God Is No Excuse

By Liam Fox

We are all born, and we have no choice in that. We have no choice as to the situation we are born into, good or bad. We have no responsibility for negative hardships that exist at the time of our birth anymore than we can take credit for any inherent advantages. We come into this world blind, ignorant and incompetent and we learn about our environment, the limitations and the potentialities as we develop. Each one of us share this experience. In fact, this is one of the few universal things that we all share equally. We are born, we share the vulnerabilities as humans to illness, pain, hunger, violence and suffering, and then we die. These are facts. This is the situation that all of us share. These are the things we have in common that none of us can escape. These are the things that none of us can exercise any substantive control over. We are born, we are vulnerable and then we die.

At any given instant, a snap-shot may be taken of our planet, and regardless of when that snap-shot is taken, the result would be the same. We would see a population of people who all share these same basic conditions of existence struggling to survive. All having arrived on this planet within the past several decades and all equally irresponsible for the condition they found it in. All of us are struggling to survive, but many are working diligently to capitalize on the discovered and created inequalities that sentence the vast majority of our fellow humans to incredible poverty, leaving a minority to live in comfort, and a fraction of a percent to wallow in absolutely perverse wealth.

Belief in divine intervention, or supernatural orchestration, only reinforces these inherited, institutionalized inequalities. Divine reasons are attributed to situations that provide benefit to those who have discovered the divine reasons. To give credit to a god for what has been attained, achieved or exploited removes responsibility from the beneficiary for becoming a ‘have’ at the expense of the ‘have-not’s’. People believe that they are blessed because a god has blessed them. This sounds selfless, to not take credit for personal achievement or acquisition. It sounds downright humble and pious. However, what it really does is free a person from the guilt of exploitation at another’s expense. If all blessings come from a creator or master conductor, it stands to reason that those not blessed, are so by the will and purpose of the same divine being, or supernatural power.

To believe that there is a divine power in charge is to believe that the impoverished, the suffering, the hungry etc… are such by divine decree, if not allowance. Somehow, and in some way, if one is deserving and worthy of blessing, the un-blessed must have deserved their lot as well. We saw and heard examples of this in the callous, dispassionate and selfish pronouncements from religious leaders following the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Even if you discount them for their ignorance and believe that blessings rain equally on the just as they do the unjust, it’s still the supreme being in ultimate control of the ‘raining’ and the allowing of a huge majority of humans to be rained on by a merciless shit-storm of poverty, hunger and oppression.

To claim an intelligent design or divine orchestration of this world, is to escape personal responsibility by making the suffering of our fellow humans the province of an invisible supreme being. It’s very convenient. We declare it ‘horribly unfortunate’ for these destitute and suffering people and we offer them our prayers in lieu of equality. We send money, but never enough and always too late, and we never address the fundamental systemic issues that cause and perpetuate the suffering and inequality. We decide that the status quo is unchangeable and accept it as ‘just the way things are’. We tell ourselves there is nothing we can do about it. We work hard to convince ourselves that it is not only easier, but much wiser, to leave it in the hands of an unseen, unproven and unknowable god.

Believers in divine provenance seem conveniently able to ignore the exploitation, cruelty and oppression necessary to create the favored position they found themselves in by accident of birth. Others, unfettered by compunctions about exploitation and capitalization, increase their lot at the expense of others, and once again, reason that since they were able to, it must have been allowed by a supreme being and therefore is sanctioned by that supreme being. It is a wonderful mind-set that provides freedom from responsibility and gives divine permission to personal, gender, ideological, theological, ethnic and national exceptionalism and the subsequent exploitation and capitalization required to maintain that favored position of consumption and excess. Further, it is reasoned, that to share equally with our fellow humans in need, is to disrespect the gift of favored status and divine supremacy bestowed by said supreme being. It is by grand design that the favored children wallow in luxury while millions die, every day, lacking the basic necessities. This is considered glorifying to many gods, as long as public displays are made, giving the god credit for the excess.

Religions that believe in omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent gods or supreme beings, provide the supreme excuse to exploit, and accept as divine intervention, the fruits of past and current greed and lust. Religion is a barrier to human cooperation and shared prosperity. As humans, we are all in this together. We are equal. We share the fundamental experiences of birth, human frailty and death. We need to recognize this shared responsibility for all of our needs and challenges as well as our potential and achievable successes. The only way to ensure the safe, secure and mutually prosperous sustainable development for any of us, is to work towards it for all human beings. No more excuses, tricks or confidence schemes. We are the only answer.

Editor’s Note: Please follow Liam Fox on Twitter.


24 Responses to God Is No Excuse

  1. RickK February 21, 2010 at 11:14 am

    “An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on earth – scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children on television and radio and in movies, newspapers, magazines, comics and many books- might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?”

    — Carl Sagan, “The Demon-Haunted World”, 1996

  2. Stephen Dufrechou February 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent article, Liam…. I’m reminded, here, of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who (aptly) revised Dostoevsky’s well-known phrase from “The Brothers Karazamov”. Dostoevsky writes, “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” Lacan alters this claim and states, “If God exists, everything is permitted.” …

    Fundamentalists, of any nature (Christian, Islamic, or otherwise) psycho-dynamically function by absolving their responsibility for their own actions, by evoking the concept of “God” and heaping their own culpability onto this “God”–an unaccountable abstraction, which cannot be verified, thus, cannot be countered. As such, the religious fundamentalist then maintains his own unaccountability.

    Both religion and “God” should be put on trial. And so much the worse for us that not doing so is very politically useful, on every corner on the planet.

  3. Anna Wetrosky February 21, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks. Eloquently put and nicely thought-provoking.

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  5. Rocky February 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    you have never felt true love

  6. Jim B February 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    First of all, why is inequality inherently incorrect? Past the satisfaction of some sort of basic human rights (if this can be justified, a big if), where is the moral imperative to improve or work for discovered / created inequalities?

    In fact, where do these moral imperatives seem to come from in the first place? Frankly, they come from religion. Science does very little in terms of morality, and a purely scientific view of the world includes no notions of correcting inequality (how is correcting an inequality beneficial for my own survival?). Everything that science teaches completely agrees with the idea that humans are self-seeking survivors, with little use for altruism except as it extends to needed units (families.

    You’ve confused enlightenment era ideals (e.g. equality, science) which are fundamentally based on Christianity, and are positing somehow that religion is what is problematic about our society. What you’re really arguing against is some sort of religious determinism–and you’re merely positing an age old Christian idea of ‘freedom’ as an answer.

    You’re stepping way out with this–religion has produced some of the most celebrated altruists in the history of the world (Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., etc., etc.), and, in its purely conceived form, is the vehicle of altruism itself. Religion is deeply interconnected with both our society and other societies, which means that it is deeply connected with both the ability of human beings to provide altruism and the ability of human beings to destroy. To reduce all ‘negative’ human behavior down to a single identifiable cause, and to label that cause ‘religion’ is absolutely ridiculous. Certainly wars have been carried out in the name of religion, but wars have been carried out in the name of all sorts of different causes–that’s just human nature, and the ability to link causes to something that affects your society is useful in providing justification for us to slaughter one another.

    This type of reductionism is just as bad as the fundamentalists–can’t you see that you’re doing the exact same thing as they are by turning a complex and multifaceted issue into pure black and white, good and bad? The only thing that’s happening is that you’re substituting what they disagree with what you disagree with, and then labeling all of the ills of society as stemming from that individual source.

    I hope that you don’t consider this altruism, because it’s not–it’s just idealism.

  7. SamWG February 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I think the true problem here is a misunderstanding of God and of what it really means to be a Christian. It is true that the Christian God is omnipresent, omnicient and omnipotent. But, assuming that the Christian God exists, its important to look at the whole scope of the story. God created everything to be perfect. And when he created man, he created him with a choice. In order to be truly worshipped, God had to give man a choice to follow him. Man chose not to follow him (this is known as the fall). This is when the sin/disease/anger/disaster/pain that we know now entered the world. But after it entered, God immediately began to reclaim and make right what he lost.

    This plan to make everything right truly began with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its important to note here that Jesus didn’t come to make everything perfect. He didn’t come to make mankind “happy”. He didn’t come so everyone could be rich in possessions. He actually said people who were rich in life would have the hardest time entering the kingdom of God. He came because mankind could not save themselves. It was God, who created everything, living a life on earth and taking the rebellion of his creation so that everyone could experience true joy, not the false joy of wealth and a lavish lifestyle. Jesus, who was God, lived in poverty his entire life. The people he hung out with the most on earth were the ones the people on earth hung out with the least. He had it incredibly difficult. He was hated almost everywhere he went, and he was killed by the “religious” people of the day. He loved the poor people, and Christians on earth are supposed to be living in a way that loves others/the poor/the needy more than themselves. God didnt ruin the world. Man ruined the world with religion. Its just important to see that a belief in God and in Jesus is so much different than religion. Religion is evil because its created by man. Religion wont solve the problem, and it definitely needs to be differentiated from God.

    • Jaden February 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Well said.

      • SamWG February 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

        is this Jaden Lee of Milwaukee, by chance?

    • Jacob P. February 21, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      The point of the article has nothing to do with ‘God’s’ intent. Instead, this article claims that when you see yourself as a pawn of an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent god with a plan for humanity- you relinquish personal accountability and responsibility.

      This argument is also unrelated, but still irks me:
      “He had it incredibly difficult. He was hated almost everywhere he went, and he was killed by the “religious” people of the day.”

      Oh, boohoo. Sacrifice is when an all-powerful and eternal being lives on Earth for 30 years, is executed, resurrected and then spend the rest of eternity at the ‘right hand of the father?’ Jesus’ sacrifice would have been more commendable if it wasn’t such a pitiful joke compared to the constant suffering of people throughout history. It’s like sacrificing a morning latte…

  8. neosopheus February 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    ”It is true that the Christian God is omnipresent, omnicient and omnipotent.” I would really like for you to explain to me how an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent being could “want” anything. Man created god in his image, and thus projects his own limitations on something that is by definition limitless. To say that god wants something makes absolutely no sense at all, period.

  9. JonS February 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I think the author is confusing the modern and very un-Biblical “prosperity doctrine” with Biblical truth. This doctrine says that “God wants you to be rich” and that “God rewards the faithful with material goods”. Anyone who’s ever read the story of Job can tell you that isn’t true. The truth is God doesn’t care about your house or your car or your job, in fact that stuff is often an impediment to righteousness.

    • SamWG February 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm

      is this jon sonderman?

  10. John Doe February 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    OK, neosopheus, perhaps that person should have used different verbiage. God, for whatever reason he had, chose to create beings that could choose to worship him” perhaps comes closer.

    Imagine: Situation, all knowing all powerful ever present God desires to create beings who will chose to worship him. How do you do it? Computer program them? Or create beings with limited free will, some of whom he knows will choose not to worship him. And some of whom he knows will choose to be S.O.B.s to their fellow created beings. What do you do?

  11. SamWG February 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    First off, God is limitless, and man cant understand Him. The bible gives us a picture of God, but because were flawed and sinful, we’re never going to be able to fully understand Him. And anyone who claims to fully understand God is just lying. The Bible makes it very clear that we will never be able to truly understand Him.

    So lets start with the base of God creating everything. He creates it all, and everything he creates reflects his perfection. Then He creates man, and gives man the freedom to choose to follow him. This choice is the ultimate act of trust, because man could choose not to follow God. They/we/I did, and so the world sucks. But if God still loves everything He created, then He would want to see his creation restored and redeemed, because right now it’s broken. God want’s restoration to happen, but He wants us to realize that the ultimate redemption and restoration isn’t physical or related to our physical circumstances. But don’t get me wrong, those will be definitely be restored in time.

    If we accept that God is eternal, and then that people have souls that are eternal, its important to see that God was acting with an eternal perspective. Jesus came so that we could have his Spirit in us, so that we could actually have a relationship with the God that created everything. The bible calls this the ultimate goal of the Christian faith. Check 1 Corinthians 1:9 “God, who has called you into fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. Its that simple. Fellowship with God. A relationship with God. Its easier to understand how this can truly make someone content when you look at the lives of just about every early Christian. All of them lived in what we would now consider poverty. They gave everything they had away and shared everything. In the end, they were willing to die seriously horrible deaths. And the whole time, they were “happy”. Why? Not because they had good credit or because they made a ton of money or because they lived in nice houses. They were happy because they believed that God came as Jesus Christ and that he rescued them from the eternal punishment they deserved. I guess this is kind of the eternal perspective. If God is eternal and the soul is eternal, then these guys (and Christians throughout history after them until today) realized that their eternity with God was more important than the horrible suffering they experienced on earth.

    God wants us to live through his power. And He’s using the same sinful, messed up, evil people that denied him and chose not to follow him in the beginning to love the world and begin to restore it. As Christians, we’re supposed to be actively involved in this restoration process. We’re supposed to be loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. We’re supposed to be taking the love that we usually devote to our own desires and needs and loving other people as if we were loving ourselves.

  12. martim February 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    -that’s easy. no being is capable of making another being to be different and be itself. So, even for god there is no way to make any person love another person by magic. And i think they are even more interesting ideas and clever possibilities.

    -In anycase, the idea of god is more hard to get than the easy image fundamentalist show and some atheist like to pick up -they “believe” in the same simple god.

    Believing in god is not the same than believe there is perfect justice, or nothing to fight for on earth. there is a moral obligation in all religions, but people choose to not follow it. science and economy show us how we could improve world, but people choose not to do anything about it. If you believe you can find an excuse, if you dont you can find it too.

    judge the moral valor of people by their faith is wrong. but we are just in XXI century…

  13. Craig Chambers February 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    You clearly have not developed an understanding of God, faith, hope, and religion. They all provide a basis for conviction that real love and charity can not exist without. You spend to much time and effort trying to break down something that is at the very core of many, why? If you dedicated just a portion of you time, with an open mind, trying to live a life modeled after Christ you would soon find the true benefit of living a life of hope. You are alone and weak, but know that is a choice you have made. Let go of all of your bitterness and hate, you will know when the time is right for you to make the choice, God will instruct you. God bless, C.

  14. Randy February 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Wow…its nice to know that you have it all figured out Liam! Now I can finally sleep at night! If its all the same to you.,..I will still say my prayers and be thankful before I close my eyes! In a world of chaos its nice to have a sane path to follow which actually makes me feel good about myself and make me want to be a better person to the rest of the “the tribe”! On that note…how do you explain the American Indian and their beliefs….I don’t think they were doing it for personal gain….it was a walk with the great spirits! Don’t be so critical of things you don’t understand!

  15. Clayton February 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    If “we are the only answer” do you really see this deal getting better than it is?

    I think the sentiment regarding the disparity in the distribution of wealth on this globe is valid. It is sad. I raise both hands and am completely on board with you if you’re saying this could be better. But I don’t believe that material wealth is all there is. I believe that ‘blessing’ is more than material and reality is more than natural. In other words, the poor you refer to may be richly blessed in other aspects of life. (However, do not think that I then chalk this up as a balance of blessings and call it a day. As I said, I am completely on board with any effort at redeeming relationships with exploited people.)

    The point is, God’s (of the Bible) heart is intensely committed to the poor and hungry, to the lost and broken. We can read about it in the Bible, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. God really grieves over some of the things you mention, Liam. So why doesn’t He do anything? He has. He’s just waiting for us to respond. I think we’ve just misunderstood His heart.

  16. Nerael February 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    All I’ve ever seen from defenders of religion consists of carefully plucked pieces of information that can’t ultimately hold up when you observe them rationally, as a whole. I will digress – there are some elements in religious teachings which promote relevant societal morals. However – there are also concurrent religious teachings in those very same doctrines which contradict those notions in the form of an “excuse” as Liam put it. For instance, religion often preaches myths in hopes of enforcing morality through fear (you will burn in hell!) – While simultaneously invoking the idea of the omnipotent god and his ‘plan’ for the world (so don’t you worry!). There are holes like this everywhere if one observes. God can be used as a convenient way to deflect responsibility for societal problems as Liam pointed out, while tautological ‘noise’ is used to defend it. The truth is that we hold the future, not God.

    Regarding the claims that religion is what brings morals to society, I beg to differ. Follow my logic. The primary goal of humanity is survival. Humans evolved into societies because it was beneficial to our survival. With the coming of technology, society is now effectively global. Morals are not exclusively from religion – they are simply survival tools borne of global societal needs. Why do we need religion to enforce them when religion contradicts itself?

    Some have effectively demonized scientific observation for the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ – They think that because science determined that the fittest, supposedly most ‘self interested’ organisms survive that science supports inequality. Actually what they don’t realize is that society and the entire planet is one organism. With the coming of society, collective survival is now dependent on the whole.

    So why should we care about inequality? It hurts society. Poverty is a form of inequality which skews opportunities in favor of those born to privilege. This scheme squanders human potential; ergo, it is a detriment to our survival.

    That said, there’s no way to make every person on the planet equal – but trying our best to give roughly the same opportunities to everyone in our society has obvious benefits. I can’t think of a person on earth who wouldn’t want a fair opportunity at life.

    If we accept the fact that we live in a society, and we are collectively interested in survival, we can assess that trying to use archaic contradictory fallacies handed to us by religion can only hinder our progress. Again, that doesn’t mean that religion is the singular source of humanity’s woes, or the sole cause of inequality in society; neither does it mean that people who buy into religion are personally hurting our society (They’re only human after all, heh). I’m just hoping that someday we’ll finally outgrow it.

  17. Nerdilicious February 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    New Age whacko philosophy could just as easily be substituted for religion in this article. Witness “The Secret” where one can attract wealth or poverty just by sending out either positive or negative thoughts to the universe.

  18. JP February 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Wow… interesting comments that didn’t devolve into scientific condescension or fire-and-brimstone pronunciations. I just wanted to make a point that human beings since the dawn of man have sought to the heavens for answers. Spirituality and religion have been a part of the culture of man since the neanderthals were ritually burying their dead. Some have said that there might even be a “sprituality gene.” At any rate, I’ve spoken to many scientists about this matter and many, if not most, seemed to make an argument along these lines: “I’ve dedicated my life to studying the beauty and complexity of the universe and nature and readily acknowledge that we are lucky if we understand even 10% of what is going on. It would be a supreme act of arrogance to say with all certainty that God does not exist in some form or another.” The point, I believe, is that ever since man had reason, we have sought to understand the physical and spiritual realms. Spirituality and science seek similar paths and are not necessarily incompatible. I think that the world’s religions try to understand what God is but, being human institutions… tend to fail. God is beyond our comprehension. Blaming religion on our ills is like blaming our humanity for all our problems… its redundant. Humanity is flawed in many ways and religion just one of its flaws (as well as one of its blessings). It is as much to blame for these flaws as our territorial, self-centered and aggressive nature is. Religion, spirituality are just one of many manifestations of our humanness. Of course there are some humans who are wired differently than the rest of us and they do wonderful things–particularly our scientists, engineers, etc. They have improved our society immeasurably. Still, they are also responsible for some of the most horrific aspects of our society as well–our climate problems, our increasingly more and more deadly weaponry and better ways of killing each other, as well as making real the possibility that our machines will one day surpass us. I agree with one of the commenters that the reductionism displayed in the article is just as destructive as the religious, political or nationalistic reductionism we see in our world. The world is much more complicated than that. Liam seems almost naive by depicting the situation as he does.

  19. zoop February 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    In simpler terms, belief in “good and evil” in the terrestrial universe mandates that there be an evil doer and a victim: following this great logic, would not the victim deserve his/her plight? Therefore, evil acts become God-decreed, and are thus no longer evil, but the fulfillment of God’s will. Following this, exploitation of others parallels the very definition, as explained by Christian doctrine, of pious behavior. The major offspring of this perspective is Capitalism, where dedication to God (i.e. hard work and economic cunning) becomes the paramount ideal. Therefore, humanity is but a plastic, dispensable pawn.

  20. Marc February 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Good article, but another example of someone without faith assuming that faith is equal to fatalism. The truth is that many people with faith resign themselves to a fatalistic outlook and abnegate themselves from responsibility for the good and bad in theirs and others lives. The truth is also that many faith restores the ability to believe in and love the world, and change it for the better. In a world where the individual has responsibility for his world and yet very little power to affect it, the outlook is bleak. Maybe a little faith isn’t such a bad thing…

    Ideally, the ideological ‘conflict’ ‘between’ faith and ‘reason’ would die and go away. We are all just trying to make sense of the world. Rejecting someone elses idea’s does no more to strengthen your own than rejecting someone else’s beer makes you more drunk 😉

    Perhaps the author should remember the billions of dollars flowing from people of faith to both faith based and secular organizations whose sole mission is to take responsibility for making the world a better place.

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