Until this evening, I’d somehow been completely oblivious to the fact that there’s a transfer between the 7 and the E/V/G/F/etc lines at Roosevelt Avenue. This led me this morning to take the 7 to 23rd and do the annoying above-ground transfer to a Queens-bound E, and then hop onto the R at Roosevelt Avenue. Not only did this add probably ten or fifteen minutes to my total commute, but it also placed me in the presence of a man who was very eager to inform everyone on the train car via loud shouting that Jesus was forgiving enough to fix his life and give him a very nice Honda even though he’d condemned himself to hell by jerking off to the Spice Channel too often.
So that the other passengers on the train wouldn’t have to hear two people ranting, I decided not to argue with him over it, but I really wanted to ask him:
What does God get out of condemning people to hell?
Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot of Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen, mostly for the obvious reason that the movie just came out, but in part because I’ve been experiencing what I think is probably best described as a depersonalization disorder that occasionally leaves me feeling completely indifferent toward all life including my own. Not in a weird, depressing, troubling way or anything, and not all the time, but it’s provided me an interesting perspective on things.
Tonight, though, I realized something: Alan Moore isn’t exactly the best writer in human history by any stretch, yet Doctor Manhattan is a substantially better-written, more believable omnipotent character than the God of nearly all religious texts, especially the most widespread ones.
Christians especially love to dodge the complicated questions like “why are some babies born with no faces?” and “why do children get force-fed drugs and then raped by people they thought loved them?” with their explanation-de-deus-ex-machina “God works in mysterious ways” — we’re not SUPPOSED to know the way God’s mind works because he’s just such a COMPLICATED BEING with such an INCREDIBLE CAPACITY for KNOWING, and it’s IMPOSSIBLE for our LITTLE PEA MINDS to even BEGIN to fathom ONE IOTA of his OMNISCIENCE. Yet throughout the Bible, God is characterized as basically a human with the power to shape the universe — a being with human needs and desires and likes and dislikes. Were God truly omnipotent and omniscient, his mind would likely in no way come close to resembling that of a human.
Sure, some of it can be attributed to the imperfection of human language (as employed in the Bible) as a medium for losslessly conveying information, but it goes well beyond that. All the things God wants are just projections of things humans tend to want — love, respect, adoration, justice, punishment for those who get away with the nasty things they do to others, etc. He’s just a vessel for wish fulfillment. “They never caught the guy who licked my grandmother to death, but it’d sure be great if someone eventually got ‘im!” This is especially evident in the cultural stigmas depicted and the punishments that result. “Thar wussa WHOLE CITY fulla them FILTHY FAGGITS and’n GAWD dropped a buncha METEORS on it!” or “People were mean to each other, so God drown everyone but the nice, respectful folk!”
What would God get out of that? In fact, what would an omnipotent, omniscient being get out of even paying any attention to us at all? Regardless of free will, an all-knowing being wouldn’t likely be surprised by anything. (Well, unless their precognition was affected by tachyons, but presumably God would be immune.) One could argue that God might get a kind of “pleasure” out of it, but this assumes that God would have a need to somehow attain pleasure. Every reason we could possibly come up with for God to do any of the things he’s apparently supposed to do, to feel or need any of the things he’s depicted as feeling or needing, all rely on God basically having a human mind and body. When you look beyond the conditioning of our biology and our parents and our society, nearly everything we attach significance to is in itself meaningless.
With nearly everything we do, we do it because we’re programmed to in one way or another, and it’s ultimately insignificant on a long enough timeline, or compared to the complete scope of all movement in the universe. It’s important from our perspective, but to an outside observer — especially an omnipotent/-scient/-present one who wouldn’t be subject to the same drives and needs and effects of upbringing as we humans — our behaviors wouldn’t have the same importance. Even I can see this, and as much as I sometimes wish otherwise, I’m just a dumb, meaty human with my emotional reactions sometimes temporarily partially factored out of my observations.
Of course, there’s the whole “we were created in God’s image” argument, but even if you were able to ignore basically all of science, and then ignore the fact that humans can be radically different from their opinions to their behaviors to their feelings to their needs, it would only ultimately serve to contradict the argument that God’s mind is beyond ours.
So which is it? Is God’s mind unfathomable, and his actions therefore attributable to his unfathomableness, or is he jealous and needy and loving and desiring of unbalanced revenge for wrongdoers?