If you’re a Christian apostate, you will not have escaped the term ‘armor of God’ being bantered around during sermons on defending the faith or responding to criticism of religion. Contemporary Christians will undoubtedly read criticism here, as persecution. Because clearly, asking logical questions of religious texts and theological exegesis is tantamount to Nero’s feed Christians to lions. Hence, the need for the armor of God.
The term comes from Ephesians 6. The epistle taken as a whole isn’t like other the Pauline epistles, insofar as it doesn’t really address a “crisis” amongst Christian communities (e.g. Romans). The overall context of Ephesians is to address a balkanized group of Christians with diverse ethics and cultures, and thus differing interpretations of Christian principles. Paul wrote this letter to homogenize the Christians of Ephesus into his interpretation of Christianity.
This explains the books emphasis on Christian morality, particularly about parenting and the treatment of slaves (eek). Treat your slaves with respect (minus that whole indignity of ownership of another human beings). And slaves should also act as if they’re Christian, because apparently being the slave of a Christian made you a Christian, who is also a slave to god. (Ephesians 6) See my aside post on how this ties into Nietzsche’s master and slave morality.
In order to bolster Paul’s moral proscriptions to the Ephesians, he suggests that followers don the armor of god in order to defend the faith (and thus, Paul’s moral proscriptions). To Paul, the Ephesians lived in a corrupt and authoritarian world. Due to this, there will be a particular day of evil that the Ephesian Christian must be prepared for. Also the Christian must be ready for spiritual warfare in Heaven, too. The armor of God will protect the Christian from all of these issues.
Of course the implications of this set up for the use of the armor of god has troublesome implications for the Christian. The first is the concept of original sin. Without knowledge of good and evil, there would be no need for the armor of god in the first place, as neither Adam and Eve wouldn’t have been expelled from the Garden of Eden. That doesn’t imply that Adam or Eve didn’t sin, they just didn’t know that they sinned. But the Genesis account isn’t so concerned with their knowledge of good and evil, but that Adam and Eve might also eat from the tree of life, making them too godlike. (Genesis 3:22) Plus, it’s quite obvious than an all-knowing God would have known not to plant that particular tree in the garden of Eden. Clearly, the entire ontology of sin is conceptually incoherent, according to the Bible
More problematic for the Christian is Paul’s claim that evil exists in Heaven, the kingdom of god, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good deity’s home. But then again it’s no secret that any supernatural ontology is deeply problematic. Then there’s this prediction of a day of ultimate evil reckoning at hand, which makes it imperative that the pious Christian don the armor of God to survive. I can suppose that in even a corrupt and evil universe, there will be a last day to it. But it’s hubris to assume Christians will be around to see that day. Christianity has only existed for 1% of the time that humans have existed, only 0.0004% of the time that Earth has existed and 0.00000144% of the time that the universe has existed.
Still, the faithful Christian is commanded to wear the armor of God, so a deconstruction is appropriate nonetheless. There are six components to the armor of god. They are 1) truth 2) righteousness 3) the Gospel of Peace 4) Faith 5) Salvation 6) The Holy Spirit, which according to Paul is the word of God, or the Bible.
If we read Ephesians charitably, the Gospel of Peace and the Bible aren’t the same thing. So accusations of redundancy here would be are unfair. The holy spirit is often conceptualized as a messenger of god, so it’s also unfair to equivocate the holy spirit with the Bible. Still, holy spirit is part of the trinity metaphysical snafu which is non-sequitur. This makes the only way to hold an attitude of belief in the holy spirit is to make claims beyond one’s capability to understand (The trinity is real because God wills it to be so), or eschewing logic altogether. If the latter is the case, the sword of the holy spirit would be ineffective against those of us who don’t eschew logic. And supremely effective on those who do. This would make prayer warriors less like warriors and more like predators.
Truth is an equally elusive piece of armor to the Christian. Conceptual problems with supernatural ontology, contradictory source material, and faulty exegesis on the part of theologians only obscure the truth regarding Jesus. Questions about his historicity, whether there was more than one Jesus, questions about the syncretic evolution of other religions into Judaism and Christianity also call into question the basic assumptions of the entire Abrahamic tradition. Truth has always been difficult to discert, but not impossible as some Christians claim. Truth is also nuanced and complex. Christian apologists often eschew such characterization of the truth, and instead say that truth is incomprehensible to humans, or at least the truth that matters. If that is the case, how can one don truth in any meaningful way if truth is utterly incomprehensible to humans? Hint: They can’t.
Then there’s righteousness. If we’re using the character of Yahweh in the Old Testament, or Pauline moral proscriptions as a guide, then the claim of moral superiority is dubious. The book of Job has god and satan gambling with Job’s life over whether or not Job will quit believing in god. Levitical laws are draconian and outdated. God kills the all the unrighteous in a flood, except the alcoholic who passes out naked in front of his sons. There are so many more morally dubious passages in the Bible, that if the Christian were to take these thing literally, there’d not be a single moral Christian on the planet. And while no christian lives by Levitical laws with the excuse that Jesus revised them. He didn’t, but theologians and clergy have created an endlessly equivocating exegesis as to exactly what Jesus meant by ‘laws’ in Matthew 5:17-18 instead of examining the morality of the Torah in its own right. So righteousness isn’t an armor piece readily available to the Christian.
Possibly the most ironic armor-piece is the gospel of peace. Now, I’m assuming that the ‘gospel’ here is more akin to the Hellenistic Greek word ευανγελλιον (pronounced you-angel-leeon, meaning “true message”, the root word for evangelical). If this is the case, and the truth about peace is like all other divine truths, unknowable to us humans, then how can one meaningfully don the true message of peace. Not to mention the sheer irony of naming gospel of peace as the footwear of the armor of God. The irony then turns into paradox, if not outright contradiction. We cannot know whether the gospel of peace is armor, paradox or contradiction, because the truth of peace, like all other divine truths are unknowable to humans. Therefore, the “true message” of peace is inaccessible to anyone, and certainly can’t be used as a piece in the armor of God.
Faith is the most paradoxical of the armor-pieces. Trust, unquestioning belief and loyalty are all necessary (but not sufficient) elements of faith. But the unquestioning nature of that belief is especially problematic to us atheists. We tend to view skepticism is healthier that blind faith. This is because skepticism allows us to process information in an integrative way. Bad beliefs are discarded and good believes are integrated into our understanding of the universe.
The reasoning of faith is purely defensive. It scrambles to explain new information in extravagant terms to preserve questionable tenets. Or, and perhaps most dangerous to all, it scrambles to suppress the new information for fear that it will upend their faith altogether. This leads to distrust of scientific knowledge. But most Christians aren’t going to simply pray for a friend having a heart attack, they’ll also call 911 and get their friend to a doctor. You know that guy full of scientific knowledge that has been proven to be more effective than prayer in correcting heart attacks. Scientific knowledge which contradicts biblical accounts of the origin of life. It also questions the how the universe came to be.
Then there’s the issue of loyalty. With a capricious (Old Testament) or intentionally vague (New Testament) god to be loyal is to act counterintuively at the best, and to submit one’s self to systemic victimization at the worst. A capricious person doesn’t garner loyalty because of their volatility. And intentionally vague people don’t garner loyalty because there’s too much room for doubt. It’s counterintuitive to be loyal to any god, especially the Christian one.
Then there’s salvation. Ah salvation, a weird process to avoid getting summons to god’s kangaroo court. The way to salvation is simple, acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save you from the inevitable outcome of sin … hell. Though in all actuality, it’s not just a simple acknowledgement, it is often wholehearted unwavering belief.
Only with this belief, founded or unfounded, can you escape hell. This one is so ridiculous that it makes me question the intelligence of educated Christians. Not only do you have to accept the ridiculousness of the ontology of sin, but that god committed an act of metaphysically impossible suicide/filicide in order to absolve us from a situation that an all-good and all-knowing god would have avoided by simply not putting a particular fruit tree in the garden of Eden. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice Christianity!
Beneath the concept of the armor of God is the idea that spiritual warfare is necessary. And for once I agree with Christians. Due to their flawed holy text, defensive reasoning to justify flawed tenets in light of new information and their insistence on being persecuted when critiqued, they’re fighting a spiritual war. But it isn’t with the nonreligious, it’s with necessity.
We don’t need god any more. We can explain rain without the firmament. We know how the heavens operate to a greater degree than we did in biblical times. We understand the nature of disease and illness not as afflictions of the soul but of pathogens. God is obsolete for the most pressing problems that man faces. Insisting on god’s relevance by conflating it with Christianophobia or persecution infantilizes Christians who need to pitch in to help confront these problems. We can’t pray away climate change, LGBTQ+’s, income inequality, waning education standards, or unemployment. We need human action, not divine intervention.