I just realized that tomorrow is Father’s Day. And that holiday means oodles of Christians wittering on about how their god represents the perfect father-figure to them. From all the Daddy God blathering to the Heavenly Father crowd, Christians can’t resist comparing their imaginary friend to a real live father. And more than that, in their viewpoint, he’s not just exactly like a real live father–why, he’s better than any human father could ever be! Today, let me show you why that idea is both nonsensical and insulting to decent fathers everywhere.
“Everything Your Father Was Not.”
I grew up in a really dysfunctional home. Though he got a lot better later in life, for years my dad followed the authoritarian playbook to the letter. Unsurprisingly, then, evangelicals bagsied me when I was 16.
After a lifetime of sheer chaos and injustice punctuated by moments of absolute terror and unbelievable pain, I resonated hard with the sales pitch they presented. The god they presented to me was a father figure–but one who was everything my dad was not and could not, would not ever become.
Indeed, from what I can see, evangelical leaders still sell their god in those terms. In responding to a reader who grew up with a “terrible” father, Billy Graham replied:
I have good news for you: God is not like your father—not at all. God is everything your father was not, and I urge you not to take your father’s failures and transfer them over to God.
I heard a similar line, decades ago. The joke was on me, though. In joining evangelicalism, I only plunged into a new realm of chaos, injustice, terror, and pain.
That perfect father figure I got sold existed only in evangelical sales pitches.
A Seemingly-Safe Accusation.
As hollow as it is, that sales pitch remains immensely popular. Very few of us can look at our parents and say we got perfect ones who did everything right. It’s got to be nerve-wracking for people to have kids.
A few years ago, conservative Christians–both Catholic and evangelical–decided that bad dads created atheists. SO THERE! Checkmate, atheists! I suppose we should rack that accusation up there with the notion (still noised about) of distant mothers causing autism and anorexia nervosa. Or the old canard about bad dads creating lesbian daughters. The engineers of moral panics don’t exactly suffer from a surfeit of compassion or self-awareness.
The sheer outrage that erupted at the accusation warmed the heart. It turns out that tons of atheists (like Mr. Captain!) enjoyed warm, close, loving relationships with involved, caring fathers. Meanwhile, tons of conservative Christians (like Teen Cas!) suffered very bad relationships with abusive, cruel, vengeful fathers. Whoopsie! There went that supposedly-sure thing.
Still, right now I could walk up to any random stranger and say to them, “You didn’t have the relationship with your dad that you really wanted, did you?” And I’d have a really good chance of amazing that stranger with my insight.
If Christians deliberately chose marketing based around their god as a perfect father, it was a smart pick. People yearn to see the crooked paths made straight again: the cosmic do-over; the snapping of fingers to correct a great wrong.
It’s very safe for Christians to sell their crafted image of a perfect father-figure of a god. After all, nobody can actually interact with this god in any tangible way. Thus, nobody can gain a clear idea of just how good a parent he really would be, if he existed. Christians are free to dream up literally whatever they want. Indeed, you can tell a lot about individual Christians by the nature of the god-figure they craft for their own quirky take on the religion.
We can make some guesses, though, about the quality of this being’s fathering.
I loved this old note from LeekSoup about something his wife realized about the supposed Fall of Man:
My wife was fisking the atonement last night. Specifically how incompetent God was to let Adam and Eve sin. “There were only two of them and you couldn’t keep an eye on them? There’s THREE of you! What were you doing?”
(In B4 someone mentions that there were a whole lot more than just this god in the Garden besides Adam and Eve. This god could have set guard dogs upon the tree. He could have had angels babysitting his pet humans. Or he could have put the tree somewhere the humans couldn’t get to it.)
That show of incompetence only begins to reveal just how bad a parent this god would be.
A Quick List of Terrible “Parenting.”
About the myth of the Fall of Man, this god:
- Holds humans responsible for deeds committed before they knew the difference between right and wrong.
- Hands Adam and Eve curses that ensured the deaths of literally billions of humans to come.
- Holds all the future children of Adam and Eve responsible for the Fall and curses them too, even though they didn’t even exist yet–but they sure got to pay for their ancestors’ “crime.”
- Allows countless innocent animals to suffer after the Fall in becoming food for other animals and humans when they hadn’t done anything to cause it either.
- Gives no reason at all for why he preferred Abel’s sacrifices of dead animals to Cain’s sacrifice of produce.
- Genocides almost the entire planet in the Great Flood–humans, animals, plants, you name it–in a fit of rage.
- Sabotages his pet humans in the myth of the Tower of Babel because he fears them becoming a legitimate challenge to him.
- Demands Abraham murder his son to show his obedience. (In some interpretations, Abraham actually does it.) Later, this same god demands Jephthah murder his daughter.
- Seems all too enthused about his Israelites murdering whole tribes of adult men and women. He commands and allows the Israelites to keep the youngest girls as sex slaves and war-brides.
- Sets up numerous laws making women into chattel and turning slavery into a cultural practice.
- Also: ABORTION POTION AHOY.
- Creates a system of atonement involving shedding innocent blood. He is incapable of simply saying “naw man, thass cool, we good” and letting go of imagined offenses.
None of this sounds like a god who is even remotely interested in justice, let alone in being a good father figure to humanity.
Hence this fascinating thought experiment.
In the Modern Day.
When people outside TRUE CHRISTIAN™ culture hear about the parenting practices in that community, often we feel horrified. Beyond horrified. Neil Carter had that exact experience a couple of years ago. No matter how many Bible verses these parents hold up as their inspiration, we see what they’re doing as child abuse.
And we should.
Of all the parenting practices within hardline Christianity, physical punishment likely stands as the most universally-accepted. And yet not one credible study supports the idea that this form of discipline produces any good results at all. In 2016, a meta-analysis of the past 50 years of research on spanking (covering some 160,000 children) found that:
The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties. . .
That meta-analysis only covered spanking, though. Extremist Christians often take matters far further than that.
It’s weird that Christians’ god doesn’t ever tell them how ineffective and counterproductive physical punishment really is, or show them a better way to parent.
We know now what truly effective discipline looks like. No gods told us about it, either!
Effective discipline teaches children with understandable, logical consequences rather than punishment, is not arbitrary or shifting, honors children’s growing independence, listens to their reasoning and helps them solve problems ahead of time, and redirects potentially harmful impulses.
It does not ever involve striking a child.
But how does this god supposedly correct his beloved children these days?
He doesn’t tell them exactly what they did wrong. Instead, they must rely on signs, portents, and guessing. Even then, no Christians really know if bad luck is happening to them because they’re simply unlucky, or if they made a poor decision, or if their god is punishing them for something, or if a demon is hassling them because they’re doing something right. (This bothered me a lot as a Christian–can you tell?)
The punishments he metes out generally don’t have anything to do with their victims’ offenses. Quite a few Christians think they suffer illnesses or injuries because their god is upset with them for something. I know many such ex-Christians who thought, when they were Christians, that their god refused to magically heal them because they’d overlooked some sins in their lives. But what does an illness or accident have to do with whatever they did? When this god murdered King David’s infant son to punish him for taking Bathsheba to wife, how in the world did that relate to David’s actual offense? For that matter, how did the Ten Plagues of Egypt, which killed so many innocent Egyptians and animals, punish the actual offense of Pharaoh?
Good luck talking directly to him to see why he’s miffed THIS time. If he can meddle in this world enough to punish people for doing anything, he can communicate meaningfully and unmistakably. And yet we have no objective evidence that he ever has.
Christians are very quick to try to disavow the idea of their god punishing people like I describe. But their culture reveals the truth: it’s the first thing they think (and throw as accusations) when something goes wrong for them.
The Other Side of Parenting.
Of course, parenting involves way more than discipline. It also involves being involved in a child’s life and protecting that child from harm. And Christians’ “daddy god” falls down there, too.
The Shack offended me greatly in its presentation of the Christian god. The author of this dreck shows us a god who kept company with a little girl being brutally murdered–but did nothing to save her or to stop her killer from assaulting other children. This behavior gets lauded and admired in the book, even presented to the protagonist as an ideal that he should be grateful for having in a god. He gets shamed for thinking his god should ever have done anything else.
The real shame is how Christians have exempted their god from even the most basic and elementary responsibilities of parenthood.
If I see a toddler rushing toward a pool’s edge, you bet your last dollar I’ll rush over to grab that child away from that danger. If I see a baby alone in a car, I’m calling for help. I’ve done the same upon hearing outbreaks of domestic violence. Several times, I’ve run for help–once literally–upon hearing that someone I knew contemplated suicide.
In all of these things, as meager as they are, as simply decent as they are and thus as undeserving of cookies as they are, I stand as more moral and compassionate than the Christian god, who does nothing tangible at all in the face of threats to his children.
Things You Only See After Leaving.
Just as we sometimes only see just how abusive a relationship was after leaving it, we only see just how bad our religion was for us after deconverting from it.
Mine distracted me from my real family by making me a false offer of a new-and-improved father-figure. For years, I clung to the idea that my god represented a bigtime upgrade in the father department. It took me years to understand the forces that came together to produce my dad, and years more to recognize the gains he’d made in improving and atoning for his past offenses. But that’s not the only damage that was done to me by those selling this false belief system.
By focusing so much on an invisible father-figure and inventing all kinds of communications and actions on his part, and putting this invisible figure up on a pedestal, I lost valuable time I could have better used to really fix my real problems. “Just give it all to Jesus” turns out to be woefully ineffective!
My real dad wasn’t a walk in the park. I don’t excuse the harm he caused. Nor do I ignore the addiction that, in the end, destroyed his progress and our second chance at a relationship (and ultimately ended his life).
Love, Uh, Finds a Way.
So, dads, are you feeling guilty yet?
“The Fatherhood of God: A Sermon for Father’s Day,” April 2, 2012.
Christians like to wring their hands about modern fatherhood. That recent New York Post story about the apparently lackluster Do-It-Yourself (DIY) skills of Millennial dads sounds a lot like that hand-wringing. It fits right in with the constant drumbeat of blog posts and sermons from Christians about how to be a good father.
Of course. These Christians sell a product based on poorly-understood visions of how families operated in 1950s sitcoms like Leave It To Beaver. A lot of people ache for that kind of family dynamic.
But people figure things out, given a chance. In many households, single mothers parent their kids alone. And those families do just fine. In other households, two mothers raise their kids together. And those families do fine too. So do families headed by two fathers. So do families that can’t or don’t want to have kids at all.
We get along and we figure it out, if we can. Where we can’t, we work out how to identify and repair the damage–and we resolve to do better with any kids we end up having or caring for.
Rewriting the Rules.
I can see why it alarms authoritarian Christians to see people rewriting roles they think are written in stone (literally, at times). Their product only sells to people who accept their worldview as valid. The more people realize that Christians’ understanding of fatherhood tends to be shamefully lacking and that their god is the very last being anybody should consider a good father-figure, the more credibility these Christians will continue to lose.
Happy Father’s Day tomorrow, world. For all the conflicting feelings I have about my own dad, I can see that in general, things only seem like they’re improving with regard to parenthood.
It seems to me that the kids are all right–and so are their kids.
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides on Monday! Then, we look at Beth Moore–and what the SBC is really planning to do to put an end to its sex-abuse scandal. See you soon.
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