There’s a serious problem when you make the claim that there is a God, and that he’s worth worshiping. This would have been particularly true for the population that created Yaweh. These people rarely survived into their 40s (if they managed survive past the age of 5), and they lived lives so unendindgly awful that death was hardly worse than life. The problem of the God claim is this: how could this God be worth worshiping for people who are so destined to live such awful lives? Among other things, the problem of evil
Half of this problem is solved by the idea of heaven. Even though it’s bad now, it’s going to be great once you die.
But any good marketing strategy is multi-faceted, and more pressure is needed to encourage the acceptance mechanism (aside from inquisition and threat of heresy charges). Enter original sin. In other words, we’re born sick and commanded to be well, and this world is an experiment where children get to feel God’s love via starvation, tuberculosis, innumerable plagues, and water-borne disease, because their ancestor ate fruit from a tree at the urging of their wicked grandmother.
It isn’t enough that life is bad, and only going to get worse, but it is also the case that humans are born into a heritage of depravity for which there is but one solution: God.
The interplay between sin and heaven is what makes this marketing strategy so effective, and why, thousands of years later, people still buy into it. Even in western countries, whose populations are significantly better off than their Bronze-aged ancestors, this interplay strikes a resounding chord.
Stephen Fry recently made the news by responding to an interviewer who asked him about what he would do if this supposed Deity confronted him. He would ask God why there is bone cancer.
I don’t like this sort of hypothetical game, and the way a lot of atheists respond, because they allow monotheists to smuggle in the weird idea that a God, who is responsible for the universe’s creation, was the same God who “revealed” himself to mass-murderer characters in the bible, such as Moses and Jephthah. For many years, the underlying ideas in Deism seemed quite a lot more reasonable to me than anything the major monotheisms put forward, and the revelation issue was at the heart of that.
The revelation stories in the bible seemed dishonest to me for the bulk of my adult life.
The irrationality within scriptures probably leads a lot of believers to see these things in a similar light. Most moderate Christians I know don’t literally believe Adam and Eve or Noah were actual accounts of the origin of life. They see them as allegories, useful for something…even as a Christian, I never could tell what. Likewise, many apologists I’ve met don’t believe God personally commanded the deaths of hundreds of thousands of victims throughout the old testament. Rather, believers cherry-pick – sure Moses brought down the 10 commandments, but he wasn’t a murderer commanded by God to slaughter innocent women and children, or to encourage torture and rape. And sure, Jesus was the son of God and rose from the dead, but he wasn’t a political zealot. In other words, the bible is the word of God, except for the parts we don’t like.
As someone who has given these issues some skeptical analysis, I find it interesting that people are able to ignore this dissonance. I suppose the answer, for those concerned about an eternity in hell, is to ignore these paradoxes…then when something good happens, give credit to God.