Monday, January 23, 2012

Non-Belief, Pt. 8: Obeying God

An acquaintance - let's keep this completely anonymous - asked me a question this morning. I'm paraphrasing,  but basically, he said, "If you believed in God, if he appeared to you and convinced you he was real, you'd do what he said, right? If he told you to kill someone, wouldn't you do it?"

Those aren't his exact words, and if you think he's implying something with that, you'd probably be wrong. But I thought it was an interesting question, interesting enough to blog about and, indeed, to add to my Non-Belief series.

Let's mention the obvious problem with this, first. I'm supposed to assume that - somehow - I was convinced the Christian God actually exists and that he wants me to kill someone (that he wants me to do anything, actually, but killing someone is something I wouldn't normally do).

Suppose I was absolutely convinced of this. Well, I could still be mistaken. I'm not infallible. No matter how sure I was, I'd still have to consider the possibility that I was wrong. (I haven't lost my mind, right? I've just become convinced that this is God?)

In this particular case, how would I know I wasn't delusional? Just because I see and hear God, that doesn't mean he really exists. I might be absolutely convinced of that, but still wrong. It's one thing if he doesn't want me to eat shellfish - or even bacon, I guess - but when he wants me to murder someone, I have to consider the possibility that I'm just hallucinating.

I don't actually see how a god could convince me that I couldn't be wrong, do you? OK, God is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent, so by definition, he can do anything he wants. If that's true, then he certainly could make me believe that he exists. Could he make me absolutely certain that I wasn't just delusional? I don't know how, but if he's truly omniscient and omnipotent, he can do anything.

I don't think I'm going to be murdering anyone, or doing anything else really bad, just because I think I'm right. No matter what, I always have to consider the possibility that I'm wrong. (This is something fanatics throughout history have failed to understand.) But let's assume otherwise. Let's assume that I have been convinced and that I'm absolutely certain that I couldn't be wrong. Would I do what God told me to do?

Well, why would I? Suppose I accepted Christian mythology lock, stock, and barrel. God created the universe just for us. He created Adam and Eve, then kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for disobedience. He flooded the whole world once, drowning men, women, and children, when there were only a handful of righteous believers left. And he sent his only son to die on the cross for us.

Assuming that I believed all that, should I obey God? Should I do whatever he says, without question? Why would I?

My parents did create me. They sacrificed for me. They raised me, they fed me, they protected me. They loved me, and they taught me right from wrong. Should you obey your parents then, without question? No matter what they tell you to do? Of course not!

Naturally, I'll hand a mugger my wallet, if he holds a gun to my head. If we're talking about threats, then I might obey out of fear. I would hope that I wouldn't murder someone, just because God threatened to torture me if I didn't obey. But heck, I don't even like hangnails. With enough torture, I'd probably do anything to make the pain stop.

I'm not even particularly embarrassed by that. No one could hold out against an infinity of torture. Some of us might break sooner than others, but we'd all break.

If God threatened me, I'd absolutely obey him, at least to some extent. I'd hand him my wallet, if he wanted it, just like I'd do to any mugger. But in neither case would I murder someone, not just because of threats to my own well-being. Torture would break me, I'm sure, but threats alone wouldn't do it (not threats to myself, at least).

But what if it's liberal Christianity I believe in? What if there is no Hell? What if God isn't threatening me, but just asking me to kill someone? Or to stop eating bacon, for that matter? Would I obey God, just because he is God?

Remember, the assumption is that I'm absolutely certain this is God, with no possibility that I could be mistaken. But even so, why would I obey him, necessarily?

I'm going to need a good reason, even from God. Heck, I already know that I shouldn't be eating bacon, but I'm not willing to stop. Does God have a better reason than the ones I already know? I'd certainly listen to him, and I might even agree to stop.

But if he wants me to kill someone, I'm going to need a very good reason. Why would I obey God for no reason? Assuming that I'm not being threatened or forced to obey, why would I obey just on his say-so? Why would God want my obedience, anyway? If he's got a good reason for me to obey, then I want to hear it.

An omniscient god would be vastly smarter than me, of course. But maybe my father was smarter than me. I still wouldn't have killed someone just on his command. I loved my father, but I would have needed a very good reason before agreeing to kill for him. I owe my father a lot, but I don't owe him my complete, unquestioned obedience.

So no, I wouldn't kill someone just because God told me to do it, even if I believed wholeheartedly that he actually existed. I wouldn't even give up bacon because he told me to do it, not without a good reason. And I'd need a lot better reason before agreeing to commit murder.

Islam is supposed to mean "submission," apparently. But even in Christianity, believers are supposed to obey God. Why would you do that? If God wants me to do something, I want to know why. If anyone wants me to do something, I'd like to know the reasons why. If your reasons are valid, I'll probably do it. But I'm not a slave. And I am going to think for myself.

What I don't understand is why believers think that obedience is a virtue. Obedience is a virtue in a slave, no doubt, although only from his master's point of view. But why would a free man or a free woman think that obedience is a virtue?

If you believe that God created us, why did he give us brains, if we're not supposed to use them? The Bible praises obedience, but not rational thought, not doubt, certainly not skepticism. Why not? Were our brains just a error then? Did God screw up? I guess he isn't omniscient after all, huh?

In fact, if he does ask me to kill someone, without having a very good reason for that request, then that will prove he's not omniscient. Because I'm going to say no.

Note: The rest of this series is here.


Gregg Garthright said...

OK, a couple of points:

1. If you're delusional enough to believe in God, you probably could convince yourself it was his command to commit the atrocity. A rational (non-insane) thinker would not be convinced in the existence of a god. The fact that you would think you were delusional means you won't be convinced to perform some immoral act in the name of religion. The point wasn't "you could be a wacko nut job who kills in the name of religion". It was, "if you're crazy enough to believe all that shit, you'd probably be crazy enough to kill for it"

2. I'm more likely to believe in god than I am to believe in a world where you don't eat bacon........

Cinnamonbite said...

What kind of weak god can't do it's own killing?

WCG said...

Oh, now, Gregg, I know you don't mean that. (I don't mean about the bacon. I know you mean that.) I know lots of believers, and they're not actually insane.

Delusional, yes, but not psychotically so. Just mistaken. But we all find it easy to believe what we want to believe. That's just human nature. When you've been taught all your life that God exists, it's easier to just go along with that.

And in most cases, it doesn't matter (to the individual, himself). You can believe in some invisible, immaterial being, because that doesn't make any difference in your life. What's supposedly going to happen after you die doesn't affect most people's actions on Earth, not really. Even believers fear death.

But if Jesus stands before you or if God speaks to you from a burning bush, that's different. Then, even believers - most of them - are going to start wondering about their own sanity, I suspect.

It's easy to believe in something that doesn't exist, when everyone else (pretty much) believes it, too. But you don't see Christians giving away everything they own. That's different. That's not so easy.

Likewise, if God swoops down, out of the blue, and tells you to kill someone, even Christians are going to be taken aback by that. They might join a mob to burn a witch - especially if that's common practice in their culture - but just to go kill someone, because you think that God wants that? Only a few people would be that crazy.

WCG said...

Very good point, Cinnamonbite. That's another thing this god would have to explain to me. Why would he need me to kill someone?

Why would he need me to burn a witch alive? Why would he need me to kill an abortion doctor? Why would he need me to crash a passenger plane into a building? God is supposed to be all-powerful, so if he wants these people dead, why not do it himself?

The only rational explanation, I suppose, is that this is a test, like Abraham being ordered to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But as far as I'm concerned, Abraham failed that test. Any god which would expect obedience in something like that isn't a good god, and certainly not the kind of god anyone should worship (not that I understand why we should worship any god).

Russ said...

I don't think the thought-game is so much about the act of killing. Rather it is about if an unbeliever was proven wrong, and was asked to do something contrary to nature. Or simplified, are you open minded enough to accept evidence that presents itself, if it wasn't what you wanted to hear?

To be honest, you could probably leave off the end part, and still have the same question. If Jesus himself showed up on your doorstep, the shroud of turin wrapped around his waist, and asked an atheist to recognize he existed with no further proof, would the atheist do it? (ignore the fact that the shroud itself is likely a fake..)

Actually this was the question I wanted to post on the last post in the series. If conclusive evidence could be presented that the God of the OLD testament was real, would you convert to his worship? In all the bloody, 'sweet savor' glory? If my guess is right, and you would refuse (I'll retract that if I'm wrong) on moral grounds, then wouldn't that imply that being skeptical now only means that you would refuse to believe regardless? That the lack of evidence is a handy (albeit, very viable) excuse to hinge your opinion on?

(Please don't take this as an attack... I am honestly curious.)

WCG said...

I don't take anything as an attack, Russ - or if I did, I wouldn't care.

As to your question, aren't you confusing belief with obedience/worship?

If I was shown "conclusive evidence," I'd believe that a god - or even the God - existed. But that says nothing about whether or not I'd agree to do what he wanted.

I hope I'd refuse to do terrible things, whether commanded by a threatening God or by a psychopath with a gun in his hand. (What if the psychopath - human or divine - threatened others, not just me?)

But whatever I would or wouldn't do, I'd still believe that the psychopath existed.

I'm an atheist because I don't believe that a god exists. With enough evidence, I might change my mind. But if I refused to worship that god, I'd still be a believer, not an atheist.

Actions are different from beliefs. I'm an atheist because I don't believe. That has nothing to do with any actions I might take, or refuse to take, if I stopped being an atheist. Those are two separate issues.

Russ said...

Ah, that one would be a hardwire hold out. Commonly in Christianity 'believer' becomes the same, or nearly same, as 'worshiper'.

Thanks for fielding my questions. Even if they seem inane, they are helping me with combating old opinions.

WCG said...

Thank-you, Russ. I enjoy the questions, for the same reason I've always liked talking about this stuff: I don't understand how believers think, and it fascinates me. It always has.

Religious people aren't dumb. Your IQ doesn't go up (or down) when you become an atheist. And I've had friends all my life who were devout Christians (almost all of my friends have been Christian, in fact).

But I've never understood how they can believe what they believe, so I've ended up far more interested in Christianity - and in religion in general - than any of them are. Funny, huh?