Monday, September 27, 2010

God the Idiot: Part 2

In the previous post we looked at some of the characteristics of God as portrayed in Family Guy (Click Here for part 1).  Today we are going to ask how to respond.

What is the Christian response to the “Family Guy god”?  For some it is simply to call it heretical and blasphemous, and boycott it.  While I understand and sympathize with those feelings, we then miss the opportunity to respond to and correct the picture of who God is.  Instead we must respond by correcting the images that are out there.

    First, it is important for evangelical Christians to reaffirm the truth that God is neither man nor woman.  God is portrayed in the Bible as being personal and involved, but never male or female.  “Indeed, the Old Testament avoids attributing sexual functions to God, on account of the strongly pagan overtones to such associations” (McGrath, 2007, p. 204).  Sallie McFague has said that, “God is she and he and neither” (Kraus, 1991, p. 96).  Norman Kraus also says, “To think of God exclusively in masculine gender turns him into an idol” (Kraus, p. 96).  Kraus goes on to argue that in each context it is important to find the right metaphors to use when talking about God (Kraus, p. 96).   However, because of the predominance of male language about God, I wonder if North America would benefit from more feminine language about God.  The Bible is full of this language (Hos 11:3-4,13:8 Deut 32:18, Isaiah 66:13, 49:15, 42:14 Mt 23:37 Lk 13:34, 15:8-10). God is described as one who gives birth, nurses, has a womb, and is like a mother bear.  In fact, when one begins to search the Scriptures for feminine language of God it does not take long to find an astounding number of verses.1 I once heard a prison chaplain who talked about how a card company gave a bunch of Mother’s Day cards to the inmates in a prison.  It was a huge success.  All the cards were taken and sent to the mothers of these inmates.  Because of the overwhelmingly positive reaction, the card company decided to do it again for Father’s day.  The result was the exact opposite.  Not a single card was taken by the inmates.  In a culture full of fathers who are absent, abusive, or both, there is value in recognizing and using the feminine language of the Bible to talk about God.  In the book, The Shack, William Young does this exact thing. Because of the main character’s own problems with the word “papa,” God chooses to be self-revealed as a black woman.  The “Family Guy god” reveals the need for us to more clearly articulate our belief that God is she and he and neither.

   Secondly, what do we mean when we talk about God’s omnipotence?  C.S Lewis stated the problem well, “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were     almighty he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either the goodness, or the power, or both” (McGrath p. 216).  It seems that this is part of what drives the “Family Guy god.”  If God is powerful, why is it that we are not all supermodels?  Why are some children born with malfunctioning hearts?  The answer lies in a better definition of what omnipotence means.  While the literal definition of omnipotence is that God has all the power and can do anything, the Christian understanding is different (Kraus, p. 81).  When we follow this first meaning of omnipotence we are quickly led to ridiculous questions about whether or not God can make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it.  Stanley Grenz writes, “In contrast to such misguided discussions, to say, ‘God is omnipotent’ is to acknowledge that God is able to bring to completion the divine design for creation” (Grenz, 1998, p. 98).  Kraus points out that God’s omnipotence means that God is not locked into God’s created system.  “God is not limited to the causality of the so-called natural process” (Kraus p. 81).  Perhaps one of the most important things we can say about God’s omnipotent power is that it is exercised, “though self-limitation and defenselessness of the incarnation.... God in his own freedom     chooses to accomplish his goals through our freedom of response to him.  He joins with us in the struggle to overcome death and evil in such a way that his victory will also be our victory.  His power is for us.  It is not independent and exclusive of us, but inclusive of us” (Kraus, p. 82).  God has self-limitation of power, which gives us freedom.  At the same time, God still retains the power to see that creation is brought to its final goal.  God chooses to join us in the struggle and share power with us.  Perhaps the “Family Guy god” is not a poor reflection of God doing a sorry job of creating things, but of Christians failing to respond to the structures and sin in the world that dehumanizes and devalues those in the world.  Instead of wondering why God does not simply make the world a better place, perhaps the world should be asking what has the Church done lately to make the world a better place?  God will one day rule fully in all power and nothing will be able to stop this plan.  However until that day God has chosen to be self-limiting and to work primarily through those who respond to God’s call.

    Finally, the “Family Guy god” is disinterested in humanity; he is an absent god.  It is vital for Christians to speak up and remind all who will listen that God has not abandoned humanity.  Rather, God cared so much about this planet that the Divine became human.  God has suffered with humanity, so that God could restore humanity.  In the midst of all the difficult things that happen in life, God is the relational Being whose presence can be known.  When I think back to the bar scene, I know that God is, in fact, present in the bar, but God is present in a fundamentally different way than MacFarlane sees it.  MacFarlane sees God torching the place and running, whereas the incarnation shows me that God is in the bar suffering with those who suffer.  God has not left the world to burn.  God is present in it and will one day fully restore it into a new earth.

    The “Family Guy god” is nothing like the Christian God.  However, it does seem that the “Family Guy god” character is created from a number of misunderstandings and assumptions that are drawn from the language we use as North American Christians.  God is not a bumbling idiot who chases women, uses his power poorly, and fails to take an interest in the world he created.  Rather, God is she and he and neither, at the same time, God is personal!  God is actively involved in the lives of God’s creation.  God limits God’s power so that people can freely respond to God, and then God shares that power with us.  In the incarnation we see that God chooses to suffer with humanity, sharing our pain and sorrow.  We know that God is working towards a goal that will be accomplished.  I believe that, as Christians, it is important for us to respond to the “Family Guy god” in a way that carefully corrects these misrepresentations of God.  As Christians, we must watch the language we use about God.  We must take action and use the power God has given us to alleviate the things that are wrong in the world.  And we must continually remind people that God deeply loves humanity and the world, so much that God took on flesh to be among us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God the Idiot: Part 1

A few months ago I had to write a paper using a "cultural" text to talk about our understanding of God.  For my paper I chose the portrayal of God in Family Guy.  What follows is some of my thoughts about both the portrayal of God and ways that we should respond.

Recently I was watching the highly popular cartoon “Family Guy.”  The son, Chris, is talking about how he is afraid to try and do homework because there is an evil monkey living in his closet and says that he has proof that it exists there.  Peter responds, “You’ll have to do better than you did on your science exam, or than God did when he left the iron on too long on Ellen Barkins face.”  The scene cuts to a clip of God, distracted, ironing a lady on an ironing board.  He looks down and the conversation goes as follows:
God; “ Oh *$%#.”
Ellen; “How is it?”
God: “Get in the van we’ll put you in the 80s where you’ll pass for hot” (Family Guy Hannah Banana season 8 Episode 4 Two minutes in).

“Family Guy” is no stranger to insulting God.  In season 3, there is a scene where God is trying to pick up a girl at a bar.  He uses his finger to light her cigarette and a second later he makes the same motion and sets the girl on fire.  Then he proceeds to run away, leaving the girl and bar to burn down.  Most of the time I was just offended by these clips.  However, when I started to put them together, I noticed something about the way that God is portrayed in these clips.  Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy,” portrays God as old, male, pudgy, balding, and completely inept.  In fact, one could call MacFarlane’s god a bumbling idiot.

    What leads a person to picture God this way?  How do I as a Christian respond to MacFarlane’s portrayal of the God I love?  As I reflect on these clips, three things seem to me to be a driving force behind the “Family Guy god.” 

First is the idea in western Christianity that God is male.  For the non-believer, is it understandable that the logical path leads to gods being womanizers?  This was certainly the case for the Greeks, Romans, Ancient Mesopotamians etc.  In those cultures the gods were always sneaking around having sex with women.  As the culture in North America has shifted, it is little wonder that our predominant language of talking about God as male has led to a view of God being more like Baal or Zeus than like the God of the Bible. 

Secondly, I wonder how much of the Christians’ belief in God’s omnipotence plays into MacFarelane’s view.  If MacFarlane grew up within any proximity to Christianity, he would have heard about how God has all the power in the world; that God is able to do all things.  Yet, when one looks at the world, it is clear that things are not all good.  If God is all-powerful, why is it that some people are born with physical defects that will go on to limit them in life?  Children are born all over the world with abnormalities and diseases.  If God is the creator of all these lives, why would he not do a better job?
Finally, there is the idea that God is absent and disengaged from the world.  In the clip, “god’s” flippant remark to Ellen about getting into the van indicates that God can’t be bothered to fix his mistake.  Or perhaps an even better example is the scene of “god” setting the woman on fire with his finger.  His reaction is to run out of the bar after setting her on fire.  Our very language sometimes seems to indicate that this is the case.  When a hurricane or flood hits we call it an “act of God” and are then left asking “where was God in this?”  Did God just set the world in motion and then leave?  The world spirals into disaster and God can be seemingly absent.  In brief, the “Family Guy god” is a jumble of distorted images that come from the language we use to talk about God the Father.

Friday, September 17, 2010

God is Love: and the Flannel-graph

I saw this video today and I thought it was pretty sweet.  Perhaps best of all the video was constructed using felt.  The flannel-graph makes a come back!  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


It's cold.  It feels like winter. I really can't believe that I am not going to be in California when the snow starts to fly here.  These are my hobo mitts that I am wearing in the house.  I had Niki cut the tips of so that I can type, but at least the rest of my hands stay sort of warm.  In case you care, the book is Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf.  It is incredible!  One of the best books ever written.  If you have never read Volf, you need to.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Beyond Opinion

Beyond Opinion is a mixed book.  Since it is only edited and not written entirely by Ravi Zacharias some chapters are better than others.  The chapter by McGrath on a response to Atheism is by far my favorite  chapter in the book.  On the other side the responses to Post-modernism and Youth Culture were not very good.  I also really unsure what to do with the chapter on Islam.  We already live in a culture that has so much misinformation on Islam, and I am not sure if this chapter adds to this or clarifies things. 
All in all this book was pretty good.  If you have a chance pick it up and give it a read.

**Disclosure of material connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishing as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."