by Thaddeus Williams
Thought for the day (from the intro of REVERE), a new book in profgfress by Thaddeus Williams
I have clocked more than a few hours of lengthy, vulnerable conversations with people who reject Christianity, some of whom never professed faith and others who claim to have deconverted or had a “break up” with God. Again and again, a surprising conclusion comes from these conversations. Many renditions of the so-called “Christian God” shunned by many non-Christians are gods who I, as a Christian, shun too. British theologian A.W. Pink made the point a century ago:
"How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of Truth... who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man… The God of many a present‐day pulpit is an object of pity rather than awe‐inspiring reverence."
If you find yourself skeptical or positively squeamish about the Christian God, it is possible that you are rejecting “a miserable caricature,” a god-concept that properly evokes more antipathy than awe. One dear friend rejects a god who allegedly told his cancer-stricken dad to refuse all medical services and bank his survival, instead, on a guaranteed healing miracle, which never came. Another friend rejected a god who denounced her scientific curiosity as the unpardonable sin. Others rejected a god who cared nothing for broken people for broken people’s sake, but only about cold, letter-of-the law rule enforcement, the Cosmic Guilt-Tripper, poised with thunderbolts or, worse, a cancer diagnosis at the first sight of a moral infraction.
What all of these custom-tailored gods share in common is that they trace their origins not to the Bible but to the wishful imaginations of bad theologians. Over two-and-a-half millennia ago a Greek philosopher called Xenophanes saw the problem. “Men believe that the gods are clothed and shaped and speak like themselves,” Xenophanes observed. “If oxen and horses and lions could draw and paint they would delineate their gods in their own image… The Thracians [believe] that their gods have blue eyes and red hair.” God made us in His image, and we have been returning the favor ever since. German philosopher Ludwig Fueurbach made a similar observation in the 19th century, how theology reduces to anthropology, how religion is often a matter of projecting a super-sized version of ourselves into the heavens. (During the 20th century, most universities followed Fueurbach’s footsteps as “Theology Departments” were rebranded as “Religious Studies Departments,” signaling a shift from talking about God to talking about how we, as mere humans, talk about our God projections.)
Xenophanes and Fueurbach were on to something. Many forms of theism are indeed self-worship in cognito, our individual personalities and prejudices disguised as something transcendent and sacred. The anti-scientist projects his anti-science God into the sky. The moralistic whistleblower projects his Chief of the Morality Police into the sky. The anything goes libertine projects his Cosmic Push Over into the sky. There is a prosperity-showering deity in a gaudy, golden sky mansion for the materialist; a lifeless X at the end of a neat, logical syllogism for the abstract philosopher; a neo-Nazi god for the white nationalist; a Marxist god for the hard leftist; a right wing god wrapped up in a flag for the right-wing patriot. All of these manufactured gods have been marketed as the Christian God. So when I say that my goal is to convince you to become an atheist about the god of Self, that includes the gods of other selves, even so-called “Christian” gods conjured up in the imaginations and in the image of other people...
So I ask you to be open-minded to the possibility that, for all of your proper unbelief, there exists a Being bigger and better, more worthy of awe and enjoyment, than anything or anyone you, or any other mere mortal, has ever imagined.