Some commentary on The Trouble with Gods

Eric MacDonald has taken a piece called The Trouble with Gods, written by Ophelia Benson, and written some commentary on it. Both Ophelia and Eric highlight clearly just what is the trouble with gods, but it was Eric’s commentary in particular that resonated with me, and so I’m going to share a few excerpts.

Eric quotes Ophelia in describing the type of god that humans tend to create:

It may be that competitive, aggressive, possessive primates can’t invent gods or a god that don’t become dictators because it’s just not in us to do without hierarchy and the principle of subordination. A cursory glance at our history seems to suggest that. If that’s the case, then a god is a disastrous thing for us to invent because it has supernatural total power with no accountability.

Then Eric adds:

And that, unfortunately, gives to certain human beings a kind of total power with no accountability. If you ever wonder why the Vatican is so corrupt, consider that it’s founded on the idea that God actually came to earth and left popes in charge! And that’s a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.

Indeed. What if a given religion is mistaken? What would the consequences be of following an invisible power with no accountability that turned out not to even exist? Here’s Eric again:

…religious leaders have had to convince their flock that they are, in fact, a flock, and that the limits on their freedom to think or to act have been laid down by a being that no one can see.

A being that no one can see. We are going to tell you what to do and restrict your freedom – but not because we say so, but because this being that no one can see says so. Again, what if this being doesn’t exist?

Eric quotes Ophelia again:

It seems to me that “God” has a stark choice. If it wants to be an authoritative or even just a helpful guide, it has to stay in contact—real contact, not pretend contact through other humans who simply say they know what God wants. Or, if it wants to stay hidden, it has to give up the authoritative role. It can’t do both and still claim to be supremely good.

And then Eric adds his own commentary:

And that means that religious leaders have a stark choice. Either they produce the real thing, or they surrender their usurped authority. And that is something they just won’t do, because — you know what? – unquestioned authority is a great thing. Just think what political leaders could get away with if they didn’t have to justify their actions, if they weren’t accountable!

Exactly. Who am I accountable to if I’m just following the rules of our invisible diety? Once I’ve gotten you to believe that this whole system of things is real, how is there any way to question my actions?

Whenever someone claims to have God on their side, imagine what they could be getting away with if their God isn’t real.

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