Entries from July 2009 ↓

Comment: Traditional Christianity – the Imaging of God

Traditional Christian imaging of God, still dominant in the pulpits of Australia, Western Europe, and US and universal in South American, African and Asian countries, faces major problems of credibility with today’s scientific world-view. Many see traditional personas of God as out-dated and unconvincing – infinite being, father, master, king, law-maker and judge. This type of God somehow exists “out there”, beyond our senses while still having human-style feelings, reactions, knowledge and intentions. Even though many people seek fulfilment beyond the consumer aspects of our world, this God is seen so at odds with our modern understanding of the reality.

 Traditional Christian preachers rely on 2000 year old Middle Eastern scriptures, creeds and later church teachings to present “humanised” images of God. They hope to make the ineffable more believable and accessible. And it has worked well, at least until recent times. Now in the twenty-first century many Christians face crises of believability and faith.

So what are many churches’ responses? Demand even greater belief against all odds – this will be the mark of one’s true faith.

What are some problems with the traditional image of God (and Jesus for that matter) as a supernatural being?  Firstly, unlike ancient and even medieval societies we use secular, empirically-based knowledge to explain much of our world, seeking explanations from physical causes and not supernatural dogmas. “Wrath of God” to explain a natural disasters or “Grace of God” to explain unlikely survivals now get short-shrift except from the most naive.  Every day we operate in a “secular” mode dealing with the world about us, meeting people, interacting with technology. We assess things based on cause and effect. Even today, though, most religions expect people to except that an all-powerful, all-loving being lurks behind the scenes and intervenes on special occasions to fix things. All this is contrary to and an affront to our everyday experiences of life.

Secondly, most people reject a hierarchical model of power and reverence. The days of “father knows best” and “divined to rule” are long gone. This is at odds with the fundamental premises of traditional Christianity, and Islam and Judaism as well. They push the belief that followers will be rewarded in the after-life for life-long dedicated servitude. This method of reward was needed, of course, to explain why the bad often prosper while the godly can live short, miserable lives.

Thirdly, despite some vague deference to the books of the Christian Bible, most people today cannot take seriously that they tell many, if any, historical facts. Any reasonable assessment shows the books as works of human authors dedicated to proselytising the exclusive divinity of Jesus and God.  Stories of sea parting, universal flood, virgin birth, demon exorcisms, bodily resurrections, and other miracles are beyond the credibility of many, especially when there is no non-religious support. Even the evidence for the existence of the Jewish preacher, Jesus, is tenuous at the best.

Finally, there is the problem of suffering or evil. How do we reconcile the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving, morally perfect Christian God with the on-going presence of natural and human-caused pain and suffering? The innocent, the good and the bad all seem to prosper and suffer equally. Despite the sophist arguments by Christian apologists over the years – teach us a lesson; must have bad to appreciate good; already born with sin so we deserve it; God acts mysteriously so do not expect to understand; the devil did it; and so on – this dilemma still presents the greatest challenge to the traditional presentation of Christian belief.

Much to the amazement and frustration of those who see these problems, traditional Christianity still promotes these images of God. And they are accepted around the world and often with harmful consequences. The judgemental God continues to destroy people’s self-worth and psychological well-being. The supernatural God continues to side with one oppressor over another only to destroy many innocent lives. And the judgmental God continues to demand inappropriate moral behaviours, such as no condoms in HIV ravaged Africa, to oppose the best understandings from medical evidence and human ethical considerations.

Alex McCullie

News: Religions demand special treatment

Religions have a history of demanding special treatment even within well-established secular societies like Australia. It’s bad enough that they get special tax concessions but they want to continue with faith-based employment discrimination even when not relevant to the activities required. Here is an article from The Age, highlighting the pending fight between equal opportunities (21st century style) and religious sensibilities (pre-enlightened style).

Alex McCullie