Pious Meanness

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“God doesn’t make mistakes” has become a popular saying meant as a truism, and at a glance, it may seem obvious and inarguable. Can the Almighty, indeed, make mistakes?

But the popular truism is not kind, understanding, biblically correct, or theologically sound. Rather, its use, as I have heard it, is dismissive of real human beings and their very real situations in life. In short, it is casually self-righteous and downright mean.

It is biblically wrong to declare God the proximate cause (the closest, immediate and direct cause) of everything that happens in this created world. We do make decisions, and we do have experiences we did not earn or deserve, whether those experiences were beneficial or harmful, good or tragic. We go to Paul’s Letter to the Romans and learn from chapter 8 that God has turned the world over to its own futility but with hope. Indeed, the entire creation groans under the weight of its wrongness, its futility, as it yearns with hope for the revealing of the children of God in whose redemption the creation is to share. The creation is to be made new (see Revelation, chapter 21).

“God doesn’t make mistakes” is one more declaration of determinism but an especially simplistic and wrong-headed one. It asserts that everything is just as God intends it to be. Nothing can go wrong. What it really means as used in practice is that the accepted norms are right and proper and should be accepted. It asserts that people are born in conformity with traditionally interpreted biblical norms, specifically the Genesis statement, “Male and female he (God) created them (humans).” So, according to this maxim, the person born with both sets of genitalia doesn’t exist, even though such people do exist and are living persons. Less outwardly obvious but just as real is the transgender person whose selfhood is dismissed by the maxim as false, phony, misguided, or perverse. “You’re wrong about yourself, because God doesn’t make mistakes.”

This kind of easy declaration, “God doesn’t make mistakes,” fits into the general category of determinism which has always been dismissive of people and their fortunes or misfortunes. Determinism avoids personal and social responsibility for other people’s rights and needs; it may also block hope and excuse people from self-discernment. If life is predetermined by forces beyond my control, why strive? If people deserve what they get and get what they deserve, why care about the unfortunate? If my time will be up when my time comes, why take care of myself? If my prosperity comes automatically from the will of God, why question myself about the ways I do business, how I take more than I give, or what responsibilities I have for the common good and for the lack of opportunity for others?

In short, the pious saying serves to excuse cis-gender people from acknowledging the existence of people who do not fall into that category and from respecting their identities. Cis-gender is a term that refers to people whose anatomical gender identity conforms to their personal, sexual gender self-identification. The declaration that God does not make mistakes insists that everyone is cis-gender whether a person knows it or not and disregards people whose anatomical gender is unclear, mixed, or wrong for who they know themselves to be.

Two big faith problems surface here. First, Jesus does not dismiss people as unwelcome by their very existence or by their scorned conditions. He reaches out to the leper, welcomes that treasonous tax collector who will follow him, teaches women the truth of God’s redemptive love, and shares life and hope with sinners. Second, the notion that God is the proximate cause of everything that happens disregards the Bible’s insistence that the whole creation, including what we call the natural world, has fallen from its rightful, created and intended condition in relation with God, with humanity, and with itself. Everything is in need of redemption to become as God wills it to be. Jesus does not engage in or excuse pious meanness. He does not scorn any person as a nobody. He does not disregard people as, by nature or birth, inferior or worthless humans. There is no valid Christian truth that operates as pious cruelty.

Determinism is an excuse, a cop-out, and it is used to blame God for all manner of human strife, shaming, suffering, and injustice. In some forms, determinism condemns us to the social and financial station into which we are born (so why care about the poor or oppressed?). So it falsely justifies the privilege of elites. It declares our accepted norms to be good and right, even if the norm is slavery, exploitation of many for the benefit of the few, or false judgments made by unquestioned custom (read the New Testament’s Letter of James on false judgments about rich or poor people). Determinism promotes false security for some and hopelessness for others. There is much about life and about ourselves we can neither control nor easily change. But determinism’s declaration that what is must be accepted as what should or must be is false.

4 Comments on “Pious Meanness

  1. Jim Richards (PHS class of '64)

    As you know I’m a gay man and a cis man. You are unusual for a Christian Minister as so many are as anti LGBTQ+ as possible. Many American Christian Churches fund the anti gay and lesbian people in Africa and have succeeded in African Countries making laws that not only criminalize same sex but make it a capital crime. There is an organization in Canada called Rainbow Railroad that tries to get those that have been targeted out of Africa and into safer countries. Now the United States is beginning to be not considered by them as a safe haven. I wrote a “scientific” paper for the common citizen in which I explain odds such as winning a lottery. My paper is called “Who am I”.

    Who Am I
    My mother had an egg and my father fertilized that egg with one of his sperm. Since the average ejaculate contains about 150,000,000 sperm I am the product of just one of those sperm since an egg can only be fertilized by one sperm. The other 149,999.999 sperm would have been someone else. This is validated by the situation when a women has two eggs and they are both each fertilized by one unique sperm from the father resulting in what we call paternal twins. They are two completely different individuals. According to the NIH 15% of fertilized eggs will be lost before implantation begins. Of those which begin to implant, only about half will implant successfully. Therefor about 50% of the fertilized eggs never implant and therefore don’t develop. If the blastocyst doesn’t implant in the person’s endometrium, pregnancy will not occur. For implantation to occur, hormones trigger a process called hatching. The blastocyst sheds its clear outer membrane. Hatching occurs one to three days after a blastocyst enters their uterus.

    The odds of me being me is about one in 150 million lottery. What about the 149,999,999 other possible people. You have also to consider the probability of my mother even having an egg available at the time my father ejaculated the sperm. There is also the probability of my parents simply not having sex when my mother was fertile and that egg and that single sperm that was to be me never meet.

    Once the pregnancy occurs there is also the possibility that I might have been non viable or a miscarriage might have occurred or I would have not survived in the uterus to have a successful live birth. That is one part in a huge lottery that I had to win to be me. If I was successful and born would my parents want me, cared for me and loved me so that I would have a start of a happy life? There is so much chance in this whole event. What if I was unwanted and not loved and not cared for what would my life be like? I don’t think people really understand this whole situation. Everyones life is a chance occurrence.

    You might like to add that God didn’t pick the egg or the sperm that made me over all the other eggs and sperms. And, in my case that combination made a cis man that is attracted to other men. So, if God did make that combination that made me then he must have made an error. I sure didn’t have anything to do with this situation.

    To me many who call themselves Christians are like the droid in the original Star Trek episode called “The Changeling” where an AI droid called Nomad mistook Captan Kirk as “the creator”. Anything that was not perfect had to de destroyed. Eventually when it was forced to see that Kirk was not the “creator” it went into a crisis realizing itself was not perfect and then destroyed itself. That is the fate of many Christian Churches these days since they completely miss what Jesus was all about.

    1. Dick Sindall Post author

      Jim, thank you for your extensive reply to my post. I don’t think I am so unusual a minister as many people are led to imagine by the overwhelming amount of publicity, propaganda, and financial clout of the right-wing American evangelical churches along with fundamentalist churches (in some cases the same ones as the evangelicals, others not so). I meet evangelical Christians who do not know Presbyterian churches are even Christian, as well as some who consider us false Christians because we are not like them.

      The situation in labeling Christians is confusing to most people. In Europe “evangelical” equates to Protestant, hence the name of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which is a “mainline” Protestant denomination, not evangelical in the American sense, although particular members may be. Decades ago when I was in seminary, the Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung presented a series of lectures, and a student asked him if he were an evangelical. He replied that if the student meant evangelical in the European sense, yes, but if in the American sense, no. Not all evangelical believers or churches are right-wing in their politics or authoritarian in their practice of their faith. There are “evangelicals for social justice.”

      The course of my own understanding of homosexuality and homosexually oriented people developed over many years, always guided by the Bible and Christian theology and with information from science and the social sciences. As a boy, I believed what I was told and was, as you know, surrounded by a playground culture of contempt for homosexuals expressed mainly in jokes and name calling of people who were not (as far as we knew) actually homosexually oriented. How unfunny and hurtful our jokes and “playful” name calling were to some of our classmates and friends, I did not realize.

      I will not, here, attempt to trace the stages of development in my thinking over the decades. It’s a long way from the school playground and the church of my childhood toward understanding and respect. I used the preposition “toward” rather than “to” which might have suggested I consider my learning over and done. I’m sure it is not.

      For all you explain of conception and birth, with which I am not arguing, we continue to receive our children as given to us in trust by God, to whom we are accountable for our love, care, and teaching. We know we fall short but continue to trust God to hold on to them and parent them through our efforts and even our failures.

      Thanks again for reading my blog and replying.

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