Monday, August 28, 2006

In God's Image

When people talk about how man is created in God’s image, they usually go on about certain qualities of human nature – free will, moral qualities, rationality, etc.. Man should strive to be good because God is good, and all that jazz. However, I think this approach places the cart before the horse.

Instead of assuming that God has certain qualities that he endowed us with, only then reflecting upon what those divine gifts are, perhaps it may be more fruitful to examine the issue in reverse. That is, if we are created in God’s image, by observing human nature, we gain insight into God’s qualities as reflected by our behavior in this world.

It is for this reason that I cannot believe that, were God to exist, He would be benevolent. Even at our most altruistic, we are selfish to the core – especially when the game is zero-sum. We seek to increase our power and take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. We slaughter our fellows with swords and bombs. Though capable of works of profound beauty, we are equally capable of horror beyond comprehension, and it is in this image that we are created.

Indeed, this image of God explains the age-old Problem of Evil (“How can an omnibenevolent god allow the evil to prosper, and the righteous to suffer?”) is really quite simple: God is not good. He is an abusive Father, who generously gives His children gifts and black eyes. Cursed art Thou, o Lord, Tyrant of the Universe, who causeth the winds to blow down the walls of the orphanage, and raiseth the waters to drown the widow in her bed.

When the Problem of Evil comes up, I often think about my eighth grade science class. Towards the end of the year, my school received a large number of brand-new computers. To celebrate, my teacher had us play SimEarth – a game by the creators of SimCity where you took a bare, inhospitable planet and tried to create a lush, green paradise teeming with life. As I tinkered with the angle of my planet’s axis and seeded my new oceans with nutrients, I remember thinking that, from the perspective any beings in my Creation, I was God.

Though I cared for my Creation, I gleefully smote my planet with meteors and volcanoes. Destruction can be just as fun as creation – no doubt, a sentiment I share with God. As Satan (played by Al Pacino) put it in The Devil’s Advocate:
Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do? I swear, for his own amusement, his own private cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look, but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, but don't swallow. And while you're jumping from one foot to the next, what is He doing? He's up there laughing his sick fucking ass off! He's a tightass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? Never!
Power corrupts, and omnipotence corrupts absolutely. God is a kid with a magnifying glass, burning ants for no reason but His own entertainment – and, by the look of things, we are created in His image, for we would act no different in the same position.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

..great post..

Thursday, August 31, 2006 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger the Rising Jurist said...

I am with you on this one.

I have struggled with the concept of God and my faith in a deity for over a decade, since the day I was baptized (how's that for irony). And in my conversations with the faithful, they inevitably ask how I can be so careless with my eternal soul. "Doesn't it worry you, if you're wrong about God's existence? Don't you want to go to heaven?"

And, following a similar idea as you've put forth, I assert that God must be a logical creature, as I am a logical creature. Therefore, he would appreciate my efforts to work through the question of his existence in a logical manner. I have even taken it so far as to wonder whether God wouldn't let you in, even if you never joined the fold officially. If you were a thoughtful, spiritual person who lived a good life, it'd seem pretty mean to be kept out because you refused to belive something on faith.

But that also assumes that God is a decent sort. He could just smite me. As you point out, that would be very satisfying.

Thursday, August 31, 2006 2:05:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I think there are two different aspects of self-interest: choice and intention.

Any action we take, the reason behind the action is that we ultimately wanted to do it. But there is no possible alternative for a sentient being. The nature of decision, in making a choice implies that one option has to be chosen in front of another. This is not selfish in the intentional sense, it merely means we have a choice. We choose the choice because we like it better than the other option. Choice is the best option

Intention is where the benefit of the action lays. If I give money to a poor person, I give him a benefit, at the expense of spending the benefit of the money on myself.

Although, one could argue: the benefit that I recieve on my conscious from helping the poor person outweighs the money i could have spent on myself or else I would not have gave the poor person money. therefore I am acting selfishly, ithink this logic ultimatley confuzes need to make the ebst choice, with the intention of the agent to confer a benefit

If you mean the nature of choice condemns you to act selfishly, then you are right. But given that you have to make a choice, which choice you decide to make could be altruisitic by where the benefit is confered. The intention of the benefit is seperate from the fact that I had to make a choice.

Monday, September 11, 2006 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger The Atheist Jew said...

David - I don't disagree with you that the possibility choice is distinct from the actual choice I make. Rather, I think that God often chooses, in actuality, to act like a real jerk. And that it comes as no surprise that we do the same, since we are made in his image.

Friday, September 15, 2006 4:00:00 PM  
Blogger The Lizard Queen said...

"I think that God often chooses, in actuality, to act like a real jerk. And that it comes as no surprise that we do the same, since we are made in his image."
Isn't this statement more or less an admission of the existence of G-d and then sort of admitting your theist rather than atheist stand-point?

Friday, September 22, 2006 5:37:00 PM  
Blogger The Atheist Jew said...

Lizard Queen - Not really. It's a statement based on a hypothetical world where God does exist. Basically, "Assuming God exists, X is the case." The statement above is X, but leaves the frame of the debate implicit.

Friday, September 22, 2006 6:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all this talk about God -- but where does Satan (evil) fit into the equation. Is God responsible for actions of the free beings He created? Is it possible that God is sad that His creation used its free will and chose something other than the Good?

Monday, October 02, 2006 7:53:00 AM  
Blogger The Atheist Jew said...

Anon - According to Jewish doctrine, Satan is neither evil, nor an independent power, nor a fallen angel. Rather, he is a being created by God to test humanity by fucking with people (e.g. The Book of Job). It's kind of like a sting operation, though personally I think you have serious entrapment issues.

As far as free will goes, I think that (1) the metaphysical conception of it is really an senseless concept involving numerous fundamental category errors (I'm still working on a post on the topic); (2) even assuming the traditional metaphysics are viable, I don't think it can get around the problems arising from omniscience (see my second and third posts here for my arguments on this).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 5:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You characterize God in such anthropomorphic terms. Of course so do many major religions; in that way you may be more wed to old traditions than you realize. However, the idea of God as some exalted Charlton Heston-looking fellow sitting on some heavenly throne on high has to be the very first thing that most crtitcal and inquiring metaphysical/religious minds cast aside.
If God is thought of as some force or way then many of your ideas of would need to be revisited. Keep in mind that we humans can only attempt understanding through human concepts and language. We don't have diction for things that are utterly incomprehensible or exist in someone unknown void. So while we could all agree that God remains incomprehensible, we have reduced God to language in an effort to increase understanding and exchange even if we know it can never be fully accurately put into words.
So don't take the religious books so literally when we know that true understanding and comprehension of god cannot be reduced to human literary exchange.
The religions are metaphors, but they are powerful and should be respected. Those that stay true to their messages will lead a life of greater understanding, fulfillment, truth and godliness.
Humans do not create words/concepts from thin air without any hint of existence or suggestion. People invented and followed religions, not because of a void, but precisely because there was a common knowledge and understanding that there exists a force greater than any one of us. We know it exists and so we name it and try to understand and exchange it, just as we do with everything else in existence. And that attempt to understand can be executed through religious principles, exercises and devotions. And "to seek to understand is the first and only basis of virtue."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 8:45:00 PM  
Blogger Georgiana said...

Hmmm, intellectually, I think it's much easier to be an irreligious slightly pantheistic heathen with faith in a god who is good, and a suspicion that there are a few other gods who like mischief and chaos.

Friday, November 03, 2006 8:14:00 PM  

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