Saturday 11 May 2024

Children do not feel a need to propitiate their loving parents - real Christians ought Not to regard God as needing propitiation

I have often written of the un-Christian, indeed anti-Christian, idea that God want, needs and demands propitiation

I have also often written about my conviction that the spontaneous and natural "spiritual knowledge" of young children was built-into us by God, for our guidance, and as the basis of that adult knowledge we develop from properly-interpreted experiences and (usually) increasing capacity. 

I was considering my own childhood compulsion to pray (I was aged about 5-6 years), and how such prayers were almost entirely propitiatory in nature: I would beg my god (who was, I think, conceptualized as Thor) for the safety and survival of those I loved; and these prayers "needed" to be specific for each person, were desperate, and were repeated over and over again to the limit of my endurance.

These prayers were a ritual (before sleep) needed to avoid the punishment of harm being visited on those I loved. 

And, although the ritual was done to avert harm, I was very unsure of its effectiveness. Partly this was because of a sense that if I said or did anything wrong, then this would at least negate the prayer; and it might even evoke a punishment for my mistake - such that just what I prayed against, would be inflicted as the punishment.

(This seems to have been a common view of religious ritual through much of history, e.g. in the European Middle Ages - i.e. that it must be done exactly correctly or else it would do more harm than good.)

My first thought was to wonder whether this childhood experience of spontaneous propitiatory prayer was a guide to the real nature of God. I wondered if the fact I prayed in this style and spirit without being told, might be evidence that this was the real nature of God and his relationship with us. 

But then it suddenly struck me that I never felt the same way about my own mother or father

I never felt that my parents wanted, needed or demanded "propitiation". Indeed, the idea never even crossed my mind. 

The reason was obvious: I knew that my parents loved me

And I knew this - it was my solid faith

Therefore, because my parents really loved me and I knew it; propitiation was utterly alien and inappropriate - and indeed would be hurtful to loving parents. 

The God of whom Jesus speaks is spoken of as his Father and our Father, as the ideal and perfect loving Father.

Of Course a loving Father does not want propitiation - certainly He does not demand propitiation, nor does God our loving Father punish his children for failing to perform sufficient or correct propitiations...  

Jesus is saying pretty plainly that the real God, the Creator, is our loving Father*; and asking us to have the same "faith" in God's love that a child may have in the love of good parents - as I had in the love of my parents. 

By talking of and to his loving Father; Jesus is saying that a God who is regarded as wanting, needing, demanding propitiation is a false God; because the real God (the "Christian" God, the true creator) is of an absolutely different kind - God is Jesus's actual loving-Father, and our actual loving-Father; and we should have absolute confidence that He loves us as the ideal and perfect Father. 

Many, most - perhaps all? - other religions conceptualize their God or gods in ways that make propitiation of such God/s natural and needful...

And there are plenty of Beings - including human-beings, as well as various spirit-beings, including demonic - that do demand propitiation...

But these are not who Jesus meant by God.

(It very often seems to me that many self-identified Christians {and especially those who profess ultra-orthodox or traditionalist convictions} are actually - albeit implicitly - worshipping the God of Judaism, and/ or of Islam, rather than the Father of Jesus Christ.)  

What this means is that self-identified Christians who believe that their God requires propitiation are making a very serious error

(There are many, many, such Christians - often among the most "devout" - and always have been.) 

And if they persist in this error of worshipping a propitiation-demanding God; and if they (for instance) build their core theology, their articles of faith, around the necessity for propitiation; then the God that such people are advocating is Not the same God whom Jesus was addressing

In a nutshell: The Christian God is a loving Father, and Jesus asks us to have the same kind of faith in God's love that a good child has in the love of his parents. 

Genuine parental love - by Man of Men, or God of His children - has nothing to do with propitiation. 


*Note: I should clarify that ultimately I personally regard God as a dyad of Heavenly Father and Mother for metaphysical (and intuitive) reasons explained elsewhere; but my argument applies the same both to God understood as Father only, and to God as Heavenly Parents. So, I have presented the above argument in traditional language.   


Robert Brockman II said...

Yes, this is the Orthodox understanding of God. As Kalomiros wrote in "The River of Fire":

"You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”."

Hagel said...

How do you incorporate the old testament and its propitiation demanding god? Do you believe that Yahweh is Yaldabaoth, and not Christ's father?

Bruce Charlton said...

@H "How do you incorporate the old testament and its propitiation demanding god? "

- As what Jesus explicitly told us to abandon as an error!

WJT said...

The intuition that God loves us coexists uneasily with our experience that God sometimes seems to be looking out for us and other times allows terrible things to happen.

When would loving parents intentionally cause or allow their children to suffer? As a punishment, typically, intended to correct bad behavior. It is therefore the most natural thing in the world to assume something similar of God. See the Book of Job, where Job’s “miserable comforters” insist on this logic.

The life of Jesus — who pleased God in every way but still ended up nailed to a cross saying “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — should have been the final proof that the miserable comforters were wrong. So deep is the instinct to see suffering as punishment, though, that Christians have instead concluded that God was torturing Jesus vicariously for OUR misdeeds!

Bruce Charlton said...

@WJT "The intuition that God loves us coexists uneasily with our experience that God sometimes seems to be looking out for us and other times allows terrible things to happen."

I don't feel that, any more than I did with my parents as a young child. The world is often hostile and may overwhelm, but my parents were always "on my side". When very young; I do not recall ever regarding my own suffering, or that of loved ones - such as illnesses - either as caused punishments or as "allowed".

I don't think the idea of God as creator and cause of *everything* even occurred to me as a possibility. I did not have a concept of what was the truth of it, but it was taken for granted existence/ the world had purpose and in some way - and also that there was an adversarial element - just as with my own life, where there were threats of mean people strangers, accidents, bad weather, and my own bad temper/ tantrums leading to problems.

So I would regard some of what you say as a later and "cultural" artefact, rather than primary, spontaneous, natural.