By Dean Van Drasek | 5 February 2015
1. Where did God(s) come from?
This is an obvious one, and everyone knows it. Of the major current religions, only the Hindus have made any sort of attempt at addressing it through the concept of Brahman. Frankly, the Greeks and Norse religions did a better job of explaining this than do the self-proclaimed monotheisms. At least they (and a great many other religions) acknowledged a beginning before there were gods. Don’t expect anyone, even the Mormons or Scientologists who have their gods on an unidentifiable planet, to give you god’s address any time soon. Just saying that god “always was” seems a poor use of human imagination.
2. Why does God(s) care about humans?
OK, the Hindu gods don’t care so much, as they and we are all on the same wheel of reincarnation, and they are partially like many older religions where it’s a “you do this for me, and I will do this for you” sort of arrangement – at least when they are not off drinking soma. But with the monotheisms, you have to wonder why their god(s) bother. The Hebrew’s god loved the smell of burned animal flesh so, while there was a Temple around at which the sacrifices were made, YHWH got something out of the relationship. And in Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda needs people as his ally against Angra Mainyu, almost in the same way as Odin needs heroes to fight with him at the final battle of Ragnarök. But the gods of Christianity and Islam don’t need soldiers, as its already pre-ordained that they will emerge victorious.
So why do gods care about humans? Because they want to be worshipped? They don’t have compassion for humans, since they send all non-believers (the vast majority of humans) to eternal suffering. So why save some at all? Please don’t say, “because they love us,” unless you can look a starving child in the face and tell her how the god who created her loves her so much that he is sending her to hell for eternity. Let’s face it, the best explanation is probably that the gods were bored and so humanity and all creation is the cosmological equivalent of a Sony PlayStation for a divinity.
3. Why is suffering allowed?
If the world is made by a perfect or all powerful or nearly all powerful god(s), then why is it so imperfect itself? If a divine being wanted to make a perfect place, say like heaven, why make an imperfect place like reality? If heaven is where you, as the diving being, want to spend all your time, why make anything else? Why put so many souls through a lifetime of suffering and then (in some cases) an eternity of torment? The only reason I can see is that a hell would be created so that god can watch and enjoy those who are suffering. Otherwise just annihilate them upon death (as some religions allow). Admittedly, for some religions, suffering is not created by the gods, but is a fundamental property of reality which all things endure (even gods) but it’s not everlasting (as in many sects of Hinduism and some Buddhist ones, where hell is like a summer camp to train you to do better in the next incarnation).
But even for those religions that have foregone the concept of an eternal punishment, or even any after-death punishment at all, the reason for suffering in life could, at best, be seen as a trial of humanity. But why do that? Why not make them the way you want them? Why create them imperfect, with desires to be suppressed? If you want human souls to be with you in some paradise, then put them there to begin with. As with hell, the only reason why a god would permit human suffering is to view it or to use it to judge them – which is itself a problem.
4. What does God(s) get out of giving humans free will?
Some religions claim that their god(s) is omniscient, and therefore there is no place for human free will. Free will is an illusion for humans, who are incapable of seeing their future. But for the relevant god(s), before the soul is even ensconced in a body, to know whether that soul will enjoy paradise or perdition it begs the question of why go through the exercise? But for those religions and doctrines that embrace free will, humans are given the chance to follow god(s) or not, to their benefit or detriment. Some doctrines try to get around this by saying that god might know the outcome, but he doesn’t interfere in a human’s choices, so there is both omniscience and free will. Presumably, this means that god is then not active in human affairs, sort of like the absent watchmaker of 18th Century European thought.
In any event, isn’t giving human’s free will sort of like gambling? Each human soul is a roll of the dice. Let’s see if this one goes to heaven or burns forever in hell. Let’s see if this one lives on a yacht eating caviar and enjoying all the sensuous pleasures that money can buy, while that one dies as a child in terrible agony from disease and malnutrition – with the former going to eternal bliss and the later going on for more and worse agony, all because of what they were fortunate enough to have believed. Unless you agree with the Zoroastrians and Norse that there is a purpose for humans in some future divine battle, then what is the point? It just seems like gambling to me, a curiosity about the unknown future. Human souls as sport for a bored divinity.
5. Why make human souls eternal?
If you’re divine and eternal and all powerful, why do you need to make anything else eternal? What would be the reason? Most human religions have had gods with families and friends who are also divine. The heavenly court looks remarkably like the kingly court on earth, with jealousies and affairs and sensualities, fears, angers and desires all similar to those of frail humans. But other religions strip their god(s) of these terrestrial emotions, and treat them as beyond human conception in terms of their motivations and desires. For many religions, especially tribal ones, even if gods created humans, the element of a soul is often an uncreated element of life or consciousness that is uncreated by the gods. Many religions imbued animals with this eternal spark as well as people.
But assuming that an eternal soul is not seen as an uncontrolled element of reality within which the god(s) operate, then why create something like this? Especially if most of them are destined for eternal punishment? If you’re a lonely divine being, you create angels. I’ll take a couple of Apsaras, please – Buddhist/Hindu Angels are soooo much better than the boring sword wielding, plague distributing angels of the monotheisms. I mean, don’t the angels in all their diversity offer enough entertainment? Why create immortal human souls? If you want to enjoy their exploits and see if they can meet your commandments, just give them 1,000 years of heaven after life. Surely that is still enough of an incentive, or even 10,000 or 100,000 years? Why eternity?
6. Why allow ignorance of yourself?
If you were god, and you wanted to test people to see if they lived according to your rules, wouldn’t it make sense to be sure that they knew what those rules were? If you’re going to play a game, it only works if both sides know the rules and what conditions constitute a victory or a failure. Now some religions don’t think this way. Many tribal religions only considered their beliefs to apply to themselves and other people had other gods, or no gods. Today, Judaism and Shinto and many Native American religions fall into this category. God is not really a universal god, as he/she/they are primarily concerned with just one tribe or group of people. So, the rules apply to them and not necessarily to others. These religions don’t tend to proselytize.
Hinduism and Chinese folk religions fall someplace in the middle, as they really have never developed a consistent attitude towards those who don’t follow their faith. For Hinduism, the belief is clearly that all humans, and animals for that matter, are part of the experience of reincarnation. But equating the position of foreigners into the concept of the caste system has been full of contradictory positions. For Chinese folk religions, including some elements of Taoism, you don’t need to believe so long as you make the correct propitiations. In other words, they will accept offerings from and answer the prayers of anyone. Many of the world’s remaining folk religions are similar. Gods in these religions are more interested in the outward signs of devotion or sacrifice than with reading the minds of humans (traditional Judaism is very much in this primitive vein as well, just look at the pages of descriptions on how to make sacrifices, how to dress, what to eat, when to work, etc.).
But if you were god, wouldn’t you want everyone to know? Why hide yourself for most of human history and then only make yourself known one time in one place to one group or people or even just one individual? Zoroaster and Muhammad fall into this category. Judaism used to ascribe its Torah to be the writings of one man, Moses (who, at least based on his depiction in the Torah, is clearly fictional). What is the reason for the modesty? Especially when people’s wellbeing and perhaps even eternal life is at risk, why not get the word out? Why condemn billions of people to endless torment simply because they never heard of you? What is the logic in this? Maybe there are some people you just don’t like? Is god a racist? Did he forget to tell everyone else because he didn’t like them? Because they weren’t worthy enough? Or was it just too far to go to Australia?
There are more than 6, I know. What ones have you used that have been effective with believers?
Reprinted with permission from Atheist Republic.
Animated map shows how religion spread around the world
Ricky Gervais – The Bible
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