This morning I found a collection of old photos of family, and myself as a child. My mum has less of a 1980s Bon Jovi haircut going on these days, but nevertheless is still looking pretty similar, whilst my dad hasn’t changed a bit (though he has thankfully opted to ditch the three top buttons undone on his shirt these days). Another similarity between my parents of the ’80s and my parents of the 10s, is that neither were religious back then, and neither are religious today. And yet, the picture depicts my family all smartly dressed and me as a baby, on the day of my Christening into the Church of England.
I was baptised almost entirely because of my mother’s fear. Fear that if I died young, and the Christian God really did exist, there’s a chance He might send me to the pits of hell simply because a man in an old, elaborate crucifix shaped building hadn’t dunked my head in water. It is the hideous notion that a baby – far from obtaining the age in which they can reason – has angered God simply by existing. The sin of Adam, passed onto a completely innocent child, that now requires a bizarre ritual to cleanse, or eternal punishment. This is not a ‘love’ that any parent would wish to emulate and inflict upon their child, because it is not ‘love’ by any definition of the word.
The element of fear is doubtlessly a factor driving people to baptise not only their children, but themselves, in times of danger. In 2003, the Chicago Tribune posted an article entitled: “Facing uncertain fate, troops line up for Baptism”. It includes a quote from Cpl. Jason Irving, that reads:
“If I don’t get to see them again here on Earth, I want to make sure that I am all right with God, so I can see them in heaven.”
– The implication being that if his head is not dunked in water, there’s reason to suspect that the God of Christianity will forever keep him apart from his children in an afterlife. For myself growing up through years of school prayers, and hymns, hearing stories of what seemed to be good people destined for hell, the “love” of the Christian God seemed confusing at best, and today it seems absurd to me to claim that God loves you.
If we are to start from the premise that God is the single, infinite cause of everything (which apparently, doesn’t encompass ‘everything’, if we play by the illogical features of the commonly utilised cosmological argument), and thus has full control over all of His creation, then it seems self evident to me that human beings, and every living creature on the planet, are just small parts of a rather grotesque game. We are ‘valued’ as a pawn on a chess board might be valued, and sacrificed, and discarded, in a game of chess that God is playing against himself. We have no choice but to be chained to this game, to follow rules that are completely His invention, for a supposed ‘higher purpose’ that He created and has the full ability to achieve without the suffering He inflicts, and all appear to be for no other reason than to stroke His ego by insisting upon unquestioned worship and reverence – like a slave holder – on fear of eternal punishment.
The Christian God offers us His ‘love’ at the small price of suspending all of our natural faculties of reason – something He endowed us with in the first place. We are a species that values criticism and doubt in order to progress. Indeed, criticism and doubt are the essence of reason. God must have been aware of the cruelty of this. Like dangling bread in front of a starving child, and threatening to punish him if he eats it. We do not then get to claim we had a higher purpose all along. It is not ‘love’, it is blatant cruelty.
The disciple Thomas – as described in John – seems to have been a very wise, reasonable and curious man. He was not convinced by the other disciples that Jesus had returned from the dead, and so rightfully demanded proof. Thomas thus reflected the curiosity of Adam and Eve, forever punished for wishing the freedom to learn and to question according to our natural curiosity. If there’s one thing that oppressive power structures do abundantly well, it is policing thoughts and expression, for their own ends. Later, Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hand and side wounds in order to provide Thomas with the evidence he demanded. Upon seeing the evidence, Thomas is convinced. Jesus says:
“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
As with Genesis, Jesus seems to be condemning doubt, and blessing unquestioned belief. Thus, both Genesis and Jesus (according to the Gospel of John) punish humanity for our natural condition, whilst demanding the suspension of that natural condition in order to achieve his blessing. A sick and completely unnecessary game of abuse. We are not free if our minds are chained. A worthwhile teacher does not teach children to believe exactly as they’re told without evidence. A worthwhile teacher inspires curiosity and a yearning for knowledge, to engage their natural desire to understand without bias or dogma. There is no love in demanding unquestioned obedience. It seems to me that if we are to indulge our curiosity and inquire into the nature of God’s ‘love’, and it is a love we identify with, it is all the more stronger if backed up with evidence, rather than a claim of ‘love’ that we are demanded to accept without question. The latter suggests that God may be a little insecure about his concept of ‘love’.
After endowing humanity with curiosity, the ability to reason and to doubt, and yet failing to recognise that we might use that natural disposition to question His demands, God sets out to fix it. In order to correct His mistake (the mistake of a seemingly unintelligent designer), He refuses to accept any responsibility, and chooses instead to violently torture to death a 1st century Palestinian Jew, and claim it was all for us. Christians today tend to argue that this was a heartbreaking ‘sacrifice’ for God to have made. To me, it seems the opposite. A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if the ‘victim’ rises three days later, walks around for a while, and ascends to heaven to join God as a judge for eternity. And again, this is all part of His design, His game, nothing and no-one else is responsible, it is all Him. Any deviation from his apparent plan, reflects His inability to think and plan ahead. But he can’t accept that, He refuses to accept responsibility for his dreadful workmanship, and instead punishes his creation for it. A victim blaming mentality. Indeed, absolving sins requiring a torturous death, is also His concept, His broken rules, and His idea of a fitting punishment, no one else thought this up. He may just as easily have told us that forcing Jesus to wear sandals that are too big for his feet, is the punishment required to absolve our sins. It’s all his silly little game, not ours, we didn’t ask for this badly planned dictator-like game. And what a stunningly ineffective punishment the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for sins was, given that Christians spent the next 1700+ years killing each other, forcing conversions, and building oppressive empires. It spawned just as bad, if not worse oppression, than it replaced.
All of this, a few centuries after asking Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, before stopping him at the last minute. What needless and self indulgent cruelty to inflict upon a child. In the years between Abraham and Jesus, God chooses to make Jephthah follow through on his promise to sacrifice his child in return for victory in battle, rather than renegotiating a far less horrific deal, thus freely choosing to violate the sacred life of a completely innocent young girl. This is a God that appears to think that showing love and devotion, is intrinsically linked to torturing and murdering family members. Appeasing a problem that He created in the first place, is apparently redeemed not by accepting that His plan may not have been the most wisely conceived plan in history, but by the suffering of others; whether Adam and Eve, their progeny, Isaac, Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus, or the rest of mankind; we are all liable to be punished for His mistakes.
The predictable answer from Christians, is that we cannot know God’s love. It is a divine ‘love’ beyond our limited understanding. We are finite beings unable to conceive of the love God has for his creation. I find this to be a cop out. After all, God must know that this World is all we know, and so it would make sense for his dealings in the material World, to be sympathetic and sensitive to our condition in order to cause us the least suffering and pain. Instead, He is fine with intervening according to His own standard, knowing the suffering and pain it causes His subjects. God must be aware that by way of its cruelty, the ‘love’ he offers, is a love that no reasonable person would strive to emulate with people that we love. And in fact, in many cases – human sacrifice as a sign of devotion for example – if we were to emulate His divine standard as reflected in His example to us, we’d be condemned to Hell.
To conclude, even if we discard the horror of God’s ‘love’ for us, it would still seem to me that a finite human being, with such precious little time on this Earth, offering to spend that time loving you for just being you, is a far greater love than an infinite being, unrestricted by time, offering to love you or torture you depending on how well you adhere to His list of demands. A human being’s love for another human being, is therefore greater than God’s ‘love’ for humanity. To the Christian God, you are simply an ant struggling to survive, and God has his foot hovering just above your head, waiting to crash down upon you if you do not sufficiently beg him not to. God does not love you, God tortures you.