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.
Questioning assumptions, left and right - We lead off with a pair of recent books, one striving desperately to undermine our confidence, and the other trying just as hard to snap us out of our fu...
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