An Eternity with a Jealous God?…Sounds Like Hell to Me

The concept of an anthropomorphic god is common in religious discourse. However, it bears a number of problems for atheists and some believers alike. I often here the charge that atheists are offering up a straw-man when they describe a god in anthropomorphic terms. In response, some believers, like author Jeffrey Small, try to explore what it means to be a god in non-anthropomorphic terms.

Even without resorting to the Biblical basis for the idea of an anthropomorphic god, there is plenty of evidence in our culture to suggest that it is by no means a figment of the atheist imagination.  We need only look to religious television or radio programing, read religious websites, or speak to religious neighbors to verify that an anthropomorphic god is prevalent. There are even numerous religious emails that are forwarded to everyone in some sender’s address book that reveal unflattering, often disturbing, conceptions of what it means to be a god. The following excerpt is from one example of these emails, my favorite, The Room. I offer it here to explore some of the implications of these ideas.

(For the sake of brevity, I provide only parts of the story.  However, if anyone would like to read the whole story, follow the hyper-linked title).


17-year-old Brian Moore had only a short time to write something for a class. The subject was what Heaven was like. “I wowed ’em,” he later told his father, Bruce. “It’s a killer. It’s the bomb. It’s the best thing I ever wrote.” It also was the last…

Brian Moore died May 27, 1997, the day after Memorial Day. He was driving home from a friend’s house when his car went off Bulen-Pierce Road in Pickaway County and struck a utility pole. He emerged from the wreck unharmed but stepped on a downed power line and was electrocuted.

The Moores framed a copy of Brian’s essay and hung it among the family portraits in the living room. “I think God used him to make a point. I think we were meant to find it and make something out of it,” Mrs. Moore said of the essay. She and her husband want to share their son’s vision of life after death. “I’m happy for Brian. I know he’s in heaven. I know I’ll see him.”

Brian’s Essay: The Room…

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for the one wall covered with small index card files…

This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match…

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I have betrayed.” The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed at.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve yelled at my brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger”, “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents…

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content.

I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single c ard. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it…

… No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him.

No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own.

He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one? Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.

…He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side.

He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written…


You don’t have to share this with anybody, no one will know whether you did or not, but you will know and so will He.

When this email was first sent to me by my father, I was repulsed.  Every ounce of my reasoning revolted at the consequences of what this email was saying.  The reply to my father was a very terse, “your god is sick!”

I understand that the message of this story was intended to convey the idea of redemption through belief in Jesus. The message of redemption through love and sacrifice is a powerful one.  However, the context that overshadows why that sacrifice is required, according to the story, is a problem.  This context describes a god with human qualities and an obsession with every detail of one’s life, particularly the lurid details. Like the Cold War stasi, this god keeps track of every movement, action, and thought…everything.  Obsessed with even sexual awareness, the degree of detail of the contents in this god’s file of “Lustful Thoughts” caused the author to shudder.  Though the intended message explores the power of redemption, the underlying message is that this god can convict you of a thought-crime. This idea is repugnant.

Equally disturbing is the conception of this god in the introduction of the story:

“I think God used him to make a point. I think we were meant to find it and make something out of it,” Mrs. Moore said of the essay.

In other words, this god killed a promising young man for the purpose of spreading this story.  This bears repeating: this boy was killed for supposedly writing a good story. If a god were to really do this it would be a tyrant.  The very thought of this is stupefying.

Some people find comfort and meaning in believing that there is a tyrannical god capable of doing such things.  And they are welcome to that belief.  The relief comes in the belief in the Redeemer, Jesus.  But according to the theology, Jesus is God.  And if we substitute the name “Jesus” for “God” we get a message as follows: Jesus killed a promising young man for the purpose of spreading a story about redemption through Jesus. That should cause anyone to shudder. Though I understand quite clearly the promise of redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus, I cannot find any comfort in the implications that underly the necessity of that redemption.  It is a vicious idea and an affront to my moral reasoning.

Why someone would think that spending an eternity with a god such as this is a good thing, I do not know.  It sounds like infinite torture. In other words, it sounds like Hell.

Authors like Jeffrey Small, perhaps out of recognition that beliefs matter and have consequences, suggest that this conception of a god has significant problems. One of the consequences of the belief in this anthropomorphic god is that it has opened up theism to atheistic thrashings.  Small surmised,

“The common view of God as a supernatural being like us, only more powerful, is one of the principal reasons behind the rise of atheism in the Western world and the spiritual apathy of many young people today.”

While I am not convinced that this is the causal factor for the rise of atheism and the apathy of young people, the hypothesis is certainly worth consideration.  A second consequence is that many liberal believers, like Small, are uncomfortable with these anthropomorphisms. This has caused some to attempt to “moved beyond” this concept and towards “ground of being” and “transcendent fullness of actualities.” In other words, they redefine what it means to be a god.

(Note: The true author of The Room is a pastor named Joshua Harris who first published the piece in New Attitude magazine.  The story behind it is described by the author himself here).

Copyright © 2011 JP Laughlin


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About JP Laughlin

Originally intent on Christian ministry, I attended the College of Charleston where I earned a BA in Religious Studies (and where I also nearly completed a BA in Biology) and where I met my wife in our New Testament class. I attended graduate school at the University of Washington and earned a MA in International Studies – Comparative Religion. My areas of focus were Religion-and-Culture and American Religion. Somewhere along the way, I escaped from the prison of religious belief and found a new joy in living.

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