Stephen old boy. God here – you know, the Almighty one, the Alpha and Omega, the LORD – or ‘the Maniac’ if you prefer. ;)
Forgive me for popping up unannounced – dreadfully rude. (The poor chap whose blog I’ve hijacked will be horrified – he likes to talk about me… on and on… but frankly he doesn’t have a clue, and the idea of me actually talking back…!!)
Anyway, I deliberately chose a blog no-one reads, so this can just be our secret eh? Some of my followers would get so cross if they thought I was talking to other people, except maybe to tell them to repent.
Now I’m not always a huge fan of the internet – far too many abysmal ‘Christian’ sites that aren’t – but I must confess I do like YouTube. Cats falling off sofas, How Harry Potter should have ended, Daleks singing ‘Let it go’ from Frozen – what’s not to like?
Lots of your stuff there too of course – my favourite still the ‘Bishop and the Warlord’ song with Hugh, though Gabriel preferred you both in Jeeves and Wooster (he says Jeeves reminds him of me. Cheeky).
And perhaps most entertainingly, that brilliant recent interview with Gay Byrne, in which you kindly and amusingly mentioned me. I know we’ve both already seen it (well, we were both there when you recorded it), but it’s well worth watching again, if only for Mr Byrne’s face after you’ve said your piece – priceless:
So you know the only thing that really upsets me about that interview? The knee-jerk response of so many of the people who think they represent me. Of course, it’s touching when your children stick up for you, but you know, I’d rather hoped some of them might have learnt a tiny bit more by now. I thought I’d spelt it out fairly clearly: ‘Love your enemies… turn the other cheek… don’t repay evil for evil…’ I even gave a personal demonstration, publicly forgiving the guys who were nailing me to two planks. But still so many of my followers just blindly hit back the moment anyone disses me, as I think the word on the street has it.
They think they’re defending me, but really they’re mostly just defending their own beliefs, which feel under threat, thus threatening their whole view of themselves and the world. Or else they’re simply feeling offended and responding aggressively. These are perfectly natural human reactions, but not really what I’ve been trying to teach them. (And as an aside I do wish they’d stop clinging to some of these beliefs, most of which are deeply unimportant and some just frankly a bit silly. As if what a person believed about me was really what mattered.)
(I like you)
I’ll let you into a secret. I completely love everyone of course – it’s my nature, whatever some think about me being all angry and smitey. And you can generally find some good in everyone if you look hard enough. But I must confess that I often like atheists rather more than some of my own devoted followers.
I like your honesty, your straight talking. I like that you call a spade a spade, and that you call me to account for the wrongs and evils and injustices of the world.
It may surprise and (I hope) annoy you that I don’t find your words particularly offensive. For sure, your arguments don’t really do justice to the brains I gave you, but then reason isn’t at the heart of this argument is it? It’s passionate and heartfelt, and that’s far more human (and divine) than cold logic.
I love your honesty in admitting that your atheism is as much about hating me for the ills of the world as it is about intellectual arguments explaining why I almost definitely can’t exist. (I don’t exist by the way – existence is a property of the natural order, but maybe now’s not the time for metaphysics.)
And God knows, I mean I know, you have more than enough reasons to hate me and the Bible, given your sexuality and the way the church has treated gay people just for starters. I’d probably hate me if I were you. The thing is, I kind of am you… incarnation and all that… but maybe that’s for another time…
Well said, Stephen
Anyway, I so much prefer good, honest hate to weak-tea indifference and apathy. On balance, I may even prefer it to unthinking faith. I have to confess that I like a good tussle sometimes, and I don’t always win – where would be the fun in that? That’s one of the things I always liked about the Hebrews/Israelites – never afraid to argue the toss with me.
So I hear what you say, and my response is ‘Bravo Stephen, well said! You’re not far from the Kingdom’. Because in a way, you’re absolutely right. The world is both splendid and an absolute disaster, and it certainly does look whoever’s in charge has either been asleep at the wheel or else is a selfish egotistical maniac who delights in inflicting suffering and sorrow. And I’m not rushing to defend myself here, because frankly I don’t need to and you make a point worth listening to.
My only real complaint is that you’re not bringing your complaint directly to me. Come and shout at me – swear if you like, I’m okay with that. Just talk to me.
But until you do, I’m afraid I’m not going to offer justification here for the way the universe is. Because it’s the kind of thing you can only begin to understand in the context of a conversation, a relationship. Just giving you a rational, intellectual argument won’t help.
Now while I’m still in secret-revealing mode, I’ll spill another. I don’t actually talk like this. I don’t generally talk at all, at least not in human language. Because I’m not actually human (well, again, there’s the incarnation thing, but let’s not complicate matters).
But you guys will insist on anthropomorphising me as though I were just some giant invisible parent/judge/headmaster/prime minister in the sky – nice or nasty depending on your experiences of life, religion and authority figures, and how literally you’ve been taught to read the Bible.
And of course that’s precisely what you do in your interview with Gay – talking of me as though I were some bonkers human dictator making a mess of running the world but expecting everyone to praise him for it.
To be fair though, I did kind of start it. To relate to you wonderful and infuriating people I’ve had to take on some human characteristics; to communicate with you I have to adopt a human persona and voice. (Incarnation again – sorry – keeps coming up.)
But then of course people make assumptions, and it all starts to get a bit messy. So, for example, to Old Testament prophets I spoke in language and pictures they could understand. But these tend not to sound so great now, when put into a 21st-century Western context.
The trouble with the Bible
So I have to confess that occasionally I half wonder if the whole Bible thing wasn’t a tiny bit of a mistake. For as soon as things get written down, people immediately start to misunderstand and misinterpret them, and use the written word to bash themselves and other people with. And when people think they’ve got the very Words of God, I’ve found that a fair number of them will just switch off their brains and their consciences and do unspeakable things, imagining that ‘scripture’ commands or sanctions it. It categorically doesn’t. I never meant the Bible to be read that way, but humans are phenomenally good at getting things round their necks.
Take the whole homosexuality thing – those parts of the Bible that seem to condemn and prohibit who you are. I’m not going to try and justify those verses, but I’d really hoped it was clear from the context that they were only ever intended for a very specific community and time, at a particular early stage of human social and ethical development. But maybe best not to get into this one now – another time maybe?
Then there’s the whole hell thing. Seriously, has no-one heard of metaphor or hyperbole?
I really don’t want people just to slavishly follow every word the Bible says. I want them (and you) to engage with it, wrestle with it, argue with it – and with me. I’m desperate for honest relationship, not slavish devotion. I’m really not asking everyone to say ‘thank you’ to me all the time for the pain and mess in their lives.
So keep up the honesty, and try to forgive my followers if you possibly can. Some of them really are quite decent sorts when you get to know them. Speak to you soon, I hope.
PS Belated Happy Darwin Day for 2 days ago. The good fellow sends his love – he does like to watch QI.