When I published the predecessor to this article a few weeks ago, I received a good deal of feedback – the most frequent comment being something along the lines of, “There are only ten reasons?” Of course, I hadn’t intended it to be a comprehensive list; rather, it was a compilation of the things that I personally find the most perplexing, the basics that I simply can’t get past in order to ask more intellectual questions of ontology and theology. However, many of you raised valid and interesting points, leading me to proceed down my list of biblical things that make me go “hmmmmm.” And so, I present to you ten more things about Christianity that confuse the crap out of me.
1. God could have just forgiven us. If god is omnipotent, he can do whatever he wants for whatever reason – which, in the Old Testament, he pretty much does; the Book of Job proved that following all of god’s rules was no guarantee that he wouldn’t screw you over and murder your family just because he can. Possessed of the power and the will, if he wanted to absolve humanity of its sins, why not just do so? Better yet, why not just make sin disappear altogether, or make humans sin-free in the first place? Giving yourself a son with the express intent of torturing him to death and then resurrecting him as a way to show your mercy seems unnecessary at best, and it is certainly not merciful. Making matters worse, even after this gruesome spectacle there are strings attached to god’s so-called forgiveness because you are forgiven only if you accept that Jesus was the son of god – not a slam dunk seeing as how Jesus is as easily interpreted as a nutcase as he is a prophet. True to form, God declines to provide any actual evidence of Jesus’ divinity while simultaneously making his forgiveness contingent upon accepting that premise. The story of the crucifixion in fact strikes me as a lot closer to the story of Job – of mean-spiritedness for its own sake – than a story of love and redemption.
2. Pick a testament already. When confronted with the atrocities of the bible, Christians are quick to point out that it’s just the god of the Old Testament who was vengeful, and that Jesus created a new covenant, and blah blah blah. They then proceed to rail against homosexuality and erect Ten Commandments monuments in capitol buildings and courthouses. There’s either some serious cherry picking or some erroneous theology going on here. Or both.
3. The devil is a thing. An omnipotent, omniscient god would not have any rivals or equals – he’d not only have the power to defeat any enemy, he’d have the ability to simply not create any for himself in the first place. The bible itself says that god is the one who created evil, in which case he deliberately set a trap for humans with the foreknowledge that many of us would become ensnared, both by the evil tendencies with which he endowed us, and by the collateral damage such individuals create. God either created everything or he didn’t; he either knows all or he doesn’t. If he did and he does, then it is god who is in fact responsible for evil, and Satan is just god’s scapegoat. If he didn’t and he doesn’t, he isn’t much of a god.
4. And speaking of the devil, what’s the deal with hell? “Here is a list of things to never do. If you do any of them, you will be tortured in a pit of fire for all eternity where your organs will be slowly ripped out and eaten by jackals and your eyes pecked out by crows. Unless you grovel to me at the very last possible moment before death, in which case I’ll forgive you for doing the things I forbade you to do under penalty of eternal torment. Actually never mind, just do whatever as long as you don’t skip the groveling part. And make sure you believe in me – like, really, seriously believe, ‘cause that’s where I draw the line. I mean, a deity has to have his pride, right? So list-schmist, just be sure you suck up to me. Or I’ll burn your ass. Forever. Oh, and have I told you lately how much I love you?”
5. Free will isn’t free. Other than the devil, Christians’ favorite rationalization of the ubiquitous evil and suffering in the world is free will. “He gives us a choice to accept him or not. If you choose not to accept him, then you are the one choosing to be evil / go to hell / condemn yourself / damn all of humanity.” Set aside for a moment that an omniscient and omnipotent god would already know who is and is not going to accept him because he is the one who decided for each of us whether we would or not. Set aside the questionable utility of creating people who are already doomed to hell before they are even born. Set aside the questions of disease and natural disaster, which are not brought about by human acts of will. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Adam Lanza, for instance, slaughtered 27 people including 20 little children simply because he was exercising the free will that god gave him. How does that absolve god of any responsibility? Sure, you could say that god didn’t make the murderer do what he did because the murderer had free will, but you can’t say god didn’t stand idly by and let it happen even though he had the power to stop it. If the price of free will is that it can be misused by some to inflict terrifying, painful, violent deaths on innocent children, and that is a price that god is willing to pay, what’s that say about your god.
6. The bible requires interpretation. If the bible is the word of god and if the New Testament is the holy scripture upon which Christianity is based, then that should pretty much seal the deal in terms of what Christianity is all about. “Here’s what god told us to do, now let’s go do it.” Except it hasn’t quite worked out that way, as evidenced by the thousands of sects of Christianity, and the millions of people who vaguely identify as “Christian” in spite of their rejection of the vast majority of what is written in their own scripture. Even more perplexing are Christian claims of bible passages being taken out of context or being allegorical. Conveniently, the parts that Christians often claim are allegorical are the parts that make god look like less than a wonderful, loving father figure, while the parts they claim are literal truth are the ones that resonate – surprise! – with their already closely held biases and beliefs. Intellectual honesty, however, requires that the bible is either all true, or all allegory. If it is all true, then Christians must embrace all of it, including the parts that are unflattering to their lord and savior. If it is all allegory, then there are as many ways of being Christian as there are humans on the planet. Many of us shake our heads at fundamentalists like Ray Comfort and Ken Ham, but in truth, by taking a consistent approach to their interpretation of the bible as a whole, they are more intellectually honest than so-called moderate Christians, who may be more reasonable but are the most egregious cherry-pickers.
7. You have a personal relationship with who? How do you have a “personal relationship” with a man who has been dead for 2,000 years? When you say you “love” Jesus, what emotion is it that you are experiencing given that you have never seen him, spoken with him, or even read his own words? Stranger still, what exactly are you feeling when you say that he loves you back? How is a personal relationship with Jesus different from a personal relationship with Elvis? At least I can look at photographs and films of Elvis and listen to his voice; I can objectively and scientifically prove that he existed, view artifacts that he owned or created, read things that he wrote, and talk to people who knew him when he was alive. From this perspective, a personal relationship with him is by far the more rational one.
8. It’s not fundamentally different from any other mythology. Powerful supernatural being creates world, invents humans, controls nature, lays down rules, arbitrarily disregards own rules, punishes humans for breaking rules, becomes irate at insufficient sycophancy, condemns bad sycophants in heinous ways, rewards good ones in this life or the next or both. Some of the finer details may change, but the basic story arc is more or less the same across the board. Given the overwhelming similarities and the fact that they all have precisely the same amount of evidence to support their truth – which is to say none – it is unclear to me why any one of them can claim to be more legitimate than any other.
9. Explain the holocaust. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
10. Take a look around. Imagine how great the world would be if an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god had made it so that people were kind to each other and behaved responsibly. No one would starve; children wouldn’t get raped or orphaned by war; animals wouldn’t get tortured for sport; natural resources wouldn’t be destroyed and depleted; no one would be homeless or exploited or otherwise suffer at the hands of fellow humans. Creating a world where your children can be happy and fulfilled, where they will never suffer or cause suffering, would be as effortless to such an entity as breathing, and would be the most loving gift any parent could bestow. The god of Christianity, on the other hand, decided to pack humans chock full of selfishness and bad intentions and then stand back and watch thousands years of war, violence, and other mischief unfold while simultaneously reserving his ability to intervene to occasional appearances on toast. Well, okay, in fairness sometimes he appears in mold too.