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.
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.
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