Given the impossible set of expectations placed upon the Christian God, it’s no wonder he’s a bit of a Mad Hatter.
The Christian God is: Personal, good, a loving parent, omniscient, omnipotent, fully sovereign, merciful, forgiving, and just. That’s a lot for any deity to manage.* I suppose it would be fine in a universe different from the one we observe, but in a universe rife with evil, injustice and hatred that set of requirements would seem to break any deity’s back.[*It would be a lot for any deity to manage, but especially so for a deity built upon the chassis of a tribal war god. It’s a bit like trying to build a luxury Humvee time capsule on a Yugo chassis. Setting aside questions of whether the end product is even possible, you’re not off to a great start.]
Why would a good creator create evil? If he didn’t create evil, is he then not the sovereign creator of everything? Why, in a world created by a just God, is there so much injustice? Would a loving parent allow one of his children to rape another of his children when he has the power to stop it? And so on. Apologists’ contortions in answering these questions are worthy of a Cirque du Soleil performance.
But there’s a simpler path: Drop the impossible expectations. Why does a deity need to be all those things? Maybe the ultimate nature of the universe is good, but not all good. Maybe it is not inherently just. Maybe nobody and nothing is in full control. Polytheistic world views accommodate this path easily. So does atheism.
So does early philosophical Daoism (Daoism/Taoism: same word, different spelling). The Dao (generally translated as “Way”) is not really a deity, but it sort of occupies the same space as deities. It is generally considered impersonal; life-giving, but not in control; generous, but not necessarily just.
The great Tao overflows,
able to move left and right.1
All things rely on it for life,
But it does not dominate them.
Completing its task without possession,
Clothing and feeding all things,
Without wanting to be their master.
I am fond of this approach. It provides a poetic opening into the unknown; allows a kind of “religiosity” without requiring any beliefs that offend the senses. It offers an order to the universe that is life-giving, generous, even “good” in its own way–but not just.
I realize this line of thought depends on an assumption: that we, and not God, create our images of God. Some people can’t or won’t go there. For them, this argument will be nonsense. Others will say, Why bother creating a merely less odious fantasy? For them, this argument will be superfluous. But I find the early Daoist classics to be rich, poetic, funny and wise. They help me mentally order a bewildering universe without shackling me to in-credible beliefs. The world isn’t fair. But maybe it is nonetheless overflowing with generosity.
Questions: Would you be willing to give consideration to a deity that wasn’t omni-everything? Would it have any value?