My response to this was simple: “This is precisely why I am glad to have left behind religion and superstition. This is not a god I would want to worship.”
Most of the responses to my comment were in accordance, but one was…surprising. The individual wrote (this is the original text):
“until u all realize God is in fact very real, and when u end up in the pits of hell—ull wish u did believe. I pray you all find Jesus. Bc hell is not where ull want toe end up. Look up “11 minutes in hell” from a pastors personal experience and see how that changes ur thoughts. One question—if there is a god, get saved and wait to see there is. And if there isn’t, in your opinion!, what’s the loss?? Won’t be hell at least!!! God bless u all.”
There was a lot to go on in this one comment:
- The grammar and spelling (an easy target)
- The fact that a pastor has a vested interest in making hell seem very scary
- The fact that there is no consensus, even among Christian sects, that hell exists in any form
- That if God is okay with me “faking” belief—“just get saved and see what is there”—what does that really say about the whole idea?
I have to be honest, though. My biggest takeaway—and the one that I responded with—was that that is not a god that I would want to worship.
When I first started to doubt—many years ago—the fear of hell was enough to scare me straight. I held Pascal’s wager near and dear to my heart. What could it hurt, I thought, to just keep going through the motions, if only to avoid hell.
Over time, though, these doubts converged on a new and even more terrifying idea: What if this god that I was adhering to was a god I didn’t really care to worship?
God answers simple prayers for believers while leaving the world to suffer.
Every week in our Wednesday night youth group we would share prayer requests and praises.
Invariably, someone would thank God that they passed a test, or that no one was hurt in an accident of some kind, or that someone was feeling better. Invariably, God cared about all of these things.
It’s kind of like Russell Wilson thanking God for humbling him, but still allowing him to win the game—are these really the things that God cares about?
I can remember thinking, “Why? Why is this important to God?”
At the time, I had an uncle who was in Iraq excavating mass graves of individuals who had been executed under Sadaam Hussein’s reign. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t God care more about them than about someone passing a test that they hopefully studied for anyway?”
It really is striking, isn’t it? In our privileged bubble, people take the time to thank God for the most inane things.
“Thank God I found my car keys!”
“Thank God I got that job!”
“Thank God my team won the game!”
“Praise God my kid got straight As!”
And yet, around the world there’s so much suffering. This year alone, starvation and malnutrition will play a role in the deaths of more than 5 million children worldwide. One in nine people on this planet don’t have enough to eat.
But God cares about the small minutiae of the lives of people who don’t go hungry? People who aren’t in constant worry and fear?
How many people were killed in Darfur? How many killed in Syria? How many displaced? What about the lives lost in the Holocaust and World War II, what about World War I?
What about the centuries of slavery practiced around the world (and still practiced today)?
Why didn’t God care about these things?
The answers that I’ve received over the years haven’t been convincing. Why should America have more food than it could ever possibly consume while sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of malnutrition? Why are these things so arbitrary?
And a god that cares more about the outcome of daily life for our privileged people than he does about the unmitigated pain and suffering of millions? That’s not a god I want to worship.
God’s moral code is arbitrary.
Growing up in an evangelical church, you learn quite quickly what not to do.
Don’t talk back.
Don’t ask questions.
Don’t have lustful thoughts.
Don’t have sex outside of marriage in any way.
Don’t be gay.
Don’t be prideful.
Don’t be selfish.
Don’t be hateful or angry.
The list goes on and on, but what really strikes me is that the “don’ts” are so arbitrary.
In the large scale of things, who does drinking (reasonably, of course) or swearing hurt? Who does having responsible sex hurt? Who do lustful thoughts or masturbation hurt?
Being gay and acting on those impulses—even if you are born with them!—is a sin, and yet, a child molester or rapist or murderer who repents is sent onward and upward at death? All it takes is repentance? No thanks.
In the beginning, God told Adam to eat of any tree but one. When the human beings failed—as an omniscient god would have known they were going to—he punished not only the two who had sinned, but every single person who came after them. Every single person who ever walked the planet.
I have children. Would anyone ever say, “Oh yes, your children should absolutely receive a ticket because you were speeding”? No. Let alone the idea that my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all of my descendants should receive that ticket.
And again—this is not a deity I want to worship. One that would create only to destroy? No thanks.
God knows what it would take for me to believe and yet will send me to hell for not believing.
Whenever a…uh…loving Christian threatens me with hell for my lack of belief, I wonder to myself, “Do they really realize what they are saying?”
God, in the Western conception, is just, good, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. In a word, he’s perfect.
He’s also my creator, supposedly, which means that he understands my inner workings and thought processes even better than I do.
So why, then, does he withhold the evidence that he knows would prove his existence to me? And, having withheld such evidence…how can he justify sending me to hell for not believing?
He understands what it would take for me to believe…and yet, expects me to believe anyway.
If my children were in the street, and a car was coming, I would do whatever it took to save them. I would scream, “There’s a car,” I would run, I would try to push them out of the way—even though, as they well know, playing in the street is off limits without supervision. I wouldn’t expect them to come back to me out of love—I would actively seek to reach them. Why? Because they are my children, and that car signals their imminent destruction.
Why, then, does God not care about our imminent destruction? Truthfully, there’s no good explanation for it. A god that is all-powerful and all-knowing can do better.
And a god that doesn’t do better is one that I don’t want to believe in.
The answer to that question posed above became undeniably clear as my progress through doubt continued.
The god that I had been raised to believe in was a god that I didn’t even want to worship.
It’s a truly difficult concept for Christians to grasp. The concept of God that I had been raised with was one that made it impossible to conceive of any other type of deity. I couldn’t conceive of a god that wasn’t good. A god that wasn’t all-powerful, or all-knowing, or always present. These options weren’t available to me.
And their absence is truly striking when you look at reality and really consider it.
As hard as it can be for theists to understand, the only option this left me was to stop believing in God.
This God was not one worthy of my worship.