What I think when I read my email sometimes

I get emails all the time trying to convert me.  I always enjoy reading them in silence while my brain snarks the fuck out.

Last year I got this one from someone named “Life Needs Protection”…presumably from atheists, who can’t stand people living. :P  My thoughts are in red.

Humor me?

Is there justice in this world? [Sometimes.]

Why should a baby die a horrible disease and a murderer escape punishment and live to be an old man?  [Sounds like an unfair universe, which kind of nullifies the idea of a god who cares.]

They both die. The same. Equal.  [Dying via horrible disease is an equal death to old age?  This is not off to a very auspicious start...]

Just doesn’t seem fair?  [You're right, it doesn't.  Yet I suspect you're about to conclude that it is fair.  Watch me be a prophet.]

How does the atheist find hope in death?  [By living our lives to the fullest, unfettered by time-wasting and limiting delusions, and accepting that sometimes the truth just sucks - doesn't make it untrue]

But this time I took the time to write back.

There are easy answers to this, of course – but first a question back:

How does the amount of hope attached to an idea have any relevance to its truth? I mean, how does anybody draw hope out of hurricane Katrina? Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

I get this back.

I agree that natural events including disasters transpire every day [Oh, here we go, she's going to answer the one question I asked...], but as a Christian, we believe [you guys always want to talk about what you believe, not why you believe it] God is always in control [That means your god is responsible for those natural disasters.  And you worship him?]. We question why He saves some and others die [Have you considered the possibility that the universe is pitiless, just like it looks?  Or that god doesn't have a sense of justice, like it looks?  If not, I'm not sure how much questioning you've done]. Nevertheless, how can mere mortals with finite minds understand these things [That the universe appears indifferent?  Doesn't take a genius to figure that out.  And why is religion always so disdainful of human beings?  What a horrible outlook.  Besides, compared to the bible, you'd be hard-pressed to find any 'mere mortal' who didn't look like freaking Einstein]? I see God as a loving God [the one in control of the natural disasters?] not one to destroy us [the one in charge of life-destroying natural disasters?] like so many misled religious fanatics [Yes, because you can't stand religious fanatics].

If He sanctioned Katrina to transpire [Are you going to provide evidence for that "if"?] — same as 9/11 there must be a purpose [Let me guess: his purpose for drowning life-long Christians and their infants is because he loves them.  If only every murderer could use that defense]…a good that He sees and uses to encourage the human spirit to survive and help others [he encourages humans to survive by killing them?  And you think this guy is all-wise?]. We can go back to the story of Job as an impeccable example [a guy in the bible suffered from god's edicts?  Well sign me up...]. His famous line, Thou He slay me, yet will I trust in Him [This is a recipe for being abused.  It's not a good thing.  Try telling it to a victim of spousal abuse]. I see it as perfect faith [you must have a more cynical opinion of faith than I, which is quite an accomplishment] though others see it as mindless dribble [I see it as masochism and a dedication to being unreasonable because you think it feels nice]. Job finds his answers in the last chapter. It really is a remarkable story of trust despite tremendous loss [No, it's not].

I surmise it is how we perceive and respond to circumstances [Either sanely or insanely?]. We respond with Hope because a loving God is in control [the one who controls the natural disasters?]. Even in the midst of Katrina there must have been people praying and trusting that God has a purpose [Sure.  And statistics confirm that a large number of them drowned]. Hope was alive somewhere and many lessons learned [lesson learned: prayer doesn't work.  Remember my question about why it matters if an idea is comforting since that doesn't make it true?  Were you going to get to that any time soon?].

A man confined to bed because of a lingering illness had on his sunlit windowsill a cocoon of a beautiful species of butterfly [Oh good, a metaphor]. As nature took its course, the butterfly began its struggle to emerge from the cocoon. But it was a long, hard battle [designed by the god who presumably doesn't like suffering]. As the hours went by, the struggling insect seemed to make almost no progress [the god who created its suffering and could have ended it at any time watches on]. Finally, the human observer, thinking that “the powers that be” had erred [or that suffering sucks and the universe looks like it doesn't care], took a pair of scissors and snipped the opening larger. The butterfly crawled out, but that’s all it ever did–crawl. The pressure of the struggle was intended to push colorful, life-giving juices back into the wings, but the man in his supposed mercy prevented this [lack of accurate information twisted the human's good intentions into cruelty.  This is precisely the danger of religion, which tells us that we don't need to be rational.  You think parents who pray for their sick children even as they die from curable illnesses rather than taking them to the doctor don't love their kids?  Of course they do!  But bad facts about what works to alleviate suffering is the problem, and it's religion that sustains it.  What's more, had god not been a dick in his design, human compassion to rectify the problem wouldn't have been necessary.  The way you write, it sounds like you'd thank someone for shooting you in the leg for the ability to do tricks in a wheel chair]. The insect never was anything but a stunted abortion [irrationality causes some shitty things, doesn't it?], and instead of flying on rainbow wings above the beautiful gardens [oh, it's a gay butterfly, that explains why god wanted it to suffer], it was condemned to spend its brief life crawling in the dust [you're right, we should fix irrationality]. That gives me the idea that God knows what He is doing [couldn't he have just made the butterfly without making it suffer?  If this guy knows what he's doing, he's malicious]. It’s a fact that you can depend on Him [for natural disasters and pain designed into existence?  That's like saying you can count on a thief to teach you the virtue of living in poverty] –even when it seems the struggle is hard and meaningless. –James S. Hewett [someone published that argument?  And you read it and thought it was an answer to the question I asked?], Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 20.

Your turn [wait, you didn't answer my question]. Your explanation of life [when did you ask me for that?  Anyway, assembly of the first self-replicating molecule in montmorillonite clay followed by billions of years of evolution, just like the evidence suggests.  Read a biology book and stop asking random bloggers to explain biology to you]. Where is your hope [in the ability of knowledge to save us from hunger, thirst, natural disasters, animals who want to eat us, and all the other 'blessings' god supposedly designed into existence]? In Science? [Yes] Knowledge? [Yes...are you anti-knowledge?] Whose knowledge? [The cumulative discoveries of mankind, same as anybody else.  You do know that humans wrote the bible, right?] Where is truth? [All around you: clean water, abundant food, medicine, cell phones, satellite imaging of tropical storms, etc.  The facts about the universe that produced them are undeniably true, and none of these things were in the bible, I've read it]  And who defined it? [Again, humans, when they realized it worked and was supported by the evidence - even as they have to change the intellectual diapers of people like you] Can I trust your knowledge to give me hope? [If you eat store-bought food, watch the weather, or drink clean water, then you already do].  Is there an explanation as to why a murderer and a child have the same course in death? [They don't have the same course]  Where is the justice? [Provided by society where possible, non-existent where it isn't, which is what we'd expect in a godless universe]  Where is the comfort?  [Remember that time I asked how comfort was related to truth?  If you think comfortable beliefs are more likely to be true, just believe you don't have the flu next time you do]

Thanks for the taking the time [You're not welcome, since it's apparent you set out to not listen and to waste the time I so generously gave you].

Two gunmen shot and killed at Draw Muhammad exhibit in Garland, Texas.
Al Qaeda issues video claiming culpability for Avijit Roy's murder.
The Jesus and Mo cartoon from last week is eerily appropriate.
On bigots becoming the minority.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Supermental

    Another episode of JT slaps the stupid down.
    Thanks.. this was fun.

  • machintelligence

    Strange, all of your comments are showing up in red (except for “stop asking random bloggers to explain biology to you”–which is in blue). Is this just my computer or what?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      The blue is a link to where I explain why asking bloggers to explain biology is dumb.

  • http://markkoop.blogspot.com/ Mark

    Okay, did you change “blue” to “red”? Because in my Google Reader, it says “My thoughts are in blue.”

  • John Eberhard

    Good job.

  • Carol Eberhard


  • dfl42

    Hope is awesome. That’s why I stopped believing in cancer. And car crashes. And flat tires. Police officers don’t seem enthused by the idea that my flat tires don’t exist, though. Those dicks.

  • dcortesi

    You forgot diseases. Next time don’t omit to add …loving God…[that would be the one who personally and specially created each and every disease-causing virus, bacilli, and fungus; who hand-crafted all the parasites; who personally designed human cells so they could turn cancerous and kill people slowly and painfully? So, you worship the loving father of the trichina worm, the immunodeficiency virus, and the uterine cancer?]

    But all this can be netted down to a single question. Although your question, How is the hopefulness of an idea relevant to its truth, is excellent, there’s this one too:

    Please bear with me in an exercise of your imagination: imagine for a moment that the god you believe in truly did not exist. Now: how would the world be different? How, in actual fact, would the world change if your god should go “poof” and vanish tomorrow? Would there be less justice? Less beauty? More pain? Any additional need for people to work hard and creatively and support each other than there is now? How exactly do you think the presence of your god makes the world different than it would be without him?

    • Sastra

      Good luck getting a straight answer. They usually miss the point and promptly reply that, if God didn’t exist, then the world wouldn’t exist either — so things would be very different.

      So you have to set the question up more clearly. Ask them to
      imagine for a moment that the world still exists, but God does not: what would be different? Or, perhaps, that there are two universes, alike except that one is watched over by God and one is not: how would one tell which is which? They keep trying to beg the question.

      I have finally been reduced to asking how they would know if God had to go to the bathroom and hadn’t answered prayers for a few weeks. Maybe He’s been making a pit stop since the Renaissance. Given the sloppy criteria for measuring an “answered prayer,” would anyone have noticed?

  • Mr.Kosta

    That right, JT. Crush their foolish faith under the mighty boot of logic and reason.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    Babylon 5 nailed this:

    “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.” — Marcus Cole

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1468751142 Kevin

    To be honest, I think you miss the point about “fairness”.

    This correspondent wants there to be an after-death accounting. That’s where everyone gets rewarded and/or punished. The dead baby gets to heaven — where it can shit its diapers for eternity. The unpunished murderer goes to hell.

    Except, of course, Christian theology doesn’t work like that. If that murderer — punished or not by secular society — dies with a belief in Jesus, then Christianity says he’s in heaven with the baby. Presumably changing its diapers.

    Except, of course, if that baby was born a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Jain, or a thousand other religions. Then most Christian sects condemn it to hell. Burning for all eternity, its diapers unchanged with no murderer to look after it.

    Some sects even offer the murderer a chance to look down on the baby’s torment and gloat at its suffering.

    Christianity is most definitely not “fair”. Especially with regard to its after-death propositions.

    But the rest of your observations are spot-on. What’s fair about the universe? The universe would look far, far, far different than it does with a “fair” god in charge.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

      This correspondent wants there to be an after-death accounting.

      And I want there to be a $100 bill in my wallet.

      • Richard

        Traveler’s Check for 100 million, sign me up.

  • Randomfactor

    The problem of theism being in conflict with the real world as we perceive it becomes easy to rectify if theists would just concede that gods don’t give a crap about suffering.

    Or perhaps, actively enjoy watching it.

    • Richard

      …but that would require them to want to be completely honest and not dodge questions and make up shit! What would be the point of religion then?

  • Sastra

    The problem with the Butterfly Argument here (otherwise known as the Soul-Building Theodicy or “God wisely understands that suffering is good for our characters”) is that it falls apart when used on examples like, oh, say, a baby dying of a horrible disease. It’s hard to think of what great lesson an infant learns from a brief, short life of pain.

    The usual counter — that the lesson is for the parents — is very close to an endorsement of sheer evil, since using a helpless, innocent baby as a tool for teaching love or humility or whatever the hell that Mom and Dad needed to learn (oh, I know — it was to love and trust in God no matter what) is a prime example how one dehumanizes people by turning them into a means used for an ends outside their own.

    Life Needs Protection’s email seems to be an extended version of the Argument from Boo Hoo (“If there is no God, then this bad thing is true; Boo Hoo; therefore, God exists) coupled with theological Stockholm Syndrome (He could always hurt you even more; praise His mercy!).

    • Desert Son, OM

      Sastra at #12:

      is very close to an endorsement of sheer evil, since using a helpless, innocent baby as a tool for teaching love or humility or whatever

      Very often from the same people that insist that a zygote is a person and must be protected at all costs, even (and often especially) at the expense of the host mother.

      So when a zygote creates health problems for a mother, that’s either “God’s inscrutable justice” for sinful behavior or “God’s mysterious love” for instructional purposes, but regardless, it’s a tool for teaching through pain except that it’s not a tool, it’s a BAY-BEE and therefore precious and sacred and utterly beloved (unless born into poverty or horrible disease in which case it’s a tool again, sometimes for it’s own edification, sometimes for the parent or parents or even society at large. Except that it’s not a tool, it’s a precious snowflake life. That doubles as a tool. It’s a Swiss-Army Life).

      The M.C. Escher-ian convolutions of thought required to get around this sort of thing makes my head hurt. Therefore: God!, supposedly. Did I play the game right? What’d I win?

      (With apologies to all who enjoy the art of Escher, among whom I number myself).

      Still learning,


  • screechymonkey

    “We question why He saves some and others die.”

    Well, asking questions like that is a start, at least.

    “Nevertheless, how can mere mortals with finite minds understand these things”

    Ah, so you’re retreating behind the defense from ignorance? Well, that’s sad, but at least I won’t hear you claiming to understand the mind of your god now that you’ve stated he’s inscrutable….

    “I see God as a loving God not one to destroy us like so many misled religious fanatics”

    … ah. So, he’s inscrutable and it’s beyond our finite minds to understand, except that you know he’s loving and that other people are “misled fanatics.”

  • http://idioprag.com WilloNyx

    Thanks for this. I never get this stuff in email form. I only get this irl where the opposition is a very loudmouthed redneck that when he or she isn’t shouting colloquial nonsense at me is making me think he or she might gather up their family to run me out of town. In other words I rarely if ever get the chance to take someone down so effectively.

  • Cynthia

    I’m copying this, posting it everywhere I can think of and nailing it to my front door. Maybe that will finally get me some peace from the fools who think they can convert me. The downside is you might get more stupid emails from the people who see it, but life isn’t fair.

    Perfect example of the JT method of taking down fools.


  • krisko

    JT, you obviously don’t remember LifeNeedsProtection from your good ol’ Xanga days. She was a super-conservative, “just read your Bible and you’ll understand” obscenely pro-life blogger who truly considered her trolling on atheist blogs to be thoughtful contributions.

  • Whelve

    This put a little joy into my otherwise grey, glumly overcast morning. The “Oh, so it’s a gay butterfly” will have me laughing for hours to come yet. Thanks!