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The Benevolent Dictator – Should We Worship the Christian God?
by Jeff Lewis
When I went through the period of questioning my acceptance of Christianity, the single question that I was trying to figure out was whether or not God exists. At the time, it seemed obvious to me that if God did exist, then I should worship him, and if he didn't exist, then there was no need to worship him. It never dawned on me to ask, if God does exist, should I worship him?
I've tried to think of a good way to express this, and I've come up with the hypothetical situation below. Admittedly, it's a very transparent analogy, but perhaps putting it into human terms instead of divine terms will allow a few people to get past the mental block of not questioning anything about God.
Suppose you were living in a nation ruled by a very old dictator - so old that everyone currently alive in the country has lived their whole lives under his rule. Before he became dictator, your country was a backwater. He built up the country- highways, factories, hospitals, universities, theaters, are all thanks to his rule. Also before he became dictator, he was general of the army. He lead your nation in a war against attacking enemies. Had the enemies succeeded in their attack, they would have massacred every last one of your great-grandparents, so you owe the dictator your very existence. He claims to be a benevolent ruler, and to be far more intelligent than any one of his subjects. All that he asks in return for his kindness is that you follow his laws, that you don't question his laws (because he is, after all, much more intelligent than you), and that you like him. If you break any of those three rules, you will be arrested by the police, and taken off to be tortured to death. He even sends out police squads at random with super accurate polygraph machines to test whether or not you actually like him.
Every week, there are patriotic rallies, where you get together with your community, and have a big celebration where you all profess how much you like your leader, and thank him for all he's done for the nation.
Some of the laws that he's made may seem a bit arbitrary to people outside of his nation, but you've been living there your whole life so you don't know any different. Suppose that one of those laws is that nobody can be over six feet tall. If you see anybody taller than that, you are to report them to the police, so that they can be arrested and taken off to be tortured. This results in a handful of people walking around stooped their entire lives, to stay under the legal height. From time to time, a curious person may question one of the laws innocently without being punished, but community leaders almost always have a good explanation. Even for the six foot height limit, the argument is that taller people would necessitate higher ceilings, which would use more building materials and be wasteful. It's such a small thing to ask a handful of people to stoop for the greater benefit of the nation. Even when the community leaders don't have a good explanation, they can fall back to saying that the Leader is benevolent, and he is smarter than all of us, so he must have a good reason that we just can't comprehend.
You've heard of an under-world - a few people that reject the leader's laws, especially those that result in death by torture. They've even been known to try and rescue some of those criminals. And they don't like the leader, either. But these people, when they are found, are tortured the worst. And they're always found.
Now, in this situation, should you like your leader? Should you blindly follow his rules. What about the ones that require you to turn people in to be arrested, knowing they will be tortured? Would it be moral to follow his laws? Or would it be better to be part of the under-world, knowing that your life will end in torture, but at least doing your best to live your life in what you believe is a good way while you can?
I had my first experience with this in Christianity while I still considered myself a good Christian. I was at mass, and the entire congregation was singing. And for the briefest of moments, the whole thing seemed like groveling to me, like everyone in the congregation was afraid in the same way they would be of a dictator, and so they were going on and on about how good he was and how much they liked him. But, I still considered myself a good Christian, then, so I did my best to push that thought to the back of my mind.
A few years after that is when I really started to look critically at Christianity. By this time, I was going to a Methodist church, but I was already beginning to have my doubts. The reading that day was the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22 ). For anyone not familiar with the story, Abraham went along with the command. When the knife was in the air, and he was about to deliver the fatal blow, God stopped him. Abraham had passed the test, and proven that he really did love God above all else. Anyway, when I heard that story again that day, I remember thinking, boy what a great story this would have been if Abraham had gone against God's will. What a testament that would have been to the love he had for his son, to risk going against an all-powerful god to defend him.
I remember that part of my thought process in abandoning Christianity was asking myself, what if I was wrong, and God did exist. And my answer was, that I wouldn't want to worship a being like that, anyway. Despite all the flowery verse in the Bible about God being all good and all loving, there are just too many things that I find morally objectionable, that I never gave much thought to before I started questioning Christianity (condoning slavery, commanding the slaughter of innocent women & children, promoting misogyny, destroying entire civilizations, condemning homosexuality, sending bears to maul 42 youths for making fun of a prophet, and much more).
I know a Christian will say that you shouldn't put yourself above God, but I don't see why God gets that privileged position. Suppose the Bible is right, and God did create everything, and he is very powerful. But does that give a right to demand worship? Even if God was the first thing in existence, his existence was still just a cosmic accident. Who's to say that it's not just as likely that the random occurrence that caused God to be wouldn't have created a different god/gods with a different code of morality. And the moral aspect of the God of the Bible that bothers me the most is to threaten eternal torture in hell to those that don't worship him, no matter how good and nice they are to the people around them.
It seems to me that the God of the Bible is a dictator, demanding worship through threats. And to deny worship to a being like that, and to live your life in the way that you see as moral, even if it will ultimately result in your own eternal torture, seems to me to be the nobler course, as opposed to following his commands out of fear. But then again, I no longer believe in the God of the Bible, so it's not a big issue for me, anyway.