As 1 John 4:16 proclaims, "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." For some Christians and other theists, the idea that "God is love" encompasses their entire theology. For example, adherents of the recent "I hate religion but love Jesus" movement tend to consider God to be their loving father and Jesus their best friend, while disassociating themselves from organized religion. However, is God really "love?" After having read the Bible cover to cover some years back, I am perplexed that anyone could come to that conclusion. The truth is, while the Bible tends to praise God for his loving nature, his actions indicate he is nothing more than a tyrant.
The Old Testament God
The "God is love" crowd tends to point to passages such as the following to support the notion that the Old Testament God was compassionate:
- "But it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:8).
- "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7).
However, examples of God's love are few and far between in the Old Testament. In his bestselling book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins summed up God's character quite succinctly when he called him, "jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." Here are some examples:
- In Genesis 7:21-23, God killed nearly all humans and animals in a great flood
- In Exodus 12:29, God killed all Egyptian firstborn children and cattle
- In 1 Samuel 15:3, God commanded the Israelites to murder all men, women, children, and cattle in the land of Amalek
- The entire book of Job describes an incident when "the accuser" challenges God to make his devout follower Job absolutely miserable in order to see if he would still love Yahweh and follow his rules after being treated so poorly.
- God demands strange rules in order to remain faithful to him including (but not limited to): not wearing clothes of mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19), not eating a whole host of animals including shellfish and pigs, and making regular animal sacrifices.
- God indicates great misfortune will fall on those who do not worship him and abide by his rules. In Deuteronomy 28:20-55, he threatens pestilence, fever and inflammation, drought, military defeat, boils and tumors, rape of your wife, enslavement of your children, and starvation so severe that you'll end up having to eat your children.
In other words, the Old Testament God wasn't much better than a tyrannical Bronze Age monarch. He demanded submission, obedience, and constant affirmations of his greatness. When displeased, he would murder mass swathes of innocent people and/or cause them intense suffering. To me, Yahweh is more like Kim Jong Il than my own father.
The Christians I know tend to dismiss the Old Testament as merely a collection of old stories passed down verbally over the ages. They contend that the Yahweh of the Old Testament was just a reflection of an ancient primitive culture. The New Testament, on the other hand, supposedly paints a truer picture of the deity. As John 3:16 put it, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." However, when you think about it, God tortured and killed himself in order to save us from himself. Since God is supposed to be all powerful, this appears like an unnecessary approach to forgiving humanity for our sins. Not to mention, morbid and barbaric. Again, this is indicative of the psychotic nature of the Biblical God.
Let's also not forget, as many Christians do, that the New Testament clearly states that an eternity of suffering awaits those who do not embrace the teachings of Jesus:
- "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them" (John 3:36).
- "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Revelations 21:8).
So while I may be a kind and generous person who does his best to make the world a better place for everyone, I will suffer an eternity in hellfire because I do not believe in God. If you, the reader, are a theist who disagrees with much that I have to say, you at least have to admit I present a number of good reasons to question the existence of God. However, despite these good reasons, if I can't find ways of ignoring them or rationalizing them away, I will spend my entire afterlife in flames. Is this God really all that different from the malevolent tyrant of the Old Testament?
Take a look at the Epicurus quote to the right of this text. The God of the Bible is commonly believed to be all powerful, so he is capable of alleviating the suffering of innocent humans. Sure, some suffering may benefit individuals, and it may motivate us to make societal changes to enhance the quality of people's lives. However, throughout human history, innocent people have been ravaged by disease, tortured, raped, and murdered despite their pleas to God for his mercy. Naturalist David Attenborough described the issue quite succinctly when explaining how he responds to those who consider the beauty of nature to be evidence for a loving god: "Well, it's funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things. They always quote orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses. But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in West Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he's five years old. And I reply and say, 'Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well,' and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action."
Christian apologists consider suffering to be the result of human free will and turning away from God, yet not all suffering is a direct result of individual people's actions. In addition, history has many examples of followers of Jesus imposing undue suffering on others in God's name. For example, when Spanish mercenaries came to the new world, they coerced the Native Americans to convert to Catholicism using violence and torture. Today, we see these acts as unethical and barbaric, yet the missionaries believed they were doing God's work. Considering the character of God in much of the Bible, it's hard to argue with their logic.
Is God love? If he is, he sure has a strange way of showing it, given his preoccupation with petty rules, severe punishments, violent displays of his mercy and power, and his indifference to the suffering of those who plead for his mercy. If God were a human father, he would likely end up in jail for child abuse.
For those of you who believe Hell was not a major theme in the New Testament
Examples of God's atrocities and counter arguments to apologist claims
Great analysis of God's character by Christopher Hitchens
Great video explaining the twisted nature of Christian beliefs