Tag Archive: Suffering

Pastor Brian Tome: God Knows What You Are Going Through, He Lost His Son

brian tome

I was listening to the Bill Cunningham show on WLW-700 on my way home from my doctor’s appointment today. Cunningham had as his guest Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cunningham and Tome were discussing the untimely deaths of children, young adults, and family members. Tome, evidently, was brought on the show to give advice on handling such deaths. What he did, instead, was spend the time throwing up cheap, worn-out Evangelical clichés. On one hand, Tome went out of his way to say, hey, I am just a regular guy who is looking for answers to questions concerning life and death. On the other hand, he was the typical preacher, ever ready to give an answer when he should have, instead, kept his damn mouth shut.

According to Christianity Today, Crossroads is the fastest growing church in the United States with fourteen restaurants –uh, I mean locations – and thirty-eight thousand attendees. Crossroads is using the franchise model to build its brand:

Like about a third of US megachurches, Crossroads relies on technology and resources to support church growth beyond physical buildings. Leaders see Crossroads Anywhere—groups that gather in homes to view the weekend service together—as a crucial part of the church’s future.

At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running.

The Crossroads Anywhere app also acts as a data-driven feasibility study for possible new campuses. If more than 100 people are convening in a certain location, Crossroads evaluates if it should begin providing on-location resources in that region.

In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.

To expand beyond the Midwest, Crossroads will rely upon technology to liberate where brick and mortar have limited. Consistent with a business startup mentality, Tome stated, “No matter how big one building is, it is still too small for the growth that God wants for his church.”

Jenn Sperry, whose team oversees media at Crossroads, said the staff had always sensed that the church was growing beyond regional borders. But starting last summer, Crossroads team members were asked to use new language when speaking of the church to communicate a more unlimited scope. Sperry’s department, for instance, has been recast as a “national team.”

Early on in the job, Sperry watched the speed of change going on, caught her breath, and asked her supervisor, “Is it always going to be this way?” At a church like Crossroads, the answer is almost always yes. The fast-paced environment shattered her expectations that working at a church could be boring.

“It’s invigorating and also frustrating to be in an environment of change all the time,” Tome acknowledged.

The rate of growth and change can also create trepidation and questions for church members. One longtime member who worships and serves at the original Crossroads campus in Oakley, a neighborhood of young professionals near the city center, heard whispers of concern after the national announcement was made.

“People hear this declaration of Crossroads becoming a national church, and they wonder, ‘What does that mean for us? Do we lose our identity?’ ” said Marie, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She had her own questions, too. “If God has placed this on the hearts of our leaders, then we must trust what God is doing.”

….

Where is all of this growth coming from? Are thousands of sinners finding salvation through the evangelistic efforts of the church? Of course not. Most new church growth comes from pilfering congregants from other churches. In Cincinnati, there are countless hamburger joints, each offering up its distinctive burgers. What happens when a new hamburger joint comes to town? People flock to the new place looking for something new and different. That’s what we do as Americans. We want diversity and choice. Religious hucksters such as Tome tap into that “need” with their new, exciting churches. Tired of their own places of worship, people seek out new adventures and experiences. Off to Crossroads they go, leaving McDonald’s and Wendy’s to die.

A glimpse of  Crossroads’ website reveals a sneaky Evangelical church that goes out of its way to position itself as not-one-of-those-churches. Crossroads advertises itself as a church for people who don’t like church; a church that doesn’t care what you believe; a church that is cool, relevant, and oh-so-hip; a church that has an awesome band. However, their beliefs are typical of Fundamentalist churches (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), despite how the church hides them at the bottom of a colander filled with word-salad.

Here are two things that sum up, for me anyway, the essence of Crossroads’ beliefs and ministry methodology. These statements are found on a page titled, Seven Hills We Die On:

  • Crossroads is a place for people on every part of the spiritual journey, from those just investigating whether there is a God to those who have made following Christ the priority of their life. The Bible presents a dangerous message of life change. We don’t assume everyone believes, or even knows the Bible, but we do assume everyone who comes through our doors is open to exploring it. We believe the Bible is God’s inerrant truth and it’s the foundation to everything we do.
  • We don’t expect anyone who walks into Crossroads to be a committed Christ-follower, but we do expect everyone who is around our community for any length of time to be growing. We expect every person to be moving closer to reflecting the complete image of Christ in every area of life. This is a safe place for everyone. But safe doesn’t mean comfortable. The answers aren’t always comfortable. In fact, we often grow only when we are pushed out of our comfort zone.

All that talk about believing whatever ever you want? Well, that’s fine when you walk in the front door for the first time, but if you stick around, Tome and the two hundred Crossroads paid staff members expect you to grow into their version of what it means to be a Christian. On the FAQ page, Crossroads answers the question, is this place a cult? Here’s their response:

Great question. After all, it’s full of people singing songs and drinking the same beloved liquid (in this case, great coffee). Plus, numerous guitars and people dressed comfortably. But seriously. No. Cults tell you what to believe, take away your freedoms and forbid you to leave. Here, you’re welcome no matter what you believe, and we want you to experience freedom (including the freedom to leave whenever you want). If that still isn’t enough for you, then the answer is “Fine, we’re a cult.” But we’re rubber and you’re glue.

god knowsThe church would have you believe that its pastors and teachers don’t tell people what to believe. R-i-g-h-t. Of course they do. That’s why Tome preaches on Sundays. Here’s truth! Believe, lest you perish in your sins and go to hell. Why not admit this? Crossroads’ statement of faith claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. This is an objective — albeit false – “truth” claim. Could Joe Blow become involved in the teaching ministry at Crossroads and teach people that the Bible is just another book, and is not, as the church’s statement of faith states, a timeless book different from and superior to all the books ever written? Of course not. Tome and his church have all sort of objective, non-negotiable beliefs. Why not lay all the cards on the table for visitors?  Why not tell them what the church really believes and what will be expected of them? Surely, Tome has nothing to hide, right?

Preachers like Tome are professional bullshitters. They cover their bullshit with a patina of religious words, but underneath it all you will find generic Evangelical beliefs. Such men hide their true beliefs because they are offensive, and if their churches are going to continue to grow numerically and generate larger offerings, new people must not get a whiff of their bullshit until they have been thoroughly courted, fucked, and married.

I am not the only one who sees through Tome’s loving and accepting shtick. At one time, Crossroads was known for being welcoming to gays and lesbians. Remember, the church likely IS welcoming when people come through the front door. But, once embraced by the church and immersed in its teachings, attendees are expected to embrace the church’s beliefs and practices. In 2004, a gay man who was also a volunteer youth leader became engaged to another man. Once it became known that this man was engaged, according to City Beat, he was forced to resign. Here’s an excerpt from the City Beat article:

Leaders at Crossroads found out about Jones’ sexual orientation after a member of his Bible study group told others what Jones thought had been communicated in confidence. When leaders ousted him, Jones asked for a written explanation. They talked to him over the phone but refused his request for something in writing.

“I almost feel it’s because they’re afraid to have a written policy stating anything that would stop someone from coming in and giving them money,” Jones says.

As the church’s pastor, Tome says he can’t talk about the particulars of any dealings with individuals in his church. But he said Crossroads communicates openly and directly about the issue of homosexuality.

In a Sunday message last year, Tome addressed homosexuality in response to the many questions he’d received about the issue.

“You cannot say the Bible supports homosexuality,” he said. “It does not.”

Still, almost a year later, many homosexuals continue to attend the church.

“We would believe that homosexual sex is just as wrong as two people not married having sex,” Tome says.

He admits that he has looked at Internet pornography, which he considers just as wrong as homosexuality.

“(Homosexuals) should not be singled out as committing the capital ‘S’ sin here at the church,” he says.

There is a reason the church doesn’t want a written policy on homosexuality, according to Tome.

“The church in America, and might I also say Cincinnati, is pretty much irrelevant, and it’s because we make things like sexuality our rallying issue,” he says. “The church is not supposed to be God’s political weather vane.”

Gays ‘very confused’
The Bible speaks to particular sins in a manner that doesn’t require additional written doctrine, Tome says. He interprets passages such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 to clearly indicate that homosexuality, even within the confines of marriage, displeases God.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,” the passage says.

Jones, however, differs in his interpretation. He says the reference is to homosexuality associated with male prostitution, not to homosexuality within marriage.

Jones suspects that Crossroads isn’t just interested in what the Bible says. He thinks discrimination and stereotypes play a role.

When Crossroads let him go, he asked, “Is it because you want to protect the children from me?”

Jones says the response was, ” ‘We’re sorry you interpret it that way … We need to put the child first and err on the side of the child.’ I asked them, ‘What are you protecting them from?’ ”

Jones is a doctoral candidate in child and adolescent psychology at Xavier University.

But Tome says Crossroads doesn’t advocate the false stereotype of homosexuals as pedophiles.

“We would not say that homosexuals are pedophiles,” he says. “We would not say that and we would not say homosexuals cannot be around kids in any way shape or form. That has not been the way we practice.”

Tome says an abstinent homosexual Christian who slips up sometimes but is trying to abstain is welcome to teach at the church, but that someone who believes homosexuality is not a sin would be asked to serve in some other role.

….

Sadly, way too many LGBTQ people get sucked into Evangelical churches through believing a particular church’s marketing slogans. And believe me, Tome sees himself as an entrepreneur, a seller of the greatest story ever told. LGBTQ people hear Tome and his church say, you are WELCOME here. Come as you are. Believe what you want. We won’t judge you. And these things might be true — for a time – but the longer LGBTQ people are in the church the more likely it is that they will face pressure to conform. And if they refuse? Why, they are free to leave. No harm, no foul, except to the LBGTQ people who thought that Tome and Crossroads really loved and accepted them as they are. Sorry folks, no matter how an Evangelical church markets itself, the Bible will have the final say.

Tome made several absurd statements during his time on Bill Cunningham’s show. First, Tome said, “We have to have an answer for pain and suffering.” Both my wife and I said, “why?” Why do we have to have an answer for pain and suffering? Is it not sufficient to say, shit happens? Tome is looking for answers where there are none. Tome and Cunningham, a vulgar, right-wing Catholic and political extremist, want to “see” God in the midst of pain and suffering. However, as many ex-Christians have found out, God is nowhere to be found.

Second, Tome said, “God knows what you are going through, he lost his son.” Polly and I both were shocked that the good pastor let this nonsense slip from his lips. How could God, the father, know what we are going through? He has never been human. He’s never experienced pain and suffering. According to orthodox Christianity, pain and suffering are the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin. God’s never sinned, Evangelicals say — though the Bible reveals a deity who has little regard for his own moral commands — so how is it possible for him to “know” pain and suffering?

Did God, the father, really lose his son? In what way was Jesus “lost?” According to the Bible, Jesus spent a long weekend in Hell preaching to sinners. I am sure his father knew exactly where he was. Oh, what great pain and suffering God faced when his son was on a forty-eight to seventy-two-hour vacation in Cancun! Is God’s “suffering” over the “loss” of his son comparable in any way to the pain and agony faced by countless humans, day in and day out? Of course not.

God, the father, is a work of fiction. The fact that the pain and suffering exist in the world — both for humans and animals — suggests that God is not the kind of deity Evangelicals claim he is. Would an all-powerful God of love ignore pain and suffering when it was in his power to put an end to it? What better way to show your love, mercy, and kindness than to alleviate pain and suffering. Instead, God does nothing, suggesting that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very much a flesh and-blood human being. Not a God, Jesus was the son of Mary and an unknown man. Jesus had the same wants, needs, passions, and desires, as the rest of us. Ask yourself, did Jesus masturbate? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course Jesus masturbated! He did all the things that were common to man. Why? Because he was human. Thus, when Jesus got himself crossways with the Roman government and the local Jewish community, he experienced great pain and suffering. Why? Because he was human. And then, when he body couldn’t take any more pounding, he died. Why? Because he was human.

Tome should immediately, without delay, put away the vacuous cliché, God knows what you are going through, he lost his son. Saying this makes light of human pain and suffering. It’s the equivalent of saying, Hey, suck it up. God suffered loss too when Jesus didn’t come home one weekend. He knows what you are going throughGod made it to the other side and you will too! 

Oh, how I wish I could “suffer” as Jesus supposedly did two thousand years ago. I would gladly trade a long weekend of pain and suffering for my current experiences with chronic pain and illness. I have met countless chronic pain sufferers over the years. I have also known people who have gone through great heartache and tragedy. In every way, the suffering faced by these people far eclipsed that of the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus, the Christ. Tome wants to believe that his God is an ever-present reality, a deity who understands — yet, does nothing for — their pain. Why bother with such a God?  Why waste your energy worshiping and serving a heartless, helpless God who cannot or will not do what supposedly is in his power to do? No thanks. I much prefer humanism’s view of pain and suffering; that such things are common to man; and all any of us can do is love and support one another.

Pastor James Bachman Uses Dying, Comatose Patients as Evangelistic Tool

james bachmanIndependent Fundamentalists Baptists (IFB) are well-known for the Jehovah’s Witness-like evangelistic fervor. James Bachman, pastor emeritus of Roanoke Baptist Church in nearby Roanoke, Indiana and author of the Parson to Person column in the West Bend News, takes his evangelistic efforts to such a degree that his thinks dying people should continue to languish and suffer just so he can have the opportunity to evangelize those who come to visit them in hospitals or hospice. How dare they want to die before their “appointed” time! God and Bachman have use for their pain, agony, and unrelenting suffering — preying on people who visit the dying during their last days on earth.

In the August 6, 2017 edition of the Parson to Person column, Bachman tackles the question, “We are working on a living will and wondering if it is right to withhold hydration and nutrition to help expedite death?”

Bachman responds:

God says in Deuteronomy 32:39, “I kill, and I make alive.” Psalm 68:20 says, “…unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.” James 4:15 says, For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live.” Hezekiah’s near death experience in II Kings 20 shows us God is to be in charge of life and death.

Modern artificial life support mechanisms sometimes make it hard to tell if it is God or we who are taking life, but withholding hydration and nutrition is definitely pushing God’s will away for our own. The healthiest person will die a horrible death without food and water.

In James 2:15-16 God makes it plain we are not to withhold daily food from someone who needs it. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit.” Matthew 25:41-46 indicates it is wicked to withhold food from the hungry and water from the thirsty, and to do so is as though you were doing it to Christ Himself.

Quality of life is not always the issue. Through the years while calling on people who were in a dying and sometimes comatose condition, I have lead many other patients or family members to Christ. God was still using those who were dying in their bad “quality of life.”

Bachman believes it is a mortal sin to withhold hydration and nutrition from someone the dying. Bachman’s view is quite common among Evangelicals. Pain and suffering are viewed as sacrosanct, some sort of offering given up to Jesus, the God-man who suffered more than anyone has ever suffered — or so Evangelicals say anyway. Did Jesus really suffer more than anyone ever has? Of course not. Jesus suffered for one or two days, died, and then according to Christian mythology resurrected from the dead. I have known scores of people who suffered greatly during the last days of their lives. They would have traded places with Jesus in a heartbeat. (Please see Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced.)

Bachman views those near death, those who are writhing in pain and suffering untold agony, as little more than props to be used to get people saved. What’s a little (or a lot of) suffering if someone comes to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, right? I dealt with this line of thinking in my post about my wife’s sister’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident. (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It) IFB preachers such as Bachman care little for the dying. If they are saved, they will soon be entering God’s Disneyland in the Sky®. What’s a little more agony if the Bachmans of the world can use their suffering as a way to harangue and manipulate people into believing what these preachers are selling.

Why do IFB preachers preach and evangelize at funerals? They know that funeral attendees are psychologically vulnerable. Get the gospel to them while they are “sensitive” to the good news, while death is on their mind. Preachers who do this are not much different from sexual predators who wait until people are susceptible to take advantage of them. I have attended more than a few funerals where very little was said about the deceased. Their death was just a means to an end — trolling for souls. What better time to evangelize people than when their loved one’s body is right in front of the them? Death in the air, and IFB preachers know it, using the emotional sensitivity of mourners to manipulate them into getting saved (and hopefully becoming tithing, working member members of an IFB church).

it is unconscionable that people still support suffering in a day when we have the means to alleviate pain and allow people to die with dignity. The dying often hang on, enduring untold agony, all because some religious zealot has quoted a few Bible verses to them and then told them that God wants them to suffer unto the end. Family members, who are often left with the responsibility of making end of life decision for their loved ones, are guilted into prolonging the suffering of their parents or spouses — all because Jesus will somehow be happy and satisfied if the last ounce of life is wrung out of the dying.

What should matter is what is best for the dying. Pain and suffering should be eased, and if withholding nutrients will allow them to suffer less as they lay their bodies down, caretakers should not hesitate in asking doctors to stop giving their loved ones anything that is prolonging their suffering. Bachman is wrong when he says that withholding hydration and nutrition causes people to die horrible deaths. These things can be withheld, and with the use of strong narcotics and other drugs, the dying can quietly and painlessly slip off into the dark night. There is no glory or honor in suffering into the end. The dying will not be awarded (or rewarded for) Best Death 2017 or Longest Suffering 2017.

What do you think of Bachman’s suggestion that people should continue to suffer so he can use them as a prop in his soulwinning efforts? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

Bachman’s doctorate is an honorary degree from unaccredited Shawnee Baptist College. (Please read IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)

Bachman is also in charge of Answer Publications.

Quote of the Day: The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrmanI’m not completely sure when I first started realizing that the enormous amount of suffering in the world, so much of it completely gratuitous, is a problem for anyone who believes that there is a loving and powerful God who is in control of what happens.   Before reflecting on the evolution of my own thinking on the problem from years ago, let me stress a couple of points.

First I am talking about enormous suffering.   I am not talking about the small and even not so small aches and pains of daily life – the broken wrists or torn ligaments, the fender-benders, the shattered relationships, the worries about the mortgage, or the loss of a loved one.  Such things, in my view, do not call into question the existence of God, because they could well be explained if there is a loving and powerful God in charge of the world.  They could, for example, be “teaching us something,” or molding our character, or making us more grateful for the (other) good things we have (no pleasure without pain), etc.

No, I’m talking about suffering in extremis, enormous suffering that helps no one, least of all the sufferer.   Every seven seconds in our world a child dies of starvation.  An innocent victim, suffering horribly of hunger and then dying, often abandoned and forsaken.  Who does that help?  It doesn’t help her.  Does it help me?  Does it make me appreciate all the more that nice filet mignon I had last night, with that fine bottle of Bordeaux?

And that’s just one kind of suffering – children starving to death.  What about others?  The birth defects, the disfiguring and debilitating accidents, the cancers and strokes, the brain tumors, the epidemics, the accidental deaths of children, the tsunamis that kill 300,000 people who were just trying to eke out an existence – and I haven’t even started on the tragedies humans create: millions of people displaced from their homes (it’s relatively easy to pass over that one when we just read it on p. 3 of the paper; but think about yourself being removed from your home, forced to wander and find sustenance for you and your family with nowhere to go and no idea of what to do.  And having millions of your neighbors in the same boat), innocent casualties of war, millions tortured to death, six million Jews killed for being Jews.  And so on.

My experience in my years now of talking about this kind of suffering is that people who hear such comments are all too ready to write and tell me “the answer.”  They have a way of explaining why it happens that satisfies their thinking, and they can’t believe that I don’t find their explanations satisfying.   I find that with simple uneducated folk and with highly trained professional philosophers.

I had a radio debate some years ago when I was in London with a rather famous professor of philosophy from Oxford University on whether the problem of suffering should cause problems for anyone who believes in God.  He thought he had the answers to why there is suffering when there is a good and all powerful God in charge of the world (he himself is  committed Christian).  The suffering of others benefits those of us who are not experiencing their suffering, as it helps us recognize that grace that we receive and appreciate our own situations all the more.  The suffering of others makes us “more noble.”

He wanted to stress this point specifically with respect to the Holocaust.  It had an upside.  It makes us more reflective and ennobles our lives today.

I have to say, I get rather roused up when someone tells me such things – especially when they do so with the smugness of an armchair observer of suffering.  I got pretty angry in our back and forth.  I simply couldn’t *believe* that he thought that innocent children were gassed for the sake of my personal nobility.  It’s all about *me*.  God allows such horrible and massive suffering because if he didn’t, I myself would be less noble.   I simply lost my cool.  It’s all fine that this fellow in his comfy confines of his cushy Oxford position felt ennobled.  I (in my equally comfy confines) felt completely repulsed.

….

— Bart Ehrman, The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem, June 27, 2017

You can read the entire quote here if you are a member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog. $24.99 a year. Well worth the investment. All membership fees go to charity.

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

sovereignty-of-god

The first verse in the first book of the Christian Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The verses that follow go on to explain all that God created. His crowning achievement was the creation of Adam and Eve — humans created in the image of God. Adam and Eve would later eat fruit from a tree that God said was off-limits. Their love of fruit brought sin and death into the world. From this point forward, humans broke forth from their mothers’ wombs at variance with God. According to the Bible, newborns come into the world speaking lies. Humans are, by nature, enemies of God. Wanting to repair the fractured relationship between the Creator and his creation, God cooked up a scheme through which sins could be forgiven. In the Old Testament, the Bible says God required blood sacrifices for expiation of sin. Animals were ritually slaughtered and their blood placed upon altars to provide atonement for national and personal sins. In the New Testament, the Bible says that God sent himself to earth in the form of a God-man by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. After traversing through Palestine for thirty-three years, working miracles and preaching sermons, this Jesus was accused of heresy by the Jews, arrested by the Roman government, and executed. Three days later, this Jesus miraculously came back to life, spent forty days appearing to his followers, after which he ascended to heaven. According to Christians, for the past 2,000 year Jesus has been hanging out in heaven doing God things: building rooms (mansions) for Christians to live in, helping Tim Tebow score touchdowns, helping grandmas find their car keys, and controlling presidential elections. While Jesus, at least according to those who speak on his behalf, is intimately involved in the minutest details of the lives of his followers, it seems he can’t be bothered with important issues such as war, starvation, global climate change, human trafficking, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl. Why is it that Jesus never seems to be around when you really, really need him?

Most Christian sects can be plotted along the line between Arminianism and Calvinism. While these two systematic theologies are poles apart from one another, both agree that the Christian God is the absolute, authoritative ruler of the universe. While Arminians and Calvinists argue amongst themselves about free will and the order of salvation, both agree that God is sovereign, that he has the whole world in the palm of his hands. This God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Bible says that none of us can escape the presence of  this God. He is everywhere — the ultimate voyeur.

If everything is created by God, owned by God, known by God, and nothing escapes his ever-seeing eye, isn’t it logical to say that God is responsible for sin? Isn’t it logical to hold God responsible for everything that happens? If humans are not ultimately in control of their lives or their destiny, how then can they be held responsible? If God alone — either through predestination and election or prevenient grace — saves sinners and gives them keys to their Jesus-built mansions in the sky, how then can any of us be held accountable for not becoming Christians? If it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that gives life to dead sinners so they can believe, how then can any un-quickened sinners be held accountable for their depravity? Billions of people, past and present, live in places where Christianity has no influence. People can go through their entire lives without hearing the Christian gospel, yet when they die God will hold them accountable for not hearing that which they had no opportunity to hear. Does this sound just and fair?

Does any of this make sense to you? Wouldn’t it have been better for the Gods — Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit — to cut out all the bullshit and create a universe not tainted by sin and depravity? Surely it was in God’s power  to create an Adam and Eve incapable of sinning. It’s a fair question, then, to ask why God did what he did. If God controls the universe and nothing escapes his sovereign grasp, why all the war, violence, rape, starvation, and terrible contemporary Christian music?

Start asking Christian pastors and laypeople these questions, and you’ll quickly conclude that they really don’t have any answers. Oh, they will spin some sort of elaborate theological answer that will leave you neck deep in quicksand, but don’t expect them to give direct, succinct answers. Most often, apologists for the Christian God will give contradictory or incoherent answers, and when their nonsense is pointed out they will swiftly run to the house of faith, slamming the door while they scream, GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS! GOD’S THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE CREATOR! HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS! This screaming is the equivalent of la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, now fuck off.

A perfect illustration of this can be found in a recent post on the Faith-It website by Christine Suhan. Titled, Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’,Suhan shows how it is impossible for Christians to develop a coherent understanding of the world while at the same time trying to hold on to Evangelical beliefs. Here’s some of what she had to say:

Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.

And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.

….

Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.

We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain-free existence.

But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.

“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.

Here’s what I’ve come to know about God’s will:

God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.

God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.

God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.

God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.

God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache and pain into the human experience.

God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.

There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse.

Suhan takes the shit happens approach. Thanks to Adam and Eve and their progeny’s sin, nature, pain, suffering and death are part of the human (Westworld) experience. According to Suhan, there is no reason or purpose for these things to happen. The problem, however, is that Suhan’s worldview runs contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine. This often happens when Christians try to thoughtfully think about human existence. How can rape or murder be good or have some sort of higher purpose? If God is the sovereign of the universe, why does he permit, either passively or by decree, such things to happen? Surely, an all-powerful God can keep people from being raped or murdered. Why does he idly stand by and do nothing?

According to Suhan, God does do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. When a teenage girl is being ritually raped by her pastor or an altar boy is being repeatedly sodomized by his priest, Jesus is right there holding the victim’s hand. That’s right, the God who could stop sexual assault does little more than send victims a BFF text that says, I am with you in spirit. Love, Jesus. Millions of people will go to bed tonight hungry, and the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sends sunshine and rain for crops to grow, will do nothing to feed them, choosing instead to smile and hold their empty plates. While the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia continues to increase, Jesus wants everyone to know that he will be right there with them if they are turned into an ash heap. Is this the best that God can do for us — hold our hand?

If God is the supreme ruler of the universe, the creator of all things, the giver of life and death, and he who sees and knows everything, it is impossible to absolve him of culpability for pain, suffering, violence, and death. God could intervene, but he does nothing. Try as they might, Christian apologists have no suitable answer for a sovereign God’s inaction. The best these defenders of the faith can come up with is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, pissed off God in the process, and for thousands of years now he is been standing by while the Richard Micks of the world rape church children, serial killers murder innocents, and warring nations rain death down on the heads of innocent civilians.

And if this isn’t bad enough, Christian pastors and theologians remind us that there is coming a day when God will end his hand-holding ways, resurrecting everyone from the dead so he can judge them and fit those who don’t measure up with some sort of supernatural body that will survive an eternity of torture in a lake filled with fire and brimstone. This God who couldn’t be bothered with stopping Hitler’s horrendous slaughter of six million Jews, will definitely be hands-on when the time comes to make his “chosen” people pay for their rejection and execution of Jesus Christ. Billions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and wrong-flavor-of-ice-cream Christians will be awakened from their slumber, only to be cast into hell with the devil, his angels, Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton, and Bruce Gerencser.

Who in their right mind would want anything to do with Evangelical Christianity?

It is for these reasons (and others) that many people turn to atheism. The only way to understand what goes on in the world is to realize that we humans are responsible for what does and does not happen. Countless Christians are praying that God will make sure that Donald Trump becomes president. Their meaningless prayers will not affect the outcome of this election, votes will. It is up to humans, not fictional deities, to put an end to violence and suffering. We are the masters of our universe, and if we want things to be different, then it is up to us to change them. A humanistic view of the world requires us to acknowledge that randomness and luck often affect our lives. Sometimes, we are at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Slight variations in decisions or movement can drastically change outcomes. It is highly unlikely that a jet flying overhead will crash into my home. It’s possible, but the probability is minuscule. And when that unlikely event happens to some unlucky individuals, we must accept it as just that – an unfortunate incident which took lives, but not an act of God. Instead of attempting to develop some elaborate and often contradictory religious explanation of the world that supposedly matches the dictates of ancient religious texts, it is far better for us to just live in the moment and do what we can to improve life for not only ourselves and our progeny, but also for animals and other humans. Interjecting God into the discussion just complicates things. We humanists hope that Suhan and her fellow Christians leave off holding hands with their fictional best friend, and instead join hands with us as we try to combat violence, pain, suffering, disease, climate change, starvation, inequality, and death. Surely God is not so jealous that he can’t put off the handholding until Christians make it to the other side.

Note

faith-it.com is owned and operated by Outreach, Inc., a large Evangelical media and marketing “ministry” located in Colorado Springs. Fundamentalists such as Kirk Cameron, Eric Metaxas, Lee Strobel, Sheila Walsh, Josh McDowell, Benham Brothers, Craig Gross, Ryan Dobson, Frank Turek, and a gaggle of Evangelical sports stars are represented by Outreach, Inc.

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The Indifference of God

starving children

Spend time on Sundays at Evangelical churches and you will hear all sorts of talk about how God is intimately involved in our lives. God is everywhere, Evangelicals say, and he knows everything. Not only is God omnipresent and omniscient, he is also omnipotent! God holds the universe in the palm of his hand, Evangelical preachers say. God is the Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords, the supreme potentate of heaven and earth. He is, as Calvinists love to say, sovereign. In other words, God is in control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. There is no thought, word, or deed that escapes his notice. No matter where humans travel — be it to the farthest reaches of the universe or to the depths of the oceans — they can not escape God. God is the king of voyeurs, his eyes peering into the darkest corners of human existence.

This God of the Evangelicals must  be one busy deity. Knowing everything, including what will happen in the future, God surely acts in ways to lessen suffering, pain, loss, and death, right?  Certainly there is ample evidence for the Evangelical God’s involvement in the smallest details of life, right?  While Evangelicals will certainly answer YES! to these questions, when pressed for objective, verifiable evidence for such claims, they quickly retreat to their houses of faith and claims that God’s ways are not our ways.

Theodicy — the branch of theology that [attempts to] defends God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil and suffering — continues to be a big problem for Evangelicals. The more apologists attempt to defend God in light of not only evil, but also suffering, pain, and death, the less people think God is good. All people have to do is read the newspaper to realize that IF God is the powerful deity Evangelicals say he is, then he is horrible being who delights in unfeigned worship while doing nothing as countless men, women, and children face untold agony and death.

One of the marks of psychopathy is a lack of empathy. God can, if he chooses, put an end to suffering. Yet, he does, by all accounts, absolutely nothing. In 2008, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman had this to say about why he wrote the book:

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

….

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

….

Eventually, while still a Christian thinker, I came to believe that God himself is deeply concerned with suffering and intimately involved with it. The Christian message, for me, at the time, was that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us humans, and that in Jesus we can see how God deals with the world and relates to it. He relates to it, I thought, not by conquering it but by suffering for it. Jesus was not set on a throne in Jerusalem to rule over the Kingdom of God. He was crucified by the Romans, suffering a painful, excruciating, and humiliating death for us. What is God like? He is a God who suffers. The way he deals with suffering is by suffering both for us and alongside us.

….

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

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

Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.

For most Evangelicals-turned-atheists, the issue of suffering looms large in their decisions to leave Christianity. When I am asked why I left Christianity, I usually point to the intellectual problems I have with Christian theology and practice. In particular, I call attention to the unsupportable notion that the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible words of God. I generally avoid discussions about suffering and death because such engagements usually end with Evangelicals apologists telling me that the REAL reason I am no longer a Christian is the personal pain and suffering I deal with each and every day of my life. Bruce, you are just mad that God didn’t heal you, Evangelicals say. So, you quit on God, all because he wouldn’t do what you wanted him to do — heal you.

While there was a time when I would bristle at such claims, I now admit that God’s indifference towards not only the suffering of family, friends, and parishioners, but also my own suffering played a pertinent part in my deconverson. It was not THE reason, but certainly one of the reasons that I was no longer was willing to believe in the existence of the Christian God. The Bible speaks of a Jesus who healed the sick, blind, and deaf, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. Surely, if, as the Bible says, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why is there so much suffering in the world? What better way for God to reveal himself to us than to heal the sick and feed the hungry. I am aware of all the Evangelical apologetical arguments that are used to justify God’s indifference, so don’t bother, but the fact remains that most suffering goes unrequited. As Bart Ehrman mentioned earlier, untold suffering will happen today and, come tomorrow and every other day after that, pain, sickness, and incalculable loss will test and try countless people. In fact, few of us get through this life without facing things that can and do turn our lives into piles of ashes. Despite prayers and voices crying to God for help, the triune God of the Bible acts if he lives in an area where there is no cellphone service. Christians and non-Christians alike cry to the heavens, pleading and begging its inhabitants to help them, yet all they hear is deafening silence.

Let me conclude this posts with two recent news stories that amply illustrate the indifference of God.

mark and megan short

Mark and Megan Short with their three children

On August 6, 2016, in an apparent murder-suicide, a Pennsylvanian husband or wife murdered their spouse and three children before committing suicide. CBS News reports:

A Pennsylvania couple who were featured in news stories about their difficulties getting medication for their youngest daughter who had a heart transplant were found shot to death in their home along with their three children.

Prosecutor John Adams says an apparent “murder/suicide” note was found in the family’s Sinking Spring home Saturday. Police found a handgun near one of the adults. They didn’t say who they believe was the shooter.

Officials say the parents had had “domestic issues.” Police had gone to the home to check on the family after a call from a concerned relative who said the mom did not show up for a pre-arranged lunch date.

The victims were identified as 40-year-old Mark Short Sr., 33-year-old Megan Short; 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow.

….

Willow had undergone a heart transplant as a baby. Her family had been featured in articles in The Reading Eagle in 2014 and The New York Times in 2015 about her condition and the family’s difficulties obtaining anti-rejection medication for her.

….

Once inside the home, officers discovered the family’s deceased bodies and a deceased dog in the living room area of the residence. A handgun was discovered near one of the deceased adults.

Jamison and Kathryne Pals

Jamison and Kathryne Pals with their three children

On July 31, 2016 a young couple with three children was headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, “for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture” when a semi-truck rammed the rear of their minivan killing all of them. The Omaha-Herald reports:

The semitrailer truck driver involved in a crash that claimed six lives on Interstate 80 was “inattentive and distracted by outside influences” when he rammed into a minivan “at a high rate of speed,” a Nebraska State Patrol trooper said in an arrest affidavit.

The driver, Tony Weekly Jr., 53, of Baker, Florida, was charged in Keith County Court on Tuesday with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide — one for each member of the St. Paul, Minnesota, family who died Sunday in the fiery crash four miles west of Brule’s I-80 interchange — and a single misdemeanor count of reckless driving.

….

Witnesses said Weekly’s truck “did not slow down until hitting the first vehicle,” Trooper Darrell Crawford said in the arrest affidavit.

That vehicle was the minivan carrying the Pals family of Minnesota. Jamison and Kathryne Pals and their three children died as a direct result of the initial impact,” Crawford said. Before coming to rest, the vehicles’ forward momentum pushed them into a Plymouth minivan driven by Sullivan, then a Nissan sport utility vehicle and finally a Ford van.

Killed Sunday were: Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, and their children, Ezra, 3; Violet, almost 2; and 2½-month-old Calvin.

….

The Palses intended to serve as long-term missionaries in Nagoya, Japan. They were headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture, said Dennis Vogan, vice president of personnel development of the ministry organization WorldVenture.

“The Palses fit perfectly within our organization,” Vogan said. The missionaries in Japan “were thrilled and looking so forward to their coming,” he said.

The Palses had raised enough money to fund their mission work, which was to start in October, he said.

Rick Pals, Jamison’s father, said Tuesday that funeral services would be held at Jamison and Kathryne’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He said the families of Jamison and Kathryne “have been very touched” by the “outpouring of sincere support” they have received.

….

Jamison Pals worked for just over three years as a grant writer for Feed My Starving Children. The Christian nonprofit based in Eagan, Minnesota, sends meals specially formulated for malnourished children to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs around the world.

Andy Carr, the group’s vice president of marketing and development, said Jamison and Kathryne Pals were “amazing people” and good friends.

“They were the most humble and selfless people that you could ever meet,” he said. “In today’s world where it’s so much about me, me, me, it was never about them. It was always about others.”

The first story is likely to be explained in Evangelical circles as an example of human depravity. Human sinfulness leads people to do awful things, Evangelicals say. If this couple had known Jesus, perhaps things would have turned out differently!

The second story is being portrayed as an example of the “mysteries” of God. We dare not question God’s purpose and plan! Calvinist pastor John Piper attributes their deaths to the mysterious, unknown plan of the sovereign God of the universe. Evangelicals must never ask why. God knows best!

In both of these horrific, mind-numbing tragedies, one thing is for certain: God stood by and did nothing. If God can’t be counted on to rescue children and those who have devoted themselves to “serving” him, why should any of us bother to worship him? If God helps a young child through a heart transplant, only to later stand by twiddling his thumbs while this same girl is murdered, should we not at least question the actions of the compassionate, loving, kind, God who promises to never leave or forsake us?

Evangelicals should not fault people such as myself when we conclude that their God is either a work of fiction or is simply not interested in what happens to us. I have concluded that there is no God and that life can be cruel and hard. Disease, pain, hunger, violence, and death are very much a part of life, and all of us will likely be marred or broken by one or more of these things. Try as we might to escape suffering, it will track us down and arrest us, often sentencing us to lives of pain and agony. I wish things could be different, but they are what they are. All the prayers and religious pronouncements in the world won’t change the fact that people (and animals) suffer. The best we can do is to work at reducing suffering and its effects. It is up to us to alleviate the suffering of others (and our own). Waiting on God accomplishes nothing. As the stories mentioned above make clear, when it comes to things that matter, God is nowhere to be found.

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

passion of the christ

Snark Ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should avoid reading this post. You’ve been warned!

One way Evangelical preachers shame complaining congregants into silence is to remind them of Jesus’ suffering on the cross for sin. One such example of this kind of thinking was recently posted on the Seeking His Kingdom blog. In a July 18, 2016 post titled Why Do You Make Me Suffer?, Andi Garcia — a woman who believes she is “supposed to share His [God’s]  message and to let others know that we are to seek Him at all times” — had this to say about those who complain:

I said to a coworker who are we to question God about anything? Like when will He answer our prayer or ask Him why do we suffer? Why this or that?..I said did any of you ever think that our little problems, the problems our kids give us, are nothing compared to what He suffered for us all. I continued on and said I have 3 kids plus myself and yes worry for them and the problems they may have or situations they may put me through and it hurts me, of course, I’m their mother…BUT..He..He carries all of our sins …ALL OF OUR SINS for us. Can you imagine that suffering?? I said so whatever problems we have or our kids put us through aren’t problems..we shouldn’t worry, we shouldn’t complain, we shouldn’t ask WHY DO YOU MAKE ME SUFFER? See, 2 weeks ago I was going through some things with my 2 older children, 19 and 23, and I actually asked Him, I said it out loud, God why do you make me suffer? As soon as it came out, I slapped my hand to my mouth and legit, heard this in my thoughts, You are suffering? I felt ashamed. So I took some inventory and thought I’m alive, I wake up with no pain, I have a home, I have my 3 kids with or without problems, I have a job, food to eat, a car, the list goes on. I sat back that night and said I’m sorry about a million times because I thought to myself, if I hurt for my 3 kids when something or someone hurts them or their behavior is less than acceptable, can we imagine what He feels for every single one of us who sin? We will never know that pain.

I told myself, I will never complain or think that I suffer. I also will always remember the immense love He has for us, His children. Amen? Amen!!!

Now, Garcia is not a preacher, but her post reflects that she has been taught to never, ever voice complaints about whatever difficulty she might be facing. Just remember what Jesus suffered on our behalf, Evangelical preachers say, as if saying this is supposed to magically take away pain, suffering, and emotional distress. This thinking flows from the belief that Jesus is the answer for every question and he is cure for every ailment. As former Evangelicals well know, the curative power of thinking about a man being beaten and executed is grossly overrated.

According to the Bible, a man by the name of Jesus was beaten and executed for crimes against the Jewish people. Jesus’ suffering took place over a short period of time. Yes, if the Bible account is accurate, Jesus suffered greatly before he was executed. I certainly don’t want to minimize his pain and agony, though I have to wonder if Jesus, being God in the flesh, perhaps made it look like he was horrifically suffering, but in reality he actually turned off all his pain receptors and felt nothing. I know that’s what I would do TODAY, if I could. No more pain! Regardless, his suffering was short-lived. After he was taken down from the cross and buried, the Bible tells us he went to hell to preach the gospel to its captives. (Ephesians 4:7-10Luke 23:39-43, Luke 16:19-311 Peter 3:18-20) The traditional English version of the Apostles’ Creed states:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.

According to God’s inspired, inerrant Word and the Apostles’ Creed, after his death Jesus took a vacation to hades/paradise to do some soul-saving preaching. And then, several days later, on a Sunday, Jesus — in Arnold Schwarzenegger-like fashion —  walked out of the grave and said I’m back! Time to start a new religion! His body should have shown the marks of a man brutally beaten, but all that remained for people to see were the holes in his hands and feet — reminders of his recent crucifixion. Evidently, no plastic surgeon was available, so Jesus had to go through his last forty days on earth with ugly-looking hands and feet.

Was Jesus’ suffering worse than any human has ever experienced? Of course not. Only those who are religiously blinded to reality dare to make such false assumptions. Having watched numerous people die, I can tell you that some of them suffered far greater agony and pain than Jesus. Think of all the horrific things you have watched people experience or you have gone through. Are all of these experiences, to quote Garcia, “little problems” and “nothing compared to what He suffered for us all”? Is Garcia and others like her diminishing the suffering of others, treating their agony as little more than inconveniences?

This kind of thinking finds its roots in Evangelical belief about the purpose of this life. Most Evangelicals think that their present life is preparation for the life to come — eternal life. According to Amos 4:12Hebrews 9:27Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14  and numerous other verses, life is all about preparing to meet God. Through frequent reminders from pastors that this life is temporary and transitory, Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that in this life comes suffering and loss and in the next life God will reward them for being faithful servants. This is why Garcia can so easily dismiss the suffering of billions of people. With a wave of the Bible Wand®, Garcia declares that all of humanity’s sickness, diseases, and sufferings are little more than minor inconveniences. In Garcia’s mind, Jesus was biggest bad-ass sufferer of all time. No one can kick Jesus off the Throne of Suffering!

Thinking this way causes Evangelicals to be callously indifferent to the suffering others. Hungry? Thirsty? Have AIDS? Infected with the Zika virus? Have cancer? Carrying a severely deformed fetus? Unrelenting pain? Homeless? Mentally ill? Victim of sexual abuse? Victim of domestic violence? Stoke? Alzheimer disease? Dementia? Ebola?  S-h-i-t, such suffering is a walk in the park when compared to Jesus’ 24 hour beat down and death, says Evangelicals. Don’t sweat it! Get saved, and then when you die a horrible, miserable death you will get to go to heaven. This is why Evangelicals can oppose universal healthcare, birth control, and any other program meant to ease human suffering. Better to go to heaven with an empty stomach than to hell with a full one, Evangelical preachers say. Life is all about getting saved, not getting healthy and living a better life. Sure, if Jesus wants to give Evangelicals fancy cars, expensive clothes, organic food, private schools for their children, health, eye, and dental coverage, and vacations to Fiji, they will take it, but those who are left groveling in the dirt of human existence, why they should get saved, thank Jesus for being worthy of such suffering, and quickly die so Evangelicals don’t have to pay for their care.

Did you, at one time, view life and suffering as Andi Garcia does? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

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!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

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:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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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:

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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.

Bart Ehrman on God, the Bible, and the Problem of Suffering

gods problem bart ehrman
What follows is an excerpt from a recent post Dr. Bart Ehrman wrote about a 2008 interview on the subject of  the Bible, God, and suffering. This interview occurred around the time Ehrman released God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman wrote:

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

In my mid 20s, I left the evangelical fold, but I remained a Christian for some twenty years—a God-believing, sin-confessing, church-going Christian, who no longer held to the inerrancy of Scripture but who did believe that the Bible contained God’s word, trustworthy as the source for theological reflection. And the more I studied the Christian tradition, first as a graduate student in seminary and then as a young scholar teaching biblical studies at universities, the more sophisticated I became in my theological views and in my understanding of the world and our place in it.

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

….

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

As it turns out, my various wrestlings with the problem have led me, even as an agnostic, back to the Bible, to see how different biblical authors wrestle with this, the greatest of all human questions. The result is my recent book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. My contention is that many of the authors of the Bible are wrestling with just this question: why do people (especially the people of God) suffer? The biblical answers are striking at times for their simplicity and power (suffering comes as a punishment from God for sin; suffering is a test of faith; suffering is created by cosmic powers aligned against God and his people; suffering is a huge mystery and we have no right to question why it happens; suffering is redemptive and is the means by which God brings salvation; and so on). Some of these answers are at odds with one another (is it God or his cosmic enemies who are creating havoc on earth?), yet many of them continue to inform religious thinkers today….

Here is a one hour video of the interview. If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Ehrman, I encourage you to watch the video.

Video Link

I heartily recommend Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. You can purchase it here.

Ehrman has a member-only blog, with an annual $24.95 membership fee (all monies raised go to charitable groups).

Other books written by Ehrman can be purchased here. Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2016. You can pre-order the book here.

Does the Christian God Really Care About Me?

where is god

One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist).  Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.

Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:

Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.

We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.

Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?

Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life!  Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.

When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us. 

Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.

The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning  of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.

While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.

I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.

[signoff]

You Should Feel Blessed God Didn’t Kill You Today

god killing a man

Dan Phillips, pastor of Copperfield Bible Church, Houston, Texas, shows his usual intellectual brilliance in a short ditty posted on the Pyromaniacs blog. Phillips writes:

How can God cause a(n) [natural disaster] in ____ that kills ____?

Response: You mean, why doesn’t He do the same every day in every city on every continent? Why hasn’t he done that to you? Excellent question! Those days are coming. But God is showing that He is long-suffering, giving the same opportunity for repentance that the people in _____ had enjoyed.

You see, according to Phillips, God really is good to us. That he killed others and not us is a sign that God is long-suffering and he wants us to repent. Never mind those other unrepentant, non-elect men, women, and children who were slaughtered today by the merciful, loving God. They had their chance. You have your chance now. Well maybe not. It depends on whether you are one of the elect (Phillips is a Calvinist).  According to Calvinists, the world’s population, past, present and future, was neatly divided by God into two categories: elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen, saved and lost. For those whose names are under the non-elect column, this means they have been on God’s slaughter list from before the foundation of the world. For these people, it was too late for them before they were even born. But, that’s not God’s fault. God may have created us and he may control every aspect of our lives, but because our distant relative Adam broke God’s Garden of Eden Dining Rules, we have been deemed guilty by God.

Wait a minute? Didn’t God create Adam? Couldn’t God have kept Adam from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?? Isn’t God Sovereign? These are rhetorical questions, yes? The answer to all of these questions is yes. How then is God not responsible for  everything that follows?

Let the Calvinistic gymnastics begin.

God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?

romans 8 28

Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their lives  is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, they turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. 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.

and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelicals’ lives is for their good and God will not  create any burden in their life without making  a way for them to bear it.

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:

…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

and in  Matthew 28:20:

…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

and in Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God will always be there for them.

It is important to understand what I have written above in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (See church’s blog here.) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.

A year or so ago, Williams and his wife lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the loss of his child. He wrote (page no longer active):

How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…

…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…

…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!

Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…

Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for him and his wife, and that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is! Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.

Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen, but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and Evangelicals must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them. Over and over they are told this, so when bad things happen in their  lives, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.

Ten years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved  him. Polly’s family thought, If one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it. At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.

Look, I understand why people like the Williamses, Polly’s family, and many Evangelicals think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right? Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the ‘you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse’ way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.

I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?) people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath  who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in tormenting and killing people. If such a person were my neighbor, I would quickly decide to move somewhere else.

Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson then YES, I hate my tormentor. No decent human beings would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.

Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and having a life free of the debilitating pain I am in, I would gladly not write another word. The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williamses shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the woman in front of the motorcycle made a quick u-turn, there was no way to avoid hitting her.  Just like that, Kathy was thrown from the motorcycle, struck her head  on the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-law’s cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day. Just like that, everything changed.

This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I cannot do so.  Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact. How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen?  If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

According to those who KNOW the mind of God and KNOW the names written in the Book of Life, when Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, he went straight to hell to be tortured day and night by the Evangelical God for refusing to admit said God exists and for rejecting the salvation proffered by Jesus Christ. (the irony here is that all four Evangelicals mentioned in this post are Calvinists, men who believe no one can “choose” to be saved)

Al Mohler, fundamentalist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say:

al mohler tweet christopher hitchens

Rick Warren, fundamentalist pastor of Saddleback Church had this to say:

rick warren tweet about christopher hitchens

Doug Wilson, fundamentalist pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho had this to say:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.

The Defending Contending blog (link no longer active) took the pious approach and said that Hitchens lived his life as a hater of God, but since no human can know the true spiritual state of any person, they can not say whether Hitchens is in hell. Chris Hohnholz wrote:

The question that stands before us today of course, is where is Christopher Hitchens today. According to Mr. Hitchens, he simply ceased to exist, nothing more. But for the Christian, we know that we exist for eternity once this mortal body ceases functioning. There are only two possibilities as to where, Heaven or Hell. As Mr. Hitchens was created by God, and was bound to God’s laws, as we all are, he can only be in one of those two places. At first, it may seem quite easy to figure it out. He denied God, spoke vehemently against the Christian faith, and was often hateful and vitriolic in his speech regarding it. Considering that he made the statement there would be no deathbed conversion, it would be a simple thing to declare God sent him to hell. However, the truth is, we simply do not, and cannot know.

It is clear that Mr. Hitchens made a career of hating the very idea of God. But it is also clear that he was a common sinner just like the rest of us. He had a conscience, he was aware of right and wrong. He, like the rest of us, committed acts that were in violation of that conscience. We know that our consciences are God’s laws written upon our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we are violating God’s laws. Additionally, Mr. Hitchens debated with many Christians, he had heard the gospel presentation many times. There is little question that by the time of his death, Mr. Hitchens knew what God required of him. It is that time just prior to his death that we cannot know about. Is it at least possible, that as he faced those last moments, knowing death was coming that he considered those sins he committed, that he contemplated the gospel he had denied so many times, that he just might have repented and trusted Christ. If we are intellectually honest, we must say that it is possible. And since we cannot know, we hope that is what happened. We hope that we will find Mr. Hitchens in Heaven one day, for we do not wish the wrath of God on any man.

But we must also be honest say that he may not have repented. It is entirely possible that Mr. Hitchens held on to his rejection of God all the way into death. If so, Mr. Hitchens now stands before God in judgment for his sins. And not just for his atheism. As said before, our consciences are merely God’s law written on our hearts. When any man or woman breaks those laws, through lying, stealing, coveting, lusting, or blaspheming, they have sinned against a holy and righteous God. It is not just because he was an atheist that Mr. Hitchens may have stood condemned, it is because, as we all are, he was a sinner against the God who created him. And if that indeed is what occurred, even we Christians must mourn his death, for we do not wish Hell on any man. But we also rejoice that God is glorified, because His justice is perfect.

So what does that mean for the Christian? First, let us not run around proclaiming we know where Christopher Hitchens is, only God knows that. Let us share with people the truth, that if he repented and trusted Christ (which is our hope), he is in Heaven. But if he remained in his sins, he was condemned (as we all deserve). Let us not rejoice that another atheist voice is silent, that presents us as unkind and unloving. But let us not ignore that what he taught was blasphemous. As we engage in conversation with others on this, let us remember that, whatever Mr. Hitchens fate was, all of us face the same date with death.

This “sounds” nice, but don’t be deceived, I have heard these words many, many times and they are words uttered by people who don’t want to look bad before the world so they refrain from saying in public what they proclaim every week in the pulpit or behind closed doors.

There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in the life of Christopher Hitchens that remotely suggests he is now with God and the angels. He is in hell and Hohnholz knows it! I wish Evangelicals like Chris Hohnholz would at least own the abominable, horrendous doctrine they preach.

My friend Bud pretty well sums up my feelings on people like Mohler, Warren,Wilson and Hohnholz:

I feel even more sadness for those who are so blinded by religious prejudice that they see the death of Hitchens as an opportunity to peddle their religious wares. I’ve already expressed what I think about Albert Mohler’s recent comment on Twitter. Turns out that “purpose-driven” Rick Warren is just as classy as Mohler. Warren had his own douchebag moment on Twitter when he wrote: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Yes, Rick, use a man’s death as a tool in your propaganda machine. If Warren truly “loved” Hitch, he would be honoring his memory instead of disgracing Hitchens for the sake of “the Truth” with a capital T.

How did Christopher Hitchens spend the final days of his life? Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens is greatly missed. I always appreciated his sharp tongue and pointed critique of religion. He made the religious fuss, fume, and squirm as he attacked their beliefs and practices.

Some day I will die. I have thought a lot about this, and while I am no Christopher Hitchens I can only imagine how my demise will be played out in the blogosphere and in the pulpit. According to my critics, when death comes hell awaits me. A special hell, punishment, and torture awaits me because I was once a believer and a pastor. I’ve spent the last seven years being threatened with hell and God’s judgment, but  If I have a choice between Heaven with Mohler, Warren, Wilson and Hohnholz and the Hell with Hitchens and a cast of others I greatly admire, give me Hitch and hell every time.

The world is richer because a man named Christopher Hitchens lived among us. While his body rots in the grave, his words remain. May his words continue to inspire people to consider a life and world without the oppression of religion. There can be a better tomorrow without God.

Let me conclude this post with a few quotes from Hitch’s last published work Mortality:

  • …The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity…
  • …To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?…
  • …Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water…
  • …It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose. Sorry, but you did ask… It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body…
  • …The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right…
  • …However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound…In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker…
  • …Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down…
  • …So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing…

From the last page of Mortality:

“From Alan Lightman’s intricate 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams; set in Berne in 1905:

With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

You can buy Mortality from Amazon.com. I receive a few shekels if you click the link and purchase the book. It is available in hardback, paperback, Kindle.