This image has been floating around Facebook lately. A few of my friends have posted the image to their walls, and i’ve been a good boy… I’ve kept my opinions to myself, for the most part. The extent of my comments on Facebook are limited to a few i made to a post made by a more trustworthy friend, one whom i can usually expect intelligent discussion with rather than heated arguments.
On Facebook, i simply pointed out that democracy, godlessness, quality of education, and perhaps even IQ all seem to be somewhat related — or at the very least, certain highly godless nations seem to be not only incredibly democratic & free of tyranny, but they are better educated as well.
But beyond pointing out that feasible, effective government can be achieved even by the godless, i want to point out that the false dilemma of the quote (“Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”) works both ways:
Not only is the opposite of being ruled by God not being ruled by tyrants, but being ruled by tyrants is not all that dissimilar to being ruled by God.
I’ll explain what i mean by taking a look at the definitions of tyrant, courtesy of Answers.com:
1) “An absolute ruler who governs without restrictions.”
Many Christians will agree that God is sovereign. I consider Calvinism to be the best theological framework for understanding a variety of aspects of the Bible & the god described therein, and so i find the Calvinist description of God’s sovereignty especially useful here:
Fortunately, the scriptures are very clear on this matter. The bible depicts God as the only and absolute King of the universe, who rules over all, and does everything he pleases (Exo 15:18; 1Ch 29:11–12; 2Ch 20:6; Psa 22:28). And not only is he sovereign in some abstract way, in that he retains the right to govern all events actively according to his will, but chooses not to do so; but he actually and actively ordains and brings to pass everything that takes place on the earth (Deu 32:39; 1Sa 2:6–8; Job 9:12; 12:6–10; Psa 33:11; 115:3; 135:6; Isa 14:24; Isa 45:7; Act 15:17–18; Eph 1:11). From the smallest matters of “chance,” such as the casting of a lot into the lap (Pro 16:33), to the greatest events of the earth’s mighty kingdoms (e.g. Isa 45:1–4), God is bringing all things to pass according to his will. He governs and superintends “coincidental” happenings (1Ki 22:20, 34, 37), the wicked actions of men (Gen 45:5; 50:20; Exo 4:21; Jdg 14:1–4; Psa 76:10; Pro 16:4; 21:1; Isa 44:28; Amo 3:6; Act 2:22–23; 4:27–28), the good deeds of men (Joh 15:16; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12–13), the actions of both evil spirits and good angels (1Sa 16:14–16; 1Ki 22:19–23; 1Ch 21:1/2Sa 24:1; Psa 103:20–21; 104:4), the habits of animals (Num 22:28; 1Ki 17:4; Psa 29:9; Jer 8:7; Eze 32:4; Dan 6:22), and the operations of all creation (Gen 8:22; Psa 104:5–10, 13–14, 19–20; Mar 4:39).
That’s a long quote, but it illustrates the point well: God is an absolute ruler who rules without restriction.
According to the first definition of tyrant, God is a tyrant.
2) “A ruler who exercises power in a harsh, cruel manner.”
The question here is whether God exercises his power in a harsh and cruel manner. If he does, he meets yet another definition of tyrant. Harsh is defined as “severe, cruel, or exacting.” I could go through the seven definitions given for just “severe,” listing biblical examples of each, but for brevity’s sake, here are just a few considerations:
When two priests worshipped God by offering up fire to him which wasn’t commanded of them, God struck them dead (Leviticus 10:1).
When Jesus sought some figs from an out-of-season tree, he didn’t humbly admit his mistake in timing but cursed the tree out of frustration, resulting in the tree shriveling up (Matthew 21:18–22).
Adultery? Death for both parties (Deuteronomy 22:22)!
Rape a woman? Pay her dad 50 shekels then marry her! … Actually, that one’s not very severe at all. Consensual adultery has a more severe punishment than rape? And they say that atheists are the ones with moral difficulties…
And let’s not forget the most striking evidence of God’s harshness: commit just one sin — just one! — and you will be punished with eternal hellfire, and it doesn’t matter if that sin is wearing polyester. Burn, baby, burn!
3) “An oppressive, harsh, arbitrary person.”
Is God oppressive? If a human ruler demanded your absolute obedience under penalty of eternal damnation, would you consider that ruler to be oppressive? What about one that does not shy away from referring to his citizens as “slaves”? God does both… unashamedly.
Is God harsh? Yes (see above).
Is God arbitrary? To be arbitrary is to do things according to your own desires rather than according to reason, and it comes as no surprise that Christians speak so often of “the will of God.” All of the crazy laws of God, all of the random punishments (why some folks are instantly killed for minor offenses [Nadab & Abihu] while others are allowed to perpetuated thousands upon thousands of heinous sins [Hitler] can only be explained by believers as being part of “the will of God”)… If anyone is arbitrary, God is.
God is a tyrant, meeting every criterion of being a tyrant… Whatever facets of love, mercy, or grace that Jesus or the disciples would go on to laud, it is impossible to escape the fact that for the majority of the Bible, God is portrayed very simply as a cruel, vindictive, arbitrary tyrant…
…and those attitudes run throughout the New Testament as well, from Jesus’ “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” speech to the violent inauguration of the kingdom of Heaven in Revelation.