Police, parents, and the problem of evil

The question “Why does a good god allow suffering?” is one of the oldest in religion, yet Christians seem to think they have the answer. The problem is, I’ve never heard a convincing answer.

A PhD Christian scholar recently wrote a piece in Christian today, saying that a god who allows evil in the world is no different from a parent who has a child, even though the parent knows that child may suffer someday.

He also says God does not stand by and watch pain; he comes down and experiences it with us.

The loving parent is not the one who never risks suffering in a child’s life; the loving parent – whether human or divine – is the one who is willing to suffer alongside his child, and willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that one day that suffering can be overcome.

[Jesus] is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.

The website has no place for me to leave comments or send email to the author, so I shall reply here.

Dear Dr. Vince Vitale, Continue reading

Why women must submit.

The Bible says all women must submit to their husbands. Or at least, you probably think that if you’re a gay commie atheist. All the real Christians out there know the Bible only says that when you read it out of context.

That’s why Christians love to “debunk” it whenever someone brings up a verse like Ephesians 5:22.

Unfortunately for Christians, the Bible also explains why it is that women must submit. And that “why” creates an even worse problem. Continue reading

Free at last (from thought crime)

I’ve heard people talk about how coming free from Christianity set them free from fear. Libby Anne, of Love Joy Feminism, said she used to worry about demons; because even though her parents said Jesus would keep the demons away, that only worked if you “really” believed; and what young person wouldn’t be scared when told invisible powerful creatures that want to hurt you are real?

Then there’s the old fear of not being saved, no matter how many times you “confess” your sin and repent.

I don’t know if any of those fears plagued me—I certainly wasn’t too scared of evil spirits, except in Africa. But I was often worried about thought crime, or about wrong beliefs.

When I think about life with and without Jesus, one of the best parts about freethought is that I am no longer scared about what I believe.

Christians teach that “if you CONFESS with your mouth and BELIEVE in your heart” you will be saved. So, what you believe and profess is vitally important to your survival. Therefore it won’t do to believe in false things, or to embrace incorrect beliefs.

Is it right to drink, or should all alcohol be shunned? We know Jesus taught about standing up for the poor, but is it right to Occupy Wall Street or should you try to be more respectable than that? Is it right to stand up against the oppression in Palestine, or does the Bible teach that God is on the side of the Israelis in spite of how they don’t confess Jesus?

These aren’t just differences of opinion, or different ways of seeing the world. The danger here isn’t only that you may cause harm to someone. The problem is that you could be punished for believing the wrong thing. Also, holding those wrong beliefs could become a foothold that eventually leads you into further sin.

But the worst part is there’s no practical measuring stick to find if you’re right or wrong. You can’t run a simple test to prove which belief is true. You can’t measure it or experiment on it. You can’t even argue from logic alone, because you have to believe what the Bible says is true over and above your own logic. All that’s available to you is a mixture of logic, theology, and faith—trusting your gut to lead you right.

The Bible is no help because people interpret it differently. You hear different arguments, different interpretations. You can’t just trust your own logic, because those other arguments sound so Biblical—what if you’ve missed something? And you can’t just admit you don’t know—if you don’t know, how can you believe, and if you don’t believe then what is your faith?

I never realized when I was doing it just how much of a burden that is to constantly try to find ultimate truth based on such vague criteria.

If you’re an atheist you can make your decisions based on facts and logic. How they feel doesn’t have to enter into it, unless you really believe that such a criteria is useful in the circumstances. If it turns out you were wrong, you can change your mind; you don’t always have to “repent”. If you don’t harm anyone else, holding wrong beliefs has absolutely no negative impact. You can believe in pink fairies and unicorns and healing crystals, so long as you don’t let those beliefs stop you from being healthy, and absolutely no one can really condemn you.

Martyrs: Why we care about religious freedom

The Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition in which I grew up has a rich history of martyr stories.

Dirk Williams, perhaps the most famous Anabaptist martyr, turns around to rescue his pursuer after he fell through the ice. Williams was later tortured, and burned at the stake for the crime of baptizing people and holding secret church meetings. The Netherlands, 1596, etching from the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror.

I’m reading a book now called On Fire for Christ. It’s a dramatized re-telling of the stories from the classic work Martyr’s Mirror. It tells of Anabaptist Christians killed by other Christians, usually Catholics, throughout the sixteenth century.

What was their crime? The book details conversations between the Anabaptists and monks or judges who tried to get them to recant their heretical beliefs, beliefs which earned them the death penalty. Primary among these was the practice of baptizing adults, and teaching that infant baptism didn’t really absolve you from all sin. Continue reading

How to prove God is real

So, I’ve noticed a lot of Christians use words when they debate.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a live debate, or an Internet discussion. Christians always use words. They will make logical arguments about why the world must have a Creator. They’ll talk about history, and claim the Bible is reliable and true. They’ll give personal experiences. They’ll talk about how morality must come from a divine law-giver, or claim life is meaningless without God.

They’ll draw on their knowledge of science, history, logic, theology, and epistemology. What I’ve never seen them appeal to, though, is physical proof.

That’s not how it is in the Bible. Continue reading

Atheist Parable: The Patripresentists

Welcome to my Atheist Parables series. In the tradition of Plato, Jesus, and Aesop, I will use stories and allegory to examine issues of faith, reality and reason.

I thought I was doing the kids a favor when I taught them to believe in Santa Claus.

They didn’t have much, here at the boarding school, and it seemed like a story of magic and wonder would cheer them up.

Santa is about hope—hope for the future and hope that things will get better. Hope that those who are good will get what they deserve somehow. He’s also a convenient introduction to ethics; you better be good if you want Santa to bring presents!

I knew the kids would get a lift from their belief in Santa. It would be harmless, and they would grow out of it naturally as they got older.

And it worked, too; the kids were happier, and they seemed to clean up their behavior. Some of them became really passionate about the whole Santa Claus thing, studying all the songs, poems, and movies they could find about Santa Claus.

Later on, as I was teaching geography, I was surprised to find just how strong their ideas about Santa had become. Continue reading

Atheist Parables: The Wedding Banquet

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a story about a bunch of ungrateful people who refuse to come at the summons of their king to celebrate a wedding banquet. Eventually the rich, the noble, and the ‘worthy’ prove themselves to be unworthy, and instead the poor and the unworthy are given the fruits of the kingdom. Why would those worthy people so callously refuse an invitation from their king?

 It was not a very important town, and its ruler was not a very important lord. They were not fabulously rich, although they had plenty to get by on. They knew there was a king ruling over the kingdom, or at least they assumed there was. Most of them had never seen the king; in fact most of them didn’t know his name or in what city he lived. He ignored the town and its nobles, and they got along fine without him.

So they were surprised one day to receive messengers from the king. The messengers said that the king wanted to speak with the lord and his court. His Majesty was holding a state banquet, and invited them to come, along with any of the more wealthy members of the town.

The recipients of this strange news were a little unsure of what to expect, but nevertheless they were thrilled to be called away to meet such an important person. They put on their finest clothes, gathered up riches for tribute to the king, and journeyed with the messengers off to the city of the king, which they were told was four days away.

On the second night, however, brigands descended on the caravan as they were lying down to sleep. Continue reading