Is God Really That Bad?
As a non-believer, I am frequently surprised at the low opinion that believers tend to have of their respective gods. Oh sure, they say that their god or gods are perfect and wise and fair and just and generous and kind etc…, but they tend to act as if they don’t quite believe all of that to be true. This came to mind as I read a short blurb in the December 30, 2013 Sports Illustrated. Under the headline “Strange Days, Indeed” (written by Kevin Kerr), the article recounted strange sports stories from the past year, and included a paragraph under the caption “Beast a Burden”. It’s short enough to re-state here in its entirety:
A high school runner in Whitley County, KY, was set to compete in a regional cross-country meet when she was assigned the bib number 666, “the number of the beast” according to the Bible. Codie Thacker and her coach appealed unsuccessfully for a new number, so she decided not to race. “I didn’t want to risk my relationship with God” she said.
My first thought was to feel sorry for this young lady. She had probably trained very hard for this meet, and now she was declining to participate because of some silly numerology superstition. How sad. But something else came to mind as well. What a low opinion this young lady has of her god. After all, it’s just a number on a bib that she had no part in choosing for herself. Yet she seriously feared that her god would abandon her just for putting on the bib and running in a race. What kind of god would punish this child for something so minor that in any event she had no control over? And why did Ms. Thacker assume that this would be the case? She could have thought to herself “My god is just and merciful, and so s/he will understand that I’ve really done nothing wrong here and forgive me for any minor transgression I might have committed in wearing bib number 666”. But no, she assumed the worst of her god (that wearing her assigned number would so anger her/him that it would put their relationship at risk) and declined to run in a race that was no doubt of some importance to her.
Why does this young lady have such fear of her supposedly just and loving god? Would any rational person think it fair for God to punish her just for running in her assigned bib number? So why the assumption that her God will be so petty and unfair? Believers are often referred to, in an approving way, as “god fearing”. Why? If a person’s god is so just and merciful, what is there to be afraid of, especially if you’ve led a basically decent life? Non-believers are frequently asked if they’re not afraid of God’s wrath after death if it turns out they’re wrong and there really is a god (or gods) and an afterlife. We’re asked “what will you say to God when he thunders out the question “WHY DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE IN ME”? (The philosopher Bertrand Russell was said to reply to that question “Not enough evidence, God”). But this assumes that what gods care most about when judging us for our final destination of heaven or hell is whether we believed in him when we were alive. Really? Can an all-powerful, all-knowing, immortal being really be that insecure? And why are his/her most ardent believers so sure that this is the case?
One of the reasons that I don’t fear the “Why didn’t you believe in me”? question, apart from the fact that I strongly doubt that it will ever be asked of me, especially after I’m dead, is that I believe that I’ve led a basically decent life. I’m not perfect, of course, but then, who is? (Not even God, apparently). I’ve tried to be a good son, brother, husband, father, neighbor and citizen. I care about my fellow man and woman, and try to treat everyone I come across fairly. I give as much to charity as I can afford, and don’t try to gain anything to which I’m not entitled. If there is a god, and that’s not good enough, then the hell with him/her (so to speak). I just can’t believe that an all-powerful being would be so touchy about whether I believed in him and punish me if I didn’t. And yet, many of the most fervent believers on earth (and there are a lot of them, although, curiously enough, they don’t believe in the same gods; can’t all be right) think some god will punish them not only for non-belief, but for driving a car on Saturday, or getting a blood transfusion even if they need one to save their life, or having a glass of wine, or using contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy etc, etc, etc… ad infinitum, including, evidently, wearing a bib in a cross-country race that contains a disagreeable number. I may not believe in God as many of my fellow humans do, but at least I don’t think of her/him as a nasty, arbitrary, insecure bully. Why do they?