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The Godless Confusion and the God of Justice

On the Readings for Sunday, July 24, 2022

"The Destruction of Sodom" (1843-57) by Camille Corot []

• Gn 18:20-32
• Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
• Col 2:12-14
• Lk 11:1-13

According to atheist Richard Dawkins in his best-selling book The God Delusion, 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.”

That remark indicates far more familiarity with the dictionary than with the Bible. I wonder, how much fiction has Dawkins read? More seriously, how carefully has he actually read the Bible?

Sadly, Dawkins merely appeals to the tired notion that the “God of the Old Testament” is a cruel tyrant with little love for His creation. I suspect that even many Christians have the vague sense that such is the case. And today’s reading from the Old Testament is the sort of passage that can, rather easily, be misinterpreted to provide evidence for that view.

In fact, some commentators have understood the conversation between the Lord and Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah as a case of the cool-headed patriarch talking the hot-headed deity out of rash, murderous judgment—or, as Dawkins might put it, “an act of vindictive genocide.” But as difficult as the text is, it actually presents something quite different: a calm and deliberate conversation between the “Judge of all the world”, responding to the outcry of those anguished by the deviance practiced in those infamous cities, and the bold servant of God, whose questions seem as much theological as personal in nature.

Far from being petty and unjust, God was responding with patience and love to two different but related sets of questions. The first, as noted, came from those inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah crying out for justice, apparently due to a combination of sexual immorality and social inequality (Gen 19:4-11; Ez 16:46-51). God did not intend to simply destroy the cities and all of their inhabitants. Rather, as in the days of Noah, He desired to put an end to lawlessness, yet with the knowledge that a few just men could be found among the wicked. And so Genesis 19 depicts two angels sent to rescue Lot and his family from the coming destruction—and that after saving them from the advances of a lustful mob.

The second set of questions, from Abraham, was concerned with whether or not the Judge of all things would indeed be just. That remarkable conversation reveals an intimacy between man and God that is unique among ancient religious literature. “After that, once God had confided his plan [Gen 18:17-21]” the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Abraham’s heart is attuned to his Lord’s compassion for men and he dares to intercede for them with bold confidence” (CCC 2571). Through both divine revelation and his natural intelligence, Abraham learned what it meant to be just and compassionate. Satisfied that God would act justly, Abraham did not stay to witness the salvation of his relatives, but returned home (Gen 19:33).

The intimacy between the Creator and the recipient of the Abrahamic covenant (cf., Gen 12, 15-17; CCC 72) foreshadowed the unique revelation about the Father given by the Son, who not only prayed to the Father but also taught His disciples how to pray to the Father. Luke’s account of the “Our Father,” in today’s Gospel, is shorter than that given by Matthew, which is the version commonly known and said. It first acknowledges God as Father, as well as the holiness of His name, along with the desire to see His kingdom realized in fullness. It then asks for three basic needs, without which man will perish, both physically and spiritually: nourishment (“our daily bread”), forgiveness, and salvation—“do not subject us to the final test.”

Their heavenly Father, Jesus told the disciples, gives good gifts to those who ask and seek with the humble, trusting heart of a child. It is a humility and trust based in prayer and conversation with God, who is not an unpleasant fictional character, but a caring and merciful Father.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 29, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. The atheist is fond of equating the the sins of man to the God we worship. Yes, we have a sinful nature, yet God works in our lives bearing witness to His love and mercy. A profound change takes place in our lives, despite our shortcomings.

    God is holy, yet we continue sin because we are sinners. We rejoice in God’s mercy and as we are changed, we try to honour Him. The process of sanctification is a difficult one. Success and failure, yet through it all, God fully understands our plight and bears with us.

    Our statement of faith and the trying to please Him is what sets us apart. It is the shed blood of Jesus that allows us communion with God. His Holy Spirit strives with us gradually conforming us into His image.

    The atheist repudiates God’s gift of Christ and demeans God by saying he doesn’t exist Though we are not the best ambassadors for Christ (we fall and the Lord helps us up) think of how much worse we would be without Him!

  2. Genesis 3:21 notes the gentleness and helpfulness of God the Father. After man’s fall, God fashions clothing for Adam and Eve. The vision of this act has always struck me by its tender poignancy and loving care.

    Of course, this act was preceded (Gen 3:14) by the great promise of love and salvation to mankind–the woman and her seed would crush the serpent’s head.

  3. Thank you , for the good reflection too ; decided to have a quick look up on Richard Dawkins , having heard his name often enough , with some annoyance as that of hearing the buzz of a fly …
    interesting find – of the ‘neologism ‘ that has been attributed to him of the word ‘meme ‘ ..
    and wondering if that is a ‘devolutionary ‘ concept given him from the father of lies to counter the amazing truth in the Divine Will – that in same , one can touch all times and persons ..
    The likely circumstances / wounds that could have led to idolise the lies of prideful rebellion as atheism –
    childhood in Kenya – did it allow a virulent pride in racial superiority , thus the idolatry of evolution ..? afflicted by any related curses ..? wounds of alienation from own father , adding to the generational debt of belonging to the Father wound in a divided Church..
    May the the writings and truths revealed in the Divine Will help much , to heal the wounds , to trust in the Love as the tears shed by The Two Hearts , for every wound and pain in the lives of the children , uniting own tears to same , as occasions of pleading for the Reign of the Divine Will ..that contains amazing mysteries about the merciful and benevolent designs of God for all times …

    May The Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ save us and the whole world – from all atheistic lies and its manifestations as the depravities and rebellions of the cultures of our times –
    Rev.Fr.Blount , an advocate for the above prayer , advises saying same 500 times ,
    a good means to grow in perseverance . 🙂

    St.Charbel, Feast Day this Sunday the 24th – known as the pefume of Lebanon –
    to help us to glorify God in what He can do through one holy person who chooses to live in His Holy Will .

    • Anytime we are humbled it is good. God bless you in your efforts.

      Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

      Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

      1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

      James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

    • About Dawkins’ “alienation from his own father”—the psychologist Paul Vitz researches a range of nihilists or atheists including Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Dawkins. In neither case “do we find a strong, beloved father with a close relationship with his son or daughter.” Even the atheist Sigmund Freud said that psychoanalysis “daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down” (Paul Vitz, Faith of our Fathers, Ignatius Press, 1999).

      The flawed or missing father-figure also helps account for probably most of our homosexual activists today, probably as in the German “synodal way”…

      And, yet, the pseudo-scientific Cardinal Paglia and his gutted and renamed John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences [family sciences!]” doesn’t have a clue. Instead, silence while Hollerich, Marx and Batzing pontificate that cutting-edge social science is the (synodal) path to overturning what the Catechism, moral theology, elementary biology, and common sense have to say about sexual perversion.

      Why are we reminded of the slapstick-comedy Keystone Cops?

  4. Uzzah struck dead trying to prevent the Arc from tipping over. “But they must not touch the holy things or they will die” (Numbers 4:15). There are myriad attempts at a satisfying explanation [one brilliant, that he didn’t follow instructions], yet the vexing question remains, why Uzzah, reacting to protect the Arc dies according to God’s warning?
    Similar attempts at explanation may be found regarding the ban on Jericho. God commanded nothing living, from babies to kittens was to be spared slaughter. John Paul II was troubled by the bans, recorded divine commands to annihilate everyone. John Paul’s response, he perceived a mistaken Biblical concept of justice. Others in similar vein more human than divine revelation.
    Where might we find a response that satisfies the contemporary Christian perception of a gentle loving God revealed in Christ to the God of wrath prepared to slaughter the Israelites to a man for worshiping the golden calf, except for faithful Moses. Who intervenes [intervention for mercy shown by Olson a significant signature of divine mercy]. Context is often the better prism, not exegesis, rather anthropology. Dawkins in context, with added nuance perhaps more correct than granted [anomalous nuancé, Elijah, who slits the throats of 400 of Jezebel’s prophets, God reveals himself to him as a tiny whisper].
    Christian anthropology, Mankind in process of cultural evolution from cold hearted, ruthless, idol worshiping religious anarchists to the gentle, soft spirited men and women [Mary, Joseph, Apostle John the new, whereas Apostle Paul, who says circumcisors ought to castrate themselves, John the Baptist, who calls hierarchy vipers more the fiery old] of the new dispensation finally prepared, purposely cultivated by whatever means required to save the many.
    As regards Justice [Aquinas says something remarkable about God in the Summa, that he’s akin the landlord of the establishment who can make his own rules] it may not be how, and by what means we got there, rather that the God who loves us more than we love ourselves got us there.

  5. Why with this person put any quotes in here from Richard Dawson‘s line deceivable account about God our father why is that even in our Catholic readings this is where we get information about the Catholic Church and the good people of the world and this man completely mocks God the father and I don’t think it should’ve been stated any of these things that Dawson has said about God should not have been printed in the Catholic teachings of our church. Shame on you what is Salinas Richard Dawkins. Even though you try to turn his comments around it doesn’t matter they were already printed in our Catholic material for other Catholics to read it should not be in there what’s an atheist has to say about our wonderful God.

    • Sigh. Really? Because…why? People might be persuaded by Dawkins’ nonsensical remarks.

      Anyhow, St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus begs to differ with you. And St. Thomas Aquinas. And St. Francis de Sales. Along with countless other apologists far greater than myself.

    • When asked in an interview where the anomaly of intelligent humanity might have come from, the scientist Dawkins actually suggested aliens from elsewhere. And where might the aliens have come from (?), and he suggested earlier aliens from some other elsewhere.

      Scientist Dawkins reminds us of the ancients who thought that the mysterious universe rested on the back of a turtle navigating through space, and that this turtle rested on the back of another turtle and so on. Dawkins–a scientistic turdle.

  6. Pope Benedict XVI proposed a third hermeneutic “C”, the fusion of the Patristic/Faith (A) and historo-critical (B) interpretations. Did ancient Near Eastern mentalities attribute anything to secondary causation, apart from YHWH and divine fiat? It’s possible to me that within the “consequent will” of an immutable, loving God, Israel was allowed to resort to violence as YHWH met them where they were in their infidelity. Of course, in God’s “antecedent will” (abstracted from human choices), the nations would be converted through Israel’s being “the light to the nations”.
    In the ANE mentality then, what occurred through human fallenness was attributed to YHWH and herem warfare, and we are told later that not all Caananites for example, are the victims of a genocide (Josh 16:10, 17:12-13, Judges 1:9-10, Mt 15:22).

    • Good thoughts. Dealing with a fallen race, perhaps YHWH set the general direction of demanding a clear CHOICE, and then tolerating human over-enthusiasm.

      There is another view, however, that if the Israelites didn’t annihilate the pagans, they would end up intermarrying and eventually lapsing into paganism themselves (as the biblical record clearly records). Also, there’s the practicality that if only the pagan men were eliminated, it would be a cruelty not to eliminate the elderly, women and children as well, since they otherwise would likely either starve to death or become food for wolves, or again, intermingle, bringing with them their pagan idols for the family hearth.

      Now, in today’s Germania, yet another “choice” has been contrived—to accommodate ever-present human ambivalence. Why not simply revert back to broadminded, pre-Christian ways (priestesses, homosexuality and more, and a tribal, block-party structure to replace the uniquely apostolic Church) and then “synthesize” this detritus into a “compiled and aggregated” pile of paper at the Synod on Synodality under the tutelage of the equally deluded Cardinal Hollerich?

      The ambivalent “choice” not to choose, and the ecclesial equivalent to non-binary gender theory.

  7. Good to see the ‘ group ‘ still chewing on these fascinating aspects in The Word , even as the small grain of sand helping to bring forth the pearl..and hopefully , to the good hearted amusement of the Author , the Holy Spirit .. 🙂
    The occasion of the Ark being suported by Uzziah – as one who too has been puzzled by same –
    the context of the whole episode has been pointed out as giving the reason ..
    that Ark was miraculoulsy brought forth all the way to Israel, the Philistines who had captured the Ark even showing some good discernement in the ways of God , as depicted in that almost heart rending scene of the two milk cows who go straight ahead to Israel , lowing on the way, overcoming their maternal instincts ..
    thus , Uzziah likely did not have to worry about The Ark falling over ..
    ? sort of a ‘type ‘ of Judas, who tried to lend his hand to help with an earthly kingdom ,in lack of trust in The Lord , in His Mother ..
    Yet , Simon the Cyrene is allowed to help The Lord on The Way ..
    His humility in letting the children have the dignity of participating in the Redemmption , in the manner He Wills ..
    as far as the herem warfare of total destruction that was commanded on rare occasions , have heard the explanation that when Israel loses its sanctity , the power to overcome the enemy is also less..cultures so imbued with evil ,leading to multiplication of same , to undo the line that God was preparing to bring forth The Woman .. God , within the constraints of the free will , its use / abuse -asking for
    such warfares at times .. for a situation such as that of the Mad Cow disease ..

    The consequence accorded to David and fmly , that the ‘sword shall not depart your house’ – a relevant occasion for our times that can also help point to the loss of faith , from families not taking into account the debts invited in generational lines .. and when a few prayers go unanswered, losing faith .. instead to have the grace to see what one truly deserves , to be grateful that often what is allowed could be far less than what could have been ..

    all those endless wars amidst the small communities of those times too – another means to see what God has done through the grace of Incarnation … and the glimpse of what is to come , in the times of the Reign of His Holy Will ,even for the past generations ..
    May His Mercy be with us all , to allow The Spirit to guide us all .

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