How God really “works”

A blogger at has a bit of Monday Morning “humor” that (perhaps without meaning to) gives us a good hard look at how God really “works”:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan . One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.” The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop.

Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am God. I’m still waiting.” It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform.

The professor was out cold. The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence. The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting America ’s soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an a$$. So, He sent me.”

Funny stuff, eh? I mean, what’s not to love? The assault victim was not only a college professor (i.e. educated and thus automatically evil), he was also a “vowed atheist” (gasp!) and if that weren’t bad enough, he was even a member of the ACLU (swoon!). The author left out “Darwinist,” but that was probably just an oversight. Wouldn’t every passionate American just love to go around punching out liberals, atheists, and educated people? This isn’t just a joke, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Like all good fantasy, this one draws its power from making the setting seem as realistic as possible. What makes the joke really work, especially on the wish-fulfillment level, is the faithfulness with which it reproduces the way God behaves in the real world. Notice, for example, that at no point does God ever actually show up anywhere in the real world. He does not show up in response to the professor’s challenge, nor does He show up to tell the Marine, in the sight and hearing of the other students, to go up and punch out the professor.

Nor, in fact, does He show up in the war zone to genuinely protect the soldiers. If God did show up in Iraq, for example, to point out where the insurgents were hiding and where the IED’s were planted, not only would our troops be in a lot less danger, but the Marine would be able to point to God’s visible and verifiable activity in Iraq as a satisfactory answer to the professor’s challenge.

But God does not, in fact, show up in the real world, an absence that the Marine finds frustrating and infuriating. He seethes with inner rage and helplessness, because God consistently fails to behave as though He believed the same things the Marine does, and yet the Marine cannot confront God about this nor can he admit, even to himself, that there’s anything wrong with God’s behavior. To do so would be to cast doubts on his own faith and his own personal sense of salvation.

This frustrated and impotent inner tension is what drives the joke, of course. The author, and his intended readers, all know first-hand how the Marine feels. God’s behavior is clearly inconsistent with what they believe about Him, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. They can’t even complain about it, because to complain about it, they’d first have to admit that it’s true, and that would be a denial of their faith. So they’ve got all this anger and frustration building up, and nowhere for it to go. What are they to do?

The Marine, in the story, takes the only available outlet: he makes the poor professor the scapegoat for his own inner turmoil, and lashes out violently against him. Many Christians feel the same way, though most of them (fortunately) are more self-restrained than the Marine in this story, contenting themselves with name-calling and nasty jokes (like this one) directed against whoever they decide should be the scapegoat this week. Ironically, after violently assaulting the professor for what he said, the Marine then self-righteously admits that the professor has a legitimate right to free speech, which his fellow troops are fighting to protect even as he, the Marine, is busy violating it.

But I digress. The main point is that the professor gets knocked off his platform–but notice, it took a real person do actually do it. Had the Marine not acted, the “work” (knocking off the professor) would not have gotten done. The real person did the work, and then tried to claim that God deserved credit for what was done.

This is the secret. This is how God really “works” in the real world: somebody thinks they know what God ought to be doing, then they sit there stewing about it because God’s obviously not taking care of the matter, then they jump up and do it themselves, then they claim that God ought to be given credit for having gotten the job done. A classic case of sock-puppet deity. Rather pitiful, really, but so long as God persists in failing to show up in the real world it’s the best Christians have to offer.

Mr. Anonymous And Probably Fictitious Marine, I salute you. You may have acted violently, ignorantly, and unjustly, but you at least gave us a clear demonstration of how Christians perpetuate the delusion that God actually does things in the real world.

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Posted in Current Events, Unapologetics. 74 Comments »

74 Responses to “How God really “works””

  1. sluggabohn Says:

    If memory serves, Hitler was Catholic.

  2. sluggabohn Says:

    Besides, that war ended about 20 or so years before I was brought into this world.

  3. sluggabohn Says:

    Sorry to go off topic,

    Can someone tell me how to make my name link to my wordpress blog?

  4. PalMD Says:

    So, the old argument that atheists are eugenicists surfaces again. The unscientific and immoral ideas of eugenics are supported by both religious and non religious people.

    And yes, it would make sense if God “gave us everything we wanted and had us all living forever in a world-wide garden of eden” In fact it makes exactly as much sense as a God who is completely detached, a God who is mysterious, or a god who is arbitrary.

  5. TheAbysmal Says:

    exactly, PalMD

    eugenics is the attempt to breed out traits one finds aesthetically unpleasant. Like ethnicities. And in keeping with our belief that genes control everything, we try to keep the “good” traits, and eliminate the “evil” traits.

    it’s gross interference with the process of human development, and generally just silly.

  6. Ed Darrell Says:

    Sorry to go off topic,

    Can someone tell me how to make my name link to my wordpress blog?

    You’ll have to modify your profile to show the blog as yours. At the WordPress page, perhaps?

  7. badger1963 Says:

    Man, you have a pretty miserable set of commenters here. Lots of nice handwaving and refusal to acknowledge your point though. What struck me, however, is the another example of how conservatives have trouble being funny.

    The joke doesn’t end with a punchline, but a sermon. Take out the last paragraph and replace it with, “The marine said, ‘God works in mysterious ways, ” and at least it would have been a joke. I suspect that much humor really depends on the tension between two contradictory ideas, and the black and white thinking of fundamentalist and other conservatives can’t handle it.

    Maybe I should take a college course in humor from ‘an avowed atheist, liberal ACLU member’ proffessor.

  8. panoramia Says:

    Fascinating! A lot of anger mixed in with good nature in those comments, there’s hope for us yet?

    I’ve bashed out a few thoughts on why God is incapable of intervention in this mucky world. If anyone’s interested they are available:

    (Sorry, I don’t know how to activate a link either—cut and paste, guys. Good luck)

  9. panoramia Says:

    Okay, I just copied the URL from the “address-entry-box” in my browser (Opera) (I use an ancient Mac) and pasted it into the comments box. And it works!

    (Is this an act of God?)

  10. The bones of Jesus « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] on Patron “Goddess”…panoramia on Patron “Goddess”…panoramia on How God really “works&#8…panoramia on How God really “works&#8…badger1963 on How God really […]

  11. evanthered Says:

    I would critique your conclusion by adding that ALL attributions of responsibility function the same way. Events occur, and historical work is applied to the subject matter in order to construct a responsible agent FOR the events to have been caused by. Admittedly, the marine’s assertion that God told him to push the professor is not only silly but a manifest lie. The thing is, unexplainable things happen to people, and God is a substance projected underneath these experiential events, for practical reasons. There have always been unexplainable things, so God persists, and surely will continue to do so. The “god of the gaps” theory postulates that this Divine Persistence is merely an artifact of our ignorance, which is quickly being replaced, through science, with understanding and knowledge. This betrays, though, an inaccurate portrayal of the scientific enterprise as wholly linear and wholly cumulative. Since this is not the case, God will probably always be an honest, viable option. The presence or absence of teleology can only be decided pragmatically.

  12. The Professor Says:

    Good thoughts. I would reply that, while this is true, it still makes a difference whether we are reasoning backwards (Y happened, therefore I believe X must have caused it) or reasoning forwards (if A happens in the real world, it would produce consequences C and D as well as B, therefore we can evaluate whether A caused B by looking to see whether C and D happened also). The difference between science and superstition is that superstition attributes effects to causes without being able to document an actual connection between the alleged cause and the observed effect (and often is unable to even suggest what form such a connection would take). Science, by contrast, not only proposes the cause, but works out how the cause would operate in the real world, in sufficient detail that we can objectively infer what observable consequences would result, and how the consequences would differ if the proposed cause were not correct.

    Attributing real-world phenomena to God can never rise above the level of naive superstition unless and until we can verifiably observe God literally showing up and acting in the real world.

  13. Day v. Dawkins, et al « Evangelical Realism Says:

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  14. hfreeman17 Says:

    Here’s a book and a site you might find interesting:

  15. gasdocpol Says:


    Post hoc ergo propter hoc and constructive dilemmas aside.

    Newton’s 2nd law of thermodynamics suggests to me that there IS a God. God makes things go from entropy to more order.

    I do not pretend to know much about the details and I suspect that Satan exists also and they are our parents (of course I cannot prove that).

    I was surprised to learn recently that only 50% of Americans believe in Evolution. There are no atheist politicians. The Bible was written when we had no idea of what an atom or germ was.

    If Jesus were here and saw what is being said and done in his name, he would probably be pissed off.

  16. chigliakus Says:

    “Newton’s 2nd law of thermodynamics suggests to me that there IS a God. God makes things go from entropy to more order.”

    Well then, since we never see “things go from entropy to more order” in the real world I don’t see how this suggests there is a god. I’m guessing you’re mistaking Earth’s biosphere for a closed system and therefore misapplying the 2nd law. 😉

  17. gasdocpol Says:

    Nah….There is tremendous order in the universe and life. In nature things have a tremenous tendency to break down and go toward more randomness. Given the complexity of the the universe and life, it seems to me that there must have been a creator . It seems less likely to me that it happened by chance. I cannot prove any of this.

    Alternatively, one could assume an infinate mumber of monkeys at an infinate number of typewriters and one of wthem will write all of Shakespear’s plays. You might prefer that.

    In any case, I do not claim to understand God in the detail that our theologians do.

  18. chigliakus Says:

    Vague hand waving about complexity and order, not sure if you’re talking about life or cosmology. Regardless neither life nor the order we see in the cosmos contradict the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Everything marches slowly and inexorably towards the heat death of the universe.

    The monkeys and typewriters analogy is flawed when applied to processes that aren’t completely random.

    It doesn’t take a theologian to understand God anymore than it takes a physicist to understand and properly apply the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

  19. gasdocpol Says:

    Does the process of a fertilized ovum going to a fully develloped human being follow the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

    How about the two lbs of table salt and enough phosphorous to make a match, etc in the process of making a human being?

    I do not claim to know more detail about God than a theologian. Just because they claim to do so does not mean that they do.

  20. The Professor Says:

    Have you considered the possibility that the tremendous order you see in the universe is itself a property of the universe? If you think about it, it might very well be that the entity people think of as God is the universe itself. Or rather, reality itself (see the Patron Goddess link at the top of the page).

    A fertilized egg does indeed obey all three laws of Thermodynamics in the process of progressing from a single cell to a fully-grown adult. The Second Law does not forbid temporary, local increases in complexity, it describes the properties of the system as a whole.

  21. chigliakus Says:

    “Does the process of a fertilized ovum going to a fully develloped[sic] human being follow the 2nd law of thermodynamics?”

    Absolutely. The Professor already explained that you can’t look at the fertilized egg as a closed system, but allow me to elaborate.

    The blastocyst is increasing in complexity, and how can it do this without an outside source of energy? Well in this case the mother is providing (chemical) energy and nutrients.

    These nutrients and energy are obtained via food. At the bottom of the food chain are the plants, which are reducing entropy with energy obtained from the Sun.

    The heat death of the universe that I mention in a previous post happens when everything everywhere reaches the same temperature. The sun will not shine forever, as it burns its nuclear fuel the entropy of the earth-sun system increases and the 2nd law of thermodynamics is obeyed.

    The concept of God or Gods is not that complicated to understand, the theologians are not probing more deeply into God, but the subjective beliefs of men. See some of The Professors excellent blog articles for further elaboration on this point.

  22. gasdocpol Says:

    The only thing that I was trying to say is that I think that, given the complexity of life and the universe, I think that it is unlikely that it all happened by chance and it seems more likely to me that there was a Creator. I cannot prove this but I believe this.

    I think that we created God in OUR image rather than the reverse.

    I think that Evolution is not incompatable with having a Creator.

    That would seem to make me an Agnostic or a Deist.

  23. Ed Darrell Says:

    Evolution isn’t chance. Check your dictionary: “Selection” is not listed as a synonym for “accident.”

    Given that life works, it’s much more likely that it arose through the process of evolution by natural and sexual selection as Darwin described it, than by magic from an arbitrary deity who can’t design.

    Laws of nature, or magic? I’ll take the laws of nature every time.

  24. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I think “deist” would fit pretty well with the things you are saying. Just to clarify, though: “just by chance” is the creationist version of what science says. What science actually says is very much the opposite of “just by chance.” There is tremendous meaning in the universe, and by understanding what things mean, scientists are able to unravel the complex and subtle interactions by which relatively simple processes combine to produce the results that have us so awed and mystified.