Christian Explanations for Why Bad Things Happen

why

Life is filled with good and bad experiences. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. None of us is exempt from the travails of life. Live long enough and you will face some sort of adversity in your life. Recently, my wife, Polly, spent 18 days in the hospital. This ordeal was the most stressful thing we have faced in forty-one years of marriage. I suspect it will not be the last trial we face before we die.

Christians, of course, are not exempt from bad things. “Life” happens to one and all, even if Jesus is your friend, lover, and physician. Faith does not exempt anyone from facing pain, suffering, and loss. Now, Christians will say that Jesus helps them through the bad times of life, but I found as a pastor that what helped people through adversity was not Jesus, but having a pastor and friends who cared about them. Remove Jesus from the equation, and you will find that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have the same need for human love and compassion. One need not believe in Jesus to love and care for others.

Go to the local Evangelical church on Sunday and you will hear songs, testimonies, and sermons extolling the awesomeness of Jesus. Jesus, according Evangelicals, is the bestest e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Yet, come Monday, the Jesus-fix is in the rearview mirror and the realities of life lie ahead. Evangelicals love to say Jesus is their co-pilot or sing Jesus take the Wheel with Carrie Underwood, but truth be told, their day-to-day lives reveal a far different story; that life can be and is hard, and that bad things can and do happen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. As a pastor who deeply cared for his flock, I traveled hand-in-hand with countless congregants as they walked through the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) I witnessed untold suffering, sorrow, and grief. I stood by weeping family members as they disconnected their loved ones from life support. I stood by the bedsides of the dying, knowing that they would soon be no more. I conducted the funerals of children and seniors alike. I helped congregants move to new homes after losing theirs through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Through it all, I promised them that Jesus was a friend that would stick by them no matter what; that he was closer to them than their flesh and blood family. I will admit that, at times, these words seemed superficial and hollow.

Christians who say their life is different from or superior to that of unbelievers are not being honest. Whatever faith may impart to believers, one thing is for certain: shit happens — both to Christians and unbelievers.

When asked to explain WHY bad things happen in their lives, Christians give several different reasons or explanations.

All Things Work Together for Good

The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

As a pastor, I explained Romans 8:28 this way: To those who are called according to God’s purpose and love him, everything turns out for good. Not everything is good, but everything works out for good. God throws good and bad things into the bag of life, and when everything shakes out, the end result is for our good. God loves us, has a purpose and plan for our lives, and only wants what is best for us. Or so I thought at the time.

God has a Purpose and Plan for Our Lives

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave or forsake Christians. As a teen, I was encouraged to choose a “life” verse from the Bible; a verse that would be the governing principle of my life. I chose Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

The aforementioned verses and others say to Christians that God has a perfect plan for their lives; that everything that happens to them is according to his divine purpose for them. While it may seem that God is either AWOL or not working in Christians’ best interests, they are reminded by preachers and teachers that God is behind the scenes making sure everything works out as planned. God knows everything, sees everything, and is present everywhere, so Christians can rest easy — the triune God is on duty 24/7.

Above all, Christians are told to not question God’s plan. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his treatise about divine election. Romans 9:20 says:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect. How dare you question his sanity. Just keep on believing until reason and common sense depart and faith takes their place. Once faith rules your life, well anything is possible. Is this not exactly what the Bible says in Mark 10:27, with God all things are possible, and John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing?

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

When God’s purpose and plan seem to be out of sorts with expectations and reason, Christians are reminded by their pastors that God’s thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways; that his ways and thoughts are higher than theirs. In other words, when everything in your life is telling you that God doesn’t know what the Heaven he is doing, just remember God doesn’t think or work as humans do. Come on, dude, he’s God, the ULTIMATE party planner.

Again, when Christians have doubts about what God is up to, they are encouraged to faith-it until they make-it. Since God is perfect in all his ways, he can never be at fault if your life turns to shit or you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes scraping pus from sores as Job did.

What I am Facing is a Test From God

According to Christian preachers of every denomination, sometimes God brings adversity into the lives of believers because he is testing them. Read the book of Job. God turned Satan loose on Job, a righteous man, to see what kind of faith he had; whether he would break under pain, suffering, and loss. Thus, when Christians face Job-like adversity, the first question they should ask themselves is this: is God testing me?

What I am Facing is a Trial Meant to Make Me Stronger

Isaiah 41:10 says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness

James 1:2-4 says:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

According to the Bible, God brings trials into the lives of Christians to make them spiritually stronger; to increase their faith; to toughen up their metaphorical hide. So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test or is this a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger?

What I am Facing is Chastisement from God

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6-8:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Sometimes, God uses bad things to chastise (punish) Christians for sin in their lives. In fact, a life without punishment is a sure sign that someone is NOT a Christian. God, the Father, punishes and corrects those whom he loves. Just as our earthly fathers beat us when we disobeyed, so does our Heavenly Father.

Proverbs 3:12 says: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test, a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger, or is God chastising me? In other words, which cup is the coin under?

These six statements pretty well cover every explanation Christians use to explain the bad things in their lives. I have yet to hear a Christian say, when asked about the adversity he or she is facing, Hell if I know, shit happens! God’s honor and name must be defended at all costs lest people believe that he is a psychopath who finds pleasure in inflicting pain, suffering, and abuse on fallible, frail humans. Just remember, God created everything and is the sovereign Lord over all, but when things turn to shit, he’s not to blame. Don’t try this at home!

Now, when bad things happen to unbelievers, the explanation is far different. God is trying to get our attention. Bad things happening in our lives are warning signs from God. Warning! Judgment and Hell await unless you, without delay, repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I was somewhat surprised that a Christian zealot didn’t email me and say that Polly’s latest hospitalization was God warning me (us) that I was on a dangerous path that leads to hellfire and damnation. Of course, such a warning would have the opposite effect on me. Giving the love of my life bladder cancer and ulcerative colitis so I will love you? Not going to happen asshole!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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51 Comments

  1. Susannah Anderson

    I gather from this that Polly is home. Good to hear. I hope she continues to improve.

    Reply
  2. Carol Dworkowski

    I agree that our “common humanity” (humanism) offers more hope for the healing of our alienation from one another than “religion” which has a long history of divisiveness. That does not mean that formal religion has no place in our lives, but it does mean that it should not be the basis for our seeking reconciliation and peace.

    Religious fundamentalism and socioeconomic injustice are definitely primary causes of the divisions in our Nation at this time in history. Our political instability is having a destabilizing impact on other countries as well. One of my cyber friends expressed the opinion that, since America is no longer the UNITED States, we should choose another name and suggested “Dumbfuckistan.” It will take decades for America to regain the global respect that we had after WWII when we implemented foreign policy like the Marshall Plan rather than the Bush policy of unilateralism rather than cooperation with our allies.

    Reply
  3. Carol Dworkowski

    I agree with your observations on the present sorry state of American Christianity, which is often more American than christian.

    Calvinism has always been the dominant version of Western Christianity in our country. I have always believed that Calvinism’s Five Points (TULIP) are heterodox. I have also read the Westminster Confession and feel that it confuses the Written Word (Bible) with the Living Word (Christ Jesus) which explains the bibliolatry so common among Reformed Evangelical believers. Catholics are more prone to Ecclesiolatry as a means to provide certainty for their beliefs. There are no “white hats” in sectarian religious wars, or any wars, for that matter.

    Scripture has to be interpreted to have meaning. I usually prefer the Jewish interpretations over the conventional Latin/Western christian version:

    “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner, rabbi of the conservative Jewish tradition

    Jews for Jesus had a travelling music ministry, The Liberated Wailing Wall, that attempted to introduce christians to a more Hebraic interpretation of the NT. One of their songs was “I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Gentile.” The Jewish Jesus (and Yahweh) is a lot more humane than Calvin’s Cosmic Bully and his morally perfect Son!

    I love Jewish wisdom and humor. Yes, religion and humor do mix:

    Back in the old days in the Jewish community, when two parties were in conflict and couldn’t come to an agreement, they brought the issue to the rabbi. The rabbi would render a decision, and the losing party would pay the rabbi’s fee. In one village there lived a great and wise rabbi who had one problem — he was so good at seeing all sides of an issue that he could never reach a decision, and consequently rarely got paid. One day his wife complained to him. “Every time two men come to you for a decision, you listen to the first man and tell him, ‘You’re right.’ Then, you listen to the second man and tell him, ‘You’re also right.’ So everyone is right, and no one pays you.”
    “Yes,” sighed the rabbi, “and you’re right too.”
    –Steve Bhaerman aka Swami Beyondananda

    “Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.”
    ~Sholem Aleichem (Solomon Rabinovich)

    The Golden Rule
    “That which is hateful to you do not do to another … the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.” – Rabbi Hillel

    Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. ~Etty Hillesum, Holocaust victim

    “There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
    — Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

    From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths, from the laziness that is content with half truths, and from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, O God of truth, deliver us.
    ~ Rabbi Mordechai M. Kaplan

    It seems to me that the Protestant Evangelical Jesus is often more like a small child’s imaginary friend who is always on the believer’s side whenever there is a conflict with another person than the Rabbi/Teacher revealed in the NT texts.

    It is hard for me to understand how Evangelicals can become so incensed over “papal infallibility” (which I don’t buy, either), but have no doubts about their own infallibility when it comes to interpreting Scripture. Ronald “Hard” Knox, Catholic apologist and convert from Anglicanism, is reputed to have said, “Every Protestant has a Pope in his belly.”

    It seems to me that Western Christianity, when it moved the source of its theological reasoning from the Monasteries to the Universities, became more ontological/abstract and less experiential/relational.

    End of rant.

    Reply
  4. Bob Felton

    The “problem of evil” is the premier example of the futility, fatuousness, and intellectual dishonesty of theology. After all, you have to prove Our Invisible Friend is real before you can make claims about his attributes and purposes — something theologians can’t do, know they can’t do, and try to evade with intimidating and grand-sounding words like presuppositionalism. It’s snake oil all the way down, and I marvel that they get away with it.

    Reply
    1. Carol Dworkowski

      That is an epistemological/apologetics problelm, not a faith problem. Faith is more a matter of trusting than knowing on a purely rational level. Intellectual doubt is an intrinsic part of faith. Often we intuitively know but can’t prove, even to ourselves why something is true.

      Job, the archetypal believer in the OT cried out of the depths of his faith, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

      Mary, the archetypal believer in the NT, admitted that she had no idea how she would become the God-bearer (Theotakos).

      The Western Church has made a serious error in making intellectual assent to theological beliefs, rather than trust, the measure of christian faith.

      “Faith isn’t believing without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.” –William Sloane Coffin

      “There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.” –Alfred Korzybski

      Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” – H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

      Even those of us without gods are profoundly vulnerable to mistaking our own perspective for Reality. The only protection against sanctifying our own perceptions is to nurture a constant awareness of this profound, universal human flaw. Like background music, a part of our minds must always be asking, what am I distorting? what am I missing? how am I being seduced and blinded by self-interest? We must cherish doubt, the guardian of goodness and truth. And we must surround ourselves with friends and advisors who help us to safeguard ourselves: People who ask us hard questions. People who bear witness to our complicated motives. People who ask us to think more deeply when we are spouting half truths.– ValerieT, Posted on Wisdom Commons

      Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. –André Gide

      Faith which does not doubt is dead faith. -Miguel de Unamuno, philosopher and writer (1864-1936)

      It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt. –Fyodor Dostoyevski

      “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
      — Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

      But doubt is as crucial to faith as darkness is to light.
      Without one, the other has no context and is meaningless.
      Faith is, by definition, uncertainty. It is full of doubt, steeped in risk. It is about matters not of the known, but of the unknown. –Carter Heywood, Reverend and author

      “My parents spoke of piety, of love and of humility. I have really tried hard. But as long as there was a God in my world, I couldn’t even get close to my goals. My humility was not humble enough. My love remained nonetheless far less than the love of Christ or of the saints or even my own mother’s love. And my piety was forever poisoned by grave doubts. Now that God is gone, I feel that all this is mine; piety toward life, humility before my meaningless fate and love for the other children who are afraid, who are ill, who are cruel.” –Ingmar Bergman

      Reply
  5. Brunetto Latini

    Bruce, I can tell you were a good preacher. That was a great sermon with a knockout punch at the end.

    Reply
  6. Matilda

    This is an excellent and comprehensive post. I think it could be summed up by saying god is never wrong, so it must be you that’s at fault if you can’t accept the devastating event that’s happened to you has come from your loving heavenly father. And I’m sure there are not a few x-tians who rely on ‘god needed another angel’ or ‘god never gives you more than you can handle’ in bad situations…which are actually NOT bible verses though they think they are!
    So good to hear Polly is home, all good wishes for continued recovery.

    Reply
    1. Carolk

      If only we had heard “god needed another angel after our daughter died from complications of prematurity. What we got instead was a book mailed to us anonymously several weeks later titled “Why Your Little One is in Heaven” about how our daughter had died so we would come to Jesus. We were Catholics surrounded by a sea of Bob Jones associated fundies. It was extremely upsetting. Do you really want to send something to a family in the worst pain they will ever face telling them that god had killed their child? That makes God a monster. My husband, much more religious than I, was upset by it as well and threw the book in the trash where it belonged.

      Btw, none of our fundie neighbors came to either the wake/visitation or the funeral. Can’t risk catching those Catholic cooties, you know. I did have true friends who drove several hours to be there for me.

      Reply
      1. Diane

        My evangelical neighbor stood in my dining room and told me my husband was in hell because he wasn’t saved. He was Catholic. I had just buried him a few days before when she pulled that stunt. That was the start of the next 28 yrs. of her trying to get me to see why I needed Jaysus. Just thinking about it makes my stomach tighten.

        Reply
        1. Carolk

          I am so sorry that happened to you, Diane. What people who do this crap don’t realize is that their efforts to scare us into their idea of Heaven doesn’t work. Or maybe they just don’t care and just need to be right. I’m not atheist because of my daughter’s death 30 years ago though. My journey out of liberal Christianity started by reading some anti-missionary stuff (literature and videos whose ain it to make Jews less vulnerable to Jew for Jesus types) and it went on from there.

          Reply
          1. Carolk

            I should have added that I started reading and listening to anti-missionary stuff after my mom’s funeral. Instead of having her funeral at the Methodist church that she and my dad loved so, it was at my sister’s SBC church. She would not have wanted that and she especially would have loathed that the preacher preached a sermon about how you all need to get right with god, accept Jesus into your heart or you will burn in HELL! This seemed to be aimed at my brother and his family. His wife is Jewish as are there three kids and my mom and dad NEVER tried to convert them.

            There was basically no eulogy, nothing about my mom as a person: how she was one of the first female letter caririers, how she loved animals, how she and a girlhood friend used to roller-skate between their village and a neighboring town 9 miles each way during the War when there weren’t so many cars on the road, how my parents had met as Berea students. Nada. The preacher just wanted to preach a revival sermon.

  7. Carol Dworkowski

    WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU GIVES YOU A LOT OF UNHEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS AND A REALLY DARK SENSE OF HUMOUR ~ Source Unknown

    Reply
    1. Matilda

      To me, Carol, that makes no sense…Ok, so a life event might make someone turn to over-consumption of alcohol or another self-destructive addiction….but OTOH, coping mechanisms are the only thing possible to someone coping with constant stress of the situation they are living in. Twee statements…that assume as truth that something applies to absolutely everything it is discussing do not cover the whole of the complexity that is humanity. Several homeless folk near me now have hand-knitted blankets and warm scarves because I knitted for many hours at the bedside of a sick loved one…unhealthy? I think not.

      Reply
      1. Carol Dworkowski

        Of course, not all coping mechanisms are unhealthy, but a lot of them are. A common one in beta personalities, who tend to be conflict averse, is to begin disparaging oneself whenever criticized. Not many people would be so heartless as to criticize a person who is already beating up on him or herself. Even though it may be unconscious, it is still a very effective way to deflect any attempt by others to discuss one’s problematic behavior. It leaves others with two choices, suck it up or terminate the relationship, not exactly the best way to build lasting friendships.l

        Denial is a coping mechanism that simply drives me crazy, it prevents any chance of making a situation less destructive. I also believe that, for some people, denial is the best they can do. In that case, it would be very unkind to say the least to force “the truth” on another person. I don’t believe in lying, it’s too easy to be caught; but neither do I think we should speak “harsh truths” when someone is not at a place where s/he can handle it.

        Reply
  8. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, I hope Polly is doing better and that her medical issues can be resolved soon.

    I suppose it’s comforting to some to think their deity has a super grade A plan for each person’s life, but it seems stressful trying to figure out why the sh!t is happening at the time. Is it a punishment? A break and rebuild session? A test? I found it to be a lot more peaceful as an atheist to realize that sometimes sh!t just happens. Part of me misses being able to pray for a magic resolution, but prayer was stressful in its own way too – is it God’s plan, am I praying for the right reasons, am I praying right, do I believe enough?

    Carol, you always have a lot of interesting quotes. You might enjoy the book “The Happiness Hypothesis ” by Jonathan Haidt in which the author draws from psychology research, ancient writings and wisdom, and social evolution to explore the concept of happiness.

    Reply
    1. Carol Dworkowski

      I have not read, but I have heard of Jonathan Haidt.

      I will add this one to my Amazon Wish List.

      Reply
  9. Brian Vanderlip

    Thank-you, Bruce for a very lucid look at the tool of belief. What we have invented around this idea, ‘God’, over time has perhaps reduced our humanity and been a way to continue in fear and irrevocably alone. When the ‘God’ moves for us, we abandon ourselves in a so-called faith that appears as abdication to me. Prayer is talking to oneself and there is some evidence in my personal experience that suggests (for me) my coaxing, praising, wishing, wailing to myself is a less fantastic praying than the form that is aimed at God, the other, the clouds. I have no evidence to allow me to say that anybody or thing is listening to my ‘prayer’ but me. There is no shame or original fall from grace in simply being human and alone.
    I feel just as Bergman felt in the quote Carol Dworkowski shared above. I am no longer under the god delusion because I finally embraced human honesty.
    Please tell Polly, I send wishes of peace-filled good health your way, for both you dear people. Thank-you so much for your efforts here on your blog.

    Reply
  10. Steve Ruis

    No matter what happens, god has got you covered, as well as his ass. Nothing that happens that is bad falls on his doorstep (this is why Satan/the Devil/Lucifer are still around as the loyal opposition) and all good things are sourced to Him.

    Re “Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect.” And if those plans are perfect, it makes prayer kind of a strange proposition. God would not change a perfect plan in favor of what you ask for, so all of your prayers have to be part of the perfect plan, e.g Step 27 You pray asking for xyz, I ignore you (or grant the prayer, or …). In other words, your prayer has no effect whatsoever. Your sincerity is irrelevant, all has been predestined.

    This is one of the things that drives me crazy about Christian theology. On one hand it is said that “you shall be granted whatsoever ye shall ask for” and then someone comes back and says that god answers all prayers, just sometimes the answer is “no.” By having all possibilities covered, no matter how contradictory, Christians have “scripture” to back up whatever they are feeling in any moment. Argh!

    Glad to hear Polly is on the mend. I hope your health provides little or no issues in the future.

    Reply
    1. Diane

      Yes, exactly. Thank you for this.

      Reply
  11. Skyler

    Great post! Thanks Bruce!! 😊

    Reply
  12. Melissa A Montana

    Glad to hear Polly is doing better. I hope she makes a full recovery.

    On the post: I turned my life to Jesus-shit happened constantly, my life was out of control, suicidal. Was told Jesus hates me, is testing me, blah, blah, blah.

    Left religion for good: shit happens not too often, in control, mostly happy.

    I now understand what happened. I was seriously mentally ill, and instead of getting the right help I was relying on magical thinking and praying. Now, I realize I can control my life and make choices, hopefully the right ones. The things I cannot control can only be faced one day at a time. The whole “god’s will” crap only made me worse. It always amazes me how otherwise “loving” Christians are willing to hurt people at the worst time in their lives.

    Reply
    1. Carol Dworkowski

      Magical believers don’t realize that they are hurting other people. They are Job’s Comforters, whose pat answers give them reassurance that they will always be cared for, until their backs are up against the wall with no relief in sight.

      A Lutheran pastor once told me that, “sometimes people have to lose their religion to find their faith.” I asked him, “What if they don’t find their faith?” and he just shrugged. Suffering can cause people to go either way, they either walk away from all religious faith or they gain a more mature, deeper faith.

      What I don’t get is the claim that, once we become a christian all of our problems are solved. My life didn’t become easier, it became more complicated and challenging. Although I was raised to be responsible, forgiving and thoughtful of others and never to seek revenge, “loving” those who did not play by those rules (my “enemies) was not expected of me. While I did not “seek revenge”, I certainly felt no compassion when karma evened the score.

      Now I have learned that when people do “bad” things, they are usually passing their own pain forward. Today’s aggressor is more often than not yesterday’s victim. Of course, evil must be restrained and the innocent must be protected, but when we hear someone’s back story it often explains, not excuses, the destructive behavior. Everyone was born, not a blank slate, but not guilty of intentional evil, either. What happens to some people between then and adulthood can be overwhelmingly tragic.

      Catholic moral theology is different from Protestant moral theology. In Protestantism, it is solely the immoral act that determines guilt. In Catholicism, there must be cognition (knowing) and volition (willing) for there to be guilt. There is always responsibility for the consequences of our behavior, but there is not always guilt. In the penitent there will be shame. I am more “Catholic” than “Protestant” in my moral philosophy.

      Not having been raised in a religious family, I have always understood “sin” to be a betrayal of our own humanity, not an offense against “God.” Although some people have more difficult personalities than others, I don’t believe anyone is “born mean.” Mother knew my brother and I were not mean, but we were ignorant and needed a lot of socializing to grow beyond our childish narcissism. Whenever we were thoughtlessly selfish or unkind, she would ask, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” When the consequences of our thoughtless behavior were very serious, she would ask,” How could someone as good and smart as you do such a thing?” We were held to very high ethical standards, but our self-esteem was never attached, in fact it was reinforced. We were never guilt-tripped and our shame always came from within, never from without. Guilt-tripping from without is more likely to make people defensive than penitent. Judgmentalism is usually true enough to hurt, but not true enough to be fair.

      Reply
  13. Tony

    I think the standard Christian responses to problems can be explained in two words: Stockholm Syndrome

    Reply
  14. Infidel753

    1) An omnipotent God could get the good done without needing so much suffering in the process.

    2) Again, an omnipotent and benevolent God could and would achieve his “purpose” and “perfect plan” without so much suffering.

    3) If God is “good” only in some “higher” sense which has nothing to do with how we normally use the word “good” in English, then saying that “God is good” is meaningless.

    4) An omniscient God would not need to test people. He would already know whatever it is about people that the testing was supposed to reveal.

    5) Many people’s sufferings are so extreme that they kill the person or drive them to suicide or drive them to hurt other people. That isn’t making anyone stronger.

    6) Too many people who haven’t done anything seriously wrong suffer a great deal, while too many heinous evildoers get by with very little suffering. God’s “chastisements” are random with respect to anything people might reasonably be chastised for.

    We would never accept these kinds of pathetic excuses for the behavior of a human who went around inflicting suffering on people. It’s flagrant rationalization to defend an untenable belief system.

    Reply
    1. Carol Dworkowski

      You have just stated the theodicy conundrum, the problem of evil, which includes pain and suffering: How could a Loving God be all-knowing, all-powerful and tolerate the immense, often undeserved, suffering in the world?

      Different religious Traditions have different responses (not to be confused with answers) to this question. Most Jews accept God’s response in the book of Job: Just trust me on this one:

      “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner, rabbi of the conservative Jewish tradition

      Buddhism claims that, while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, since it is caused by a self-centered attachment to our own interests and comforts.

      Here is a sample of the spiritual teaching of Anthony de Mello, also known as Tony de Mello, who was a Jesuit priest born in Bombay, India in 1931. He became widely known for his ground-breaking and enduring work that integrates western and eastern spirituality:

      The important thing is not to know who “I” is or what “I” is. You’ll never succeed. There are no words for it. The important thing is to drop the labels. As the Japanese Zen masters say, “Don’t seek the truth; just drop your opinions.” Drop your theories; don’t seek the truth. Truth isn’t something you search for. If you stop being opinionated, you would know. Something similar happens here. If you drop your labels, you would know. What do I mean by labels? Every label you can conceive of except perhaps that of human being. I am a human being. Fair enough; doesn’t say very much. But when you say, “I am successful,” that’s crazy. Success is not part of the “I”. Success is something that comes and goes; it could be here today and gone tomorrow. That’s not “I”. When you said, “I was a success,” you were in error; you were plunged into darkness. You identified yourself with success. The same thing when you said, “I am a failure, a lawyer, a businessman.” You know what’s going to happen to you if you identify yourself with these things. You’re going to cling to them, you’re going to be worried that they may fall apart, and that’s where your suffering comes in. That is what I meant earlier when I said to you, “If you’re suffering, you’re asleep.” Do you want a sign that you’re asleep? Here it is: You’re suffering. Suffering is a sign that you’re out of touch with the truth. Suffering is given to you that you might open your eyes to the truth, that you might understand that there’s falsehood somewhere, just as physical pain is given to you so you will understand that there is disease or illness somewhere. Suffering points out that there is falsehood somewhere. Suffering occurs when you clash with reality. When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering. Otherwise there is no suffering. ~ Tony De Mello.

      The important thing is to recognize that pain and suffering are not synonymous. Pain is physical, suffering is psychological. Suffering is an anthropological problem that comes from human self-awareness, not “God.”

      Both religion and science would concur that pain is a universal phenomenon that seems to be intrinsic to sentient existence. Neither religion, nor science has a satisfactory explanation for why this is so. Some people, especially those who are more comfortable with the mysteries, the “unknowns” of life, can accept the message from Job, “Trust me.” Others have a greater “need to know” before they can trust “God” or anyone else, for that matter.

      I believe that most immature believers are looking for an enabling “God”, not an empowering “God”:

      Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow–for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.– Meister Eckhart

      The doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop of a not very bright or reliable kind. –Herbert J. Muller, educator, historian, and author (1905-1980)

      This is how St. Augustine came to terms with the problem of theodicy:

      For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? – Augustine, Enchiridion

      All reflective believers and would-be believers wrestle with the theodicy question. A conclusion that satisfies one person would not satisfy another. Sometimes no satisfactory conclusion can be found and the only honest belief system for that person is agnosticism or atheism, neither of which proffers an answer to the mystery of pain and suffering, by the way.

      Reply
      1. Bob Felton

        You’re granting the so-called “problem of evil” more dignity than it actually deserves; in truth, it never rises to the level of a bona fide, intellectually serious problem.

        Why would an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god permit evil?

        The antecedent, unspoken premise is that god is real, and this is exactly where the logical sleight-of-hand is found. If you can’t prove that god is real — and nobody can, which is why Holy Men peddle the idea that faith is a virtue — then what grounds can there be for claims about his attributes? Especially when the ‘problem’ is that the world doesn’t look as if we would expect it to look if god were omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent (meaning the evidence is *against* those attributes).

        The so-called ‘problem of evil’ is the exemplar for the unseriousness and silliness of the entire theological enterprise.

        Reply
        1. Carol Dworkowski

          Atheism may avoid a theological problem of evil, pain and suffering; but the existential problem remains. Struggling with it from either a theological or a philosophical perspective is hardly superficial or silly , as I see it.

          Many people simply repress any consideration of this universal human experience until they are confronted with it in their own lives. Better to have faced it mentally, so that when it comes at least one does not feel singled out in one’s pain and suffering. Suffering can actually have a bonding effect to which the presence of many support groups attest.

          Reply
          1. Bob Felton

            I don’t deny the reality of suffering, and of course I don’t disparage those who wrestle with it. But because theology is unable to substantiate its premises, I deny that theology is intellectually serious or can offer a meaningful answer to suffering; all it has on offer is wishful thinking.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Spot on. What does theology offer on the matter except arguments that ultimately appeal to faith; that appeal to the sovereignty, goodness, and mystery of God? Christians say their God is the creator, the sovereign over all, but when culpability for suffering, pain, and death is laid at his feet, let the inane, absurd explanations and arguments begin.

        2. Infidel753

          Exactly. An omnipotent and benevolent God could and would prevent undeserved suffering, or at least reduce it to a level far lower than what we see in the real world. Since we do see vast amounts of undeserved suffering, there can’t be an omnipotent and benevolent God. It isn’t complicated. All the verbal squid-ink and redefinition of terms in the world can’t give the problem complexity that it doesn’t have, nor eliminate the clear contradiction.

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            The problem of evil and suffering remains the achilles heel of the Abrahamic religions. I have let to read a cogent argument from Christians that does not resort to sleight of hand, presuppositionalism, or some sort of appeal to “mystery.”

            Often, Christian apologists say humans suffer because of the Fall; that sin is the root cause for why we suffer. Whether it’s a severely deformed newborn who suffers before she dies or an old woman in agony as she dies from cancer, the cause for both is the same — sin. Of course, the only way this works is to believe in original sin; that all humans come into this world sinners (a repugnant belief in and of itself).

            What about non-human animal suffering? What, exactly, was their “sin?” *crickets*. Violence, pain, suffering, and death is found wherever we look. There’s no need to appeal to God to explain these things. If anything, theology complicates matters.

  15. Bob Felton

    A few more thoughts:

    1) Epicurus succinctly dismissed the so-called “problem of evil” ~ 300 BC, and it really ought to be the final word on the subject: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    2) The stoics taught “amor fati” — love of fate, or love your fate. The idea is that wherever we are in life, it is the result of the good and evil which preceded arriving where we are, so turn misfortune to a benefit somehow and keep on truckin’ toward a happier place. It isn’t much, but it’s a lot better than wondering what one did to piss-off an invisible, supernatural wizard.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I found Bart Ehrman’s book on the subject to be quite helpful.

      God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

      Reply
    2. Carol Dworkowski

      The reality is that we tend to “see” or believe what we expect to see.

      If one believes that only that which can be verified by empirical testing is “real” then an experience of the numinous will have no suasive credibility, it will be explained away as an hallucination, but for those of us who have experienced such an inexplicable reality that transcends our “normal” space/time continuum experience, no further proof is necessary, although there has been sufficient statistical evidence to support the claim that there is “something” more to life than mere physical existence.

      The reality is that neither the existence, nor the non-existence of “God” can be proven and agnosticism is the only intellectually honest position to take if empirical evidence and reason are the only criteria we will accept for “proof.”

      A king asked a sage to explain the Truth. In response the sage asked the king how he would convey the taste of a mango to someone who had never eaten anything sweet. No matter how hard the king tried, he could not adequately describe the flavor of the fruit, and, in frustration, he demanded of the sage “Tell me then, how would you describe it?” The sage picked up a mango and handed it to the king saying “This is very sweet. Try eating it!” –Hindu Teaching

      Numinous experiences are intuitively sensed rather than rationally discerned, they are meta-rational, not irrational.
      The word numinous refers to “that which is unknown, or unknowable.” It speaks to everything within the realm of our experience which cannot be quantified, explained, or contained. Our intuition, and our sweeping feeling states. Our connection to the cosmos, and the Universe within. My introduction to religion opened up a whole new world to me. Wave a bible under my nose and I would follow you anywhere. As I became less naive, I began to see the dark side of human spirituality, but I never lost the sense of wonder and awe that came with the discovery of this world that transcends the limitations of time and space. I don’t like the term “supernatural”, because it is as natural as the material world. Many of those who have given up on organized religion, the “spiritual, not religious” refer to their new perspective as a “re-enchantment” of life, but there is no words to adequately communicate the reality of the experience beyond the experience itself:

      These experiences have been investigated employing the methods of statistical evidence used to authenticate the findings of all the “soft” social sciences.

      The controversy over whether “God” exists or not will probably never be resolved, but there can be no doubt that human religious/spiritual experience exists. The statistical evidence of that is incontrovertable.

      William James book The Varieties of Religious Experience is a classic study on natural religious experiences:

      https://blog.12min.com/the-varieties-of-religious-experience-pdf-summary/

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        You unnecessarily complicate understanding religion. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography, and tribalism give us a full and complete explanation for the existence of religion. There’s no need to appeal to mysticism, supernaturalism, etc.

        Reply
        1. Carol Dworkowski

          In my experience, while all of the disciplines certainly do give a fuller explanation for the phenomenon of religion, they do NOT give a “full and complete explanation for the existence of religion.”

          In fact, my experience of the Christian religion does not give me a “full and complete” knowledge of Christianity, my experience of Buddhism has not given me a “full and complete” knowledge of Buddhism and my mere “dabbling” in Hinduism, while it has given me a greater knowledge of Hinduism than most other Westerners, has not turned me into a Gandhi, who also lacks a “full and complete” knowledge of Hinduism.

          None of us has a “full and complete” knowledge of anything, on either the intellectual or the experiential level. That is why an openness to human diversity is critical to a deeper understanding of our uniquely human existence.

          Everyone’s experience is equally valid. How we interpret and the meaning we give to our experiences may or may not be equally valid.

          I do not make religion unnecessarily complicated, religion and existence itself, for that matter, IS complicated.

          I believe that there are Absolutes, but I also believe that all experience and understanding of them is relative. Absolutizing our own personal experience or understanding is the primary cause of divisions among us. There are three primary reasons why people of faith are exiting the institutional churches in droves:

          1. Dogmatic Absolutism
          2. Self-righteous judgmentalism
          3. Sectarian triumphalism.

          What we all have in common is our humanity. That is why humanism, either religious or secular, is our only hope for the reconciliation and peace that may collectively save us from ourselves.

          When religious humanists put their religion before their humanism and agnostic and atheistic humanists put their agnosticism and atheism before their humanism they lose their power to heal and continue to inflict wounds of alienation and enmity. Closed minds cause closed hearts.

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            As I mentioned, the various scientific disciplines give us enough knowledge and evidence to come to reasoned conclusions about religion — Christianity, Buddhism, all religion. Your assumption that religion is complicated is not supported by the extant evidence at hand.

            I am somewhat at a loss to understand what you hope to accomplish with your comments. If your goal is to show that your brand is different or superior to Fundamentalist Christianity, you have failed. In the end, regardless of the flavor of Christianity, I find their claims unconvincing, as do my fellow atheists.

            This latest comment of yours has similarities with countless Evangelical apologists who stop by to wow us with their knowledge and to let us know that they know the real reasons people deconvert from Christianity. Well, take it from someone who knows a good bit about people who were once Christians and are now atheists, your “three primary reasons” are wide of the mark. For me personally, the reason I am an atheist is because I reject the central claims of Christianity; claims that are irrational and don’t make sense to me. So much for your “three primary reasons.”

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            You said:

            There are three primary reasons why people of faith are exiting the institutional churches in droves:

            1. Dogmatic Absolutism

            2. Self-righteous judgmentalism

            3. Sectarian triumphalism.

            You might want to actually talk to atheists/agnostics who were once Christians. I think you will find that the three reasons you give for “people of faith are exiting the institutional churches in droves” had little to do with their deconversions. Now, if you are talking about people who left their churches, but remain Christians, that’s another discussion altogether. But, even here, many Christians-turned-atheists/agnostics left the church a long time before they left Christianity. Generally, deconversion is a long, painful, gut-wrenching process.

        2. GeoffT

          Bruce, I’m replying to your more comment, but which has no reply button.

          I agree entirely with what you say, religion is extremely uncomplicated, and is only given the impression of complexity by apologists who think it furthers their cause. Or to quote Tim Minchin, roughly anyhow “religion is the search for meaning…where there is none”.

          Reply
  16. Bob Felton

    The problem with trusting private psychological experiences was put neatly by Friedrich Nietzsche: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

    The only consistently reliable way to determine the facts of reality is by the methods of science.

    Reply
  17. Carol Dworkowski

    Religion without science is reductionistic and science without religion is reductionistic.

    Theology should not be separated from spirituality and spirituality should not be separated from theology

    Psychology should not be separated from spirituality and spirituality should not be separated from psychology.

    Fortunately, these things are being reintegrated and we should begin to to experience a more stable and balanced existence, both as individual persons and in community with others. Some people refer to this as “a quantum leap forward in human consciousness, others call it a paradigm shift or simply The Shift.

    It is not just WHAT we believe, but HOW we believe that needs to change.

    “You’ve probably heard the famous quote from Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” For many of us who care about changing the world, those words make a lot of sense.
    You may also have discovered, however, that finding and living from “another level of thinking” isn’t as simple as it sounds. Trying to figure out how to move forward in the midst of the pressures of our conflicted, globalizing world can make your head spin.
    But what if there was a perspective that could allow us to discern a clear direction beyond all of the complexity? What if there was a new way of seeing the world—a new worldview—that could change the way we think about changing the world?
    The truth is that Einstein was right. We are stuck in ways of understanding our society and ourselves that limit our potential and constrain our capacity to create change. Our “worldview” is outdated. Worldviews are the invisible windows through which we comprehend reality. We need a radical new view on life, a way of thinking that will provide us with fresh perspectives on old problems. We need to liberate our hearts and minds to become more effective agents of change in a troubled world.” ~Morgan Dix for EnlightenNext

    Reply
  18. GeoffT

    “…although there has been sufficient statistical evidence to support the claim that there is “something” more to life than mere physical existence.”

    I’m sorry Carol, but I cannot agree with this statement. You’ve experienced something strange, perhaps spiritual, perhaps sheer delusion. I don’t deny its reality, but nor do I attempt to explain its cause, other than to say there’s no way of knowing whether or not its simply a neurological effect. I’ve had it. Most people have probably had something like it. That many people report the same phenomenon does not equate to ‘statistical evidence’. Indeed, I’d suggest that any such testing there has been strongly supports a neurological basis.

    “The reality is that neither the existence, nor the non-existence of “God” can be proven and agnosticism is the only intellectually honest position to take if empirical evidence and reason are the only criteria we will accept for “proof.”

    Again, I disagree. For one thing agnosticism and atheism are very hard to distinguish (yes, I can get into epistemological and ontological debate if you really want!) in any reasonable discussion of the subject. However, laying that aside for the moment, what is the basic requirement of atheism? It is simply that I deny your proposition, hypothesis if you like, that there is a ‘god’. I say no, provide the evidence, just as I’d ask if you propose that the earth is flat, or that the moon landings were faked. So atheism very much and properly exists independent of agnosticism (though of course by mentioning lack of evidence I automatically bring agnosticism to the table, and hence the confusion). Of course, one can go further in atheism and take a less passive position, asserting that ‘no god exists’. I’m in this camp. If asked to provide the evidence, which of course a positive proposition requires, then I’d say that every single element of the world and of the universe as we know it can be explained naturally, or else has not yet been explained, and that the sheer lack of evidence of supernatural intervention suggests that there is no such thing.

    Reply
  19. ObstacleChick

    I cannot fathom any reason why religion and science should be entertained unless we are using the scientific method to learn more about the existence of religions, the development of religions, the sociological, psychological, and anthropological underpinnings of religions. Existential questions hold no interest for me – the extent of “why I am here” is that through evolution, my species exists, and specifically my parents copulated and I was conceived, born, and am living. Some things about my existence are beyond my control. The things within my control I attempt to handle in a way that doesn’t harm others and hopefully contributes positively. Apparently I am one of the odd folks who doesn’t have a need to know why I am here or what is my purpose – I make my purpose, and I try to enjoy life as much as I can. Spirituality is meaningless to me, something I don’t understand. What goes on in my brain is a result of neurons, chemicals, electrical impulses that can be altered by other chemicals either released from other parts of the body or from outside sources. But then again, Star Trek’s Mr Spock and his fellow Vulcans who value rational thought and who control their emotions are my favorite fictional characters. Appeals to spirituality, emotion, existentialism, etc, hold little value to me beyond acknowledgement of another person’s synaptic activity.

    Reply
    1. Carol Dworkowski

      If you identify with Star Trek’s Spock then you might feel culturally at home in an Episcopal Church. Episcopalians often refer to themselves as the “frozen chosen.” I love the important place Reason plays in Anglican/Episcopal theology. I also love the beauty of the Anglican liturgy. I was an Episcopalian for several years.

      I really miss the passion of the Irish/Italian Catholic parish in MD that offered both a “reasonable” system of beliefs and beautiful celebratory liturgies. The Catholic parish here in NC presents none of these things to me, although others may find them there though.

      I am, by temperament, a high church sacramentalist with a strong eucharistic devotion. I am now hanging out at a low church with an emphasis on practice (orthopraxis) rather than on theological belief (orthodoxy) as what binds us together.

      Do I miss the high church deep reflection on the Trinitarian and Christological Mysteries and the beautiful liturgies? Sure. My husband says that I don’t “sparkle” when I receive communion now, like I did at St. Peter’s. But participating in a faith community that believes that “we don’t have to think alike to love alike” is more important to me. Life is a trade-off. Those who will settle for perfection or nothing will always get the nothing. I believe that “something” is better than “nothing.” Why should I expect others to devote themselves to meeting my needs and desires, often at the expense of their own, anyway?

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Carol,

        I’m responding here to the email you sent me.

        No one is saying that they have absolute knowledge about religion, or anything else for that matter. Some of us ARE saying that we have sufficient knowledge and understanding of religion to come to an objective, reasoned, educated opinion about the matter.

        Most atheists I know, including Richard Dawkins, are agnostic on the God question. We recognize that anything is possible, including, in the future, a deity of some sorts revealing itself to us. At the same time, we have weighed the extant human created gods in the balance and found them wanting. We see no evidence for their existence, thus we are atheists.

        It’s not that we don’t understand your arguments. We do, but we reject them as being unnecessarily complex and irrational. Your comments take on the air of someone who thinks atheists are ignorant of liberal Christianity, and you are here to teach them. Trust me when I say we are NOT ignorant. I’ve been blogging for a decade. Many liberal Christians have tried to convince me to see things their way — without success. I’m not closed minded, but after hearing the same nonsense over and over and over again, I find myself being short on patience. There is only one person who has ever been permanently banned from this site — Becky R. Her views and yours are quite similar. I find arguments for liberal Christianity to be akin to nailing jello to the wall. Intellectually frustrating, to say the least. That said, I have a number of readers who are liberal Christians. Together, we fight a common enemy: fundamentalism

        You reference fundamentalist atheists. While fundamentalist atheists exist, no one who has interacted with you is one. If you think so, you have fundamentally misunderstood their arguments. All anyone has done is reject your arguments for religion or suggested that you are complicating things with your appeals to mysticism or some sort of Gnosticism. We understand you just fine, having heard your arguments countless times before.

        Reply
        1. Zoe

          Thank you Bruce.

          Reply
  20. ObstacleChick

    Carol D, I have been happily out of church for nearly a dozen years and have no desire to go back. Even the more progressive Christian churches that didn’t talk about sin and hell still revolve around the concept of deities, and when I realized I was an agnostic atheist, I couldn’t find a reason to attend meetings each week that had the concept of deities at its core. Christianity itself revolves around human blood sacrifice, the appeasement of an angry God that needed someone to die to prevent said deity from condemning the entirety of humanity, which it supposedly created in its image. Some sects of Christianity try to dress up human blood sacrifice to a deity to sound less harsh, but that’s still the core of Christianity. And I don’t want to be a part of continuing ancient fear rituals in an age where we are starting to be able to explain the universe and human behavior in scientific rather than in superstitious terms. Nor am I interested in other religions – nontheistic Buddhism could be acceptable, but the concepts of humanism cover pretty much everything I feel like I need.

    Humans use stories to convey messages, meanings, hence the plethora of mythological tales of old and plays, movies, books, songs and TV shows in modern times. Religion is part of that storytelling genre with the added bonus of providing rituals marking major life events and rituals to offer cohesion to and identification of tribe members.

    Those who believe in deities will find a like-minded community in which to thrive. Those who do not believe in deities because they have examined the issue and have concluded that deities are unlikely to exist aren’t going to be convinced to join a deity-revering organization unless they are desperate for a community and are willing to ignore the discussion of deities in which they don’t believe.

    Some of Bruce’s readers are in faith communities and enjoy interacting with Bruce and his readers who no longer believe in deities. Many of Bruce’s readers are former fundamentalists who have been harmed by fundamentalist religious practices and ideas. Many of us have spent years studying hard sciences, sociology, psychology, archaeology, anthropology, history, and more specifically the works of Bible scholars who study the texts themselves and the history of the times in which the works were written in order to better understand these works that have been influential both for good and for harm. For myself at this time, no amount of persuasion is going to get me back into a religion. My “religion” right now is fitness, and I head out soon to an obstacle race where I can exalt in nature by running on a trail in the woods, get muddy, and challenge my body to carry heavy things and climb over walls. That’s my community and my religion right now.

    Reply
  21. Brunetto Latini

    The Episcopal Church? Lots of gays and atheists waste their Sundays there, I hear. I visited for a while during my attempt at becoming a liberal Christian, 15 years ago. The kneeling on benches is bad for my knees, and the common communion cup is utterly gross.

    Reply
  22. Brunetto Latini

    Non-theistic Buddhism still is based upon a supernatural world-view which includes karma, rebirth, and enlightenment. I found it to be even less sensible than evangelical Christianity, though the psychological benefits of meditation are real. I still meditate on occasion, when I’m stressed out about something. Probably that would be less often if I were disciplined about it.

    Reply
    1. Brunetto Latini

      Oh, and BTW, if you think parts of the Bible are hard to read, just try getting through the repetitions of Buddhist scripture. I couldn’t.
      And it dwarfs the Bible for size.

      Reply
  23. Goyo

    If one believes that only that which can be verified by empirical testing is “real” then an experience of the numinous will have no suasive credibility, it will be explained away as an hallucination, but for those of us who have experienced such an inexplicable reality that transcends our “normal” space/time continuum experience, no further proof is necessary, although there has been sufficient statistical evidence to support the claim that there is “something” more to life than mere physical existence.

    So you’re saying there’s another level of existence that we can’t examine, or can’t see, yet you’re sure it’s there.

    Sorry, I don’t agree…what is the method you’re using to interact with this “reality”?
    How can I interact with it?
    Will our experiences be the same?

    Reply

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