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Dec 08 2013

What happens when God is wrong?

Pastor Rick Warren recently appeared on Piers Morgan’s show and discussed his stand on gay marriage.

Warren claimed that he believes in equality, but admitted he cannot support same-sex marriage because, he said, “I don’t get to change what God says.”

I’ve pulled out just this one quote because I think it exemplifies one of the most fundamental and unresolvable problems with religions like Christianity. They’re based on “revealed” authority, the idea that “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” You never have to learn anything new or adapt to anything that changes, because nothing is allowed to change. Once God speaks, that’s the way things are and must be, always and forever after.

But what happens when God is wrong?

Gay marriage is a prime example. According to the Bible, God has condemned homosexuality and has restricted marriage to heterosexuals only. Granted, they had trouble counting to two in the Old Testament, so King Solomon, for instance, shared his “union of one man and one woman” with 300 wives (and 600 concubines). But that’s kosher because they were all heterosexual. Gays are singled out for persecution, and denied to right to marry one another because God decided that sex is sin when gay people do it.

Fortunately, society is growing up and realizing that persecution and demonization of gays is the real sin here. To be gay just means that you fall in love differently than heterosexuals do. That’s it. Homosexual love does not harm anyone. It does not break into anyone’s house and steal their jewelry. It does not shoot anyone with a gun. It’s just falling in love, in a way that’s different from how heterosexuals fall in love. God is simply wrong on this one.

But how do you deal with that in a religion? When you have a reality-based worldview, you’re allowed to learn new things, and to admit that you made a mistake. Finding out you’re wrong doesn’t call your whole worldview into question. Your authority is reality itself, and that authority is secure, because reality is always there to refer to and learn from. But Bible-based religions don’t have that luxury. God does not show up in the real world, so the believer’s only connection to God’s authority is through the stories that were written down thousands of years ago. To admit that the Scriptures could be wrong about something is to admit that God could be wrong. And if you can’t trust God’s moral judgment, why be a Christian at all?

God’s moral principles, as defined and preached by believers, have changed over the years. Polygamy isn’t the divine blessing it used to be in King Solomon’s day. Incest isn’t as well-received today as it was when Adam and Eve’s children (and Noah’s grandchildren) married their brothers and sisters (and possibly first cousins). Genital mutilation of boys, aka circumcision, used to be mandatory, then it was forbidden, and now it’s pretty much taken for granted (despite official prohibition). Even non-sexual things like slavery and blood sacrifice are no longer perfectly in tune with God’s will, as understood by modern believers.

God today forbids things He used to have no problem with, despite the harm they did. Would it really be so terrible if, for once, He decided to stop forbidding something that does no harm? But He can’t, because believers can’t. Believers are the sole source of information regarding what God does or does not say, and like Rick Warren says, they don’t get to change what [ancient believers told us] God says.

So they’re stuck. Having decided that homophobia is what God says, they have forever locked themselves into an unjust and unreasonable opposition to the basic human rights of those who fall in love differently. The believer’s only available options are either to embrace bigotry as their blueprint for society, or else to reject their religion’s whole foundation. Their God is wrong, and they cannot reject the wrong without rejecting their God.

Kinda sucks for them, right? But that’s the price you pay when you build your worldview out of the primitive superstitions of the prejudiced “patriarchs.”

23 comments

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  1. 1
    busterggi

    God doesn’t make mistakes or change his mind. That’s why setting Adam & Eve up to fall and flooding the earth were good things.

    Hail Hydra!

  2. 2
    Al Dente

    But God does change his mind. He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and then at the last minute: “Never mind, Abe, I was only kidding, there’s a nice ram right over there for you to sacrifice instead.”

    1. 2.1
      Abdul Alhazred

      Changed His mind?

      Or just fucking with Abraham?

  3. 3
    raven

    What happens when God is wrong?

    Well, not much really.

    God is wrong all the time.

    Religions evolve and quite rapidly. All those sacred key doctrines get tossed out often. The believers just pretend it didn’t happen, hope no one actually reads their magic book of atrocities and obsolete morality, and make up new things.

    Anyone following an Old Testament lifestyle today would be doing multiple life sentences in prison. Warren Jeffs tried it and got life + 20 years.

  4. 4
    Jason Failes

    Let us all turn to the Book of the Memory Hole, where we see that we have been against slavery all along.

  5. 5
    stever

    My answer to “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” is that we don’t know what God said, only what King James’s Gang of Eight said that medieval scribes said that many generations of earlier preachers, the earliest ones illiterate, said that God said. Of course, I’ve encountered lunatics who asserted, with no detectable trace of irony, that the Bible was really written in English. After all, they speak only English, and they can read the KJV, which is the Inerrant WORD O’GAWD. Until then, I thought I would never hear anything sillier than the Catholics’ denial that their symbolic cannibalism is symbolic.

  6. 6
    sigurd jorsalfar

    Christians generally have 2 ways of dealing with these situations:

    1. Reinterpret the text – find a way to read something else into a passage and declare it to mean whatever it is you want it to mean. Slavery? God really hates it, don’t you see? Tired of hating on the gays? Well guess what? It turns out god meant something totally different when he said that thing about thou shalt not be gay! He really meant gay sex isn’t a sin if the couple is standing up at the time! Yeah, that’s it.

    2. Ignore the text and focus on other passages – there are countless rules and regulations in the bible that Christians simply ignore or gloss over, such as the dietary laws. The bible is a big enough book, and so few of the faithful have read it cover to cover, that if pastors like Rick Warren just stop talking about what the bible says about gays, people will eventually forget about it.

    A third method, although one not generally adopted by organized Christian groups but acceptable to individual believers, is to ignore the bible entirely, while still declaring oneself a Christian. Jesus believes what I believe! Problem solved.

  7. 7
    markmckee

    There is no evidence that the Bible was against homosexuality. Whenever you find condemnations of homosexual sex, it is in the context of proscriptions against promiscuity or even that it is an abomination for a straight man to have sex with another man.

    The admonition that gay sex itself is wrong even in a monogamous relationship is an interpretation that is not as clear as people like Warren say it is.

    But that is not really the point. The Bible says slavery is OK and it says killing stubborn children is ok in certain circumstances. No moral person believes this today. Thus this to me is absolute proof that the Bible cannot be held as a moral compass. Unless and until someone can justify, by using the Bible, that the Bible really does not OK slavery then that document loses its credibility on morality. If you have to have a morality within yourself that you then take with you when you read the Bible then by definition the Bible cannot be the source for that morality.

  8. 8
    Friendly

    In the pre-Civil-War American South, the pastors and church leadership of almost all of the mainline denominations pointed out on a regular basis that slavery was biblical (as indeed it is) and that if God didn’t condemn it, it must be a righteous institution (a.k.a. A Good Thing). They went right on insisting that until the South was defeated. 150 years later, if you asked average members of the Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., whether the Bible condemns slavery, most of them would tell you “yes,” and if you asked them whether representatives of their church had ever claimed otherwise, they would say “no.” Inconvenient past doctrines are conveniently forgotten.

  9. 9
    SpaceGhoti

    This works as a criticism of Bible literalists like Rick Warren. It’s less applicable to more liberal Christians who treat the Bible as a human document inspired by their god but not infallible. According to them their god hasn’t stopped revealing truth, it just doesn’t get added to the scriptures. Interpretation varies as human understanding progresses.

    Of course, such “Cafeteria Christians” never follow this logic to its final conclusion. The more they “reinterpret” their Bible and religious beliefs, the less of the Bible becomes relevant. The Bible begins to take on the same significance as Homer’s Illiad, becoming myth and fiction rather than scripture. But the underlying belief in the unknowable and unverifiable opens the door to new beliefs and new religions with no more justification than the old ones.

  10. 10
    kraut

    Please define “god” precisely and how this definition relates to all instances where gods attributes, properties and behaviours are mentioned, described, listed in said “holy” book, both the old version and the heresy called Christianity.

    Please mark clearly all cases of contradictions, “do as I tell and not as I do” instances, lies, subterfuges, cruelties, ignorance, deceptions etc.

    Please draw your own conclusions without preconceived notions as to the nature of the god thus described in the holy book based on the literary evidence.

    Please state clearly the reasons why it would be desirable to worship such an entity.

    1. 10.1
      John Morales

      Um, you’re not in a Christian blog; its owner’s “god” is Alethea.

      (Look at the sidebar in the INFO section)

      1. kraut

        “God’s moral principles, as defined and preached by believers, have changed over the years. Polygamy isn’t the divine blessing it used to be in King Solomon’s day. Incest isn’t as well-received today as it was when Adam and Eve’s children (and Noah’s grandchildren) married their brothers and sisters (and possibly first cousins). Genital mutilation of boys, aka circumcision, used to be mandatory, then it was forbidden, and now it’s pretty much taken for granted (despite official prohibition). Even non-sexual things like slavery and blood sacrifice are no longer perfectly in tune with God’s will, as understood by modern believers.”

        And I had thought that the more intelligent among the readership would get the connection between my questions regarding the nature of the judeo/christian god and the nature of the post and the assumptions as to the nature of the god they claim to worship and/or ask for consultation.
        Sadly I am mistaken.as your response shows.

        Atheism is truly (and fortunately?) not automatically a claim for superior intelligence

      2. John Morales

        kraut, it may well be sad that you are mistaken, just as it may well be that I am not one of the more intelligent among the readership here; accordingly, are you willing to elucidate the connection between your questions regarding the nature of the judeo/christian god and the nature of the post and the assumptions as to the nature of the god they claim to worship and/or ask for consultation?

    2. 10.2
      Deacon Duncan

      Why?

    3. 10.3
      billyeager

      Atheism is . . . not automatically a claim for superior intelligence

      No, but it is an automatic claim for superior reasoning.

      1. John Morales

        Alas, that contention only applies to those who come to atheism via reasoning.

        (You need the quantifier “sometimes” for it to work)

      2. John Morales

        Or: just drop the “automatic” quantifier, if you care to amend rather than append.

  11. 11
    kraut

    As an exercise in improving your IQ I urge you to find that our for yourself.

    1. 11.1
      John Morales

      I confess that I’m not bright enough to determine a plausible yet non-disingenous basis upon which you ask atheists to tell you the reasons why it would be desirable to worship such an entity, much less its precise definition — after all, if we considered such reasons existed, we’d probably not be atheistic!

      (I grant that, were we in some theocracy where atheism is severely castigated such as existed in medieval times or exist in certain places on Earth currently, that would be a good reason to pretend to worship, but that’s not the same thing as actually worshiping, is it?)

      Ah well, it seems that your comment will remain an apparent non sequitur to me.

  12. 12
    billyeager

    “I don’t get to change what God says.”

    Gee, ya know I’m all for equality n’ all, but the big guy upstairs says ‘NO!’, so, you know, we gotta condemn teh gayz.

    Seems to me like he’s looking for our sympathy for the predicament he’s in. After all, he’s only following orders, right?

    1. 12.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Piers Morgan should have asked him if he’d care to quote the exact words by which God declared that marriage had to be defined as exclusively the union of one man and one woman. That verse in Genesis about a man cleaving to his wife and becoming one flesh doesn’t even mention weddings or marriages, it just says a man takes possession of a woman and has sex with her. If not mentioning gay marriage means it is excluded from marriage, then the same should be true for all the other things the passage does not mention, like love, commitment, fidelity, having kids, and so on.

      Then for a follow-up, he should have asked why same sex union would be so abhorrent to a deity who happens to be a union of three males. I bet that would have been a much more interesting show. And I’d give him bonus points for asking whether there were any males in the bride of Christ.

  13. 13
    John Morales

    [OT but related]

    In Australian news: After being married for less than a week, same-sex couples who wed in the ACT will have their unions annulled after the High Court ruled against the laws.

    (It’s probably irrelevant that our Prime Minister is a Catholic)

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