I’m going to respond to Dan Fincke’s article over on Camels Without Hammers because, while I think he’s put a lot of good thought into the concept, I don’t think that the concept accurately represents the reality. Dan seems to think that most Christians don’t really see their God as a bearded man in the sky, he seems to think that most are more sophisticated than that. I don’t.
I don’t think most Christians, and this works just as well with virtually any other religion, have given a single thought to what their gods actually are. They simply accept whatever the popular notion is and buy into it whether it makes sense or not. We see that with the silly story where FOX news correspondents think Jesus was white. Why? Because that’s what all the pictures that came out of Europe in the Middle Ages showed. Such a belief is ridiculous, Jesus, if he existed at all, was a Middle Eastern man of Arabic origins. He didn’t come from Europe, he wasn’t of an Anglo-Saxon background, he was not some guy with white skin and blue eyes, there’s no rational reason to think any of that is so. European artists simply drew what they knew and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now certainly, you might find some better educated theists who would look at you funny at the thought of a bearded man sitting on a cloud, but I don’t find many of those educated theists in my day-to-day world. Maybe Dan does, he runs in university circles, but for the general man on the street Christian, I don’t think you’d find many who have even considered what God actually looks like. That’s because the image of a bearded God has been around in the Christian psyche for so long, the image immediately springs to mind for the majority of Christians. There’s a reason for that though, because the image of God has changed dramatically over time and for those Christians who really don’t spend much time between the covers of their Bibles, who only know what’s most commonly preached from the pulpit, they’re just more familiar with the ancient view. God walks with Adam and Eve, God directly communicates with humanity, God created man in his image, even though it’s more clearly that man created God in ours. It’s really only been in relatively recent history that academic theologians realized that their whole view of God was absurd and likely to be discovered for the fraud that it is by anyone who looks at it. Therefore, they revised their views of God, changing him from an interactive deity that directly deals with man to an invisible force that doesn’t demonstrably intervene in human history. Everything that’s changed in the redefinition of God has been damage control. They knew it was stupid and they just moved the goalposts to make it seem less absurd to the outside world.
And while the educated, intellectual Christian might recognize this, they are a very minuscule percentage of self-identified Christians overall. Dan argues that Christians know that the Devil isn’t real. I disagree. He thinks that most Christians recognize that hell is an absence of God. I don’t think that most Christians have given their theology any critical thought at all. The Devil has always been presented as a red guy with horns and a pitchfork and if you asked a random Christian on the street to tell you about the Devil, that’s probably what you’ll get in response. The same Christian you find on Twitter or Facebook or on a debate forum is not the same guy that Dan is talking about, the guy who gets up and debates theology on a stage in front of an audience. There’s a hell of a lot more ignorant Christians out there than the well-informed variety. We need to recognize that fact.
I’d really like to think that there are more intelligent Christians, people who rationally evaluate their beliefs, look for evidence, think about the problems with their theology, etc. Unfortunately, they don’t really exist, outside of a small handful of professional apologists whose true goal is to keep making money off of the faithful. They might still buy into the mythology, we know that people are acutely able to compartmentalize their beliefs, but on some level, I’m convinced, they have to know where their paycheck comes from, that’s why they continue to dance around on stages, using absurd arguments to support even more absurd beliefs.
Most Christians are far too gullible to know any better.