My Problem with Your God 3 – Responsibility and Forgiveness

God said unto Abraham, “Go, and kill your son, your only son, whom IAbraham and Isaac know you love dearly. Cut his throat and burn his body. I want you to prove that you are absolutely terrified of me, and will obey me no matter what.” Abraham went and did as the Lord said, and just as he was about to strike, an angel appeared and said “God is happy that you are willing to sacrifice everything for him, because, oddly for a supreme being who can do anything and knows everything, he wasn’t really sure if you were truly serious about worshiping him, so you don’t have to kill your son.” Abraham, wracked with guilt for almost murdering his son to satisfy the voices in the sky, but still too afraid to disobey said, “Thanks.” God was so happy about this little episode that he told Abraham, “Since you are so completely loyal to me I will reward you. Your children will be many and they will conquer the whole world in my name. Which isn’t really much of a reward for you, but a great service to me. Oh, and you’ll have two sons, who will each become figureheads for different religions, the most fervent members of which will kill each other mercilessly for centuries in my name. Isn’t that great?” Abraham, really hoping that attempted filicide would not damage his young son’s fragile mind, said nothing and went home.[1]

A complete submission to the will of god or gods is usually an article of faith in most religions. This particular episode is the basis for complete obedience to God in the religions which claim Abraham as their ancestors. Jesus developed on this notion when he told his followers to abandon, to hate, their families and friends, and listen to his interpretation of the will of God alone.[2] Which is not at all similar to what cult leaders tell their followers nowadays. The word ‘Islam’ literally means ‘submission’. Faith in the ineffable plan of a supreme divinity, submission to its will over that of personal common sense and reason, and the belief that all events occur by its sole design leads, inevitably, to the relinquishing of free will and individual responsibility. If a person sincerely believes in ‘God’ and that ‘He’ guides their lives in every minute detail, their actions are not their own; they bear no responsibility for their deeds or misdeeds. It is all part of ‘God’s plan’. This has had many very interesting consequences. Many who are wealthy (often American evangelicals) believe that their prosperity is a reward for their absolute faith in God. Consequently, those who are poor are being punished by the very same God – which is ironic considering their personal saviour’s views on such things – and are therefore not really worthy of being helped, and should ‘help themselves’.

Many Catholics will say that they are more rational than these more extreme brands of Christians, that they do not believe that their deity involves itself in the incidental details of their lives. It merely offers guidance and solace, encourages its adherents to do good things and refrain from doing ill. But it still knows what everyone does and will do.[3] Your fate is always in its hands. Individual freedom and responsibility is transferred to the god-head which can do no wrong. Yet the faithful continuously implore their deity to change its plan in human vanity and arrogance. They sit in churches and beg it to improve their lives, or to thank it for its benefice and mercy. Any events that transpire, for their benefit or misfortune, are due to its will, not theirs. Cries of “Deus volt” (God wills it) inspired the CrusadesPope Urban II, and victory confirmed His divine consent for their actions. To attack these people is unfair; religion and faith physically shaped their world in a fashion it no longer does, and they had no alternative explanation, such as science. Faith was their only choice, but they do provide an interesting example of blind faith in God’s hand. This was not an isolated incident. Watch interviews with soldiers returning from the Middle East and it can often be found that they believe that they are doing God’s work, that God protected them, and that their actions are sanctioned by God and country (an interesting development of the American belief in a divinely ordained Manifest Destiny).

There is no real need for the faithful to act responsibly; everything is in the hands of their god. Global warming is not their problem as they drive to mass to save their souls, and damn the planet. They will happily give money to charity when a disaster strikes some part of the world, but long-term aid efforts, the enforcing of democracy, ensuring the rights and education of women, children and minorities in disadvantaged parts of their own and others’ nations are not their problem. Intermittent and fleeting charity is useless charity. Religious aid is often contingent on accepting the faith of the would-be doers-of-good. Conditional charity is not charity. Charity is responsibility neglected. It is a piecemeal placation to assuage feelings of guilt. The Faithful and the Reasonable alike are culpable for the misfortunes of the World, but the Reasonable have no deity to hide behind, they accept their faults as their own. The Faithful say change will come with the help of God, which is no help at all. Change will come when all humanity takes responsibility for individual, national and global actions, no longer seeking the comfort and concessions of a figment of the imagination. God will always forgive His flock, how could he not? He is their tool, their conceit, their delusion.

The forgiveness of sins by God has to be one of the greatest, if often overlooked, innovations of Christianity.[4] Other faiths do demand that the faithful seek the forgiveness of others for their infractions, at which point the supreme judge will confirm the act and offer its concession. This requires the offending party to approach the offended. This is a perfectly reasonable and laudable practice, co-opted as a tenet of faith, clearly evolved form the practicalities of living in small communities which needed peace and cooperation to survive. An injury, physical, emotional or verbal, incurred by a person would demand, in a world without the facility to forgive, either a very high degree of forgetfulness or perpetual cycles of revenge. Christianity made a bold and brilliant adjustment to this custom. A Christian only has to repent and seek the forgiveness of God. They do not in fact need to approach whomever they have transgressed. The need only forgive, and assume they are forgiven by, others to receive the consent of their personal illusion. By seeking forgiveness from the arbiter rather than the affronted Christians have surrendered the responsibility for absolution in one dazzling move. They do not have to embarrass or humble themselves, make others aware of their failings and misdeeds, to wipe their slate clean of sin. The forgiveness of their imagination is good enough.

Lets us examine for a moment, in a simplified fashion, the rules, so to speak, of forgiveness. A reasonable person might assume the following: Some action has occurred which breaks the social or personal contract between two individuals. Forgiveness is sought by the offender for the restoration of trust in the hope of repairing and continuing the relationship. The offended must believe that the offender is truly repentant for trust to be restored. If they do believe the sincerity of the offender, forgiveness is delivered, the transgression is forgotten, and the contract is restored. This is clearly not a unilateral affair, and requires the assent of both parties to repent and forgive. Forgiveness cannot be given unless it is sought. Christianity has corrupted this process such that an individual need not seek the forgiveness of the offended, and is required by faith to forgive others, even if they do not seek forgiveness. This bizarre situation leads to everyone forever seeking forgiveness from their deity while at the same time forgiving everyone else to please that same voice in the sky. Everyone is free from blame and responsibility. To make up for this imbalance penitence was invented, punishment for the sins committed, almost as if the faithful do not believe that the forgiveness of their personal saviour is good enough. Sycophantic self-flagellation is preferred to responsible admittance of culpability. Of course only God can forgive an individual’s transgression against His laws, which has the same effect as saying sorry to Santa for being a naughty child, but Christians use this very same formula for all sins and misdeeds.

Between people, forgiveness is the forsaken of the right to avenge injustice and injury. Forgiveness is a gift which allows us to move forward in life without regret (or at least a lesser regret), or fear of reprisal. In this fashion it is a very important and entirely gratuitous gift. Institutional forgiveness, the ability to forgive accorded to the Christian Churches by God, is not such a gift. Indeed the ritual and sacrament which involves the removal of sin may not necessarily be called ‘forgiveness’, and may only be ‘leniency’ due to a failing of understanding and misuse of language. In any event, the penitent believe, and are taught, that they are receiving the forgiveness of God for their actions. Belief is of course fundamental to religion, and they hold true what they believe. In their minds, God does forgive them personally. And so they submit to a certain degree of punishment, penance for their sins, to show they accept their fault in the wrongdoing, to learn not to repeat it in future, and to illustrate their faith. Religious forgiveness is thus inherently bound to some form of punishment, however severe or gentle, while forgiveness between people takes an alternative path and forgives without punishing. An offender seeks forgiveness from the offended so that their relationship will continue, but the offended may also seek ‘forgiveness’ from the Church and God so that they may continue to enjoy the services and benefits of the institution and the spiritual renewal of being redeemed before the eyes of her Lord.

Responsibility is the burden of an adult. It is a consequence of freedom and reason, two ideals which people have fought and died in the defence of for several centuries. They are arguably humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements. And the faithful would surrender them to fantasy. Forgiveness and repentance are the sole property and right of responsible people and should not be entrusted to a fiction.

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

[1] Genesis 22:1-19. This is a summary of what occurred in plain English.

[2] Luke 14:25-33.

[3] Jeremiah 10:23; “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps”, and Acts 1:7; “And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

[4] Matthew 6:14-15; For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

2 responses to “My Problem with Your God 3 – Responsibility and Forgiveness

  1. Dear Sir/Mam,

    I am a freelance journalist working for a small non-profit NGO magazine called the Cape Chameleon in Cape Town. I am currently writing a 3000 word article on increasing cases of Human Sacrifices in Eastern Africa, and during my research I came across a picture of interest to me in an article on your website titled, ‘My Problem with Your God 3 – Responsibility and Forgiveness’. The picture is of Abraham attempting to kill his son, Isaac. I would like to ask you for permission to use this picture in my article. Since the Cape Chameleon is a small non-profit magazine that only prints 400 copies which are distributed for free to schools and universities in Cape Town, I would not be able to pay any money for the picture and would appreciate it if permission could be granted to use the it for free. If this picture has not been taken by you and you have received permission to use it from someone else, I would highly appreciate it if you could send me the contact details of that person.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Jen Kale

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