Do we live in a world with a god? It doesn’t look like it (part 1 of this series here).
Let’s continue our survey with the next clue that we live in a godless world:
Christianity makes bold claims: that prayers are answered. That God protects his own. That Jesus heals disease. It’s one thing to blithely support these claims, as some Christians feel obliged to do, but it gets messy when those claims crash into real-world facts.
Take, for example, the claim that Jesus miraculously heals disease. A New Zealand church put up a billboard in 2012 that said, “Jesus Heals Cancer,” but if you’re advertising an important claim, belief is not enough. You need the evidence to back it up, and the government authority in charge of advertising unsurprisingly concluded that the evidence wasn’t there. One observer objected, “As the mother of a three-year-old boy who has spent the past 18 months fighting against leukemia, I find the above billboard offensive and upsetting.”
Most Christians expect a cultivated person to have the decorum to avoid actually testing Christianity’s claims (even if they’re begging to be tested). The problem arises when someone doesn’t have the good taste to resist that temptation.
In another example, a Pennsylvania couple let their two-year-old child die of bacterial pneumonia in 2009 when they chose prayer instead of medicine. Knowing first hand that prayer doesn’t heal, they did it again with another child in 2013.
Contrasting a similar series of preventable childhood deaths in Oregon with the national motto “In God We Trust,” an American Humanist article made an incisive observation. In response to Oregon’s removing laws protecting parents who reject medical care for their children in favor of prayer, it said,
[These changes to the law are] tantamount to the state saying, “Sure, it looks great on a coin, but come on you idiot, it’s not as though this god stuff actually works.”
Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod. The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage. Which claim has the evidence?
In its early days, some saw the lightning rod as interfering in God’s divine plan. If God wanted lightning to burn down a building, who was Man to interfere? When an earthquake hit New England in 1755, one pastor concluded that it was God’s punishment: “In Boston are more [lightning rods] erected than anywhere else in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of God.”
Possibly even more ironic than a church with a lightning rod is a Popemobile with bulletproof glass (necessary after the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul II). Christians’ actions speak louder than words, and they make it clear that in any situation where you expect God to step in, you will be disappointed.Do Christians really believe in heaven? Ian McEwan neatly contrasted seeing a loved one off at a funeral versus seeing them off on a cruise ship. When you wave to friends on a cruise ship, you know that you’ll see them again. No one thinks that they’re going away and never coming back, though at a funeral, people might be sobbing uncontrollably. The priest can offer comfort with “You’ll soon see them in heaven,” but few really believe it.
In perhaps the most extreme collision of Christian faith with reality, one man filed suit against Satan in U.S. district court in United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff (1971). The plaintiff charged: “Satan has on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff, that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in his path and has caused plaintiff’s downfall.”
Christians must laugh at this like the rest of us do, but why would they if indeed the Dark Lord causes people real injury in the real world? This is like the movie Oh, God, where God-believing people couldn’t believe that God (played by George Burns) would actually show himself. People are so comfortable with zero evidence for the most important person in the universe that they balk at the idea of real, convincing evidence.
Robert Price* used Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life to illustrate taking the Bible literally vs. taking the Bible seriously. Warren said that the Noah story is literally true. But what about the self-contradicting inconsistencies in the story? What about its unscientific claims? What about the cruelty? These don’t trouble Warren, who cheerfully imagines God saying about Noah, “This guy brings me pleasure. He makes me smile. I’ll start over with his family.”** And by “start over,” he means murdering millions of people by drowning.
Warren takes the story literally, which means that he’ll assure you that it happened. But he avoids taking it seriously so that he needn’t lose sleep over the illogic and the violence.
You can just believe that Tinker Bell will get well, but there are standards in the real world. A real god who wanted to interact with us would provide real evidence. Christians’ weak support for God in the real world make clear that they know that we don’t have it.
Continued in part 8.
* Robert M. Price, The Reason-Driven Life, pp 105–6.
** Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, p. 71.
expects or requires no worship or praise from us,
but that He is even infinitely above it.
— Benjamin Franklin
Image via Courtney Carmody, CC license