God the Sadist

I wrote on other occasions (here, here and here) about how, if there was an omnipotent and omniscient God that created the universe we inhabit, He would necessarily be evil — and about how indifference would be equivalent to evil for a creator deity that knows everything and can do anything. But this deity that hundreds of millions of people believe in is beyond indifference and evil. It demands from men a level of adoration and love without any reciprocity, in a dynamic that borders on the lunacy of a captivity relationship. The most famous model for this abuse is without a doubt the Book of Job. There one finds the archetype summed up in the popular saying: “The Lord works in mysterious ways”, a hand-waving mechanism that doesn't explain anything, but pretends to solve the problem by hiding it under the carpet.

Imagine if a person treated one or more individuals the same way the Lord treats His creatures. This person would certainly be seen as a sadist that commits grave abuses, and rightly so. Think of someone treating their sons the same way God treats His creation. Now imagine that all sensible creatures, capable of feeling pain and pleasure, are under the yoke of a deity that created them for a brief existence, permeated by profound and unavoidable pains, from which the only escape is the constant search of ephemeral positive states that, in the case of more complex animals, soon disappear and give its place to boredom. Every evidence that nature and human life gave us to this day points to a God that is not good, nor mysterious. God is a cosmic abuser — and we are all His victims.
Job, by Léon Bonnat

About our lives being grounded on pain and boredom, and about how we live in a never ending search for ephemeral positive states, I give Schopenhauer the word:
“We have already seen in nature-without-knowledge her inner being as a constant striving without aim and without rest, and this stands out much more distinctly when we consider the animal or man. Willing and striving are its whole essence, and can be fully compared to an unquenchable thirst. The basis of all willing, however, is need, lack, and hence pain, and by its very nature and origin it is therefore destined to pain. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of willing, because it is at once deprived of them again by too easy a satisfaction, a fearful emptiness and boredom come over it; in other words, its being and its existence itself become an intolerable burden for it. Hence its life swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents. This has been expressed very quaintly by saying that, after man had placed all pains and torments in hell, there was nothing left for heaven but boredom.” 1
And it's not like the pendulum take its time between pain and boredom, giving creatures greater or equal quantities of positive states. The pains exist in greater quantities and are much more intense than the pleasures. I go back to Schopenhauer:
“Whoever wants summarilv to test the assertion that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain, or at any rate that the two balance each other, should compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of that other.” 2
Positive states are hard to obtain, while negative states can come at any moment and quickly destroy everything we are and everything we build. According to David Benatar:
“Consider too the temporal dimensions of injury or illness and recovery. One can be injured in seconds: One is hit by a bullet or projectile, or is knocked over or falls, or suffers a stroke or heart attack. In these and other ways, one can instantly lose one’s sight or hearing or the use of a limb or years of learning. The path to recovery is slow. In many cases, full recovery is never attained. Injury comes in an instant, but the resultant suffering can last a lifetime.” 3
Even our most primitive and animalistic positive states require some kind of work, be it from our own bodies or the manufacturing of something that gives us pleasure — and even in these cases the positive state is fleeting and can't be continued indefinitely. We cannot eat delicious foods indefinitely without becoming stuffed and feeling sick, for example. Another example: there are rare cases in which patients experience constant orgasms, but the sensation stops being pleasurable and becomes painful, to the point of becoming a hindrance, effectively preventing them from having a normal life. 4, 5 The most basic and organic pleasures, from sex to food, are good, but besides requiring at least some work they also possess a point of satiety. This doesn't happen with pain. We are always available for pain. Citing Aldapuerta:
“To experience pain requires no intelligence, no maturity, no wisdom, no slow working of the hormones in the moist midnight of our innards. We are always ripe for it. All life is ripe for it. Always. [...] Consider the ways in which we may gain pleasure. Consider. Consider the ways in which we may be given pain. The one is to the other as the moon is to the sun.” 6
When we consider one God as the source of everything, as the creator of all that exists, there is no escape: He has to be responsible for this state of things that is sentient existence, since it's His creation — and, being the creator of all that exists, including possibilities, it is unacceptable for one to state that a world so full of suffering is the best possible world that He could have created. However, even if it were, there was still the possibility of not creating the world. About His responsibility there can be no question, since He himself admits it. Let's take into account what the (still) major Abrahamic religion, Christianity, has to say. Let's see how the Book of Isaiah, accepted as a canonical part of the Old Testament by all Christian denominations, treats the question of divine responsibility. Here are the words of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” 7
Even if God didn't make it explicit that He is the creator of evil in Scripture, His evil would still be evident to anyone. To see it, one only has to look to the human and animal world and try to fit in it a supposedly divine benevolence. It's an impossible task. But the believer doesn't care about this impossibility, precisely because his or her God is the “God of the impossible” — a phrase that the believer doesn't even realize is without any sense. That is why, deep down, theodicies were always created for the skeptics, even if sometimes these skeptics were “religious”. Citing Cioran:
“The problem of Evil actually troubles only a few sensitive souls, a few skeptics, repelled by the way in which the believer comes to terms with it or spirits it away. Hence it is to these that theodicies are primarily addressed, attempts to humanize God, frantic acrobatics that collapse and compromise themselves on this ground, constantly belied as they are by experience. Try as they will to be persuasive, they fail [...]” 8
There is only one convincing way to fit divine benevolence in a world with so much suffering, without appealing to insoluble mysteries: separating the God who created this world, a deity that could never be benevolent, from the good God, the one that saves us from this world. The Gnostics and Marcionists did that in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., but they were soon ruled out as heretics by the rising Christian orthodoxy, and later suppressed. The idea of separating the creator God from the savior God arose again later, during the Middle Ages, among the Bogomils in Bulgaria and the Cathars in southern France. But on these occasions it was also suppressed — brutally in the case of the Cathars. The world of becoming is synonymous with change, growth, decadence and corruption. In the case of sentient beings, such movement is never without a diverse set of inescapable pains. Goodness, therefore, doesn't create. Especially if this goodness is divine and omnipotent.

Two millennia of doctrines that identified evil with the absence of good, in a desperate attempt to spare the Creator, were wasted. This type of argument can only be sustained by dogma and theocracy. It is easy to constantly affirm that evil is the absence of good when it is a crime to say the opposite. Fortunately, with modernity, it became possible to freely investigate such matters, and because of this freedom of inquire many philosophers noticed that evil, understood here as negative states, possess a real ontological statute that makes itself present in the world. Both Schopenhauer and Cioran treated evil as a positive force, that is: a moving force that is always present in reality. The unreal or, at least, the ephemeral, was found by them to be the positive states. The Creator of this world, if He exists, can't dodge His responsibility when it comes to evil. Again I cite Cioran:
“Since evil presides over all that is corruptible, in other words over all that is alive, it is absurd to try to prove it comprises less being than good does, or even that it contains none at all. Those who identify evil with nothingness suppose they are thereby saving their poor Good Lord. We save Him only if we have the courage to sever His cause from that of the Demiurge. Having refused to do so, Christianity inveterately sought to impose the inevidence of a merciful Creator: a hopeless enterprise which has exhausted Christianity and compromised the God it sought to preserve.” 9
God's abusive relationship with His creatures — especially with humanity — is more than obvious when we don't sing hymns with our eyes closed and ears plugged. Even so, the vast majority of us are glad to be whipped by the divine hand, we even ask for seconds, believing that, like Job, there will be some kind of reward that will make all the pain and waiting worthwhile, even if this reward only comes in the afterlife. The afterlife, truth be said, is basically all that the great majority of believers can hope for, since in this life they will remain poor and oppressed until their last breath. Recently, a friend of mine took a photo of the back of a semi truck, while working in the vastness of center-west Brazil, a land full of pro-theocracy conservative Christians. It is common for truck drivers to put messages in the back of their trucks in Brazil. Many of them are related to faith and family. Sometimes, the messages are comical, which is always good to see.

But the image that my friend sent me left me alarmed, and I confess that it inspired me to write this essay. That truck had a simple message, but it awakened in me the need to say to the world that not everyone agrees with the beliefs of the majority, and that we have the right to not agree. More than that: we have the right to publicly reject a God we consider to be a sadist, and we're not obligated to keep quiet about it. Writing this essay is a way for me not to be quiet. The message at the back of the truck said this: “EVEN THOUGH I MIGHT SUFFER, THANK YOU LORD”. It seems innocuous. It is to a lot of people, including most believers, something that shouldn't happen since it is a profound idea that they should ponder, even if they choose to remain faithful. But many unbelievers also find it to be innocuous. I confess that, when it comes to our daily lives, there might not be a whole lot of weight to this message. But the ocean of implications behind that statement tormented me in some ways.

My friend's photo

I believe I addressed the philosophical and theological torment throughout the essay: when we attribute to Him the responsibility of creation, we can never state that God is benevolent without immediately appealing to mysteries that go beyond comprehension and logic — in other words, without appealing to irrationality. The human torment also seems to have been addressed: those who follow observation and logic, that is, those who refuse kneeling for a sadistic God, have every right to stand and affirm their refusal in the public square. Note here that I don't necessarily speak of disbelief. I don't try to show the incongruities just to say that atheism is the best way. It's possible to interpret what I'm saying in this way, it's true, but this isn't my point here. My point is that the God who created this world, if He exists, is not only evil, given the abyss of suffering that He created, but sadistic, given the demands He makes of humanity. To Him, it's not enough that we suffer, we must also kneel down and thank Him for our suffering.

And why? What could possibly justify such a horrendous attitude? Even though a few sophisticated believers might try to argue with apparent complexity, even though some of them are members of the clergy and have a formal study of theology, in the end of the day the reason why we supposedly have to agree with the grotesque absurdity behind that truck's message can be summed up in a simple manner. Why should we accept divine abuse? Because a certain sacred book says we have to and those who don't agree are heretics. That is the answer. Other than that, there really is nothing. There's no logic, sense or reason. There's only an immense emptiness. Between this monstrous Creator, father of becoming and its inexorable horrors, and the good God of the Gnostics, Marcionists, Bogomils and Cathars, I stand with the latter.

by Fernando Olszewski   

1. SCHOPENHAUER, A. The World as Will and Representation. (Volume I) Translated by E.F.J. Payne. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. p. 311-312.
2. SCHOPENHAUER, A. Parerga and Paralipomena. (Volume 2) Translated by E.F.J. Payne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. p. 292.
3. BENATAR, D. The Human Predicament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. p. 77-78.
6. ALDAPUERTA, J. The Eyes: Emetic Fables from the Andalusian de Sade. Tradução para o inglês por Lucia Teodora. Londres: Headpress, 1995. p. 61-62
8. CIORAN, E. Anathemas and Admirations. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2012. E-book.
9. CIORAN, E. The New Gods. Translated by Richard Howard. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. E-book.