Do we live in a world with a god? There are many reasons to reject that idea (part 1 here).
Let’s continue our survey with the next clue that we live in a godless world:
A few years ago, I visited a museum exhibit of the jewelry of Russia’s imperial family, the Romanovs. The focus was on the Faberge jewelry, with several of the famous Easter eggs as the centerpiece, but there was more. I was most taken with the Christian icons—paintings and statues of religious figures, crosses, and so on—from Tsarina Alexandra. She was extremely religious, and as Tsarina she performed daily religious rituals, humbled herself by embroidering linen for the church, read little but religious material, and consulted wandering “men of God” like Rasputin.
Her devotion did nothing to help her family, and they were murdered shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917.
We can find many other examples where Christians took to heart Christianity’s promise of answered prayer. Christian faith was strong on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, and yet roughly 700,000 died, about as many as in all other wars involving the U.S.
Francis Galton conducted an innovative prayer experiment in 1872. Since “God save the king” (or something similar) was a frequent public prayer, members of royal families should live longer. Few will be surprised to hear that they did not.
I recently wrote of hypocrisy from a radio ministry on the question of prayer. The ministry first mocked atheists’ stupidly observing that God didn’t save the lives of Christians in a Texas church shooting, along the lines of, “Who doesn’t know that Jesus promised tribulation to his followers rather than luxury?” But six weeks later, the ministry was asking for prayers to speed the recovery of a staff member with a serious injury, insisting now that prayers do benefit believers.
If there’s a God, then they got it right once—prayers and devotion from believers should have an effect. Here again, the pro-Christian evidence you’d expect doesn’t exist.
Watch a televangelist show. You will see periodic appeals that first ask the audience for prayers and then for money. Sometimes you’ll see a text crawl across the bottom with the phone number euphemistically labeled “prayer request” (which sounds better than “place to give me money”).
But doesn’t that sound strange? If prayers get God to do something, then the televangelist could just pray himself. Or, if the power of prayer is proportionate to the number of voices, the televangelist could just harness the audience to turn his small voice into a holy airhorn. God’s actions make any human generosity pointless. What could money do that God couldn’t?
Televangelists make clear the uncomfortable truth: prayer doesn’t work. Money (or filthy lucre, if you prefer) does. A real god who claimed that prayers work would deliver on that promise.
See also: Televangelists Show Prayer is Useless
Despite the prohibition, Christianity isn’t content to stay on its side of the back seat. Think of the accommodations it already gets: the President has been obliged to issue a proclamation declaring a National Day of Prayer since 1952, “In God We Trust” is the national motto, conservative voters punish politicians who aren’t sufficiently Christian (bypassing Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for public office), and the IRS has for years failed to revoke churches’ nonprofit status when they violate the Johnson amendment’s prohibition against politicking from the pulpit. Conservatives are continually pushing for Creationism and prayer in public schools, “In God We Trust” displays in government buildings, Ten Commandments monuments and manger scene displays on public property, the ability to deny service and government licenses to people their god doesn’t like, and prayer to start meetings in venues from Congress down to city councils.
Christians who value the rights that Western society grants us today—voting, no slavery, no torture, non-coercive marriage, freedom of (and from) religion, freedom of speech, fair trial, democracy, and so on—must remember that these all came from secular sources. Biblically based society would have none of these (more here and here). Don’t think that Christianity is the foundation on which is built American democracy; instead, American Christianity is permitted by the Constitution (more).
When Christian leaders push against constitutional limits on religion, they admit that Christianity’s arguments are so weak that they need to push the government to support their cause. A real God wouldn’t need such help.
Continued in part 4.
and when it does not support itself,
and God does not take care to support it
so that its professors are obliged
to call for help of the civil power,
’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
— Benjamin Franklin
Image via roobislem, CC license