Give praise where it’s due, and only where it’s due.

I have a system.  I go through all the news sites in my reader every day first to soften me up for when I get to the religious blogs I read.  Otherwise I might not get past lunch without a concussion from all the face-palming.

First up in my religious reader today was Mark Shea and his post “Praise Report!”  Mark got a letter from a disabled reader:

I am a middle aged man with a disability who became the victim of a home invasion back in January. After that, my family and I were gravely concerned about my physical safety. My brother, in an incredible act of generosity, stepped up and took out a loan to buy a condo unit that had been modified for a person with a disability. Compared to what I had before, the place is a palace, and tonight I am writing this from my new home. I am amazed at the kindness and generosity of God manifested in the kindness and generosity of my brother. See how God provides!

Mark was ecstatic at how the lord could be so good:

Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! Way to go, Body of Christ!

Dear person who wrote the original letter,

I’m glad your brother is so generous.  But if your god is as good as you say he is, he shouldn’t need to leech the credit for tremendous charity provided by others.  It is certainly in god’s power to provide you with a condo without putting your brother on the line for a loan.  Your brother’s sacrifice was his, and he deserves the credit for it.

While god did not provide you with a condo, he did provide you with a disability (assuming you believe god exists, which I don’t).  No human can be on the hook for that one (as with the loan your brother took out and the human understanding of architecture that allowed the building to be built), that’s all god.  God, however, while never creating a single building, was very much the architect of human disabilities and disease.  This was apparently more important than medicine, which he left us to invent.  You may say that god doesn’t want us to be sick so he gave us the means to invent medicine and condos with modifications to assist with disabilities.  But if he wanted people to not suffer and die from illness, and if god wanted you to move around more effectively, why make the afflictions in the first place?

This is why I hate religion so – it allows you to see kindness in humans and to think the same god who made that kindness necessary is kind, rather than culpable.

And what of the break in?  Clearly, god can override free will, because you believe god moved your brother to generosity.  It’s curious why you assume god would plant good will into your brother’s heart but not into the heart of the man who broke into your home.  If god is really looking out for you, like you claim, why allow your house to be robbed in the first place?

It’s also curious you think god would move people in such a way that your brother would be punished for the burglar’s actions (taking a loan out is a burden, even if it’s for a good cause) and not the burglar.  The god you are praising, at best, has a sense of justice that resembles a pitiless universe – the universe we’d expect to see if no compassionate being were overseeing the whole project.

Look, I’m glad you’re taken care of.  But the source of your relief is the same as the source of your strife: humanity.  We should strive to make humanity better, and to make individual human beings responsible for their own actions.  Your brother’s kindness was a direct response to god’s inaction, as has been every innovation and every act of charity in the history of human kind.

If you’re not going to blame god for your disability, don’t thank him for your brother’s good heart.

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.

  • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    No, you see only good things are because God. Bad stuff happens due to the Fall, which naturally happened because of Eve, or to rephrase, because bitches.

  • Bob Jase

    Just why should god be praised anyway?

    If he always existed as omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent as believers say then its not a concious choice that god had to make to have those qualities. Nor did he have to work for them. This means he’s a slacker without free will by default rather than some cosmic superhero.

  • Art Vandelay

    Mass suffering going on all over the place. God responds by giving this guy’s brother a second mortgage.

    • invivoMark

      God is fucking awesome! Don’t you agree, starving children in Africa?

  • Jimmy

    JT – You assume that God overrides the fee will off the brother and use that as an argument of why doesn’t God override the free will of the robber, however the author of the letter never claims that God overrode the free will of the brother.

    • Nate Frein

      I am amazed at the kindness and generosity of God manifested in the kindness and generosity of my brother. See how God provides!

      He is giving direct credit to god for his brother’s actions. The only way god deserves any direct credit for his brother’s actions is if god caused his brother to be generous. The implication is that without god his brother would not have been generous.

      Ergo, god overrode the brother’s lack of generosity to get this man the condo.

      • Jimmy

        Nate- Great point. I agree with your first statement but the last part, I think, assumes too much.

        I think this is a similar situation: A student who gets an A on an exam might give all the credit to the teacher who helped them learn (gave the student a study guide, etc) but that does not mean the teacher overrode the free will of the student (took the exam for them)

        In the same way, the injured man seems to be giving credit to God (analogous to the teacher in this scenario) while not saying that God overrode his brother’s will.

        • Nate Frein

          No. He did not say “My brother did this with god’s help”.

          He gave god primary credit, mentioning his brother as the avenue through which god’s beneficence manifested.

          • Jimmy

            He gives his brother a lot of credit in sentence 3 and then goes on to say that the kindness of God is manifest in his brother’s kindness. How does that say that god overrode the free will of the brother?

          • Nate Frein

            See how God provides!

          • Jimmy

            It appears that the disabled man believes God provides for him, through his brother’s kindness and generosity.
            The brother’s free will is not still not overridden by God because it was the brother’s choice to help out his disabled brother.

          • Nate Frein

            If god gets credit, that means that god caused his brother to do something he would not have otherwise done.

            If that’s not the case, then only the brother gets credit.

          • Jasper

            Nate, you just don’t get it.

            He didn’t say his brother drove a car. He said that his drover was operating a metallic mobile device that serves primarily as humanoid transportation.

          • Jasper

            Apparently my brain combined “drive” and “brother” into “drover”

    • Jackie M.

      The author suggests that God is responsible for his brother getting a loan to give him a condo. Thus, if the brother would not have done so without God, then at the very least, God put forward supernatural influence, if not just directly forcing him to do it.

      • ewok_wrangler

        Right, or to put it the other way, if God is not responsible for the brother’s action, then all credit should go to the brother, none to God. Either the brother made a free choice to be generous — and God deserves no credit — OR God influenced the brother to be generous, and the brother was just a puppet who deserves no credit.

  • jatheist

    I added a comment over at Mark Shea’s blog… I wasn’t rude or nasty, but his reply made it clear that he thought I was ‘abusive’ and ‘kicking’ a disabled man – it was insane!
    So I replied to his reply…. and the bastard moderated my second reply (which was also polite)!

    How frustrating…

    • Art Vandelay

      Discourse is scary for him as it is for most people with really awful ideas about how the world works.

  • Will

    Jimmy, do you know how I know you’re religious? Because your grammar is atrocious and clearly lack a formal education. It is all in one sentence. If you’re going to comment, please take the time to do so with proper grammar and proof your statement so you don’t end up looking like an uneducated baboon.

    In regards to the article, I would be extremely offended if I was the brother who provided the condo for this man. Sure he thanked his brother, but stated that the whole act was the kindness of god acting through him. How selfish and diluted.

    • Jimmy

      Will- I apologize for the lack of sentence structure, I was typing on my cell-phone. I would be careful about jumping to conclusions about my religion or education because of one comment I typed. In fact many people who are smarter than me and have better grammar than me are religious, so I am not sure what point you are trying to make there.

    • AmyC

      “Because your grammar is atrocious and clearly lack a formal education.”

      Skitt’s Law strikes again!

    • Kris

      Erm, I think you mean “deluded”.

  • Heather
  • Art Vandelay

    I made the mistake of attempting to read more of that blog and came across this gem…

    The study show something that doesn’t surprise me a bit: “symptoms of autism correlated with lack of belief in God”. This does not, of course, mean that atheists are all on the autism spectrum. Nor does it mean “autism necessarily leads to atheism”. But it does suggest that the reason so many Evangelical Atheists come across as having radically impaired abilities to relate to normal social and emotional cues is because they do. And a radically impaired ability to relate to other persons is going to impact one’s ability to relate to a community of persons like a Church, not to mention the community of Persons who is the Blessed Trinity. So I think the study worth paying attention to.

    • CottonBlimp

      What a fucking prick.

      There are certainly autistic Evangelical Christians. Many autistic people (including I think Temple Grandin) have said that autistic people can prefer strict Christian societies because those cultures place an emphasis on rote behavior over actual empathy. “Politeness” becomes not about considering the feelings of other people but doing a certain thing regardless just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” and if anyone’s feelings get hurt they’re Wrong.

      I could say there are more atheists than Christians on the spectrum because autism generally encourages logical thought, but really I think the numbers are mostly skewed by how poorly conservative culture recognizes issues of mental health.

  • Arbiter

    Art Vandelay, I believe if the individual you quoted ovserved a group of lemmings falling to their deaths off a cliff, he would observe the one that did not follow his friends to their doom to be dysfunctional, for failing to fit into the societal norms of his species.

    When in reality he’s the only lemming smart enough to see the edge of the cliff for what it really is (hypothetically).

  • Bob Jase

    Everyone is ignoring another question that should be asked – is god also to be given for the brother’s disability?

    • Bob Jase

      given credit, sorry about tat.

  • Kodie

    I don’t know what this man’s disability is, but disabilities can be caused by other people. Accidents, and medical malpractice, etc. This still would allow that god didn’t prevent these from happening in the first place, and people in their deepest despair do (I’ve heard people say they do) blame and question god when something bad happens to them.

    What people believe in when they believe is that they are a good person and somehow obliviously protected; they have maybe been taught to think that bad things are the merciful justice, the superstitions to keep god’s wrath from punishing them. I hate this every time it comes up where people just can’t wrap their head around what it means to live here on earth. At the opposite end are the people who believe when bad things happen, god is grieving along with them and provides needed comfort.

    The writer of the letter said he was disabled, his home was invaded, and his family feared for his safety. They obviously didn’t bother to worry that god was roughing him up. I did like the part of the story where they found a condo already renovated for a person with I guess the same kind of disability. I enjoy letters like this and the taking apart of them. This is exactly the mindless little terrible sort of thing religious people say out loud all the time, and they wonder why we think they’re bad at being as nice as they think they are. You’re rocking the boat to pick on this poor man and how happy he is now because of god! If you take this story and instead of god making the brother generous, you say it was his other brother. His other brother made the brother generously take out a mortgage loan on a condo for the disabled man, so he gets all the credit for giving the brother such a great idea.

  • Sunny Day

    What about praise to the burglar who offered the opportunity for god to show himself through your brother’s actions?

  • Mick

    Christians will read your post; sorrowfully shake their heads, and say to each other, “See, the atheists just don’t understand…”

  • Thumper1990

    This is one of the things I hate most about religion. It takes good things that good people do, and ascribes the goodness to God. Why? Why can’t people just be nice occasionally? Why does it have to be some fucking Sky Fairy who did it? It devalues human compassion and achievement by acting as if they can never have done it on their own.

    Imagine if you were this guy’s brother right now. How pissed off would you be?

    • Janie Scott

      Who knows how his brother feels? He might be thinking that it’s because of god that he could get the loan and find the right condo. He might tihnk that if it weren’t for god, his brother would be dead. I don’t think we can assume that his brother doesn’t agree with him.