On the 14 March 2014 Real Time, Bill Maher had a few choice words about the biblical flood story. He said, “It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies. What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at…” Needless to say, the Christian community went more crazy than usual. It’s kind of strange, because what Maher said was not only typical of him but of most people in the atheist community.
In the details, however, Maher is wrong. I think that objectively, the Old Testament God is not a psychotic; he’s a psychopath. But most gods of that period were! The people didn’t conceive of entirely good gods, because they saw very clearly what their lives were. While they weren’t necessarily “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” they did see large numbers of their children die for no reason. God brought good things but he also brought bad things. He was very much like an alcoholic father.
Christian Jerry Newcombe shot back at Maher, claiming that God was mad at everyone except for Noah’s family and that’s why he drown them all. He then goes on to make an argument that leans heavily on a bit of apologetics that I associate with William Lane Craig. It is never stated this way, but it goes like this: we define God as perfectly good; therefore, anything God does is perfectly good. Thus, God was correct to judge those people and kill them. “He is not accountable to us,” Newcombe wrote, “We are accountable to Him.” And then Newcombe flits off to talk about the movie and how the flood story is symbolic of Jesus: you are either saved or you ain’t.
The problem with this article is that it proves Maher’s point. If God’s idea of good is what we would call evil, why is anyone worshiping him? And the answers always come down to the same thing, “Because I want to be let into the after-party.” That, of course, brings up the issue of intention. Is it really okay to believe in Jesus just to get the reward? Isn’t that kind of, well, pathetic? And what about God? He tricks humans by giving them brains which are designed to be skeptical. He puts all kinds of evidence out that indicates that he doesn’t exist. And then he punishes them for doing what he created them to do. Like I said: psychopath. But people like Jerry Newcombe have just decided that when God is a psychopath, it is by definition good.
A more explosive reaction to Maher was from young earth creationist Ken Ham. After noting that “God is a God of grace and mercy,” Ham goes on to say that Christians must pray for Maher. Because if he doesn’t see the light he will suffer the fate foretold in Revelation 21:8:
Now many people, like Tony Ortega at The Raw Story think this is ironic. But to the Christian apologist, it isn’t. God is a God of grace and mercy by definition. When he tortures, with fire and brimstone, those who didn’t crack his code, he is being merciful because he can’t be anything but.
Even though I’m an atheist, I rather admire religion in as much as people get meaning from it. But there are really only two kinds of Christians. The first kind are like your grandmother: they pick and choose and believe the nice bits. That’s sweet: God bless them all! But the rigorous ones—the ones who publish articles in The Christian Post, they have a different approach that does not deserve any respect at all. In their efforts to make all the parts work, they develop a god that is not in the least worthy of worship. And intellectually it is a crutch. People like Maher can point out really big moral problems in what is supposedly the Good Book. And their response is that no argument is acceptable; you just have to love God and you will see that everything he does is good, regardless of how pathological it is.
Bill Maher 1; Christian Apologists 0.
Note that I often disagree with Maher. He can be a total idiot:
- Bill Maher and False Equivalence (I win!)
- Bill Maher Bashes Disability
- Wrong Again, Bill!
- Bill Maher Spouts Anti-Muslim Racism