A Christian asked, “Why doesn’t everybody believe in God?” on Quora (https://www.quora.com/Why-doesnt-everybody-believe-in-God). What follows is my answer to that question.
I can’t speak for other people, but what follows is how I came to question and then ultimately reject a belief in a personal god.
First off, I want to say that this is written to give insight into my thought process. Although I am trying to be frank, it is not my intention to insult anyone’s religious views. If have stepped on anyone’s toes, I am sorry.
When I use capital G God, I am referring to the Christian god. When using lower g god, I mean gods generically.
I believe in the marketplace of ideas and I am a consumer. The various religions, philosophies and concepts are all vying for my business. This means a religion and their god(s) would have to convince me that they are worthy of my time and attention.
In that spirit, I submit the following list of questions that I have about God. I started this list when I was 12 years old and it has continued to grow over the years. No Christian has ever answered them to my satisfaction (Don’t bother trying. Over the past 42 years, I have heard it all). Anyway, they are some of the reasons I don’t believe in God.
This is not an invitation to proselytize or to witness to me. It is my hope that you get insight into the mind of an agnostic. I hope that it may help you to understand the other half, so to speak.
Perhaps, I am an idealist, but to be worthy of my attention, a god would be impeccable. He/she/it would exemplify the spiritual qualities most spiritually minded people aspire to, such as patience, generosity, peacefulness, equanimity, compassion, wisdom, love, forgiveness, non-violence, etc. These are the criteria I have used to assess the quality of gods.
The Bible says the creation of the world demonstrates God’s glory, his love, grace, mercy, wisdom, power, goodness, etc. This is similar to my list. However, actions speak louder than words. Let’s look at God’s actions.
Could you imagine being a parent, leaving out temptations for your children and then punishing them for taking the bait? This strikes me as a cruel thing to do.
Because the first couple that God created committed a sin, future generations are born with sin. This means babies aren’t innocent. I am sorry, but to me this lacks mercy.
Why was God killing evildoers in the OT? Is this loving or merciful? Isn’t killing a sin? Couldn’t he change their hearts rather than kill them? I have trouble with worshiping a vengeful god. Is it that God is not really loving and forgiving? Or is it the Bible is wrong and he really didn’t kill anyone?
Why was a loving, merciful God killing innocent first-born Egyptians?
Why was a loving, merciful God asking for the Amalekite genocide?
Why would a loving god ask Abraham to kill Isaac, even though the plan was to stop him before he did it? Isn’t that a cruel thing to do? What if your spouse asked you to kill your son? Even if she or he didn’t mean it, I see it as a horrible thing to do to someone. I am sorry but if God asked me to sacrifice my son, I would have to go with my conscience and say no. I would also either assume it was a demon asking me to do this or I would have to question God’s morality. I am not trying to blaspheme or be insulting. It is my thought process.
If a good person who didn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell and a bad person who believed in Jesus goes to heaven, how could that be justice?
Threatening someone with hell for not believing is coercion. So much for freewill.
How could God send someone to hell for eternity? Is that mercy? Why not send them for a limited time?
Items that don’t make sense to me:
If God is omniscient, why should it matter if humans have freewill? A omniscient being would know what the person was going to do. How is a freewill where a god knows the outcome different from predetermination? Does this mean that God is not omniscient? Or do Bible literalists have the purpose of creation wrong?
How is trying to coerce pharaoh through threats, respecting freewill?
Why is an omniscient god always testing people? If he already knows the answer, why would he bother?
Why did an omnipresent god only reveal himself to his chosen people?
Why does a perfect god need love and worship? Why would he need anything?
It was God’s plan that Jesus be crucified and die for our sins. Judas had to identify Jesus, so that he could be crucified. This means Judas helped the plan to happen. Why then was it considered a betrayal? Did God consider it a betrayal? God planned the Crucifixion. If God is omniscient, he knew what was going to happen. Why would God consider it a betrayal?
If the Bible is the inerrant word of God as evangelicals say, why are there so many factual errors, such as the account of creation, the flooding of whole earth, insects with four legs, rabbits chewing their cud, just to name a few. Either God made mistakes in the Bible or it isn’t the inerrant word of God. Doesn’t it make more sense for evangelicals to admit that it isn’t the inerrant word of God? Insisting otherwise creates doubts in my mind about the other claims they make about God.
Many people do some serious theological acrobatics to reconcile the above contradictions. For me, it’s cleaner to apply Occam’s razor and consider God a cultural artifact of an ancient age.
Some of the ways I’ve been told to reconcile the contradictions are:
- God won’t change an evil person’s heart, because that would violate freewill. So killing someone is better than interfering with their freewill? I think a loving and omnipotent god would have other choices besides killing.
- You can’t judge God by the standards of men. You are right. My standards for God are higher.
- God created man, therefore he can kill man. Think about that. Creating organisms and killing them if they don’t behave the way you want them to. What is that? Mean-spirited? Petty? It is also hypocrisy that God kills and tells man he can’t. Again he gives them freewill and then gets upset and kills when they don’t make the right choice. Is that really freewill?
- God is without sin, so it is alright for him to kill. So if someone could go without sin, then they could kill without it being a sin? This is illogical. It is also hypocritical.
- It was OK for God to kill the first-born Egyptians, because he warned the Egyptians. First off, that is extortion. Secondly, you can’t justify killing because your extortion didn’t work. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Coercing pharaoh this way is violating freewill, so why didn’t he just change pharaoh’s heart?
- Man contemplating God is like a worm contemplating man. Why would I want to follow a religion that compares me to a worm? Why would I want to follow a religion that I am not allowed to subject to criticism and analysis? I’m sorry, I’ve never been a man of faith. I believe in understanding ideas before accepting them.
- It is OK to kill evil people I find this the scariest of all. I imagine people following God’s example, taking the law into their own hands and executing people they consider evil. This must be how people who kill doctors that provide abortions justify their actions.
When trying to justify God’s actions, Bible Christians actually have made him look worse. It is good that I don’t believe in him. Otherwise based on his track record, I would be a misotheist. Again I know this is strong language, but I am being honest.
Also, the brain structures responsible for religious experience have been found . I am not discounting religious experience, mine have been meaningful to me. I am convinced that how you interpret a religious experience depends on your religion. What I have experienced would most likely be interpreted by a Christian as the peace that surpasses all understanding, which is one of the gifts of the holy spirit. But as we can see, a god is not necessary to explain religious experience. So even if I had a personal experience of God, I may not actually see it as God, but a nice experience provided by my brain.
Since writing this blog, I discovered J Joe Townly’s answer on Quora to the question, “What have you realized that really shocked you?”
Painting: God the Father by Cima da Conegliano