can change the grande plan of the creator of the whole universe?

      • Justin

        The grand plan? The one that sends 90% of everyone who has ever lived to hell? The one that subjects the vast majority of the world to varying levels of suffering and misery?

      • The_L1985

        I think Stev84 was being facetious.

  • Lunch Meat

    Sorry for the OT comment, but have you seen this: http://www.fixthefamily.com/blog/6-reasons-to-not-send-your-daughter-to-college ? I’d be interested to see your response, since they claim to be responding to “common objections” to not sending young women to college.

    • TLC

      “Near occasion of sin”. Now THERE’S a new level of paranoia for you.

      Funny how all of this is wrapped up in women in the role of homemaker. If all Catholics followed this advice, there wouldn’t be any nuns. And many of those nuns HAVE gone to college and fulfilled their roles as doctors, nurses, administrators, theologians and teachers.

      • Alice

        Another reason the “Young adults must be supervised so they don’t stick their forks into outlets” is not a valid argument because if the parents are that paranoid, they can just make their grown kids live at home and watch them like a hawk while they’re in college or send them to a maximum security prison like Bob Jones. I definitely don’t recommend it, but just pointing this out.

      • The_L1985

        Not really new. That’s been part of the Act of Contrition at least since Vatican II (and probably farther back, only in Latin).

        Basically, as part of Confession, you’re supposed to say something that goes like this, IIRC:

        “Oh my Father, I am heartily sorry for the sins which I have committed, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, and I heartily resolve, with Thy good help, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

        Basically, “near occasion of sin” means, if you know that there’s a temptation that’s particularly effective on you, you should avoid places where that temptation is strong.

        That said…yeah, there are some serious issues with that article. Some Catholics are just plain nuts when it comes to gender roles.

      • TLC

        Thank you for sharing this. I went to Catholic school through eighth grade and never learned this!

      • The_L1985

        I learned it in my First Communion CCD prep course. It’s not really mentioned in the schools themselves.

    • The_L1985

      Holy paranoid sexism, Batman! I don’t even know where I’d begin with this one. Especially the implication that a college-educated woman will automatically earn more than her husband (because of course she’s going to end up in a heterosexual marriage, that’s what women are for).

    • Alice
  • Nichelle Wrenn

    Posts like this make me want to go to my parents and give them a great big hug. I was raised as a freethinker, no teachings from some ‘holy’ (read: unquestionable) book shaped my life growing up. The only magazines I got while growing up was National Geographic and whatever science I read in the store while we shopped. My mother and I bond over coffee and atheist podcasts and my father lampoons religion every opportunity, now that I have made my descision.

  • Rebecca Horne

    I *thought* that I had no respect at all for the argument that we can’t judge/god’s ways are mysterious and beyond our grasp. Then something clicked a few months ago and I managed to have even *less* respect for it.

    People who claim that we can’t judge god’s actions or grasp his ways…almost always say that god is good. That’s a judgement. If god is truly outside our ability to understand, then they have no basis on which to declare him good. “Good,” is a human judgement and, when spoken by a human, can only ever reflect human understanding of morality.

    Pick a side, people! If you are saying god is good, then you are saying his actions are good by your own, human standards: ie, that you approve of stoning all manner of people to death, encouraging the slaughter of non-combatants and children in racial war (except, of course, for the virgins, who you may rape as you wish), and all the other horrors that god explicitly approves of and commands in the Bible.

    If you say that god is beyond judgement, than you cannot go on to claim his goodness, or his love, or his need to be loved by us.

  • Amtep

    I would find these claims that we shouldn’t judge God much easier to swallow if God didn’t also claim a parental role. Our Father in heaven and all that. We may not have a good model for the ethical relationship between a creator and sapient creations, but we DO know how parents are supposed to act.

    For example, suppose you come home one day to find that your children have been eating out of the cookie jar. The cookie jar that you SPECIFICALLY told them not to touch, when you left it open in the middle of the playroom.

    So of course, you do the only thing a reasonable parent would do. You kick them out of the house and tell them never to come back. Then you shout out the window that you love them.

    • Leigha7

      Don’t forget that you never actually taught them there would be consequences for touching the cookie jar, or that there was any such thing as right or wrong. You just told them, with no context, that they shouldn’t touch it.

  • Eve Fisher

    Not judging God’s actions is actually un-Biblical. Sure, Paul said, who are you to argue against God – and then argued like crazy himself. The book of Job is all about Job’s raging against God – and, in the end, God calls him righteous for doing so. The prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is Jesus pleading with God to not make Him go through with it… and just because Jesus added, “Thy will be done” does not mean he wasn’t arguing with God. When life is crap – and sometimes it is, and some places on this earth it is absolute living hell – the best thing to do is be honest with God and tell Him so. He can take it. And He’s heard it from some of His dearest people, including His own Son.

  • Leigha7

    Even in my Focus on the Family variety of Christianity (before becoming an atheist), the prevailing idea was that it’s okay to question or be angry at God, because “He’s big. He can take it.” The idea that God can’t even handle people questioning him boggles my mind. What is he, five (in god years, of course)?

    Then again, much of the Old Testament does make God seem like a very cranky, violent child.

  • http://rebeccasdaughter.blogspot.com/ Rebeccas_Daughter

    Actually, I think we have a moral imperative to question God – and the Bible.

  • EchoInTheSilence

    This reminds me a lot of the discourses I’ve been witness to in my role with the autism community and all the people who say you “can’t judge” parents who kill their autistic children. H*ll yes, I’ll judge them like I’d judge any parent who murdered their child. Casey Anthony was found not guilty because there was no evidence she killed her child (as opposed to failing to report her missing) and people still treated her like a pariah, but a woman stabs her son to death, and her defense is basically “his autism made me do it” and everyone rushes to defend her?


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