In a recent God Squad column, Rabbi Gellman thought to answer some questions that readers had the way he “hopes” that God would answer them. Many of the answers are standard apologetics and excuses for the Judeo-Christian god. I thought I’d share why this atheist finds the responses from “God” so unfortunate. There’s quite a few questions answered, so this will be a multi-part post. Since many of the answers bring up issues that atheists have pointed out over and over again, I hope to keep things brief. Of course, if you read this blog, you can suspect just how much I might fail at that.
“Some time ago, I asked readers to share with me the one question they would ask God. I personally would ask: “Was I a good man?” I’d want to know how much of our goodness is credited by God, how much of our evil is forgiven by God, and how much God simply overlooks as the residue of our broken human-ness.”Here is the problem of what is “good” in a theistic sense. Is good something independent or is it defined on what a particular god wants – god is good is god is good…? I find that good could be defined as what humans want for themselves to be happy, healthy and content, and empathy can allow us to understand why everyone should share in that. If God can over look evil at all, why doesn’t he overlook all of it if we are “broken” e.g. unable to be any different than made? If god doesn’t credit goodness, either defined as doing what it wants or simply being empathic to our fellow humans, what is the point of the laws supposedly given?
“Christians generally believe that we are justified only by faith — saved by what we believe. Judaism believes that we are justified by our works — saved by what we do. I think both beliefs are right and wrong. Faith leads us more directly to forgiveness, and works lead us more directly to goodness. Both, I think, are essential for a completed spiritually life.”
A good intro to how much Jews and Christians differ in how they think the ostensibly the same god acts. The rabbi fails to mention that Christians can also believe that grace is only given to some, and belief isn’t an independent thing. Romans 9 goes into detail about that and those Christians who believe in predestination appear to believe what it says, that their god has already picked who would go to a pleasant afterlife. Again, it is hard to tell what “goodness” is here in this context, obedience or being empathic and acting on it independently.
“Here are some of your very thoughtful questions. I’ve included the replies I hope God would give:
Q: “Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my existence?” — B., Appleton, Wis.
A: “Dear B., that’s more than one question! The answer to all three queries is that I made you to love as I have loved you. Everything else is not really that important.””
This is a common answer, that God needed something to love, so he made humans. Other answers are that God needed to be “glorified”, which seems to mean God needs some way to show off his attributes and God needs to be worshipped. Most Judeo-Christians (JC) will deny that their omnipotent/omniscient god needs anything. This also brings up the problem of what love is in this context. I find love to be the desire to help someone and spend time with them in a two way arrangement, they love you back. It does not require threats or punishment. The last sentence is the usual “don’t ask questions, just accept what I’ve told you”.
“Q: “How can I forgive? It’s so darned hard to forgive as You ask us to.” — C., Kings Park, NY
A: “Yes, indeed, C., it is hard to forgive. That’s why it’s better to limit the things you do that require forgiveness. This may help you: Try to think of every sin you commit against others to be a major sin, and every sin committed against you to be a minor sin. I think you’ll find this to be a good, though darned hard, bit of wisdom.””
Indeed, it is hard to forgive. I’m a champion grudge holder from way back. We have this god forgiving people for doing what it made them to do and if they don’t ask correctly, e.g. following laws, or finding a “savior”, then there is no forgiveness. It does seem that this god should take its own advice, since any sin against it is considered a major sin and worthy of death and worse. And where is the forgiving when you kill the son of someone who wronged you, per the story of David?
“Q: “Where were you, God, when 6 million Jews were being slaughtered under Hitler’s orders, as well as other people”? — L., North Babylon, NY
A: “I was with the victims. A better question is, ‘Where was man?'””
What a way to end Part 1. This probably the most disgusting response created for a god and Rabbi Gellman isn’t the first to come up with it and I’m sure won’t be the last to use this as an excuse for his god. Where was man? Oh in the 101st Airborne, the Eighth Army, the Soviet troops who liberated Auschwitz, the men who stormed Normandy beaches, the folks on the home front who collected steel, the people who risked their lives on the merchant ships taking supplies to Great Britain, the resistance fighters, Mr. Kugler, Ms. Gies, Mr. Kleiman, Ms. Voskuijl, etc. It seems that this god was doing just what prayer does: nothing. People die by the millions in very horrible ways on both sides. Starvation isn’t a good way to die, neither is a firestorm. We have claims that this god can produce food magically. Where was that? Where was the great physical phenomena controlling god? I’m guessing that the excuse would be free will and/or that this god “used” humans in doing something, which is indistinguishable from humans doing something without any divine impetus.
Tune in for the free will excuse next time in Part 2.