Is God a Psychopath?

In the bowels of The Stand’s New Town Theatre, an audience sweats in the clamminess of an overheated, cramped studio. The air conditioning has died and the sole electric fan has broken. The door to the hall has now been jammed shut, cutting off the only access to a faint, cool breeze. As the room begins to reach sauna proportions, one has to wonder: what did the we do to deserve this? Perhaps, according to Ryan Mullins, it was an act of God. A God who is sadistic and self-serving. No, Mullins did not instruct The Stand to replicate a miniaturised hell, there had been some malfunctions owing to thunderstorms and flooding (possibly another sign that God is pissed) but he did manage to capitalise upon his less-than-accommodating surroundings with witty observation and Biblical puns. Taking to the stage adorned in a monk’s robe, Mullins presents to us a show that is both intellectually stimulating as much as it is entertaining.

Mullins is a brilliant engager, delighting in the chance to answer questions and open the door for more thoughtful interpretations.

Is God A Psychopath? spearheads the notions of God, emotions and empathy, where Mullins seeks to find an answer to an age-old question: if God exists what would they be like? With a jovial disposition, Mullins successfully welcomes and accommodates different ideas and opinions, where the audience are given the chance to vote upon which God they would prefer.

The debate of the night hinges upon the choice between two conceptions of God: Dawson from Dawson’s Creek – a whiney, needy yet compassionate God – versus Chad – a self-centred God with no concern for the plight of others. Dawson’s temperament is empathetic yet volatile, and therefore subject to the same vulnerabilities as the humans he has created. Chad’s philosophical outlook, on the other hand, is egotistical and apathetic.

Audience input, ever changing, provides a decisive reason for a return visit. The debates offer fruitful insight into a broad spectrum of perspectives on the nature of God and what, if any, they would act like. This, however, is a double edged sword. Debate time can drag unnecessarily, where some audience members can get off track and derail the momentum, dealing a sharp blow to the shows’ slot time; the Chad debate alone lasted 35 minutes, whilst Dawson was hastily addressed within the space of 10. Given this invites audience interaction, it risks being too open-ended, particularly in audience members’ quests to be heard.

In this respect, it may appear that Is God A Psychopath? is not accessible to broad audiences, particularly those who haven’t read much Bertrand Russell. However, given Mullins’ formidable knowledge on the philosophy of religion and his use of easily digestible (albeit, at times long-winded) analogies in his explanations, the show manages to keep the watcher engaged, where Mullins’ appears capable of responding to any question with adroitness.

Certainly, his innate hospitableness and natural command of large crowds manages to capture the audience’s attention, where his lecturer persona comes into play. The evening ended with a decisive split of opinion on the choice of God, leaving plenty of room for critical debate. A great orator, Mullins is a brilliant engager, delighting in the chance to answer questions and open the door for more thoughtful interpretations, though for future performances I’d recommend he remains more aware of his timing, lest one deity be neglected during debate time.

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The Blurb

Ever wondered what God might be like if God existed? Many religious believers today affirm that God has a rich emotional life, including perfect empathy. They say God suffers along with us in our pain, and rejoices in our happiness. Surprisingly, most philosophers have historically denied this. They complain that if God empathizes with us, then God feels what we feel; and some of what we feel is downright creepy. Instead, they say that God lacks empathy. Ryan Mullins (University of St Andrews) asks but wouldn’t that make God a psychopath?

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