Do you punish the ones you love every single time they hurt you? It’s not a flippant question. I’ve been thinking about all the people who have done things that hurt me, and I’m struck by the realization that punishment is something I reserve for particularly bad offenses. I don’t go about life doling out tit for tat justice for every infraction against me. I let most minor gaffes slide.
Occasionally, though, I do mete out justice with an iron fist. Generally speaking, it’s when someone has willfully and knowingly caused me severe harm. They’ve hurt me physically or financially in a significant way, or perhaps they’ve badly damaged my reputation so that I lose friends.
Most people are a lot like me, and that’s a good thing. If you haven’t noticed, the rare person who insists on appropriate punishment for every offense, no matter how minor, is not well liked. People generally avoid him. They think him too austere and authoritarian.
I’ve been thinking about this approach to offense and how it relates to the Christian god. Have you ever thought about this?
- God punishes people who don’t even know they’ve done anything wrong. The ultimate punishment is reserved for people who reject the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Many who have never even heard of Jesus are allegedly enduring eternal torture at this very moment. I can imagine millions of them screaming: “But I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do!!” This violates my ethic of not raining destruction on people who meant no harm.
- God punishes people for one offense, with no exceptions. For all the talk of “forgiveness,” God isn’t really that forgiving. There is one sin for which he never offers any mercy, regardless of how good a person has been or how much love and happiness they brought into the world. This violates my ethic of judging people based on their character.
- God punishes people for offending him. I think this is a much more egregious moral failing than punishing the ignorant. God is immune from physical harm. He has no need of our money. As an all-powerful being, he can manipulate his reputation in any way he desires at any instant. I am no threat to him. I can do him no harm. And yet he thinks it’s just to punish me.
That last point is very important. I was thinking of it in terms of the “homosexual debate.” What harm could possibly come to god if one man chooses to put his mouth on another man’s penis?
Please don’t let that thought slip by without considerable reflection. What harm could possibly come to god if one man chooses to put his mouth on another man’s penis? Are they thwarting god’s divine plan? Certainly not. That’s impossible since god is all-powerful. Are they taking money from god’s bank vault? No… Are they preventing god from doing anything? No… Are they detracting from his ability to make a living in the future? No… Are they stealing his wife? No…
We can apply this logic to pretty much anything. By disbelieving the Christian myth, are we causing any real harm to god? No… By drinking or taking drugs, are we causing god any real harm? No… By having sex before marriage, are we causing god any real harm? No…
The unpleasant reality is clear: God is not punishing people for harming him. He is punishing them arbitrarily for his own amusement.
You may think I’m being overly dramatic, but I’m not. Many Christians will probably respond with something like this: God’s laws are not to protect him from harm. Rather, they are to protect us.
OK. That’s fine in principle, I suppose. Although really it’s not fine if you value individual freedom and… what’s that thing Christians are so fond of… Free Will. But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that god has a moral right to punish us when we harm each other. He’s like a cosmic police officer.
What harm does it cause you if your neighbor decides to put his mouth on another man’s penis?
Have you lost any money? Are you physically harmed? Did you get cancer? Is there anything you could take to a court of law and put before a judge?
If the answer is no, then we’re right back to god punishing people arbitrarily. Similarly, what does it matter to you if I believe your silly resurrection story or not? Does my disbelief cost you money? Does it physically harm you? Does it give you cancer?
Does my non-belief cause me to beat your kids, rape your wife and eat your kitten? Do I routinely burn scarlet A’s in your yard? Do I send gay porn to your inbox at work?
Does my non-belief cause you any tangible harm?
The answer, of course, is no. So god’s “perfect and just punishment” amounts to nothing less than arbitrary torture. It prevents no harm. Not to you, not to me, not to him.
And that, beyond the scientific inaccuracies, the non-historical whoppers of stories, the questionable ethics of Biblical heroes, and everything else loony about Christianity, is why I do not respect it in the least. The Christian god is a petty tyrant, arbitrarily torturing people for his own amusement. Based on that alone, there is no reason to admire or worship him.