The Problem of the Mystery God:
Theism in Crisis
by Norm R. Allen Jr.
It has been persuasively argued by numerous philosophers and freethinkers that if the God of classical theism exists, there is ample evidence to suggest that he (she or it) is an evil being. The numerous atrocities ascribed to this God by the ancient Hebrews and early Christians of the Bible, the problem of evil, the creation of Satan, the supposed words of God himself (e.g., Isaiah 45:7), and numerous other points have been made in this regard.
Moreover, it has been adequately demonstrated by numerous atheists and agnostics that theists have yet to present strong evidence of God's existence. I will argue, however, that not only is this fact problematic, but that if the God of classical theism exists, he is morally and intellectually obligated to make his existence self-evident, and that a failure or refusal to do so is evidence that he is unfair, irrational, downright evil, and probably insane. Moreover, I will argue that other conceptions of God are also problematic.
We are told that God is a supreme being who metes out rewards and punishments, blessings and curses, to human beings during and after their earthly lives, based upon their actions and beliefs, or lack thereof. Those who believe in God at least have a chance of achieving everlasting happiness in Heaven. Those who do not believe in him-regardless of the goodness of their actions-will be eternally punished in Hell after their earthly existence. (Belief-or faith-and not knowledge, is the most important criterion for acceptance into Heaven.)
First, this is irrational. A being who sincerely wants human beings to behave in certain ways, to keep commandments, etc., and who punishes and rewards them based upon their actions, must be morally and intellectually obligated to them and to himself to make his existence self-evident. It is not reasonable for a supposedly intelligent being to expect so much of human beings while providing them with, at best, insufficient evidence of his existence, and knowing that he has endowed them with reason, and that some of them will use their ability to reason when questions regarding his existence are raised.
Second, this is unfair. Even if God exists and he gives strong evidence of his existence to some-or even most-human beings, it is not fair of him to withhold such evidence from anyone. For example, say a power lifter says to his children that he has the strength to curl 400 pounds. Further, say that for some mysterious reason, he decides to punish or reward them based on their willingness to believe or disbelieve his claim. Now say that he decides to prove his claim to his son by curling the weight before him, but decides to withhold such proof from his daughter. As a result, the boy "believes" his claim, and the girl does not. The boy is rewarded for his "faith," and the girl is punished because she does not believe his claim. Where is the justice here? Why were they not both given a demonstration of their father's power? How could the girl honestly be blamed for not believing something that does not agree with her reason or experience? And what makes the boy's "belief" particularly moral, special, or impressive? Likewise, if God exists, it is unfair of him to give evidence of his existence only to certain human beings. If we are all his children, and he loves us equally, we are all equally entitled to at least have extraordinary evidence of his existence.
Third, if God exists, his inability and/or unwillingness to make his existence self-evident to all human beings, coupled with his desire to "punish" those who do not believe, constitute evidence of his evil character. While it has been strongly argued that eternal torment is an evil in itself, it is particularly evil-and probably insane-to torture reasonably (or highly) intelligent human beings for ultimately lacking a belief in something for which there is, at best, insufficient evidence. To set people up for an eternity of suffering (by intentionally withholding evidence) is the height of absurdity and evil. In short, if God exists, if he is to be morally and intellectually respectable, acceptance of his existence must necessarily be a matter of axiomatic and self-evident truth, and not a matter of faith. That is to say, if God does not make his existence self-evident, he has the insurmountable burden of providing a moral and rational basis for denying human beings entry into his kingdom, let alone mercilessly torturing them in an afterlife.
There are those who argue that God has his reasons for not allowing us to experience him through our senses, or for not giving us extraordinary proof of his existence. But this view is inconsistent with claims that he was seen and heard by Moses and other highly revered spiritual persons. Moreover, it is inconsistent with claims that God has performed numerous miracles-biblical and otherwise-to provide evidence of his existence. Yet if God felt morally and intellectually obligated to give strong evidence of his existence to primitive, superstitious, and mostly illiterate and uneducated nomads (i.e., the ancient Hebrews), it makes even more sense-and it is only fair-to provide such evidence to the highly literate, educated, scientific, technological, and philosophical people of the late 20th century.
In any case, God could make his existence self-evident without being seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted. For example, in the natural world, we cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste gravity, but reasonable people are not in doubt regarding its existence, and numerous experiments can be performed to demonstrate its existence.
If God exists, he could make his existence known in many ways, and still remain deeply mysterious, while protecting his privacy. For example, on any given day, he could publicly predict natural disasters in any part of the world in minute detail (number of deaths, injuries, amount of property damage, etc.) via the internet-even hours or minutes before such events would occur. Or he could successfully and consistently predict the results of numerous major sporting events throughout the world (heavyweight boxing championships, the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Summer Olympics, etc.) Or every year he could accurately predict the teams that would qualify for major sports championships. Or he could pick the winners of various lotteries on a regular basis. Or he could bring the Statue of Liberty to life and have her moonwalk across North America-an event to be televised internationally and covered by every major news organization. Or he could bring the stone heads of Mount Rushmore National Memorial to life- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt-and have them break out into a rap in the style of RUN DMC. Or he could accurately predict the "victors" in holy wars (including the number of casualties, injuries, widows, orphans, etc.) The possibilities are endless.
There are theists who believe in God, but who reject a belief in Hell or the Devil. They believe that atheists and other sinners will not be mercilessly tormented after they die, but that they will merely be denied entry into the Kingdom of God, and peacefully banished from existence forever. But even this God is irrational and unfair, because he denies atheists the opportunity to accept him. He gives them no extraordinary evidence of his existence, and thereby denies them a fair opportunity to enjoy everlasting happiness, which is supposedly preferable to a peaceful non-existence.
Some theists-like the late Norman Vincent Peale-believe that everyone can gain entry into Heaven. They assert that what matters most is not a belief in God, but living a godly life (i.e., altruism, kindness, patience, respect for others, etc.) But there are problems with this God as well. First, how can we be certain that we have the right morals, especially considering that there are so many competing religious and ethical systems? For example, how can we be absolutely certain that we are on the right side of the abortion issue if God does not give us extraordinary evidence of his existence and make his position on the issue very clear? Many of us will honestly choose the wrong side, and not take the godly position. If we err in this regard too often, will we be denied entry into the Kingdom of God? If not, then even the ungodly can gain entry into God's Kingdom, and morality-within the context of theology-is not important in achieving this end. If so, then God is unwise, irrational and unfair for not presenting all of us with extraordinary evidence of his existence.
Second, if it does not matter whether we believe in God, what serious objections could be raised against atheism, and why should theists work so hard to promote a belief in God? Some contend that God answers prayers, but any God worthy of worship would give everyone extraordinary evidence of his existence so that we would all have good reasons to pray. Furthermore, a just, loving, rational, wise and omniscient God (who supposedly knows what we want before we pray) would not demand that we pray before he decided to improve our lives. Indeed, no good, competent earthly father waits for praise or requests from his children before he decides to act on their behalf. Why should not the children of God expect the same from the heavenly father?
Ultimately, if God exists, he has no one to blame for atheism but himself.
In conclusion, a sensible God could not reasonably expect to have his will carried out if he chose to remain mysterious, and without presenting a clear and consistent moral code (i.e., a moral code without a need for any kind of hermeneutics.) An undeniably self-evident God is the only kind of God who could establish a fair, sane, moral, rational, and wise basis for rewarding or punishing human beings; and to "punish" any being for lacking faith in an excessively mysterious God is evil. Such a God is unworthy of being worshipped by fair, rational, and ethical human beings.
Norm R. Allen Jr. is the Executive Director of African Americans for