"Does God exist?"
Before we get to the question of God's existence, we need some definitions; because for the question to even make sense, the individual terms need to make sense. We cannot ask, "Is proposition P true, if P is in itself a contradiction." Which is why we are not reasonably allowed to ask silly questions like: "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?"
So what of the term "God"?
Even if we pick just one of the many definitions proposed by religion, e.g. the Christian one, we still have a being that: exists apart from existence as we know it; is both one and three beings; predestines (or preknows) what we are going to do, yet alleges we have free will; seems to be at odds with himself; and demonstrates inconsistent, psychotic behaviour. In other words, a very paradoxical being indeed.
Christians like to refer to this paradox as a mystery, but that's just wordplay. I don't think the question "Does God exist?" can be sensibly asked.
"The Problem and The Cure"
Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, the good news of Salvation!
So I tried this, but found that in most cases people would ask you what all the fuss was about. So, I realised that the key to being a good evangelist is to bring the problem and the cure. For example,
"You're all sinners!"
"Oh, my God, really? Shit! What can I do?"
"Pray this prayer, sign here, and less of the bl*sphemy and sh*t going forward, please."
Suffering exists. God exists. Something's not right.
Either God wills the suffering, and can't be considered loving in any normal sense of the word, or he doesn't, but is somehow powerless to fix it.
Christians will generally blame the Devil or humans for the suffering inflicted, and go a little fuzzy around tsunamis and stuff, but either way God is not absolved. This is his experiment. He knew what would happen, that billions of innocent animal species and humans would suffer.
But somehow it is worth it. He is worth it.
Bollocks to that.
For those of you who don't know the Bible story of Job, Job was a faithful servant of God; so much so, that when God and Satan were having a chat one day, he gets picked by God to demonstrate that Job is not (as Satan suggests) only faithful because he is blessed and protected by God. God gives Satan permission to inflict quite a lot of suffering on the poor chap (including the killing of his family, the stripping away of all his wealth, and giving him boils.) But Job perseveres and refuses to curse God.
So God wins the bet, and Job is re-blessed with more than he had originally. Everybody's happy, apart from me. This is twisted! Job should be berated for his irrational belief in God's goodness -the God who allowed the suffering for the sake of a silly bet that arguably an omniscient being should have known the outcome of anyway. Grrr....
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"
I fully accept that if there were gods that they would be able to do "miraculous" things, and that if these things were done in days of yore that they might have been written down as eye-witness accounts.
But what bothers me (apart from the diverse and internally inconsistent nature of such accounts) is that since the timing of salvation is clearly not an issue (many people died before the salvation event), why could this event not have been delayed until a time of scientific and rational scrutiny?
The fact that these reported events occurred at a time of general illiteracy is suspicious if nothing else.
The heavens are terribly silent. Prayers return unanswered to the supplicant, leaving the poor soul to wrestle with several choices:
1. There is no god.
2. There is a god but she doesn't answer prayer.
3. The prayer was wrong.
4. The supplicant did not deserve an answer.
5. The answer was "no".
6. The answer was "not yet".
7. Time passes and the thing happens. The answer is "yes".
This leaves an immense amount of wriggle room for the non-existent god to exist in the faithful mind.
"Effective Sin Management"
Why do you judge someone because their sins are different to yours? The answer is an effective sin management strategy, using a technique I like to call the 'circle of lust'. Within this circle, place yourself and all your sins. Outside this circle, place everyone else and their sins. Now - and this is the really clever bit - declare all the sins in your circle to be acceptable, and all those outside the circle to be unacceptable.
The reason I've not made money off this idea is that everyone already does it.
So you're wandering around, minding your own business, when a woolly-haired man leaps from the bushes with a dusty book in his hand, muttering something about God. Since you have an open mind, and it's a beautiful day, you listen to his ramblings, and you find out that this "God", who defies real definition (but you can call him Dad) exists apart from the universe He created. He is everywhere, knows everything, is eternal, invisible, immortal, very wise and can do magic.
"Interesting," you say, "and how exactly do we know this, if he is invisible?"
"Aha," shouts the man. "Because He revealed himself to mankind!"
"To mankind? So not you personally?"
"But someone you know?"
"So how do you know for sure this happened?"
"Because this book says so," screams the woolly-haired man and runs off.
"What the Hell?"
For the purposes of this rant, I'm going to assume a traditional, literal view of Hell, i.e. a place of eternal fire, torment, suffering and punishment; the final home of the Unrighteous, the Devil and his minions.
I would humbly suggest that the only sane response to this concept is abhorrence, if for no other reason than its sheer excess, somewhat reminiscent of the Great Flood. Even a very wicked man will only commit a finite number of sins in his lifetime, so an infinite punishment (even with only a few "stripes") can never be considered commensurate.
And it's not just God the Father who is like this. Jesus was clearly on board with the Divine vision:
"The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows." (Luke 12:47)
"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out." (Luke 13:28)
According to Bible, we supposedly have free will. The idea is that God did not want robots - he wanted his creatures to choose him. So in the Garden he placed the hapless First Couple, and told them not to touch that awful tree. They disobeyed of course (as any parent would have predicted), and were promptly evicted from Paradise, along with us descendants.
Then God the Beneficent sent His only Begotten Son to die for us, to provide a way back to his Bosom.
But... for those who still reject him, Hell awaits, which by all literal accounts is a very nasty place indeed, where the disobedient will suffer immensely and disproportionately for all eternity.
What sort of psychotic choice is that?
For those luckily enough to have heard about Jesus (i.e. the winners of the geographical and genetic lottery), Heaven awaits: a glorious place full of mansions and shit; a place where the Resurrected army of God will return to their King to worship, free of tears, suffering and evil; for all eternity.
And since we've just seen what happened when you give humans choice, they will presumably also be free of that. Heaven forbid that we'd have to start the whole experiment again!
Yet, in a nearby neighbourhood, separated from Heaven and Abraham's bosom by only a Chasm, will be Hell: the eternal home of the suffering baddies. And the Righteous, now being devoid of tears and anguish, will not give a damn (pun intended) about their unsaved loved ones; much like their "loving" Father.
I'd rather burn than be part of this charade.
The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike"
I honestly think, given the dire consequences of choosing incorrectly, that God has a moral obligation to be absolutely clear about his existence and the requirements for salvation from this supposed spiritual mess we are in.
Yet there are thousands of different gods and religions, and even within the mainstream religions there is huge disagreement about the Truth.
There is just not enough reasonable, undeniable evidence to be found. Just what you'd expect if the gods were made up.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse"
The Bible is very vague on what happens if you don't know about Jesus, who is apparently the only way to the Father. Paul hints to the Romans that those who are in this position get judged by their consciences, but then why did we, having the same mechanism, need saving? And what about those who are not able to come to any sufficient knowledge of Jesus to be able to make the conscious choice of faith (e.g. babies, mentally disabled, etc)?
Ignorance of the law must be surely be a valid excuse in this case?
The world is clearly not a fair place, and the world of religion is sadly no different. Your salvation would, it seems, depend on the correctness of your faith, yet that is correlated to your geography, your genes and your upbringing, none of which you have very much control over.
The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, they say, but since there is no divinely inspired copy/translation process and the thousands of manuscript fragments contain a fair number of discrepancies, the phrase becomes "inerrant in the autographs (originals)". Except we don't have those. The inerrancy of "God's word" is an assumption.
And we've not even started on the correct process of Biblical interpretation, or hermeneutics, if you want to give it an air of respectability.
The short of it is that we have ended up with hundreds of Christian denominations, all sincerely seeking the truth in Scripture and yet all coming to quite different conclusions on important matters such as whether the Holy Communion should be in one cup or many.
"Oh, but we agree on the fundamentals!"
Think again. If you weren't baptised as an adult via full water immersion, say the Churches of Christ, then you are not saved. And if you're Catholic, there is no point even pitching up at the Judgement Seat.
There is simple rule of thumb when reading the Bible: take the text at face value, unless there's an obvious reason not to. But this 'unless' is where the problems start.
Sometimes, like with Psalms, the language is clearly intended to be poetic, so not everything being said actually means what you think. For example, the psalmist doesn't actually think the earth has four corners. Well actually, he probably does, but being divinely inspired, he doesn't really. Well God doesn't. Anyway, I digress...
Then we have Prophecy, also known as poetry on drugs, where the writing can be full of very strange imagery. Taking anything literally in the prophetic chapters is a risky move indeed, as we have seen with the numerous failed End of World pronouncements.
However, most of the rest of the Bible certainly reads like it was intended as historical narrative, and for the most part seems to correctly coincide with known historical events (miracles aside).
But this makes the Genesis account a real problem. It reads like the rest, and there is no literary reason to take Genesis at anything but face value. In fact, both Jesus and Paul refer to it as such.
However, the facts clearly clash quite badly with generally accepted observed scientific evidence, leaving the Bible student with two equally unpalatable options: (i) use the metaphor wildcard and don't worry about the Jesus-Paul references, which is not good, because, well, Jesus and Paul; or (ii) you become a Creationist and fight the scientific evidence to the death, i.e. you become a complete idiot.
So God the just felt he couldn't just forgive us our transgressions. No, for reasons known only to himself, he instituted the blood sacrifice - a life for a life, or some such. And since there are so many of us, with so many sins, who better to use as a sacrifice than his Only Begotten Son, Jesus? Which incidentally shows us that he loves us, not that he is a complete psycho.
But for the whole "dying for our sins" thing to work, Jesus had to be a sinless sacrifice. This required two things:
1. That he be fathered by God, not a descendant of Adam, thus breaking the curse - which caused a lot of confusion among the gospel writers who tried to show Jesus' lineage.
2. That he commit no sin. This is hard to comment on, as the canonical Gospels understandably don't talk much about Jesus' general behaviour. Apart, that is, from a brief bout of "not honouring your father and mother" as a child when he remained at the temple, not "keeping the Sabbath holy" with his disciples, demonstrating "righteous" anger when he cleared the temple, or the very odd (and unwarranted) smiting of the fig tree for not having any figs ... out of season.
But perhaps I'm being too harsh. Jesus was fully God as well as fully Man after all, and what god doesn't like a good smiting now and then?
If you've ever been in church, you may have heard the phrase "difficult passages". Essentially, a difficult passage is one that clashes with your established interpretation of the Bible. My advice is to just cut these out of your Bible, since they were placed there by the Devil to tempt you.
God's powers over the years appeared to have diminished from the glorious days of creation and floods, through to plagues, parting seas, walking on water, resurrections and finally to the occasional appearance on toast. In fact, so little miraculous has happened since the time of the apostles that the doctrine of cessationism arose (i.e. the belief that spiritual gifts died with the apostles).
However, in recent times, with Pentecostalism, there has been a resurgence of spiritual gifts and healing crusades. It's odd however that these gifted faith healers don't do the hospital circuit instead of lining their pockets with the funds of the gullible masses.
And what's with God's apparent inability to heal amputees?!
"Black and White"
The world of the Fundamentalist is black and white. God's Truth exists and has been divinely communicated via the Scriptures; so through correct interpretation the faithful student may arrive at the correct perception of said Truth. And there is great comfort in this: the certainty of knowing that you are doing God's good and perfect Will. You are right. They are wrong. End of.
Which is why INTP's such as myself cannot be saved. We hold our truths too lightly and thoughtfully, in case we are mistaken. We struggle with bigoted belligerence. Bertrand Russell puts it so very well:
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."
"A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything"
I end with the straw that finally broke the back of my dying faith, ending 27 years of fruitless searching for God: my wife's sudden affliction with Bipolar II and psychosis. She literally went mad, and her usually quite sensible, calm faith in a distant God suddenly became cluttered with feverish visions, dreams and even the appearances of angels and demons.
I came to realise what Nietzsche already knew - that our personal realities are fragile indeed, and that unless we cling to evidence and reason, anything can be claimed to be true.
A casual stroll through any charismatic Christian church shows that perhaps we've padded the wrong walls.