Monday, August 29, 2016

Big Brother and God

In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four, Big Brother is the tyrannical, unseen leader of the Party. His image is everywhere, displayed on posters, coins and even cigarette packs, not to mention in the omnipresent telescreen bulletins. There is no escaping. No escaping him, or rather his Thought Police. I am not the first, naturally, to find a resemblance with the god of the Bible here. Of course, his real life inspiration is clearly Josef Stalin, who ruled over the Stalin Union much like a god on earth world, to the point of worshipful devotion from the people.

Big Brother is but a pale shadow of the Biblical god however. Vast as his power is, he remains limited by mortal constraints. Though his minions can brainwash and destroy even the memory of a person, at least in death they are free. No such limitation applies to the Biblical god, naturally. He can pursue you into the grave. God's power is unlimited, and so no one could escape, unlike Big Brother. Like the minions of Big Brother, God demands love from his subjects or be horribly punished. Yet Big Brother can only punish by brainwashing, death and destroying the memory of a person. God can do so with eternal torment. 

Thankfully, just as Nineteen Eighty Four indicates that Big Brother is not a person, but merely the embodiment of the Party, so too it does not seem the Biblical god exists as more than a concept. It is also clear that God, or at least his devotees, are well versed in the concept of doublethink. "God loves all people unconditionally, yet if you do not believe in or love him he will torment you forever" and so on. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order once even said "We should even believe that black is white, if the hierarchic Church defined it thus." Orwell uses this same example to define the idea of doublethink: blackwhite, the ability to think black is white, and vice versa, even at the same time. 

Airstrip One, the renamed England of Nineteen Eighty Four, is officially atheist, as was the Soviet Union. This is claimed by many believers to be evidence that atheism causes terrible things. While this ignores the fact that atheism was just one aspect of the Marxist ideology, and does not actually necessitate atrocities nor anything else, I hope this shows that a world with the Biblical god would be far worse. Stalin, Hitler and co., bad as they indeed were, could not hold a candle to how this being is described to us. The claim that such a being is all-good and all-loving simply makes this worse, an insidious doublethink that torments the mind. His devotees are quite real, unfortunately, many with a devotion that would make Big Brother very proud. We can only be happy that at least the object of devotion himself appears to exist only in their minds. 


  1. There are some strong points in what you say, but I think you overstate your case when you write, "Big Brother is but a pale shadow of the Biblical god however."

    Are not such comments only an atheist version of Christians stating that "atheism causes terrible things."

    It is true that both atheism and Christianity have caused horrific suffering and the slaughter of millions in history. For instance, at the moment I can't think of a single country of dialectical materialism (a form of atheism)/Marxism that didn't engage in lots of killing, very often of the innocent--not only the Soviet Union, but also China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Albania, Yugoslavia, Hungry, Bulgaria, Cuba, in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, etc.

    And history is loaded with Christianity's slaughters including the infamous speech by Bernard of C. launching the 2nd Crusade, the French Religious Wars, the 30 Years War, etc.

    But that is only part of the story. Both atheism and Christianity (in some of their forms) have also caused some of the best actions of history.

    I do agree that some forms of the Christian religion are like Big Brother, and, indeed, are much worse than 1984.

    But for 55 years I was part of various wings of the Christian religion,
    none of which were like Big Brother at all.

    In my childhood, my father was a fundamentalist Baptist minister (and a history teacher), but he wasn't like fundamentalism is now. He and my mother supported human rights and equality; he talked with me about paleontology, about Neanderthal man, etc.

    Our Baptist college minister when I was at the University of Nebraska "leaned toward Deism," was very liberal, the exact opposite of Big Brother. And the 3 Baptist ministers in succession out here in California that we had, were by no stretch of the imagination anything like the bad ideology, intolerance, etc. of 1984.

    And, I became a Quaker for many years. Again, none of our leaders were anything like a comparison to 1984.

    You wrote, "if you do not believe in or love him he will torment you forever" and so on."

    But this is totally the opposite of how our leaders in both Baptist and Quaker churches thought. (I do realize, as I already mentioned that some Christian creedal denominations do seem similar to 1984, and their concept of God is like Big Brother.)

    As for the Bible, it's a mixed bag. Some portions of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, do make God appear to be far worse than Big Brother. The passages are horrific. (I won't bother to list them as we both know many.)

    But other parts of the Bible describe God as Light, Goodness, unlimited mercy, etc.
    A very good example of that is, of course, I John, but passages from the alleged words of Jesus such as the Good Samaritan, and his comments such as loving your enemy, and so forth are extremely the opposite of anything like Big Brother.

    In the Old Testament, the book, Ecclesiastes, stands out as very un-Big Brother-like, and is very skeptical (if one ignores several pious insertions by later scribes).

    The Bible is varied and contradictory; it does seem to be a cherry-picker's nirvana. Whatever one thinks, one can find verses to support his position.

    Have you seen Valerie Tarico's blog article, "In Defense of Cherry-Picking the Bible"?

    I think she makes a very good case.

  2. I use this as a criticism of the Biblical God's character as often seems to be presented. That is all. I'm not claiming this means Christians are uniformly terrible. Quite the opposite. It's kind of a negative character analysis.

    I disagree with the claims in regards to atheism and Christianity. That seems vastly overbroad to me. It's better to say that certain atheist philosophies (like Marxism) and certain Christian sects are quite destructive. Atheists and Christians in general should not be tarred with this.

    I agree with you on Christians too. Most whom I've known have been nothing but kind and normal people. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church USA, a mainstream liberal church which doesn't support anything like this.

    Really my issue is that in one breath Jesus can, as you say, talk of mercy and love while the next he condemns others into hell forever. The contradictions abound. I think this is no doubt why we have Christians who range so far in terms of their beliefs.

    This post itself is a deconstruction of one particular God concept. It doesn't touch every view of God Christians have by any means.

    I'm fond of Ecclesiastes myself, plus some others attributed to Solomon, for they address existential questions. Job is my least favorite, I think.

    The problem is it's very hard for me to say which, if any, parts of the Bible are "valid". It would be fine for a non-Christian like myself to pick parts they like, but I'm not saying it comes from God. To those that do, at least in part, it's obviously much more serious then.

    My quarrel with liberal Christians such as those I grew up with is not that they were bad people. Quite the opposite, like I said. It's that they seemed to simply ignore large parts of the Bible. On what grounds, I don't know. Actually reading it was a shocking revelation. Christians from all denominations seem to ignore much of it.

    The danger with cherry-picking is obvious, I'd think. We can pick the parts that are congenial, ignoring the rest. For a believer, that seems fraught at best. Are they ignoring what God wants? It just seems clear to me that God could have made this more clear from the beginning.

    Because there is such diversity, no criticism can hope to apply for everyone. Perhaps a disclaimer would be in order here, but maybe I thought that was evident.

  3. This would seem to apply to atheism, too, would it not?

    The vast majority of atheists who've I read and those I've met have emphasized moral relativism, intolerance, etc.

    Yet, I so completely identify with some atheists that I wonder how we can so agree, while yet calling ourselves by opposing terms.

    Also, it's intriguing that when I point this out, many atheists will say that I am setting up straw, but
    what seems to actually be happening is that they are playing a secular version of the True Scotsman.

    I find it highly ironic that you grew up in "the Presbyterian Church USA, a mainstream liberal church which doesn't support anything like this."

    For that is where I first encountered a famous Christian leader claiming that God plans every rape and every murder, it is God's will for most of humankind to be damned to eternal torment for ever!
    Before that happened, I hadn't really known anything about Presbyterianism. I just went to a retreat sponsored by their college age group because my friend told me the group had lots of cute girls:-) (I had just come back from living in the Middle East.)

    Needless to say I did a very long historical study of Presbyterianism. Horrific theology and creeds, etc.

    But obviously, again, we have the case of many different contradictory versions of Presbyterianism, and most of them are very different from the Reformed founders.

    This was what finally led me to leave Christianity--the horror and all the contradictions.

    As for cherry-picking, it seems that happens in all fields of endeavor, even science. Modern scientists pick some of Newton's ideas, but reject others; modern philosophers pick some of Kant's ideas but reject others, etc.

    The difficult is finding a reliable tech method to cherry-pick. Science has one, but religion doesn't.

  4. Well, the difference is atheism has no doctrines. At most it tells you one thing. Of course I have no problem with criticizing other atheists, and I've done so. Moral relativism and intolerance (to some degree) included. The former at least seems less popular now with the "New Atheists" however I can't speak to all atheist philosophers and so on.

    I don't claim they're not atheists, assuming they actually didn't believe in gods. Sometimes this can be difficult to find out for some figures in history, but that isn't the point here. It's like I said above, any other beliefs they may have had only apply to fellow atheists who share them, unless it can be shown that atheism entails them. I've seen many claims in regards to what atheism supposedly entails, but mostly I don't agree with them.

    I'm pretty shocked to hear it. Then again, perhaps it was my sheltered upbringing. I know vaguely that there were more conservative members, but my church only had one. By now they have made many liberal changes that conservatives denounced. I never even knew they were historically Calvinist (or what Calvinism was) at the time. That was pretty shocking as well.

    In regards to Newton it's because those ideas have been surpassed. As you say, science has more a reliable method to discern this. I wouldn't call it cherry-picking really, but your point is taken.