A perfect God?

November 21, 2008

The three mainstream monotheistic religions make a common claim. They claim their god is perfect. Apart from the obvious issue that the concept of perfection is subjective I have been thinking about this idea, the idea of a perfect god.

Since Christianity is the main religion that I come into contact with I would like to consider the concept of “the Christian god is perfect”. The actual existence of such a perfect being is not within the scope of this discussion because it is a discussion all on its own.

What is perfection? Perfection means it cannot be better, for if something could be better, then it would not be perfect. We can look at biological organisms and their functions. Human eyes for instance are not perfect. Why? Well, a squid’s eyes are closer to optimum. We only see three colours, namely red, green and blue. A mantis shrimp has the ability to see eight. Seeing eight colours is better then seeing only three colours. There is therefore no way we can claim that human eyes are perfect since we have examples of better eyes in other animals.

But comparing gods is a bit more difficult. The reason is that gods cannot be differentiated from mere ideas that humans have. We have not caught any god(s) so we cannot study them/it. Searching for a god’s interaction in our universe has also proven to be fruitless so far. But perhaps we can compare ideas to see if an idea is better than another one and therefore closer to perfection. The better something is, the closer it is to perfection. To a certain extend one can evaluate a god in the same way we evaluate ideas. There is no other way to evaluate a god and his/her/it’s worth, as far as I know. We can only compare ideas and opinions.

So the Christians make a claim about their god. They claim he is perfect. But, if I can think of a god with better properties, then my idea of a god is closer to perfection than their idea or concept of god. Since a perfect god has perfection as a property it should therefore be impossible to think of better properties or attributes for such a god. If it could be better, then it is not perfect. If a person can think of better properties or attributes then the first concept of god no longer has any claim to perfection.

We see this concept of perfection active in the Christian concept of god. All-mighty. Yes, that sounds perfect. Omni-present. Yes, that also sounds also very perfect to me. All-knowing would also be a requirement for a perfect god. All-good would be a requirement for a good god if it is also claimed that he is perfect. Since I cannot improve on concepts such as all-mighty, all-knowing and all-present it means that I cannot imagine a more perfect god. On the surface, the Christian god appears to be a perfect god.

The Christians also have another claim, apart of the claim for a perfect god. The claim is that the Bible tells us something about this perfect god and his actions. There are also references in the Bible describing God as all-mighty, all-knowing etc. But the Bible goes into more detail. At certain places it describes god’s motives behind some of his actions. In other places only actions are discussed without the motives behind them. The Bible is full of concepts about god, his actions and his motives. Jesus was send because the all-good god had a plan to sacrifice his son to save mankind. This is the basis of the Christian faith.

There is a problem though. By reading the Bible and its alleged revelation about god we can continue to think about the concept of the perfect Christian God and compare it to the concept of perfection. So, let’s start at the beginning.

According to the Christian holy book, the Bible, God made everything (universe) in six days. Why six days? Would a perfect god not have made everything in the blink of an eye? If we compare two gods: One makes the universe in six days and the other god makes the universe in a split second, who is the better god? Well, the one who created in the least time of course.

The Bible says that god rested on the seventh day. Now, people claim it was done that way so that humans could understand that the seventh day is a holy day and a day of resting. But does that really mean god rested? If god did not rest, then the Bible is lying because it clearly says that god rested on the seventh day. A better god would simply not require rest.

It is claimed that Adam and Eve lived in a perfect garden. No death, no maintenance required and not even clothes required. It sounds pretty perfect to me. But there was a tree planted by god. That tree had the potential to cause major disaster. This does not sound like a perfect idea to me. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat the fruit from that tree. We all know the rest. Satan came, chatted to Eve and convinced her to eat from the forbidden tree. Adam followed suit and God promptly kicked them out of the perfect garden. This story is the so called “fall of man” or original sin. Yet, looking at the story as a whole we find some problems ascribing this god’s action in the light of perfection. A perfect garden with a temptation (evil) is not perfect. Since a perfect god is all-knowing, he would have known Adam and Eve would have eaten from the forbidden fruit, so why plant the damn tree there in the first place? Did he expect a better outcome? Would a perfect god not have been smart enough not to plant the tree causing the majority of humanity to be condemned to eternal torture? A perfect god would have avoided this pitfall that allegedly caused humanity all its suffering. In short, humanity’s suffering is the direct result of the actions of this god who planted the tree that made this big mess possible in the first place. A better god would have done better since the situation is clearly a bad one. Any situation ending up in the majority of people having to suffer is a bad one.

The Christians claim there must have been a choice for evil else there could be no free will. Free will is a requirement for perfection and it is claimed that Adam and Eve was made perfect. One has to wonder if their eyes were perfect too, way back then, able to see at least as many colours as the mantis shrimp. And yet, if they were perfect then why did they have the tendency to fall for temptation? The very first temptation that came along they fell for. Would a perfect god not have left out this obvious error in his design? It is like building an aeroplane and deliberately building in the possibility that the engines could overheat, causing the plane to crash. Such a plane would not be perfect, since a better property could be imagined, i.e, the property that it would have a fail safe not to overheat. A better design, in short and therefore the first design cannot be described as perfect.

One also has to wonder about the Noah’s flood story. God drowned all the people on Earth except for eight of them. It is claimed that all people on earth (except the Noah eight) was just too evil and the only resort was to murder them all. Are these the actions of a perfect god? Would it not have been better to do something else? Surely an all-powerful god could not have had as a last solution the murder of all humanity, except for a chosen eight people. Could he not have thundered a voice from heaven? The Christian god, it is claimed, interfered with a Pharaoh’s attitude. It is said that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh, leading to the deaths of all first-born Egyptian children (innocent). Could he not have used a reversed tactic and softened the hearts of the people in Noah’s time? And if he was really committed to killing them all, then why not just make them disappear into total non-existence, instead of having them (children too) suffer the horrible death of drowning? Could he not have given them a more merciful death, like teleported an overdose of sleeping tablets to the intestines of the ones he disliked? Why the whole drama of a flood? Could he not just have disintegrated the people and things he had an issue with, sterilising the earth from evil? Since I can conceive how a better god could have handled the whole flood drama in a better way, can the Christian god still be claimed to be perfect?

Now, people might say: “Whoa, wait a minute. Our idea of perfect is not God’s idea of perfect so we cannot judge what is perfect or not”. If so, then *you* cannot claim your god is perfect, since you invalidate your concept of perfect in one blow and therefore cannot lay claim to a concept of perfection at all. If only your god knows what is perfect, then you cannot claim to know he is perfect. You cannot claim we don’t know what perfect is and then claim you know god is perfect.

Looking at the whole story of Jesus having to suffer as a sacrifice for our sin I also have some questions. If god is all-mighty then why did he need a scapegoat in order to forgive humanity? Punishing the wrong person for a transgression committed by another is a really bad/poor law system. Why did he not just say “You are all forgiven and have a clean slate as result”? Would a god that simply forgives not be better than a god that needs to see something innocent suffer in order to forgive? It would by any reasonable standard. Punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty cannot be an attribute of a perfect god. We can even ask if the need to punish belongs to the concept of a perfect god at all. Would a better god not be free from a desire or even need to punish? Would a perfect god not be free of any needs, even self imposed ones? So why this need to see something suffer?

Now, Christians say that God is all-just and all-lawful, and therefore he requires that a wrong deed be punished. Sure, but then he is bound by this need, he cannot violate it, right? A perfect god would not be bound by anything and least of all self-imposed restrictions. His concept of law is also questionable. Even humans don’t allow an innocent person to be punished for the crimes of another. It is like crucifying the neighbour’s child if your own has been up to mischief. Or, more in line with the Biblical story, it is like crucifying your own child because the neighbours’s kids stole your apples. And somehow torture is also required by this just god, simple death is not enough. Jesus was tortured and if you don’t accept his torture as your own fault, well, then you will be tortured in fire for all eternity. This is not “just” in any reasonable sense of the word. A perfect god could do better, like simply forgive or simply rectify the situation once and for all so that no more people need to suffer or be tortured. My concept of a perfect god is that such a good and perfect god would have found a way to deal with the issues to everyone’s satisfaction. Or, even better: A perfect god would have planned well enough so that all this torture and suffering was never *required* in the first place.

Christians claim that only a small percentage of humanity will escape eternal damnation or in other words, eternal torture in hell. If Jesus was God’s plan to save humanity from hell and only a small percentage is saved, then one has to question whether the plan was really a good plan after all. A better plan would have saved more than a small percentage, lets say 50% at least. An even better plan would have saved more, say about 80%. Yet it is clear that a perfect plan would have saved 100%. Since 100% is not saved by god’s plan it leaves us to conclude that his plan was not perfect. A perfect god would have had a perfect plan for salvation. Actually, no. A perfect god would have planned well enough so that salvation was not required in the first place. The doctrine of salvation is after all very simple. God made man, and made him curious. God planted tree and said: “Man, do not eat from that tree”. Curious man ate from the tree, as was to be expected. Suffering and mayhem follows. God tries to rescue man by torturing his own son. Son dies. Son is alive again. Man is only rescued if man believes all of this. Why? Why does man have to believe that innocent Jesus was tortured by God in order to be saved? After all, Jesus was tortured as was required and so the deed is done. God’s requirement to see someone suffer was fulfilled. God’s torturing requirement is fulfilled. Why then another requirement, the requirement for man to believe all this *and* worship the god? Why not just do the rescue plan and leave it at that? It’s like handing out food to the dying hungry, but only if they worship you. Not a moral act at all.

Speaking about worship. Why would a perfect god require to be worshipped anyway? Would a god that does not require anything and worship in particular not be a better god? It would. Person A wants to torture everyone that does not worship person A. Person B does not require people to worship him and have no desire (or demand on himself) that people be tortured. Person B is the better person. Since I can conceive of a better god than the Christian god that requires worship and total submission, well, then my concept of god is closer to perfection and therefore the Christian concept cannot lay absolute claim to perfection anymore.

It is assumed by the Christians that their god is good. If there are two options to us: A god who deceives people and a god who has no deception. What option would be the better option and therefore closer to perfection? Yes, the honest god is the better god. Yet, the Bible says this about the Christian god:

1 Kings 22:23
Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.

2 Chronicles 18:22
Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

Ezekiel 14:9
And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.

2 Thessalonians 2:11
For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.

A better god would not deceive people in a bad way or in any way for that matter. Plain and simple. I mean, it’s hard enough trying to figure out this life. A god that complicates things by deceiving us and causing us to harbour falsehoods is not a good thing, not a good thing at all. Even worse is the problem that people who get confused about what god wants might just end up in hell for it. God wants good works. No, god wants you to accept Jesus. No, god wants you to love other people above all. No, god wants you to love him above all. What if the whole Jesus thing was just a clever deception by the Old Testament god so that he could punish the people? After all, based on the above scripture you cannot claim that god would not deliberately deceive you! Maybe Christianity was the Judean god’s revenge on the Romans for conquering the Israelites?

Looking into detail at various parts of the Bible it is easy to see ways where the god could have been a better god. There are a multitude of examples to be found. Killing children with bears because they laughed at an old prophet is a bit extreme, even for an uptight god. Ordering the murder of woman, children, males and even animals is not the perfect way to deal with anything. In fact, humanity has recognised this for many years now and are trying their very best to stop these type of murderous practices. Are we perhaps more compassionate than the Christian god? Yes, we are. Who wishes guilty people to suffer an eternity? Not even the worst of human evils deserves an infinite punishment, because their crimes are simply finite. A perfect god would be better than us, would have more mercy and goodness, not less. We don’t torture people who steal and yet god is fine with torturing people simply because they do not worship him. You can say, yes, he is god, so he is allowed to. Why would you praise in your god that which you would hate in yourself? It simply shows that you are better than your concept of god.

There is therefore no good reason why any person would claim the Christian god is a perfect god. A perfect god would leave us in awe of his every action. It would leave us unable to wish for something better because he would simply be the best. But this doctrine of heaven for a few and eternal torture for the vast majority leaves us with the conclusion that it would be better (for humanity) if there was no god at all instead of the Christian concept of god actually existing. Since it is preferable to have no god than the Christian god, it is clear that having nothing is better than having the Christian god. A perfect god however would not leave us wishing that he did not exist. In all fairness, the things humanity would wish away are the more “evil” things in life. If a god is wished away we could perhaps wonder if there is any good in the concept to begin with.

One also cannot help but note that Christians claim their god is fair. Why do they claim this? It is based on the assumption that god is good and perfect and therefore perfectly fair. Any evidence to the contrary (as is found in the Bible) is argued away by saying we are not perfect and therefore cannot judge god’s actions. The assumption is that a perfect god would be perfectly fair. Since we established that the Christian concept of god is not perfect I am left to wonder why they assume he would be fair towards them, once they are dead. If there was a perfect god, and he was perfectly good, then one also has to wonder what his reaction would be to people who attributed evil deeds, such as killing an innocent (Jesus) to satisfy his own bloodlust, as good deeds to him? Would he perhaps be perfectly upset? A non-existing god is preferable to an upset god. Pascal’s wager is not the safe bet it seems at all. Can there be such a thing as perfect at all, let alone a perfect god?