Reading Time: 11 minutes The best tricksters of them all. (Credit: Christina Welsh, CC license.)
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Many Christians would rather think their god is a dishonest trickster than be wrong about their conceptualization of him. The other day we got a rather visceral reminder of that fact, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Quite a few Christians have begun to think of their god as a trickster–creating a vision of this god that would be entirely unfamiliar to generations of past Christians, and one that is repellent to compassionate people today.

The best tricksters of them all. (Credit: Christina Welsh, CC license.)
The best tricksters of them all. (Credit: Christina Welsh, CC license.)

First let’s meet Kent Hovind, who is a fundagelical pastor, pseudoscience peddler, and apologetics author who is in my opinion a self-glorifying huckster-for-Jesus, lawsuit-happy hypocrite, confirmed serial liar, and convicted felon (not to mention possibly the worst dissertation author the world has ever seen!). He recently declared that the contradictions in the Bible were put there deliberately by “God” in order to give skeptics a reason not to believe in him:

In a YouTube video posted on Monday, the Christian fundamentalist responds to a follower who is troubled by a contradiction in the book of Acts. “If I was God,” Hovind explains, “I would write the book in such a way that those who don’t want to believe in me anyway would think they found something. ‘Aha, here’s why I don’t believe.’ And then they could go on with their own life because they don’t want to believe God anyways,” he continues. “I would put things in there that would appear without digging to be contradictions. I don’t think that’s deceptive, I think that’s wise for the Heavenly Father to weed out those who are really serious.”

At least Kent Hovind comes by his dishonest deity honestly. In the Bible, in Mark 4:10-12, the character of Jesus actually tells his apostles that the whole reason his ghostwriters employ parables is to confuse people who weren’t intended to be part of his new mystery religion. Christians mistakenly think that this character talked in metaphors to make his spiritual teachings more relatable and understandable, but as I’ve pointed out before, nothing could be further from the truth. He was speaking in riddles so that people who weren’t cool enough couldn’t perceive those early Christian teachings and wreck everything by barging in and stinking up the Cool Kids’ Club he was setting up. These parables were more of a coded language for the in-group than any sort of teaching tool for the masses. So yes, exactly: I’m saying that the parables attributed to Jesus were sorta like middle-school kids using Pig Latin to confuse people outside the clique.

But to extend that trickery to the entire god is taking things a bit further than Christians traditionally have.

Dawn of the Trickster God.

Trickster gods are fundamentally untrustworthy; they operate by their own rules. They are rarely omniscient or omnipotent, so they can be bargained with, tricked, and fooled–though always at the human’s own risk. The bargains struck with these godlike beings are usually very one-sided–and often end with the human making the bargain being shorted in some way. Stories about tricksters are stories about up-ending expectations and normalcy, the ultimate “what if…?” of imagination.

We’ve always been fascinated by trickster gods. Mythology is filled with examples of the breed. Most folks know about Loki, but other notable examples of trickster gods are Hermes, Coyote, Pan, Lugh, and Kokopelli. We still talk about them often and with a great deal of affection.

And we still love tricksters. (Credit: DncnH, CC license.)
And we still love tricksters. (Credit: DncnH, CC license.) A statue of Pan.

In popular culture, one well-known example of a trickster god is the capricious and apparently all-powerful Q, a godlike being who messes with Captain Picard every so often, and I gather the Trickster himself from Doctor Who, but I think one could make the case for Captain Jack Harkness being one as well–especially with how he seems so powerful and playful, and what with all that “Face of Boe” stuff. Others more familiar to kids and kids-at-heart include Br’er Rabbit and Reynard the Fox. Fairy tales talk about mysterious, powerful, arcane-seeming strangers who make odd-sounding deals with people or inflict strange conditions upon them–like we see in the tale of Bearskin and Dwarf Long Nose, and even the Little Mermaid (both the classic tale and the Disney version).

Lucifer himself doesn’t fit all of the characteristics of a trickster god, but he sure does fulfill that same function of fooling people and up-ending their lives with unexpected events and bargains that might or might not benefit people–from the cheap bet he made with Yahweh over Job’s faith to later myths about Faust and Saint Theophilus.

In the Middle Ages, one discovers people trying to make deals with Satan on the regular–like one infatuated young craftsman’s apprentice I read about some years ago who, during the Renaissance, tried to make a deal with Lucifer. The young man offered his soul in exchange for the affection of his master’s pretty young wife. Perhaps thinking better of the idea after he’d written out his agreement, he flushed the paper down his home’s toilet, but the paper on which he had written out this one-sided deal got fished out of the sewer by some curious neighbors, who saw the “deal” and alerted the Inquisition’s agents, who dutifully wrote down all the details of the story–which is how we know about the youth’s desperate move.

Say what you want about the devil, but when people needed something done, they knew that they sure couldn’t pray to the Christian god. The apprentice knew that. The drawback to praying to the bad guy, of course, was that they were never sure what they would get in the deal or if they would even walk away with what they’d expected and wanted in the end. Stories abounded about bargains like the one this young man wanted to strike, but he had clearly forgotten that almost all of these stories ended with the supplicant getting rooked out of whatever he or she had wanted.

After seeing these kinds of stories crop up over and over again in legend and Inquisition records, I began to think that Christians have always needed some way to work around the silence and inaction of their god. Officially, prayer was an effective way to get their god’s attention and supernatural help was right at hand whenever they needed it. Unofficially, though, nothing could ever be further from the truth, and it doesn’t take Christians long to figure that out. So they needed a being who could give them at least a shot at getting the supernatural help they thought they needed and which they thought actually existed–sort of like how so many Christians today read and follow their horoscopes and forward chain emails.

Their god might be silent, but he was a straight shooter. I don’t remember a single story about the Christian god that made him look dishonest or sketchy. In the stories, he was a being who was both constant himself and someone who rewarded constancy in his followers. He didn’t make a whole lot of promises to followers in the here and now and didn’t often cut deals with his followers for any earthly benefits (beyond converting others or winning battles), but Christians could at least be sure he’d give them the spiritual strength they needed to get through any trials and that he’d reward them with Heaven if they died–especially if they died as a result of those trials. (Of course, there’s no reason to suspect that the strength of legendary martyrs was supernatural any more than it is today, but the stories don’t waver in this regard.)

So if someone wanted earthly benefits of some kind, like someone else’s love or riches, that person would have to look to a being who could actually help.

Christians knew that relying upon these unofficial channels of help was dangerous to their souls. So they wrote their stories and told their legends to reflect the danger that such transgressors faced. The help had to come at a risk or the trickster might seem more powerful than the Christian god–and people might ignore the “right” god in favor of the “wrong” one. So the person making the bargain had to pay for violating the the rules for personal gain. These stories of tricksters and bargains-gone-wrong have a cautionary element to them: “Don’t do what Dr. Faust did, or you might end up like him!” and “Be careful what you wish for–you might get it!”

But the last thing one would think Christians would want is a trickster for their actual deity.

A Loving, Benevolent, Merciful, Grace-filled God Who Just Happens to Like Screwing With People’s Heads.

You could have knocked me over with a feather the first time I ran across a Christian who flat-out stated that his god liked to trick people. It was on a forum site where Christians and non-Christians mingled and chatted. He was a Young-Earth Creationist who asserted that his god had deliberately planted dinosaur bones in the Earth to make people believe that evolution was a real thing, so that scientists would work together to make discoveries. Yes, because his god is all about helping humanity make leaps forward in technology and innovation. This same Christian later admitted that he’d lied about keeping a prayer journal to track how many of his prayers actually got answered as well as about how many of those prayers were answered in the affirmative–so he was well-used to the idea of lying for Jesus and saw no reason why his god couldn’t do the same thing he was doing. Amazing, how often Christians’ god resembles themselves, isn’t it?

Until that moment, I’d never even heard of this idea of the Christian god setting up a dishonest Bible, much less deliberately tricking people or fooling them, but that was only the first trickle of a flood that had begun roiling through fundagelical waters.

Kent Hovind isn’t the first Christian I’ve ever heard–by far!–making the rather shocking claim that his god deliberately obfuscated any sign of his existence and deliberately planted false evidence of Biblical contradictions so that people couldn’t rely on evidence or reality to assess Christians’ claims. If his claims had any validity or credibility whatsoever, he’d be offering up his evidence to anybody who asked for it. He has none whatsoever, so he’s got to find a way to make that lack of evidence not only acceptable but–in a weird kind of way–a backwards “proof” for his claims. The very lack of evidence becomes, somehow, evidence in a Biblical literalist’s world.

Ironic, isn’t it, that Creationists like Kent Hovind spend their entire careers trying to ferret out any kind of evidence they can muster, even resorting to flat-out pseudoscience and emotional manipulation when all else fails (as it so often does for them!), for their claims about Biblical literalism, but when pressed admit that they have no compelling evidence whatsoever. I can see why they must find a way to spin “no evidence” into a net positive for their claims. For years I’ve been saying that I think it’s hilarious that they say on the one hand that blind faith is the bestest thing ever and they don’t need no steenkin’ evidence, but on the other they seem very worried that the more people find out about this world and universe, the less plausible their own supernatural claims seem to be. I can see why they’re so worried. Fundagelicals generally buy into the idea of Biblical literalism. If their Bible can’t possibly be literally true, then that throws their entire worldview into pandemonium.

No literal Creation? Then no literal Adam and Eve. No literal Adam and Eve? Then no literal Fall of Man. No literal Fall of Man? Then no Original Sin. No Original Sin? Then humans can actually live sinless lives, and there’s no need for a literal Savior to redeem that fall and repay a bloodthirsty god for all that Original Sin. No literal Salvation? Then no literal Heaven and Hell. No literal Heaven and Hell? Then why are they even wasting all that time and effort? No wonder they seem so threatened by the idea of a single Jenga block being removed from their elaborate tower of lies and pseudoscience. I’d feel threatened by reality too, if I thought my eternal fate dangled on my ability to believe nonsense for no good reason.

But this idea of their god deliberately planting evidence to lie to humans so they will be forced to jump an extra hurdle before believing Christians’ claims? That’s a new one for me, though I can see why fundagelicals like Kent Hovind might buy into this bizarre idea. It’d definitely make him and his followers feel extra-dextra special for believing in nonsense for no good reason, and indeed, he sounded quite smug in the quote I copied for y’all. And his assertion builds upon previous ideas hucksters have implanted into Christians’ minds seeking to explain why there doesn’t seem to be a lot of real evidence for their supernatural claims, like the now-infamous saying “Absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence.” Since fundagelicals don’t think much at all can happen without their god orchestrating it (or at least allowing it), the idea that he might have deliberately sabotaged the Bible and even reality itself to fool humans might not seem so outlandish on the face of it to them.

As Usual, Though, They’re Not Thinking This Thing Through Very Well.

Let’s say that yes, there is an omniscient god who desperately desires that all humans love him and worship him. Let’s say that he’s created all of the cosmos and everything in it, including a horrific realm where people go to be punished via torture for all eternity for any and all sins they’ve committed in life, including not loving and worshiping him, which he has classified as a sin in and of itself. Let’s say that he’s so eager to help people be spared this torture that he himself set up that he even incarnated himself and had a bad weekend to placate his own bloodlust for all these people’s misdeeds so that they could avoid that fate. Let’s say that despite the whole bloodlust problem and the whole “setting up a horrific realm that people go to for an eternity of torture” thing, that this god is somehow merciful, forgiving, and loving.

Why in the hell would this god want to put additional hurdles in people’s path to stop them from realizing that he exists and that they need to do as his adherents say in order to avoid eternal torture?

The Christians advancing this notion are making their god sound even more immoral, capricious, dishonest, and cruel than he already does to non-believers. If I thought for one second that this god really existed but had deliberately tricked people by planting evidence against his own existence, but would punish people for trusting this evidence rather than believe a random nut with a story with no evidence behind it, I’d reject that god with as much force as I could muster simply for being a dishonest bastard. Such a god is not worthy of love or worship, and I couldn’t trust that this god was dealing honestly with Christians any more than he was with non-Christians. If he deliberately set up a fake Bible and plant dinosaur bones and other archaeological evidence to throw off non-believers and make Christians themselves waver in belief, why stop at dinosaur bones and Biblical contradictions? What’s to say he wasn’t totally lying about the eternal rewards and punishments awaiting humanity?

And why on earth would anybody sane ever want to join a religion headed by a dishonest god who deceived people deliberately, then punished them for being deceived by his own deception?

It gets worse.

What if this god was telling fundagelicals to be nasty asshats to everyone just to see who’d really do it, because he doesn’t want such people in his heaven and wants to weed out the nasty, controlling bigots and racists from his flocks? There’s just as much of a chance that this idea is true as there is for Kent Hovind’s idea about his god planting evidence to weed out those who aren’t “really serious.” What if he told Christians to be hateful bigots just to see who was “really serious” about following his primary commandment to love their neighbors? What if he lied to them about all kinds of stuff just to see who was “really serious” about living an honest and upright life?

I ask this because I know a lot of deconverted Christians who cared so much for compassion, love, honesty, and integrity that they had to leave Christianity to find that life. I’m one of them.

Of course, our favorite Creationist is getting ahead of himself. Like most Biblical literalists, he must concoct all kinds of extra-Biblical guesses to account for why the Bible’s stories look the way they do. There’s no indication that the Biblical god exists at all, but certainly nothing in the Bible sounds like “oh and he totally planted evidence contradicting his own adherents’ claims just to mess with people.” The Bible’s god certainly isn’t above dishonesty at times, even in the New Testament, but that’s a long way from the trickster god Kent Hovind envisions as his deity.

Christians tend to create for themselves a god who looks like themselves. Nice people tend to carry around an image of a very kind god, while nasty or dishonest people tend to paint up a god who is nasty and dishonest. When you run into Christians who say that their god is violent, retaliatory, dishonest, bigoted, controlling, or brutal, then be aware that they’ve just told you a lot about themselves and the religion they are trying to sell.

We would do well to listen when Christians tell us something that important.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...