Downsides to the Hope Offered by Christianity: It Makes God a Jerk + Infantilizes Christians

Downsides to the Hope Offered by Christianity: It Makes God a Jerk + Infantilizes Christians July 25, 2018

Let’s continue our list of problems with Christian hope (part 1 here).

6. Christian hope makes God into a jerk

Let’s imagine that a child from a Christian household dies in an “act of God” sort of way. Maybe it’s leukemia or a birth defect or just an accident. If that family finds comfort in the belief that this was all part of God’s plan, they’ve now created a new problem: they’ve made God into a heartless jerk. This just turns one problem into another.

Why can’t God get what he wants done without killing people? He’s morally perfect, so he’d want to avoid killing people, and he’s omnipotent, so he is able to achieve his purposes without killing people (more). And yet he still kills people. Is “My god is a jerk” really easier to live with than “My child didn’t die for no good reason but just because of bad luck or capricious nature”?

As usual, “God did it” as an explanation only raises more questions. Perhaps the benefit is that might makes right, and we can imagine God shutting down the debate with, “Because I said so—deal with it” as he did with Job.

Atheist Bob Price raises another problem with continually giving God a pass by saying that he’s inscrutable.

[The ultimate certainty in the believer’s mind is] the guarantee that [God] will honor that ticket to heaven he supposedly issued you. Here’s a troublesome thought. Suppose you get to the Day of Judgment and God cancels the ticket. No explanation. No appeal. You’re just screwed. Won’t you have to allow that God must have reasons for it that you, a mere mortal, are not privy to? Who are you, like Job, to call God to account?

Are you sure that not judging God’s actions—not measuring them against any standard—is really where you want to go? God looks like a jerk, but apologists tell us (without evidence) that he’s actually just inscrutable. This is no improvement.

7. Christian hope infantilizes adults

Let’s look at a few childhood parallels to Christian hope and faith.

Suppose a girl sick with cancer throws a coin into a wishing well and wishes to get better. The net effect is that she’s a little happier, like she took a happiness pill. We know that wishing wells don’t really do anything, but few of us would tell her. What’s the point? She actually does feel better, and she has adults in her life who will protect her from reality so that she can hold this belief.

But as she becomes an adult, she must grow up. We leave behind wishing wells, Santa Claus, blankies, and other false comforts as we become independent. No longer are the necessities of life given to us; as adults, we must fend for ourselves—indeed, we want to fend for ourselves.

Religion infantilizes adults and keeps them dependent. That’s a good thing for the 100-billion-dollar-a-year U.S. religion industry, but what is best for the individual—a pat on the head and an unevidenced promise of the supernatural, or reality?

Let’s move on to another example, that of a bicycle with training wheels (“stabilizers” in some parts of the world). Christianity is like training wheels, not because it avoids falls in the real world but because it is reassuring. Its benefit is mental, not physical.

A different bicycle parallel works for atheism: imagine a child learning to ride a bike. The parent pushes the kid along, and the kid feels confident, but then the parent lets go. The kid doesn’t realize it and still pedals along happily, perhaps even talking to the parent who’s fallen behind. There’s some shock when they realize they’re on their own and doing fine—maybe startling them enough to fall. The belief was reassuring.

Similarly, when someone moves away from comfortable Christianity, it can be a shock to imagine that you’re doing this on your own, but you were riding along just fine, even if you didn’t realize it. With the shock in the past, ex-Christians are exhilarated by their new freedom.

Let’s take a step back. What psychological itch gets scratched when people debase themselves like this? I’ve read many Christians sources that say things like, “I’m just a worthless sinner, and if I were God, I wouldn’t let me live” or “I’m wicked scum, and God is so fabulous for giving me my crappy life.”

William Lane Craig said it this way: “God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.”

Do people get a dose of some neuropeptide when they curl into a fetal position and have Mommy take care of them? I thought that Americans prefer to stand on their own two feet, bravely facing problems and obstacles. “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” right? Doesn’t this celebration of subservience clash with Americans’ self-reliant view of themselves?

You don’t need to be born again; you need to grow up. Christianity infantilizes its devotees. Putting faith in God has never produced anything. Progress has always come from getting off your knees and doing it yourself. As with Dorothy and her ruby slippers, you’ve had the answer with you all the time.

See also:

When I was a child,
I spoke as a child,
I understood as a child,
I thought as a child;
but when I became a man,
I put away childish things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:11


Image via sabrina c, CC license

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  • Bob Jase

    God IS a jerk, just read his biography and if we believe we are all ‘god’s children’ then we deserve to be infantilized .

  • RichardSRussell

    I’ve never understood why anyone thinks the concept of worship is even remotely admirable. At its very best, it’s just sad.

    “Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of ‘the flock’.”—Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist

    • Agreed. I need to look for a good Christian defense of worship to get me going on a post on this ridiculous subject. Let me know if you come across anything over the top.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Agreed. Nothing deserves worship. Respect, admiration, awe… these are all fair game, but never worship.

      Amusingly, what is less admirable than the concept of worship is someone who expects or even demands it. Even if worship wasn’t so inherently problematic, directing it toward such a pathetic, insecure being would still be inappropriate.

    • eric

      The demand for homage and worship is simply another indication that religion is the product of stone age human thinking. It’s kingship and empororship taken to it’s logical extreme…which it was actually done, by actual humans, in the stone and bronze age.

      I guess the only real question is whether ancient humans made up stories about gods and then human leaders desired to emulate those stories, or whether human leaders went to the extreme of demanding worship and then people invented gods that emulated this behavior.

  • Norman Parron

    Gawd is not a jerk nor is he psychotic…he’s just written that way! But the dimwitted aholes that believe in gawd and think the big book o’BS is for real & not fairy Tales, THEY are psychotic delusional aholes, because it is not religion that does evil…it is the people in the religion that do evil!! And then they comfort themselves with “its all gawd’s plan”!

      • Norman Parron

        I knew someone would get the point!

      • RichardSRussell

        Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the only movie in the history of cinema to feature characters from both the Disney and Warner Brothers stables, and apparently the negotiations leading up to it were as complex as an international nuclear-arms deal. We will probably never see its like again.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Kind of like Casablanca. It was a cross-studio film in a time when that just about NEVER happened.

        • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

          Also probably not going to happen again

        • Tommy

          I would LOVE to see a Captain America and Wonder Woman movie!

  • Brian Westley

    For that matter, training wheels on bicycles don’t work so well, either…

  • John MacDonald

    Can you imagine having a father who is so insecure that he needs constant praise every day of the week?

    • Michael Neville

      The Christian god definitely has a strong narcissistic streak.

      • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

        Can an omni-God feel helpless and depressed? Yeah, I’m going with narcissism as an explanation, too.

    • Rudy R

      Bingo! This occurred to me during my Lutheran confirmation class. I asked my friend, why does god need constant praising, and his response, because he’s god!

    • Kevin K

      I’ve often wondered how weak someone’s belief in something has to be that they must continually be convinced of it over and over again.

      I don’t need a weekly meeting to know that my car exists. I don’t need daily readings from the User’s Manual to know that my computer software is operable.

    • al kimeea

      Or a President? No need to imagine.

  • Andrea Fitzgerald

    I always thought of church like a hospital. Go there when you feel you need to. But don’t make it a habit. 😉

    • Otto

      I always thought of church like a cesspool, no reason to go there, and if you do a shower is probably in order and possibly some antibiotics.

    • Michael Neville

      The only reasons I have entered churches in the past 50 years were weddings, funerals and sight-seeing.

      • Greg G.

        For me, it has been 42 years and, in order of frequency, it has been voting, sight-seeing, weddings, and my nephew’s graduation from kindergarten.

    • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

      I just go because it’s something my Mom likes to do, and I don’t care wherever I go that much.

  • kola

    The most interesting part to this argument is that, it’s either God exists or he doesn’t; no such thing as a superposition of the two states. However, we are busy trying to prove/disprove his existence, whereas, all we need to do is to live life according to the school of thought we approve of. The question of God’s existence/non-existence will be answered when we leave this earthly suit, which by the way is the fate of every human.

    • epeeist

      The most interesting part to this argument is that, it’s either God exists or he doesn’t

      True, but it isn’t a 50:50 position is it. The evidence for the existence of a god of any kind (never mind a specific god) is weak at best, this being so the probability of such an entity existing is low.

      all we need to do is to live life according to the school of thought we approve of

      I approve of Great Cthulu, is it OK if I live my life according to his precepts?

      • kola

        I believe we are talking about two different things here. I was referring to the possible outcomes to the question of “Does God exist” which in my opinion is a “yes/no”. On the other hand, you are referring to facts that proves/disproves his existence, which isn’t the original intent of my point.

        As to the other part of your comment, I believe it is a matter of choice. Whether one approves of the laws that governs a society is a matter of choice, however, breaking such laws comes with consequences.

        • epeeist

          I was referring to the possible outcomes to the question of “Does God exist” which in my opinion is a “yes/no”.

          No, it has three possible answers, “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know”. Given the lack of evidence then the latter two are the better answers.

          Whether one approves of the laws that governs a society is a matter of choice

          Your original post was framed in terms of “schools of thought” rather than the laws of the country where one resides. This indicated systems of ethics to me rather than legal systems.

        • kola

          It appears you are missing my point here, perhaps I wasn’t clear in my post. My point is this – the question shouldn’t be whether God exists or not, time will tell whether he does or not. No matter how hard whichever school of thought works, the entire world will never be won over.

        • epeeist

          It appears you are missing my point here, perhaps I wasn’t clear in my post.

          I was being somewhat pedantic. Your original post said, “either God exists or he doesn’t”, which I agreed with (though I tagged on a little bit of epistemology which I perhaps I should not have done).

          You then said, ‘I was referring to the possible outcomes to the question of “Does God exist””, to which I replied (correctly in my view) there are three answers.

        • kola

          Fair enough. Would you agree with me that even though there are pointers to the existence/non-existence of God in our world today, the deal breaker is what happens when we leave this earthly suit? In my opinion, that’s where we all stop having an opinion/choice and maybe, just maybe, reality would kick in for many of us.

        • epeeist

          Would you agree with me that even though there are pointers to the existence/non-existence of God in our world today, the deal breaker is what happens when we leave this earthly suit?

          No, in that it a) you are begging the question in using the word “God” which presupposes the Abrahamic, or at least a monotheistic god and b) you are also presupposing that we exist in some form after we die.

        • Otto

          >>>”what happens when we leave this earthly suit?”

          When someone actually has some sort of evidence that we somehow continue to exist after out last breath I will take interest, until then one side is clearly talking out of their posterior.

          >>>”In my opinion, that’s where we all stop having an opinion/choice and maybe, just maybe, reality would kick in for many of us.”

          So existence may continue but opinions and choices cease? I am not sure I follow this part.

        • Pofarmer

          No matter how hard whichever school of thought works at proving/disproving his existence, the entire human race will never be won over.

          Jusy fyi, that’s a whole lot more problem for the theist. They aren’t the ones assigned with proving a negative.

        • Ignorant Amos


          You have made a presupposition right there.

        • Kevin K

          “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t know and neither do you”, “I have no way of even answering the question because it has not yet defined its terms”.

          There are many, many permutations. When it comes to “gods”, the last answer is currently my default. Until we can settle on a definition of what “god” is, we can’t even start. When pressed, I will jump to the second to last. The others invite mischief.

        • Greg G.

          It is quite apparent that many concepts of gods are contrived to evade scrutiny, but are based on wishful thinking or other types of imagination.

          However, any god that is contrived to be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent do not survive scrutiny when thecexistence of suffering is considered. Every instance of suffering is an example that there no being that is both powerful enough to prevent it and caring enough to prevent it. Being almost “omniX” means not “omniX”.

          It is not a yes/no issue for that type of god. The more carefully contrived gods cannot be distinguished between a hidden existence and pure imagination. But if they have a hidden existence, they had to be imagined because nobody could gain any actual knowlege of them. That means all gods are wild-assed guesses.

          I’ll have to paraphrase a quote I recently read: There are two possible paths to happiness – one is to live with a clear conscience and the other is to live with no conscience at all

        • kola

          Interesting point Greg. But don’t you think by imposing a condition, you have invariably introduced some form of bias into the question?

        • Greg G.

          To remove bias, we must consider all the permutations that have not been considered. For every god thingy that insists a person wipes his or her butt with the left hand, there could be one that insists the right hand is used. No matter what you do, you are pissing off the contrary god thingy.

          But there is a dichotomy of a type of god thingies that is not so contrary. We are either not given evidence to discern between an actual god thingy and an imaginary god thingy or we are not given the ability to detect such evidence. The Irrational God Thingy would expect us to believe anyway, but it might be inconsistent about that and all else. What is rewarded one minute might be punished the next, all done arbitrarily. Any god thingy that demands belief in it despite the lack of evidence is The Irrational God Thingy. Who would want to spend an eternity with that type of god thingy?

          But the Rational God Thingy would not expect anyone to believe in it. If it were to reject anybody, it would be those who irrationally believe in a god thingy. The only god thingy worthy of being believed in is the one you shouldn’t believe in.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          How does evaluating the claim introduce bias? Are jurors biased merely by virtue of evaluating the evidence provided to them?

        • Otto

          I must have missed it…Where did Greg impose a condition?

        • TheNuszAbides

          kola clearly didn’t have the stamina for a full board review, but i’m guessing they were referring to either “when the existence of suffering is considered” or a tortured reading of “paths to happiness”.

        • Michael Neville

          It appears to me that you have a weak understanding of probability. The question “will it rain in the next hour?” does not have a 50% yes/no probability. It has different probabilities depending on whether you’re in southeast Asia during monsoon season or in the Sahara at any time.

          The existence of gods (remember there’s more than the one fundamentalist evangelical Christians like) has a very low probability because of the complete lack of evidence for that existence.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          This is the fundamental error people make when it comes to agnostic/atheist. People like to paint an agnostic as someone who shrugs and call it as toss up. Instead, someone can be not take a side while still evaluating one option as being more likely than the other. At this point whether the person uses the atheist or agnostic label is largely personal choice.

        • MadScientist1023

          “As to the other part of your comment, I believe it is a matter of choice. Whether one approves of the laws that governs a society is a matter of choice, however, breaking such laws comes with consequences.”

          Let’s take that analogy to its logical conclusion, shall we? One of the laws of the society is that everything the government does is perfect. Another law states that everyone must always say the laws are perfect and think the laws are perfect. Everyone is legally required to think that the laws provide perfect justice in every case. Speaking out against a single law, a law which can never be changed through the democratic process, results in punishment. The punishment for every crime is the same: burning at the stake. Those are the consequences of breaking the law if the christian god exists. You can see why some of us still think it’s worthwhile to ask whether or not we live in that kind of society.

      • TheNuszAbides

        I approve of Great Cthulu, is it OK if I live my life according to his precepts?

        only for a perfect illustration of the relativity of “OK”.

    • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

      Big problem: The conservative Christians seem to think that they have to make everyone conform by penalty of or lack of recourse in the law or they may go to hell. Conservative ideology can be a clusterfuck.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Is there a superposition on existence for anything? If not, how does this not render the that characteristic meaningless?

  • Brian Curtis

    The “god is a jerk” argument is usually met with hand-waving mysticism, a la “God’s ways are mysterious… you can’t expect him to be ‘good’ as we humans understand goodness.”

    So, why exactly should we worship him? “Oh, because he’s so GOOD!”

    • Kevin K

      I always find it interesting that the people who declare their god’s ways are “mysterious” are the exact same people who seem to know exactly what it wants. Especially with regard to the use of one’s genitalia and such.

      • TheNuszAbides

        uncanny, innit? the supernatural ways are JUST ~mysterious~ enough to still be susceptible to maybe-reliable* interpretation by a subset of puny humans.

        who only gain this privilege because they’re moved by the Spooky Spirit (or something).

        as Church Lady might say [under reversed circumstances]: “How conveeeeenient!”

        *whenever it suits the home team, obvz.

  • Kevin K

    Making god a jerk also invites cognitive dissonance among its followers. I once was told in no uncertain terms that prayers for a friend of mine were going to pull him through a health crisis. The people telling me this had anecdote after anecdote of similar miraculous healings, and were quite certain that their collective power to convince God™ (aka, Yahweh) to act in a way contrary to medical science was strong.

    He died. I never heard a word about what went wrong with all of these prayer warriors’ requests. It was immediately on to “God’s™ will”.

    • Ficino

      I would click like, but I don’t like your friend’s dying.

      I went through this same exact experience. Even little children were praying. Rod died anyway, at 27.

      • Kevin K

        It still annoys me. I also had the additional burden of knowing that he was not coming back — his widow-to-be had confided in me, but asked me not to tell the others.

      • TheNuszAbides

        I would click like, but

        ‘like’ is for facebook. ‘upvote’ is for “more people should see this”.

        at least, that’s a simplified version of the layman’s interpretation I’m sticking with.

    • I remember some members of my extended family praying for my uncle when he was quite old. They knew that “Please make him well” would be met with silence, so they prayed that he would get right with Jeebus before he died.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    This is a terrific blog post, Bob. Well done.

  • Geoff Plumridge


  • Not to mention here how the “eternal life” Christians offer looks more like Hell if one goes by the Bible and a leaves aside BS added by others.