This site aims to test the Christian claim that God is love (1 John 4:16). This site does not aim to refute Christian answers to the problem of evil. As such, our discussion will not deal with either theodicies of moral evil (serial killers) or natural evil (earthquakes). However, we'll examine an overlooked evil: intrinsically evil acts that are recorded to have been committed by God himself.
Since Christians almost universally accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God, we'll use three examples from the Bible to test the claim that God is love. After all, for a lot of people like me, atheism is biblically-based.
While there's scant evidence outside the Bible to suggest that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, the Book of Exodus recounts the struggles of the Israelite slaves to free themselves from their bondage. The leader of the Egyptians, the unspecified Pharaoh, does not let the Israelites go and thus God punishes his kingdom with numerous plagues. The last of these ten plagues is harshest: all of the Egyptian firstborn males are killed. This tale of genocide is called the Passover, signifying that God passed over (and thus spared) the houses of Israelites who smeared their doors with blood of a slaughtered young male lamb or goat. The gist of the story (minus the gratuitous references to blood smearing):
God: "About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt - worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal."
This gruesome snuff literature raises a few questions:
- Which definition of love is compatible with God punishing the innocent victims of a dictator?
- Why does God use children as hostages?
- Why doesn't God kill Pharaoh in the first place if he has no qualms about killing people?
- Why does God "harden Pharaoh's heart" about a dozen times (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17)?
- Why does an all-powerful God need Pharaoh's permission to let the Israelites go?
Synopsis: Instead of resolving the situation peacefully, God decides to indiscriminately kill the powerless victims of a dictator while leaving alive the dictator who is incapacitated to act because his heart is hardened by none other than God himself.
"But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go." (NIV)
"But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go." (NIV)
"The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly." (NIV)
"I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen." (NIV)
After making hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars, God finds time to build a resort for the pinnacle of the universe: man. How ironic would it be if man turns out to be flawed and can't even follow simple directions:
Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Someone forgets to call the exterminator man and the story quickly escalates as God's perfect creation has an infestation of Satan in the form of a snake:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.
Serpent: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
Woman: "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
Serpent: "You will not surely die for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
God then finds out, which shouldn't come as a surprise since you've read this story before and God is all-knowing (I guess he was testing himself). God promptly lays the smack down:
God: "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
Man: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
God: "What is this you have done, woman?"
Woman: "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
God: "Woman, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
Party's over. God, for reasons unknown, gets uptight about Adam and Eve living forever if they ever eat from the tree of knowledge. He hires a security guard:
God: "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
Whether one reads this story historically or metaphorically, the main point stays just the same: humans did bad, humans got punished. But is that a fair judgment? I don't think so as there are a few troubling points in the story:
- God allows the evil serpent to live in his garden.
- God does not want Adam and Eve to know the difference between good and evil.
- God plants the temptation himself, neglects to tell Adam and Eve about the serpent (who is "more crafty than any of the wild animals"), knows the outcome, yet he permits the situation to unfold. In the justice system, this is called a set up or entrapment.
- God is threatened by the notion that Adam and Eve could live forever if they eat from the tree of life.
- Worst of all: Adam and Eve know that they have done something evil only after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When God commands Adam not eat from the tree, he simply does not have the capacity to understand the command as he is given the faculty to discern the difference between good and evil only after eating from the tree of knowledge.
Some questions for Christians:
- Why does God allow the serpent to roam free in the Garden of Eden? Why doesn't he tell Adam and Eve about the serpent?
- Why does God not want Adam and Eve to know the knowledge of good and evil in the first place? Does God want Adam and Eve to be ignorant robots?
- What does God go through with this exercise despite the fact that he already knows the outcome? Is he testing his omniscience?
- Why does God feel threatened that Adam and Eve could live forever if they eat from the tree of life?
- Most importantly: How are Adam and Eve supposed to know what is good and what is evil if they have not eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Synopsis: God entraps Adam and Eve by planting the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden and by allowing the serpent to roam free. Furthermore, since Adam and Eve lack the knowledge of good and evil the moment they commit their sin, they cannot be held accountable for not knowing that disobeying God is evil. You might as well blame the blind for not seeing or the deaf for not hearing.
Under such perverted thinking, parents might as well throw their children out to the streets for wanting to learn how to read. If such an act were actually committed, the parents would hopefully be charged with child abuse and neglect. Why does God get a free pass?
After the Israelites leave Egypt where they had been oppressed, it's time for the Israelites to don the clothes of the oppressors under the divine mandate of God himself. For about a dozen books after Exodus, the Bible tells the story of the conquest of Palestine in bloody detail. Perhaps the account in Numbers 31 is the most succinct of the barbaric brutality. In that story, God punishes the Midianites for a relatively minor offense (that another nation, the Moabites, committed):
God: "Moses, take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people."
Moses: "People, arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD's vengeance on them. Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel."
They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.
What could Moses be angry at? Perhaps the Israelites did not wage war correctly? You bet. Perhaps they did too much damage? Nope, not enough:
What a loving God invading a country without due reason and killing and enslaving innocent children! Here's a timeline of the story including the context as to why the Midianites were specifically targetted:
- God commands the Israelites to take vengeance by waging an aggressive war.
- The men are killed.
- The women and children are taken prisoners.
- Midian is plundered and is then completely burned to the ground.
- The boys are killed. No reason is given.
- The women are killed. The reason is that Moabite women in Numbers 25 lured Israelite men to worship Moabite gods (Numbers 25:1-3). Yes, the Midianites, as a whole, are blamed for the misdeeds of the Moabite women (Numbers 25:16-18). Yes, this is an error and contradiction in the Bible.
- But not everyone is butchered. "Every girl who has never slept with a man" is saved. The Bible is not explicit in what happened to the virgin girls, so we're left two main possibilities: the Midianite girls were hauled off into slavery or forced into marriage.
- Why does an all-knowing God take revenge on the Midianites for the misdeeds of the Moabites?
- Why is "sexual immorality" and converting a group to another religion worthy of genocide and utter destruction?
- Why are the false gods of Moab so convincing to the Israelites if they're in contact with the real God?
- Why are the innocent boys killed?
- Why does a loving God haul virgin girls off into slavery, sexual or not?
Synopsis: It's really hard to imagine what could have been done worse here.
In search of testing the original claim, we have profiled three cases. In the first, God kills thousands of innocent children to punish a dictator who himself is spared but is incapacitated to act by God himself. In the second, God entraps and punishes two people who could not have known any better. In the third, God orders an aggressive war complete with the genocide and kidnapping of an entire nation's innocent children. What do all three situations have in common? Three groups, consisting of entirely innocent people, were targeted and punished severely by God for things over which they had no control.
Using just these three cases, we can see that the God character in the Bible is very hateful. Furthermore, just a cursory glance of the other parts of the Bible reveals that such cases are not isolated and that God (or rather his inventors) suffers from at least four of the ten personality disorders described by modern psychiatry: paranoid, antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders. A batting average of .400 is pretty good, but unfortunately for God he's not playing baseball.
Below is a table with examples matching the diagnostic criteria for each personality disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
|Paranoid Personality Disorder|
|suspects that others are deceiving, exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her, without sufficient basis||In Genesis 20, God tells Abimelech that he is "as good as dead" despite the fact that Abimelech had not done anything.|
|is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates||In the Book of Job, God goes out of his way to prove to Satan that Job will keep his faith.|
|is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her||Starting with the Burning Bush incident in Exodus 3, God regularly confides only with Moses during his lifetime.|
|persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights||"I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel [centuries before] when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (1 Samuel 15:2-3 NIV)|
|perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack||"My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless." (Exodus 22:24 NIV)|
|Antisocial Personality Disorder|
|failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest||"O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." (Psalm 137:8-9 NIV)|
|deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure||"For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie." (2 Thessalonians 2:11 NIV)|
|irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults||"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. 'Go on up, you baldhead!' they said. 'Go on up, you baldhead!' He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths." (2 Kings 2:23-24 NIV)|
|reckless disregard for safety of self or others||"See how the waters are rising in the north; they will become an overflowing torrent. They will overflow the land and everything in it, the towns and those who live in them. The people will cry out; all who dwell in the land will wail." (Jeremiah 47:2 NIV)|
|lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another||In Exodus 13, God commemorates the genocide of the Egyptian firstborn.|
|Borderline Personality Disorder|
|frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.||In Genesis 1-2, God is bored so he creates pets to play with. They're called humans.|
|a pattern of intense and unstable interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation||In Exodus 3, God chooses Moses to be a prophet. But already in Exodus 4, God is ready to kill Moses because his son is uncircumcised.|
|identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self||"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7 NIV)|
|recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior||Jesus fasts for forty days in the desert, hints to his disciples that he will die, but refuses to prove himself during his trial. (Luke 4, Luke 22, Luke 23)|
|inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)||"I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth - men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air - for I am grieved that I have made them." (Genesis 6:7 NIV)|
|Narcissistic Personality Disorder|
|has a grandiose sense of self-importance||"You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:3-6 NIV)|
|is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love||"Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy." (Exodus 15:6 NIV)|
|believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people||The Israelites are the chosen people in the Old Testament to the exclusion of everyone else.|
|requires excessive admiration||In Genesis 4, Cain works in the fields and thus only has produce to offer to God. Abel has a flock and offers animal sacrifices. God doesn't like Cain's efforts, he likes Abel's.|
|has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations||While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. The LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32,35-36 NIV)|
Conclusion: God is not love, God is sick. Love is not compatible with genocide, entrapment, and enslavement or if does that's a rather loose definition.
If the subject of this website were anybody other than God, no one would have a problem with calling such a person despicable. But Christians tell me that God is different. He is so wholly other that when he is described as murdering children that's still considered love. No matter what God does, he is still good. But why this divine exceptionalism? Why can't God follow basic elementary principles like "Thou shalt not commit genocide of children"? Here's the list of common excuses in Q&A format:
The edicts of God from Israel's holy wars do not apply anymore. Why don't you quote some nice things from the New Testament?
- This argument is false: There's nothing to suggest in the New Testament that Jesus is separate from the Old Testament. In fact, if you want nice things from the New Testament, how about a bunch of verses that show that Jesus affirms the Father (Matthew 5:17-19, 11:25, 20:23; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
- This argument is irrelevant: Even if the rules of the game change with Jesus, the Christian idea of God includes perfection. A perfect god cannot commit imperfect acts, including in the past. Killing innocent children is an imperfect act, ergo God is not perfect.
God should not be held to human standards as he's outside the universe. Since he is omniscient and we have finite knowledge, we are in no position to judge him.
- This argument is circular: That God is love (or that God is perfect) is the claim. One cannot assume it to be true. Claims are decided by evidence and not by repeating the claim as an assertion. To see an illustration of why the argument is nonsensical, plug in *any* god instead of God into the list above that claims perfection but seemingly fails to achieve it. What do you get? You get a "proof" for that god, although the exercise is futile because it's not very convincing. (In fact, all of these arguments in this section can apply to any god.)
- This argument is an unparsimonious ad hoc hypothesis: Explaining one unknown (how can God be love/perfect despite acts of genocide, etc.) with an even bigger unknown (God is infinite) is ludicrous. Claims that fail to be proven true cannot be rescued by tacking on more and more complicated assumptions.
- This argument is contradictory: If we're so limited that we cannot see why God would commit genocide, how can Christians claim they know that he's infinite? If we can't know something so simple about God, how can we know anything complex about him?
- This argument is untestable: Christians who maintain that God is outside the universe do so at a high cost. If God decides to skedaddle out of the realm of logical reality and go on adventures in Wonderland, he finds company with Zeus, meaningless sentences like "Tuesday smells like boats," leprechauns, and other nonentities. Is that the category Christians want to put him into?
Uhhhh, humans are meant to obey God because he is sovereign of the universe who ought not to be second-guessed. Why are you questioning him?
- This argument is (still circular but more importantly) illogical: If reason is a God-given gift, why are we punished for using it? It's as if God implanted us with an itch and we're told not scratch it. And why not question God? What harm is there for God if we don't believe in him? Is he going to be upset if we don't believe in him? Is he going to cry? Why would an infinite and all-powerful being care if we believed in him or not? How can such a supposedly perfect God be that vain?
The fact that one is a sociopath does not make one non-existent. With that said, atheism is just one of many logical conclusions that the god of the Bible is not love. There's perhaps four more:
|The god of the Bible does exist, but he is malevolent and not loving. As such, the only reason we should believe in this god is that he can make us suffer by sending us to Hell. This is no different than bowing down to a dictator because he's powerful. To atheists, such a god is petty, vain, and curiously all too human. To atheists, man created gods in his image, not the other way around.|
|Motto: "Keep the virgin girls for yourselves. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."|
|Revelatory Theism (other than Christianity)|
|The god of the Bible does not exist, but [insert one of the thousands of other gods] does. However, on closer inspection all scriptures reveal the same kind of petty deities as the god of the Bible. To atheists, from Aah (Egyptian moon god) to Zvaizdikis (Slavic star god), they're all the same vain beings.|
|Motto: "No, I'm the real god! It's the other ten thousand gods who are fakes!"|
|The god of the Bible does not exist, but one that created the universe does exist. More importantly, this god doesn't care he's being misquoted in dozens of different holy books. Furthermore, this god apparently doesn't care to be worshipped or to maintain communication with humans; hence, he's inconsequential. Practically speaking, it's as if he didn't exist. To atheists, such a god is useless to postulate since he's as useful to us as invisible pink unicorns.|
|Motto: "Eh, whatever."|
|The god of the Bible does exist, but he's lying through the Bible to test Christians. Only those who reject the Bible get into Heaven because God wants a good laugh... or something. Now, this view isn't actually held by anyone, but it does demonstrate the precarious position Christians find themselves in. If humans are limited, how do Christians know that an infinite being isn't just screwing with them for kicks? An infinite god, by definition, could easily outsmart humans.|
|Motto: "You thought I wanted to spend all eternity with people who worship Bronze Age myths created by semi-literate war-mongers? Haha, come on now."|
|Atheism is the realization that magical fairies aren't whirling about trying to get you to stop looking at naughty magazines. Your prayers about doing well on your math test have about the same chance of being answered as the prayers of the Midianite or Egyptian children.|
|Motto: "[Insert whatever you want.]"|
So perhaps the title, Mere Atheism, is a bit misleading. This site is perhaps better described as an introduction to atheism. As such, the atheist position is fully defended and justified by the many essays in Further Reading. If you have questions about those essays or this one, email me.