Religious Absurdities (2016)
Religious absurdities abound. They include individual beliefs or claims, sets of beliefs or claims, practices, combinations of such things, and so on. This paper will discuss several examples of these absurdities.
I. Jesus was Crucified, Died, and then… was Absurdified!
Let’s begin by discussing absurdities surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. This is not going to be a historical discussion—I am after philosophical or theological absurdities here. Whether Jesus was a real historical person and was really crucified is beside the point. What is important here is what seems to be internal to traditional Christianity (or at least a certain version of it): the belief or claim that Jesus was a real person and was not only crucified, but was an innocent person crucified for our benefit—namely, to pay for our wrongdoings so that we do not have to do so.
Let’s start by looking at the crucifixion, which is sickening and utterly horrific. It’s a person of flesh and blood being nailed to a wooden cross through his hands and feet until he dies, all the while being in excruciating pain. And yet according to traditional Christianity, this not only happened, but it happened to an innocent person. It was also supposed to happen—Christianity does not regard its inception as an accident! God intended it, or planned it, or somehow set things up so that it would occur. But all of this runs into a significant amount of absurdity. First, a morally perfect being intended, planned, or otherwise set things up so that an innocent person would be killed in a really horrific way. Now there is already a strong moral constraint against intending, planning, or otherwise setting things up for an innocent person to be killed. Such a thing is presumptively immoral, and there must be some really strong moral justification to override this. But the moral constraint against intending, planning, or otherwise setting things up for the crucifixion of an innocent person—that is surely as high as moral constraints come. It is right up there with the moral constraints against boiling babies alive, torturing puppies, and all of the other horrific things dreamed up by moral philosophers. It is as close as one can get to an absolute moral constraint against certain behavior. And perhaps even this concedes too much. Maybe intending, planning, or otherwise setting things up for the crucifixion of an innocent person is absolutely morally prohibited. If so, then the doxastic core of traditional Christianity is flatly incoherent because it maintains that a morally perfect being did something that’s absolutely immoral. But let’s suppose that there is only an extremely strong moral constraint against intending, planning, or otherwise setting things up for the crucifixion of an innocent person, rather than an absolute one. Even so, it is still patently absurd to have a morally perfect being do any such horrific thing unless he or she has an extremely strong, morally sufficient reason to do it. So did God have any such reason for intending, planning, or otherwise setting up the crucifixion of Jesus?
According to traditional Christianity (or at least the version of it that I am evaluating here), God indeed had a reason for doing this: he did it to pay for the crimes of the guilty so that they don’t have to pay for them themselves, or to excuse the guilty from having to pay for their own crimes. But this idea just makes things worse. For even if we set aside the problem of how sacrificing the innocent in such a horrific way can be a morally restorative action (such as the just punishment of wrongdoers, or the repayment to victims by their wrongdoers), it should be evident that sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty is morally problematic. Besides being a paradigmatic instance of injustice, sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty is something that is quite plausibly ruled out by an absolute moral constraint because (1) harming the innocent is immoral unless it is required for achieving a just cause of sufficient moral weight (such as saving many more innocent people from comparable harm), and yet (2) excusing the guilty from paying for their own crimes would be an unjust cause that would not require harming the innocent (simply having mercy on the guilty would work). But if there is indeed an absolute moral constraint against unjustly sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty, then the doxastic core of traditional Christianity is again flatly incoherent because it maintains that God, a morally perfect being, did something that’s absolutely immoral. However, for the sake of argument, let’s again suppose that there is no such absolute moral constraint, but only a very strong moral constraint against unjustly sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty. Even so, it is still absurd to believe that God would behave in this way since he has no morally sufficient reason to do so. One might be tempted to cite in response the enormous amount of eternal suffering in Hell that will be (or that is likely to be, or that might be) avoided by God’s horrific, unjust sacrifice of Jesus as a morally sufficient reason for him to do it, but such a response fails for at least two reasons. First, no sacrifice of the innocent is necessary to avoid any of this suffering. God can instead straightforwardly have mercy on the guilty rather than having mercy on them only after they have responded in a certain way to the horrific, unjust sacrifice of an innocent person. Second, this response presupposes that there is a place of eternal burning that God created and to which he might send the guilty for punishment, yet this, as we will see in the next section, is another absurdity in its own right.
To make matters even worse, Jesus is supposed to literally be God’s son, which means that God intended, planned, or otherwise set up the crucifixion of his own innocent son for the benefit of the guilty. This is staggering. It is already absurd for a halfway decent father to do any such thing to his own son, let alone the most loving, best possible father. And things get worse morally. For when someone becomes a parent by bringing offspring into the world, he or she stands in a special moral relationship with his or her offspring. More specifically, the person acquires special moral obligations to his or her offspring, which includes moral constraints against mistreating his or her offspring that are stronger than the constraints against mistreating most other people (which is why mistreating one’s children is worse than mistreating others in general). So, since God is supposed to be Jesus’ literal father, there is an even stronger moral constraint against God mistreating Jesus than there is against God mistreating others. And this just makes it even more absurd for God, a morally perfect being, to have treated Jesus in the way that Christianity maintains.
On the other hand, maybe all of this absurdity can be neutralized rather easily. For instance, I have just pressed criticisms that tacitly assume that Jesus was an unwilling innocent person. However, if Jesus was not an unwilling victim, but instead consented to being crucified in order to pay for the crimes of the guilty, then wouldn’t it follow that none of the moral constraints mentioned above would be violated by God intending, planning, or otherwise setting up the crucifixion of Jesus to pay for the crimes of the guilty? If so, then there would be no conflict between God’s treatment of Jesus and the strong moral constraints against such treatment, and thus no grounds for the absurdities I argued for above.
Now I do not know if there is an official position on whether or not Jesus consented to the crucifixion, but surely he either did or did not consent to it. Unfortunately, the Bible sends conflicting messages. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, Jesus famously cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” right before he dies on the cross (Mark 15:34). And if Jesus had consented to his crucifixion, then he would not be asking this question. Asking such a question only makes sense if Jesus did not consent. In the Gospel of Luke, however, Jesus not only asks God to forgive his aggressors because “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), but he instead says, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” right before he dies on the cross (Luke 23:46). In this Gospel, Jesus seems to know exactly what is going on and is not at all protesting or questioning it, which strongly suggests that Jesus did consent. But never mind all of this. Let’s just assume—contra the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of Mark—that Jesus did consent to his crucifixion. Does this then imply that God’s treatment of Jesus violates no moral constraint and therefore isn’t absurd after all?
No, it doesn’t. For even if Jesus’ consent were sufficient to disable the strong moral constraints against crucifying the innocent and crucifying one’s own innocent son, it would not disable the strong moral constraint against sacrificing the innocent specifically to pay for the crimes of the guilty because such consent does not make it any less morally inappropriate to sacrifice the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty. The guilty should pay a fair amount for their own crimes, even if an innocent person sincerely—and profoundly—wants to pay for them instead. Letting the innocent pay for the crimes of the guilty is a miscarriage of justice rather than an acceptable method of moral repair. It is therefore still absurd for Christianity to have God, a morally perfect being, sacrifice Jesus, an innocent person, to pay for the crimes of the guilty. And to make matters worse, it is absurd to have Jesus, who is also a morally perfect being, consent to participate in such an unacceptable method of moral repair. As morally perfect beings, God and Jesus would recognize the moral inappropriateness and downright horror of crucifying an innocent person to pay for the crimes of the guilty, and thus would flatly oppose it.
Overall, then, Jesus’ consent to the crucifixion will not neutralize the absurdity that Christianity faces here. However, there is another aspect of Christianity that must be considered. Many Christians believe that Jesus is God, or that they are one and the same person. I do not know why Jesus is still called “the son of God” if he actually is God. This would be like referring to my father as “the son of Mike,” which is misleading and weird. But never mind that. Some Christians believe that Jesus is God, which is significant here for the following reasons. The criticisms pressed above not only assume that Jesus was an unwilling victim, but that Jesus was a separate person from God. But if Jesus is identical to God, then God basically crucified himself to pay for the crimes of the guilty—he didn’t crucify another person for this purpose. And so—taking for granted that God can take human form and have himself crucified—God certainly did not violate any moral constraint against crucifying his own son. He also did not violate any moral constraint against crucifying an innocent person, since this constraint only applies to crucifying other people. It may be bizarre or insane to crucify oneself, but it is not necessarily immoral to do so. Therefore, Jesus being identical to God at least disables two of the moral constraints I relied upon above in generating the absurdity that Christianity faces here. The crucial remaining question, then, is whether it can disable the strong moral constraint against sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty. If it can, then Christianity does not face the charges of absurdity that I leveled against it above.
Jesus being identical to God, however, fares no better than Jesus’ consent: neither can disable the strong moral constraint against sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty. It would not matter in the slightest if God sacrificed himself instead of another person: sacrificing one’s own innocent self does not make sacrificing the innocent to pay for the crimes of the guilty any more morally appropriate, as it is still a miscarriage of justice rather than an acceptable method of moral repair to have an innocent person pay for the crimes of the guilty. Consequently, it is still absurd for Christianity to have God, a morally perfect being, sacrifice an innocent person—himself—to pay for the crimes of the guilty. And to make matters worse, how exactly can sacrificing the innocent via crucifixion help fill the role of morally restorative actions that the guilty should be performing? How does crucifying the innocent pay for the crimes of the guilty? How does it help to make things right? No sense can be made of this. It’s absurd.
Besides being unable to neutralize the absurdity charges above, the belief that God and Jesus are identical introduces even more absurdity. Let’s start by no longer taking for granted that God had himself crucified. What exactly are we supposed to believe happened here? Was God literally crucified? Did he feel the pain that a human being would feel? He either did or did not, and either way we run into absurdity.
If God did not feel such pain, then “the crucifixion” loses its bite—it was a mock crucifixion, or one without the horror that appearances suggest. More importantly, if God did not feel the pain that a human being would feel, then what exactly was sacrificed to pay for the crimes of the guilty? It certainly was not God’s life, for it is metaphysically impossible to annihilate a being that is eternal by definition. But if God did not sacrifice his life or his well-being, then what exactly was sacrificed? What was it that paid for the crimes of the guilty? The lack of an answer here is problematic. And if God did not die or feel the pain that a human being would feel, then he basically staged a mock crucifixion of himself. But how exactly does such a charade count as a morally restorative action? How does pretending to crucify a person to death pay for the crimes of the guilty, and thereby help restore the moral order? How does it help to make things right? No sense can be made of this, either.
But what if God did feel the pain that a human being would feel? At least then the crucifixion would be genuine. (It sounds a bit strange to put things like this—as if the crucifixion being genuine is a relief. It’s not.) Yet this does not accomplish much. Even putting aside any potential problems with God feeling the pain that a human being would feel (how could he feel pain without a body and a brain?), we must ask: what was it that paid for the crimes of the guilty? At least there is an answer this time: God’s temporary yet horrific suffering on the cross. But then we run into the same issue as before—namely, how God temporarily inflicting horrific suffering on himself can help fill the role of morally restorative actions that the guilty should be performing themselves.
So far I have argued that neither Jesus’ consent to the crucifixion, nor Jesus and God being identical, can save Christianity from absurdity. But there is, as far as I can tell, one more way that someone might try to neutralize the original absurdity charges pressed above. Those charges presuppose independent moral constraints and allege that God’s crucifixion of Jesus is absurd because it violates those constraints. But what if there were no independent moral constraints? What if, as many religious people believe, moral values, properties, obligations, constraints, and all other such things are actually dependent on God’s attitudes? What if the moral features of our world only exist as a result of God’s approval or disapproval of things, such that (1) God’s approval, and only his approval, makes things morally good/obligatory, and (2) his disapproval, and only his disapproval, makes things morally bad/impermissible? If this were the case, then there would be nothing morally objectionable about God’s crucifixion of Jesus unless God himself disapproves of it. But surely, a Christian might say, God does not disapprove of the crucifixion, and instead approves of it. Hence there is nothing morally objectionable about God crucifying Jesus, and therefore nothing absurd about him doing so.
However, this response fails because it neutralizes my charges of absurdity by introducing an absurd theistic metaethic. The problems attending this metaethic cannot be fully discussed here, but a sketch of them will suffice to demonstrate its absurdity. Unfortunately, such a sketch would still be philosophically dense and rather lengthy, so I have included it as an Appendix to this essay. Here I will simply lay it down as a fact that this theistic metaethic is too problematic to save Christianity from the absurdity charges pressed above. Therefore, since none of the other attempts at neutralizing these charges were successful, we must conclude that, until such a successful attempt can be demonstrated, the doxastic core of Christianity—the belief in God’s crucifixion of the innocent Jesus to pay for the crimes of the guilty—is absurd.
Before leaving the crucifixion behind, I want to briefly discuss one more strange Christian belief tied up with it. I do not think that this is an official aspect of Christianity (if there is any such thing), but it is a Christian belief that should not go unmentioned. This is the belief that the crucifixion is a sign of God’s love. If you want proof of God’s love, some Christians say, just look at the cross—that demonstrates God’s love. But if I were to see a father crucify his own son to pay for the crimes of the guilty, it would not be my gut reaction to think, “Whoa, that father is full of love!” Far from love, I would instead take such a horrific action as a sign of sheer mental derangement. And the same would hold true if that father were really just crucifying himself instead of his son. To put the point a little more strongly, it makes the least amount of sense to look at the crucifixion and see love, while it makes perfect sense to look at it and see mental derangement.
II. The Crazy Christian God
The Christian God thus appears to be mentally deranged for crucifying Jesus to pay for the crimes of the guilty. But this is just the beginning of the Christian God’s craziness.
Let’s begin with the fact that, like the God of general theism, the Christian God is held to be eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, fully rational, and morally perfect (among other things). Christianity then portrays God in ways that conflict with these fundamental divine attributes. First and foremost is Christianity’s creation of Hell: it maintains that God created Hell to eternally punish wrongdoers via eternal burning. But besides the absurdity of having a supremely loving father create such a horrific place to punish his beloved children, this aspect of Christianity conflicts with God’s moral perfection. For the wrong that people do overall, even if it is a very hefty amount, surely does not amount to so much that it warrants eternal burning—no one has done so much wrong that they deserve this maximal punishment. And this means that the punishment of Hell is patently unjust. It is therefore absurd to have God—a morally perfect being—create this terrible place specifically for meting out unjust punishment.
The only response to this that I know of is the following: that (1) our wrongdoings are offenses against God, (2) offenses against God are offenses against an infinite being, (3) offenses against an infinite being warrant infinite punishment, and thus (4) our wrongdoings warrant infinite punishment. So, the argument goes, God creating Hell does not conflict with his being morally perfect.
However, this response runs into some serious problems. First, it is at best true that (1′) only some of our wrongdoings are offenses against God. Many of our wrongdoings are not offenses against God—they are instead offenses against other humans and nonhuman animals. More importantly, though, it is difficult to think of an example of what would actually be an offense against God. We clearly cannot wrong God in many of the ways that we wrong other people. I suppose that we could offend him, but offending someone does not necessarily wrong that person. Sometimes people are offended by free speech, but this does not imply that they have been wronged by it. Some might think that atheists wrong God by not believing in him, but that is ridiculous. If you were a famous author, for example, but a woman believed that you did not really exist, you would not be wronged by her. She would hold a false belief, and perhaps even be guilty of being an irresponsible epistemic agent, but she would not be guilty of wronging you. She would not violate your right against others that they believe in your existence, as you have no such right against others. Nor would she harm you, treat you only as a means to an end, or otherwise degrade or disrespect you by believing that you do not exist.
Others might claim that nonbelievers wrong God by not worshipping him. But that, too, is ridiculous, as no one has any right against others that they worship him or her. Even if a morally perfect being existed, that being would not have a claim to our worship. We would probably owe things to such a being, but worship would not be one of the things owed. At best, worshipping a being—even a morally perfect one—is morally permissible. It is not obligatory.
Still others might suggest that we wrong God whenever we transgress any of his commands, but this is false. Just as we do nothing wrong by flouting the commands of other human beings when they have no independent moral authority, so too we do nothing wrong by flouting God’s commands when they have no independent moral authority (e.g., the command not to work on Sundays). And if we do nothing wrong in these cases, then we do not wrong God in them. Moreover, even if we were doing wrong when flouting God’s commands, it would not follow that we wrong God in doing so. For example, if I stole something from you without a sufficient moral reason for doing so, then I would have transgressed God’s command not to steal. But in that case I would have wronged you, and only you, because it is your property that I illicitly stole. I in no way wronged God just by transgressing his command not to steal, just like I would in no way have wronged another human being that had issued this command (provided, of course, that the person that I stole from is not the one that had issued the command). In either case, it is you, and only you, that I wrong by my theft.
Let’s imagine that we sometimes can and do wrong God, however, and thus that at least some of our wrongdoings are offenses against God. Even so, another and more serious problem with this response is that (3) is false: wrongdoings do not warrant infinite punishment just by being offenses against an infinite being. To warrant infinite punishment, an offense would have to be severe enough to render that punishment proportional to it, and yet an offense against an infinite being can be too weak to render an infinite amount of punishment proportional to it. For example, lying to an infinite being would be a rather minor offense, to which infinite punishment would obviously not be proportional. So it would not warrant any kind of infinite punishment. The infinity of the being might make some difference to the severity of the lie, but it would not render the lie a major offense, and it would certainly not render it an offense severe enough to warrant infinite punishment.
Moreover, if infinite punishment is automatically warranted for offenses against an infinite being, but not for offenses against a finite being, then offending infinite beings must be more severe than offending finite ones. And this seems to then imply that, generally speaking, the closer a being is to being infinite, the more severe an offense is against that being (as compared to it against a more finite being). But this is false: an offense is not necessarily more severe just because it is done to a being that is closer to being infinite. For example, even though Albert Einstein is much closer to being an infinite being than a 5-year-old child, you would not be doing something worse by unjustly and painfully slapping Einstein in the face in place of unjustly and equally painfully slapping the child. To the contrary, unjustly slapping Einstein would either be as bad as unjustly slapping the child, or else unjustly slapping the child would be even worse. Or consider another example. It is not worse to break a promise to a very intelligent and creative adult than it is to break one to a child because the adult is a more developed being than the child. The severity of breaking a promise will of course depend on many factors—e.g., your relationship to the other person, the gravity of your failure to keep the promise, and so on—but what does not matter is how developed the being is to whom you have broken a promise. The development of a being might indirectly matter in virtue of having an influence on the adverse effects of a broken promise, but it will not directly matter in the sense that the greater development of a being per se contributes to the severity of the broken promise.
Finally, suppose that, contrary to what I’ve just argued, some of our wrongdoings are offenses against God that do warrant infinite punishment because they are offenses against an infinite being. Even so, it still would not follow that eternal burning in Hell would be an appropriate form of infinite punishment. There is surely no harsher punishment than this, so the offenses against God that we allegedly commit must be the severest of wrongdoings. But since we cannot rape, torture, or murder God, or ruin his eternal life, I do not see how anything we could do to him could possibly warrant eternal burning in Hell.
In addition to creating and using Hell, the Christian God is regularly portrayed as an intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry despot. He wants us to fear him—the Bible (like the Koran) is chock full of injunctions to fear God—and he is more than ready to toss us into the fires of Hell, or severely punish us here on earth, for not abiding by his never-ending commands to do whatever he says. But this is obviously in conflict with God’s purported moral perfection. A morally perfect being would not want—let alone command—people to constantly fear it. Constant fear is a terrible thing that only a moral monster would want or command. Moreover, fearing a morally perfect being is ridiculous—morally perfect beings are precisely the kind of things that we should not fear. And while a morally perfect being would be disposed to appropriately punish people for wrongdoings, such a being would not possess the wrath of tyrants, who are ready to harshly punish anything that goes against what they say or want. Overall, morally perfect beings are the opposite of intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry despots.
The portrayal of God as an intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry despot is also inconsistent with him being the supremely loving father. Loving parents do not want or command their children to constantly fear them; only horribly abusive parents do. It is also ridiculous to fear a supremely loving father—such a being, like a morally perfect one, is precisely the kind of being that we should not fear. (Just think of the flesh and blood humans in your life that love you the most. You do not fear them, and rightfully so: it makes no sense to fear them because they truly love you.) And while a loving father would be disposed to appropriately punish his children for certain wrongdoings, the punishment would not be anywhere near as severe as the kinds of punishment that God is alleged to carry out and threaten. Furthermore, supremely loving fathers do not possess the wrath of tyrants ready to harshly punish anything that goes against what they say or want. Like morally perfect beings, supremely loving fathers are the opposite of intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry despots.
The portrayal of God as an intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry despot also conflicts with God being worthy of praise and worship. This is not to say that it would not be in one’s rational self-interest to praise and worship such a despotic being; it certainly would be in order to reduce the likelihood of being tyrannically abused. An intimidating, wrathful, control-hungry, despotic God simply does not merit praise and worship. Many religious people and institutions claim otherwise when they portray God in this unflattering fashion, yet insist on his being praiseworthy and worthy of worship; but this is just absurd.
When combined with the claim that God created humans, the despotic image of God produces another absurdity. Consider the nature of humans. One of the things that we value most is freedom and autonomy—we deeply desire these things, enough to fight for them. So why would a supremely intelligent, control-hungry despot create us? It would make no sense for him to do so: he would be smart enough to create beings that are likely to do as he commands rather than beings that are likely to defy his commands because of their deep desire to be free and autonomous.
Believers portray the Christian God in even more problematic ways. I have heard Christians claim that we were created to glorify God. But such self-serving, supremely vain behavior is not the kind of behavior that we would expect from a morally perfect being. Sure, God is great and wonderful—he is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, fully rational, morally perfect, and cannot be anything else. But even though he can and should feel good about himself, or do nice things for himself, creating beings in one’s own image for the sole purpose of glorifying oneself (whatever that means) goes too far. Such gratuitous vanity is inconsistent with being morally perfect. A truly virtuous person would do no such thing.
Besides creating us to generally glorify him, God is portrayed as wanting constant praise and flattery. Now this is either vanity or insecurity, and either way it is problematic. If it is vanity, then it is inconsistent with God’s moral perfection. As for the alternative, insecurity is precisely the opposite of the attitude that God would have towards himself. An all-knowing being would know, with absolute certainty, how great and wonderful he is, and so he would not be insecure about himself. He would certainly not need to seek constant reassurance from humans, who fall far short of his supreme excellence.
One final absurdity worth discussing relates to the Christian God’s alleged desire to build loving relationships with humans. This desire is not crazy, nor is it in conflict with God’s attributes; but it does not cohere well with other things that God allegedly does or fails to do. First, God allegedly permits or creates a ton of severe evil—rape, torture, murder, genocide, child and spousal abuse, disease and extreme poverty, and natural disasters (just to name a few)—and this makes it much more difficult to further his aim of building loving relationships with us. For one thing, people will not love a being that they think does not exist, and yet the plethora of severe evil in the world is probably responsible for a significant amount of the nonbelief in God’s existence. So by permitting or creating the plethora of severe evil in the world, God is basically frustrating his goal of building loving relationships with us by significantly undermining one of the most fundamental conditions that must be in place for the realization of these relationships.
Furthermore, even if permitting or creating the plethora of severe evil in the world would not frustrate God’s aim of building loving relationships with us by undermining the belief in his existence, it would still frustrate his aim directly. For even when God is believed in, it will not be possible for some people to love a being that permits or creates a plethora of severe evil. This will be especially true of those who are the direct victims of these evils, or are directly connected to the victims of such evils. Just think about their situation. They or someone they care about are the victims of severe evil that God either permitted or created, and they are not given any explanation as to why this has happened, or any reassurance that there is a good explanation. Also, God does not comfort them as human parents would comfort their children in similar circumstances. The only comfort that people could get “from God” would be from their unwavering faith in his presence and maybe some great plan—they would not receive anything remotely like the intimate attention that they would get from a loving human parent. Generally speaking, then, this kind of behavior on God’s part does not make him very lovable, and this makes loving relationships with him difficult to actualize.
Besides permitting and creating a plethora of severe evil, God has also chosen to remain hidden and silent from people in general. Some people have had religious experiences that they take to be direct experiences of God’s presence, or generally feel God’s presence in their lives. Others have literally heard what they take to be God talking to them. And by now most people have been given massive (and various) tomes of Scripture to find out what God is like. But most people do not (a) feel or experience God’s presence or (b) hear a peep directly from God. He is completely hidden and silent. So his general policy is to hide from and not talk to people, and instead have them read about him in books that portray him in unflattering ways (e.g., as jealous, vain, intimidating, wrathful, cruel, unjust, and morally schizophrenic overall). That this is an utterly unpromising, and indeed counterproductive, way of going about forming loving relationships with people should be abundantly clear.
Overall, then, it would be absurd for God to have an interest in forming loving relationships with us while simultaneously adopting such severely counterproductive policies. God is supposed to be supremely intelligent and rational, not a blundering idiot who acts in ways that are very likely to frustrate his goals.
III. Thou Shalt Love and Fear Me!
As previously noted, the Bible (like the Koran) is full of injunctions to fear God. But we are also commanded to love him. So the Christian God (or at least the Christian tradition) commands us to both fear and love God. This generates multiple absurdities.
Consider first just the command to love God. Why would a being as wonderful as God need to command others to love him? Earthly loving fathers do not need to command their children to love them, so why would a supremely loving father—one far better than any here on earth—need to do so? It really makes no sense. God’s wonderful nature would be more than enough to get people to love him, so he would not need to command them to do so. In fact, if you think about it, God’s commanding us to love him actually flirts with self-defeat. Generally speaking, commanding others to love you would not be likely to get them to do so, but would instead be likely to turn them away. Just imagine a person sincerely commanding you to love him or her. Not asking you to, or begging you to, but commanding you to. This makes the person repulsive and maybe scary—certainly not lovable. Commanding others to love you, then, is likely to defeat the very purpose that the command is meant to achieve, and so it would be absurd for a supremely intelligent God to issue such a command.
Now let’s look at the two commands together. The purpose of these commands is to get us to both love and fear God, yet these purposes are in severe tension with each other. People that we fear are not lovable, and so it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to sincerely love those who we fear. And people that we love are generally not frightening, so it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to fear people that we love. In other words, when we genuinely fear people, we are very unlikely to love them; and when we genuinely love people, we are very unlikely to fear them. And this means that a command to love God, if effective, would be likely to undermine a command to fear God, and vice versa. The two commands are thus generally in conflict with each other, so it is absurd for the Christian God (or Christian tradition) to issue them simultaneously.
IV. Trust and Do Not Question!
All religious people believe that you can trust the messages of their sacred texts, traditions, sermons, and so on. In fact, nothing else in the world is alleged to be worthier of trust—there is nothing that you ought to trust more—than the messages of the correct religion (which they all claim to be, of course). Yet despite their supposed maximal trustworthiness, we are constantly told not to question them. Sometimes such questioning is deemed a sin, so much so that some Christians threaten eternal hellfire as punishment for it. Now it is already absurd to claim that doubt is wrongful behavior. Someone may doubt things without having good grounds for doing so—for example, simply because it threatens one’s cherished beliefs. Or someone may have good reasons to doubt things even though they happen to be true. But in neither case is the doubter morally wrong for doubting. The doubter may be an irresponsible epistemic agent, or doubt inappropriately (epistemically speaking), or be making an honest mistake—but he or she is not guilty of morally wrongful behavior deserving of punishment. And even if doubt were sometimes morally wrong, it surely would not warrant punishment that is anywhere near as severe as the eternal fires of Hell. (Such a punishment would obviously not be proportional to the offense.) So claiming that eternal misery in Hell constitutes proper punishment for doubting religious messages—along with making such doubt wrongful in the first place—is absurd.
But to my original point, it is absurd for religious people, texts, or organizations to maintain the supreme trustworthiness of their religious messages while simultaneously ordering us not to question those messages. Think about a person who orders you not to question his story. Does this increase his trustworthiness? Of course it doesn’t. It instead makes him look rather suspicious, and therefore less trustworthy. And things would be even worse if instead of merely ordering others not to question him, he threatened punishment in return for disobeying such orders. Overall, the order not to question what one says just by itself—and even more so when combined with threats of punishment for disobedience—suggests that what one is saying would not stand up to critical scrutiny or is simply not credible in its own right. And this obviously reduces the trustworthiness of one’s message. So by resorting to (1) prohibitions on questioning religious messages or (2) threats of punishment for such questioning, religious people, texts, and organizations undermine their claims to the supreme trustworthiness of their religious messages. And that is why it is absurd to maintain the supreme trustworthiness of one’s religious messages while simultaneously ordering people not to question them.
V. God’s Absurd Army
Forget about fighting in Uncle Sam’s army. That might be a noble thing to do, but some people claim to serve in the highest army of all—”God’s army.” Some even go so far as to believe that God chose them to serve in this army. Yet, if taken literally, the idea of serving in such an army is absurd. After all, why would God need an army to begin with? Since God is both all-knowing and all-powerful, he can handle his enemies on his own with the blink of an eye. He doesn’t need anyone else, let alone an entire army, to fight for him. Furthermore, even if God did need an army, why would he fill it with weak and puny humans? That would be like the United States sending an elementary school basketball team to the Olympics to play for them.
“But you are misinterpreting things!” someone might protest. “You should not interpret things literally here—people are just expressing the depth of their commitment to do God’s work when they say that they are fighting for God’s army. And there is nothing absurd about people doing God’s work.” This is a fair point that I imagine has a grain of truth. However, I seriously doubt that it applies to all people who claim to fight in God’s army. Surely some people really do believe, quite literally, that they fight in God’s army. And surely some believe that God literally chose them to fight in his army. So my criticism here is not entirely toothless. Moreover, doing God’s work might well be absurd itself: God is both all-knowing and all-powerful, so he could do his own work rather easily. He could, for example, just set up the world from the very beginning to unfold in a certain way, which some people believe he has in fact done (more on this later). It is therefore quite strange for large numbers of people to claim to do God’s work (and especially to dedicate their entire lives to it).
VI. The Absurd Practice of Prayer
Multiple absurdities surround the practice of praying to God. One is the absurdity of praying to a being that is not there, which is an obvious absurdity if atheism is true. But even if atheism were false, there are other absurdities with prayer that do not depend on the truth of atheism.
Let’s start with the basics. People pray to ask God to do things that they cannot do on their own. I do not know every kind of thing that people ask for when they pray to God, but it is safe to say that most people probably ask him for some kind of good fortune, either for themselves or for those they care about. And yet it is absurd to ask God to treat people benevolently. Since God is all-knowing, he does not need to be told what will promote the well-being of others—he already knows this. And since God is all-loving and morally perfect, he does not need to be asked to treat people benevolently—he will do so on his own. Consequently, the majority of prayer is absurd because it is completely unnecessary.
Now one might object that God may sometimes have good reasons not to grant people good fortune, and since we do not know when he may have these reasons, it is quite reasonable to pray as much as we can because this will maximize our odds of influencing God in these unfortunate cases. So it is not at all absurd to pray for good fortune. But even though God may indeed have good reasons to not grant people good fortune, God’s all-loving and morally perfect nature entails that God will generally promote the good fortune of others. So it follows that, generally speaking, prayer is still unnecessary. And in cases where God has good reasons not to grant people good fortune, he will be moved by those reasons to act, not by requests that conflict with them. In sum, then, God will generally grant people good fortune because of his maximally good nature, but will sometimes refuse them good fortune because he has good reasons to refuse it. Accordingly, praying for good fortune is either unnecessary or futile, and so the majority of prayer is still absurd.
One possible retort is that it is reasonable to pray because prayer is undeniably psychologically beneficial to many, if not all, people who practice it. If prayer calms, relaxes, comforts, gives hope, and confers other psychological benefits despite its cosmic futility or gratuitousness, then surely it is reasonable to engage in it. So even if the majority of prayer is either unnecessary or futile, I am wrong to infer that it is absurd.
But this response fails because an activity is not rendered reasonable just because it is psychologically beneficial. While the psychological benefits conferred by prayer do constitute good reasons to pray, prayer is reasonable only if accruing these benefits are the reasons why people pray. If they pray for other reasons (e.g., to get God to do things for them) and the psychological benefits are just fortunate byproducts, then the futility and gratuitousness of prayer still renders it absurd. And surely very few people pray in order to accrue the psychological benefits of doing so. Instead, people probably tend to pray in order to get God to do things for them and accrue the psychological benefits as mere byproducts. So the majority of prayer is still absurd.
Another absurdity surrounding prayer is the absurd belief that prayers for the satisfaction of basic needs sometimes work. For consider what this belief entails. First, people ask God to satisfy their own or someone else’s basic needs. Second, God is moved by the request and thereby grants it. Third, God is doing something for people that he would not have done on his own, otherwise prayer wouldn’t move God to do anything (since God was going to do it anyway). But all of this, when combined with God’s all-knowing nature, implies that God already knew what the praying people needed, but made them ask for it before he would give it to them. Is it not a cruel, gratuitous display of power to treat people this way? Wouldn’t only a first-class jerk refuse to grant others what he or she knows they need until they specifically ask for it? Surely a supremely kind, all-loving, morally perfect God would not treat people in this way, and thus it is absurd for people to believe something that implies that he would.
Finally, it is absurd for people to pray to God in order to positively affect the future while simultaneously believing that God has predetermined everything. For if God has predetermined everything, then the future has already been strictly fixed by God to unfold in a specific way. Consequently, prayer cannot affect the future at all, which means that prayer is completely futile. And that makes it absurd for people who believe in divine predetermination to pray in order to positively affect the future. A similar conclusion will follow if we think about this from the other direction. If prayer is not completely futile, then it can affect the future. But if prayer can affect the future—if it can make the future go one way instead of another—then God could not have completely determined the future. More specifically, if prayer has the power to make the future go one way instead of another, then the future must be at least somewhat open in the sense that it can go more than one way. And if the future is open, then God has not predetermined it, as this would make the future closed in the sense that it can only go one way—the way that God predetermined it to go. Therefore, it is absurd for people who pray to God in order to positively affect the future to believe that he has predetermined everything.
Now some might be tempted to point out that praying to positively affect the future, like everything else, is simply a part of God’s predetermination. But this does not dissolve the absurdity of praying to God in order to positively affect the future while simultaneously believing that God predetermined everything. On the contrary, it actually reveals more absurdity. Consider first that people pray a lot in order to positively affect the future, and that they not only believe that such prayer can work, but they hope that it will work. Yet combining these facts with the supposition that God predetermined everything entails two additional absurdities. First, it entails that God predetermined people to pray to him in order to positively affect the future even though such prayer is completely futile—and therefore absurd—due to predetermination. And second, it entails that God predetermined people to have a false belief and false hope in the efficacy of their prayer. The first entailment has God making countless people do completely futile (and thus absurd) things as part of his grand plan for the world, while the second one has him deceiving countless numbers of people and engendering false hope in them as part of his plan. Both are obviously problematic: it makes no sense for God to have countless people do absurd things, and it is morally objectionable for God to deceive and engender false hope on a massive scale. The latter is particularly problematic in that it has a morally perfect being doing morally objectionable things to countless numbers of people.
But suppose that someone responds as follows. God predetermines that people pray to him in order to positively affect the future, but he predetermines this so that they will accrue the psychological benefits from such prayer. And even though it might be absurd for these people to pray to God in order to positively affect the future, it makes perfect sense for God to predetermine them to do this so that they accrue the psychological benefits. The first entailment, then, is not problematic. Moreover, people would not accrue these benefits if they did not falsely believe that prayer could positively affect the future. So God’s deceit is necessary for people to accrue the psychological benefits from prayer, and this morally justifies the deception. And the false hope engendered by this is an unfortunate yet unavoidable byproduct that is also justified by the psychological benefits of prayer. So the second entailment is not problematic, either.
But this response fails if God could procure for people the same psychological benefits derived from praying to him in order to positively affect the future by other, unproblematic means. If God could procure these benefits for people without making people do anything absurd, then it would make no sense for God to make people act absurdly in order to get such benefits. And if God could procure them without intentionally deceiving and engendering false hope in people, then it would be morally objectionable for God to go ahead and procure such benefits via these problematic means. But surely an all-powerful and all-knowing God could succeed on all of these accounts. Surely he could find some other, unproblematic way of procuring the psychological benefits that people get from praying to God in order to positively affect the future. Perhaps he could just say, “Let there be psychological benefits,” and then people would have them. Or maybe he could just have people sing happy songs, read warm and fuzzy stories, or think about God’s greatness. The possibilities here seem endless.
Moreover, this response dubiously assumes that the psychological benefits people accrue from praying to God in order to positively affect the future are of sufficient weight to morally justify God’s intentional deceit and promotion of false hope. Although such psychological benefits are good, they do not seem to be good enough to morally justify intentional deception and the engendering of false hope. For example, if a doctor intentionally deceived and engendered false hope in a patient with terminal cancer by telling her that she had a disease with a very good prognosis, the doctor would be sparing the patient from things like being distraught, grief-stricken, depressed, and acutely afraid of impending death. These are very strong psychological benefits, but it is not clear that they are weighty enough to morally justify the intentional deception and (especially) the engendering of false hope. And if it is questionable that these very strong psychological benefits are strong enough to morally justify intentional deception and the engendering of false hope, then it is even more questionable that the much weaker psychological benefits of praying to God in order to positively affect the future are strong enough to morally justify God intentionally deceiving people and engendering false hope in them.
In the end, then, the response in question fails to resolve the problems attending the two entailments above, and thus fails to neutralize the absurdity.
VII. More Absurdities Involving Divine Predetermination
The above absurdities involving prayer and the belief in divine predetermination are just the tip of the iceberg. This final section will point out several other absurdities involving divine predetermination.
Let’s begin with the inconsistency between divine predetermination and a metaphysically robust free will. If human beings had this kind of free will, then we would be able to determine, on many occasions, how the future unfolds—in which case God would not have predetermined it for us. More specifically, if we had such free will, then at times we would face an open future, such that there would be many different possible ways that the future could go, and it would be up to our wills which one gets actualized. But then God could not have predetermined the future for us, as his predetermination would mean that (1) we would always face a closed future such that there would be only one possible way that the future could go (namely, the way that God has predetermined it to go), and (2) it would not be up to our wills how the future would go.
Now this inconsistency is important in at least two related ways. First, many religious people believe that we have free will in this metaphysically robust way. But this belief makes it absurd for them to also believe in divine predetermination, as these two beliefs are inconsistent. So one absurdity is to believe in divine predetermination while simultaneously believing that we have free will in a metaphysically robust sense. Second, many religious people believe that people commit “sins” (or wrongful acts), and that they commit them freely in a robust metaphysical sense: it was their own wills that determined that they would commit the sins even though their wills could have determined otherwise. This obviously could not happen if God predetermined everything to happen in a certain way, and so another absurdity is to believe in divine predetermination while simultaneously believing that people commit “sins.”
Things get worse for people who believe in divine predetermination while simultaneously believing that God regularly sends people to Hell—a place that he created in order to eternally burn people as punishment for their “sins.” Once again, people cannot really “sin” if God has predetermined everything. Instead, everything that anyone ever does is strictly fixed by God to happen, which means that people do not have a choice about what to do. They must do what God has predetermined them to do. But it would then be the height of injustice to punish people for their behavior via eternal burning in Hell. For there is nothing more unjust than to dish out the harshest possible punishment to people for things that they are forced to do by someone else—and yet this is precisely what God would be doing if he were to send people to Hell despite predetermining everything. But since God is a morally perfect being, he would certainly not perpetrate this maximal injustice (nor would he create a place whose sole purpose is to do so). So it is absurd to believe anything that would imply otherwise.
Things get even worse for people who believe in divine predetermination while simultaneously believing that a supremely evil Satan exists. For if Satan exists and a supremely good God predetermined everything, then it follows that God has predetermined everything about Satan—his evil character, his evil desires, and his evil actions. Like everything else, the way that Satan is, and everything he does, is all God’s doing. Like everyone else, Satan is a puppet of God. But if the master is supremely good, then how can the puppet be supremely evil? In fact, how can the puppet be truly evil at all? Like any other puppet, it makes no sense to think of Satan as truly good or evil—only the puppet’s master can be judged as such. And it makes no sense for the puppet to be supremely evil while its master is supremely good. If the puppet could sensibly be good or evil, then it would surely need to inherit this characterization from the one pulling its strings. Overall, then, a supremely good God who predetermines everything cannot coexist with a Satan that is supremely evil (or even truly evil at all), and so it is absurd to believe otherwise.
There is a related absurdity worth mentioning here. Some religious people believe not only in the existence of a supremely evil Satan, but that all religions other than their own are Satanic lies. And even if we disregard the problems that these beliefs have in their own right, such beliefs are inconsistent with a belief in divine predetermination. For if God did predetermine everything, then again it follows that God predetermined everything about Satan, including the supposed lies that he has told. So these lies would be God’s lies instead of Satan’s lies. Like everything else, the religious lies allegedly being told ultimately stem from God’s will, and thus it would be absurd to believe that they are Satan’s lies instead of God’s lies.
In addition to believing in a supremely evil Satan, many religious people believe that Judas betrayed Jesus and that the Jews killed Jesus. And these people tend to become angry with or even hate these figures as a result of their belief: they get angry with or hate Satan for being supremely evil, they get angry with or hate Judas for betraying Jesus, and they get angry with or hate the Jews for killing Jesus. But if these people also believe in divine predetermination, then directing their anger or hate towards Satan, Judas, or the Jews is absurd. For if God predetermined everything, then again Satan is a mere puppet of God, and it would be ridiculous to get angry with or hate a puppet. (It would be even more ridiculous to have either attitude towards a puppet while having an opposite attitude towards its master.) Similarly, if God predetermined everything, then Judas and the Jews were just doing what they had to do—what they had no choice but to do—in virtue of God’s will. Like Satan, they are basically God’s puppets as well, and so it is also ridiculous to get angry with or hate them. (And it’s even more ridiculous to have either attitude towards them while holding an opposite attitude towards God, the one who is truly responsible for what they did.)
There are several other troublesome implications of a belief in divine predetermination. For example, many religious people conceive of the world in terms of a struggle between good and evil. But if God has predetermined everything to happen in a particular way, then there is not really any such struggle. Instead, the world unfolds in exactly the way that God intended. The situation is analogous to a child playing with G.I. Joes having them fight each other. Just as the child determines every movement of the G.I. Joes, God determines every movement of every other being. And just as the G.I. Joes cannot be engaged in a genuine struggle against one another because the child’s will determines their every movement, beings other than God cannot be engaged in a genuine struggle against one another or against God if God’s will determines their every movement. The upshot, then, is that it is absurd to simultaneously believe in divine predetermination and in any genuine struggle between good and evil because divine predetermination rules out the possibility of any such struggle.
Additionally, many religious people believe that God not only wants us to abide by his wishes, but that he has issued commands for us to follow. But if God has predetermined everything, then neither of these beliefs makes any sense. Let’s look at the former belief first. If God genuinely wanted us to abide by his wishes, it would have to be due to us having wills of our own. For God’s desire to make any sense, we would need to have wills that operate independently of his and thus could go against his wishes. To see why, consider first the following example. I can sensibly want my spouse to abide by my wishes, but only because she has a will of her own—one that operates independently of my will and thus can go against my wishes. However, I cannot sensibly want G.I. Joes to abide by my wishes precisely because they have no wills of their own—they operate only according to my will and thus cannot go against my wishes. But since people are like G.I. Joes if God predetermined everything—absent wills operating independently of God, they cannot go against his wishes—it follows that God cannot sensibly want us to abide by his wishes. So it is absurd to believe that God wants something that his predetermining everything makes impossible.
Next consider the belief that God issues commands to us. Just as it would make no sense for me to issue commands to G.I. Joes because they have no wills of their own that could go against my wishes, it would make no sense for God to issue commands to us if he has predetermined everything because this would imply that we have no wills of our own that could go against God’s wishes. It is therefore absurd to believe that God issues commands to people despite predetermining everything.
The same is true of the belief that people rebel against or become enemies of God. And it should be clear why: if God predetermined everything, then everything that happens is precisely how God determined it to happen—nothing at all can genuinely go against God. Anything that people say “goes against God” actually stems from God’s will, and thus cannot be said to genuinely go against God. It is therefore absurd to simultaneously believe in divine predetermination and that people go against God. And like Satan, all beings that are said to be “enemies of God” are really God’s puppets if God has predetermined everything. So there can be no real enemies of God under divine predetermination, which makes it absurd to simultaneously believe in both.
Then there are the religious beliefs that God forgives people for their wrongdoings and that God does things to test us, which both share the same fate. Once again, we cannot “sin” if God has predetermined everything. All of our behavior, like everything else, is determined by God’s will. But this means that God cannot really forgive us for anything. The situation is analogous to me “forgiving” G.I. Joes for their “sins.” I could have them “commit wrongdoings” towards me or each other, and then say “I forgive you” afterwards, but I would not be genuinely forgiving them. In order for me to genuinely forgive them, they would need to have a will independent of mine that is capable of wronging people, which the G.I. Joes obviously do not have. And since people are like G.I. Joes if God has predetermined everything, then God cannot genuinely forgive them for anything. Thus it is absurd to believe that God has predetermined everything and yet forgives people for their “sins.” Likewise, under predetermination God cannot genuinely test us any more than I can “test” my G.I. Joes. I could of course pretend to test them, but I could not genuinely do so because they lack their own wills. Genuinely testing others is done to find out how they will react to the test, which requires them to be capable of genuine reaction. But if the others do not have their own independent wills, then they cannot genuinely react to anything, and so they cannot be genuinely tested. Since divine predetermination essentially makes us all like G.I. Joes, we cannot be genuinely tested if it is true, and so it is absurd to believe that God has predetermined everything and yet genuinely tests people.
Consider next the belief in God choosing people to do things for him. Surely everyone that holds some version of this belief believes that God has chosen some people for religious missions while many other people have not been so chosen. However, if divine predetermination is true, then people cannot be divided up into the chosen and unchosen, for everyone is doing precisely what God has predetermined them to do, and thus everyone is “chosen.” Even someone like me would be fulfilling a purpose specifically chosen by God if divine predetermination were true. (Even me writing this paper would be fulfilling such a purpose!) It is therefore absurd to believe in divine predetermination while simultaneously believing that only some people are chosen by God to do things.
Many religious people also believe that God sometimes protects people from bad things. However, there can be no genuine divine protection if divine predetermination is true. I could pretend to protect one G.I. Joe from the aggression of another, but since I am the one controlling the aggression, I cannot be said to be offering genuine protection. True protection would have to be offered against forces that are operating independently of me. And the same is true of God if divine predetermination is true. Since God predetermines everything, he controls any danger directed towards people; there is no danger coming from any force operating independently of him. Therefore, he cannot genuinely protect anyone from any kind of danger. If anyone ever escapes danger or remains untouched by it, then that is because God has predetermined things to happen that way. He did not protect anyone by thwarting hostile forces operating independently of him. Consequently, it is absurd to simultaneously believe in divine predetermination and divine protection.
Finally, some religious people and traditions regularly portray God as angry, frustrated, and jealous. He is said to be angry and frustrated because we are not doing what he wants, are violating his commands, are thwarting his plans, and so on. And he is said to be jealous because we are paying attention to others instead of giving him attention. But if God has predetermined everything, then this is all just plain ridiculous. If God has predetermined everything and yet is angry and frustrated, then he is angry and frustrated at things that he himself has intentionally brought about. This would be like me getting angry at or frustrated by the behavior of the G.I. Joes that I control completely, which is obviously ridiculous. And if God has predetermined everything and yet experiences jealousy, then he is essentially making himself feel jealous, which is just as ridiculous as me making my G.I. Joes pay attention to someone else and then getting jealous over it. I may of course pretend to be jealous, but it is absurd to think that I could be genuinely jealous of “attention” paid to others that I control. Overall, then, it is absurd to portray God as experiencing these reactions even though he has predetermined everything.
 This is not to say that the crucifixion of Jesus automatically excuses us from having to pay for our own wrongdoings according to traditional Christianity. As I understand it, that Jesus was crucified “to pay for our wrongdoings so that we do not have to do so” means that the point of crucifying him was to have him vicariously pay a penalty for our wrongdoings and thereby potentially free us from having to pay the penalty of eternal punishment in Hell for them. The sacrificial crucifixion of Jesus makes such salvation possible, but other conditions, such as reacting to Jesus in appropriate ways, must be in place before we can actually receive it.
 One might object to the idea that God intended, planned, or otherwise set things up so that the crucifixion would occur; perhaps God merely foresaw and/or allowed it. But this objection is problematic in at least two ways. First, it would make the inception of Christianity an accident—something that just happened rather than something that God intended. Yet this seems like an unacceptable result for Christianity. Moreover, this objection at best merely forces me to reword my arguments here, as I could replace God intending, planning, or otherwise setting up the crucifixion with him only foreseeing and allowing it, and then run structurally identical arguments.
 The first of these passages from Luke, where Jesus famously says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” is a rather curious one. Why would Jesus ask God to forgive his aggressors if Jesus knows that his crucifixion is God’s will? If Jesus’ aggressors are doing exactly what they are supposed to do, and Jesus knows this, then it makes no sense for Jesus to ask God to forgive his aggressors for what they are doing. Moreover, if the inception of Christianity was something that God willed, then Jesus’ aggressors had no choice in crucifying him. So Jesus asking God to forgive his aggressors is an inappropriate request because forgiving these aggressors would only be appropriate if they had wronged him of their own accord, rather than being forced to do so by God’s will.
 Actually, we must take for granted more than God simply taking human form and having himself crucified. We must also take for granted that God modified himself so that he could fit inside a woman’s womb for nine months or so, and that he ruled the universe while inside.
 A Christian apologist might deny that some of our offenses are really offenses against other humans. Taking a cue from St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20), the apologist might claim that humans are God’s temples, and as such belong to God. To put it in modern terms, as temples of God we humans do not own ourselves—we do not have property rights over our own bodies and persons. Instead, God owns us, or has property rights over us. Accordingly, we do not ever really wrong other people, but instead wrong God by failing to respect his property rights over other people. Yet this line of reasoning is morally outrageous: even if God existed, he would not own us, or have property rights over us. If there is anything in the world that each of us owns, or that each of us has property rights over, it is our own body and person.
 Isn’t there something a bit peculiar about the possibility of wronging God so badly that we deserve eternal burning in Hell? How can we puny little humans wrong a supreme being such as God that badly? Humans are fragile, vulnerable creatures—but God is a mighty fortress!
 The Christian apologist might be tempted to respond as follows. God is definitely interested in forming loving relationships with us, but he is also fundamentally interested in people freely entering into these relationships with him, as these relationships would have no value if they were not chosen freely. However, freely entering into these relationships with God requires that it not be obvious or certain that he exists, which in turn requires the plethora of severe evil we find in the world. Far from frustrating his goal of forming loving relationships with people, then, God’s permitting or creating this plethora of severe evil is actually required by his goal.
However, this response is problematic in several respects. First, even if it were true at every step of the way, it would make God’s goal of forming loving relationships with people a rather ridiculous one. For while his goal would require that he permit or create a plethora of severe evil, this requirement would in turn extensively undermine another requirement of the goal—namely, the belief in God’s existence. This goal would thus require things that are in deep tension with each other, making it a rather ridiculous one to adopt. Moreover, and more importantly, this response is not true at every step of the way. For one thing, it is false that freely entering into loving relationships with others requires that it not be obvious or certain that they exist. The obvious existence of our significant others, children, pets, other family members, and closest friends clearly does not preclude our freely entering into loving relationships with them (assuming, of course, that we do this in the first place). Finally, even if it were true that freely entering into a loving relationship with God required that it not be obvious or certain that he exists, it is patently false that a plethora of severe evil is required to ensure that it is not obvious or certain that God exists, as other things can accomplish this. For example, God could keep silent and hidden from everyone, never speaking or making his presence felt, and never allowing anyone to have religious experiences of him. This would ensure that his existence is not obvious or certain. Then there are atheistic arguments that do not rely on the existence of severe evil—like arguments purporting to show that the concept of God is an incoherent one—that can also make it uncertain and not obvious that God exists.
 I think an analogy might be helpful here. Suppose that you believe that each time you drive your car for an hour, you cure a new person of cancer. Suppose further that driving your car for an hour has psychological benefits—it relaxes you, thereby reducing your stress, and has antidepressant properties. Now suppose that you drive your car for an hour in order to cure a person of cancer. That is, the reason that you drive your car for an hour is that it will cure a person of cancer. Since driving your car obviously has no such effect, what you are doing is absurd, and this is so even though you still reap the psychological benefits as unintended byproducts. But now suppose that you drive your car for an hour in order to reap the psychological benefits of doing so. This time the reason that you drive your car for an hour is that it will give you these benefits, and so it is pro tanto reasonable to drive for an hour in this case. These two different cases show that even though the psychological benefits that you gain from driving your car for an hour do constitute good reasons to do so, driving your car for an hour is reasonable only if you drive your car for an hour specifically because it will give you the psychological benefits. If you do not drive your car for these benefits, but just happen to accrue them while driving your car for an hour in order to cure a person of cancer, then what you are doing is still absurd given that driving your car for an hour has no such curative powers.
 There are many forms that this divine predetermination can take: God predestines everything, everything unfolds according to God’s plan, God has infallibly formed everything, and so on. When I talk about divine predetermination, I mean to refer to any of these beliefs/claims or to comparable ones.
 Like the ones just presented, most of the remaining absurdities in this section will consist of beliefs that are absurd to simultaneously hold. But it should be kept in the back of your mind that it is just as absurd for religious people, texts, or traditions to present or claim the contents of these beliefs as simultaneously true.
 Briefly, two of these problems are the following. First, none of those that believe that all other religions are Satanic lies could give us a reason to believe them over the adherents of the other religions that say the exact same thing about their religious rivals. Second, and more importantly, none of those that believe that all other religions are Satanic lies can give us a good reason to believe their position over the equally (if not more) plausible possibility that all religions are Satanic lies.
 The belief that God tests us is absurd in its own right (independently of the belief in divine predetermination). We genuinely test people in order to find out what they will do in response to something, which is not known in advance of testing. In other words, genuinely testing others is undertaken to gain knowledge. However, since God is all-knowing by definition, there is never any knowledge for God to gain, and thus no genuine testing of others.
Appendix: The Absurdity of the Theistic Metaethic
Let’s begin with a recap of the theistic metaethic itself. It claims that the moral status of a thing depends on God’s attitude of approval or disapproval such that:
- God’s approval, and only his approval, makes things morally good/obligatory.
- God’s disapproval, and only his disapproval, makes things morally bad/impermissible.
Now, if the moral statuses of things were dependent on God’s attitudes in this way, then God’s moral perfection would be no exception: God would be morally perfect because, and only because, he approves of himself. But this is a very unpalatable account of why God is morally perfect. On this account, God is not morally perfect because of his nature—or because of other, more fundamental properties that he has. He is not morally perfect because he is maximally just, kind, compassionate, honest, and so on. Nor is he morally perfect because he always acts in the right way and is always properly motivated to do so. Instead, his moral perfection is held hostage to his own self-evaluation, which is problematic for at least two reasons. First, it locates only one factor—God’s attitudes—that determines moral perfection, yet this factor is not appropriate for determining moral perfection. Moral excellence is determined by an agent’s behavior, character traits, and motives—not by the reactions or evaluations of any agent. At best those reactions or evaluations track moral excellence—they do not ground or constitute it in any way.
Second, this account of God’s moral perfection runs into the following dilemma: either self-approval per se makes one morally perfect, or only God’s self-approval makes him morally perfect. Now surely the first horn of the dilemma is not acceptable, or else anyone—including Satan—could just approve him- or herself into moral perfection. So the proponent of this account must turn to the second horn. But then he faces a difficult, if not impossible, task—to give a satisfactory account of why God alone can be morally perfect just by having an attitude of self-approval. Why is it that God can approve himself into moral perfection, but no one else can? Our imagined proponent cannot say that there is anything morally special about God that allows him to do so; for this would be attributing a morally special status to God that exists prior to his self-approval—a status that cannot exist according to this account, since it has all moral status dependent on, and thus posterior to, God’s attitudes of approval and disapproval. Our imagined proponent cannot respond that God can do this because he is God, as that would explain nothing. It would merely invite the retort: “Okay, so what is it about God that allows him alone to do this? God is a unique being, but so is everyone else! So there must be something about God—something specific that sets him apart from everyone else—that allows him to approve himself into moral perfection. And that something is what you must provide in order for your account to be plausible.”
Another problematic consequence of this theistic metaethic in relation to God’s moral perfection pertains to how it affects the modal status of God’s possession of this property. Recall, first, the obvious implication of (1) discussed in note 2: that God’s self-approval, and only his self-approval, makes God morally perfect. But this then means that God’s moral perfection stands or falls with his self-approval—i.e., that it is his self-approval, or lack thereof, that makes him either morally perfect, or morally imperfect, respectively. It therefore follows from (1) that:
- If God did not approve of himself, then that would make him not morally perfect.
- If God changed his attitude of approval towards himself, then that would make him morally perfect at one time and not so at another time.
But these entailments tell us that there are circumstances under which God is made less than morally perfect, which in turn means that God is not morally perfect essentially or necessarily. Yet this is patently false: God is morally perfect by definition, and therefore must always be morally perfect no matter what the circumstances.
Things become worse for this theistic metaethic when we consider it beyond its account of God’s moral perfection. Recall again its basic claims:
- God’s approval, and only his approval, makes things morally good/obligatory.
- God’s disapproval, and only his disapproval, makes things morally bad/impermissible.
Now, according to (1), God’s approval is enough to make things morally good/obligatory. So (1) entails that:
- If God approved of horrific things like rape, torture, genocide, and so on, then that would make those things morally good/obligatory.
And, according to (2), the moral badness/impermissibility of things stands or falls with God’s disapproval of those things—i.e., it is God’s disapproval, or lack thereof, that makes things either morally bad/impermissible, or not, respectively. Therefore (2) entails that:
- If God failed to disapprove of horrific things like rape, torture, genocide, and so on, then that would make them not morally bad/impermissible.
Yet these entailments are deeply problematic. According to (5), God can make horrific things morally acceptable by approving of them. But how can these horrific things be anything but morally objectionable? Intuitively, they cannot be—it is impossible for such horrific things to be morally acceptable. If so, then no one—not even God—can make horrific things morally acceptable. And this would make (5) false. Furthermore, (5) tells us that God’s approval can make horrific things morally acceptable. But how can this be? How does God accomplish this feat of black moral magic? It is hard to accept that this could be so without some plausible story as to how it could be so. And, more importantly, it is hard to accept that God’s approval could make horrific things morally acceptable in spite of the fact that the properties of those things make them horrific. For example, God’s approval of rape, on this account, would make rape morally acceptable despite the fact that this horrific action involves the violation of autonomy and rights and causes profound suffering and extensive psychological damage. It is not that these aspects of the action would be trumped by God’s approval, which of course would be absurd. Rather, these aspects do not matter at all on this theistic metaethic—they do not factor into the moral status of the action whatsoever. And this is just plain crazy.
Then there is (6), which is subject to the same criticisms as (5). According to (6), horrific things would be made not morally bad/impermissible by God’s failure to disapprove of them. But again, how can these horrific things be anything but morally objectionable? If horrific things cannot be anything but morally objectionable—and intuitively they cannot be—then they would certainly be morally objectionable even in the absence of God’s disapproval of them. So (6), like (5), is false. Moreover, how can God’s failure to disapprove of horrific things make them not morally bad/impermissible? How could this happen despite the properties of those things that make them horrific? Take again the example of rape. On this account, God’s failure to disapprove of rape would make it not morally objectionable despite the fact that it involves the violation of autonomy and rights and causes profound suffering and extensive psychological damage. Once again, these aspects of the action do not factor into its moral status at all, which again is just plain crazy.
The final problem with this theistic metaethic that I will discuss is its violation of the supervenience constraint. If there is one thing that most moral philosophers agree on, it is that moral properties supervene on more fundamental, nonmoral properties. And this is the supervenience constraint: the moral properties of things must supervene on the nonmoral properties of those things. This means that the moral properties of those things are strictly fixed or determined by their nonmoral properties. Put as a conditional, it means this: if two things have the same nonmoral properties, then they must have the same moral properties. The flip side is that if two things differ in their moral properties, then they must also differ in their nonmoral properties. What is ruled out by the supervenience constraint, then, is a situation where two things have the exact same nonmoral properties, yet have different moral properties. However, if the theistic metaethic in question were correct, and the moral properties of things were completely dependent on God’s attitudes of approval and disapproval towards those things, then two things with identical nonmoral properties could theoretically have different moral properties. Put another way, this metaethic entails the following conditional: if there were two things with the exact same nonmoral properties, and God approved of one while disapproving of the other, then these things would have different moral properties even though they had the exact same nonmoral properties. But this conditional cannot be true according to the supervenience constraint. Again, this constraint rules out a situation where two things have the exact same nonmoral properties, yet have different moral properties. This situation cannot obtain, period, which means that it will not obtain even if God were to have different evaluative attitudes towards two things with the exact same nonmoral properties.
Notes to the Appendix
 Sometimes this theistic metaethic is presented as the view that the moral features of our world are dependent on God’s commands as opposed to his attitudes of approval and disapproval (indeed this metaethic is standardly referred to as “divine command metaethics”). There is also room for a more sophisticated variation of this metaethic, where moral goodness and badness are dependent on God’s attitudes of approval and disapproval, respectively, while moral obligations and constraints are dependent on God’s commands. Nothing substantial, however, really hangs on these minor differences; the problems with viewing the moral features of our world as dependent on God’s attitudes of approval and disapproval will apply with equal force, and for the same reasons, to viewing the moral features of our world as dependent on God’s commands, or on some combination of his attitudes and commands.
 One might object that even though God is morally perfect because he approves of himself, he is nonetheless also morally perfect because of things like being maximally just, kind, compassionate, honest, and always acting in the right way with the proper motivation for doing so. How could someone maintain this? Well, one might argue that although God is morally perfect because of his self-approval, God approves of himself because of these other things, and thus it is ultimately these other things that ground his moral perfection. So, the argument goes, this account of God’s moral perfection is unproblematic. But this objection does not work. Recall that, according to this theistic metaethic, it is God’s approval, and only his approval, that makes things morally good. And this obviously implies that it is God’s self-approval, and only his self-approval, that makes God himself morally perfect. The character traits, actions, and motivations that move him to self-approval are not doing any independent metaphysical work. They do not make God morally perfect—only God’s reaction of self-approval does.
Consider the following analogous scenario. Suppose that my car is being repossessed and that I am very upset about it. The person repossessing it—let’s call him Dick—is smiling at me in order to let me know that he is thoroughly enjoying the distress that he is causing me. As he climbs in my car to drive it away, all the while smiling at me, I decide to flip him off until he drives away. Now, while I was flipping off Dick, he was a-thing-flipped-off. It was my flipping him off, and only this, that made him into a-thing-flipped-off. Sure, I was flipping him off because he was smiling at me like a jerk while repossessing my car, but his behavior did not really make him a-thing-flipped-off—only my reaction of flipping him off did so.
Another way of putting the problem with this objection is that it basically equivocates on the meaning of “because”: the sense in which God approves of himself because of his character traits, actions, and motivations is not the same sense in which he is morally perfect because he approves of himself. On the second meaning, God is morally perfect because he approves of himself in the sense that his self-approval automatically makes him morally perfect. In more technical terms, “because” here signifies a relation of automatic metaphysical determination between God’s self-approval and his moral perfection such that the former metaphysically necessitates the latter. On the first meaning, however, God approves of himself because of his character traits, actions, and motivations in the sense that the former is a reflective, evaluative attitude triggered by the latter, such that the latter does not automatically make the former happen. The “because” here signifies no relation of automatic metaphysical determination between God’s character traits, actions, and motivations and his self-approval such that the former metaphysically necessitates the latter. In the end, then, God’s character traits, actions, and motivations do not automatically make him morally perfect—there is no relation of metaphysical necessitation between God’s character traits, actions, and motivations and his moral perfection. And this is precisely the problem with this account of God’s moral perfection.
 It will do no good to complain that God would never in fact fail to approve of himself or change his attitudes of approval towards himself, and therefore that God would never in fact be made less than morally perfect. The problem here is that the theistic metaethic in question implies that there are theoretically possible circumstances in which God would be made less than morally perfect, and this does not change even if such circumstances would never in fact obtain. To put the point another way: circumstances in which God is made less than morally perfect must be ruled out in theory, and ruling out these circumstances in fact does not rule them out in theory.
 God’s inability to make horrific things morally acceptable is perfectly consistent with his omnipotence, for being omnipotent just means that one can do anything that is genuinely possible. Since making horrific things morally acceptable is not genuinely possible, God can still be omnipotent even though he cannot make horrific things morally acceptable.
 I want to point out two things here. First, the same things can be said, mutatis mutandis, about great things instead of horrific things. That is, (1) entails the mirror image of (6), where God’s failure to approve of great things would make them not morally good/obligatory, while (2) entails the mirror image of (5), where God’s disapproval of great things would make them morally bad/impermissible. And the same criticisms of (5) and (6) can be leveled, mutatis mutandis, to these mirror image entailments pertaining to great things. Second, and more importantly, it will do no good to object to this line of criticism by maintaining that God would never (a) approve or fail to disapprove of horrific things, or (b) disapprove or fail to approve of great things. Whether or not God would never do these things is completely beside the point. The fundamental problem here is with the metaphysical relations between God’s attitudes and the moral statuses of things entailed by this theistic metaethic, and this problem is not solved in the slightest by pointing out that God’s attitudes will never be a certain way. Perhaps an analogy is in order. Suppose that Jones holds a very bizarre worldview, one that entails that every time that he votes for a Republican presidential candidate, he kills a puppy by doing so. Suppose further that he has a ready-made response to possible objections: that he would never vote for a Republican presidential candidate. It should be obvious that this ready-made response is completely worthless because, even if true, it does not at all render unproblematic his worldview’s implication that there is a metaphysical relation between Jones voting Republican and his killing puppies.
 It would again do no good to object here by maintaining that God would never in fact have different evaluative attitudes towards things with the exact same nonmoral properties. The problem here is with the conditional that the theistic metaethic in question generates. In particular, even if its antecedent will never be true, the conditional itself is still true according to this metaethic, and this is the problem.
Copyright ©2016 Ryan Stringer. The electronic version is copyright ©2016 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Ryan Stringer. All rights reserved.