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 →
Several days ago The Great Antagonizer posted a critique of the “God works in mysterious ways” meme, explaining how it functions as religion’s rhetorical “get out of jail free card” when bad things happen to good people. It reminded me of how the Bible’s Book of Job answers the question: a terrible answer, but kind of a funny story (in a perverse way), and one that sheds light on some of the inner workings of religious faith.
A Christian blog recently featured a post titled “There Is No God, And I Hate Him,” and it got me to thinking about one of the things that believers often throw at us infidels. I commented there but want to develop it a little more here. The blogger complained about “evangelistic” atheists, writing (in part):
I mean really, what’s the point? If there is no God, then eventually the sun will burn up, our world will be gone, everyone will die and that’s it…
And we know what rhetorical brickbat is coming next, don’t we?
God the Father, by Ludovico Mazzolino, via Wikimedia Commons
In a previous post I wrote about the story of Noah and the Curse of Ham (which has nothing to do with the Old Testament prohibition against eating pork!). That a curse could determine a people’s fate for generations is part of the biblical notion that God shapes history. In fact, history shaped God to reflect the fears and political realities of ancient Israel. The result is the Bible’s “jealous” God… an idea that influences history to this day.
Noah’s curse fell on Ham’s son, Canaan, whose descendants had the misfortune of occupying the Promised Land without being God’s Chosen People, and were therefore slaughtered. It doesn’t change anything that this is mostly nationalistic fiction written centuries later. Simply read as a story, the tales of the conquest of Canaan are part of a sensibility that shapes the entire Old Testament and its portrayal of God. A few highlights show what I mean: Continue reading →
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 →
It’s rare that you can actually watch the president of the United States commit a sin live and on national television.
But that’s what happened yesterday when President Obama told the nation that he is compelled to take more money from the rich.
This is a direct, public and disgraceful violation of the 10th Commandment.
The 10th Commandment, of course, flatly prohibits the sin of lust for another man’s wife or for his possessions. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Continue reading →
Do you ever feel that you’re a small part of something much larger than yourself, something big and wonderful?
Are you ever swept with a sense of awe and wonder?
Does injustice trouble you? Do you feel a responsibility for your fellow human beings? Do you experience a sense of moral outrage when people are mistreated?
Do you ever bask in the knowledge that you are loved?
Notice I didn’t ask if you believe in God. You could answer an emphatic yes to all these questions and still not be religious. None of these things has any necessary connection to the supernatural. And yet they get to the heart of what seems to bother many believers about atheists. Continue reading →
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.
Detail of “The Damned Cast into Hell” by Luca Signorelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Skeptics have long made a sport of quoting the Bible’s most hate-filled passages. Everyone has their favorites. A few of mine are Numbers 31 (in which the Israelites slaughter the Midianites, and Moses is angry because they spared the women), Deuteronomy 13 (God demands that you stone your children to death if they worship other gods), and Genesis 22 (Abraham passes a test of faith by demonstrating that he’ll sacrifice his own son when God tells him to).
There are many, many more. But a lot of people mistakenly think that God mellows out in the New Testament when Jesus starts talking about love and forgiveness. Continue reading →