There is no end to the horror and evil we humans can imagine for one another. Especially when motivated by religion.
I was listening to a Christian radio station yesterday and heard the pastor talk about the importance of Christmas. We celebrate Jesus’ birth, he said, because it made possible his death without which people are doomed to an eternity of torment beyond imagining.
His logic was as follows: God is infinite. If you sin against an infinite God your sin is infinite, and therefore your punishment is eternal. Since all of us are born sinful against God, we are born to eternal punishment. Jesus’ death is the ransom God demands in exchange for pardoning us and sparing us from eternal torment. Since Jesus is also infinite Jesus is the only being in the universe capable of infinite suffering, the suffering His Father demands. All we have to do is believe.
I believe we create God in our own image, after our own likeness. That doesn’t mean there is no God; it only means that theology tells us more about the theologian than about God. What does this theology tell us about this pastor and those who believe as he does? Let’s see:
His God is infinite. I have no problem with this. My own God, as Source and Substance of all reality, is also infinite. For me the infinitude of God means the universe is infinitely creative and capable of mutation, evolution, and surprise. For him the infinitude of God means that God’s anger is infinite, and His desire for revenge against those who sin against Him is without end. There is no compassion in God, nothing to temper His wrath. Who would worship such a God except a person equally filled with anger and lacking compassion?
His God is obsessed with sins He imagines are against Him. And any sin against God, given God’s infinitude, must itself be infinite, and hence deserving of eternal punishment. Who would worship a God obsessed with sin, except a person obsessed with sin? Who would worship a God whose self-esteem is so low that He imagines He can be sinned against except a person of low self-esteem who is himself obsessed with self?
His God is only pacified by death and suffering. Who would worship such a God except a person filled with homicidal rage?
His God desires and demands eternal suffering from those who offend Him, but allows His Son to be ransomed on their behalf, but only if the suffering of the Son is eternal as well. Jesus’ suffering doesn’t end on the cross, this pastor explained, but continues for all eternity. It is only because Jesus himself is infinite that Jesus can withstand the suffering. Who would worship a God so lustful for pain except a psychopath addicted to inflicting it?
And then, as his sermon came to a close, this pastor, seemingly oblivious to the horror he just preached, wished us all a Merry Christmas. How horribly, horribly sad.
Today I honor the birth of one of the greatest Jews who ever lived. Today I will remind myself of a failed revolution in Jewish thought and living that sought to expand beyond the Jews the message of love and justice the Hebrew Prophets preached to the Jews. Today I will mourn the failure of that revolution, and yet even as I do, I will remind myself that as long as his memory and teaching can be recalled, his revolution can be rekindled.
God is not dead. Believers have just buried Him alive.