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red shoesNear the end of the movie The Wizard of Oz, after the wizard has been exposed as a fraud, he still tries to grant the requests of Dorothy and her friends. The scarecrow wanted brains, the lion courage, and the tin man a heart. To the scarecrow, the wizard gives a diploma; to the lion, a medal labeled “Courage”; and to the tin man, a pocket watch shaped like a heart. They’re delighted, but the wizard doesn’t give them what they wanted. Instead, he gives them only an acknowledgment of what they already had.

Throughout their journey these characters had already been developing the very traits that they said that they wanted most of all. Though the wizard no longer stands behind a curtain pretending to be what he isn’t, he still takes credit for giving everyone what they already had.

God as wizard

Sound like Someone we know? Christians tell us that God gives us morality, purpose, logic, and meaning, though this is the same morality, purpose, logic, and meaning that other believers get from their god(s) and that atheists get from reality.

The Christian may respond that objective or absolute version of these traits must come from a supernatural source, but until the Christian shows that there are objective versions of these traits, this is an empty claim.

No, these are traits that we have always had. They’re borrowed by Christianity, and much is made of God’s generously giving us back what we already had.

Christianity’s most generous gesture would be to drop the imaginary gatekeeper role. Draw back the curtain to show Christians that the power to improve or destroy is (and has always been) ours, not God’s. Help Christians grow and reject their dependence on the supernatural.

Want a better society? It’ll happen only as a result of our hard work. Want to improve yourself? There’s no higher power guiding your progress in AA or any other self-help program. If you went through such a program and have gotten rid of some dependence, congratulations, because it was you (with the help of supportive friends and family) that made that radical change. God did nothing.

Use your ruby slippers

At the end of the movie, it’s Dorothy’s turn. Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy that her ruby slippers can return her home. She had been able to get what she wanted all along.

And so it is with us. Morality and meaning are to us what Dorothy’s ruby slippers were to her. We’ve always had the answer, and the supernatural claims were all lies. We just need to realize that.

Dorothy: You’re a very bad man.

Wizard: Oh, no, my dear; I’m a very good man.
I’m just a very bad wizard.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 1/8/14.)

Image credit: Cary Bass-Deschenes, flickr, CC


CROSS EXAMINED In his first career, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and was a contributor to 14 software patents. Since then, he has explored the debate between Christianity and atheism for...

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