To The Boiling Point...

In 1984, my family experienced something I will never forget. I was just ten years old at the time. It was somewhere around eight o’ clock on a Monday morning. Brother and I were getting ready for school. He was at the kitchen table munching on a bowl of Captain Crunch, and having just finished scarfing down mine, I sat on the couch, watching cartoons.

We were running late that morning, and since we had already missed the bus, mom was preparing to drive us to school. It was only a matter of putting her shoes on, grabbing her keys, and getting in the car. Just then, there was a knock at the door. I was going to answer it, but mom ran over and answered it first.

The door swung open to reveal a thin, black-haired man with a small, muscular build and several indistinct tattoos running up his forearms and biceps. He was wearing a midnight blue t-shirt with what looked like some kind of nightclub logo on it and tight-fitting blue jeans. It was like I could smell the thinning, oily hair on that almost peanut-shaped head of his from the couch—that and the overpowering whiff of cologne and cigarettes. He had a bottle of spray cleaner in his right hand. He said to my mother in a very high-pitch, scraggly voice (I don’t remember exactly, so I’m paraphrasing here): “Hi, I’m selling these bottles of spray cleaner. It’s a good cleaner. If I can come in and demonstrate on a piece of laundry or dirty surface in your house…”

Something just felt wrong about the guy, even before he said a word. The way he wasn’t holding up the cleaning bottle so that it could be examined was odd. He was a terrible speaker who obviously hadn’t put much work into his sales pitch, and just like that, he seemed so interested in coming inside! This guy didn’t come off like a salesman. He wasn’t charismatic or persuasive like a salesman, and he sure wasn’t dressed like one. Even my mother, being the nice and entreating person she sometimes can be, looked a little puzzled and interrupted him in mid-sentence: “Well, thanks, but not right now. I’m just walking out to take my kids to school.” The man said – this time with more creepy energy in that scratchy voice of his – “It’ll only take a minute.” Mom replied, “Well, I gotta say no. We’re already late as it is. But thanks. Maybe another time.” The man seemed to look down for a second before leaving our porch as though fighting himself on what to do next. He then unenthusiastically left, stiffly walking away like he really didn’t want to go. He left, and that was that.

The pungent scent of cheap cologne and menthol smokes still lingering, mom looked at us, then rolled her eyes, making a comment or two on how weird that fellow was, but being that we were in a hurry, we forgot about it. In less than five minutes, we were in the family’s 1981 Ford Escort and on our way to school. We didn’t even make it down the street before seeing two police cars parked against the curb out in front of a neighbor’s house and several police officers forcing the man against the trunk of a squad car. One officer searched his pockets and another put cuffs on him. As much as mom could without getting too much attention, she slowed down to get a better view of what was transpiring. When we saw the man, all mom could say was, “Oh…my…God! I almost let that man in!” Brother and I pivoted on our knees in the rear-most bench seat to watch as the man was lowered into the patrol car. It was chilling to see the spooky man meet our gaze just before we drove out of view!

Watching the 6 o’ clock news that evening, with curiosity and a still present disconcertedness in the air, we discovered just how lucky we were. The man that was arrested was a serial rapist, who sometimes pretended to sell door-to-door products. He would introduce the product and then ask his female victims for the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness indoors. Once he was let in (or if he could force his way in without being seen), he began beating his victims with his fists. When the unfortunate traumatized were sufficiently bloodied, he tied them facedown to their beds or couches and raped them in that position. Then he fled the scene of the crime, leaving the victim bound. We learned that on at least one of the six rapes mentioned in his confession, he gave a boy my age two black eyes and some broken ribs and then bound him to watch his obese mother be viciously sodomized.

We narrowly missed having our worlds turned upside-down that fateful day. Had mom not been so diligent as to keep him outside, things would have been much, much different! In a flash, all those McGruff “take a bite out of crime” films we saw at school made a whole lot of sense!

Accompanying the shock and lively conversation this generated among the family were the customary platitudes of divine thanksgiving, ”The angels were looking out for you,” “God moved your mom’s heart not to let that man in,” “Jesus was watching over you,” “God must really love this family!”, and on and on it went. I can remember this being repeated when I became a minister. God just had to make sure I wasn’t hurt so that things would fall into place later in life, allowing me to become a preacher. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but today I definitely think about it and am beside myself at the arrogance of such self-serving sentiments.

With only a slight inclination towards rationality one is compelled to answer the question of what happened with the previous six victims of this brutalizing maniac, this sick, twisted beast of a man, unworthy even of a Chinese zoo. Did God not like them? Why would he not send his angels to protect them, or if no one else, just that eleven-year-old boy who had to be hospitalized for his beatings? We can scrape the bottom of the barrel asking what “plan” a divine being could possibly have had for allowing some lying pervert – fit to be put into a wood chipper – to violate these families, but no answer will surface. Those poor women, that unfortunate child; the nightmares they must have had, the horrible flashbacks brought on by this short-circuited toaster of a man; the mental agony, the engrained trauma, the irreparable damage done must have been unbearable.

One can be forgiven for letting the imagination run wild, seeing in the theatre of the mind this loathsome individual restrained, with honey on his genitals, and thrown facedown on an anthill. But there is something else that’s loathsome here; it is the believer’s conceited conviction that he is somehow indispensable to the universe. There is nothing more selfish than to assume that those who narrowly miss tragedy are spared from it by a watchful deity. These prized souls must have a special destiny, whereas the rest of us are getting the “sloppy seconds” of God’s providential care. I am ashamed to say that I used to think like this, but I have thankfully come to my senses, and I can think of nothing more haughty, more gloatingly advantageous than to think that because tragedy hasn’t stricken me that it couldn’t have because of preferential heavenly factors. Just because I wasn’t bum-rushed on a subway train and robbed doesn’t mean I was saved from that fate by a god, and yet this big-headed belief on the part of those who feel too cosmically important to face the music of life’s mayhem are yapping on like schnauzers of stupidity about their blessings all the time. Just watch the news as some bible-thumping buffoon walks away from a car accident and gets on TV and thanks God for it.

A believer thanking God for his deliverance from catastrophe is like one of two siblings thanking his abusive stepfather because the retrograde scoundrel chose to beat his brother with the steel pipe, and not him. When one thanks God for his deliverance, the person is in effect saying, ”Jesus, as a person who hates violence, I don’t understand why you allow it, but if you, God, in your infinite wisdom, must allow someone to die or suffer, I’m glad it wasn’t me.” This unstated line of bloated, self-preserving thinking I renounce as among the worst of mental convictions brought on by a gangrenous spirituality.

How dare you, believer, rejoice because you think your life was spared by a deity when no one had to die to begin with, when loss of life or injury was as needless as an air conditioner in Barrow, Alaska.

How dare you, believer, give thanks to a being who saves a few and slaughters many, many of the slaughtered being god’s own faithful.

How dare you, believer, thank a god who orchestrates his sovereign will so unpredictably that a sane, non-religious mind can only view it as the work of blind chance.

When God blesses some, he curses others by leaving them to endure their calamities, and it makes sense; if god is to be glorified by puny patrons, he must save only a few, and naturally, leave the rest to rot. My family was not “blessed” by God to be delivered from this sicko-path anymore than the others were “cursed” who were subjected to him. Like many other chance-favored, would-be victims, we were fortunate. Our location, the order and times in which the human-meat-monger picked his prey, and our very admissible porch were the factors that put us out of harm’s way. It brings me to the boiling point to think of those who consider themselves bodyguarded by the Big Man Upstairs, while the rest of us get to know life’s tales of terror firsthand—God’s arms crossed and folded nicely all the while.



Ben said...

I love the phrase "schnauzers of stupidity."

That's good.

John W. Loftus said...

Wow Joe, amazing story and amazing writing! And to think, all that this guy had to do is to believe on Jesus and he'll be in heaven! That too is amazing! Even though the rest of us have not done anything close to what he had done, we'll be in hell! One little white lie before an infinitely holy God deserves the same judgment as a serial rapist.

Even as a Christian I was appalled at the kind of reasoning you just exposed.

Kevin H said...

Too bad you walked away from Christ. His followers need to hear from you on offering pat answers and platitudes. Points well taken.

Super Happy Jen said...

Wow. That's scary.

zilch said...

Yes, an amazing story, Joe. Of course, if someone has to suffer, most of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, would rather that ourselves and our loved ones be spared. Prayer is just an attempt to get divine support for this understandable selfishness. But selfishness it is.

And foolishness: not only does prayer demonstrably not work, but it's obvious that of those who are shipwrecked, the survivors are more likely to pass on the story of how God saved them.

Jospeh said...

For years I prayed believing God wanted to show himself strong on my behalf. I had never been exposed to pain or evil on a grand scale. The main benefit of prayer, looking back, is that it helped me to sort through my thoughts.

Today I feel awkward praying for God's blessing on a marriage or a patient in the hospital (it's interesting how we pray for healing, but in the same breath say, "God, guide the hand of the surgion"). However, I do believe that prayer has psychological benefits.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Joe: This might surprise you, but while I, of course, would express my joy that you and your mother escaped this horror, that you only have to suffer the 'nightmares of what might have been' rather than the 'nightmares of what happened,' I think you are being entirely too harsh on your relatives and the other believers here.

Joe, it took me ten minutes here -- merely responding to the story without the emotional content of knowing and being close to the people involved -- to come up with a 'neutral' way of saying what I said in the opening. But that's all the people youy mention were doing, and they didn't have the time to express it in isolation. They were in a situation where they needed to react, to both give comfort and express joy, and they did so, using language that they (and at the time you and your mother) were comfortable with.

They weren't 'issuing a doctrinal proclamation,' any more than a person who talks about a 'beautiful sunrise' is proclaming his belief in geocentrism. More to the point, any more than someone who'd simply said 'boy, you guys were lucky,' would have been expressing a belief in the real existence of 'luck.' The English language doesn't have a way of saying what needed to be said without this sort of context.

A person who had raised the points then (about the victims who didn't escape) that you are raising now would have been as absurd and as mean as I would have been, last week, after a friend and fellow cat lover had had a much beloved cat die unexpectedly. She said, "I know Trouper is in kitty heaven." Neither she nor I believe in an afterlife, but how rotten a human being would I have been had I said, "No she's not. Trouper is just dead"? We both knew what she was saying.

Joe, maybe the people really did believe the literal meaning of what they said about your mother and you, but I know the rest of what you read into their statement never entered their mind. Had someone argued that way now, in response to the story they'd be contemptible -- and of course they wouldn't, because -- in this context -- "God spared you to become an atheist and attack him" isn't a position you'd hear from a Christian.

Yes, the attitude you attack, when its a serious position, is ugly. But this is the wrong case to use to attack it.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

On the other hand:

Jospeh: If you think things through, isn't any form of 'petitionary prayer' -- in the Christian context -- absurdly egotistical to the point of blasphemy?

Think about what the one praying is actually saying.

Isn't it something like this? "Dear God, this is ME speaking. I know You are the Creator and Ruler of the entire Universe, that You are aware of the fall of every sparrow -- and I wish a few more of the ones that wake ME up early with their singing would fall. But anyway, yes, You have a plan for the entire Universe, a plan stretching over thousands or billions of years and millions of light years, but, hey, this is ME asking you. What would be so difficult for you to tweak this entire plan just a little so [the Cubs win this year/this poker hand wins the pot/ my mother survives her cancer for a few years].

"Yeah, sure, you probably have some 'Cosmic reason' why you want things to work out, but really, this is ME asking you, so I'm sure you can figure out some way of changing things. Don't I deserve that much?"

I know, I know, some Christians do add "but not as I will, but as Thou willst," and I guess, if they really mean it, they are excused. But most of them don't.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Let's take that last idea a little step forward. [Warning: this is the point where believers suddenly 'discover they have too much to do to spend this much time on the Net' -- which actually happened when I threw this at a Muslim grad student who challenged me to 'throw her a really hard one.']

Because the last post leads to the question of 'free will.' Not ours -- I'm sure you've seen I not only accept this, I insist on it. No, the question it brings up is "Does God have free will?"

Seems obvious, but think about it. Can an 'omniscient being' have free will? After all, free will means 'being able to make a choice at a particular "decision point"."

We have it, because we have imperfect knowledge. We don't know, for certain, the results of our choices. (And it is a very 'lucky' one of us that can't say, a thousand times, "Had I But Known...")

But God is supposedly omniscient, which must include knowing the results of his own actions. And he is also presumed to have a 'plan for the Universe.'

But that means that at any 'decision point,' he knows which of his possible choices will best further that plan.

Is it possible for him to make any other choice but that one?

But if he has to make a specific choice at any decision point, how can he have free will?

Btsai said...

I like these kinds of questions! I think there are two unwarranted assumptions here.

1. There there is only a single "best" plan for achieving God's goal for Creation.
2. At all decision points, there is only a single "best" decision.

One or both of these could be false, depending on what kind of ultimate goal God has for creation. Let's just take a really simple example from math. Suppose I have the goal of getting the result of the number 2. There are an infinite number of ways I can get this result:

1 + 1 = 2
1 * 2 = 2
4 / 2 = 2
4 - 3 - 1 = 2

And for a given "plan", I can also choose from different sequences of steps. For example, in the last "plan" where I start with 4, I can subtract 3 then subtract 1, or subtract 1 then subtract 3, both will yield my end goal.

I can also insert an arbitrary number of sequences like "2 + 2 - 4" at arbitrary points of my plan. They don't change anything significant about the plan, but they allow me to obtain an infinite number of variations on the same basic plan.

So my take is that yes, it is possible for an O3 being to have free will. Of course, this does nothing to establish existence of said being :)

Btsai said...

The observant reader will note that I'm a mathematical moron, because 4 - 3 - 1 = 0, not 2! Make that 6 - 3 - 1 please.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

What you say is true in mathematics, at least in mathematics that uses integers. In the 'real world' though, all quantities are true to a 'certain number of decimal places,' all quantities are approximate. All we can say is that the two 'choices' are 'more or less' equal.

How can that be good enough for a god. If one choice is .0000000000000001% 'better' than the other, it is still better, and I can't see how the putative god could choose one that is less than optimal, no matter how small the difference is.

Btsai said...

I think you are assuming that no two choice of actions can have the exact same value (moral or otherwise). And I don't think that's true, even if we move from integers to real numbers. I believe that given the infinite number of possibilities, for any given moral value, there are an infinite number of actions or sequences of actions that arrive at that value. A hypothetical omnipotent being would be able to choose from a large subset, if not all, of the infinity of choices.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

An interesting point worth thinking about. My initial reaction is to argue that there may be such an infinite subset in the long run, but at a given decision point there are more likely much fewer available to God -- maybe only the choice between action and non-action.

Furthermore, 'better' should also include 'most efficient.' (Posibly, I'm not sure on this.) If Choice A involves X amount of other changes/actions, and Choice B involves 2X, isn't Choice A better?

Joe E. Holman said...

OK, now that the thread has been sufficiently hijacked, let's get back to the main topic.

Prup, I disagree that I was too hard on theists here. I understand the "sunrise" and cat points you made. It'd require a stiff jackass to be insensitive enough to tell someone with a dead loved one, "No there is no heaven." when they are grieving, but I am talking about the average believer. You know they actually believe these things.

When they thank god for surviving a carwreck, they actually believe he spared them. Other atheists I know might throw the name "god" around in tragedies or during sex, but the average person who calls something a miracle does indeed believe in them. My family certainly does. I can't see why you would even dispute this point.

So many have no problems believing that god destroys one home in a tornado, killing a woman inside, just to show some neighbors that they should fear him. This is classical theistic thinking.


Btsai said...

It's certainly true that some decision points will present fewer choices than others, maybe as few as 2, as you say. And this could be the case even for an omnipotent being, depending on whether one believes that such a being must still obey things like laws of logic, etc. I just don't think we have enough justification to argue that *all* decision points are so restricted, which I think is what's needed to argue that God does not have free will.

Furthermore, 'better' should also include 'most efficient.' (Posibly, I'm not sure on this.)

I'm not sure either. Depends on what factors the hypothetical being chooses to include in judging what's "better", I guess. For a being that supposedly has infinite time at its disposal, the amount of changes/actions taken to achieve some goal could be seen as irrelevant.

Sorry, Joe, for the hijack...

John W. Loftus said...

Prup said...Yes, the attitude you attack, when its a serious position, is ugly. But this is the wrong case to use to attack it.

I don't follow you here.

Prup, I am convinced that you look for ways to disagree with your own team members here at DC. You are truly an "individual" a freethinker. Why don't you try instead to find areas of agreement? I do. Joe is a great writer, and he is speaking to a real belief that Christians express.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Joe: Sorry for 'hijacking' the thread again -- though what thread here doesn't get hijacked -- but I do need to respond to John's comments.

John: no, I really DON'T 'look for ways to disagree with your own team members here at DC.' In fact, over all, I probably agree with about 95% of what's written here. But I AM an 'individual,' and someone who comes from a completely different background from most of you, and sometimes I do see things differently, or question a historical analogy, or think a post is better left unsaid. And I state this, and I insist this is a good thing. (I'm not talking, btw, about the Acharya situation which was entirely different.)

Because I think I am also talking to a different audience than you are in some cases. For example, when I take on Bnonn and demonstrate the ugliness of his ideas, and their absurdity, I might hope to reach him, but in reality, I think this is totally unlikely. His cranium seems to have been totally concretized, and whatever I say won't penetrate him.

But there are others reading this, some of whom contribute, some merely lurk, some who won't discover this blog until years from now, even, who may have been raised in Bnonn's Calvinism and just starting to have doubts, or who might have rejected their own form of Christianity, but not Christianity itself and who might be beginning to be tempted by arguments like this. They are who I am talking to, at least in my own mind.

But these people don't need another group of people who claims to 'have all the answers.' They've gotten that all their lives, from their parents and pastors and neighbors. They can get that in any church in their town, the more absurd the doctrine the more loudly it is preached.

They've been told they 'have to be certain,' that doubts and thinking for yourself is wrong and dangerous. They need to see people who are strong in their own opinions, yes, but who admit that certainty is impossible and unnecessary. They don't need a 'new dogma' to replace the old.

And they've been told it is very risky to associate with anyone except someone who 'thinks just like them.' Someone who disagrees, who sees things differently, why that might be Satan in disguise, trying to lure them off to hell.

They NEED to see a group of people who are friends, and who CAN disagree without losing either the friendship or the respect they have for each other -- as I know the two of us have for each other.

They need to learn to think, yes, but they need to learn not to fear thinking, not to fear disagreement, not to fear being an individual.

And this is why you put up with this grumpy old curmudgeon from Brooklyn, as maddening as i can be to you as I can to the other sides. At leasy i hope so.

John W. Loftus said...

Prup, I understand. You know I like you very much. In a few years as I get older I want to be just like you...but not right now. ;-)

Jospeh said...

After Wed night church tonight, I confessed to a friend that I feel selfish praying for my own needs when there are so many other needs that warrant God's attention (i.e. genocide and slavery in the Sudan). Her view is that God has basically left this world in our hands and doesn't interfere, with only rare exceptions. In the same breath she said she prays regularly and believes I should, too.

I suspect her view might be the default of many of my Christian brethren who have come face to face unanswered prayer in the face of great evil. Basically, they have adjusted their view of prayer to give God an out. They still pray on the chance that God will intervene, and give him the credit when things do work out, as in Joe's story. But they believe this life, with all its problem is really "our show."

My friend closed by quoting a few lyrics from a Garth Brooks song: "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers/ Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs/
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care/Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

I guess that's a palatable message for well-off Americans...but try sharing that with a person who has really tasted the bitterness of cruelty and injustice. Somehow it doesn't sound so pious anymore.

Kevin H said...

Keep in mind as well that Christians generally try to be careful to give God thanks, credit, and glory in all things.

That it is often expressed in unsophisticated ways just shows that people tend to be unsophisticated; especially theologically.

Jospeh said...

I'm starting to believe that to remain a Christian, I need to take an entirely different approach than I have in the past. Instead of defending the faith against attacks I should just accept some things on faith. That's what most of my brethren seem willing to do--accept two propositions, even if they seem to contradict one another. If that's the stance we're all going to take, then maybe we should get out of the apologetics business entirely.

What got me thinking about this was Richard Dawkin's debate with Alister McGrath where he asks point blank why Christians offer thanks to God when they are saved from a tragedy which has engulfed numerous others (Saturday, July 14 blog)

lowendaction said...

I've got a semi-non-post related question...didn't know how or where else to interject this:

This is for all the DC authors (perhaps a future post!)

If it applies, do you believe that in your former lives as "Christians" you were in fact EVER in close relation to God, or were you (in hind-sight) merely "going through the motions"? Comparative to a failed marriage, where one is bound through many years via a ring, name and an oath, but nothing else.

IOW, is it possible that what you considered to be Christianity, was nothing more than a shallow religious matinee performance. This may not even have been entirely your own fault, due to churchianic or family upbringing. I realize what your current views on the subject are. However, I am currious as to the validity and genuine nature of the former YOU.

My theory, is that you never actaully experienced a close relationship to God, but instead walked through a series of steps and motions that have been created around the framework of God's original plan, to make the "Christian life" more pallettable to our liking. I know this sounds very much like an attach, but it really isn't. It is the exact same question I would ask ANYONE who claims (or claimed) the name of include myself! I often hear it asked why God made Himself and the knowing of Him so complicated, thus hindering the masses from "being on the same page". I believe that the deapth and realness that God seeks in our character and naked love to Him is reserved for a precious few, but available to ALL.

As with most things in life that are well worth having and keeping, they come at a cost, and with considerable effort. That's nothing compared to what God wants from us. And I happen to believe, it's because He has something far beyond our comprehension planned for us after this crappy terrestial boot-camp we're all in.

Thank you for indulding my curiosity.

Kevin H said...


What do you mean by "faith"? We all accept things with varying degrees of faith. But faith can be reasonable faith, and not "blind faith". Warranted vs. credulous.

Please notice that in your attempt to deny the need to defend the Faith, you are defending the Faith! You are offering reasons for why faith in Christ is warranted. It's like doing apologetics against apologetics!

All of us are apologists for our worldviews.

When the Christian says, "Thank God for the miracle that the tornado skipped my house but the poor sap down the road got a telephone pole through him", that person is giving thanks to God in a rather insensitive way. Don't you think?

Joe E. Holman said...

lowendaction said...

"If it applies, do you believe that in your former lives as "Christians" you were in fact EVER in close relation to God, or were you (in hind-sight) merely "going through the motions"? Comparative to a failed marriage, where one is bound through many years via a ring, name and an oath, but nothing else."

My reply...

Are you this uninformed? Must you piss us off with more of the typical "you were never really saved" crap that we get all the time? Shees!

Is it so hard for you to believe that someone could know god (as far as the term goes) joyously and then walk away from him that you can't believe it when you hear about it?

Most infidels (former preachers included) used to be men of great and passionate faith, as was I, and I believe everyone who posts here.

Read my forthcoming book and you'll have no doubt of this.


John W. Loftus said...

lowendaction, as you can tell we can get pretty angry with such a question. We are told many many times we were never "Christians" in the first place, and it's hard for us to realize that from your perspective this is the first time you've asked it. But from ours we're extremely tired of it. It personally maligns us, in that it assumes we're ignorant of that which we claim to have had a personal experience and commitment about. It would be akin to us asking you to prove you're a Christian over and over and over again. To answer your question though, in the banner at the top of the home page (or any page) is a link to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ Sheet). Click on it and there are several posts to read answering this question of yours.

Jospeh said...

Kevin, I have to smile reading your response. It seems you are more interested in debating the fine points of my comments, rather than having a productive conversation based on them. I think it's quite obvious what I mean by "faith" in this context. Faith is the active exercise of belief in a particular tenant (i.e. "I believe that God answers the prayers of his people"). It is my observation that when Christians are pressed on the issue of why God would respond to some prayers and not others, they immediately jump from a posture of "assured faith" to one of "blind faith." Like the conversation with my friend the other day after church:

[ME] "We say God is omnibenevolent, omnipresent, and omnipotent, right? "

[FRIEND]"That's right, reason leads us to believe God is all those things."

[ME] "That means he hates rape and would rather that there be no rape in his world. But think about this: even though he is present when the rape occurs and has the power to stop it, he quite often does nothing. Doesn't that bother you?"

[FRIEND] "Well, we must have faith that God has a good reason for allowing that rape to take place."

Do you see how quickly she moved from one faith-stance to the other?

You said, "Please notice that in your attempt to deny the need to defend the Faith, you are defending the Faith!"

Go back and read my post. I did nothing of the sort. I simply made an ironic observation that Christian apologetics are not serving us so well if we just end up reverting back to the tired "I don't know, we've just got to believe; that's my faith, like it or not" position. It's either a reasonable faith or not.

When confronted with the scale of the problem of evil and suffering, I am finding it quite intellectually challenging these days to believe that there is a God who is looking out for us and actively answering prayers. How can Christians credit Him with answering their prayers for a better job or healing, yet fail to see he is ignoring the prayers of the slaughtered and enslaved in the Sudan? Are we to believe that God justs like middle-class white Americans better than third-world black Africans? (I'm being facetious, in case you missed it.)

BTW, I don't know of a single Christian who would blatantly say, "Thank God for the miracle that the tornado skipped my house but the poor sap down the road got a telephone pole through him." Most aren't troubled to think that far beyond their own personal deliverance to ask "Why me and not them?" But they certainly should.

John W. Loftus said...

For the record Jospeh, Kevin Harris is a Christian friend of mine. He's intelligent and respectful. He's watching as your faith is dwindling and he's trying to help you. I ache for him as I read his attempts to help you retain your faith. He's only trying to help. I don't see him merely wanting to debate fine points, but that's just my interpretation.

Your points though, are well taken, Jospeh.

Jospeh said...

Thanks, John. Honestly, I have to stop and take in what is happening to me right now. Sometimes I'm amazed to hear myself, based on how strong a Christian I used to be. I'm thinking of starting a blog to dialog with other Christians who are having similar struggles with there faith. I feel very alone, with a community of potential friends on either side of me.

John W. Loftus said...

Jospeh, check this out, here.

lowendaction said...

DC - I mean absolutley no disrespect, nore am I attempting to judge you or anyone. This simply my attempt at better understanding you (and thus the world around me).

I've gotta run now, so more later.

BTW, I read the faq's before I ever began posting here, and I guess I just hadn't found any satisfactory anwers, but perhaps I have more digging to do.

Thank you all for this forum, and for the respect you afford all who are seeking!!!

Jennifer said...

You might like this.

You know where I'm coming from, but I agree with parts of what you are saying...I just don't have the time to go into it.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Just realize that all of us on 'this side' -- and, I suspect, many on the other -- understand what you are going through and how difficult it is for you. I, for one am glad there is someone like Kevin -- I don't know him but take John's description as accurate -- offering you support from 'there' and, while I have, and will ask you questions that will challenge your faith, I promise you my support, whichever way you choose to step.

And one way I may be able to help you is to tell a story I've written elsewhere here, and to add one comment.

As I've said, I come from a different tradition than most of you, since I was a Roman Catholic. (And I did not become an atheist because I left Catholicism, I left Catholicism because I found I could only be an atheist.)

[Aside to Lowevdaction, this is why I find it difficult to answer your question. For Catholics, 'union with Christ' is accomplished through the organization they believe he founded, through Peter, to preserve, protect, and put forth his message, not though a one-on-one relationship.]

When I was where you are, or maybe a step or so further on to where I am now, Fr. Jaschko, the Jesuit who taught 11th Grade religion to my class at St. Peter's said something I still remember. It was to the class, not to me, since he had no idea of where I was in my own journey. He said, "We are Catholics for only one reason, because we believe Catholicism to be true. If you do not believe it to be true, you are wrong, you are even committing a sin by 'going through the motions' and continuing to call yourselves Catholics."

I thought about it on the long train ride home and realized that I did not and could not believe it was true, and that i could no longer call myself a Catholic, or a Christian, or anything but the atheist I had become.

But of course I had to be honest. Desapite the arrogance I had then and still have, I had to ask myself, 'but what if you are wrong?' And many times since then and up to today, I still have to ask that question.

But I still answer the only way I honestly can. The God I had been taught to believe in was a good God, just, but loving. He had created Hell, yes, but out of reluctant necessity, and -- to anthropomorphize -- his heart broke when he had, rarely, to send someone there. He was never the terrible ogre of the Calvinists. For him, heaven, not hell, was the 'default position.' He had, in the words of the second question of the catechism, 'created us to know, love, and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.'

No, I could not believe in his existence, but if I was wrong, he knew my heart, and he knew the sincerity of my own disbelief. The God I was taught could not reward hypocrisy, or punish honesty. He would judge me, yes, but on my actions -- remember that Catholicism believes in salvation not by faith alone, but by faith AND works. He would know if I had been a good, an ethical person, and he would, again, know the sincerity of my disbelief.

I was, and have been, ethical. Not perfect, of course, but I had no fear of being judged negatively on the sum of my life. I still have no doubt that neither God, heaven, nor hell is anything more than a fantasy, but again, if I am wrong, I know of no reason to fear God or hell. (Purgatory, perhaps, that eminently sensible idea that accepts that not all sins and faults are equal, but again, from what I had been taught, this was the first, temporary fate of almost all but the true saints. But hell, no.)

I don't know if this is helpful, but I hope it is. And be warned, my next post to you will challenge you and your faith yet again.

SteveJ said...

Hey Jospeh,

You and I are in similar straits. If you ever want someone to commiserate with, feel free to shoot me an E-mail. The first part of my address is stevejones53, followed by the "at" symbol, followed by dot com.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

If you want to write me, John has my address, but, as Jennifer can tell you, I am sometimes a lousy correspondent.

SteveJ said...

Oops. I screwed up the address.

It should be stevejones53, followed by the "at" symbol, followed by inbox dot com.

Jennifer said...

I changed my e-mail address...I'll send you my new one.

Jospeh said...

Thanks, guys. You have all been tremendously empathetic and accepting of me. I truly appreciate the honest conversation at this time in my life. John, thanks for the link and Prup for the the words of encouragement. Kevin, I'm sorry I didn't realize where you were coming from but appreciate your exchange. Jennifer, you are an honest seeker and I'm intrigued by your perspective, as well. For Steve, and anyone else who cares to correspond, my email is deepthinker101 at gmail.

The next biggest challenge to the faith issue for me is negotiating the faith-based relationships I have with family, friends, and members of my church. I'm having this faith crisis in the middle of teaching several adult Bible classes (I'm the go-to guy in my small church). There are several outspoken, dogmatic members who have almost triggered me to say what's really on my mind. On the other hand, there are some dear hearts who have believed in me and supported me consistently from day one that I would not want to disappoint for the world. I'll save the rest of the story for anyone who is interested in writing.

R.S. Martin said...

I'm a late-comer to this story. Maybe nobody's watching it anymore. I liked your mother's way of handling the man. Stick to the truth. Be honest. Do your duty. That keeps you out of trouble a lot of the time. The rest of the time it saves you from a guilty conscience so you can focus on getting out of the trouble you're in. You mom's head seemed to be screwed on right. Thanks for sharing that story, Joe.