Christian Theology Can Be Part of the Problem of Evil

The apostle Paul and John Calvin did their fair share of damage          

Christians who are sure that the New Testament reveals a loving god aren’t paying close attention. One of the charter documents of the Christian faith is Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the opening chapter we find a list of people who deserve to die, because they don’t acknowledge God. The list includes gossips and rebellious children, “…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” (Romans 1:28).  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness…” (Romans 1:18) And there’s more: “ your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5) “…for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:8)



The later Christian author who penned Matthew’s gospel, reports that John the Baptist warned religious leaders about what the coming of Jesus meant: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?(Matthew 3:7) Luke’s gospel includes this Jesus-script: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” (Luke 12:49) The devout adore John 3:16 (“God so loved the world”), but other verses in chapter three undermine that sentiment:  “…those who do not believe are condemned already…” (v. 18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath.” (v. 36) And there’s this Jesus-script in Matthew 12:36-37: “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.” The bad-tempered Yahweh of the ancient scripture is still calling the shots here.


Is this really how the god who runs the Cosmos, with hundreds of billions of galaxies under management, feels about humans? He’s always inflamed with rage about our behavior, and itching to get even? We can be sure there are thousands of different Christian opinions on the nature of god—and what annoys him the most—since this major world faith has splintered endlessly. Based on my experience, serving as pastor of two Methodist parishes, I know there are plenty of the devout who discount such severe versions of god. The kindly “man upstairs” is the god to whom they pray, and worship with hymns of praise. Burning in hell—the wrath of god hovering above them—never gained much traction. 


Nevertheless, the severe, punishing god is firmly imbedded in Christian theology. There has always been a tendency to describe god in ultra terms. That is, there can be nothing more powerful or more knowledgeable than god: this creative force is omnipotent and omniscient. When theologians are locked onto to these concepts—and heavily invested in them emotionally—they can be driven to extremes. Never mind that the omnipotence and omniscience of god are unevidenced; there are no reliable, verifiable, objective data to back up the claim that these attributes are, in fact, true. These terms are part of the theobabble created by professional theologians, and sometimes the consequences are devastating. 


John Loftus’ essay, “The Awful Controlling Damning Lying Calvinist God,” in his 2021 anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering, provides stunning examples of theology gone off the rails. This essay is a tutorial on just how bad theology can be. It is fitting that this essay is included in an anthology on suffering.


What can happen when a mind is locked on theological extremes, and with no awareness that doctrines must be testable, must be verified with real-world data? John Calvin thought in terms of the consequences of god’s power for humans: god is in control, totally, and humans suffer because of it. Loftus notes that:


“Calvin’s theology became known as Calvinism, or Reformed Theology…At its core is the doctrine of the complete and utter sovereignty of their god over his creation, and the theological determinism that goes with it. God decrees everything that will come to pass for his glory. God takes no risks. He predetermines everything.” (p. 326)


Paul’s letter to the Romans provided a text for this kind of thinking:


“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.(Romans 8:29-30)


Not for one moment did it occur to Paul to provide the evidence for this theology. From his letters we know that he hallucinated wildly, and he even bragged about speaking in tongues. He was far from being a stable genius! Yet his words have fueled theological speculations/certainties for centuries.


One of the most important quotes that Loftus offers in this essay throws considerable light on where these delusional speculations came from. Dr. Jaco Gericke, in his essay, “Can God Exist If Yahweh Doesn’t?” in the Loftus anthology, The End of Christianity, wrote:


“Believers today simply have not taken seriously the absurdity in the
Old Testament’s understanding of the cosmos as a kind of city-state ruled by a monarch in the sky whose every whim has to be catered to on the penalty of death. Christians are so brainwashed that the idea that humans are servants of a cosmic dictator still appears comforting to many. They speak about a personal relationship with the deity as a father, not realizing that any father who treats his children in the way Yahweh allegedly did would surely have to go for psychological observation and probably get life in prison. Those who consider the Bible as affirming human dignity do not seem to understand that it knows no human rights.” (p. 336, God and Horrendous Suffering)


Are Christians who hold the Bible in such high esteem—and assume that nothing can be better than their god—ready to own this god described in the Bible?


Valerie Tarico, also in an essay in The End of Christianity, put it this way:


“Their image of god as the most powerful person imaginable was modeled on an Iron Age Chief or King who wielded absolute power over his subjects and who was beyond accountability… Absolute power allows caprice and cruelty. It always is maintained in part by fear, a level of fear that is virtually impossible to perpetuate without anger’s unpredictability.” (p. 337, God and Horrendous Suffering)


Absolute power allows caprice and cruelty. Loftus points out that, during one two-year period, Calvin preached 159 sermons about the book of Job. Today it would be hard to think of a book of the Bible that reflects as poorly on god as this book—because of this deity’s caprice and cruelty—as Loftus notes:


“The story of Job is about honor, god’s kingly honor. Job is just another subject of his, as are all of the people in his kingdom. Was Satan right about Job? If god didn’t know the truth about Job he’s not omniscient. If god knew Satan was wrong, there would be no reason to put Job to the test. If god tested Job anyway in order to display his glory, then god acted like most any ancient barbaric king could, disqualifying him as a good god worthy of worship. To find out the truth, it was worth destroying everything Job holds dear. Full Stop! This god is barbaric, willing to destroy any of his subjects just to find out if they are committing thought-crimes. There is no love expressed here.” (pp. 334-335, emphasis added)


This barbaric god destroyed Job’s family, livelihood, and health—all part of the bargain with Satan. When Job questioned what had happened to him, god played the bully: you’re not allowed to question my actions, I’m the one in charge! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) A happy-ending was tacked onto the story, i.e., Job’s wealth was restored, he had more wives and children. Of course, this is fake news, and does nothing to restore the damaged reputation of this god. We wonder too if this is where the author of Mark’s gospel got the idea for this Jesus script:


“Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.’” (Mark 10:28-30)


Which makes no sense whatever. Cult fanaticism generates such promises, far removed from the realities of the world we live in. 


Note again the title of this essay: the awful controlling damning lying Calvinist god. In a 15-page section of the essay, Loftus elaborates on each of the adjectives; I advise readers to study this section especially. We have to wonder: how do well-educated theology scholars operate under the spell of totally unevidenced claims about god? They end up arguing for horrible ideas about their deity.  


For example, Loftus cites this statement from Calvinist James Anderson: 


“It should be conceded at the outset, and without any embarrassment, that Calvinism is indeed committed to divine determinism: the view that everything is ultimately determined by God. In other words, every event that occurs is willed by God, God’s willing an event is a sufficient cause of that event, and the divine will has no prior cause.” (p. 344)


There is, in fact, considerable embarrassment here


Where is the reliable, verifiable, objective data—accessible to scientists and secular thinkers—to substantiate this claim about divine determinism? But the really colossal embarrassment:  every event that occurs is willed by God. This plunges theology into a black hole of evil. Do these guys really want to own a god who willed the Black Plague, World War I, and the Holocaust—to mention just three primary examples of horrendous suffering? Of course, the list is endless, e.g., school shootings, kids with cancers, mental illness. Every event that occurs is willed by God. 


Encouraging people to belief such nonsense qualifies theology as part of the problem of evil.


Loftus notes that sometimes Calvinist theologians invoke the analogy of the novelist or artist to describe god’s role, e.g., “the author determines everything that takes place in the novel,” and a painter can create huge canvasses depicting epic events—as he or she pleases. That’s like what god is up to. Loftus will have none of it:


“I will just say one thing in criticism of these analogies. Inside any novel or painting the characters do not bleed. You can quote me on that. Yes, an author or painter can do anything she wants to her characters, even the worst kind of reprehensible things, without committing any wrongdoing. So these two analogies fail to explain anything.” (p. 345)


The Bad Theology Top Quote that Loftus cites comes from Mark Ballenger:


“God made people out of a desire to glorify himself. If it didn’t glorify God to make us, to save us, to love us, he wouldn’t have done it. God never ever puts anything above himself. The fact that God made and commands all living creatures to worship him is the very evidence he alone is God. God putting himself first is the greatest testament to God truly being God. If he were not absolutely committed to his own adoration, this would point to the fallacy of his claims that he alone deserves worship.” (p. 350)


This is a tediously silly statement as well: “..that god wants ALL living creatures to worship him is the very evidence…” There is nothing whatever here that comes close to qualifying as evidence. Theological speculation is piled on in multiple layers. How could such a colossal divine ego be considered a good thing? Why would a god who manages billions of galaxies be so keen on having humans worshipping him? 


Loftus quotes another theologian who sensed the incoherence here. Clark Pinnock wrote: “…one need not wonder why people become atheists when faced with such a theology. A God like that has a great deal for which to answer.” (p. 352)


There are so many problems with Calvinist theology, beginning with its charter documents: “Calvinistic theology is based upon the present-day exegesis of a historically conditioned set of canonized documents purportedly being from their god, even though there are different perspectives in the Bible which are impossible to honestly reconcile.” (p. 328) Theologians do their very best to work around, make excuses for, obfuscate, those different perspectives that are impossible to reconcile. But Calvinism went on to advocate extreme understandings of god. Loftus calls it correctly: “Calvinism is a theology that leads to total skepticism. Their god could very well be Descartes’ evil demon.”




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


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