- For the religious and non-religious alike (I’m sure you saw the title of this post and were about to be offended. Just hold off for a bit. Save your outburst).
- I am no artist. My most sincere apologies for the lamentable graphics.
For illustration purposes, assume for a moment that the human brain is a room filled with boxes. Each box has a category: Science, History, Song Lyrics, Memories with Mom, Memories with Granny, etc. These boxes are arranged based on importance and relevance. For example, my To-Do List-box is generally easily accessible, as well as my Homework-box, and Short Term Memory-boxes. Another box is the god-box. Every brain has a god-box. For some, this box exists in the outermost recesses of the mind. For others, it remains in the forefront of thought. It may hold a book of fairy-tales, a philosophy, a cause, a code of ethics, etc.
Interestingly enough, everyone believes that their god-box holds the correct idea of god.
Let’s look at some historical god-boxes.
God in a 1095 god-box
It is November 27, 1095. Pope Urban II stands in front of a congregation of nearly 300 bishops, abbots, and prominent French lords. He speaks of the trials in the East as well as the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. He urges Western Christians to wage war and regain control of the Holy Land. He also encourages military support of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (yeah, good luck pronouncing that name) who is struggling to gain victory over the Turks. Pope Urban declares the war “bellum sacrum,” or in English, a “holy war.”
Urban’s speech, which was presented at the Council of Clermont, was the spark that led to the first of nine crusades. The Pope ended his impassioned sermon with the words: “Deus vult,” (“God wills it”).
Preserved letters from crusaders which can be read here attest to the brutality executed in the name of god. One young man writes: “Know for certain that we have captured for the lord 200 cities and fortresses. May our mother, the western church, rejoice that she has begotten such men.”
No one knows exactly how many died in the bloody, god-endorsed crusades, but estimates suggest up to 1.7 million. According to one crusader, the blood under the portico of a particular mosque was knee-deep and reached the horses’ bridles. (Read more horrifying tales of the crusades in the book Crimes of Christianity).
The 1095 god-box held a god who attacked, murdered, plundered, and destroyed. He demanded blood and brutality.
God in a 1620 god-box
The year is 1620. A 30-year-old young man, William Bradford, boards a ship to the New World in search of religious freedoms. On the voyage across the Atlantic, Bradford describes in his journal a certain obnoxious sailor as “a proud and very profane young man,” who “would always be condemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily.” So yeah, not the nicest fellow to have on a ship with you for months at a time.
However, before the end of the journey, Bradford accounts for the sailor’s untimely and drastic demise: “But it pleased God, before [we] came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner.” (Read more of Bradford’s journal here. See page 91 for quote).
This 1620 god-box held a god who was vengeful and punishing. He took pleasure in abusing the wicked while simultaneously blessing the righteous (in this case, the Pilgrims).
God in a 1741 god-box
Jonathan Edwards, a bright, British Colonial Christian, stands in front of his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts and preaches a sermon. The sermon is entitled: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Below are select excerpts from his address:
“If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot…. He will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood…He will not only hate you, but he will have you, in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets” (pg. 8).
Not the nicest picture.
Referring to God’s wrath: “It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery” (pg. 8).
“You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God” (pg. 9).
Jonathon Edwards’ 1741 god-box held a god who really didn’t like anyone….at all. Actually, he hated humans and wanted to kill them—for all eternity. (If you want some depressing reading material, here is his full sermon).
God in an 1800s Southern god-box
Frederick Dalcho, an Episcopal clergyman from South Carolina, attempts to explain the religious justification of slavery:
“The prophecy of Noah was to be fulfilled, not in the individuals named, but nationally in their descendants. Canaan’s whole race was under the malediction.” Thus the descendants of Canaan, the Africans, were to be the “servants of servants,” or as Dalcho explained, “the lowest state of servitude, slaves…”
So in other words, African Americans were basically out of luck since their ancestors had somehow angered Noah. Noah responded in typical Biblical fashion and cursed the guys who angered him (oh yeah, and all their descendants forever). Many southern plantation owners used this excuse to justify enslaving the Africans. They firmly believed that god had given them ordinance to “own” people and use them as slaves. (Read more from the Religious Defense of American Slavery here).
A southerner’s god-box in the 1800s contained a god who condoned owning slaves and treating them with the utmost cruelty and brutality.
God in a 2005 god-box
A group of noxious protesters from Westboro Baptist Church gather at a funeral home where a service is being held for a fallen soldier. The Baptist protesters proceed to wreak havoc on the solemn event by dancing, singing, and picketing. Some of their signs are painted with the words: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11.”
According to Westboro Baptist Church, every unfortunate tragedy is God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. In fact, their rallying cry is: God Hates Fags. They even have a website devoted to their cause. On the right sidebar of their site is a number that starts at 0 and rapidly rises throughout the duration of one’s perusal of the page. The rising number is supposedly the “people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page.”
What a lovely thought.
The 2005 Westboro Baptist Church god-box holds a god who hates a particular group of people. Additionally, this god punishes an entire nation and kills innocent individuals because of the “sins” of one group.
This article has only scratched the surface of an infinitely deep discussion. There are approximately 7 billion people on planet earth which equates to precisely 7 billion god-boxes. Each god-box holds a slightly varying view of god. Depending on the box, god may despise Muslims, or Americans, or blacks, or gays. He may love or hate. He may punish or bless. He may exist or not exist.
Much of humanity has come to loathe the idea of a deity. They look to history and see the horrific episodes of death and destruction all seemingly endorsed by god.
But the truth is, if a deity existed, he would undoubtedly surpass any human comprehension—he would be infinite. In other words, he could not fit inside a box.
The god-boxes in our brains are simply our ideas of what a deity might or could be. They are influenced by our own sinful, perverted natures. It’s no wonder then, that the god in our god-boxes is often cruel, brutal, and punishing.
Keep this in mind the next time you hear a speech about god’s character. Whether good or bad, god’s character is only an idea influenced by humanity. It’s a human attempting to grasp an infinite concept with a finite mind.
I challenge you to think outside the box in your brain. Whether you’re an atheist or theist, take a moment and attempt to contemplate an infinite concept. Think of the universe in terms of infinity, not your brain.
If that confuses you, congratulations. It’s a sign that not everything has to fit into the mold inside your head. The greatest things in this world never do.
Today will be amazing.