Monthly Archives: April 2014

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

Atheist Parables: Doubting Thomas

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.

This is a parable based on the story of Thomas, from John 20. Thomas didn’t see Jesus the first time he appeared to the disciples, so he didn’t believe at first that Jesus came back from the dead. But Jesus was kind and helped him believe. What if Jesus had acted like this instead?

Jesus appeared to the disciples behind locked doors on Monday.  He told them to receive the holy spirit and that he was sending them into the world.  But Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus again came and stood among them.

Peter and Thomas were alone in one room of the house, when Jesus came in.  Peter was overjoyed to see his friend, the Messiah, and he cried, “My Lord!”

“Peace be with you,” said Jesus.  “The holy spirit is upon you.”

“Who are you talking to?” said Thomas.  “There’s nobody there!”

“What?” said Peter.  “Are you crazy?  It’s Jesus!  He’s right here!” Continue reading

It’s not just the Church; it’s the Bible too

If you’ve ever heard a Christian talking with an ex-Christian they don’t know who has recently lost the faith, you’ve heard the believer say something like this: “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with that church. They really weren’t showing you the love of Christ at all. I know Jesus, and he’s about love. He would never approve of (insert odious thing the church was doing).”

I’ve been surprised to realize recently that I no longer believe this. A big part of the problem I have with faith doesn’t seem to be with the church. It is with the Bible itself.

It’s the opposite of what I always heard as a Christian. All my life I believed the Bible was the holy, inspired Word of God. Churches try their best, but they are full of fallible people. They make mistakes. They are hypocritical. There are false prophets and false witnesses.

The church people may let you down, but the Word of God will not; it is a solid rock. Continue reading

Atheist Parables: The Friendly Math Teacher

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.

According to the common Evangelical Christian narrative, God created all of us. He loves all of us. But all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Not just a few of us have sinned; we all have. If you break even one commandment, they say, if you’ve ever felt lust or stolen anything or lied, you are fully deserving of hell. It is only by God’s great grace that we have any hope of salvation at all.

But is his grace really that great? If God creates people who are unable to be perfect and then punishes them for not being perfect, is that truly praiseworthy? If a human being did that, it would look like this:

Most of the years I spent at the Allegory High private school was enjoyable, but I had the hardest time ever from my math teacher, Dr. Vincent. Continue reading

How to be a Christian

I’ve noticed that some Evangelical Christians have a very specific list of things you must do in order to be saved. But they are also the people who would deny most vehemently that Christianity is a list of things to do. It’s grace from Jesus, they say. Nothing we can do ourselves.

“So you see, it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship! All you have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer, and believe in Jesus in your heart, and follow him and you’ll be saved!”

“Great! Sounds simple enough. I was afraid you would have a list of rules for me to follow or something.”

“No, nothing like that! Well, that’s great you’re saved now. See you on Sunday at church!” Continue reading