The Apologist’s Handbook

During the summer months of 2010, I had a long e-mail conversation, spanning many weeks and thousands of words, with a thoughtful, intelligent, but strongly committed conservative Christian named Daniel who came across my site. There was one exchange we had that I found illuminating and that stuck in my mind, and I want to discuss it in detail.

I wrote that when atheists commit a misdeed, we can’t just ask God for forgiveness; we have to seek out the people we’ve harmed and try to make things right. Daniel contended that this was the Christian view as well:

That’s the way God originally set it up. You treat people the way you want to be treated. When you mess up, you tell them, ask them to forgive you, and then make reparations as a sign of true humility and repentance. Admittedly, to our shame, this is not how Christians portray forgiveness.

I followed up by asking, if this was true, what would happen to a person who repented on his deathbed and died without any opportunity to make reparations. Daniel answered as follows:

Would I say he is going to heaven? I wouldn’t say at all. I would say that God will deal with him justly, and whatever God decides is what is right.

These answers are completely inconsistent with each other. Either you believe that God requires people to make restitution, or you believe that you don’t know God’s criteria for judgment, but you can’t believe both. It’s not that no theology could ever be contrived to accommodate both scenarios, but that his claim to know that theology shifted from one moment to the next – going from certainty (“That’s the way God originally set it up”) to claiming humility and ignorance, depending on what argument he was currently addressing.

What this exchange highlighted for me is this: Apologists through the ages have put enormous amounts of thought into resolving some of the moral and philosophical difficulties that arise from belief in Christianity. By now, their answers have been distilled into bumper-sticker-length talking points that most lay Christians can automatically quote in response to common challenges – a sort of unwritten handbook of Christian apologetics. But what’s debatable is whether all those individual responses cohere with each other, as opposed to just serving the apologetic needs of the moment. As in the above example, I’ve observed that you can ask a question and get the usual well-rehearsed answer, then ask another question and get a different stock answer that contradicts the first one. In other cases, there are two equally common answers to the same question that contradict each other.

If Christianity was a coherent belief system that flowed from a consistent set of starting principles, this wouldn’t happen. On the other hand, if religious belief comes first and then reasons justifying it are invented later, you’d expect that these inconsistencies would arise. I think that in the majority of cases, it’s the latter: even intelligent, well-read Christians are mainly coming up with ways to rationalize a belief they adopted for nonrational reasons.

To that end, this essay will catalogue other contradictions like this, in order to highlight the inconsistencies in the apologist’s handbook of replies to common objections. The point of this essay isn’t to list Bible verses that contradict each other – those are covered elsewhere. Nor is it to list beliefs that different Christian sects disagree about, like the necessity of infant baptism or whether transubstantiation is somehow real or merely symbolic. Rather, it’s to list apologetic arguments that are used by apologists across many different Christian denominations, but which conflict with other arguments that have similarly widespread usage. If you see a theist using one of these arguments, point them to the other one and ask if they believe it as well!

I first posted about this subject on Daylight Atheism, asking commenters to supply their favorite examples of contradictory apologetics. Many of the examples in this essay are drawn from their contributions, which are credited where appropriate.

Is Faith a Virtue?

“Faith is a wonderful and important virtue that all humans should have more of.”
“Atheism is just like a religion and atheists have faith that no god exists.”

Religious apologists consider faith one of the chief virtues, a beneficial trait that God desires to instill in humankind (1 Corinthians 13:13). Some go so far as to call it “the foundational virtue of all Christian belief” (source), and believers frequently offer prayers such as, “Lord, increase my faith.”

But when dealing with atheists, they change their tune. Often, the apologists declare that atheism is based on faith – and that this is a bad thing. Evangelists write books with titles like I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, accuse atheists of putting their faith in science rather than God, and even assert that atheism requires more faith than their religion does (here’s one example).

Now, if they really believed that faith was a virtue, then for them to say that atheism was based in faith would be a great compliment. But when they say things like this, they clearly don’t mean them as praise! They’re obviously intended to be criticism, but for that to be true, the people making these statements must believe that faith is bad or that we should seek to have as little faith as possible.

Theists will talk about how wonderful and important and precious ‘faith’ is.
Then they’ll complain about idiots like the Birthers or 9/11 Conspiracy nuts who believe nonsense for which there’s no evidence!
Ben, from Daylight Atheism

Does God Give Believers Supernatural Experiences?

“If you believe in God, he’ll always be by your side, and you’ll always have his comforting presence.”
“God deliberately withdraws himself from believers in order to test and purify their faith.”

Countless evangelical books and tracts promise that, for those who choose to put their faith in Christianity, God will always be by their side, filling their lives and hearts with the light of his presence, and will never abandon them. The most cliched example is the glurge poem, “Footprints”. Ray Comfort also cited this “fact” as proof that anyone who deconverts must never have been a believer in the first place.

But at other times, Christians say something different – that God often withdraws entirely from believers, leaving them bereft of his presence, to test and strengthen their faith. This apologetic crosses denominational lines: for example, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that “Sooner or later, He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experiences, all those peaks and incentives”. More famously, Mother Teresa’s posthumously published memoirs revealed that she lost her faith fifty years prior to her death and spent the rest of her life in a state of misery and depression – which she and her church superiors rationalized by saying that God had deliberately withdrawn from her life to grant her the privilege of suffering like Jesus suffered.

From Daylight Atheism commenters:

God will always sustain you in times of trouble.
If you feel abandoned in times of trouble, God is testing you, like Job.

The road to heaven is narrow and difficult (and often has a lot of sacrifice)
It is easy to follow/love god

Proof of God and Free Will

“God could give indisputable proof of his existence, but won’t because that would take away humans’ free will to believe or disbelieve.”
“God’s existence is indisputably seen in nature, and those who disbelieve are without excuse.”

When atheists ask why God doesn’t just make his existence obvious and clearly speak to humanity to convey his wishes, the most common apologetic answer is that God values our free will, and that for him to give conclusive proof of his existence would violate our freedom to believe or disbelieve as we wish. (This argument requires overlooking the biblical stories where God dramatically manifests himself to nonbelievers, but never mind that.)

But this argument runs smack into another trope often used by apologists, one based directly on a biblical verse: that God’s existence is clear and obvious from nature, and that those who disbelieve are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Even more confusingly, some Christians say that God grants demons and false prophets the power to perform deceptive miracles (“signs and lying wonders” —2 Thessalonians 2:9) to test humanity’s faith and encourage them to believe lies! If it would violate human free will for God to do miracles in front of us, doesn’t it also violate our free will for him to let tricksters do them?

Both of these arguments can’t be true. If God wants to preserve our free will by leaving his existence uncertain, then the Bible must be wrong when it says there’s no way to honestly fail to believe in God. If it’s true that God’s existence is undeniable, then Christians must believe that human free will has already been thoroughly violated.

God doesn’t want to give us convincing evidence of his existence because it would take away our free will to believe.
You are being misled by Satan (a character in our beliefs who has full knowledge of God’s existence, absolute power, and still has the free will to flip god off).

God’s Goodness

“God is perfectly good and always wants the best for us.”
“God’s ways are not our ways and he is infinitely beyond our ability to judge.”

A core principle of monotheistic religions is that God is absolutely good, loving, and benevolent towards humanity. Yet as the omnipotent creator of the world, God must also bear responsibility for hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, viruses, plagues, and other natural disasters that cause tremendous death and suffering among human beings. Creating these evils would seem to be the act of a malevolent being, not a morally good one. But when atheists point this out, theists readily offer the rejoinder that God has his own mysterious reasons which we don’t know, so we can’t judge him.

But rarely do they realize that, by using this defense, they logically must abandon their belief that God is good. Judging someone to be good, just like judging them to be evil, requires at least some understanding of their motives and intent, and that’s precisely what Christians say we don’t have in this case. If we don’t know why God acts as he does, then there’s no way we can conclude that he’s good!

Our God, some contend, is immutable,
And their faith is, indeed, irrefutable:
When He does what He should,
It’s because “He is good,”
When he doesn’t, “His ways are inscrutable.”
RedKing (quote originally from Laurence Perrine)

They always seem to know the mind of God, while simultaneously proclaiming that we cannot know the mind of God.

Does Faith Need Science?

“Faith isn’t based on scientific proof; science has nothing to say about the existence of God.”
“Science makes faith more plausible by offering evidence for the existence of God.”

Religious evangelists have a profoundly fractured and inconsistent view of science. On one hand, they proclaim that religious faith isn’t based on science, doesn’t need science to sustain it, and that science by definition can say nothing whatsoever about the existence or nonexistence of God. (This usually happens when scientific evidence undercuts a historical tenet of their religion, such as archaeology failing to confirm the events of the Old Testament, or genetic studies not finding a link between Native Americans and Israelites as the Book of Mormon posits. See also the creationist statements of faith in which they vow to reject any scientific evidence that contradicts their beliefs.)

But on the other hand, when some discovery is made that lends support to one of their doctrines, they pounce eagerly on it and loudly proclaim that it proves the truth of their faith. The Shroud of Turin is a classic example, as was the James Ossuary that captured Christians’ attention until it was shown to be an elaborately orchestrated fraud. Even something as tenuous as pareidolic images of religious figures in mundane objects often become focal points of devotion and veneration. If evidence was truly irrelevant to faith, religious believers would treat these discoveries with the same disinterest and disdain they reserve for disconfirming facts. That this doesn’t happen in real life shows that they’re more eager for scientific proof than they like to admit.

And it’s not just uneducated lay believers who do this. Even allegedly sophisticated theologians and religious scientists display this obvious inconsistency: like the theologian John Haught, who’s indignant at the “abuse” of science by atheists who claim scientific findings support a godless universe, but who cheerily turns around and proclaims that scientific investigation supports a purposeful universe. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, does the same.

They often say that their beliefs aren’t based on science and scientific discoveries are irrelevant, but when something comes up that they think supports their position they jump all over it.

God is beyond scientific investigation.
Here’s a bunch of scientific evidence for God.

…something to the effect of ‘Faith is the greatest of all virtues’ coupled with ‘Design! Everywhere! DNA is so complex! Obviously it’s God!’ and any other arguments which rely explicitly on the empirical world (anthropic principle, teleological arguments etc). I think it’s funny that faith is touted to be so amazing but the moment an apologist can find ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ of God they latch on and beat their chests with it (not with the evidence, with pride {and really, not with pride, but with their fists, in a metaphorical way}).
Locke’s Compass

Did Science Arise From Religion?

“Christianity deserves the credit for inventing science because it introduced the assumption of uniform natural law.”
“The assumption of uniform natural law is contrary to Christianity and is only made by dogmatic atheists.”

Although some of the contradictions discussed in this essay are common to evangelistic religions, this one tends to be specific to Christianity. On one hand, believers praise science as the offspring of Christian principles. In any discussion of the Enlightenment, for example, you’ll find apologists who claim that it was medieval theologians who conceived of God as a Cosmic Watchmaker, presiding over an orderly and lawful universe built with the precision of a vast clockwork, and that this idea laid the conceptual foundations for science and thus that all subsequent scientific advances are owed in some sense to Christianity.

Ironic, then, that other believers complain so bitterly about this idea. Often creationists, though not always, the members of this group say that assuming a seamless weave of natural law – an assumption which scientists do and must make – amounts to atheism and to unfairly rejecting miraculous explanations in advance. They say instead that science should admit the possibility of the miraculous – but if scientists now don’t make that assumption, and if this is unfair and atheistic, then science as we know it can hardly be credited to religion.

Modern science should really be credited to Christianity, and its doctrine that the universe is orderly and obeys comprehensible laws.
The doctrine that the universe is orderly and obeys comprehensible laws is naturalistic dogmatic scientism which rules out miracles a priori.

Is the Bible Infallible?

“The Bible is God’s word and is infallible.”
“The Bible is infallible only in its original manuscripts, which no longer exist.”

We constantly hear from religious leaders that the Bible is infallible, incomparable to any other book, perfectly without error in all its teachings and the history it relates. This claim sounds good to people who don’t know much about the Bible, but knowledgeable atheists and biblical scholars can readily point to a huge number of logical and historical contradictions, as well as savage laws and other atrocities that seem unlikely to be the product of revelation from a benevolent and loving author.

When presented with this evidence, sometimes the apologists will cling to inerrancy in the face of it and invent explanations that rely on contorted reinterpretations and retroactively changing the meaning of common words. But sometimes, they’ll retreat to saying that they believe only that the original manuscripts of the Bible were inerrant, but since then, errors and divergences have been introduced by human copyists. They treat this as if it were only a slightly modified version of the original claim, but in fact, it’s a completely different claim.

Since no original manuscripts of the Bible exist, no one can know what they said or how much they differed from the texts we have now, even the very earliest of which are copies many generations removed from the originals. And since the copies we possess are not originals, but have been changed in an unknown number of times and ways, the only conclusion is that the Bible we have – the one that believers rely upon, the one that they use for guidance and treat as the basis of their faith – is not infallible, and may in fact be wrong about important details.

…the Bible is God’s word and should be treated as, well, as gospel; except when there are contradictions, in which case mere humans had a lot of editorial control.

God’s Purpose for Creation

“God’s purpose for creation was to share his love with humanity.”
“God’s purpose for creation was to glorify himself.”

If asked, “Why did God create the universe?”, the common theist answer is that it was for our sake. God is perfectly self-sufficient and needs nothing, but in his selfless charity, he freely chose to create a cosmos which he intended to be peopled with intelligent beings who would love him, share in his goodness, and enjoy the bounty of all the infinite riches he has to offer them. As C.S. Lewis asserted, “the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs… God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”

But if you probe a little deeper – such as by bringing up the infamous verse from the Bible which strongly implies that most human beings are going to Hell – you may hear a very different and far more sinister answer. This one says that God’s purpose for creating the universe wasn’t to have fellowship with humanity, but to “glorify” himself – in other words, God created humans because he wanted to have someone to show off his power to, and any means of showing off that power will do equally well. Under this morally deranged theology, the saved glorify God by worshipping him and giving him an opportunity to show how richly he rewards true believers. But the damned also glorify God by showing how viciously and mercilessly he can torture people who won’t do as he demands. This site quotes the theologian J.M. Boice in support of this view: “Every person who has ever lived or will ever live must glorify God, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly, either in heaven or in hell. You will glorify God. Either you will glorify him as the object of his mercy and glory, which will be seen in you. Or you will glorify him in your rebellion and unbelief by being made the object of his wrath and power at the final judgment.”

These apologetics conflict because they make different claims about what end fulfills God’s purpose for creating humanity. One says that God’s purpose is served only by humans attaining salvation; the other says that God’s purpose is served equally well by humans being eternally condemned.

Cosmic Fine-Tuning

“The laws of nature are fine-tuned to make the existence of life possible.”
“The existence of life is impossible without supernatural intervention in nature.”

An argument often made by creationists is that the laws of nature show an uncanny degree of fine-tuning, permitting life to exist and flourish where even the tiniest change in the physical laws and constants would have produced a lifeless universe. This, they say, is evidence of a cosmic designer carefully twiddling the knobs of reality to produce the universe he had in mind.

But on the other hand, when it comes to origin-of-life research, creationists are often heard to claim that abiogenesis is such an intrinsically improbable event that it couldn’t possibly have happened on its own, and must have required a divine hand to suspend the laws of nature and create life miraculously. But what about this supposedly fine-tuned universe? If the laws of nature are so precisely tweaked as to permit life to exist, why isn’t it also possible, even likely, that they were set up to permit life to emerge naturally under those same laws?

The laws of the universe are exquisitely fine-tuned for biological life.
The laws of the universe are structured in such a way as to require their miraculous suspension in order to get biological life.

The universe is fine tuned for life.
The conditions for life to come about on their own are so small God had to intervene supernaturally.

Intercessory Prayer

“Intercessory prayer is potent and effective in bringing about desired results.”
“Prayers will be answered only when they’re in accord with God’s unknowable will.”

Religious scriptures and evangelists trumpet the benefits of prayer, promising that God answers petitions made with a sincere and humble heart. They’re not shy about promising that God will grant marvelous boons to people who pray – whether they be healing, wealth, love, or happiness – and Christian websites even maintain lists of answered prayers, making it seem as if miraculous responses to prayer are common.

But when prayer fails to bring about the desired result, these apologists sing a different tune. They say that God may have fulfilled the request, just not in the time or in the manner we expect; that God doesn’t answer requests that aren’t what we really need; that God only answers prayers that are in accord with his mysterious plan; that “God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.”

These two theologies are inconsistent with each other. If it’s true that God won’t answer prayers that aren’t in accord with his will, preachers shouldn’t be making extravagant promises about the efficacy of prayer to bring about miraculous results. At most, they should be saying that God occasionally answers prayers, if those prayers agree with what he was going to do anyway – and since God clearly doesn’t consider disaster, mass death, unrequited evil, and vast human suffering to be inconsistent with his ineffable plan, the odds are that prayers asking for relief from those things won’t be granted.

We should always intercede for what seems like the desirable outcome for someone (healing, health/wealth improvement, etc.)
God sometimes says no because there is a better outcome to be had if such apparently desirable outcomes are not obtained.
To be consistent, you should never pray for any specific outcome. Just pray, “God, I hope what you want to happen… happens.” The inconsistency is assuming that it’s good to pray for apparently “good” things (by our standards) when you might be praying for an outcome that could hinder someone’s heaven-boundness.

God works in mysterious ways that can not be predicted.
Prayer works.

Here’s a condensed version of a conversation I once had with a believer:
Believer: “I prayed that my son would get a job, and he got a job. God worked a miracle!”
Me: “People get jobs every day. That’s not a miracle. Here’s a miracle that would convince me: If God resurrected the World Trade Center towers, exactly as they were before Sept 11, 2001, along with all the thousands of people murdered there that day, I would believe in God.”
Believer: “God doesn’t do magic tricks.”

Moral Relativism

“The moral commands in the Bible are absolutely true and apply to all humanity.”
“Some of the moral commands in the Bible were intended only for people at a specific time and place.”

Especially among conservative believers, who claim to draw their morals exclusively from the Bible, you’ll hear preachers thunder against the evils of moral relativism. The general thrust of their complaints is that the Bible is God’s perfect and infallible guide for human behavior, the only such guide whose rules apply to all people at all places and times. If we depart from its commandments in any way, they fear we’ll no longer have an absolute standard by which to judge the morality of any action. We’ll have to believe that good and evil are defined solely by the standards of the culture we live in, and bloodshed, chaos and anarchy will be the inevitable result.

But that, as usual, is only half the story. People who’ve actually read the Bible know that it’s far more morally ambiguous. Mixed in with laws against male homosexuality, which modern Christians adore, are other equally clear and explicit laws – against tattooing, against wearing mixed fabrics, against eating shellfish, against allowing the handicapped in church – which they habitually ignore. Other verses – such as the ones where Old Testament heroes take multiple wives and concubines, with no indication of disapproval by God – flatly contradict the standards that today’s Christian right would like us all to conduct ourselves by. And still other verses, such as the ones where God orders his followers to bloodily slaughter the Canaanites, are indefensible by any reasonable moral standard.

How do the apologists deal with this? In some cases, such as the Old Testament purity laws, they say that these are merely “ceremonial” rules, meant only to foreshadow the coming of Jesus, and that modern Christians can safely disregard them. Another popular excuse is that different ages of human history belong to different “dispensations”, and each dispensation had its own rules which apply only to the people who lived at that time, thus explaining biblical slavery, polygamy, and holy wars.

But if this is the case, the Bible does not contain one set of moral laws that apply to everyone; it contains multiple sets of moral laws that are inconsistent with each other, and which one applies to you depends on when you lived and which culture you lived in. And isn’t that view the very definition of moral relativism?

God’s moral teachings [as described in the Bible] apply to all people, places, and times.
Oh, that [usually Old Testament but not always] was just their custom. We live in a different society now.
Roi des Faux

God is eternal and unchanging. What he says is true yesterday, today, and forever.
What the Old Testament says about slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women holds for that culture at that time. It doesn’t apply to us today.

The Sense of Conscience

“All human beings have an innate conscience that tells them the difference between right and wrong.”
“Without the morality in the Bible, humanity wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between right and wrong.”

Related to the previous point, it’s often said by apologists that human beings have an inherent sense of right and wrong, one that transcends culture and relies on no experience or moral education. This claim forms the basis for one of the most popular pro-theist arguments, the moral argument for God’s existence, which holds that only a creator who was himself a moral being could or would have instilled this sense of conscience in us.

But if human beings already know the difference between good and evil, what do we need religion for? Why do churches and missionaries spend so much money and exert such enormous effort just to tell us all what we already know? It’s at this point that apologists switch to a contradictory argument: that the Bible is necessary to be a moral guide, that it’s the “only source to which we can turn to identify properly matters that are good or evil” (source), and that without following its commandments we’d be hopelessly lost. Believers who say this react with horror at the idea of humans becoming “a law unto ourselves” – except that, if we all have this universal sense of conscience, that’s exactly what we should be capable of.

God gave us absolute morality which is expressed in the natural law all around us.
Without religion, no one would know what is moral.

Human Equality

“God treats all human beings as equals, showing no favoritism or partiality.”
“Men are the image of God, while women are the image of men. Therefore men should have all power and authority and women should graciously submit to their leadership.”

Christians boast as one of their proudest points that God shows no partiality and that “there is neither male nor female, slave nor free” among believers, that all are equally precious in his sight. They’re not alone in this, either. Most world religions proclaim the equality of all members of their community of faith: among Muslims, it’s the believing community, the ummah, drawn from every culture and nation.

But there’s one vast inequality that’s sanctioned by all these religions: the unequal treatment of men and women. The oppression and mistreatment of women is a constant throughout history, even among religions that otherwise have little or nothing in common.

In some religions, like Islam, Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism, women are barred from the clergy altogether. In others, like Roman Catholicism, they’re permitted to join the lowest ranks of the hierarchy but not to create any new doctrine; their only role is to pass on doctrine created by men. In still others, like conservative branches of Anglicanism, they can only create doctrine that applies to women, and no male believer can be subject to them if he doesn’t choose to be.

Anti-woman discrimination pervades these religions, from the highest levels of the hierarchy to ordinary domestic life, where women are expected to submit to men in all things: first their father, then their husband. In the most patriarchal faiths, women are strongly discouraged or outright forbidden to seek an education or a job, the better to keep them perpetually dependent on first their father and then their husband – as if women were a kind of property that could be passed off from one man to another.

The apologists of patriarchy try to put a cheery gloss on this by saying that God gives men and women different roles to play in life, and it just so happens that one gender’s role is to lead and the other’s is to obey. This, for the record, was exactly the same argument used by slaveholders with regard to the races. Even if you believe that men and women have differing roles in life, it’s obviously a self-serving lie for the members of one gender to claim that they control all power and authority. Wouldn’t it make more sense, even given this opinion, for men and women to each exercise authority over different areas of everyday life?

Women should submit to their husbands.
Men and women are equal.

God loves everyone, men and women, and does not favor discrimination.
The husband is the head of the household.

Preventing Evil

“God allows evil and suffering as an end to a greater good.”
“God wants us to work to stop evil and suffering.”

One of the most common apologetics for the atheist argument from evil is that all the seemingly purposeless suffering in the world is really part of God’s plan, and will in the fullness of time lead to a much greater good. We can’t know in advance what that good is, according to the theologians, but they assure us that it must exist and that it couldn’t have been achieved without all this suffering, and when it arrives we’ll see that God was fully justified in permitting evil to continue unchecked for thousands of years.

But on the other hand, these same theologians claim that alleviating suffering is a moral duty of humankind. They say that God commands us to see that the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed, that we use medical science to heal the sick, that war and natural disasters are averted, and that we establish a just society where criminals are deterred and the innocent are protected by fair laws.

These two statements can’t both be true, because if evil is a necessity in God’s plan, then aren’t we working in direct opposition to God’s plan by trying to stop it? Doesn’t every act of charity or compassion interfere with that unknown far-future good by preventing whatever specific instance of evil God allowed as part of his mysterious plan? Don’t we run the risk of being too successful at eradicating evil, thus missing out on whatever greater good God had planned for us?

This contradiction exists no matter what theodicy you choose. If evil is God’s punishment for people’s sin, then by helping those who suffer, we’re enabling them to escape their just desserts. If evil is God’s way of testing us, then outside interference ruins the test. If evil is God’s way of strengthening our character, then helping the needy prevents them from developing the strong character God wanted them to have.