christianity

Faith or Expectations?

Faith. It is at the heart of every theist’s last-ditch argument. When you have questioned the historical discrepancies in their Bible, when you have pointed out all the nasty things their religion has been responsible for, and when you finally work your way down to the core of their beliefs, the answer is always, faith. The phrase goes something like this:

“Well, either way, it doesn’t matter what you think. I believe god exists because I have faith that he does and having faith is a lot harder than not having faith.”

Usually that about ends the argument for me — there is no arguing with crazy, after all. And really, what can I say at that point? “OK, fine, be stupid then!” typically doesn’t fly with my grandmother.

I was confronted with this argument recently and when I was replaying the argument over in my head thinking of all the things I should have said, it dawned on me. I have faith, too. I mean, I think I do. I would go so far as to say that everyone has some sort of faith inside of them. The difference is that my common sense tells me to have faith in things for which I have seen.

For example, I have faith that my car will start in the morning to drive to work. Do I know that it will? No. But, I have kept up with the maintenance and it worked fine the day before, so I have faith that it will turn on. I also have faith that my husband won’t cheat on me. Do I know that for sure? Absolutely not. How could I? But, I have faith that he won’t because he has never done so before and our marriage is good and strong. All of us have faith that tomorrow will come. We schedule appointments, put things off at work and plan vacations all under the assumption that when today ends, the sun will come up and tomorrow will begin. Do we know that it will for certain? No, but we have no reason to believe otherwise. The sun has always come up and tomorrow has always come — whether we like it or not.

The problem with the faith argument though, lies in the very definition of faith itself:

“Faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Merriam-Webster

My common sense tells me that my faith should be based on proof. My logical, reasonable mind tells me so as well. “I believe that ‘X’ will happen because it has happened before or there is evidence that it will.” However, theists and believers of any god(s) believe that faith in something “for which there is no proof” is a perfectly acceptable way to live and it satisfies their minds to be with religion. “I believe that ‘X’ will happen because I have faith that it will.”

This sort of thinking has never satisfied me, so maybe I don’t have faith then; maybe I have something more like expectations:

“Expect: to consider probable or certain; to consider reasonable, due, or necessary.” Merriam-Webster

I expect that my car will turn on, that my husband won’t cheat and the sun will rise again tomorrow. I still know none of these things for certain, but it is probable that my expectations are correct based on the current evidence.

So, maybe that is the biggest difference between atheists and theists: Theists are perfectly satisfied with having faith and can live with the fact that there will never be any proof to show them that their beliefs are correct or accurate. Atheists tend to let their ability to reason overcome their ability to have faith — It is more reasonable to believe in something because there is proof and, on the flip side, it is more reasonable to not believe in something because there is no proof. This, however, does not mean that having faith is any harder or any easier than not having faith. I think that if your mind is capable of accepting the idea of faith, then it shouldn’t be very hard for you at all. But, if you are struggling with the idea of faith and the blind acceptance of it, then sure, I imagine it would be pretty difficult.

The bottom line is that the common sense of an atheist tells them that if there is no evidence, then it must be bullshit or, at the very least, it should be something that they question. The common sense of a theist (and the Bible, oddly enough) tells them that as long as they have faith, anything is possible. “With God all things are possible.” Mark 10:27

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Praying For Votes… Er, I Mean, Our Leaders

I was recently on a Christian website scrolling through a list of sermons about Atheism and I came across this ad:

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Initially, it literally made me laugh out loud at the ridiculous-ness of it. “Learn” how to pray? …Huh? Isn’t prayer just talking to yourself in your head and hoping someone/something hears it and does something about it? Isn’t prayer personal and customized to fit nicely with your inner voice? And how does praying for our leaders differ from that? Is there a special chant or rhyme that must be used in order for the prayer to make its way up to god so that he’ll immediately know to give this prayer preference because it is for a leader? I was clearly curious so, naturally, I clicked on the link. Here is the description I found:

“‘It is a great privilege, as well as our responsibility, to pray for our government leaders.’ – Billy Graham

This helpful pamphlet helps guide you through what the Bible says about how to pray and about our government leaders. Also included are scripture references and ways to specifically pray for our leaders. The back has space for the names of local, state and federal leaders to be written, so they can be prayed for by name. Great tool for your congregation to encourage prayer for our nation! ” Billygrahambookstore.org

After reading the description and the hilarity subsided, I was left with a disturbing feeling of confusion. Most evangelicals disagree with our current government as well as the progress being made on social issues like abortion and marriage equality so, why would they be so light-heartedly praying for them? Then it hit me: They aren’t! This prayer guide is a rouse. It’s a cover up. They aren’t encouraging simple prayer for our nation (which is disturbing enough in and of itself) but rather, they are encouraging government in church under the guise of prayer.

It’s amazing, really. Without blatantly advertising the discussion of politics and government in their congregation (which would be illegal under their current tax-exempt status) they are disguising it as prayer. And how can one pray for our political leaders unless they know what they are praying for and how to do it? This then gives them an excuse to discuss it in the church and find themselves nice and warm and safe in the comfort of their loop-hole. They can’t legally tell their congregation who to vote for (although this is done quite often), but they can encourage prayer for a particular candidate whose views align with their own. Or even a prayer that an opponent of their chosen candidate wakes up to god and “reality” to find his/her proper way.

Woah. Votes disguised as prayers. Who would have thought?

I have another thought: How about when you are in church you do less talking about grown-up stuff like politics and law and more talking about your cute little fairy-tale book with its magical stories? Or, if you insist on playing with the big-dogs, how about you pay your fucking taxes like everyone else and earn that right?

People, organizations and/or mindless groups of blindly devoted idiots who do not contribute to society financially should have no say in what society does financially; whether in regards to funding social services or otherwise. The government is holding up its end of the bargain by keeping itself out of the church (tax exemption), it is time that the church start holding up its end of the bargain and staying out of government (prayer/vote brainwashing).

Till Divorce Do We Part

imagesWhen a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,  when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4

First of all, what the hell is wrong with this hypothetical woman if her first husband finds her to be unclean and her second ends up detesting her? Did they uncover some crazy spring break photos of her on the internet?

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Second of all, why would god find a need to specifically draw attention to such a rare instance of a woman’s second husband dying and her choosing to return to her first husband?

Strange.

Either way, it is there, clear as a summer day:  “and he writes her a certificate of divorce”. So divorce is OK, right? Wrong! This is just another one of those tricks that god likes to play on people to keep himself entertained. Or, at least that’s what Jesus says:

The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’;  so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:2-12

Well, which is it? Can we divorce or can’t we? If I want a divorce I can certainly find a verse that says it is OK, (I just can’t remarry my first husband if my second one dies, AND, since I am a mere woman, I can’t be the one to make that decision, it has to come from my husband) but if I don’t, I can certainly find a verse in the Bible that says it is not OK.

This is the problem with the Bible (among infinite other things). I can find any excuse in any verse in the Bible to justify why I said or did something and why I feel the way I do. In fact, I can change my mind from day-to-day  it’s OK! It’s in the Bible!

I’d Rather Be Godless Than Godly

Lately I have found within myself a strange, masochistic yearning to read through sermons. I say masochistic because, generally, they do nothing more than make me mad- someone actually taught this crap to an entire congregation of people?? But, I still enjoy reading them to a certain extent because they offer a sort of validation for me that I made the correct and logical decision in becoming and remaining an atheist, despite potential backlash from friends and family. So, this morning I came across a sermon entitled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Godlessness” by Joel Smith, a pastor of a Baptist church.

You can read the entire sermon here, but basically it is about how easy it is to be an atheist. Now, I think that assertion is up for a whole different debate, but I want to focus on the part that disturbed me the most: He spoke of atheism as a way of life in which god is not present which, to a certain extent, is true. However, he claims that even though many of the congregate members sitting before him believe in god, they do not allow him fully into their everyday lives and are, therefore, atheists.

Holy shit did that offend me!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an atheist as, “one who believes that there is no deity” NOT “one who believes there is a deity but does not welcome it into their daily lives like they should”. I am very proud to be an atheist and I will be damned (by no god in particular) if this pastor can just go around asserting that perhaps atheists do believe in god, they just do not welcome him into their lives! No sir. He is not welcome in my life BECAUSE HE DOES NOT EXIST.

After Joel introduces his new definition of atheism, he goes on to explain how to be an atheist:

“Why does Genesis tell us that Cain built a city?  Nice info, but so what?  The reason Cain built a city was protection.  Prior to this he killed his brother Abel and God cursed Cain for it.  He was cast out of the area where his family dwelt and into a harsher, crueler world.  He would have even less of God’s provision and protection than his parents.  Therefore Cain built a nice little fortified wall around a collection of houses and other buildings – the first city.  It was the absence of God in his life that led him to this.  Keep in mind that Cain believed in God, but he lived his life apart from the Him.  In his mind he was a believer, but in his practice he was an atheist, without God. This gives us our first principle in becoming a practical or practicing atheist. Focus on insulating yourself from the harsh realities of life on earth… Not only do the godly refuse to insulate, they refuse to worry about the harsh realities of life.  They look to and call on the God who is more than adequate to meet their needs.  They live lives of adventure as God takes them from one assignment to the next.”

Atheists “focus on insulating themselves from the harsh realities of life.” Just let that stew in your brain for a bit… After that stews for about 2 minutes, add this next ingredient:

“That’s the outworking of godlessness: self-reliance rather than dependence on God.  The godless person relies on their own wisdom, experience, skill, and strength to navigate life.  The godly person, on the other hand, admits their inability and seeks God’s help more and more.”

Now, let that cook for the rest of your life and take pleasure in knowing that you are self-sufficient and can rely on your “own wisdom, experience, skill and strength to navigate life”. (For extra sweetness, add a dash of uncontrollable laughter and disbelief- I did and it turned out great!)

Before I end up disclosing all of my secret recipes in this one post, I’ll move on by saying that this guy is completely bat-shit crazy. Since when has it become a bad thing to live your life based on experience and wisdom and skill? Shit, you can’t even get a job without skill and experience! And how are addicts supposed to accept the things they cannot change without the wisdom to know the difference?? Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for admitting inability. If I ran into someone on the street needing emergency brain surgery, I would immediately admit my inability to perform that task and then proceed to wonder how this person even knew they needed emergency brain surgery to begin with. Although, given the rationale of Mr. Smith, perhaps if I just prayed that I could help this person, my hands would magically know what to do!

“I sometimes think God probably love[s] my wife Laura more than any other person I know.  She constantly cries out to Him.  If she has a big or little decision, she seeks Him.  She teaches Drake and Anna Gray to cry out to God if they’ve lost something.  If it’s dark or rainy at Wal-Mart she cries out for a parking place and gets it.  She even cried out for His direction on which watermelon to buy.  Two summers ago she cried out when we were at a financial and emotional breaking point and God gave me a new job.  God answers people who admit their need. “

God gave this guy a new job, gave his wife a good parking space so she wouldn’t get too wet and he even offered his almighty guidance on which watermelon is best. Now, I know what you are thinking: “But, Missy! What about those poor people out in the rain that day down the street from that Wal-Mart with no car or no home to run to for shelter?” The answer is simple, my friends: they are not praying correctly. They may believe in god, but they are not asking him to be present in their everyday lives, therefore he is turned off to them. Instead of filling out job applications and wasting time in interviews, they should be praying and leaving it in god’s capable hands! Until then, he has more important things to worry about! He can’t just let Laura buy that dingy looking watermelon!

This is where the masochism comes in to play. SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO A BUNCH OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM TO SHOW THEM THE WAY TO BE CLOSER TO GOD AND UP THEIR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO HEAVEN (yes, I just screamed that at the sermon). Joel Smith says it is godless to depend on your wisdom and experience or on your skills and strengths and advises that they do none of these things, that instead they rely solely on god. For to be unknowing of the world is to be closer to god. This kind of teaching is EXACTLY why people trash the earth and remain ignorant to the horrible things happening in the world today. Not only ignorant, but uncaring and unyielding. THIS is why there are churches out there teaching their children to protest dead soldiers. Sure, they are extremists, but aren’t sermons like these where it all starts??

Biblical Hermeneutics

bible-interpretations-610x915“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed,which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:16-20

The next time someone tries to refute your arguments against the teachings in the Bible by saying that you are interpreting it incorrectly or you are taking the words out of context, remind them of good old 2 Peter. The next time a Christian tries to tell you that the teachings in the Old Testament are metaphorical and reflective of a different time in the world, remind them of good old 2 Peter. The next time someone tries to argue that the word of god could have been written into the Bible incorrectly due to the imperfections of man, remind them of good old 2 Peter.

It is clear in the Bible that interpretation is not allowed and god does not discount the Old Testament as most modern-day Christians do. In fact, he stands by it proudly and so should those that say they truly believe. But what about those that devote their lives to interpreting the Bible?hermeneutics

The pastors, priests and reverends? Those that take part in biblical hermeneutics everyday? Well, too bad so sad. Better keep those interpretations to yourself because they are not valid or acceptable in the eyes of your religion. In fact, you are doing nothing but infecting your followers with dangerous interpretations and ultimately probably damning them all to hell. Oops? Well, if you had actually read the Bible you are interpreting, wouldn’t you know that already?

Offensive

I was reading a blurb from a sermon by Tim Keller on Preachingtoday.com (sermons can be quite interesting) in which he talked about how the Bible will inherently contradict and offend every culture at least once. I was incredibly intrigued by this as I have trouble reading the Bible and not being offended myself. Here is what he had to say:

“Many of us read a certain passage of Scripture and say, “That’s so regressive, so offensive.” But we ought to entertain the idea that maybe we feel that way because in our particular culture that text is a problem. In other cultures that passage might not come across as regressive or offensive.

Let’s look at just one example. In individualistic, Western societies, we read the Bible, and we have a problem with what it says about sex. But then we read what the Bible says about forgiveness—”forgive your enemy;” “forgive your brother seventy times seven;” “turn the other cheek;” “when your enemy asks for your shirt, give him your cloak as well”—and we say, “How wonderful!” It’s because we are driven by a culture of guilt. But if you were to go to the Middle East, they would think that what the Bible has to say about sex is pretty good. (Actually, they might feel it’s not strict enough!) But when they would read what the Bible says about forgiving your enemies, it would strike them as absolutely crazy. It’s because their culture is not an individualistic society like ours. It’s more of a shame culture than a guilt culture.

Let me ask you a question: If you’re offended by something in the Bible, why should your cultural sensibilities trump everybody else’s? Why should we get rid of the Bible because it offends your culture? Let’s do a thought experiment for a second. If the Bible really was the revelation of God, and therefore it wasn’t the product of any one culture, wouldn’t it contradict every culture at some point? Therefore, if it’s really from God, wouldn’t it have to offend your cultural sensibilities at some point? Therefore when you read the Bible, and you find some part of it outrageous and offensive, that’s proof that it’s probably true, that it’s probably from God. It’s not a reason to say the Bible isn’t God’s Word; it’s a reason to say it is. What makes you think that because this part or that part of God’s Word is offensive, you can forget Christianity altogether?”

Tim Keller, in the sermon Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?, PreachingToday.com

Really good stuff there. Stuff I hadn’t really given much thought or consideration before. I would agree with Tim that various cultures interpret the same text differently and may have more or less qualms about particular parts than others might. I would even take that a step further and, instead of comparing North American culture to Islam (which is really like comparing apples to oranges) I would compare different regions of America itself. The south has a far different culture than the west. California girls are much different from southern belles; They hold different values and insights about the world and the way it ought to be. So, to this degree, I believe Tim is absolutely right. However, the things that I take offense to in the Bible are not about culture to me- and that’s not just my culture talking either!

The things I take offense to in the Bible are about the infringement on universal rights, no matter what, whom or where. When the Bible describes a woman as being unclean and inferior and the origin of all sin, people should take offense because it is so blatantly hateful and wrong. Now, are men in the Middle East likely to agree with the Bible on this one? Sure. But does that make it right? Absolutely not. Not even one hundred years ago, we as Americans were hardly offended by the passages in the Bible about slavery. In fact, the Bible was used as a defense of it! Nowadays we have laws forbidding it but who’s to say that if those laws were to somehow magically disappear that we would not resort back to it? Would that be considered a cultural opinion? Shouldn’t everyone be repulsed by the idea of “owning” another human being? Cultural or not?

I think the problem with this sermon is that it had a good foundation for an argument, but fell severely short. Just because a book says something that offends some but not others based on their cultural beliefs, does not make what the book is saying right or just. As a human species, as a whole, we should not ever be unaffected by inequality, rape, murder, social injustices or anything of the like, regardless of cultural background. People should always be treated with respect, no matter their differences, and we should NEVER, under any circumstances, turn the other way when they are not. THAT is what the Bible should be about. There should be nothing in it that can be viewed as “regressive” because if an all-knowing, omnipotent god spoke it, it should outlast the test of time and be relevant in any age and in any culture. This is what makes me think I can “forget Christianity altogether”.  And, it’s what made me do it.

The Gold Calf

The story of the Gold Calf in the book of Exodus has to be one of my favorites. It is a story of an incredibly jealous god and a ridiculously stupid group of people, which ended up raising a ton of red flags for me about god and Christianity.

It starts off with a group of people waiting around for Moses to return to them from the mountain conversation he is having with god. They are getting a little antsy and are starting to think that Moses will not return. They clearly have no other purpose in their lives but to praise and blindly follow anything and everything because, after a while, they approach Aaron begging him to make them a new god since this one is taking so long. Aaron, who is one of god’s newly appointed priests, says, “Sure” and tells them all to break off their gold earrings for him. They do so and Aaron then proceeds to melt it all down and shape the gold into a calf. The people then immediately start praising this calf, dancing, giving it burnt offerings and proclaiming that it is the savior of their people.

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…Huh??

If these people are so easily persuaded into praising anything that comes their way, what does that say about god at this point?Clearly he is no more impressive than a little golden calf or any other god for that matter. Most Christians will look at this and say that this is not a reflection of god’s power but a reflection of the stupidity of people- and I would agree. However, I would take it a step further in saying that the stupidity of people is also to blame for the praises given to god as he “exists” today. These people were so ready and willing to offer their praises to anything because they were desperate and needed something to look up to and something to believe in. This part of the story says to me that god is interchangeable with any and everything. The only common denominator is a group of desperate, weak, like-minded people ready and willing to listen to anything anyone has to say- anything that will make them feel better, or give them an excuse for being or acting a certain way. Which is why there are so many different factions within Christianity.

Are you really inspired by the Virgin Mary? Join Catholicism! Do you sort of like Catholicism but don’t love the idea of all those saints? Well then perhaps Lutheranism is the religion for you! Or, do you enjoy the Old Testament and finding a good sale? Give Judaism a try! Maybe you really hate celebrating your birthday, or any holiday for that matter, and you could see yourself talking to people door-to-door? Jehovah’s Witness would be perfect for you! Or, perhaps you believe there was more to the Bible and you are thankful that Joseph Smith discovered those missing parts? Well then I think Mormonism is for you! Whatever your fancy, feel free to choose your religion and your god. And don’t let that pesky religion you were raised on get in the way of your choice; what do your parents know anyways?

Ok, back to the story. As these people are praising this calf, god sees them (of course) and it infuriates him:

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.’ ” Exodus 32:9-10

God is a very jealous god and now he wants to kill them all- after he insults them first. Sort of like when your ex finds out you have a new boyfriend/girlfriend and the jealousy consumes them. They have invested so much time into you and now you have just simply moved on? No way Jose! (Jesus??)

Well, Moses sees that god is angry and is going to kill all of these people and he’s like, “Woah. Wait a minute! I just dragged these people through the desert and the sea for christsake! And now you just want to wipe them out? Hell no.” Well, actually he says it a little more like this:

Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: ‘Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” Exodus 32:11-13

Basically, Moses uses the old, ‘What will the neighbors think?’ number on god to talk some sense into him and to not let all of his earlier efforts go to waste and it works! Really?! The supposed omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing god just listens to Moses?? Couldn’t he have come up with that reasoning himself before he let his anger get to him? Wasn’t it Jesus, not god, that was supposed to bear all the human characteristics so that we could relate to him/it? And, what good is a god if he has no sense of reason? It seems to me that god is the hot-headed, jealous type. The type you can’t break up with because you might end up in a battered women’s home. (But, he loves you!)

The story continues with Moses returning to the people and dividing them up, asking those that are with god to join him and those that aren’t to leave. Then, with the group of followers, proceeds to murder thousands of people.

“And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion and every man his neighbor.’ So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” Exodus 32:27-28

Then, to add injury to insult after they just murdered everyone they knew, Moses tells them that they still have not satisfied god and that they will need to atone for their sins. Moses summons god and ask him to forgive them and god says something like, “Fine. You go and take these people to the place I told you to take them, as planned.” But he adds this,

” ‘Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.’ So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.” Exodus 32: 34-35

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Is that a threat? It sure sounds like a threat to me… If you are a god, why threaten at all? Why not do something? And, more importantly, isn’t god supposed to be all-loving? Or, is it just that we haven’t gotten to that part yet? How can I believe that god “loves us” when he goes around acting like that? Why the crazy jealousy, the temper, the fits of rage, the controlling, the anger, the threats if you leave and the threats even when you stay? Again, I refer back to the angry ex and the dangerous, jealous relationship- If we are taught that when humans treat us this way it is bad, then why is it OK for our god to do the same?