Finding comfort in not praying

I haven’t truly prayed in years, and today even when something bad happens, something that would send the faithful to their knees, it doesn’t occur to me to seek divine guidance or intervention. It isn’t that I don’t worry or don’t seek help and comfort from others, it’s that prayer no longer seems any more helpful than consulting a horoscope, or reading chicken entrails, or offering a burnt sacrifice, or any other ancient mystical means of dealing with life’s uncertainties.

As much as believers talk about prayer as submission to God’s will, prayer—at least prayer of supplication, which I think is the most common kind—is by its very nature an attempt to alter or control the course of events. You’re asking God to do something: cure someone’s illness, get you that job, preserve that marriage, elect that candidate. Even if you end with “but your will be done,” everyone but the strictest Calvinist is praying in the belief that there’s a God who allows himself to be influenced to some degree by human requests. Otherwise what’s the point of asking for anything? Continue reading

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In praise of flip-floppers

In a recent post titled “Down the Creationist Rabbit Hole,” I remarked that I grew up creationist and later changed my mind due to the evidence in favor of evolution. Regarding the difficulty of getting people to seriously consider evidence, a commenter replied,

I wish it was just a matter of presenting the evidence and waiting for it to sink in for most people; unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I do understand that nobody wants to look like a fool and nobody wants to lose face while debating, but it seems like people should eventually let other superior opinions seep in and change their mind… perhaps I’m being to idealistic.

And why is that so rarely the case? We can talk about cognitive dissonance or the theological implications of evolution (for one thing it makes nonsense of Paul’s main argument for the necessity of the atonement; see Romans 5:12 and following–meaning that there’s a whole worldview at stake for believers who know their Bible), but another big part of it is that in our culture, changing one’s mind is seen as a sign of weakness and unsteadiness. And the bigger the issue, the more the change bothers other people.
We need to challenge this attitude. Continue reading

These people are going to lose everything, part 2

Two weeks ago I wrote about death and kindness. This week I want to focus on death and loss, and on making peace with it.

Unless you believe two things with absolute certainty, 1) There is a heaven, and 2) I am going there, you live with the idea that death is the end.

Maybe you don’t fully accept the idea. Maybe it’s only a possibility in your mind. But even if you have a faith, if you ever doubt it all—there’s death lurking inevitably in your future, and the chance that it will snuff out your existence like a candle. Continue reading

Why Everyone Should Believe in Santa Claus

Santa1Santa2 Continue reading

A father shuns his son: a tragedy of faith

This is heartbreaking stuff. If you haven’t been following Nate’s deconversion story at Finding Truth, I highly recommend it. Read the whole series. Nate seems like a decent, humble, caring person, but because of his family’s and former church’s strict beliefs, they have “withdrawn” from him. Yesterday, at the conclusion of Nate’s series of posts, his father commented, in part:

I know this has been a painful journey, but even more so for your family who loves you more than life itself. It is obvious from many of the comments that quite a few people who have a belief in God think God requires nothing of them. However, if one believes that God is, and that Jesus is His son, and the Bible is the Word of God, the guide for our lives, then withdrawal is not a choice, but a duty. Submitting our will to God’s is sometimes difficult, but we must do it if we are to be pleasing to God… I would rather forgo this short time on earth with someone I love and cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God, thereby spending all eternity in Heaven with them…. Continue reading

Will you be happy in heaven if you believe in hell?

The Ladder of Divine Ascent or The Ladder of Paradise. (Wikimedia Commons; US public domain)

Will you be happy in heaven?

Do you belong to the True Faith? Do your holy scriptures promise eternal reward for the faithful, and eternal punishment for the unfaithful?

When you enter those gates, and are ushered into the presence of your God, will you rejoice knowing that (if you are a Christian), all of the world’s dead Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of every other religion, along with the nonreligious, are at that moment suffering in torment?

Will you be grateful to know that you are part of a small elect, from which the vast majority of human race—all those who don’t share your religion—are forever excluded? Continue reading

A new way to look at “Religion gives people comfort, so don’t take it away”

You may have heard this one. It’s not an argument that religion is true, it’s an argument that it’s useful. It’s invoked to discourage skeptics, and it rests partly on the maddening assumption that critiquing an idea is equivalent to forcibly ripping it out of someone’s hands. It usually leads to heated discussions about whether or not religion truly makes believers happy, or whether its comfort outweighs the guilt and fear that are often part of religiosity.

But there’s another major problem with this argument. Continue reading