NYT op-ed proposes ditching the idea of God because He’s “hateful”

April 15, 2022 • 10:15 am

Well I’ll be blowed, as a sailor might say: the New York Times has published a full-on article calling for atheism—the rejection of God. The author, brought up as an orthodox Jew, says we should simply give up the idea of God because the Biblical God, at least as portrayed in the Passover/Exodus story, was “hateful”.

It’s an old and classic argument, but not one you expect to see in the New York Times. Click on the screenshots to read:

You surely know the Jews-in-Egypt story and the Passover tale. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites are enslaved in ancient Egypt. Yahweh, the god of the Israelites, appears to Moses in a burning bush and commands Moses to confront Pharaoh. To show his power, Yahweh inflicts a series of 10 plagues on the Egyptians, culminating in the 10th plague, the death of the first-born.

This is what the LORD says: “About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.”

—Exodus 11:4-6

Before this final plague Yahweh commands Moses to tell the Israelites to mark a lamb‘s blood above their doors in order that Yahweh will pass over them (i.e., that they will not be touched by the death of the firstborn).

Those were some formidable plagues on the Egyptians, including frogs, boils, hail, locusts, pestilence, and so on. And each time Pharaoh was on the verge of giving in and releasing the Jews, God would “harden Pharoah’s heart”, so he wouldn’t let those Israelites go.  Finally, after the “passover” incident, in which God killed every first-born Egyptian (Jews were “passed over” by marking their doors with lamb’s blood), Pharoah’s heart softened, and he let the Jews go. It is this incident that’s celebrated by Passover.  This year Passover begins this evening and lasts until the evening of April 23.

(We’ll ignore the four decades of wandering in the Sinai, which is inexplicable.)

The thing is—and I believe I mention this in Faith Versus Fact—all those deaths and plagues and boils were God’s fault! It was God Hmself who hardened Pharoah’s heart. He didn’t have to do that–he could have made Pharoah let the Jews go after the first plague. But he didn’t! God kept hardening his heart, over and over again.

And this is what bothers Auslander (as well as another perfidy):

Two aspects of the Passover story have troubled me since I was first taught them long ago in an Orthodox yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y. I was 8 years old, and as the holiday approached, our rabbi commanded us to open our chumashim, or Old Testaments, to the Book of Exodus. To get us in the holiday spirit, he told us gruesome tales of torture and persecution.

“The Egyptians,” he told us, “used the corpses of Jewish slaves in their buildings.”

“You mean they used slaves to build their buildings,” I asked, “and the slaves died from work?”

“No,” said the rabbi. “They put the Jewish bodies into the walls and used them as bricks.”

This is the part that should make a rational person give up God:

. . .God, it seems, paints with a wide brush. He paints with a roller. In Egypt, said our rabbi, he even killed first-born cattle. He killed cows. If he were mortal, the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims would be dragged to The Hague. And yet we praise him. We emulate him. We implore our children to be like him.

Perhaps now, as missiles rain down and the dead are discovered in mass graves, is a good time to stop emulating this hateful God. Perhaps we can stop extolling his brutality. Perhaps now is a good time to teach our children to pass over God — to be as unlike him as possible.

“And so God killed them all,” the rabbis and priests and imams can preach to their classrooms. “That was wrong, children.”

“God threw Adam out of Eden for eating an apple,” they can caution their students. “That’s called being heavy-handed, children.”

Cursing all women for eternity because of Eve’s choices?

“That’s called collective punishment, children,” they can warn the young. “Don’t do that.”

“Boo!” the children will jeer.

This is a simple argument. If God is benevolent and omnipotent, He could have prevented this misery and death.  That means that if he exists, he’s either cruel or relatively powerless, and that’s not the conception of God held by any in the Abrahamic faith.

The existence of moral evil, like one human killing another, has been excused by various theologians as an unavoidable consequence of the free will vouchsafed to us by God, or by other sneaky and ludicrous devices of theodicy. But none of them explain physical evil—deaths by tsunamis, earthquakes, childhood cancer, and so on. And in this case, it’s not moral evil unless you conceive of God Himself as immoral—for it was God himself who caused all this suffering and death.  Again we run into a problem.

So it’s not just physical evil that is a death blow to the Abrahamic conception of God, but also God’s own maliciousness as described in scripture, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic alike. Who wants to believe in a God who lets innocent people suffer and die? “God’s ways are mysterious,” answer the theologians, but yet they seem to know everything else about God. It’s just the hard-to-understand stuff that they fob off as “mystery.”

Auslander’s ultimate lesson is to be kind and try to mend the divisions between humans:

This year, at the end of the Seder, let’s indeed throw our doors open — to strangers. To people who aren’t our own. To the terrifying them, to the evil others, those people who seem so different from us, those we think are our enemies or who think us theirs, but who, if they sat down around the table with us, we’d no doubt find despise the pharaohs of this world as much as we do, and who dream of the same damned thing as us all:


Well, though Auslander’s  intentions are good, he’s wrong here. Not everybody dreams of peace. I know of certain Russians, for example, who dream of war.  So I’ll let Auslander have his “Imagine” moment here, but what I’d like NYT readers to take on board is Auslander’s argument against God from evil. It’s a syllogism:

a. God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent (assumption)
b. But the world isn’t organized as if it’s run by an omniscient and benevolent God (observation)
c. Therefore we must either conceive of a God who is malicious, weak, or sadistic, or else deny the existence of God.

I vote for the “no god” part of “c”. It’s more parsimonious.

I also vote for more such atheism in the NYT. After all Tish Harrison Warren spews her Anglican palaver in the op-ed section once a week. How often do we see an article like this? Shouldn’t atheism at least get equal time, especially given the absence of evidence for god?

h/t: Enrico

58 thoughts on “NYT op-ed proposes ditching the idea of God because He’s “hateful”

  1. Agreed (in fact, I’ve already done so); but please, have him take Allah, Zeus, Vishnu et al. when he goes away.

  2. I vote for atheism too, but the assumption may be incorrect, so the syllogism fails. Maybe God is not omniscient, omnipotent, and [omni]benevolent. As Harold Kushner says, choose any two. Or maybe the Bible is simply reporting incorrectly. There are many possibilities besides atheism.

    1. Indeed, there’s a good amount of wiggle room with theodicies. The Book of Job is a classic attempt to explain away apparently gratuitous suffering. Also, I’m no bible scholar, but I don’t recall God being described as ‘omnibenevolent’ in the tanach.

      An excellent book on the topic is Suffering Belief by A. Weisberger. I also consider McCloskey’s essay, God and Evil, to be one of the best out there.

    2. The syllogism fails because the conclusion directly contradicts one of the premises. Because c directly contradicts a we are forced to conclude that at least one of a and b is false. Since b seems fairly self evidently true (although some Christians would question it), we must conclude that a is false.

  3. I don’t mind the op-ed, but I think it discourteous, to say the least, to publish it the day of the first seder.

    1. Your comment presupposes that religious believers are entitled to special exemptions from having their superstitions challenged. That’s not how the free marketplace of ideas works.

    2. So you take no issues with the opinions expressed by the author ?

      You can’t be bothered to refute any of his arguments ?

      This is similar to the “now is not the time” arguments put forth by the pro-gun crowd after every mass shooting that happens with such tragic regularity.

      I would say that the publication of this article at such a “holy” time is exactly the best time.

    3. Have you thoughts about accommodations in public schools for students who celebrate Ramadan? That has been in the news lately. (NY Times, NPR, McClatchy.) Or any other such season for any other faith?

      In a 5th grade music class yesterday a student informed me that he could not listen to music during Ramadan (such is the apparently abstemious nature of the season). I asked him if he had let someone at the school know that prior to the moment he told me that. He said he did. (I wasn’t so sure; if he had why did he go to music class in the first place?) I told him I had to consider what the other students reasonably were to do about the matter (in that music class sometimes involves listening to music and making music). I told him to go to the office to explain his situation. As it turned out, he went back to his classroom. (I anticipated that front office personnel would have him sit in the immediate vicinity, inasmuch as teachers reasonably and appropriately count on such blocks of time, free from “in loco parentis” supervision of/responsibility for students, to accomplish professional tasks, whether in or out of the classroom.)

        1. A brilliant idea Mark R.!
          Alternatively, this would be a great opportunity to talk about the ideas behind John Cage’s 4′ 33″. The poor devout Muslim student may find they have to block their ears for all of Ramadan as a result … though even so they would still never escape sound that could be imagined as music …

    1. Indeed. In the lines attributed to Epicurus:

      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    2. Most gods invented throughout human history have been none of those things. Not being any of those things should rule out the Christian god, given that throughout most time and places Christians defined their god as having those properties, but it wouldn’t rule out most gods that have been dreamt of.

      But, yeah, I agree. With respect to Christianity, how do then continue to call him God? How many foundational beliefs about your religion can you give up before it doesn’t make any sense to believe any of it any more? If you think 90% of the Bible is bullshit (sorry, allegory), how is it reasonable to suppose that any of it is true? If you are not fooling yourself deism or atheism is the only reasonable outcome once you’ve admitted that the large majority of your religion’s doctrine is not really true.

    3. I do not want to get into a theological discussion, but I do not understand your question. Who says that God has to be all those things? I do not think, say, the Greek gods were omnipotent. Indeed, before the widespread ascent of monotheism, many groups had their own gods, and sometimes one god would defeat another god in war. I suspect it is only monotheism that thinks its god is infinitely powerful.

        1. Fair enough! But still, gods or Gods do not have to have all three of those attributes and indeed historically did not. Even the Abrahamic god YHVH was once only one god among many.

          1. I am talking about the concept of God held by most pious people today, not the attributes of historical gods. Do we really need to argue about this? Is the point of my piece that unclear?

    4. If the definition of God is “intelligent being that created the Universe” there is no requirement for it to know about everything that subsequently happens in the Universe or to have control over what happens in that Universe and there’s definitely no requirement for God to be omnibenevolent.

      1. As I said, I’m taling about the view of the Abrahamic God that most pious people have, and they don’t just conceive of him in the way you describe.
        I don’t get all this nit-picking. OF COURSE there are other ways to think of God, or religions that don’t see deities as benevolent.

        Either I failed to make my point, or people are very picky today

      2. I can speak only of my provincial Appalachian raisin’ in the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Church, but there is no doubt in my mind that those folks consider without a doubt that God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

  4. “The existence of moral evil, like one human killing another, has been excused by various theologians as an unavoidable consequence of the free will vouchsafed to us by God . . . .”

    That excuse fails to recognize that, if “god” designed us, then he has ALREADY limited the exercise of our free will in countless practical ways by the very nature of our design.

    For example, there is no realistic way – designed as I am – that I could kill everyone in the state California. However, I would have been able to that if god had given me the power to kill others merely by the power of my thoughts. Similarly, my ability to do harm would be much, much greater if I had all the powers of Superman, but god chose not to give me those powers. Thus my physical limitations have limited the exercise of my free will.

    So when god was designing me, how did he decide exactly how difficult it should me for me to kill people? How did he decide that preventing me from killing with my thoughts or having all the powers of Superman was not a limitation on my free will? And if he was going to limit my ability to do so, why couldn’t he have just made it a whole lot harder – or even impossible — for me to kill people at all (so that, perhaps, disease or old age was the only way that people could die)?

    So many questions . . . .

    1. Not just that, but we all have innate personalities, as well, that God presumably endowed us with on purpose. It’s not like he was up there with multi-sided dice like a game of D&D to establish our charisma, intelligence, aggressiveness, etc. According to the mythology, if we have the human natures we do, it’s because God created us with those human natures. He could have just as easily created us differently.

      (And with that, I’m in danger of violating PCCE’s rule of posting too many comments on a single thread, so I’ll take a break for now.)

  5. As of October 2020, Auslander considered himself an agnostic. He responded to the following question by an interviewer.

    How is your relationship with God these days?

    I don’t think of him as much. I’ve gone from being a monotheist by force to being an atheist by desperation to being an agnostic by choice. My belief is not that there is a God, or that there isn’t a God, but rather that we’re not supposed to know either way. A mystery. There are some things that should be questions. The question mark is not a bad thing. We should wonder and we should not know. I’m a fanatical hater of certainty, and Richard Dawkins is as certain of his beliefs as the Lubavitcher Rebbe is of his. I don’t need a secular Lubavitcher Rebbe. I just need someone who says, I don’t know. Socrates said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” I think we could all use a healthy dose of that, of just saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know shit.”

    However, he has rejected the Jewish God and presumably all Abrahamic ones. He stated in response to another question:
    I was raised with an asshole God. I still, at times, look at the world and go, “Yup, he’s a fucker.” But if God had one good moment in creation—one moment of kindness and empathy for these creatures he created—it was the moment he looked around and said, “Yikes, what a fucking toilet. I better give them a sense of humor. Because there’s no way they’re gonna make it through this without one.”

    If nothing else, Auslander proves it is possible to escape the indoctrination of extreme religious education.


    1. “I’m a fanatical hater of certainty, and Richard Dawkins is as certain of his beliefs as the Lubavitcher Rebbe is of his.”

      Surely the good Auslander can distinguish between beliefs based on science and those based on superstition? His example is a very false dichotomy.

    2. Reminds me of this from the eminently quotable H. L. Mencken: “Imagine the Creator as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable.”

    1. I recently read Auslander’s memoir “Foreskin’s Lament” and found it fascinating and hilarious at the same time. It’s about his experiences growing up in an ultra-Orthodox community near NYC. (I first heard about him when he was featured on the “Moth Story Hour” program on NPR, reading from FL.) Our library doesn’t seem to have ordered any copies of his new novel, “Mother for Dinner”, about a famiy of Cannibal-Americans – I guess I’ll just have to wait for that one.

  6. I remember watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid, and wondering why anybody would join a religion that was so obviously evil. A few years later I became an atheist and took a more critical view of the Bible and stories like the Passover…

  7. I was sure you make this point, but you didn’t. Let me fill in.

    It was God Hmself who hardened Pharoah’s heart. He didn’t have to do that–he could have made Pharoah let the Jews go after the first plague. But he didn’t! God kept hardening his heart, over and over again. […] The existence of moral evil, like one human killing another, has been excused by various theologians as an unavoidable consequence of the free will vouchsafed to us by God, or by other sneaky and ludicrous devices of theodicy.

    No free will for the Pharaoh then, how do these guys “explain” that?

    1. In reality, Christians are quite happy to throw free will under the bus when it suits them. I once had a conversation with a Christian who praised God because their friend had just come through a particularly tricky operation. I pointed out that their friend was actually saved by the skills of the human surgical team. The Christian said God had blessed the surgeon and their team with the skills. I said no, the skills were acquired through hard work and training. The Christian said God had guided them to do the hard work and training. I said what about free will?

      1. Indeed. That’s the fatal flaw in all of this. Ours! The way I see it is that reality and truth (the intuitive concepts everyone understands as long as no philosophers are around) are a shared medium to communicate, but it is meanimgless. Stuff just is, or isn’t or kinda-sorta is or isn’t.

        Humans create another tier of reality, which is upheld by the social group. It turns out dismissing the wrong guy’s opinion that there is nothing hiding in the bush was as bad as dismissing a real tiger in the bush, when your contrarian attitude gets you kicked out of the group. So we have a natural inclination to sync up and conspire with this type of social reality of pecking order, customs, and norms.

        Then came modernity. Now you could navigate shifting alignments with different groups. So the natural thing to extend the reach of the group’s “internal reality” is by claiming it interfaces or supercedes the “shared” reality. God is now parsed as a “real” entity; using conceptions that didn’t exist that way before. In earlier times, everything was immediate. If you can’t see it, smell it, or hear it, it was irrelevant. If your boss wants you to finish your work by friday, or you get fired, it’s irrelevant if the deadline is “really real” or just made-up to stress you out. An old style believer had no time to worry about different types of “realness”.

        But today, and where you can survive just fine as a introvert contrarian curmudgeon, these rules no longer have much sway. So the believers have to do a fancy “translation” to appeal to the shared reality, where stuff is or isn’t. I don’t they lie about it. It makes perfect sense to them. It’s like a higher level programming language that gets translated to a lower level one under the hood, which is cruder and doesn’t have the nice fluff, but is understood better by more people, to win them over.

        This is also how new followers are roped in. Don’t start with the Xenu alien parasite stuff right away, or how Jesus’ flesh turns into a waffle; start with self-help, baking biscuits for charity, and sing-a-long. Once people have installed the overall community, its hierarchies and rules, they “understand” the more “advanced” stuff, too.

        In essence, all of religious talk should be understood as rhetorics proper. When they appeal to “free will”, they hope to enlist a concept they believe will be convincing. Threatening to miss out on heaven, and such, are all fairly crude rhetorical devices. The problem is, we — atheist, sceptics etc— always fall for this by assuming we really discuss features of reality, but we don’t. Believers want to just protect their faith, or try to get us on board through rhetorics that must appeal broadly (thus be parsed as plausible and thus potentially convincing).

  8. This matter was best summed up (as usual) by Woody Allen: ““If it turns out that there is a God…the worst that you can say about him is that basically He’s an underachiever.”

    1. According to Peter Cook, “one explanation of the Universe that has been little probed by theologians is that God is a benign drunk and that the world is His Hangover. If we were to regard the Creation as the result of a cosmic binge everything would fall neatly into place. I believe He meant very well and still does. When He wakes up and surveys the mess He resolves to straighten it out at once. The trouble is that He always has ‘a little nip’ to steady Himself and so the chaos continues.”

  9. It occurred to me this week that perhaps there is a god and he has no idea that we are here. Maybe he amused himself setting off multiple big bangs, tweaking the parameters each time to see what happened, quite liked the universe full of burning balls of fire with little rocks orbiting them, while completely failing to notice something very interesting happening on one of those rocks.

  10. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” — Richard Dawkins

  11. He hardened Pharoah’s heart repeatedly to build up the suspense in the passover story (otherwise the ratings would be pretty lousy), and to increase our appetites so that we really enjoy the matzoh ball soup when it finally arrives. And what would the story be without the plagues? BORING! You see, God’s plan is not so mysterious after all..

  12. Christian Apologists are fond of paraphrasing Dostoevsky: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

    The hypocrisy is pretty galling.

    On Christianity, if their God exists then all evil and suffering aren’t just permitted – all of it is JUSTIFIED.

    In other words, you have an Omni Being who surveys all instances of evil and suffering – whether human caused or natural/physical causes like disease – and it’s assumed God, who could stop any of it, has some Good Reason to let people do the evil they want, as well as let every disaster and disease occur under His watch.

    So on Christianity, if a sadist takes a hammer to a baby, the sadist’s action may be a sin, but the baby’s *suffering* is nonetheless *justified.*

    Every instance of suffering that has ever occurred, and any suffering that will occur, in fact any instance of human suffering even the worst sadists can dream about…are ALL justified under God’s watch, because it’s assumed God has some Greater Good reason for allowing it all.

    How the justification for any and all suffering and death passes as morality or better than an atheistic account is baffling.

  13. I started a “bible as literature” course at university, but I couldn’t stand it, so dropped it after a few weeks. But one aspect I remember is the professor trying to explain the Egyptian plagues from a rational point of view. Frogs can get swept up by a tornado and dropped en masse, locust plagues are not uncommon, boils could be caused by an epidemic like the bubonic plague, etc. I found it very odd…I was an atheist at the time and thought: why twist yourself into a pretzel trying to rationalize the plagues? Isn’t it much simpler (and rational) to regard the whole thing as myth and leave it at that?

  14. If god’s plan is so mysterious how come so many priests, rabbis, imams etc. know the exact details of what he (and it usually is a ‘he’) expects?

    1. The best answer to this question was provided by Susan B. Anthony: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

  15. In the words of Miles (the writer of God’s biography): God is a psycho, narrow-minded, bloodthirsty, petty, easily irated, sadistic, horrible butcher, if we believe the scriptures.
    I’d say: if you have God, who needs Satan?

  16. A really good thing about the Abrahamic god is that he has been keeping silent for more than a 1000 years now. My guess is that he committed suicide or just died of shame.

    1. According the the same Miles -mentioned above- he’s retired.
      That would mean we can go on warring, killing, raping, genociding, torturing etc. but without His blessing. Great deal!

    2. You might be interested in reading James Morrow’s trilogy of philosophical fantasies addressing religion, starting with “Towing Jehovah.” In that fanciful, but highly literary, tale, God dies and splashes down into the ocean. His physical remains are towed to land and a “court case” ensues between advocates of his divine nature (modeled on C.S. Lewis) and skeptics. “Only Begotten Daughter” is likewise sharp and hilarious, the story of Julie Katz, a new messiah born to a celibate lighthouse keeper.

  17. On Gary Larson’s Far Side homepage he quite often has two escalators side by side, one going in each direction and the Devil has just smacked god in the face with a pie. Well done.

  18. I don’t understand how any otherwise seemingly rational person could read the story of passover and think that it shows god in a good light, as someone worthy of worship rather than a malicious bully who loves to torment people. And it is just one of many stories in the bible that show both god and his alleged son and third self in a terrible light. A former co-worker of mine, a religious zealot, told me I was taking the stories “out of context”, a ridiculous and false assertion — taken in full context, god & jesus wouldn’t deserve worship ever if they were real and there’s no genuine evidence that either one of them ever existed.

  19. Logic and religion are oil and water.
    My standby argument is that God’s will seems indistinguishable from random events.

  20. That passover story makes it look kinda like God doesn’t have free will either. He could not decide to forego any of those plagues. If he really was a Good God, that would be the only explanation which makes even a smidgen of sense! 🙂

  21. Man, I’m feeling a faint hint of the warmth of New Atheism being kindled here. Those were the days! Bring back the Four Horsemen! (we will manage without the self-proclaimed fifth horseman). How I wish we still had Hitch to guide us, but at least he told us how to think and we can follow his example. If we band together and live by his example for a while, we’ll be starting a new religion before you know it….

    (cue Terry Jones: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”)

  22. YHVH is *such* a whiny little puke in the Hebrew Bible, a melodramatic, narcissistic snowflake who becomes enraged at slights real and imagined, no matter how miniscule.

    Here’s my question: Why doesn’t YHVH freak out like that any more? I mean, statistically speaking, there are hundreds of millions of atheists on the planet, as well as untold billions practicing the “wrong” religion. Comedians dunk on YHVH, people post mean, funny memes about it, and in general, there is rampant nose-thumbing at the supposedly all-powerful creator of the universe.

    Christian believers like to say that their deity is unchanging, the same now and forever, yet it seems to have abandoned its previous (admittedly counterproductive) strategy of freaking out and slaughtering or torturing its more rebellious or unpleasing slaves in such a way that it’s *clear* that a) it is the all-powerful universe-creating deity and b) its power and existence cannot be denied.

    Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the excuses. But I agree with Matt Dillhunty that the problem of divine “hiddenness” is a far more powerful argument than the argument from evil.

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