Holy God or Creator-Sadist? Or simply a Mystery?


I have said on numerous occaisions that God is a description of a concept for the great creative Mystery, the Absolute, the Unconditional or the Divine. I was challenged by Uccisore to state whether I can uphold this statement and entertain the ideas quoted above, since I cannot be certain of the opposite.

The difficulty we have with a Mystery seems to arise from the requirement of certainty. The sceptic rejects religion on these grounds, the agnostic says he doesn’t have it and the believer seeks certainty. But does certainty play the important role we seem to give it? Isn’t much of what we experience very ambiguous and intuitive? Would our brain be able to cope with such a requirement, seeing as even the information that our senses deliver is filtered and to a large degree discarded if it is not substantially important?

I live to a great degree in an uncertain world, and I require of specific information that a high degree of certainty is available. It is generally a technological requirement, but is it a philosophical requirement? Is it an existential requirement? I find that the technocrats have suggested a ‘brave new world’ of definitiveness, efficiency and exactness that we do not require existentially.

Assuredness rather than certainty is a requirement of life. Trust and faith are built on experience and reliability in relationships, but certainty is unavailable because of the inaccesibilty of the human mind of another, let alone the ‘Mind’ of Being itself. To a degree, every human being around me is a Mystery and they all hold the potential to hurt me or love me. There is no certainty that I can walk at night in the streets without harm, nor is there certainty that every human being will find a soul-mate.

But it is trust that is imparted by experience that gives us the hope that things will go well. The trust that perhaps begins in the womb, or at the breast of a mother. A trust that expands to the dark figure of a father (who generally remain a real mystery) and perhaps then to brothers and sisters. That trust makes aquaintance with the fundaments of society and after a brief phase of contention, builds its own fundament, based on past experience.

Could ‘God’ be a ‘Creator-Sadist’? I think my answer would only be based on my experience, which has been a positive experience by-and-large. It would not be knowledge, but experience that gives it’s opinion. However, when I see the suffering of other human beings, I contend my own trust and ask whether I could be wrong - but this leads to a conviction that what we call God is from day to day even more a Mystery, the more my trust isn’t just based on my own experience, but rather includes the experience of others.

Any ideas?


This will be debated for another couple thousand years, provided the species lasts that long. The subject goes to the whole heart of the mystery of God. If we view the world as wicked, and we see that God created it thusly (or at permits it to occur), then is God wicked?

There’s no new information coming from God (in the form of universally agreed upon scripture/doctrine, I mean), and so we are left with faith. I really love the way Søren Kierkegaard describes it; to paraphrase it, faith is the surrender to belief by virtue of the absurd. In his veiw God so transcends us that we can’t begin to fathom him.

Let’s expand upon that for a moment- how would an ant describe an elephant? He’d probably percieve the elephant as rough grey Earth. The whole of the form of the elephant would be completely beyond his scope of perception; the ant could only conceive of it in terms of what he could comprehend. Two ants could argue over the nature of the thing, one saying the fundamental aspect is the greyness, while the other argues for the temperature or humidity of it. But despite being aspects of the elephant, they only superficially describe it and don’t begin to define it. They don’t even understand what they’re arguing over. [Yes, an elephant is a physical object, unlike God- but the metaphor is useful].

Take another example- if you had a very limited knowledge of what was happening and it’s medical context, you might view a root canal as a horrifying and unjust act of torture. You’d question the morality of inflicting the torture of the shots and the rooting around in someone’s jaws with your knives and hot irons (hope no one has a dentist visit tomorrow :wink: ). Would a decent human torture his fellow man so? And if it wasn’t necessary and a beneficial, in the long run, you’d be right. What if the agony if life is just getting that tooth pulled or the bandaid ripped off of a hairy part of your arm? Something unpleasant, but ultimately transitory and necessary? Just a “procedure” to prepare us for the real and eternal life that’s to come. That’s certainly not sinister, is it?

There’s the rub- we just don’t know. A Christian, certainly, has to decide on the basis of limited information. He must bow to the virtue of the absurd, believing for beliefs sake. There’s no half measure - you have it or you don’t. Does that mean a person of faith will never have doubts? Of course not; we’re humans. Even Christ was said to pray to God before the end, asking if he might not be spared the burden of death.

Some Christians (and folks of other religions) like to claim there are logical reasons to assume God exists. They point to “magic numbers,” miracles, statistical barriers to life springing up on it’s own, ad infinitum. Ultimately I doubt that’s very compelling evidence. The decision to believe is just that- a choice. A leap of faith.

You talk as though certainty is not the important requirement that many say it is, and I would agree with that- but at the same time, it seems to me that your statements that God is Mystery are a concession to that same lack of certainty. That’s my first hang-up here. Once we get over the fact that we are certain of very little in life, I see no reason we can’t give God attributes like loving, just, merciful, and so on, according to revealed religion, experience, or other sources that we’ve talked about. Saying that God must be Mystery as long as we are uncertain is about as useful as saying that the recent past is a Mystery, or that the existence of other people’s emotions is a Mystery. I think it’s an unncessicary concession, in other words.
I bring up the idea of a Sadist-God to illustrate the implications of this God-as-Mystery. Someone who truly believed God was a Mystery would have to conceed the possibility that God is wicked- and you seem ready to do that, at least verbally. There are other options- perhaps God is good, and yet also incompetant, such that much of the good He tries to perform is irrelevant.
You also say, though, that you would have to answer based on experience- which means you think experience allows us to gain information about God, which strips away the Mystery. If your experience leads you to believe that God isn’t a Sadist, I would think it would be proper to throw away the notion of Ultimate Mystery and just say God is good- especially if you live as though God is good. If one believes that God is good, saying that He is unknowable is just rhetoric- in the same fashion that one may say “It is true, we may all just be brains in vats, however…” and go on to speak and live as though the world we see exists as we take it to, which is perfectly natural.

Hi Uccisore,

How did we get into this discussion? Tentative questioned the personal God, I said that God is the Mystery and therefore it is questionable whether a personal relationship is constituted, since a conection is not made from the believer to God. The Believer relies upon Myth to transport tradition, which is the presentation of existential experience.

You now come and say, OK, so it isn’t real, but if you have a good experience, then just say God is good. If I am in a church or a meeting with Christians, we have a common interest and a common goal. We agree to enable conversation by using a language we mutually understand. In such a conversation, such a statement is possible, but if I am talking about faith in a wider context with believers of others religions, agnostics and atheists, then I am honest about what I know and what I don’t know.

As well as that, there are also the cultural and commercial differences, the difference in wealth and quality of possessions, the security I enjoy in comparison to others. All of these things influence my experiences and my feeling for life. I find it insufferable to use my standards on people without my advantages. I feel that the Buddhist needs to know that I am not claiming that my experience proves my religion, but rather that religious myth is a fundament of most cultures, and mine is a christian one. I respect anyone who has other religious myths, and encourage them to use them to understand their life - I even try to understand their myths to understand how they judge their experiences.

Evangelical Christians however, tell people how certain they are, and suggest knowledge that they do not have. This may have been OK in the past (although I doubt it - seeing as fundamentalism is the result) but it isn’t the way to move into a future of tolerance and co-existance.


The issue of ‘knowing’ god as a certainty, even experiencially -vs- god as the mystery seems to be caught up in semantics and definitions. And yet any particular viewpoint has concrete consequences in how we act. My experience and intuitive ‘knowing’ suggest’s that we should (supposed to?) seek harmony and benign behavior, with tolerance and inclusiveness a strong part of that behavior. My ‘proof’ is how nature appears to function when left to it’s own devices, and the repititive calls for peace and harmony that is at the core of every major religion. My ‘knowing’ is commonsensical and there is nothing particularly profound in it.

Further, my observations suggest’s that those who see the mystery without differentiation tend to hold harmony and golden rule behavior as strong values in how they act upon the world. Those who find certainty in their relationship with God tend to be those who can readily accept extremist viewpoints and actions.

If I am certain of a personal relationship with God, then ‘holy scripture’, including any call to exclude ‘unbelievers’ (both bible and quran), dictate’s my actions. Anyone for a new crusade or perhaps suicide bombing? No? How about something a little less extreme?, I know, let’s hate jews, or gays, or … No one can fault me for my actions because I am performing the ‘word of god’. So it’s OK if I blow up that abortion clinic.

Those without certainty are forced to be personally accountable for how they act, and they are a bit more hesitant in making bold assertions of what god has told them, and even more hesitant in how they act out their understanding.

To be sure, no one person fit’s either of the above descriptions, and like all generalizations, fail’s to hit the nail squarely on the head, but I find the description reasonably accurate.

DISCLAIMER: The above is an observation, not a disciplined philosophical argument.


evangelical christians do not have a monopoly on totalitarian fundamentalism… there is more than one god for that… and that religious fundamentalist attitude is found everywhere, especially in the most secular thought…


Hi Imp,

You’re absolutely correct. There isn’t any system out there that’s pure and spotless. Run-amok religion says ‘I know what’s best for you’. Secularism says ‘I know what’s best for me’. (and therefore what’s best for you) Either group is more than willing to kill you if you disagree.


   I think what I'm saying is a little more sophisticated than that.  What I'm saying is, claiming God is a Mystery is pointless if the only point is to deny Cartesian certainty- you may as well say the chair you are sitting on is a Mystery.  Worse than pointless, saying God is Mystery is faintly dishonest if what you [i]actually believe[/i] is that God is good, powerful, etc.  If God is truly a Mystery, we have no reason to suppose that He is Good, or significant in any way. 
   That may be what [i]you're[/i] doing, but I suspect many of the people you're talking to are actually just saying what they believe.  Does mysticism amount to agnosticism with the stipulation that you [i]pretend[/i] to believe in God because you see the benefit in it for certain folks?  You wouldn't be alone in that, if that was your angle- from what I can tell, that's how Hick and Kaufman approach theology. 
   As far as honesty with atheists and agnostics, of course you should grant that you don't have certainty about what you believe, but you ought also to press them for reasons as to why certainty is important in the first place. 

Yes, and that is an error as well.

tenative- You may enjoy this article, written about the appeal to uncertainty for societal benefit. Bob, you may like it too.


It’s written by my current philosophy instructor, whom I agree with and disagree with about various things.


Thanks for the web site. An interesting article. He explains very well the paradox that uncertainty has to finally yield to a limited certainty, and that general fallibility and/or probability doesn’t keep us from acting. Even my position of agnostic ‘I cannot know’ doesn’t keep me from sitting in front of my computer, sucking down triple shot espresso, and banging on the keyboard.

Still, my concern with issues religious isn’t so much with personal beliefs and attendant ‘certainty’, as it is with the acting out of that certainty. As a social animal having to rub up against other social animals, I would like to see institutions and mechanisms in place that allow for, and accomodate all of us. The religious certainties and practices that are enjoyed by others may be interesting, but they may not, or do not have anything to do with me. It is that group of people who assume that their certainties must control the ways in which I may act that create the friction.

In this, it is their ‘certainty’, the ‘infallible word of god’, that generate’s the hostility they see so much of. Their refusal to even consider fallibility make’s discussion and compromise impossible.

Certainty and infallibility may provide great personal strength, but it goes a long way toward destroying needed cooperation between groups and nations.

And so, while I ‘know’ some things with a great deal of certainty, my emphasis is always on ‘not knowing’. Not knowing is that little reminder that there may, just may, be viewpoints different than my own and that I’m obligated to find those compromises that allows for all to live together. I’m not here on a ‘mission from god’.


Yeah, he’s an interesting guy. I look forward to the day when I’m qualified enough to argue with him directly!

Sure. I don't know, however, if you can truly seperate certainty from practice.  The sorts of behavior you don't like- people influencing public life according to their religious beliefs- I don't think you can have religious certainty without that being the result. 
It sounds like you want to grant provisional legitimacy to people who have certain religious beliefs,[i] so long as[/i] they keep them out of public life.  The problem with that is that these religious folks have a right to life comfortably [i]too[/i]- if religious group thinks that eating chicken is revolting and immoral, and it makes them extremely uncomfortable to see or hear about, and you [i]grant that having those beliefs is ok[/i], you have to expect and understand their efforts to keep that behavior out of public life.


I don’t want to separate personal belief and ‘certainty’ from practice. I simply want recognition that my beliefs and practices cannot invade the space of others. One caveat. As a citizen, I have the right and the obligation to share my values through the ballot box. When enough citizens concur, then laws governing behavior can and should be enacted. Defining ‘enough’: It should be near-consensus if the law is to be effective. (say, maybe 80% or a bit higher?) Finding a bare simple majority isn’t good enough. If only 51% will readily accept the governance of a particular law, then 49% won’t. You want a preponderance of support if a law is to have credibility. It’s almost amusing listening to the fundies declaring a ‘mandate’ with a 51% majority. By all means, every person should live their values as best they can, but there needs to be recognition that, in a social setting, the best I can hope for is a compromise with all other values.

I realize that many of the things I have said appear’s to be an attack on religion, but that is far from the truth. I truly believe in religious freedom just as I value freedom of thought, generally.

I fail to understand how the fundamentalists can’t see that their attempts to mix religion and politics is dangerous - for them! Religious freedom can survive only when separated from governance, Otherwise, it simply becomes a question of which brand of theocracy is in place at any given time. Religion wouldn’t want to get in a war with ‘corporate secularism’.
They would lose.

Above and beyond all this, I would earnestly desire respectful discourse from all sources. We have lot’s of problems that need attention, and only the compromises have any chance of success. Resorting to coercive diatribe may feel good, but it is part of the problem, not part of any solution.


Hi Uccisore,

I see myself as agnostic to the degree that God will always remain the Mystery, but I do ‘know’ a lot about tradition. In my mind the basis of faith is a mixture of wisdom, experience and hope (notwithstanding Love, Faith and Hope). On the basis of wisdom and experience hope is formulated as a motivator for constructive living and has proved itself reliable as a direction finder.

I’ll give you an example of a devotional - one I wrote last night after a long day. The Verse came from Watchwords: (Luke 6:47-48 ) “Every one who is coming unto me, and is hearing my words, and is doing them … is like to a wise man building a house, who did dig, and deepen, and laid a foundation upon the rock, and a flood having come, the stream broke forth on that house, and was not able to shake it, for it had been founded upon the rock.”

Certain behaviour brings with it certain consequences and there are rules for life - whether in nature or in a society or community. When we are young we contend those rules, we test them and question their wisdom. But not only then - when we are under duress, when things seem to run against us and we suffer setbacks, it isn’t unusual for us to question the path we’re on, whether we’re ‘getting anywhere’.

This is also a religious experience. In Germany there is a saying, “leave the church in the village!” It means that the morality taught in the church is out of place in ‘real life,’ where other rules apply. Sometimes you get the feeling that Sunday is so very different from every other day, and it encourages people to shout “Hypocrisy!” If the ‘Law of the Jungle’ applies during the week, and godliness only on sundays, it would be right to criticise.

Jesus lived in times of duress when people were slowly giving up their traditions for a hellenist way of life. The traditions were questioned and already numerous militant groups had been decimated by Roman troops - and many young men had died in their struggle against the odds.

Israel had a long history, even then, of suffering and being occupied by surrounding emires. The Psalms are Prayers of contention - which curiously turn in their dialogue and praise God. The prayer understands in the end that committance to God, their trust and hope and their obedience to the Law makes them identifiable as Israel - a chosen people.

But this insight is sometimes hard to uphold, especially when young men are hungry - not just for food, but for justice. When people mourn the death of young men and lose their hope in ‘Shalom’, watching widows give birth to fatherless children, asking what will become of them. They latch on to every hope without regard for what is required of them.

It is such a situation that this young Rabbi speaks of trust in God, of faith in the promises of scripture, of assurance that righteousness and justice will be repaid, that mourning will be consoled and hunger will be satieted.

“Rejoice, for the Realm of God is at hand! Have faith in God and trust my words.” In times of tribulation it is the songs we learn to sing that raise us out of dark valleys, it is the hope we kindle that shows us the sunrise. We need a vision, a hope, to find direction and stop running in wild circles.

Jesus wanted to give his people direction and hope. He gave them a turning point to believe in, but a turning point that gained international proportions and brought the heathens to Israels God. His message spread on the wave of faith in his atoning death and the hope of resurrection - and reaches us today. Can we hear it? Are we wise?


In some ways I should be ashamed for starting the personal god thread. I was ‘baiting’ an argument and I knew it would ruffle feathers. Still, it is important to try and understand the consequences of our relationship to the mystery. For christianity, one should look to the admonition “love one another”. This isn’t a statement that abide’s exclusionary behavior nor hateful self-rightiousness. If there is to be certainty of a personal relationship with god, then should it not be filtered through this simple statement? “Love thy enemies as thyself.” Is there room for hatred in these words?

As I understand christianity, we are supposed to to understand the unconditional love of god and be a reflection of that love to others. It is a path that rejects the divisiveness of man and a reaching back to the harmony offered in god.

When I see religious practices that promote exclusion and hatred I know that there is no ‘godliness’ there. It is so sad to see those who are honest and genuine get caught up in beliefs that are diametrically opposed to the very relationship they profess.

There are many ways of answering ‘how shall we live?’, but those with a personal relationship with god need to ask themselves if their actions are truly in keeping with that relationship.


Hi JT,

If you understand God as being the Absolute, and that absolute the source of love, then it is this love that wants room to expand. You could say that God is looking for people who want to give his love room in their lives - unconditionally. This all has to do with the mystery of love in all of its facetts, with the amazing existence of something so powerful, but which like the great Mystery, can hardly be grasped.

It is the love of God that is at work in the Myth of Christ, in the atonement and the resurrection. It is trust in the truth of that Myth and the hope that our trust will not be disappointed that drives us on. There may be many Myths, but this one is mine and is the reason why I am who I am. It is the reason we are who we are, and that is the reason why tradition is important. Otherwise we would be like the leaf in the wind, being blown about without belonging anywhere.

Religion is very much about us and where we belong, who we are and why we do what we do. God is just our name for the Mystery of Life, of which we are all aware to some degree, but which has many names and yet none of these names are it’s real name. Christ is the long awaited mediator, as our tradition portrays him, who is clearly blessed and brings us home - which is what we are looking for all of our lives.

The metaphors portray all of these hopes, ranging from the Shepherd to the King, from the Priest to the Prophet. These are all portrayals of a universal hope that is in every human being, but which is described very differently depending on what our cultural roots are. And love is the mysterious key to the door, just as it is the path we walk, and the goal we want to reach.


  I fully acknowledge that your beliefs cannot invade the space of others.  However, others believe that [i]there's[/i] can. You can either argue that their beliefs are wrong, and try to convince them of that, or you can try to show that the act of changing society in accordance with their beliefs is itself [i]against [/i]their beliefs. 

Are you refering to anything in particular?

 Whatever else you say about 51%, you have to conceed that 49% is [i]less[/i]. Often times, you are faced with a simple choice:  Go with the wishes of the 51%, though the majority is slim, or else go with the wishes of the 49%.  What argument against the 51% isn't more effective against the 49%?

What’s amusing is that the gay marriage bans, which you seem to be talking about, passed by huge margins. Bush’s presidential election was 51-49, but in no state, as far as I know, was the gay marriage initiative anywhere near that close. Or are you equating ‘fundies’ with ‘people who voted for Bush’ here? If that’s the case, it’s instructive to point out that 51% is more of the vote than Clinton ever got, and you don’t seem to mention that.
You talk about the will of the majority as though you care about it here, but in fact, you’re just setting a standard you know will never be reached, and hiding behind that standard to say that you’re actually a populist. There are, however, problems that would be more appropriate for you to comment on. How, for example, does your system handle the idea of Supreme Courts deciding matters by fiat in which the people don’t get to vote at all? It seems odd to me that you don’t mention that, considering how relevant it is to the topic you are raising.

Bah. You won't get any respectful discourse from neurotic fundies out to push their views on other people. 

A simple ‘yes’ would have been plenty, Bob. :slight_smile:

I will always find it amusing when non-Christians obsess over Jesus’s second Commandment, with no reference at all to the first. Jesus apparently felt that there was room for speaking out, protest, and moral proclamations in the system He set up through personal example. It is as though ‘Love the enemies’ or the ever-presence ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ are supposed magic chants which a secularist can intone to make Christian fall silent and abandon their opinions.

Hi Uccisore,

I didn’t think my answer was a ‘yes’ - but there you see how much influence we have on what people understand… Perhaps I am close to John Hick, I’d have to read him a bit mor closely, but I don’t agree with Kaufmann that ‘God’ is only a human construction.



  1. You cannot argue with, or convince anyone who already ‘know’s how it is’. My point being that too many have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude.

  2. I wasn’t referring to any particular social issue, although the best example is ancient. When we passed the alcohol prohibition laws, it was obvious that there was little support for upholding those laws. Anyone who wanted alcohol could find it. The law was in such repute that it was rescinded in 1934. The perfect example of social engineering of ‘morality’ that wasn’t supported by enough of the populace to have any credibility.

  3. You’ve ‘read into’ my observations so much that it’s almost past worthy of a response. But, one more time. Simple majority does not equal credibility. If laws are to provide effective governance they most be supported by most of the people governed, not just a simple majority. The rest of your statement is mostly diatribe full of assumptions and accusations of setting unrealistic standards and ‘hiding behind’, and being a populist (I think you need to check your definitions).

  4. I’ll be happy to agree that Jesus encouraged taking a personal spiritual stand. Please look to the content being referred to, and the personal nature of the admonishment. Contrary to your estimation, I was not ‘obsessing’ nor was I ‘intoning magic chants’ in an attempt to silence christians. Your disdainful language is noted. Got anything useful to say?


  Yes, and my point is that 'too many' is really everybody. You, me, Bob, everybody. What seperates us isn't that we think we are right, and everyone who disagrees is wrong, or even that the world ought to be the way we think it ought to be. We're all just seperated off into groups who agree with our vision. You don't disagree with fundamentalists because they are trying to do anything that, in the end, you or I aren't trying to do. You disagree because you find their plan for the world abrasive, or in some way in conflict with your own. 
   Where we get into issues of hypocrisy is when people trying to manipulate the world use terms like 'tolerance' to hide the fact that that's what they are doing. Look at my "Rape through Finance" thread in the Rant House for an example of how permissiveness can lead to oppression. If there are any truly tolerant people in the world, we aren't hearing from them because they have no motivation to express themselves.  I doubt they would have anything interesting [i]to[/i] express in the first place. 

So how did the numbers boil down? What % of the population voted for Prohibition, and what % voted for it’s repeal?

 The problem is, if we knew what percentage of the population supported everything, we wouldn't actually need to do any voting.  So, when a vote occurs, sometimes it will be close. What do you do? You can't pretend the vote didn't happen, because nine times out of ten, leaving things unchanged is [i]one of the two sides [/i] to the issue. Do you just defacto decide for 'tolerance' or 'permissiveness' or 'the status quo' in all close elections, those terms being defined by the President or whoever? It will certainly be difficult to enforce a law that has weak majority support. Nevertheless, it will always been superior to strong minority support. 
 Again, you've a lot to say about 'fundamentalists' benefiting from these situations, but you still haven't mentioned liberal decisions forced on people by Supreme Court fiat, or non-Republican Presidents getting elected by [i]not even [/i] 51%. 
 If His stand was personal, we wouldn't have heard about it. He didn't write any books, He told other people how to live their lives.


I think you have read way too much into my statements. I have no expectation of everyone or anyone agreeing with how I think ‘it ought to go’. When I say tolerance, that’s exactly what I mean. I’m not particularly interested in ‘getting my way’ or in you ‘getting your way’. What I am interested in is the discourse that allow’s us to find the compromises that allow us to live side by side. I do not preach ‘tolerance’ as a way of pressing my ‘hidden agenda’. If I am intolerant, it is an intolerance for those who fail or refuse to see the need for compromise.

Prohibition was a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3rds majority of congressional votes to put the amendment before the states. The amendment had to be ratified by 2/3rds of the states to become law. The repeal of prohibition took the same path. It was a case of congressional and state legislatures bowing to a wave of moralistic groups passing a constitutional amendment. Democracy in action. Trouble is, they forgot to ask the people affected by the law if they would support it. And so, even a 2/3rds majority can fail. That was my point. A law is only supported when there is near consensus, a simple majority can pass all the laws they want, but support for the law must have have a wide majority if there is to be any credibility.

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘liberal decisions’ being forced on people by the courts. The courts have the obligation of protecting equality before the law. If this isn’t appreciated by any group, liberal or conservative, it isn’t within the pervue of the courts to please everybody or anybody.

I have no idea why you even mentioned presidential popular vote. I have no opinion one way or the other.

Please don’t go obtuse on me. Jesus’ comments asked people to take a personal stand in their spirituality. The operative word is personal, not public.