Is God free to decide to cherish a gum thief?

Derek Flood offers a mini-sermon on “Sin and Chewing Gum“:

Yesterday, I was walking through Dolores Park and heard a street preacher, saying “If you’ve ever stolen a stick of gum, then you are guilty of sin! If you’ve ever looked at Facebook at work, then you’ve stolen from your employer, and that’s sin!”

Of course we all know where he was headed: If we have sinned — even with a trivial infraction like a stick of gum — then God who is holy must punish us for all eternity in Hell unless we accept Jesus right now.

I mean, seriously, gum? Why can’t God just get over it? Is God less moral than all of us are? This is not a picture of holiness, it is a picture of a petty tyrant. …

Which recalled something I read earlier in the day — the latest of Juan Cole’s translations from Omar Khayyam:

You are the alpha and omega;
without you everything is nothing.
If you wish, you can
sentence us to hell,
and if you wish, you can
decide to cherish us.

A great deal of Christian theology winds up defining God’s holiness as a limitation on God’s power and freedom. Perhaps God wishes to “decide to cherish us,” this view says, but God cannot do that because, you know, we stole some gum.

God cannot do that? God “cannot”?

It’s just odd that some of the people who talk the loudest about God’s sovereignty also deny that such sovereignty would allow God to choose to cherish a gum-thief and deny God the sovereign freedom not to sentence us to hell.

  • PJ Evans

    some of the people who talk the loudest about God’s sovereignty also
    deny that such sovereignty would allow God to choose to cherish a
    gum-thief and deny God the sovereign freedom not to sentence us to hell

    I keep hoping they’ll figure out that God is more likely to punish them for constantly telling Her what to do.

  • Loki100

    If you’ve ever looked at Facebook at work, then you’ve stolen from your employer, and that’s sin!

    Wow, that’s a disgusting concept.  We should all be ceaseless working wind up toys and the moment one piece of work is finished, we must start on the next. It’s actually just a repackaged version of the moral justifications of slavery and serfdom. This is why productivity goes up, and yet wages regress.  

    It reminds me of the Better Off Ted episode, “Beating a Dead Workforce” where the company literally works a man to death and then glorifies his sacrifice to the point where a cult breaks out dedicated to him.

    Everyone should watch Better Off Ted, not only is it hilarious, but its extreme satire of corporations is rapidly becoming commonplace reality.

  • Tonio

    Reminds me of some same-sex marriage opponents, the ones who insist they have no animosity toward gays but still take the attitude that rules are rules.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It seems to me that such people as the preacher demanding punishment even for trivial sins completely ignore that a Being with infinite capability to punish also can be a Being with infinite capability of mercy.

    The wages of sin may be death, but it isn’t us humans who get to choose if that wage need be paid, since we all die in any case.

  • Dave

    I wonder if the preacher would agree with the converse, that an employer who doesn’t pay me for the overtime I put in is stealing from me. Doubtless not.

    The cult of supply side Jesus is a great detriment to Christianity. 

  • Lori

    The argument that I usually see is that it’s the nature of God to be unable to tolerate sin and God can’t go against his own nature. Which is all well and good I suppose if it weren’t for one teensy-weensy little thing—humans are expected to go against their nature, a nature which incidentally was supposedly created by God. I’ve never seen a non-authoritarian explanation for why it’s reasonable for an all-powerful being to sentence is his not-at-all-all-powerful creations to endless torment for not doing something that he himself is unable to do. 

  • Tricksterson

    look at some of the religious zealots who post here.  I feel sorry for them really because the only use they make of their free will is to decide to follow blindly.

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, apparently LGBT folk have more free will than God.

  • Loki100

    I once worked a job (for a university) where the boss straight up told the entire staff they could pay nothing and would still have people willing to work for them, so we should be thankful for whatever crumbs they were willing to give us.

    I’m thinking that’s the world of his God. One where we should be thankful to the mighty employers for whatever they deign to give us and exploitation does not exist.

  • WingedBeast

    That image of God had a bit of PR work, but was essentially the version of God I was taught of in Methodist church and Catholic Highschool.  “God is so loving and kind that He allows you a way out of the eternal torment and damnation that you deserve for having a bad thought that one time.”

    Memories dredged up when I read 1984 with much talk of doublethink and the ability to convince oneself of whatever past was right for the party at the moment.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.com/ D Johnston

    You’ve said it yourself, Fred – some people have a really odd concept of God. Their God may be all-powerful, but He’s also impotent to do anything by will alone. We’ve talked before about the “magic words” concept which portrays God as a genie or summoned spirit, capable of being ordered around by humans. This version of God is more like a divine computer, and we are all just so many programs. If the God-tron forgave you your gum-stealing or Facebook-looking, it would cause a fatal error, and we can’t have that.

  • Keromaru5

    Lori: “I’ve never seen a non-authoritarian explanation for why it’s reasonable for an all-powerful being to sentence is his not-at-all-all-powerful creations to endless torment for not doing something that he himself is unable to do.”

    Because there isn’t one.  

    On the other hand, this video offers a rebuttal to that view by an Orthodox priest, who is also responding to Rob Bell’s Love Wins

  • Lori

     

    I once worked a job (for a university) where the boss straight up told
    the entire staff they could pay nothing and would still have people
    willing to work for them, so we should be thankful for whatever crumbs
    they were willing to give us.  

    So, according to him why weren’t they staffing the place entirely with slaves? I mean “interns”. Were you supposed to believe that they were paying for employees out of the goodness of their hearts or something?

  • Lori

    I don’t see how the Orthodox view of the chair thing really changes the basic problem. The guy isn’t rebutting it, he’s just talking around it.

    “Brokenness and death” as a consequence of sin is still either God’s choice or something that God the supposedly all-powerful doesn’t have the power to change. That’s a problem.

  • Baby_Raptor

    “If you’ve ever looked at Facebook at work, then you’ve stolen from your employer, and that’s sin!”
    Does it count as stealing if said employer knows I’m doing it and is okay with it? My entire job is to be back-up–I only take calls if the main employees are spammed. And then at the end of my shift, I file some paperwork. So my boss knows she’s paying me to do nothing most of the time. 

    Maybe I get out on a loophole since she’s okay with it?

  • WingedBeast

    I’m not seeing a rebuttle to the “it’s okay for God to send subjects to eternal torment” view but an attempt to PR that view into something morally acceptable or even good.

    It’s a little like woman who says that she doesn’t want to be put in the same category as other people who want to oppress gay people because she isn’t being blatantly hateful about it.

    If you take something horribly immoral, dress it up with flowers and pretty birds, it’s still horribly immoral.  Otherwise, there’d be no problem with waterboarding so long as it was enacted by Hello Kitty.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    People who are willing to work for nothing are very likely stealing from their job or figuring out other ways to get paid. Can’t see a lot of respect for that boss. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Way to insult everyone who’s ever taken an internship for college credit or because it puts experience on their resume.

  • Mira

    This is pretty much how I wound up a universalist – following the logic that if God is truly and infinitely good, then his attributes include being infinitely more just, loving, and merciful than I am. If it seems completely senseless and cruel to sentence people to infinite torment for finite wrongs, many of which are simply not self-evident to well-meaning people, I have no obligation to believe God would do that, because…it’s obvious to me, and he’s way BETTER than me!

    I don’t worry a lot about the fate of people’s eternal souls. I truly believe God cares for us all. 

  • Al

     While it’s becoming distressingly common to replace paid employees with interns who do the same amount of work for free, it’s not always the best solution. Sometimes a position can only be filled by a trained employee with experience — that is, the kind of person who is in a position in their lives where they don’t have to — or can’t — work for free as slaves/interns.

    (Incidentally, the whole internship thing is highly illegal, at least in the U.S.; internships are supposed to be educational, and supposed to benefit the intern more than the employer. If the intern is essentially an ordinary, full-time employee with the same responsibilities and workload but isn’t getting paid, that’s in direct violation of federal law and several state statutes. The only reason employers get away with it is, sadly enough, the same reason employers can get interns to agree to the situation in the first place; because it’s often the only way to “break in” to certain industries and the only way to sever the whole, “you need experience to land a job, and you need to have a job to gain experience” cycle of stupidity.)

  • Lori

     

    People who are willing to work for nothing are very likely stealing from their job or figuring out other ways to get paid.  

    As Ellie & Al pointed out those “other ways to get paid” are generally college credit or resume building & making necessary connections in one’s chosen field, not theft. The one being taken advantage of is almost always the intern, not the employer.

  • Tricksterson

    Isn’t that painting the manyhued spectrum of Protestantism which, at the very least, stretches from the Quakers to the Baptists with a very broad brush?  Also IIRC the “sin” of the woman at the well wasn’t that she went from relationship to relayionship but just that she was a Samaritan.

  • aunursa

    It’s just odd that some of the people who talk the loudest about God’s sovereignty also deny that such sovereignty would allow God to choose to cherish a gum-thief and deny God the sovereign freedom not to sentence us to hell.

    In interfaith debates, Christian apologists have told me that we put artificial limits on God when we say that He cannot become a man. “Why can’t God become a man?” they ask.

    Then these same Christians turn around and insist that God cannot forgive someone without a blood sacrifice.  Someone or something innocent must die, because God cannot make an exception to His system of justice. 

    I have lots of fun turning their own words against them.  (I tell them that if God desires to forgive someone without a blood sacrifice, He is not bound by Christian theology.)

  • aunursa

    As Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism put it:

    Christian theologians want us to believe that God created humanity with the nature to sin.  Then He gave the Jewish people a set of laws that He knew we couldn’t keep, yet He told us that we could keep them.  For centuries He punished us for violating them.  Then, after 1400 years, He told us, “Ha ha!  I knew you couldn’t keep the laws, and the only reason that I gave them to you was to show you that you couldn’t keep them.”  And then in the future, God will punish us with eternal damnation for failing to keep laws that He knew we couldn’t keep.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    Isn’t that the same rhetorical device that the movie version of Cam-Cam (Kirk the banana man) uses to show people that every one has sinned?  What’s the point?

  • Albanaeon

     ”Otherwise, there’d be no problem with waterboarding so long as it was enacted by Hello Kitty.”

    Thanks for the nightmare fuel…

  • Albanaeon

     Umm…  I think Ray Comfort is Bananaman as he’s the one who did the video one how the banana was proof of God because it was perfect for humans.  Which was Epic Fail on so many levels, from bananas being cultivated for thousands of years by humans to get to that perfect form, to thinking that our hands which are made to hold and manipulate things makes it surprising when we hold and manipulate things, to missing some very suggestive things that bananas and places they could fit into perfectly suggest about his God.

    Kirk Cameron however is better known as Crocoduck due to him getting in front of live and TV audiences and claiming evolution was false because we had never found a duck with a crocodiles’ head.  He even had a picture ready.  Another completely epic fail, with the added bonus that Bananaman at least pretends that the banana incident is a plot by EVILutionists to discredit him, Crocoduck still seems to think he’s made some sort of killer point against evolution.  Which is hilarious and sad on many, many levels.

  • Mau de Katt

     

    Otherwise, there’d be no problem with waterboarding so long as it was enacted by Hello Kitty.

    When she’s mad, Hello Kitty erases the “o.”

  • PJ Evans

     The interns where I work are paid. Some of them get hired and become salaried employees.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    look at some of the religious zealots who post here.

    Do we have many? On slacktivist, I mean, not the broader Patheos. I can’t think of a regular commenter who I’d consider a religious zealot. Other sorts of zealots, on the other hand…:)

  • Loquat

    The comments on that Sin-and-Gum article seem heavily invested in the idea that stealing a pack of chewing gum is a major offense against God.

    And human nature is such that if we can rationalize stealing something small like gum we will at some point ramp it up and will keep pushing the line until we can justify just about anything.

    If you start stealing gum, you’ll end up committing mass murder!

     God cares more of us than he does about a stick of gum. Therefore, how awful for us to sin for the mere acquisition of gum?

    I can’t tell if this guy’s telling us never to sin, or to only sin when there’s a big payoff attached. It seems like he favors the former, but one of the primary tenets of Christianity says that’s impossible for the average person, so… Sin big or go home?

    Jesus does not mention gum [...] because there was no such thing as gum

    I don’t even.

  • Müntzer

    I would take this from another direction, thinking of Matt 5, 21 in my Luther-bible.
    If i think wrongly or wrothly of my fellow men i am as guilty as the murderer. If i look at a woman and desire her, i have sinned against my relationship (and if i have none, propably against hers… if we are both single, wll… ;)) and it goes on and on. Sinning is like breathing. You can try to stop, but you most likely wont be able to. Just stop for 10 minutes and closely watch what you think. Anything less than complimentary about a fellow men? More than complementary?
    So we basically sin all the time. But the point is not to stop and be saved. The point is to acknowledge that we sin, that we are less than perfect, and that we NEED salvation.
    And if we acknowledge this, and GOD in his infinite wisdom will know when we do, than we can and we probably already are saved.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Reminds me of some same-sex marriage opponents, the ones who insist they
    have no animosity toward gays but still take the attitude that rules
    are rules.

    And sometimes the person saying ‘rules are rules’ isn’t enforcing a policy in good faith, but instead resting on that argument because out of sheer improbable coincidence such a stance helps reinforce a discriminatory arrangement in their favor.

  • Tricksterson

    Frank comes to mind.  A couple of others.  Not as regular as say Lori or Tonio but often enough.  Aunursa and Chris Hadrick are zealots but not that religious, although aunursa is somewhat.

  • aunursa

    Aunursa and Chris Hadrick are zealots but not that religious, although aunursa is somewhat.

    Religious zealot?  LOL!

  • phantomreader42

     aunursa, quoting RAbbi Tovia Singer:

    Christian theologians want us to believe that God created humanity with
    the nature to sin.  Then He gave the Jewish people a set of laws that He
    knew we couldn’t keep, yet He told us that we could keep them. 
    For centuries He punished us for violating them.  Then, after 1400
    years, He told us, “Ha ha!  I knew you couldn’t keep the laws, and the
    only reason that I gave them to you was to show you that you couldn’t
    keep them.”  And then in the future, God will punish us with eternal
    damnation for failing to keep the laws that He knew we couldn’t keep.

    So, god is a sadistic troll, torturing people for fun and lying to them to manufacture an excuse for the torture.  That fits the image I get from most christian apologists…

  • WingedBeast

    A.  This particular Theology has the same problem as I mentioned in the video.  It doesn’t eliminate the problem, it just dresses it up.  Only, in this case it dresses it up  not in pretty notions of love but in degrading notions of thoughtcrime.

    B.  It’s also important to note that, biblically speaking, this particular theology makes God into a hypocrite.  He thinks incredibly uncomplimentary things about each and every human individually.  “This being is so far below me, so far removed from my own glory, as to be deserving of eternal torment.”  That is far worse than my thought that one person may deserve a punch in the face.  While I’m not claiming perfection… I’m not the one judging everybody else to be horrible people for not being perfect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Isn’t it annoying when someone you barely know and have never met tries to describe your lifestyle and beliefs for you?

  • Tricksterson

    Maybe  I’m misrepresenting you in which case I apologize.  Remind me again of your views on abortion and gay marriage and your justfications for same?

  • Tricksterson

    That’s the image I get from reality.

  • aunursa

    That wasn’t an actual quote.  But that’s how Rabbi Singer has characterized evangelical Christian theology.

  • aunursa

    No need to apologize.  I’m amused, not offended.

    I don’t recall having ever discussed abortion or same sex marriage here. And those issues are not my hot-button issues. So your conclusion must be based on my stated positions about other political issues.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t consider aunursa and Chris Hadrick religious zealots at all. Fervent adherence to any political ideology, including those I find objectionable, is a completely different category to religious zealotry.

    Don’t remember Frank. We’ve had a few who fit the description who’ve trolled for a while then left, thankfully.

  • Tricksterson

    I’ll put it down to the fact that I’m easily confused.

  • http://www.facebook.com/l.andrew.spencer Leonard Andrew Spencer

     It also sounds completely wrong theologically. I’m an atheist, but I’m pretty sure some of the old testament laws include commands not to be overly efficient in your work where it harms other’s lives. I know leaving grain and grapes for children and the poor was much more important than letting workers communicate with friends between tasks, but the principle seems the same.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     One of my favorite writers (Robert Anton Wilson) once commented on how some people apparently think  they gain gravitas by pretending to be a ventriloquist’s dummy.  “It is not I who speak, but the Word of God!”, “I don’t WANT to do this, but it’s The Law”, ad nauseam. 


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