Who Would WANT the Christian God Anyway?

He makes too many big mistakes

If we could pose this question to folks coming out of their weekly worship services: Do they really want the God they worship? …we would hear enthusiastic affirmations, “Oh, Yes, I want the Lord! Our God is so wonderful.” But I wonder. Have they really thought it through? There are several things about this God that are a turnoff. Many of us would put he/she/it near the bottom of a list of gods to follow. Let’s look at a short list.


1. This God hides behind “mystery”


The Christian god is mysterious and hidden—so say even the faithful, especially when the incoherence of faith cannot be explained: “God moves in mysterious ways, we can’t know his bigger plans…” George H. Smith, in Atheism: The Case Against God, had a bit of fun with the definition of God found in the National Catholic Almanac. There we learn that God is


“…almighty, eternal, holy, immortal, immense, immutable, incomprehensible, ineffable, infinite, invisible, just, loving, merciful, most high, most wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, perfect, provident, supreme, true.” (1968 National Catholic Almanac, p. 360)


Smith commented:


“This is certainly an impressive list, but one problem immediately becomes apparent: included in this catalogue of characteristics is ‘incomprehensible.’ One must wonder how it is possible to declare God’s incomprehensibility and simultaneously list twenty-two additional attributes.”  (Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 48)


Each one of these divine qualities prompts questions about the source of this god-knowledge. Where are the data? Even, in some cases, what is the precise definition, e.g., “most high”? There is too much priestly jargon here, which suggests over-compensation, the piling on of superlatives, as if that could dispel the mystery. This reminds us of the old joke—variously attributed to Oscar Wilde and Ambrose Bierce—about the theologian, who, at midnight on a moonless night goes into a dark cave without a flashlight, looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and yells, “I found it!” 


Surely the Biblical authors faced some of the same angst about knowing God. The storytellers came up with fanciful solutions, e.g., God has spoken through a burning bush (Moses), and from water vapor—a cloud—at the transfiguration (Jesus). Most believers today, even those who accept these stories at face value, don’t themselves expect to hear from God via burning shrubbery or clouds. They’re much more confident about learning about God, and his will, through their prayers. And they can be adamant about it, despite the fact that Christians get wildly different advice from God. 


In other words, what’s going on inside your head may have nothing whatever to do with God. Why aren’t the devout more skeptical about the reliability of prayer? And then there’s the apostle Paul, who had vivid hallucinations about talking to the dead Jesus—from which far too much of bad Christian theology derives. We suspect Paul’s channel to God was defective…or just imaginary.


Of course, if you’re trying figure out something that isn’t there—that doesn’t exist—it’s hardly a surprise it will seem mysterious and unknowable. Surely a better god, in addition to existing, would also want to dispel the mystery: “This is exactly who I am and what I expect of human beings.”  


John Loftus has put it well:


“Surely if God exists, he knows what it would take for us to believe. So why doesn’t he do what it takes? From the theistic perspective, this is the so-called problem of divine hiddenness, which is an extension of the problem of evil. This problem is best explained by the fact that God doesn’t even exist.” (John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity)


2. The Christian God doesn’t have his own house—a turbulent spiritual realm—in order


Can a perfect deity be omnipotent, yet also not have his act together? Many Christians—of both the evangelical and Catholic variety, for example—know for sure that the devil brings havoc to the world, and through his agents torments individuals as well. So there is a major rival god and multitudes of evil spirits. We would hear denials that Satan is a rival god, yet even devout Christians are distressed that Satan causes so much pain and suffering in the world. He must have god-like powers. Pope Francis mentioned in his Palm Sunday sermon that the Evil One is behind so much our misery associated with Covid. 


We can conclude that the spiritual realm is a mess: God tolerates a powerful rival. Why would an omnipotent deity have to deal with that? Why are some priests trained to be exorcists? If God has to put up with Satan, can’t he at least annihilate lower-level demons? This suggests a certain level of incompetence.


But is there also divine exhaustion and even laziness? After all, God rested after six days of creation—or is that just a fable now? Maybe not: the Catholic Church claims the existence of thousands of saints who listen to petitions from the faithful. Mary seems to have an especially heavy workload; she tours the globe putting in personal appearances. Does God need the help? Of course, Protestants scoff at this role for the saints. I suspect that if all Christians were asked to weigh in on this issue, there would be diverse opinion on the reality of angels, demons, and saints; surely some Christians can sense the theological incoherence here. Is God in charge—truly in charge—or not? If not, he doesn’t have his own house in order. It’s hard enough to explain the division of labor in The Trinity.  


3. The Christian God is a bully—and should mind his own business


If Christians actually read the Bible—and don’t assume that the famous feel-good verses represent the whole story—they could see that this is not the God they want. He’s always hovering, making his list and checking it twice:


“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Jesus, Matthew 12:36-37)


 “…their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”  (Romans 2:15-16)


Our words and thoughts are being monitored by the God who runs the cosmos. Little thought seems to be given to the astounding improbability that this could be true—but never mind that, it’s offensive. We are under constant surveillance: this is totalitarian monotheism. God even monitors sexual arousal:


“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…”  (Matthew 5:28-29) Of course the metaphor is extreme, but it’s used to drive home the point that God detests lust.  


One of the feel good verses is Luke 10:27, 


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 


Yes, this order to love is bullying. And is there a verse that is so widely ignored—especially the last five words? Here Jesus recommends extreme religion: God must be loved at the ALL-ALL-ALL-ALL level. Why would God need that, and how many Christians can claim to do it? Acts 5:1-11 is probably not a favorite Bible story: the apostle Peter scolded a couple so severely that they dropped dead. Their crime: they had not donated to the church all the money from the sale of property. I suspect most Christian don’t read this story and respond enthusiastically, “Way to go Peter! I’ll step up my game!” 


This theme continues in Luke 14:33: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  And Luke 16:15: “…but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” 


This bully God has far too many hang-ups—far too much resentment towards humans. Even after the Flood he didn’t get the help he needed with anger management.


4. The Christian God left humanity stranded. There’s so much he didn’t tell us


Suppose it were decided, at a secret meeting of Bible publishers, to just drop the Book of Ezekiel. From now on leave it out. How many of the folks in the pews would notice and lead protests in the streets? I’m guessing that this 50-page chunk of scripture wouldn’t even be missed. God could have devoted that space to giving humanity a head start on understanding the cosmos and the world. 


Scientists didn’t work out aspirin and Novocain until modern times (the 1890s-1900s). How much suffering could have been prevented, for millennia, with some of this basic knowledge? God could have included a Book of Practical Wisdom, describing, for example, how to build refrigerators, microscopes and telescopes. Why not tell us, early on, about microbes? In the New Testament, disease is blamed on sin and demons. That was not helpful at all. 


In what Barbara Tuchman called “the calamitous 14th century,” at the time of the Black Plague, bands of desperate flagellants wandered Europe hoping to convince God that they were sorry for the sins that had provoked his terrible wrath. Yet God still withheld vital knowledge. He could have answered thousands of prayers with a simple message: “It’s the fleas, not the sins.” 


One of the most devastating critiques of the Christian God is Tim Sledge’s Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer: Breaking the Spell of Christian Belief.  Sledge notes “the germ warfare question”:  


“Not only did Jesus fail to mention germs, but he steered his listeners in the wrong direction when he told them not to worry about washing their hands.” (p. 41) “Decent parents protect their kids from danger. If your toddler grabs the liquid Drano container, you don’t watch in silence. But that is exactly what God the Heavenly Father had done through the ages. He just watches, invisible and silent. Why? God had been watching silently for thousands of years by the time Jesus had come along. It was late in the game, but couldn’t the Son of God—the one described as The Great Physician—have made a greater contribution to human health than healing a few people while he was on earth? Why didn’t Jesus say anything about germs?” (pp. 45-46)


If we make a genuine effort to evaluate the Christian God with as little faith bias as possible; if we can ignore the giant propaganda engine that the church has become; if we can honestly face the heavy helpings of superstition and magical thinking in the New Testament, the Christian God takes his place beside so many other flawed deities spawned by the cults of the ancient world. 


The theologians who still defend this God—a relic of old Yahweh—do a major disservice to our modern world. 




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


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