Before I go much further, I also want to stop and talk a little about the idea of thought terminators, because in that Bible study I was about to do, I was going to run a lot of them through my own head.
A thought terminating cliché is something that people say to stifle questions, dissent, or criticism. It’s a way for the people wielding it to shield themselves from contradictory information and end an uncomfortable conversation. Once the cliché has been deployed, the person using it fully expects that to end the discussion–in his or her favor. But in reality, the cliché is deeply dissatisfying to the person on the receiving end of it; it doesn’t make sense, it defies rational examination. It demands submission and obliterates the possibility of true communication. The person using it is in effect telling the target, “Screw off. I’m done with you now. Go away. Stop talking about this subject.” It is a statement of contempt–and of fear. And the Christian god not only shows this contempt to his people, but his people show it to outsiders.
“Let’s agree to disagree” is one thought stopper that isn’t too malevolent, but most of them are awful. Here are some others:
“It’s a mystery.” (Who says it must be?)
“God’s ways are not our ways.” (He made us in his image, didn’t he? He sure sounds a lot like a person–amazingly human-like, in fact. Except when something totally inhuman or atrocious happens. Then he’s very unlike us.)
“Children can’t know everything about their parents’ plans.” (Are we really glorifying a “because I said so” parenting style, when we all know how well that works on real kids rather than giving them honest, age-appropriate information in a timely manner?)
“We just need to have faith.” (No, we don’t. Who says? The Bible? Awfully convenient that it’d say that to support itself, isn’t it?)
“You’re just angry at God/you just want to sin.” (Why do you think we’re so ridiculously stupid that we’d risk your god’s eternal torture just to be rebellious or hedonistic for a few decades? Would you be that stupid? Probably not. So why do you think your target is? Why don’t you try asking us if we’re angry at your god or if we left purely to sin before assuming so?)
I heard an educator say once that he started making a lot more headway with the teenagers he was teaching when he realized that “I don’t know” meant “go away”–and when I heard him say this, it sparked one of those moments of crystal clarity for me. I realized my boyfriend at the time (an adult man) used it all the time on me during discussions as a means of making me stop talking to him about whatever’d prompted the pushback. “Where do you want to eat?” He didn’t know. “Do you ever see us getting married?” He didn’t know. “Well, why wouldn’t you?” He didn’t know. “Do you want us to buy a house together since we’ve been living together all this time?” He didn’t know. He didn’t know. He just didn’t know, all right? JEEZ! He was sending me a clear message over and over again, and I hadn’t gotten it until right then (and yes, we broke up not long afterward, because I needed a partner who does know). He was stopping thought. And he wasn’t a Christian, by the way. The technique isn’t limited to Christians by a longshot.
Greta Christina once called this the “Because shut up, that’s why” argument. And though it’s not unique to any particular religion, non-Christians hear it a lot from Christians. Here’s a whole list of specific Christian thought terminators, if you like.
The Bible’s god doesn’t like us to think. He doesn’t want to give us the information we need to fully assess a situation and evaluate it. What’s he so scared of? What’s he afraid might happen? Well, let’s look, shall we? We’re rather fortunate in having a whole bunch of myths and Bible verses about exactly this topic.
1. The Garden of Eden. “Don’t touch that fruit I put there right in the middle of the garden for absolutely no good reason except to tempt you to eat it, or else you’ll die.” (Genesis 3) Interestingly, the serpent, for all his reputation, told them the flat truth about that fruit: that it would make them wise and understand the nature of good and evil. That is exactly what it did, too. And God didn’t like that. Why not? Why would he want to keep them ignorant? What parent wants his or her children to remain childlike and not understand good and evil? For that matter, the Tree’s fruit also made them realize they were naked. All children seem like they go through a phase where they think it’s awesome to run around naked–but parents wisely teach their kids that this isn’t always appropriate. Learning social cues is such an important part of our development into responsible adults. But God didn’t want to teach his children that. Why not?
2. The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). “ZOMG I’d better do something quick or else they’ll reach heaven and become competition for me.” God sounds downright terrified that his ant farm might actually reach heaven and “nothing will be restrained from them.” So he sabotages their project. What kind of parent does that to a child? What kind of parent thinks it’s okay to destroy a kid’s mind so the kid won’t develop further? God clearly wanted to demonstrate that his children were not to develop and not to band together, because such development might make them more powerful than he was.
3. “Don’t think too much because that’s really bad.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2). Knowledge is seen as suspicious. Anybody who says he or she knows something is actually an idiot. Only “love” of God is important.Why? Why can’t we have both? Who says?
4. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” (Colossians 2:8). Why is philosophy so bad? Why is it lumped in with “vain deceit”? Why is philosophy seen as the enemy of Christianity? What could it possibly do to steer us away from God if God is such a done-deal truth?
5. In 2 Peter 3:16, we’re told that it’s bad to try too hard to understand the writings of Paul. I might agree with that now, but why would the writer of 2 Peter advise not to try too hard to do so and instead “grow in grace” and in “the knowledge of our Lord” instead? Why was it so bad to try to understand Scriptures? And how does this conflict with Philippians 4:8, in which Paul informs us that whatever we “have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do”? Paul certainly thought that he was a great purveyor of God’s wisdom and a fount of information about how to best do Christianity–but the author of 2 Peter doesn’t seem to think so and discourages dwelling too long on the matter. Why? What does he fear so much?
6. And in James 1:5, we’re told that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it rather than seek it elsewhere. Why wouldn’t all wisdom lead straight to God? Why should we have to ask for something that fundamental to our own development, anyway? Why wouldn’t God just give it to us without our having to ask for it?
7. In 2 Corinthians 5, we’re told that it’s a valuable thing to “walk by faith, not by sight.” God doesn’t care about evidence, and Christians who do are doing it all wrong. If something sounds contradictory, it’s a Christian’s duty to ignore it and continue to walk by faith. Why? Why would we have to ignore contradictory evidence? Why can’t we rely upon our eyes and the evidence of the world around us? Why is it a virtue to ignore such a preponderance of objective, credible facts? Is the problem here that there are so many contradictory facts? How many of these should we have to see before we go “wait just a dang minute here…”?
It’s very difficult for me at least to see so many verses and myths and not come out of it with a sure and certain suspicion that God’s not actually a good parent. He glorifies ignorance, wants to keep us children, makes it a virtue to ignore evidence, sees pursuit of knowledge as deeply questionable, and values “love” over wisdom gained outside his glorification. And even questioning God’s ways is a sin (as the Book of Job demonstrates).
Did God want me to be his spouse and his child, or did he want me to be his pet and his slave? Why was he so scared of humankind’s progress and development? Why did he abuse us by sabotaging us, setting us up for failure, and demanding we stay stupid and ignorant? What was the real goal here? Whatever the answer, I was no longer content with the thought terminators that had once kept me afraid to learn and grow. I was no longer content with the old clichés meant to keep me in the traces. I was ready now to really look at this god, and see what I was going to realize was the real truth about what I had believed my entire life.