Saturday, November 11, 2023

Why I Don't Believe in God

People occasionally ask me why I don't believe in God.  There are a lot of reasons, but I've never bothered to write them down before because most of my reasons are pretty basic and uninteresting: no evidence for God, lots of evidence against the Bible being divinely inspired, yada yada yada.  But there is one argument I've started to articulate lately that I've not seen come up very often, and which no one I've presented it to has been able to give an adequate response to.  (Well, no one has been able to give an adequate response to any of my reasons because if they could I would change my mind!  But this is an argument for which no one has been able to produce any response at all beyond something like, "Well, you can't possibly understand this unless you give yourself over to God."  As you will see, that is a big ask.)

The argument has to do with the story of the Exodus.  Everyone thinks they know this story, just as everyone thinks they know what the Ten Commandments are, but the movie got both wrong.   The popular conception goes something like this: Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites.  God, after mulling it over for countless generations, finally decides to intervene and recruits Moses to be His messenger to demand that Pharaoh "let my people go".  Pharaoh refuses, and so God lets loose a series of plagues on the people of Egypt, culminating in the Passover and the killing of the firstborn, which finally persuades a recalcitrant Pharaoh to accede to God's demand.

But that is not actually the way the story goes.  Pharaoh does not actually decide to refuse of his own free will.  Instead, God hardens Pharaoh's heart and forces him to refuse!  And it actually gets much, much worse than that, but just to make sure that there can be no doubt on this particular score, here is the most unambiguous verse:

Exo9:12 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

There are actually two things here that should make you very queasy.  The first, as I have already mentioned, is that it's not Pharaoh making the decision, it's God pulling Pharaoh's strings.  But the second thing is almost worse, which is that it seems as if this was not something that God decided to do in the moment, but actually part of a plan!  And indeed, it was part of a plan:

Exo4:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.  [Emphasis added]

And God reiterates this in chapter 7:

Exo7:3 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.  [Emphasis added]

In other words, God is going to force Pharaoh to refuse!  And why?  So that God will have an opportunity to show off how bad-ass He can be!

That would be bad enough if God just took it out on Pharaoh, but He doesn't.  All of the Egyptian people suffer despite the fact that most of them probably don't even have clue what is going on, let alone a say in the decision-making.  Egypt is not a democracy.  The proceedings inside Pharaoh's palace are not being streamed live on CNN.  But the plagues come regardless.

And they culminate, of course, in the Killing of the Firstborn, which was also, it turns out, always part of God's Plan:

Exo4:22-23 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.

Of course, everyone focuses on the firstborn of Pharaoh, because it's a lot easier to justify the killing of an innocent child if that child happens to be the son of a hated ruler.  But what about all the others?

Exo11:5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

I can't even begin to imagine the emotional pain that God inflicted on the mothers and fathers of Egypt that day, none of whom had any moral culpability in the enslavement of the Israelites.  Certainly the maidservant that was behind the mill didn't have a say in the matter, but she lost her child nonetheless.

(My sister died three years ago, and it nearly destroyed my mother.  And my sister wasn't even the firstborn.)

These are not the actions of a kind, loving God.  These are the actions of a barbarous psychopathic madman.  A core tenet of Christianity is supposed to be that killing innocents is not justifiable under any circumstances, and yet this is exactly what God did.  And He did it not in service of a higher goal, not to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go (because, as I noted earlier, even Pharaoh didn't actually have a choice) but just to give Himself an opportunity to show off.  It is hard for me to imagine a more evil act.  (And yet God actually manages to top Himself with eternal punishment for non-believers, but that's another story.)

This would be bad enough by itself, but then later, at God's command, the Israelites go on a genocidal spree through Canaan that makes the Killing of the Firstborn look humane by comparison:

Deu2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:

Deu3:6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city.

Deu20:16-17 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:

Josh6:21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

And that's just a small sample.

Apologists will tell you that all this slaughter was justified because the Canaanites (and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites) were utterly corrupt and evil and deserved to be destroyed down to the last man, woman, and child.  And what is the evidence that they were so irredeemably corrupt?  They were sacrificing their children to Molech.

Now, I will concede that sacrificing children to Molech is definitely not cool, but there are still two problems here.  First, God demanded a human sacrifice from Abraham, so it is far from clear that God considers human sacrifice to be an unalloyed evil.  At best one could come away with the impression that sacrificing children might be acceptable under some circumstances, like if God demands it (and fails to change His mind at the last minute).  But there is a second, more serious problem: even if we grant (and I am happy to concede this) that sacrificing children is always Really Really Bad, could God not have come up with any better solution to the problem than genocide?  Like, oh I don't know, talking to the Canaanites and telling them that what they are doing is not cool?  Because I'm pretty sure that the Canaanites were not sacrificing their children because they enjoyed it, I think they did it because they had a sincere belief that Molech was real and that sacrificing a few children was necessary in order to avoid an even more fearsome fate from befalling them.

And it must have been only a few children.  The Canaanites could not possibly have been sacrificing all of their children, or they would have gone extinct within one generation.  But God's answer to the problem of the Canaanites killing some of their children is to kill all of the children.  And their parents.  Some of whom were undoubtedly pregnant women.  Sorry, Christians, but you can't have it both ways.  Either killing the unborn is acceptable under some circumstances or it's not.

There are two arguments of last resort that I've had people muster against this.  The first is the potter's-clay response.  The idea is that if a potter makes a pot then he has the moral right to do anything he wants to to that pot, including destroy it.  In this analogy, of course, God is the potter and we are the pots.  The problem with this argument is so obvious that it almost seems condescending to point it out: pots aren't sentient beings.  Humans are.  So even if we were created by God, that does not give Him the moral license to dispose of us however he sees fit.  I believe that sentience entitles one to certain inalienable rights, including the right not to be treated as someone else's property (c.f. Lev25:45-46).

The second response is the one I mentioned at the outset: that I can't possibly hope to understand this until and unless I "give myself over to God" or "submit to God's will" or some such thing.  I honestly have no idea how I would do that, or even what those words could possibly even mean.  But even if I did know, I would be very leery of acting on this advice.  If God exists, and if He really is as described in the Bible, then He is a monster.  He has no moral compass.  Some Christians will actually concede that I'm right about this: God doesn't have a moral compass, God is the moral compass.  OK, fine.  But of what use is a compass that points every which way depending on how the wind is blowing?  Sometimes killing is bad, sometimes it's good, and sometimes it is even obligatory.  How can you tell?  What use is a moral compass that doesn't point in one direction?

My moral compass tells me that I should treat all sentient creatures with some measure of respect and kindness.  That has served me pretty well so far, and so, for now, that's what I'm sticking with.


Publius said...

You reject a god who hates people of other religion, hates homosexuals, hates democrats, and hates "sinners." You reject a god who commanded Israel to commit acts of genocide, drowned millions of people in a flood because they sinned too much, and is planning to send the vast majority of the people of this world to an everlasting torment in flames and boiling lava.

Since the God which Jesus revealed to us is nothing like this sort of violent, blood-thirsty, people-torturing god, your rejection of such a god is an act of true worship of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

If God is not like what you have concluded, then when you declare, "God does not exist," you are not denying the God who does truly exist, but the god who is nothing more than a figment of your imagination, philosophical speculation, sociological superstition, and religious wish-fulfillment.

To deny a god who does not exist is to say nothing about the God who does.

I invite you to look for the God revealed in Jesus Christ, for this is a God who not only exists, but this is a God who can be found.

Jesus Christ has positive message for you.

Ron said...


> Since the God which Jesus revealed to us is nothing like this sort of violent, blood-thirsty, people-torturing god, your rejection of such a god is an act of true worship of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

I'm glad you approve. But the problem is that Jesus claimed to *be* the violent, blood-thirsty, people-torturing god God described in the OT. So unless you're a Jehovah's Witness, Jesus and Jehovah/Yahweh/God/whatever-you-want-to-call-Him are one and the same. You can't have one without the other.

XO said...

-- Pharaoh's heart (like his father) was already hard. God was not bringing out anything that was not already there.

The Israelites, long before God began pulling strings, endured nothing short of a holocaust(being worked to death in n Egyptian-Nazi labor camps, with soldiers even killing children). Pharaoh, was yesterday's Hitler.

There's a scene in 'Never Look Away' (streaming on Netflix) that captures this beautifully:

A woman is scheduled for a sterilization procedure following a 'mental illness' diagnosis in Nazi Germany. She tries to appeal to the doctor as a parent / father, begging and pleading for him to reverse his decision. The doc, visibly shaken - is forced to make a very serious moral decision. After a moment of wrestling with conviction (he's presented with), he signs off on the procedure.

His heart - hardened?

The 1st criminal act is the most difficult to commit. Once you clear this, it becomes easier. You begin to cope by justifying these acts. There's quite a few of these confessions post-ww2.

This NT verse is particularly interesting:

| Romans 9:17 [AMP, for clarity] for the scripture says to pharaoh, “i raised you up for this very purpose, to display my power in [dealing with] you, and so that my name would be proclaimed in all the earth.”

To an uninitiated reader, it seems to imply there's no 'free will'. But Romans ch 9 and the book of Job easily debunk this (somewhat common)) misconception.

In regards to Pharoah - we can say:

| Luke 17:1 [NIV] Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.

With each of these plagues, God exposes this weasel in front of his own people (and the Israelites):

| Exodus 8:30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

Pharaoh continues to harden his own heart (or was it God that did this?)

| Exodus 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

| Exodus 10:6 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”

| Exodus 10:19 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea.[b] Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelite go.

| Exodus 9:34 He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelite go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

XO said...

-- Was God being a bad-ass, or trying to bring about an end (and a lesson) to a holocaust (humans caused)? In Egyptian society, the king served as an intermediary between the deities and humans.

God was establishing Himself not only as sovereign over Pharaoh - but also over these (non existent) Egyptian gods:

| Exodus 7:1 - "Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet."

Each plague confronted Pharaoh with a power much greater than himself and his 'gods'. Many of these Israelites (per the various other supporting texts) also saw the seat of Pharaoh as a divine authority figure. In any event, all of this gets seriously challenged, thus breaking this divinity myth. And the Israelites are freed from mental and physical bondage.

God will overlook many of our wrongdoings, but worshiping other gods (according to the Bible) is a big no-no. Not because God is jealous, the Old and New testaments (and history) are full of examples - of the destructive political and religious ideological mess that follows.

XO said...

Bible is pretty clear, He loves even the sinner. Heck, he even sends rain to the wicked (I wouldn't).

Ron said...


> I feel that any text, as ridiculously flawed as the Bible - really doesn't deserve this amount of attention.

Is that really what you meant? Because while I certainly agree with this, there are an awful lot of people out there who would push back hard at characterizing the Bible as "ridiculously flawed."

Ron said...


> reposing my comment as it seems to have been deleted somehow

No, it wasn't deleted. I decided not to publish it. If you want to know why, send me an email. I don't discuss it in public.

XO said...

> Is that really what you meant? Because while I certainly agree with this, there are an awful lot of people out there who would push back hard at characterizing the Bible as "ridiculously flawed."

I've encountered just about all them, and they're "ridiculously flawed" - many addressed ages before the internet even existed.

There's what, >45k Christian denominations globally. >200 in the US.

Relative to a Pentecostal (which I believe you were mostly exposed to?) interpretation of Christianity, I agree - the the Bible is "ridiculously flawed".

As you know, faiths are wildly split on theology, history, philosophy etc...

Theological examples: Hell fire, free will, salvation, bodily resurrection (same book, wildly different interpretations) - and not over the integrity of the text. These interpretations are foundationally flawed, many stemming from the 'Great Awakening', late eighteenth century US - with whack job founders.

Scripture is clear, we're not to base interpretations off the doctrines of men - yet this is exactly what these faith do:

Lutheran: Martin Luther
Seventh Day: Ellen G White
Baptist: John the Baptist
Methodist: John Wesley
Mormons are off the hook, since they came up with their own book.
Pentecostal movement: Charles Fox Parham
Calvinism: John Calvin
Atheism is no different, countless straw men being attacked.

Where do we start?

What evidence do I have of God?
I staked my life on it - taking the 'Nazarite vow' to escape the ghettos of an all-black Harlem, NYC (and I'm white). I survived a holocaust being viciously tortured in every moment, in ever way unimaginable (physically, mentally, sexually) by (just about) everybody around me.

A faith that has been tested with blood. Looking back, carefully examining how my life, my kid's life (and their kids) have turned out- compared to countless others who have gone through far less? Many of the people (including their kids ) I grew up with are dead, dying, in prison (for murder, drug trafficking, rape) or hooked on drugs.

I'll put my faith against your science (prescription drugs, psychology, counseling) any day. With a 100% sober brain, I faced every tragedy / challenge with a rationally minded faith in God. You do not escape these conditions by luck or chance (or being an outlier). From surviving the streets to thriving in the world 'you' live in - I hung on to every word written in that Bible like my next breath depended on it. God, speaking to my spiritual ears - led me out of that hell.

PS: Apologies for late responses (super busy), but I am very interested in carrying on this conversation with you. You're obviously a very talented / very intelligent and civil minded person- that I've come to respect Ron.

XO said...

I can never tell if my comment posted or not? UI feedback lacking.

Ron said...

@XO: I have comment moderation turned on. The Ramblings have attracted a lot of comment spam recently.

XO said...

> @XO: I have comment moderation turned on. The Ramblings have attracted a lot of comment spam recently.

@Ron: Aologies. I mean, the UI does not provide any feedback that the comment posted (no moderation message of any sort). Using latest Chrome, perhaps a plugin interfering.

XO said...

@Ron: Oh, I had to scroll to the top of the page I was redirected to (the page seemed to refresh in-place though - confusing):
"Your comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval."