Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.
There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er. Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.
As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly can not only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes. Just last night, I sent her a link to a recipe for King Cake — New Orleans-style. I was watching a recording of NCIS-New Orleans and there was a picture and mention of King Cake. I thought, man that looks good! and when something looks good I forward it the proper department, knowing that it will likely soon make an appearance on my plate.
I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and seven billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat? I think not.
Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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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One of the questions most asked by children has to do with the existence of God. Children quickly learn that things require a maker/creator. When they sit at the dining table for dinner, they see food on a plate, ready for them to eat. Children know that mommy, daddy, or KFC cooked dinner. The food did not magically appear on a plate. Someone had to prepare and cook the food. The same goes for the dining room table, dinnerware, and eating utensils. Someone, somewhere, designed, manufactured, shipped, and sold these goods. And the same is true for the food itself. A farmer planted crops and/or raised animals to provide the food. From start to finish, we see human choices and actions. This process reminds me of Jimmy Stewart’s memorable (and hilarious) prayer in the movie Shenandoah:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
Most parents teach their children the basic rules of life, one of which is that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Food doesn’t magically appear in the cupboards. Having food requires labor, either in a garden or working a job that provides money to purchase it. This is the way it has always worked. Sitting around praying for God to provide only leaves petitioners with growling, empty stomachs. King David, of Biblical fame, wrote one of the biggest whoppers ever told when he stated:
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)
Millions and millions of Christians will go to bed tonight hungry. They are the righteous spoken of by David. No matter how much these followers of Jesus pray, seeking God’s providential intervention, their plates will remain empty. God is not going to show up with a grocery truck. Having food requires human work, along with political environments where sustenance farming is valued and supported. In many of the countries facing famine, religion plays a prominent part in the lack of food. Catholicism, in particular, with its anti-birth-control, anti-abortion policies, encourages women to have large families. We see the same insane lack of family planning in Islāmic countries. When there are already too many mouths to feed, does it make any sense to have MORE children, thus exacerbating the lack of food security? Of course not. But, instead of handing out birth control and making abortion services readily available, religious leaders tell their followers to continue fucking for the glory of God, trusting that he will provide for their daily needs. How’s that working out?
Children should be taught when they are young that the only way things get done is if they do it. Parents don’t help their children grow into responsible adults if they continue to do for them what they can do for themselves. Polly and I had many faults when it came to raising our six children, but not when it came to teaching them the value and importance of work. At an early age, our children learned that there was a connection between work and results. Want a weed-free garden? Someone has to weed it. Want a clean bedroom? Someone has to clean it. Parents wrong their children, crippling them as adults, when they do things children can do for themselves. As is typical, when our children reached their teen years, they wanted stuff — cars, clothing, shoes, CD’s, and money to spend on entertainment. Polly and I didn’t give them money, not even an allowance. If they wanted the trappings of our capitalistic society, there was one way to get it — work! And so they did. Learning this has served them well as adults – as a result, our children have often been applauded and rewarded for their work ethic (and been known as no-nonsense workers who give an honest day’s work for their pay).
My point is this: everywhere we look we see human endeavor at the heart of this experience called life. What we have comes not from a dime store deity somewhere who doles out his goodness and blessings according to some sort of mysterious lottery. While we humans fail in many of our endeavors, we know that the only option we have is to try again or try something different. The burden of security, prosperity, and success rests on us, not on a mythical God.
It is for these reasons that it is frustrating to hear parents, when asked by their children, where did God come from? respond with theological mumbo jumbo about God always existing, and that no one created him. History tells us that God — all gods — are of human origin. Take the Christian God. Has this God always existed? Of course not. Humans, attempting to explain the world around them and their place in it, invented Gods to provide a larger-than-life explanation to what, at the time, seemed unanswerable questions. For centuries now, humans have been appealing to the gods as locus of their origin. These appeals were put in written forms such as the Christian Bible. When read with unbiased, uninitiated eyes, the Bible provides a fascinating look at the evolution of God, (The Evolution of God by Robert Wright) from the polytheism of the Old Testament to the monotheism of later Old Testament books and the New Testament (though one could argue that Christianity is still polytheistic based on its trinitarian theology).
When little Johnny asked his mommy or dad, where did God come from? he should be told the truth. Johnny, ancient humans created God (s) as a way to explain their world. Our deity, the Christian God, was brought to life six or so thousand years ago by polytheistic Middle Easterners. Our God has been remade numerous times. Today, our God is very different from the God of Adam and Eve. The same could be said for Abraham’s God and the deity of first century Jews. Humans, as time marches along, tend to shape God in their own image, adapting her to current cultural and tribal norms. While Christians speak of God having supernatural and divine qualities, it is clear to every honest observer that “God” is a human creation, with each worshiper shaping God into a human form that best represents their wants, needs, and desires.
But Bruce, Evangelicals might say, how do you explain the existence of the raw materials used to make things? They had to come from somewhere, right? Using a variation of the God of the Gaps argument, Christians think anything that can’t be answered or known is God. Since no one can answer the “how did it all begin” question, Evangelicals wrongly assert that it is their God who birthed everything into existence. This, of course, is a faith claim for which there is no evidence outside of the Bible. This still leaves Christians with the question, where did God come from? Well, God exists outside of the space/time continuum. And your evidence for this claim is what? Uh, well, um, (hanging head), the Bible says ____________. And now we are right back to a book that was written by men, not God. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the creation of humans.
Perhaps science will one day answer all the questions about our beginning. Maybe not. For me personally it doesn’t matter. While I might wonder about what happened before the big bang, I know post-bang that science gives us a plausible explanation for our universe and our minuscule, insignificant place in it. This is a good place to remind readers of Carl Sagan’s words about our planet:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Our planet, with its seven billion inhabitants, is but a pencil-point of light in the vast expanse of space. We who call this planet home are its caretakers. Our future success, prosperity, and life rests in our hands. God, whomever it might be, if anything at all, is not coming to rescue, bless, or take care of us. All we have is each other, and as Jimmy Stewart made clear, it’s up to us to provide for ourselves and those we love. Children deserve to be told the truth about these things. Telling them that there is some sort of Santa Claus-like God only teaches them a deluded view of the world and their place in it. Perhaps there is some sort of deistic God who set the things into motion. I don’t know, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. It is clear, at the very least, that such a deity is not the least bit interested in that which she has created, and that this God has left it up to us to plot the future of earth and the human race. This is the primary reason I am a humanist. (If you have not read the Humanist Manifesto, I encourage you to do so.) The Humanist Manifesto states:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Simply put, it’s up to us. Whether it’s avoiding nuclear war or combating the effects of global climate change, it is up to humans, not gods, to change the course of history. Whether we will we do so remains to be seen. As long as humans think God is in charge of everything and that she alone can deliver and save us, there is little hope that we will survive to the days when our sun dies and our species ceases to exist. As things stand now, I wonder if we will even make it to the twenty-second century. Religious tribalism, political extremism, amoral (and immoral) capitalism, poverty and a host of other problems work against our future survival. Our only hope lies in all of us working together for the betterment the human race and the planet we call home.
Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE
Your God is not here….five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.
Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems, oh so often, that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament Cook-off. Verses 20-24 states:
So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.
The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up the sacrifice, he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.
I want to focus on one specific element of this story; Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
The Living Bible puts it this way:
“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seems that he is nowhere to be found? This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the giver of life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.
Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — ” talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations makes one thing clear — there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings” will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.
Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war, and made sure all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!
Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:
I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”
Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech:
Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, where is God?
I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic illness and disease. My health problems started 15 years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body, take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.
The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:
There is no God that coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in heaven to motivate us to help others.
A boy dreams of being a major league baseball player some day. His parents were both athletes in their younger years, having some success at the high school and college level,
As a youth, he grew quickly, seemingly always a head taller than everyone else. He seemed more agile than others his age. He was fast on his feet, quick with his mind, and excelled at the game of baseball.
Tee-Ball. Little League. Pony League. High School Baseball. College Baseball.
At every level, he excelled.
Finally, his big day came.
A Major League baseball team makes him their number one draft pick.
It’s not long before he works his way through the minor leagues, and two years after being drafted he makes his Major League début.
He is an instant sensation, quickly showing everyone that he is an all-star in the making.
One night, during a game where he went 4-4, hit a home run, drove in 3 runs, and stole a base, the TV broadcaster explains the greatness of this talented baseball player.
He has a God-given talent to play like he does.
Nary a person will question such an utterance.
It seems if people excel in life it is because God has blessed them or God has given them a special dose of talent.
Few are the people who excel in life. Most of us have a few things we are good at and we try to nurture those things the best we can. We know we will not be remembered for any great feat, nor will the record book make any mention of us. We live, we love, we die, and then we are forgotten.
It would seem that God doesn’t want most of us to be stand outs or superstars. Evidently God only has a chosen few he blesses with God-given talent.
How does the nontheist explain the baseball player mentioned above? If it is not God-given talent what is it?
All of these are a better explanation than God-given talent.
We demean people when we reduce their hard work to something God gives them. The few things I am good at in life are the result of my diligence, commitment, and hard work. Granted, these things come easy for me, BUT I still work hard to cultivate and improve the talents I have. I suspect it is the same for you too.
I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due.
The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series. They handily win the series and the little boy, now a grown-up all-star player is voted the series most valuable player.
As he is interviewed after the last game of the series, he says “I want to thank God____________________.”
And I say to myself or the TV, No I want to thank YOU. Thank you for playing hard. Thank you for hustling on every play. Thank you for working hard every day to be the very best player you could be.
This subject reminds me of my all time favorite TV prayer. Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, uttered the following prayer at the dinner table:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
And all the atheists said AMEN.
Many Christians have been taught that without God/Jesus they can do nothing. Their very breath and motor skills come from God. God feeds them, clothes them, gives them a job, gives them a spouse, gives them children, and gives them, well gives them everything. Jesus said in John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing. Many Christian take this verse to mean that without Jesus they can do absolutely NOTHING. Technically, they don’t really believe this. After all, they do sin. Does God gives them the power and ability to sin? Well, that’s different, Bruce. Sin comes from Satan or the flesh. God, who created everything and gives us the breath of life and the ability to exist, gets the credit for the good but not the bad, right? Good=God, Bad=Satan and the Flesh. But, if God is sovereign, if he is the creator of everything, isn’t he also responsible for sin and the bad things that happen? I thought God has the whole world in his hands and the universe exists because of him?
I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone can show me God did this or that or God gave so and so talent, then I will gladly give God the credit. One question. Which God? How do we know it is the Christian God handing out the talent? Does the Christian God put a Made by Jesus label on those he gives talent to? So many questions…