Looking Critically at the God as Father Analogy

Looking Critically at the God as Father Analogy September 16, 2018

I have long had issues with the God-as-father analogy that gets trotted out ubiquitously. I’m going to look at this manoeuvre in this post. Again, I must thank Anthrotheist for providing the stimuli for this piece in saying (I’ve split it over the post):

The second objection is more specific. Somewhere in this post’s comments, someone compares God answering only some prayers to a father acquiescing to only some demands from his two-year-old child. The “God-as-our-father” analogy is exactly where I object. Maybe this would work better as a listicle:

1. No (responsible) parent allows their child to do whatever they want. The parent is more powerful (physically), more mature (presumably), and has more experience than the child; so it is incumbent on the parent to protect the child from its own ignorance and impotence. While the parent wants the child to learn, and knows that sometimes the only way for that to happen is to allow the child to experience frustration and occasionally even some pain, the parent isn’t so concerned with the child’s “free will” that they allow the kid to make decisions that will impair it for life (or end their life entirely). In cases where unavoidable events result in the child being seriously hurt or ill, the parent doesn’t then leave the child to figure it out themselves; the child is cared for, nurtured, and given proper treatment until the child returns to good health.

I wrote about this in my book The Little Book of Unholy Questions (presently on offer at Amazon, folks). Here is question 282 (p. 114-116):

282. If my child was to walk on the flowers in my garden, trampling them, it would be immoral to punish him without telling him what he had done wrong. This would communicate to my child his misdemeanour so that he would not do it again. What have we done wrong to deserve cancer, malaria, the tsunami, the Holocaust, disability, cholera etc., and is it right that you have not communicated to us why we have had these ‘punishments’?

There is no clear communication from God as to why this evil is taking place, as to why we are being punished, if indeed evil exists as a result of some kind of punishment. If evil exists for any other reason, God is still not communicating this, and as a supposedly all-loving ruler I suggest that it is his duty to do so. His subjects are suffering each and every day in a universe where there could be no suffering. As the suffering ones, I believe we have a right to know why this is the case.

We are missing this nurturing and educational dimension to God. No father would let their child learn in such a way – indeed, there is no learning at all, it seems. The complete lack of explicit, or even vaguely clear messages – indeed, the very existence of theology and the disparate answers to the same questions and problems – is something that runs very obviously against the notion of God as a father figure.

Anthrotheist continues:

2. Every parent intervenes on their child’s behalf, many times a day. Far from giving the child an unsettling sense of chaos, it instills a sense of trust and confidence. The child knows that it can explore the world, but if things get too scary the parent is there to protect them; while being removed from a situation may induce frustration because the child doesn’t understand the reason for the intrusion, a good parent’s consistent interventions are a source of comfort. One thing keeps this from making the child’s world chaotic: the parent is visibly, physically, and undeniably present. The child know the parent is there, and the parent being absent is very upsetting (and doubly so when things get scary).

This builds nicely on from the previous point and the lack of clarity spills out of the lack of presence. After all, God has been on holiday for a few thousand years and with this absence comes an absence of message. The Bible alone is not sufficient, and the claims staked therein are confusing enough, to mean that we need more than the Bible and its contradictions.

It’s like we’re orphans.

3. The ultimate goal of parenting is to prepare the child to be capable of living well in relative independence. It requires that the child develop physically to the point where it can develop psychologically and emotionally; but while the particular age where it happens may vary, the vast majority of children successfully grow into adults. So the parent isn’t intent on keeping the child constrained and ignorant, the parent doesn’t maintain a continual relationship of empowered parent and dependent child; and the parent certainly doesn’t demand pointless praise and unquestioning obedience from their child.

When you compare the role of a human raising a child to God’s behavior as humanity’s father, the flaws in comparing God to a parent become painfully obvious.

There certainly does seem to be an air or narcissism in God. He demands, especially if the Bible and church services are to be taken seriously, praise and worship. It’s like when Trump demanded his cabinet go round and say something nice about him; it’s like me not giving my boys supper until they have praised me to the hilt. Again, we have a situation where the God-as-father analogy doesn’t jive with the reality, or even ideal conception, of parenthood.

I would certainly never give my children cancer, or maim them in an earthquake, or given them deformities, to teach them a lesson, or whatnot.

Here is a list of what a good father supposedly does or is. Well, say what you like about this list, but let’s look at it a little. I have interpolated my comments in square brackets.:

  • Provider

  • He is a steady provider and works to see that his family has the necessities of life. [Poverty, the accident of birth and Geography means that an awful lot of peoplkpe don’t have the necessities and then die.]
  • Protector

  • He does everything in his power to keep the family safe from that which would injure or harm the family members physically, emotionally or spiritually. [See above. Problem of evil.]
  • Teacher

  • He shares his knowledge and principles to help family members grow and develop. [Theology. Everyone disagrees. 42,000 different denominations of Christianity, and all the different religions. Total epistemological chaos. Rubbish teaching. Doe God love money/gays/slaves/etc. or hate them?]
  • Friend

  • He shows kindness, compassion and interest in the family members. [Friends don’t give each other cancer. Ever.]
  • Exemplar

  • He shows by the way he lives an example of what the family stands for. [Countenancing slavery, explicitly dictating women are worth half of men, genocide, deception,… the exemplar list is long and egregious.]
  • Patriarch

  • He is honored because of his moral character and actions. [See above. God is a moral monster.]
  • Disciplinarian

  • He helps the children learn proper boundaries and consequences. [Does he? See article above – lack of clarity.]
  • Spiritual leader

  • He does his part to help establish faith in God and belief in principles of accountability to him. [By setting up a world in advance where the world believes in different gods and none.]
  • Treats his wife like a queen

  • He shows love and respect and lives totally faithful to his wife. He shares the workload as a partner with his wife. [Asherah, anyone?]



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