Is Your God a Mean Drunk?

The Peace Tree is pleased to present a guest post today from Matthew Phillips.

Is Your God a Mean Drunk?

At my church, the pastor is leading a forum on God and violence. In the discussion, there was general agreement that we did not want to believe in a God that is randomly violent. But one parishioner asked what we should think of a God that is predictably violent, in that he inflicts certain consequences as a result of certain behaviors.

The pastor compared this sort of God to an alcoholic parent, whose rages are triggered by certain behaviors of the child. Of course it is monstrous to be violent to a child and inconsistent with parental love, and the pastor's comparison implied that such a God was not fully worthy of our worship.

Another parishioner suggested that a God who inflicts violent consequences as a result of certain actions is exhibiting tough love. This is a view consistent with conservative and fundamentalist Christianity, which has to reconcile "God is love" with "Kill all the priests of Baal!" The pastor gave us a question for next week's discussion: What are the consequences of believing in this sort of God?

Then at the coffee hour after the service, there was a Palestinian artist selling olive wood carvings of Christmas decorations and othe religious art to benefit the Christians of Israel and the Palestinian territories. This witness of faith from the forgotten people of a holy land torn by unholy war suggested some answers to the pastor's question.

One consequence of belief in a predictably violent God is that many American christians uncritically support the actions of the government of Israel, no matter how inconsistent that government's actions may be with the best principles of Judaism and Christianity. It means that many Christians believe in God as a sort of cosmic real estate broker, such that only particular sons and daughters of Abraham have any civil rights in Israel and Palestine, for fear that God will not bless them if they do not so believe.

Some of these Christians support an extreme, militant sort of Zionism that will trigger, in their view, a literal battle of Armageddon. And we are meant to believe this will usher in the reign of the Prince of Peace. Belief in the God-who-is-love-unless causes people to try to curry favor with him out of superstitious fear and out of a vision of a blessed world that just does not include those of us who are in the "unless" categories.

This would include those forgotten Palestinian christians, whom Jesus despises, according to this view, in favor of people who reject his messiahship, because these people are just more 'chosen' than they are. Of course, such a view goes against the great weight of most of the teachings attributed to Jesus. This Jesus rejects those preach and prophesy in his name but fail to do justice and love mercy to all. This Jesus gives us the choice to love all or be none of his. This Jesus is perplexed by those who, in his name, oppose the granting of rights to others that they insist on for themselves.

While it may be true that Jeffersonian secularism was never intended to divorce utterly our spiritual values from our political ones, it is probably also true that no one sectarian interpretation of the will of God should be permitted to give absurdity the upper hand over sweet reason. While others may wish to support a political agenda based on belief in a God who is love, except when he isn't, I will not fear hellfire and damnation for pursuing one that is based on the principles of love, peace, and justice for all.

Matt Phillips

Please visit Matt at his home blog

Peace y'all

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