A Response to a Response to a Response… Oh My!

The other day I put up Three Strange But True Ways Christians Justify Starving Children – A Response Post. I’d like to firstly thank everyone for the overwhelmingly supportive reactions to my writing, which always manages to shock me. This post was far more popular than I expected it to be and I am ecstatic at the reach it has gotten.

Secondly, I’d like to note that my writing is normally an outlet for me and aimed at my non-believing or questioning audience alone, but since I’m not one for subtweeting or vaguebooking, I thought it would be sort of lame if I didn’t give the author of “3 Strange But True Reasons Why God Doesn’t Feed All the Starving Children of the World”, a chance to look over my post. Peter has very graciously commented on my response and I’d like to respond to him here. Another Christian blogger has also written a response post to which I’d like to respond to, as well. Some of my responses can apply to both of them, but I try to be as clear as I can.

If you want to read either of the responses in full, you’ll have to look at the comments from my previous post for one and read the blog link below for the other.

Ready? Okay!

ready

1. Your Interpretation of Matthew 6:26 is Inaccurate.

In your response, you said that Matthew 6:26 is a Bible verse that supports the claim that God says that He is going to feed everyone, or at least starving children. However, that is not the correct interpretation of the Bible verse.

Peter provided some links to blueletterbible.org which he calls an “Orthodox Biblical Commentary”. However, I’m a bit confused as to why, because these explanations of the verse fully support my interpretation (highlighted for brevity):

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It repeats over and over, Don’t worry because God will provide your necessities such as food and clothing if you trust in him, if you believe, if you have faith. Any other interpretation I could find within this link, such as maybe “it is a sin to worry because that means you don’t trust God” seems to run concurrently with the interpretation you say is incorrect. If you try to say that only that underlying lesson is true, I have to think this is dishonest because it is ignoring the blatently obvious implications in the link that you recommended.

Your only recourse then would be to say that children who are starving must not pray hard enough, must not believe hard enough,must not live in an area where they worship the correct god, and that would be a pretty callous answer.

Peter continues:

This then brings up the point, what makes these author’s interpretation of the Bible correct, and yours incorrect? The answer lies in how you interpret the Bible. The Bible itself tells us that the only correct way to interpret the Bible is to have God reveal to you what it means.

1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man (i.e. unbeliever) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

This verse implies that one has to be a born-again Christian to correctly understand the things of God.

Does that mean that unbelievers should not read the Bible? Of course they should read the Bible. However, unbelievers have two choices if they want to read and interpret the Bible correctly:

1. Either they can pray and ask God to help them understand what the Bible means
2. Or they can rely on a reliable Orthodox Bible commentary to help them

If they don’t do one of these two things, and they read Bible passages the way that you do, then they will make common mistakes. These are mistakes like taking things out of context, and not understanding the rules that govern the interpretation of Scripture.

We are varying a bit again from the original topic of the Problem of Suffering, but I’d like to address this briefly.

The Bible is (most Christians’) ultimate evidence of all things God, right? This is how God’s message is spread throughout the world and my eternal salvation is contingent upon me believing it is the word of God and is true. But you’re telling me that I need to already have believed in and accepted Jesus before I can read the bible and understand it. You have to believe before you can believe? What a terrible business model!

That is not how evidence works, at least not in the real world. Imagine you’re presenting evidence to a jury at a murder trial. You’re trying to convince them that the victim was stabbed to death with a sponge, and you can tell by their faces that they are not buying it. I mean, how can anyone be stabbed to death with a sponge? You show it to them — it is soft. There is no blood.

But, you have the ace of spades in your pocket. You say to them, “The key is, you must accept that what I say is true and the defendent murdered the victim with this sponge. First you must believe it in your heart, THEN you can see the evidence that points toward the sponge!”

truth

Aaand then you get laughed out of the courtroom.

Another good example of this “believe before you can believe” mentality is the Emperor’s New Clothes story. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. This strategy might have worked before people had access to so much information, but now?

We don’t choose what to believe. We are either convinced or not convinced by the weight of the evidence. It is simply not enough to say that only born-agains can understand the Bible. First, you’re assuming that I was never born-again (what if I said God revealed to me the correct interpretation when I was a born-again Christian, and he says your interpretation is wrong?), and second, that God for some reason would make the Bible so tricky and convoluted that it fools many people into becoming atheists even though our salvation is dependent upon the Bible.

2. Your Interpretation of Mathew 21:2 is Inaccurate

Again, you misinterpret Mathew 21:2 in your article. I think it’s sufficient to say that if your interpretation were true, then Christians would be asking God for millions of dollars in their bank accounts every day.

But any Christian worth his or her salt knows that that is not the case, and that’s not what the Bible advocates.

I guarantee you that if any Christian won the lottery right now, they’d be thanking God for answering their prayers. Now, why would that be? Confirmation bias regarding prayer is very strong — Christians associate any good fortune with a blessing from God.

This is why we are even having this discussion! Christians act like God intervenes in their life on a daily basis, by providing them food, job promotions, finding a dollar bill on the ground, etc. If Christians didn’t believe in an interfering God on the one hand and then defend him not feeding starving children on the other, I wouldn’t have ever written on this topic.

3. You Are Making Up a God in Your Own Image

The mistake that you’re making here Nancy is that you are dictating to God the way that you think He should act. Anytime that you do that, then you are making up an idol in your own image, which is exactly what point number two of my article is talking about.

I am not “dictating to God how I think he should act”. I am pointing out the discrepancies in how CHRISTIANS say God is, and how he supposedly acts. I didn’t make up these attributes — Christians did. Christians say, “God answers my prayers! I prayed for financial help and I got a promotion! God healed my father’s illness!” And on and on. I don’t claim God answers prayers — Christians do.

This is the number one mistake that atheists make when it comes to God. They have problems with the way the Christian God behaves. I can say that because as a former atheist, this is what made me leave the Christian faith to begin with.

Peter links to his conversion story, which are always fascinating reads.

Peter, thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate you trying to identify with your audience in that you did not believe in religion at some point. However, for every conversion to Christianity I could show you de-conversions to atheism or conversions to Islam. Personal experiences simply cannot count as evidence, because they cannot be verified, and because every other religion has personal experience stories also.

You are assuming that the reason you deconverted to atheism is the same reason every other atheist does. I, for one, did not become an atheist because God wasn’t there for me during one incident. I became an atheist because the weight of the evidence points to the nonexistence of any deities, especially the Christian God.

4. Atheists Don’t Capitalize “He” When Referring to God

I was joking. Feel free to capitalize “God” all you want… that aside was more for my audience’s benefit.

5. One of God’s Attributes is Missing

While yes God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, there is one at attribute of God that you didn’t mention, and that most people don’t talk about. That attribute is that God also has all-freedom.

What does that mean? It means that He has the freedom to make whatever choices He wants to make that fit His purposes, and that are often based on His knowledge of the future. Knowledge of the future is something that you and I don’t have, but God does. So in my opinion, it’s sufficient to say that God makes His own choices based on His own reasons and purposes.

Imagine if I asked my parents, “Why don’t you feed me? Why are you starving me?” and they said, “Because we can.” Would that make them a good parent? What if they said, “Well, it is Christians’ responsibility to feed you, and we are not Christians”? Or, “Because we have to save money for a bigger plan. You will see someday.” None of these are reasonable explanations for starving your child. Why are they acceptable reasons for God not to feed his children? “Because he can” is the worst answer of them all.

6. God Delivers Justice in this World and in the Afterlife

Yes, God did deliver justice instantaneously in some parts of the Bible. Then there are also parts in which He granted people an opportunity to repent before implementing His justice. Again, this is to some extent based on God’s knowledge of the future. So God can choose to deliver justice instantaneously or at a later time.

As this applies to not just feeding starving children but the problem of evil/ suffering as a whole, I’ll let Tracie Harris answer this one:

tracie

It’s okay, Tracie. You’ll understand in the afterlife.

Peter asks:

But what about those children who do pray to God and do get fed? How about those children whose prayers are answered? I’m pretty sure that to it would be an impossibility for you since you wrongfully assume that God doesn’t exist.

I don’t know, you tell me! Did those children pray harder? Did they happen to be born in an area where their parents worship the right God? Why would God feed some children and not others?

It has been shown over and over that people have their “prayers” answered at the same statistical rate as what would have naturally occurred anyway. Christians get divorced, recover from illness, and experience poverty at approximately the same rate as any other religion. Atheists are not collectively worse off than Christians — in fact highly atheistic countries fare far better in overall societal health.

What you’re demonstrating here is cognitive bias — you latch on to the times that what you wished for came true, and called that “God answering your prayer”. The times that what you wished for didn’t come true, that’s God saying “no”, or “wait, I have a bigger plan”. It is a rigged game.

Screenshot_2015-08-15-21-48-37-1-1If anyone is interested, the full video is here.

Conclusion:

Please also note that when I pointed out the errors in your article, I don’t do it maliciously or because I want to prove you wrong. It is my sincerest desire to see you come back to Christianity and to give your heart to Jesus.

I thank you for your comments and your gracious tone, and I hope you read my responses with an open mind as I did yours, and look deeper into the links you showed me that I highlighted above. Unlike you, I am not trying to convert or deconvert anyone, I just want people to question with boldness!

As I stated above, I received another response post from a Christian, Ufuoma, on her blog The Isaiah 53:5 Project titled “The Poor You Will Always Have With You – A Response Post”. I find it funny that a Christian would use a Jesus “one-liner” when we atheists are so often accused of taking Bible verses out of context. The full context:

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

As I addressed in my recent response to Ken Ham, this is one of the most callous verses from Jesus that I have read. In this story, Jesus has no concern for the poor whatsoever. This may be harsh, but Christians seem to use this verse as a way to make themselves feel better about poor people. In context, it is clearly situational, and the attempt to use this as a rationalization that “spiritual needs trump physical needs” is gag-inducing.

Why not use a different one-liner from Jesus? How about Matthew 19:21?

Sell all of your posessions, give your money to the poor, then come back and follow me.

Why is it that Jesus’ words to Judas are supposed to be for everyone, but not his words to the rich man?

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Ufuoma continues:

Many people have wrong expectations of God.  The Jews, for instance, were expectant that when the Christ came, He would deliver them from the rule of the Romans.  But that wasn’t Jesus’ agenda at all.  And though Jesus healed and fed many people, He didn’t heal all the sick or feed all the poor that lived in the world, while He walked on it, or even in Judae.  Jesus came for a higher purpose than to make this world a more cosy place for everyone.  He came to save the world spiritually!  You may not agree with His priorities, but that’s just the way it is.

Again, we are getting way off-topic here, but the fact that the Jewish people don’t think Jesus fulfilled their prophecies and therefore was not the Messiah should actually be very concerning to Christians. Read more here.

God already gave us a chance for a perfect world, without sickness, sin, death and poverty!  It was His original plan, to live among men in a state of Heaven on Earth.  However, we all know what happened to that plan.  The enemy succeeded in deceiving Eve and Adam, so that they became corrupt and could not abide in the Garden and live in that perfect world.  God didn’t see Satan’s attack as a defeat, but as a challenge…an opportunity to teach, groom, and lead us to know and love righteousness.

The reason I even read Peter’s post was because it promised to be new and exciting. “The Fall” as an answer does nothing for me. The idea that Adam and Eve could even sin, when they could not even know right from wrong because they were not moral agents, and then because of them all of humanity is condemned to suffering in a fallen world, is morally repugnant. What father would punish his other children for the sins of the first?

Asking why God doesn’t feed all the starving children is equivalent to asking why God doesn’t make everyone believe in Him!  You may disagree, but really, what’s the difference?  If God really wanted to, He could snap His fingers and make the world perfect once again.  He could, with a word, cause all men to fall in love with Him…  But that’s not His way.  That’s not true love, because it deprives us of our choice, and therefore, responsibility and sacrifice.

First, there is a huge difference between giving people enough evidence to believe in him and forcing people to worship him. Did Abraham, Noah, Moses, or Paul have their free will taken away when God/Jesus appeared to them?  You believe in Satan, don’t you? Yet you do not worship him. Even if everyone believed in God, they would not be forced to worship him. God could still provide for the most helpless of humans, as he has supposedly promised, and those who wish to sin would still do so.

Every parent knows that their kids will never learn responsibility, compassion, discipline or even patience, if they always do everything for them.

This entire paragraph… okay. If we held God to the standard of earthly parents, he would be jailed or at the very least we’d be taken away from him. There’s a difference between letting kids make mistakes and starving them, or ignoring them.

Where is the “true love” in hiding from one’s children and in playing games with the way in which you communicate to them? Even Jesus says, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

So, what I’m trying to say here is that, there is no complex answer to why God allows evil to coexist with good on Earth. In His parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Christ answers this question even more clearly…

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13:24-30)

That’s it, in a nutshell! I cannot do better than my God. There’s no other smart answer to give. At least, not one that will satisfy an atheist!

This parable fails as an analogy to feeding starving children for several reasons. It more addresses the problem of evil than the problem of suffering, but I’ll play along.

If you say that God cannot remove evil in the world without “uprooting” the good stuff, then you are admitting that God is not all-powerful. As a society, we do our best to either rehabilitate or remove harmful people from society by jailing them.

It also completely ignores the fact that there are actual children involved whom God is choosing to ignore. Jesus was not asked the question “Why does God let children starve?” and as such I don’t think it’s fair to apply this answer.

You will see that most of the people out there helping the poor in foreign lands are Christians, and they do it because they are Christian, not because they are good people.

If the only reason you want to help others is because you’re commanded to by God, I would agree that they are not good people. We should be good for goodness’ sake, out of empathy and care for others, not because we are told to, or to receive rewards or avoid punishments. There are plenty of religious and secular charities and programs, and it might also interest you to know that Muslims give the most to charity.

The fact that both life-long and deconverted atheists give to charity and do volunteer work should indicate to you that it has more to do with human empathy than religion. If you lost your faith today, would you stop caring about your fellow humans? Would you suddenly turn into an evil person, just because you weren’t convinced of the Bible’s claims? I’d hope not.

Penn Jillette

Finally, I must address this:

By the way, God won’t consider your claim to atheism as a reasonable defence against your disobedience.  You say you don’t believe in God, that’s ok.  You should know that God doesn’t believe in atheism either (Romans 1:18-25)!  And, you know what, neither do I!  Nobody wants to live in a world without God, any more than a child wants to grow up without parents.  The problem is, you want a god you can control, who fits your idea of niceness and who won’t make you do what you don’t want to do.  Just because we have largely succeeded in stripping parents of their power in the home, doesn’t mean we can strip God of His authority over the Earth!  God is not God if He jumps at yours or my command!

This is a mistake I come across far too often. What do you know about me besides my believing different from you? Nothing? So who are you to say that I’m “disobedient” or just want to sin? What did Jesus say about judging others again? As I’ve stated above, the only reason we are having this discussion is because the claims that Christians make about God’s attributes do not match the real world.

I don’t see anything in Romans 1:18-25 that says there’s no such thing as atheists, however I find it presumptuous of Christians. Imagine if I were sitting here with a Quran saying, “Allah doesn’t believe in Christians, so you must not be a Christian.” Sounds silly, right? The problem, again, is starting with the answer — the Bible must be true, so in order to justify this you must dismiss the thoughts and feelings of millions of atheists around the world. Or , you’re calling us liars. I think Christians are mistaken, but I don’t think they are liars, and again, I find this attitude presumptuous.

For a more in-depth back-and-forth on these topics, Godless Cranium has been active in the comment section of the post.

Phew. 4000 words in, I’m going to end this, finally! I’d like to thank both Peter and Ufuoma for their responses. We may disagree on many things but I appreciate everyone’s civility and willingness to discuss.

As we have veered very far off the original topic, reasons God doesn’t feed starving children, and we are getting into several topics that have been hashed out over and over, I think from here on out I’ll likely restrict my responses to the comment sections.

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Three Strange But True Ways Christians Justify Starving Children – A Response Post

Every once in a while a post or a tweet grabs my attention and I simply cannot contain my response to 140 characters. This was one of them: “3 Strange But True Reasons Why God Doesn’t Feed All the Starving Children in the World” from the apologetics website “Not Ashamed of the Gospel”. This should be good, I thought. “Strange”, so they probably won’t be reasons I’ve heard before, and “true” so there must be some pretty good evidence to back these reasons up! Sigh. Wrong on both counts. And thus we have my second response post.

So, what are the strange but true reasons God doesn’t feed all the starving children?

Reason #1 : It’s Not God’s Responsibility to Feed the Starving Children of the World

Of all the times that I have read the Bible from cover to cover, I can’t think of a single Bible verse in which God makes a promise to feed all the starving children in the world.

So when somebody accuses God of being unjust because He has the capability to feed starving children, and He doesn’t, then it’s that person that has a misunderstanding of God.

All right, let me stop you right there, because I can think of two Bible verses off the top of my head that contradict this line of thinking. The first being…

birds

Pretty. It continues:

 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:26-33

This sounds suspiciously like, “God will feed all the starving children”, doesn’t it? Especially if they earnestly pray and seek God. I hardly doubt the author can say that those children must not have prayed hard enough or believed firmly enough.

This brings me to the second verse which contradicts Reason #1. Jesus himself promises to grant whatever prayers we ask for:

10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Luke 11:10-13

That sounds pretty conclusive to me. Of course it doesn’t use the exact words, “God promises to feed all the starving children in the world”, but it’s extremely close. How about one more, for good measure? Okay 🙂

21 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21:21-22

How many Christians pray every day for the poor? Yet nothing happens.

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I can’t move on to the second reason without addressing this:

If God Isn’t Responsible For Feeding Starving Children, Then Who Is?
The answer is you and me. I can think of numerous Bible verses in which God instructs His children to feed the poor people of the world.

Of course he goes on to list said Bible verses. Here’s the thing — God is all-powerful. We are not. God has unlimited resources. We do not. Why in the world would he entrust the well-being of his children to his other children who can barely take care of themselves?! That would be like an absentee parent expecting the oldest child to take care of all the younger ones — I mean, they’ll do it cause they have to, cause they love their siblings and want the best for them, but it’s gonna be hellish, to say the least. Instead of ALL of the children being taken care of equally well by a responsible parent, each child will suffer to varying degrees.

This “reason” – that we are responsible, not God – is not answering the “why” here.

Q: “Why doesn’t God feed all the starving children in the world?”
A: “Because it’s our responsibility!”

But why is it our responsibility? It’s not answering the question. It’s shifting the blame and not giving a reason. It’s saying, because I said so. In this case, because the Bible says so. You will not get very far using the Bible to prove the Bible with an atheist.

Reason #2: God Isn’t Like Humans

Atheists make a mistake when they say things like, “If I saw a starving child and had the power to feed him and I don’t, then I am evil. That’s the same thing with God, He is evil because He has the power to feed starving children and He doesn’t.”

First of all, an atheist would never capitalize “He” for God. Blech. 😉 Secondly, I pretty much already addressed this when the author asserted it was somehow our responsibility, but I’ll repeat: the God you assert exists has the motive (all-loving), means (all-powerful), and opportunity (all-knowing/all-present) to feed all the starving children of the world. We do not. It’s not that atheists think God is evil. It’s just that this issue makes more sense if he didn’t exist, because the properties you assign to God do not jive with life as we know it.

God’s goals are different than our goals. His purposes are different than our purposes. His way of justice is different than the human way of justice.

Ahh, the “mysterious ways”. *Insert Twilight Zone theme music here*

Once again, this is not answering the question. This is wishful thinking. Cognitive dissonance. Mental gymnastics. The world doesn’t jive with the properties you assign to God, so there must be an explanation! Yet once again, you fail to give one.

Reason #3: God’s Justice is Coming Soon For All

While God does see hate crimes, rapes, and murders as sins, He also sees lying, cheating, and hating people as sins too.

So since God is a just God, then He’s going to have to give justice to all if He were to judge the world today.

That means that there would be a lot of people who would receive punishment for eternity for breaking God’s standards.

So instead, God is saving His judgment for Judgment Day. That’s when everyone is going to get judged for what they did on earth.

Okay, I think we went a biiiiit off topic with this last reason. We were talking about feeding starving children, remember? But I’ll bite – This is a cop-out.

There are plenty of instances where God delivers “justice” immediately in the Bible. Just off the top of my head, God smites: Noah’s contemporaries, Oman for spilling his seed, 42 children mauled by bears for making fun of a prophet, Sodom and Gomorrah. I could go on, but you get the idea. There are also plenty of examples in the Bible where God helps people immediately – all of Jesus’ miracles (including feeding and healing people), parting the Red Sea, manna from heaven, etc. Come on, don’t play coy – we all know that God intervenes heavily in people’s lives in the Bible.

So this “you have to wait til after death” thing is crap. Jesus didn’t say, “Ask and ye shall receive in heaven”.

Here’s the thing though, maybe we wouldn’t expect God to feed all the starving children if believers weren’t constantly thanking him for mundane shit like finding their keys, getting a promotion, or putting food on their table. Isn’t it weird how God always seems to “bless” people in first world countries more? Why can he feed us but not the people who need it most?

MICHAELONGOD
So many questions.

All of these (now debunked) reasons apply not only to starving children, but the problem of evil / suffering as a whole. You can try to apply these to someone being raped, or murdered, or tortured, or all three. Why doesn’t God help them? Any of us would immediately rush to someone else’s aid if we had the means and opportunity.

This blog post (3 Strange But True Reasons…), while it does include questioning Christians in its target audience, seems to assume these explanations have never occured to atheists before. On the contrary. Especially for ex-believers like myself who had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into non-belief by our own brains, we have wrestled with these questions and even accepted these answers at some point.

Where we start to slide into non-belief is when these reasons no longer satisfy us. They no longer satisfy the cognitive dissonance ringing in our brains saying, This doesn’t make sense!

We come to realize it makes far more sense not to twist ourselves into a pretzel for these half-assed rationalizations, and that the far simpler answer is… it’s just us out here. We do have to take care of each other because we are the only ones who can.

Update: The author of the original post responded to my critiques. Check out my response to a response to a response… Oh my! 

To make a real difference in others’ lives, click here and donate, in honor of the one-year anniversary of Robin Williams’ passing, to one of his favorite charities.

Hat tip to GodSwill Ministries (website, Twitter) who posted the original article on their Facebook today. Go check ’em out! 

For my first response post, check out It’s Not “The Message” We Object To, Trust Me… – A Response to Ken Ham.

How to Make Teens Think Indoctrination is Cool: Charismania 101

As you know if you’ve read my “deconversion story”, I was raised Charismatic Catholic. Hm? You don’t know what that means? Yeah, neither do 99% of Catholics.

For all of their weird cannibalistic rituals (eating and drinking the body/blood of Christ) and Sunday Sitting/Standing/Kneeling Olympics (known as Mass), Catholics are one of the more liberal sects of Christianity. Most everyday Catholics are perfectly fine with equal marriage (now known as just “marriage!”), not going to church every Sunday, and pre-marital sex (just ask any ex-Catholic school girl 😉 ).

happy nun

Most are what I used to call Sunday Catholics — they went to church, maybe confessed their sins, and then went right back to living life not thinking about God or the Bible for six days during the week. It’s even a running joke that most only attend church on Christmas and Easter.

Then there’s Charismatic Catholics. Charismatics are basically the Catholic version of evangelical Protestants or Baptists. We would go to church on Sundays like regular Catholics, then have our own prayer services sometime during the week where we would have praise and worship music, speak in tongues, be “slain in the spirit”, etc. Yes, exactly like those worship CD infomercials you see late at night. Funnily enough, even though everyone I knew was Catholic and even went to Catholic school, others thought I was in a cult because it was so different (and intense).

Once or twice a year, we would hold and/or attend “conferences” that were sort of like what mega-churches must look like every Sunday. If you were raised in one of these similar sects, you might know what I’m talking about. I especially encourage life-long atheists or those ex-believers that had a pretty lax religious upbringing to view these with an open mind and understanding. Children and teens are especially susceptible to such manipulative pandering. Maybe you can understand how people can fall for this stuff. I hope you guys watch these clips because my describing it absolutely cannot do them justice. Take a quick look:

Let’s break down how this works. These events were packed with talks from KidsJustLikeYou! who had found Jesus and turned all their problems around. Hip priests who played the guitar or drums. Skits and songs and line dancing. Glow sticks. Spot lights. Beach balls. Clapping to the beat in the sign of the cross. All of this is very attractive to young teens who would otherwise fall asleep during Sunday services.

Some of these events I attended were honestly the best times of my life. I loved the feeling of community, the laughter, the friendship, the songs and the music. I felt close to God and others. But they had a dark side, too.

I’m not sure how some of these other denominations handle guilt and forgiveness, but if you even know a Catholic or ex-Catholic, you know there’s a running joke about Catholic guilt. From what I understand, other denominations have simple crosses in their churches, while Catholic churches often feature various depictions of the crucifixion. Hideous, isn’t it?

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Charismatics take the guilt thing to a whole new level.

Remember that documentary, “Jesus Camp”? I honestly could not get through it because it bubbled up such intense feelings for me. Imagine being shown graphic depictions of torture and being told, as a child or teen, that YOU did this to Jesus. Whenever you lie to your parents, or hit your brother, or give in to natural sexual urges, be it with yourself or others, YOU drive the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. Remember those children sobbing in the movie? Overwhelmed with guilt and self-loathing? My little prayer group would put on these guilt-inducing skits that had teens and grown adults crying in shame and begging an imaginary being for forgiveness.

Kids are told that they are broken and need fixing. They’re told that normal every day issues that almost all teens face are not only dangerous to themselves but hurting the imaginary God that watches them all the time. That only Jesus can save them.

Notice how Jesus doesn’t save this girl? She “saves” herself. I have seen many variations on the theme in the skit above — usually varying “sins” placing chains on a teen, until they can finally get to Jesus. Jesus almost never saves them. They have to come to Jesus themselves, of course. We wouldn’t want them thinking Jesus can actually do anything, now would we?

Check out the 4:30 mark. At the bottom right corner, you can see a young man put his head in his hands during the crux of the skit. This is usually what happens. I have seen grown men and women crying over stuff like this. One of the comments I saw on one of these videos was, “You should show the people afterward”. Then they are usually presented with the opportunity to be prayed over / accept Jesus… yadda, yadda.

Teens are in such a vulnerable state already. Often, they are dragged there by well-meaning parents who are attending the attached adult conferences, or friends who are already heavily involved in the cult. Yes, it was a cult. I can see that now.

As an atheist, of course, all of this seems exceedingly silly. I can recognize now the dopamine rush that felt like a spiritual connection. I get the same highs listening and singing along to other types of music I love. I can see how so much of this is targeted at kids who think singing hymns in church is, like, totally lame. I was one of those kids. I thought my faith was special. I felt like I wasn’t part of a religion – it was a relationship (I know you’ve heard that one before!).

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People sometimes accuse internet/Twitter/Facebook/blog atheism of being an echo chamber. You know what? Sometimes it is, and sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I need that. Because, believe it or not, sometimes when I watch these videos or hear this type of music, I can feel the tug at my heartstrings. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s a longing to be able to wish all my problems away like these kids are told they can. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s there.

Of course, Christian believers would say this is Jesus calling to me, and I’m rejecting him. But you and I know that I am trying to protect myself from returning to a toxic cult mentality. And I am forever grateful to my internet atheist “community” for keeping me grounded.