“You’re so smart?” the Christian apologist says. “You think you can read God’s mind? Then tell us what life on earth should look like if God created it.”
I’m glad you asked. If an omnipotent and all-loving god created human life here on earth as a way to develop us into better people who would deserve eternity in heaven, our world would look like “Leave It to Beaver.”
“Leave It to Beaver” was a popular American sitcom that originally aired 1957–1963. It showed the adventures of Beaver Cleaver (to the right in the photo above, with his TV parents and older brother Wally).
Who graduates from God’s classroom?
First, let’s view life from the Christian perspective. Jesus makes clear that few will make it to heaven.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13–14)
Making it through that small gate is our purpose in life. I’ve heard Christians give different metaphors for our world. God made a challenging life on earth as a test to see which people are made of the right stuff. Or it’s a proving ground where the good souls get a chance to prove their worth. Or a crucible where the dross burns away to improve our character and prepare us for heaven.
But let’s imagine life as a classroom. God apparently is so poor a teacher that he only graduates a few of his students.
If you were the president of a college, you might think that if 80 percent of the freshmen graduate, that’s a decent fraction. It’s too bad about the rest, but it’s not possible to make that fraction zero. But God could. God would know exactly what the problems were and how to fix them. Is it a lack of motivation? A lack of funds? Classes not relevant or interesting enough? With God in control, he could create colleges with a 100 percent graduation rate.
God isn’t president of an ordinary college; he’s president of the Ultimate College—life. What fraction of people graduate from God’s college into heaven? Not even half.
Is this the best of all possible worlds?
Eighteenth-century German polymath Gottfried Leibniz argued that this must be the best of all possible worlds. How could God allow all the bad that we see in the world—famine, plague, violence, and so on? Leibniz simply assumed that God would give us the best of all possible worlds, that God couldn’t improve one part without making the overall worse. QED.
This is the Hypothetical God Fallacy—assuming God exists and then (surprise!) it all falls into place, with us unable to critique God’s super-smart plan.
Let’s respond to Leibniz. God can’t make things better than what we have now? Let me suggest some ideas.
Tips for God
Here’s how an omnipotent and all-loving God could better organize life. I propose a world with a 100 percent graduation rate where everyone gets into heaven. It would be a world with gentle correction for errors, like in “Leave It to Beaver.”
To see what that world would look like, here are some of the plot summaries from that sitcom:
- Beaver and Wally are in charge of the neighbor’s cat, but then a dog chases it away (“Cat Out of the Bag”).
- Beaver discovers his old teddy bear and reluctantly discards him after his father and brother tell him he’s too old for dolls. Beaver changes his mind, but he’s too late to save it before the garbage truck comes. He tries to get it back (“Beaver’s Old Friend”).
- Beaver is scheduled to receive an award at school and argues with his parents about whether he needs to wear a jacket and tie (“Beaver’s Football Award”).
- Beaver must write a book report on The Three Musketeers and decides to watch the movie on TV instead of reading the book (“The Book Report”).
- Beaver and a friend are in charge of the class cookie fund, but another student steals three dollars (“The Cookie Fund”).
- Beaver rips his suit pants and lies about it. He’s scolded for the lie and then tells the truth when he rips the pants of his other suit, but his parents won’t believe him (“Beaver’s Bad Day”).
There are 234 episodes. In each, the stakes are low, and there is learning at the end. Beaver gets a little wiser as he’s gently nudged toward adulthood. Not everyone reaches their goals in each episode, but nothing particularly bad happens. Sure, embarrassment during a date or punishment after a mistake is traumatic, but it’s not cancer. Things are black and white, just like the show itself. It’s life with training wheels.
Contrast Beaver’s life with plausible plots from our reality:
- Little Suzie gets smallpox and then dies (“Suzie’s Bad Day”).
- Frank is at work when he feels an earthquake. He makes his way home, but he’s too late—a tsunami has swept away his entire town, including his family (“Frank’s Bad Day”).
- Jamey is tormented by homophobic bullying in school and online. He hangs himself at age 14 (“Jamey’s Bad Day”—a true story).
The Christian demands, “Aren’t you the arrogant one? You think you can tell God how to arrange the universe?” But of course that’s not the question. We don’t take God as a presupposition and then rearrange the facts to support it. Instead, we just follow the facts. And this world certainly looks like a world without a god.
The best thing about believing in a crazy, illogical,
manmade, totally fictional afterlife
is that you will never find out you were wrong.
— Ricky Gervais
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/8/13.)
Photo credit: Wikipedia