There is something that has been bothering me for quite a while now. It is when people claim to be religious and then suggest or imply that God is some kind of monster in order to justify their deeply immoral beliefs. Unfortunately, it is a common phenomenon throughout history. One of the most obvious examples is the Salem Witch Trials. A more modern example is any of the jihadist terrorist attacks. If God is good, he doesn’t sanction such behavior. If he did sanction such behavior, as the perpetrators claim, then God would be a monster.
I first had this basic thought when I read Dante’s Divine Comedy many years ago. In the fourth Canto, as Dante and Virgil enter the first circle of Hell, I ran across this passage:
There, as it seemed from listening,
Were lamentations none, but only sighs,
That tremble made the everlasting air.
And this arose from sorrow without torment,
Which the crowds had, that many were great,
Of infants and of women and of men.
It was the word infants that caught me. This, of course, is Limbo. It is the place in Hell where people who were never baptized, but were otherwise blameless, are sent. Think about that for a minute. According to Dante, there is literally a special place in Hell reserved for stillborn babies. While it is true that they are not tormented, Dante says that they are, “. . .punished,/That without hope [they] live on in desire.” I couldn’t help but ask myself what kind of God would allow innocent babies to spend eternity in “sorrow” and “without hope.” The only answer I could come up with was a monstrous, immoral God. Dante implied that God was a monster. I was forced to reject Dante’s view.
One of the most prominent current examples of people depicting God as a monster is people who claim that God hates LGBTQ+ people. The Westboro Baptist Church is probably the most obvious example of this view. They are a hate group whose slogan is, “God hates ____,” where that space is filled with a slur that I’m not willing to use, but it means that God hates LGBTQ+ people. They got famous some years ago for picketing military funerals and claiming that the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for the U.S. advancing a gay agenda. Normally I would link to websites and news articles for support, but this group is so disgusting that I don’t want to encourage any spread of their message. You can do a simple internet search if you need confirmation.
Unfortunately, this view is not confined to the fringes. The sitting Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, as well as many in the Republican party are proud homophobes. They don’t typically use the extreme language of the Westboro Baptist Church, they are too political to use slurs in public, but they don’t believe that LGBTQ+ people deserve the same rights as other people. This hatred of the LGBTQ+ community is virtually always rooted in the homophobe’s faith. In other words, the homophobes claim that homophobia is what God wants.
Homophobia, however, cannot be God’s will because that would make God a monster. There is no other way to look at the idea that God makes a group of people just so he can hate that group of people. The homophobes may counter that it is a function of free will, God does not make anyone LGBTQ+. That goes against the testimony of all the LGBTQ+ people who say that it is not a choice like what to have for breakfast, but rather it is at the core of who they are as people. But that can be set aside. God would still be a monster for hating LGBTQ+ people even if it is a completely free choice on their part.
It is a simple bit of reasoning to get to the idea that God does not hate LGBTQ+ people. Start with the fact that a person being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual does not cause any harm. It is simply a fact about a person, like having brown hair or being taller than average. It could not possibly cause harm. Next is the fact that God would not brand something that is harmless as a sin. It would be obvious that something was wrong if having brown hair were considered sinful. Having brown hair causes no harm. It doesn’t even matter if a person’s hair is brown naturally or if it is dyed. It doesn’t affect anyone else in any way. The same is true for being LGBTQ+. It doesn’t affect anyone else. If God were offended by harmless traits in people, that would make God a bigot which is a pretty monstrous thing to be.
Throughout this piece, I have been simply asserting that God is not a monster. I’m working under the assumption that God is good since that is the thing everyone says about him. I do have to recognize the fact that I could be wrong. I’m not a prophet, I have no special insight into the nature of God. Maybe God is a monster. Maybe he is bigoted, mean, selfish, and cruel. It does not change my main point. If God really is a monster, it would still be wrong for people to use God as an excuse for holding immoral beliefs or doing immoral actions. God’s opinion has no bearing on whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. If the Westboro Baptist Church is accurate in their picture of God, all it means is that God is bad. That’s no excuse for the rest of us to be bad as well.
Another way to think of it is that if God is not good, God is pointless. I know that people tend to be wary of a pragmatic view of truth. However, the best defense of religion I’ve ever read is by William James, a pragmatist, and when there is no direct evidence to consult (which there isn’t when it comes to God), pragmatism is used by everyone, including scientists, to arrive at reasoned conclusions. God’s only real reason for being is his goodness. He can serve as an example of how we should live our lives. He can be a beacon of justice in the world. Everything else attributed to him, whether ultimately true or not, is a waste as it doesn’t impact us in any way.
I will stick to my belief that God is good. None of us have any control over God, but we do control ourselves. We can, and should, choose to be good regardless of God’s opinions or wishes. The world is a better place if God is good. I wish Mike Pence and his ilk would stop suggesting otherwise. It is also nice to think that the immoral people who justify their immorality with God will learn their error and feel some remorse. I don’t believe that they will, or should, be tortured for their beliefs, though. Because God is not a monster.