Playing with Fire

I had a post in mind that I was going to write for today, but something happened this morning that I instantly knew I would have to write about instead. I was sitting bored in church when the sermon started and the vicar began making remarks about “unbelievers” and the “secular world.” I immediately scrambled for a pencil and a paper, and I started taking notes.

If you’ve read my posts Bible Study Notes and God Works in Mysterious Ways, you might remember my discussions of the weird teachings of my church’s new pastor. Right now he’s away for a couple weeks as his wife has had or is about to have their eighth child (!?), so this week, our vicar lead the service, and while he’s not as animated and doesn’t say such ridiculous things as the pastor does, he still gave a sermon that was bad enough to deserve its own blog post.

He opened the sermon by quoting a Psalm about how God is a strong God and not a weak God. I don’t remember the exact verse, but that’s the summary. While he never used the word “atheists,” the first thing that he did was say that unbelievers operate under many assumptions, including these two:

  1. There is no god.
  2. If there is a god, he is a weak god.

I don’t know how necessary it really is for me to go through an explanation of just how incorrect these two statements are, but just to cover my bases, I will.

Like I said, he never used the word “atheist.” Hearing the word “atheist” being misused or misdefined is one of my greatest pet peeves in life, and probably the most common way that I see atheism being misdefined is when people say that it is a statement that there is no god. Atheism is a disbelief in gods or deities. In its basic agnostic form, atheism makes no statement. If it does make a statement, the statement is “I don’t believe in God.” That’s it.

The reason I bring this up is because in this context, I believe that the word “atheist” and the word “unbeliever” are synonymous. Of course, an unbeliever could be someone that doesn’t believe in unicorns, ghosts, true love, or anything else, but since the vicar was discussing unbelievers in God, then a synonym for that would be “atheist.”

If you’ve followed these two connections that I’ve made, you’ll see why his first statement is incorrect. Atheism makes no statement of there being no god!

The second assumption is even worse than the first. The way that it played out throughout his sermon, it ended up sounding like “They don’t believe in God, but they believe that God is weak.” Obviously, we don’t believe that God is anything . . . we don’t believe that he exists. Most atheists do have a negative view of the Abrahamic God as a fictional character, but as for liking or disliking him, that’s the extent of it: we treat him as a fictional character. You can’t hate or find strength or weakness in what you don’t believe in.

The reason that the vicar was saying that secular people believe that God is weak is because we know that we are his enemy, and we know that one day he will judge us, and we don’t want to be punished. He said if God were strong (as the Psalm and the vicar said he is) that he would destroy his enemies (atheists, apparently) on Judgment Day. He was basically trying to say that we unknowingly do believe in God, but we’re not too worried about being stricken with his wrath, because we’re atheists and we think we’re invincible.

Pascal’s Wager is such a big topic and deserves a post of its own, but I’ll sum it up for now in case anyone’s unfamiliar. Basically, Pascal’s Wager says that if it’s equally likely that God does or doesn’t exist, then you might as well believe in him. If you do, you go to heaven and if you don’t, you go to hell. You have nothing to lose by believing and you have everything to lose if you don’t. There are several problems with Pascal’s Wager, most prominently that even if you were to scare me into saying I believe just for a ticket to heaven, wouldn’t the all-knowing God know that I was just faking belief? Then, I’m not only a heathen, I’m also a liar. I’m pretty sure I’d still end up in hell.

I touched on what the bulk of the sermon was about before. Basically, no one would want to be on the punishing end of a strong God that can obliterate us and cause us (God’s enemies) to melt like wax and vanish into smoke. We evildoers know we wouldn’t make it if we were to stand before God. Therefore, we just say that if he were to exist, then he would be weak and incapable of such unfathomable punishment.

Personally, I believe that if there were a god, it wouldn’t care what we do. It wouldn’t care what we do or if we believe in it. It would just sit there as a “get out of jail free” card for those big questions (how did life originate, how do we know right from wrong) that we don’t have solid answers to yet. And as sure that I am that there is no deity at all, I am even more positive that the Christian God doesn’t exist, and his unending power and ability to punish is the reason why.

God’s omnipotence, when combined with his omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence, are essentially the reasons why I don’t believe in the Christian God. He’s paradoxical. I don’t have the time to get into it now (and I’ve touched on it before), but on the subject, I’ll leave you with this: If God is omnipotent, then can he create a boulder so heavy that he himself cannot lift it? (And don’t say: “God doesn’t owe it to us to explain his mysterious ways.” I want a straight answer. It’s not too much to ask for!)

Essentially, the fact that the Christian God fundamentally has to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent is the reason that lead me not to believe in him. Not because I’m afraid, but because he’s paradoxical. The more powerful he is, the less likely he is to exist because that’s the conclusion that the problem of evil leads me to.

A threat towards me and my unbelief isn’t going to change who I am and the fact that I don’t believe in God. If something were to change my mind, it would be because of logic or because of a scientific discovery, not a wager, or a threat, or a weak god or a strong god. I am an atheist and it’s going to take more than wordplay to change that.

16 Replies to “Playing with Fire”

  1. A belief in God doesn’t award Heaven. There are many deities people call God. A belief in any God doesn’t open the gates. The bible is very specific about the God(and only one) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pascal’s Wager was never legitimate.

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  2. I agree with your assessment of Pascal’s wager. I don’t know whether he considered himself a Christian, but he certainly had a lousy grasp of theology. The wager completely disregards central doctrines of the Christian faith such as repentance (deliberately and consistently turning away from sin) and regeneration (being born again). As these are both granted by God, no one can “believe” just as a safety net.

    That being said, the supposed conundrum of “Can God create a boulder so big He cannot lift it?” is moot, as the question itself is self-contradictory and totally illogical. It’s the same as asking if God can create a square circle or a bright shadow; these are logical impossibilities. If you refuse to be persuaded by wordplay, i contend that you cannot point to such a fallacy as grounds for dismissing God; you are being unfair to yourself and to the position you stand for.

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    1. How about a conundrum more rooted in practicality then? If salvation and getting the word out about it is so important, why can’t the Christian deity open its own YouTube channel? The point still stands. If the vicar is correct, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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  3. I think a lot of confusion arises from faulty dictionary definitions of what “atheism” means, and believers unwillingness to admit to being wrong, not to mention the fact that all too many atheists focus only on the Abrahamic god, as if it’s the only one any civilisation ever worshipped.
    There are various versions of dictionary, including my favourite, the Oxford English Dictionary, that have defined atheism as a disbelief in a god, rather than unbelief in all gods.
    That’s why your vicar had to set up the strawman of atheist assumptions, by dictating what atheists think, he’s laying a foundation for his argument.

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  4. I’ve believed in God for years and not believed in God for years. It doesn’t seem to make any difference in how my life flows or how I perceive this world. Life is with or without this belief.
    I drove by a church on my way to the bike path. I saw people walking into church. I had a thought that it’s weird that people need a man made structure and a man made day of the week to praise their creator. I was driving back from the bike path and watched the same people filing out of the same church. A thought came to me, ‘well, I hope you guys feel better.’ I felt better after rollerblading down the bike path..alive…blood pumping…sound of wind and birds and others smiling and walking. Their little respite from the world is to sit and listen to a preacher talk about God. Mine is different. I hope the way they filled that hour gave them the same joy as the way I chose to spend my hour. People can chose what they want until it becomes and obsession and they affect how others live.

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  5. … and only God and his men can threaten another human being just because he is not followed! God how about fixing it beforehand as you create things? 😂

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  6. It really bothers me as well when people misunderstand what it means to be an Atheist. We make no claims about the existence of god. We just don’t believe. Also, one of the things I hate is when they say, “You’re Atheist, so you must worship Satan.” If I don’t believe in God, why do you think I believe in Satan?

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  7. “If God is omnipotent, then can he create a boulder so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?”

    I would say: No.

    The reason why: Ever seen a Russian nesting doll? One doll inside of another, inside of another, inside of another, etc.

    That’s how I see God and His creation.

    Since all things — even man’s capacity for evil — ultimately come from God — i.e., since all things “fit inside God” like one of many Russian nesting dolls — than nothing made by God will be able to overcome Him. It would be like the tiniest Russian nesting doll enclosing the largest Russian nesting doll — it’s not going to happen.

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    1. But, this logic is incredibly faulty. How can God be omnipotent (able to do Anything) yet is incapable of creating a boulder that he can’t lift? That would mean that God isn’t omnipotent!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that the standard argument (at which the comment gestures) is that omnipotence does not entail internal inconsistency.
        However, it does entail inscrutability, because it renders the question, “Why did God do ‘X’?”, meaningless.
        Unless one is willing to accept, “Because that’s his M.O.” as an answer – fatalism by another name.

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        1. “…fatalism by another name.”

          God knows everything that can happen, not everything that will happen.

          Why?

          Free will — our ability to choose.

          God is like a spectator in a blimp looking down on a parade through a city: He sees all the routes the parade can take, but since He’s not the one leading it the parade’s final destination is, ultimately, out of His hands.

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          1. That’s interesting. My church does not believe in free will. God is in control and all that. I believe that if he were to be omniscient then he would know all that will happen, and if he was omnipotent then he would be controlling everything and everyone.

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            1. “…he would be controlling everything and everyone.”

              God has a plan for everyone and everything. In that sense, God “controls everyone and everything.”

              However, having free will, we (human beings) are free not to follow that plan and, instead, blaze our own trail.

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      2. “How can God be omnipotent (able to do Anything) yet is incapable of creating a boulder that he can’t lift?”

        It depends on how you define omnipotence — how you define the ability to “do anything.”

        God cannot do anything against contrary to His nature.

        For example: Ever hear “You can’t force someone to love you.”

        It’s the same with God: God is love, so He cannot force us to love Him back. Love must be freely chosen, or it is not love.

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