Hi and welcome back! A long time ago, I talked about atrocity apologetics. Christians pull atrocity apologetics out of their magic hats to square the circle of the Problem of Evil. It’s never worked particularly well, and lately it’s working even more poorly than usual. Let me show you what this magic trick involves — and why it backfires so spectacularly for the Christians who go there.
The Problem of Evil.
When we talk about the Problem of Evil, we capitalize it because it’s one of the biggest dealbreakers there is for Christianity. It’s a problem they can’t answer.
A lot of folks think Epicurus gave us the Problem of Evil in question form. La Wiki tells me that an early Christian attributed this question to Epicurus, who lived centuries before anybody invented Christianity. In all the centuries since, though, Christians have never yet been able to answer it. Here’s the question usually attributed to Epicurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
There’s simply not room in the universe for an omnimax god and evil and suffering. That’s why Christians haven’t ever come up with anything satisfactory in response to this capital-P Problem.
The Hand-Waving Begins.
However, that’s not to say that Christians ever stopped trying to resolve their Problem. As the Enlightenment shook the power-bases of Christianity, philosophers began to pay attention to their dominant religion’s dealbreakers.
In 1710, at the very dawn of the Enlightenment, a German philosopher named Gottfried Leibniz coined the term theodicy, which means the vindication of God. Leibniz felt that people needed religion to bring meaning to their lives, but all this excessive and increasing rationality going on interfered with religion’s hold on people. I suppose he was half correct there.
Ever since then, Christians have pursued theodicy. (Once a bad idea enters their canon, it never leaves.) But their tactics don’t vary. I saw a self-proclaimed young “theologian” applying it to weather-based natural disasters back in 2011, and for goodness’ sake, he utilized much the same victim-blaming and hand-waving I heard from Pentecostal preachers in the 1980s!
That hand-waving typically centers around the Christian notion of sin being the cause of suffering and evil. Our 2011 “theologian” moves the goalposts of exactly what a god is to get his work done, but ultimately he heads for the same playground to piss next to fundagelicals on his way home.
Why the Hand-Waving Happens.
The more literally true Christians believe the Bible is, the worse the Problem of Evil is for them. Their folklore regards the Bible as a sacred book with magical powers of its very own. Based on that belief, they push a corollary myth: that anybody who reads the Bible or has Bible verses parroted at them will fall under the Jesus Magic Spell and convert.
And anybody who’s hung out in our commentariat here knows that we’re always talking about the Bible — several of us have in fact done personal cover-to-cover readings of the Bible, providing us with the fruits of this labor in the form of comments and notes. As far as I know, nobody’s converted or even changed their minds about Christianity in all that time. But many other community members that I know of have become more solidified in non-belief, including myself.
I don’t know why so many Christians think that the Bible is magical, but they do. At least, they say they do. When we recite their very own Bible’s verses to them to highlight their utter hypocrisy, they certainly don’t change in any way! It doesn’t even affect people who claim to believe in it, so I don’t see why they’d think it’d affect people who don’t.
In retrospect, maybe we should have foreseen what would happen when we applied that tactic to one of the worst atrocities in the Bible.
The Truly Evil Bible.
Right around the time I began blogging, skeptics began making a lot of noise about all the passages in the Bible that condone or command the practice of slavery. There are a lot of those passages, and they occur in both the New and Old Testaments.
- Leviticus 25:44-46
- Exodus 21:2-6, as well as 21:7-11 and 21:20-21
- Ephesians 6:5
- 1 Timothy 6:1-2
- Luke 12:47-48
Also, we can’t forget all the times that Yahweh commanded his Israelites to enslave their enemies’ women and little girls for their own sexual gratification — as happened to the daughters of the Midianites and the people of Jabesh-gilead — and, for that matter, to the women of Shiloh. There’s a lot more at that link, but I think we’ve got an earful by now.
Point being: Yes, the Bible wholly approves of slavery. In multiple places, its many anonymous authors even provide divinely-written/inspired instructions for the commission of these atrocities.
The Riposte That Backfired — On Us.
We thought that telling these Bible-worshiping idolaters about all those verses would stagger them, would make them understand their magic book isn’t what they’ve built it up into in their minds.
We were so innocent in judging them by our own standards. I mean, if I was that totally wrong about a belief of mine, I’d definitely want to know. So I, like my skeptic peers, thought Christians would also want to know.
I didn’t yet understand that the kind of Christians who idolize the Bible are not part of the religion for the same reasons I was.
So I was in no way whatsoever prepared to see Christians double down on slavery as a good thing. What followed could well be called the Age of Atrocity Apologetics.
As far as I can remember, atrocity apologetics is my own term. It means apologetics routines intended to make an absolute moral atrocity into an action that is completely compatible with an omnimax good god. The Christians who go in for it are usually going to be the toxic Christians: fundagelicals, hardline Catholics, etc. — the literalists, for the most part, who believe in Heaven and Hell.
Anybody who insists the Bible is a divine book can fall prey to this style of apologetics. And way too many Christians fall prey to it the moment someone says “Yes, but what about slavery/genocide/rape/forced abortions/eternal torture/worldwide slate-wiping/allowing the Holocaust/etc?”
Any Christian with shame would immediately concede that yes, everything on that list is a moral outrage, a great evil, and it troubles them that it’s there. But shame isn’t a quality found in abundance in the toxic flavors of the religion, at least not the kind of shame that leads terrible people closer to becoming better people.
Spotting Atrocity Apologetics in the Wild.
You will know immediately that you’re dealing with a toxic Christian if the response you get to that very good question runs along the line of making slavery sound like a minimum-wage job at McDonald’s.
It absolutely wasn’t, and we can tell that by just reading the above-linked Bible verses. As far as I’ve ever known, McDonald’s managers aren’t allowed to ritually rape, forcibly marry, kidnap, or beat their employees — at least, not without serious legal repercussions. The McDonald’s manual doesn’t lay out instructions for finding new employees by creeping the vineyards of nearby towns and kidnapping any pretty women they encounter.
All the same, this is the literal comparison I’ve heard several times myself from self-proclaimed fundagelical apologists. They all have this bizarre idea that what they call biblical slavery was sooooo much nicer than Southern-style slavery. It was still slavery. Slaves still had no rights to anything — not even to deny others’ use of their bodies. (See endnotes for a historical segue.)
(This comparison must exist in an apologetics book or something. Fundagelicals aren’t very creative people by nature, so hearing anything out of more than one of them means they probably got it from a common source.)
The Resurgence of Atrocity Apologetics.It seems like every single time a new natural disaster or tragedy takes place, self-proclaimed Christian apologists crawl out of the woodwork to yammer about how this totally doesn’t invoke the Problem of Evil, that there isn’t really a Problem of Evil anyway, and nobody should allow their faith to weaken as a result of this event.
I noticed that tendency in this blog’s infancy, yes, which is when I first talked about atrocity apologetics. And I’ve noticed it many times since, like in this post.
And now we come to the modern-day reissue of atrocity apologetics in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. People are starting to get sick and die in ever-growing numbers. Our healthcare staff and resources are already straining to contain all the suffering coming their way.
Why, it’s enough to make anybody question their beliefs, especially if those beliefs aren’t rooted in reality to begin with.
How does someone reconcile belief in an omnimax god who can and does magically heal his followers (though a long list of asterisked terms and conditions apply to that promise) with a pandemic that doesn’t care one bit about its victims’ beliefs or how hard anybody thinks at the ceiling?
Atrocity apologetics to the rescue!
The Best of All Possible Worlds.
One honest Christian, a Jesuit priest named James Martin, punts to mystery in a recent New York Times opinion post. He doesn’t know why his god allows people to die of disease. His god doesn’t actually sound at all omnimax. His version of Jesus is “moved with pity” when encountering the sick and dying, and so that is Martin’s response as well: to care for others as best he can.
A writer for BioLogos, which is a group arguing against Creationism in favor of something a little more reality-based, explains why the pandemic is a problem for literalist Christians — but completely fails to resolve it for them or anybody else. It’s just a capital-P Problem to him, and his answer to it is an exhortation to the tribe to become TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
It’s hilarious to see just how poorly he answered his own question. I wonder if any Christians will notice his sleight-of-hand. Probably not. But he’s not a literalist anyway, any more than James Martin is.
The more toxic flavors of Christians do way worse than these fellas.
They Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Citations.
Over at The Christian Post, one Christian doesn’t even bother to answer that capital-P Problem (and he’s apparently a professor at some religious school!). He pushes old apologetics works that he claims deal with the Problem of Evil, blahblahs about objective morality, then ends thusly: “The problem of evil makes us realize just how much we need God.” 
Oh, and he also insults atheists. (It’s an oldie-but-goodie as a sales tactic, but that doesn’t mean it’s successful!) The “good news” doesn’t appear to have made this fellow a more loving or compassionate person, that’s for sure.
At Premier Christianity, the writers there don’t bother answering the Problem of Evil either. They insist, as do most of their peers, that The Big Problem Here is sin, which was caused by humans, and freedom, which they mistakenly believe their god values and gave to humans. So by their reckoning, humans must fix the pandemic without divine help. Unfortunately, that viewpoint stomps on the feet of their Bible, which tells believers repeatedly that their god stands by to magically help those who believe.
If you’re wondering how humans should fix the pandemic, it’s through what their writer calls “this ‘warfare’ view of reality.” Yes, that means SPEERCHUL WARFARE YAWL. I’ve seen this viewpoint noised about many times, but this is the first time I think I’ve heard a name attached to it.
The Warfare View vs. The Blueprint View, Apparently.
Here’s the relevant explanation, as given by a young mother whose toddler died of brain cancer:
Jessica had come to reject what she terms the ‘blueprint’ view of a God who creates pain and suffering as part of his sovereign plan. Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God.
It always comes down to victim-blaming, doesn’t it?
I feel so bad for Jessica. It’s got to be a punch to the gut for a lifetime to lose a child like that. I just don’t get how someone can think that her toddler could die of a horrific disease and call it collateral damage in a cosmic battle (“a casualty in the ongoing battle to redeem a fallen and broken world” is how Jessica puts it). And she’s totally okay with that. Jessica decided that all the bad stuff that happens “is not from God,” while good stuff that happens “is from God,” who “is doing everything possible to maximise good.”
This viewpoint sounds like absolute heresy, and it definitely doesn’t answer the Problem of Evil. It even violates a Bible verse that flat-out says that Jessica’s god is the creator of both good and evil. So these believers have simply moved the problem a step over to the side. And in the doing, they make their god sound impotent — or incompetent — or a like a total asshole.
If Christians want a “wonder-working God,” one who answers prayers and does countless big and small miracles in people’s lives, then they must account for the prayers unanswered, the miracles neglected, and the countless tragedies unfolding without divine aid. They don’t get this both ways — not without invoking the Problem of Evil.
So I ask:
Is God willing to prevent coronavirus deaths, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able to prevent these deaths, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing to prevent these deaths? Then why are people dying?
Is he neither able nor willing to help us?
Then why would anybody call him God?
The Problem of Evil stymies Christian salespeople. It should. Ever since their religion became more optional, their response to these capital-P Problems has begun to matter. Unfortunately for them, they’ve got nothing new to say on the topic except the same ol’ victim-blaming and punts-to-mystery that they’ve always had.
Irrelevance couldn’t happen to a more deserving — or a more dishonest — bunch.
NEXT UP: Chat post! Then: Opportunistic Christians don’t ever allow a little thing like a pandemic get in the way of makin’ sales. Let’s meet some of these slimeballs and see how they plan to capitalize on a worldwide tragedy. See you soon.
History Segue: Years ago, I read a Renaissance microhistory about a sweet old Italian widow whose female slave was raped. She took the matter to court, demanding justice. The court — all men, of course — told her that they couldn’t bring rape charges against the men responsible, because slaves don’t own themselves. They’re property. Thus, they do not possess the right to consent or not-consent to sex. So the widow had to sue the rapists for damage to her property, instead. I don’t remember what happened after that. (Back to the post!)
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