Does God Pose an Authority Problem for You?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!

Is this the Christian God?  Philosopher Paul Moser answers the question:

It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans.  Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.  Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.

If you are “worshiping” a God who makes no demands on you, you’re worshiping no God at all.  You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices.  What’s the point?

  • Lucas

    What a pridefully judgmental puff piece. I’m happy to acknowledge the Lord as sovereign authority, but any person previously abused by authority will be alienated by that profoundly naive bloviating rant.

  • Lucas, I think your comment qualifies as ironic.

  • Mick Curran

    Surely it is the god invented by American Evangelicals that makes no demands on anybody? 🙂

  • Andrew Ryan

    “For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.”

    Isn’t that like saying that anyone who votes Republican has an authority problem? One of the touted virtues of the political right is that it minimises the tyranny of authority and allows people to do pretty much what they want. Anything that restrict their personal freedom for a greater good is seen as immoral. Liberals are often accused of not being sceptical ENOUGH about authority. Now you are holding up that same scepticism as a bad thing. Honest question – is the difference that governemnt is seen as too imperfect to be granted the authority?

    “He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.”

    Well I don’t know of anyone who believes there’s a God who doesn’t disapprove of pursuing happiness at the expense of others. Putting such a God aside, what exactly are you arguing against here? With the caveat of not selfishly ignoring others’ feelings, isn’t the pursuit of personal happiness one of the basic ideas America was founded on? It’s generally seen as a virtue.

    “You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices.”

    I agree this is a charge one can level at many theists. People also seem to seek a deity that allows them to criticise other people’s choices too. People generally worship a God who gives the blessing to their own choices, while disagreeing with the choices of others. If you can only justify your criticism on the basis that your deity agrees with you, it’s quite possible you don’t have a strong argument. Hence the estimable legal precedent of the Lemon Test.

  • Boz

    Yahweh never tells me what to do. Priests and Bishpos and Pastors and well-meaning acquaintances do.

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    This post was the result of my running across numerous people in my life who reject the traditional Christian God, and when I ask them enough questions, their reasons boil down to, “I don’t like being told what to do.” I have met dozens of people like this, so I thought I would write about it because there seems to be a pattern. What do you make of this pattern?

  • Bill Pratt

    Boz,
    How do you know that Yahweh never tells you what to do?

  • Todd

    Bill,

    I’m sure there are atheists that have problems with authority, but in most cases I don’t think authority from god is one they would fear. Why be afraid of something that does not exist?

    Presupposing god is real, perhaps if throughout the history of ‘god’ everything that god has done was for the betterment of humanity, or to reduce suffering and increase happiness, people would have less of a problem with his authority. However, looking at the decisions that god made in the old testament and the atrocities he committed against humanity, I’d say any rational person should have a real problem with how he wields his authority! Why would you worship such a horrible god unless you were simply afraid of his power to punish?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I know dozens of atheists. None fit your pattern. Either you know a different crowd, or your interpretation of their motives is off. Would you find it likely that people would accept the Christian God because they WANT authority? That would strike me as just as odd. If they didn’t want to be told what to do, they’d just be like mist theists and believe in a God that thinks like they do. They hate gays? Well so does their God. They’re tree-hugging liberals? Great, so is their God.

  • Boz

    Bill Pratt said: “Boz, How do you know that Yahweh never tells you what to do?”

    presupposing Yahweh exists, I’ve never audibly heard it, or read anything that is has written.

  • Todd

    Andrew,

    Perhaps more plainly stated, I do not know many atheists that are atheists because they don’t like authority. The vast majority I have met are atheists because there is no proof for god’s existence.

    Asking if they would like the authority of god is a complete hypothetical question to me. It’s like asking if I would like the authority of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    A better question might be why one has a problem with authority in general and not limit it to god’s authority. I think you will find it has more to do with authoritative power and judgement than belief in the supernatural.

  • Bill Pratt

    How do you know you’ve never read anything Yahweh has written?

  • Todd

    Bill,

    “How do you know you’ve never read anything Yahweh has written?”

    There is no evidence of him as an author. How would you say that you have?

  • Boz

    Bill Pratt said: “How do you know you’ve never read anything Yahweh has written?”

    Some people have claimed that specifc sentences have been written by specific deities. In my experience, none of these claims have been substantiated by sufficient evidence to make the claim more probable than not.

    Maybe you’ll buck that trend 🙂

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  • Andrew Ryan

    If atheists were spurning belief in order to lead a more sinful lifestyle, then one might expect to observe this reflected in measurable data.

    For example one might expect to see a positive correlation between the size of a nation’s atheist population and the following:
    • Prison population
    • Divorce rates
    • Murder rates
    • Teenage pregnancy rates.

    In fact one sees the opposite. In Western nations, the greater the Christian population, the greater the number of all four of the above stats. And indeed atheists are far less represented in prisons if you look at religious belief at the time of incarceration. And in the US, atheists are among the least likely group to divorce.

    In conclusion, the evidence simply does not back up a theory that atheists spurn God in order to sin.

  • Arthur Brooks’ survey showed that atheists certainly give less in charity and do less community service as religious people on the right and left.

    Quote:

    Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: “I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people.”

    Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that “beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person” are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.

    Yet even these findings tend to obscure the impact of religion on charity. This is because some of the survey respondents that Brooks classified as secular are indirectly affected by religion if they were raised in a religious household.

    Source:
    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2008/janfeb/8.11.html

  • A better way to judge marriage success rates is to corelate marriage with CHURCH ATTENDANCE. That way, you get an idea about the seriousness of the religious commitment.

    Quote:

    It’s a number that is trumpeted from the rooftops — and the pulpit: Half of marriages among Christians and non-Christians alike end in divorce.

    But the reality is that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at a much lower rate.

    Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

    W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, found a nearly identical spread between “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church and people with no religious affiliation.

    Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce.

    “Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction,” he said. “These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education and age at first marriage.”

    Source:
    http://www.citizenlink.com/2011/02/christians-who-attend-church-regularly-face-much-lower-divorce-rate/

  • The idea that married women should not withhold sex in normal circumstances is not my idea Andrew, it’s Dennies Prager’s idea. You know, the borderline sociopath who has the popular national radio show. Since I just demolished your two assertions with facts from actual studies, maybe tangling with me is not something you’re up for.

    If you want to engage me, come engage me on my blog. No sense maligning me on other people’s blogs.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Sorry, what assertions? I never claimed that atheists were more charitable, and you’ve not produced any arguments against points I DID make. I’ve never heard of Prager, apart from you approvingly quoting him on your blog and saying you agree with him.

    And I gave up engaging with you on your blog a few months ago, when whenever I posted simple factual rebuttals to your assertions, they wouldn’t get posted. For example, your claims about connections between Nazis and evolution. It seemed you wouldn’t post comments that showed you were wrong. Probably a smart move on your part…

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Barna isn’t the only group to arrive at these numbers. Other researchers have also found that conservative Protestants get divorced more often than other groups, even more often than “mainline” Protestants. The fact that atheists and agnostics divorce less often than other religious groups was, however, surprising to many. Some have simply refused to believe it.

    Credit should be given to George Barna, himself a conservative evangelical Christian, for at least trying to face up to these results and what they might mean: “We would love to be able to report that Christians are living very distinct lives and impacting the community, but…in the area of divorce rates they continue to be the same.” According to Barna, his data raises “questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families” and challenge “the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage.”

    He admits: “Born again adults who have been married are just as likely as non-born-again adults who have been married to eventually become divorced. Because the vast majority of born again marriages occurred after the partners had accepted Christ as their savior, it appears that their connection to Christ makes less difference in the durability of people’s marriages than many people might expect. Faith has had a limited affect on people’s behavior, whether related to moral convictions and practices, relational activities, lifestyle choices or economic practices.”

  • Andrew Ryan

    And from googling your name, WK, or at least the pseudonym you hide behind, I see you’re also notorious for rewriting other people’s posts on your blog in the muddle of arguing with them, but not announcing you’ve done so, so other readers don’t know. Then you block the poster when they point out your sock puppetry.

    Hardly honest tactics old chum.

  • Hey Andrew, my blog just crossed over a million hits last week, and we have lots of INTELLIGENT dissenting commenters. You know, ones who link to evidence and don’t have to resort to ad hominems because they have no evidence.

    Speaking of evidence:
    http://post-darwinist.blogspot.com/2007/11/finnish-school-shooter-social.html

  • I quoted three academic studies as follows:

    Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

    W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, found a nearly identical spread between “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church and people with no religious affiliation.

    Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce.

    “Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction,” he said. “These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education and age at first marriage.”

    What university is Barna at, and what academic journal did he publish his results in?

  • Andrew Ryan

    WK, rewriting your posters’ commentators suggests you either think little if their intelligence, or you fear that is your only way of ‘beating’ them.

    And self-reporting charitable donations are notoriously unreliable. When the surveys are NON-self reporting, such as with blood donations, atheists and Christians come out even.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Sorry for typos, am using an iPod.

    “It’s common for religious believers to insist that atheists can’t be as moral as theists and use charity as evidence to defend their position. They claim religious theists are more charitable than secular atheists and there are studies which seem to demonstrate this.

    There are a number of problems with these studies, though. For one thing they can rely on self-reporting which is notoriously inaccurate on matters involving social desirability.

    Second, the studies don’t always account for “charity” that only amounts to supporting one’s church or other church members.
    There is, however, one measure of charity which can bypass all these problem: blood donations. Not only are blood donations tracked by independent agencies, but they necessarily go to anonymous recipients outside one’s close community. According to data in the US National Survey of Family Growth, there is no relationship between any aspect of religion and blood donation. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, whether you are religious at all, how often you attend religious services, or how important you say your religion is to you.”

  • Andrew Ryan

    Wk: “speaking of evidence…”

    That link was supposed to be evidence? A guy relying on quoting Ann Coulter, a Creationist who doesn’t even understand evolutionary science? Followed by attempts to connect Hitler, who denied speciation was possible, with ‘Darwinism’ (a meaningless term only used by creationist)?

    Keep digging WK.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Finally (?) quoting that very devout Christians are less likely to divorce doesn’t actually help the original claim – that atheists reject God in order to be less moral. For this to be true, one would expect that any belief at all in God would correlate with greater morality. What your figures show, if anything, is that if a devout Christian becomes less religious they become more likely to divorce, but that once they drop religion completely, they then become LESS likely to divorce than when they were moderately religious. This makes a nonsense of the claim about atheism, and it’s backed up by the very studies you claim to trust.

    Hoisted by your own petard.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Hey Andrew, my blog just crossed over a million hits last week, and we have lots of INTELLIGENT dissenting commenters”

    Argument ad populum. And all these dissenters? I was the only atheist posting on that thread, and surprise surprise WK has deleted my comments there.

  • I marked them as SPAM, because of the slanders you wrote here. But we have plenty of civil people who disagree with me, and who know how to talk about the evidence and not about me.

  • Andrew Ryan

    More on why the charity claims should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt:

    “Studies of religious belief and generosity that focused on non-cash giving found another interesting result. In terms of donating blood, the religious belief or non-belief of the donors made absolutely no difference at all to the frequency or amount donated. Likewise, a survey of American doctors who were willing to forgo lucrative medical careers in order to work with the poor in the U.S. or overseas showed negligible differences between the religious and the secular, with 35% of the selfless doctors self-identified non-believers, as compared to 28% Catholics and 26% Protestants.

    In further studies of generosity using more controlled methods, no difference was found between religious and non-religious subjects. Instances of the “dictator game” — where one subject is given money and asked to divide it (or not) with an anonymous other player who knows nothing of the particulars of the transaction — found religious subjects no more generous than their secular counterparts; indeed, most people who played the game gave the anonymous player half or nearly half of the money, regardless of belief or lack thereof.

    Self-Reporting Errors
    As in most research of this type, there is a danger of relying too much on people’s self-reporting of their behavior, especially where something as admired as charitable giving is concerned. Some studies, including one done in 1973, seemed to show that the religious were more likely to want to be seen as generous and therefore more likely to inflate the amount they gave to charity.

    Tom Flynn, in a Free Inquiry article, exemplified the self-reporting dilemma by pointing to the oft-cited statistic that 40% of Americans report having attended church services in the preceding week, then explaining that when researchers actually went out to a large sampling of churches and counted attendants, the figure was closer to 20%.

    He suspects that the true discrepancy between religious and secular giving, if any, can never be definitively known as long as self-reporting is the main means of data collection.”

  • Andrew Ryan

    To summarise: studies show that polls on self-reported church attendance do not match up to actual church attendance. Given this, what value is there in showing a correlation between self-reported church attendance (which we know are not reliable) with another self-reported variable? The same person who exaggerates their church attendance will most likely also exaggerate their charitable giving. And indeed when one looks at non-reported giving, any advantage to Christians disappears.

  • If you are “worshiping” a God who makes no demands on you, you’re worshiping no God at all. You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices. What’s the point?

    I actually sort of agree with this statement.

  • Bill Pratt

    Tim D.,
    It’s a start!

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