Often the Bible presents us with a quid pro quo: worship God, and your life will be good; reject him, and you will suffer. This flies in the face of the idea that God is love, that he “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) This is the basic problem of evil, described as long ago as Epicurus.
Unfortunately, Christians often shelter God from responsibility by giving him plausible deniability. When people don’t follow his commands and Christians heap harm on them for it, that’s not God’s doing. No, he doesn’t bear any responsibility for the actions of the people who are acting on his behalf. After all, he never said that he didn’t love people who didn’t worship him. That’s just the message that some people incorrectly take away from the clear wording of what he said.
Consider the following script (which I’ve made up, but which I believe reflects real exchanges that have happened on a number of topics):
Researchers: Trans people are more likely to kill themselves than cis people.
Evangelicals: The wages of sin is death. That’s why you shouldn’t be trans.
Researchers: Actually, it’s the discrimination they experience that pushes them over the edge.
Progressive Christians: That’s not God’s fault. God loves everyone, but sometimes, people are just bigoted and nasty.
Me: No, if God really wants to make this a better world for trans people, he should at least speak up to his true believers, set them straight. He’s been missing in action.
Evangelicals: We live in a fallen world. We’re all sinners.
Me: Then why are trans people getting the brunt of it? We’re all sinners, but some of us are more sinful than others?
Evangelicals: (have left the conversation)
Progressive Christians: Got loves everybody, and we all should be following his lead and supporting trans people and flying rainbow flags.
I think I understand where the progressive Christians are coming from. Part of their value system is to show love and respect to everyone, regardless of sex, skin color, sexual orientation, or gender expression. (And they’re right about that.) They also have stories about God that make him the embodiment of these values.
We need progressive Christians to do more than just preach good values. We need them to acknowledge that their stories are just their stories. I need them to say that the fundamentalist stories about God are rooted in the Bible, but sometimes the Bible is just wrong—and Evangelicals are just wrong—and that’s okay because the value of a story is not what’s in the story but what you get out of it. We need them to stop enabling the worst actors by giving God plausible deniability—as though he doesn’t care, but it’s okay because he loves us all.
But I think that would challenge their last little bit of dogma, the tiny kernel of fundamentalism that even they can’t give up: the idea that there actually is a God who is behind all these ideas. They would have to acknowledge that God is just a story character, not a real person. And that would turn them into atheists.
And even in their world, atheists are the last group of people that God doesn’t truly love. I mean, yeah, he “loves” us. That’s why he wants us to believe in him, even though he isn’t willing to give us any sort of actual evidence—beyond mere stories—that he even exists.
But even that is okay, because God has plausible deniability.