The Problem of a Designer God

Some years ago on a certain Sunday the Gospel of the Narrow Road came up wherein Jesus warns that many are on a wide and easy road that leads to damnation and only a few are on the narrow road that leads to salvation. I went on to preach of this warning of Jesus and of the real possibility of hell taught by him in  this and other passages. After Mass a woman came to me and said, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” I said to her, “But ma’am I was quoting him!”  Unfazed she simply waved her hands dismissively and said, “We know he never said that. The Jesus I know would never have spoken like that.”

It is one of the more arrogant trends of our modern culture to refashion revealed religious truth and God himself  according to our modern preferences. Many moderns want all the consolations of faith but none of its demands. God himself must be rendered harmless so many simply refashion him and what he has said. At times I’ll run into someone at the store who has not been attending Mass faithfully and I will call it to their attention. It is not uncommon that they will respond, “God doesn’t care if I go to Church or not.”  “Oh really?” says I, “Then why do you suppose he put it in the Ten Commandments that we should keep holy the Sabbath?'” No answer usually, sometimes a shrug. I usually add: “And why did Jesus warn that if we do not eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us?” (Jn 6:53).

Many people have a designer God. A “God who doesn’t care if _____ (fill in the blank).” A God who consoles but never commands. The real God who reveals himself in the Scriptures and doctrine of the Church has been set aside by many. In his place is an idol. A god that many people construct to suit themselves. There is an old saying, “God made man in his own image. Ever since we seem intent on returning the favor.”

I want to ask you to ponder that the refusal to submit ourselves to God as he actually reveals himself is a form arrogance. But as with most things modern we try to recast it as something else. We like to think that we are being  “open-minded,” “broad and inclusive.” But in the end it is we who are the measure of truth in this scenario. Truth is not something to be discovered and submitted to, it is whatever I say it is.

I once saw a bumper sticker: “Don’t believe everything you think.” Not a bad invitation to some humility. Too often we think today that something is so just because I think so. It is not always so. Faith, on the other hand,   invites us to trust in God who reveals the truth to us,  a  God who is truth and can neither be deceived nor deceive. Faith is surely a gift, but it is a gift that requires great humility. Someone outside of me, to whom I must answer defines what is true and I am invited to yield and trust. Only faith and humility can be real antidotes to the arrogance of our times.

I suppose the real end game in the “designer god” phenomenon is to render God harmless. In the video below Fr. Robert Barron examines the movie Avatar and the theological premises of the movie. The basic religion on display in the movie is a “Hollywood approved” religion where God is depersonalized and becomes a kind of benign “force.” Someone (something?) we can tap into at will, but always on our terms. This Hollywood approved god does not speak or demand but rather just an animistic, pantheistic, impersonal force who is available to us when we so wish. Hardly the real God of which Scripture says: It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31) or again, No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. (Heb 4:13). The designer god can be manipulated and controlled and invoked as we wish. The designer god is quite harmless really, never asks questions, never requires obedience. The designer god is always on our side. The real and Biblical God is a person who addresses us intelligently and takes initiative that requires a response on our part. We cannot control or manipulate him and he speaks a truth that may often challenge us. Not someone the modern age seems very willing to accept. In the end let’s be clear, the designer God is an idol.

In case you don’t want to see the whole video due to limited time, Fr. Barron’s critique of the “approved religion” of Hollywood begins at 4:40 minutes. The whole video is good however!

The Church’s Photo Album

Every now and then we Catholics get asked about statues and images. Sometimes we get accused of “worshiping” them. Well actually that would be pretty strange and stupid since plaster and marble and paint on canvas can’t hear us or respond. Not much of a god if you ask me. Of course we don’t worship these things, we aren’t stupid.

But what is with these statues and pictures? Why do we have them? Well the question is kind of odd since most people who ask us this really already have the answer. When I get asked this question I ask another question in return: “Do you have pictures of your family in your home, in your wallet or at your office?”  Most answer “yes.””Why?” I ask. The usual answer amounts to the fact that these things “remind me of my loved ones.” Exactly. And so to statues and images of saints. They remind us of family members (the saints) who have lived heroic lives.  While it is not common for us to have statues of loved ones in our homes, it is common to see such things in State Houses and museums. Just a little more formal than a painting or photo but its the same idea.

So really, folks ought to lighten up on us a bit. We are neither stupid nor idolaters here. We’re just venerating the memory of heroes who have gone before us. We are reminded to ask their prayers and imitate their example.

Here is another video from that Catholic Show that speaks on this topic further. I have one quibble with the video. It seems to imply that statues and pictures only came into use in the Church after the Renaissance. In fact they have been with us almost from the start. All the way back in the 8th Century the Church struggled with the Iconoclasts (image smashers) who went through churches smashing statues and images. They claimed it broke the commandment against idolatry. But the Church ruled that there was no violation of the commandment in the use of images for the reasons stated above. But the point here is that images and statues were in use far back before the Renaissance.