Non serviam

“I don’t believe in your God” is one thing; to put it more forcefully, it is “I think your God does not exist”. But it can also mean a second thing, and one I’m as stoutly (being a person of great stoutness) for as for the first; namely, “I do not serve your God”. And, and I think this is an important thing to remember, I wouldn’t serve any commonly proclaimed God even if one was shown to exist. (I suspect this non serviam attitude is shared by many other atheists, but I’ll speak for myself because that’s the demographic I best know.)

Much atheist rhetoric is aimed at exploring the seedy and evil parts of religion and theology. That is, I think, mostly to get people to look at what they believe critically, skeptically. Even if that does not lead to godlessness, it may have other good results; breaking casual certainties tends to. Liberal Christians are much preferable to Benedict and his ilk; and the difference between them is in application of doubt. (Just having doubt is not enough; the tame version of doubt that’s not allowed to persuade is useless, though commonly encouraged.) Now, there’s a second thought beneath that doubtmongering first, mind you.

The first is: “See this awful thing! See how awful it is — maybe you are wrong to think it a rosy thing whose veracity it would be weird, horrible and sinful to doubt? Maybe just a little bit of doubt would be a good thing, yes? Or maybe an avalanche of doubt!

The second is: “See this horrible thing? See? Is this and the people who believe it something you wish to associate with, whether it is true or false?”

I feel the second message so strongly I can say that if a God existed, it would be necessary to stage a rebellion against that careless tyrant, and to strike Him down and bring Him to justice for all His crimes of negligence and creation. (Ha ha, liver flukes! Nice one, O Creator!) Mind you, if that God was really omnipotent and -scient and the like, that rebellion would be doomed to fail; but it would still be better than slavery.

And I say slavery and tyranny because most depictions of God I’ve seen have been nothing but celestial slavery: God creates us, and hence owns us, and does to us whatever He and He alone sees fit; He sets the laws and decrees how one gains bliss or hellfire, without any legislative process or appeal; He rules and demands worship, despite His qualifications being no popular mandate, just brute force. (Well, of course He has the mandate of His worshippers — the others are behind the gates of His gulag of Gehenna and don’t get to voice their dissent.)

It is comical to try to imagine a Heavenly Parliament voting to emancipate Group X from the fires of Hell; it is likewise silly to think of Heaven’s Amnesty International petitioning God for the release of a particular heretic from the same. I think the silliness comes from us all being used to a civilized, democratic modern world, a world of negotiation, compromise and civil liberties, while still mostly being content to think of afterlife as a primitive Near-Eastern tyranny of the kind we know just does not work, not with people in it. (Wait a minute — “But it would be a tyranny with an all-wise, all-benevolent, etc. tyrant! Surely that works!” Well, it does not. Look around yourself! Liver flukes, tsunamis and prophets preaching Hell — what kind of a slum must Heaven be if we’re this screwed at a distance from the tyrant’s throne?)

Now, it can be argued that the Christian image of Heaven originally was an image of some tyrant’s court, a place of splendor and power above patterned on those below; but no matter the origins of that image and the system of the world implicit in it, it should be clear that is not a place a modern man (much less a woman) would be happy in. If God exists, He is an incompetent, a fool and a villain. Let him stand down; we’ll organize instant-runoff elections to fill His spot with people of less vanity, and more ability. I’m voting for Einstein and Gandhi myself. If God doesn’t stand down, well, then rebellion, because He has not earned the following, much less the worship, of any free man (or woman), and that kind of power is not for those who have not earned it.

* * *

For other sweet elections unlikely to happen, see this mathematical paper by Michael Balinski. (The choice of semi-related endpieces was that or XTC’s “Dear God”, and too much rage at heavens gives one acid reflux.)

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