Is Your God a Jerk?

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a former regular here at Ordinary Times who lives in a small rural town about two hours southwest of Portland, Oregon with his wife, kids, and dog. He enjoys studying and writing about the world of employment, which is good because that's his job. You can find him on Twitter.

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27 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    As a parent, have you yet encountered a situation where your children would consider you to be a jerk?

    If there is more than one of these situations, were the kids right, each time, that you were being a jerk?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        Are these questions relevant at all?

        I mean, it seems to me that, if there’s a god at all, we’re likely to *COMPLETELY* misunderstand what he (or He) might communicate to us.

        I don’t know that we’d be able to discern between a loving hand of a deity who is grooming us to one day be a peer of His, a loving hand of a deity who is hoping to groom us to be appropriate pets for His Household, or the loving hand of the farmer who will be eating us as soon as the time for the feast is here.

        But if it’s the first of those, I know how much it completely sucks whenever I am in a situation where I am becoming a better person. I prefer the situations where I can coast on how good of a person I already have been forced to become.Report

        • Kyle Cupp in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yes, I think they’re relevant, even if we suppose that God does not exist. People’s ideas and images and stories about God do exist so far as they go, and sometimes they go pretty far in terms of influencing individual and group behavior. It can matter what kind of god someone worships (or makes)–it can matter for their relationships, for their psychological health, for their cultural and political decisions.Report

  2. PEG says:

    You can tell your acquaintance that he is, in fact, incorrect about what the Catholic Church teaches. The only people for whom it categorically teaches that they will go to hell is those who, *knowing* that the Catholic Church is the Church of God, reject it. That is a very narrow definition. For everybody else–non-Catholics, Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday like me, and everybody else–it’s impossible to know in this life.

    For the record, it’s even possible to be a Catholic and believe that everybody goes to Heaven (yes, even Hitler)

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to PEG says:

      Agreed, PEG, although my acquaintance would probably retort with Boniface the VIII, who said, “We declare, say, define and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

      Or with Eugene IV, who declared, “The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the Sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”Report

      • bearing in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

        He could retort that, but he’d still be incorrect, because he’d be picking and choosing only the sources that seem on the surface to support his argument. The synthesis of all Catholic doctrine is more nuanced than the synthesis implied by these two quotations taken alone.

        I would have expected you to do a better job of noting that your acquaintance’s stated belief represents only that acquaintance’s understanding of Catholic theology rather than being an accurate representation of Church doctrine. Check your sources. We make it fairly easy, what with the freely available, searchable catechism and all.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    My God isn’t a jerk but lots of people like to argue that he is. I’m really tired of the “wrathfully, jealous God of the Old Testament” vs. the “loving, peaceful God of the New Testament” debate.Report

  4. Just so, Kyle.

    There is no way to reconcile “blessed are the merciful” with a God who would confine large swaths of humanity to an eternity of material torment, absent a truly staggering degree of divine hypocrisy.

    I long ago stopped saying that I believe in the same God as the one I was raised to believe in. (To whatever degree my fluctuating faith of admixed hope and doubt can be described as “belief” at all.) The God I believe in now is (as Jaybird alludes) incredibly hard to know, but is no monster. The god I was raised to believe in is monstrous.Report

    • Yeah, I can’t see how either believing one is a member of a select saved few or being in perpetual fear that one might be forever doomed leads to a spiritually happy or physiologically healthy life. Theist that I am, I think atheism has a point.Report

  5. KatherineMW says:

    Ever since I read The Last Battle, I’ve been fond of Lewis’ idea that if a person does good, they are serving God whether they know it or not. I don’t have a clear theological or Biblical foundation for that, but I prefer it to the idea that only Christians go to heaven. (I’m also fond of the converse, that Christians who do evil in God’s name will be told after death that they were not serving Him, but that also feels like a bit of a cop-out on God’s part. I feel like God should have some kind of responsibility for calling people out during their lifetime if they do evil in His name, and that doesn’t appear to happen.)Report

    • Pinky in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Katherine, I suspect that God does call us out a lot during our lifetimes. If God is loving and just, then about 20 minutes after the Final Judgment I bet we’re all going to be saying, “well, that was fair”.

      The Catholic understanding of sin measures the act on three levels: the severity of its nature, the degree of knowledge, and the degree of consent. An act, even a severely evil act, isn’t considered to be a mortal sin unless the person does it with full knowledge and full consent. That might sound like an “escape clause”, but it’s very human.

      I guess the first paragraph begs the question, why should we believe that God is loving and just? Each person has to answer that on his own. We look at the evidence around us, and look at what people claim that God said and did, and decide. We can’t know God’s nature for certain, as Jay notes. When we can’t know something for certain, we consider the evidence and make a decision. That’s what faith is. As in any other case, we decide based on the information and also the information source. When we consider whether God is a jerk, we look at both the messenger and the message.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    I don’t believe in God, but I’d be more inclined to believe in the God described here than most other descriptions I’ve encountered.Report

  7. Brian says:

    In a democracy like most countries these days, there is the tendency in polite conversation to refrain from condemnation, which if taken too far causes one to be tolerant and maybe even approving of evil behavior. This tendency stems from our culture, but I don’t think is accurate. Condemnation of the person, I think, is inappropriate, but I do believe that the Church has a responsibility to teach that indeed there is a “right” path and a “wrong” path. The idea that God cannot be just if he condemns people to hell is a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Since the Enlightenment period of the 18th century, men have been inclined to incorrectly put God as the accused, rather than themselves. This is where this entire debate comes from. God does not have to justify himself to you, me, or anyone else for that matter. He is God. The sovereignty or justice of a God who judges is not quite like what most people think. It is not God who accuses us. That is the devil, whose name in the Bible several times is referred to as the accuser. No, God is the judge. As such, God is ultimately responsible for the judgment, but the antagonist truly is the accuser.Report

    • James K in reply to Brian says:

      There is a word for a being who presumes who stands judgement over us without legitimate mandate, whose power is absolute and against whom there is no recourse. That word is “Tyrant”.

      Yes, the idea of judging gods is part of our enlightenment culture, that’s because the enlightenment gave rise to the idea that just rulership required more than mere power, and that a good ruler was more than a glorified warlord.

      There is no act that justifies eternal torture, and any being that would create such a punishment for any act is an abomination, the very idea of hell is the product of a diseased imagination.Report

  8. Stillwater says:

    I’ve got to call that a big flaw in the design and feel compelled to speak to the manufacturer bullshit.

    Good post Kyle.Report