Denyse O'Leary: God is Evidently Quite Emotional

The wonders of the modern apologetic techniques never quite stop being amusing. In a recent post on her blog, Mindful Hack, Denyse O'Leary discusses a new book by two philosophers. The book, entitled Answering the New Atheists: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God is authored by two philosopher cum apologists, Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Benjamin Wiker.

The book is certainly not written for a scholarly audience and what Denyse O'Leary takes from it is a delightful twist on the idea of intercessory prayer studies. As readers know I believe intercessory prayer as a concept to be deeply flawed. However, the best studies of intercessory prayer have also found it to be useless, or possibly harmful. The philosophers address this thusly:

The error of the double-blind prayer experiment is that it treats God like some kind of natural cause rather than as a personal, rational Being. In doing so, God is being unjustly subjected to a humiliating attempt to manipulate Him by an experiment. In short, the experiment is an insult, and any rational being, superhuman or not, would treat it as such. That does not, of course, mean that praying for healing itself is an insult; we are speaking only of framing such prayer in the context of a manipulative experiment. (p. 57)

I had to read this three times to be sure that it was actually written out by people who claim to be philosophers, but yep, there it is. Read it again yourself just to make sure you get the gist of it.

My summary: God isn't your monkey. You hurt his feelings when you test him.

I wonder if these fine philosophers, or Ms. O'Leary have read their Bibles. From what I can see of the Bible it's got numerous opportunities for God to have his feelings hurt, but he never seems to. Let's go through some of those times when Yahweh should have felt insulted, although I'm sure this list is not exhaustive.

First, in Exodus we see the story of Moses. God has Moses turn his staff into a snake and turn his hand leprous. Moses shows these signs to the Israelites so that they will believe. Then he does some of the same tricks for Pharoah in Exodus 7:

Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, "When Pharaoh says to you, 'Perform a miracle,' then say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,' and it will become a snake."

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as Yahweh commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as Yahweh had said.

God's feelings were definitely not hurt during this test of his powers.

Next we get to Elijah and the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 17. Elijah challenges 450 priests to a contest, deliberately hurting God's feelings according to these philosophers. He mocks Baal repeatedly and then has the bull he's going to incinerate doused in water to make the event that much more amazing. Elijah was evidently the Doug Henning of his time. Finally Elijah goes for it:

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Yahweh, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Then the fire of Yahweh fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "Yahweh -he is God! Yahweh -he is God!"

Finally we get to the New Testament. While the NT is littered with stories of miracles proving God's existence or the true discipleship of one or another apostle, the best single "test" of God in the NT from my point of view is the story of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5. Ananias comes in and gives less than he owes to Peter. Peter tells him that he lied to God and then as if to prove the point, God strikes him dead.

The story gets better when his wife comes in:

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"

"Yes," she said, "that is the price."

Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Yes, evidently in the 1st century CE, when God was tested he struck people dead out of rage. But now, the 21st century, he just gets his feelings hurt and pouts.

Now it is entirely possible that the God that Drs. Hahn and Wiker are defending is not the Jewish or Christian God. If they are not theists however, they would typically not believe in a deity who answers intercessory prayer to start with, and so I think that it is likely the paragraph quoted is indeed a defense of the God of theism. Therefore I think it is simply incoherent to imagine that his nature has changed from the wrathful Yahweh who strikes people dead, burns stones, bulls, water and dirt, and then has wood-snakes eat other wood-snakes. Do they now really believe he has become a pusillanimous, sensitive gentle being who can't be called out without causing him emotional pain?

Thanks Denyse, that one was a blast!