This doesn't mean that Christians don't, and it isn't intended to mean such. It's offered as a half-hearted attempt to explain why so much of the evidence that those around me find compelling leaves me cold.
Last week, I talked some about confronting poverty, face to face, for the first time, and how that situation left me with questions that were never, in my opinion, satisfactorily answered.
I understand that not everyone wrestles with these questions. I also understand that not everyone finds the answers unbelievable, and that the answers and accepted doctrines vary based on what sect you are asking questions of, so please bear in mind that the following is only based on my personal interactions with my childhood faith.
The explanation that I was given for suffering was the we live in a fallen world.
Essentially, the world was created perfectly, and was intended to maintain that perfection ad infinitum, but then, as the popular internet meme goes, Adam and Eve ate the thing, and because of that sin entered the world. With the advent of sin, the world began to decay. It was no longer perfection, and this allowed disease, pain, and death into the world.
To me, this conflicts with the concept of a being that is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and generally fairly benevolent.
For instance, if God knew that this would be the end result--this world was unavoidable, and God would know that, because omniscience and omnipotence kind of demand that God know entire course of history--why create humans at all? If billions and billions of individuals were going to live relatively short lives, many of them filled by pain and suffering, and many of them were going to be cursed to eternal damnation for not believing in the god that created them...why not just....not create them at all? No sin. No decaying world. No suffering. Problem solved.
When I posed this thought to a youth pastor during my adolescence, I was told that God wanted to be praised. He wanted to be loved and served and worshipped. But it never really clicked. Why would someone weigh its own validation--in the form of praise and worship and people choosing to love him--against all of that suffering and pain, and decide that the validation was worth it? To me, as a petty mortal, it makes no sense.
No, I'll go a step forward. It doesn't just make no sense. It is morally repugnant to me to imagine weighing those options, and choosing the validation.
I would expect a deity to put the needs of the many over its own needs to be loved.
Morality is a point that both believers and nonbelievers often harp on, prancing around and around each other, taking little nips and never really settling the issue.
For me, the real moral issues that I keyed in on during my Christian days were slavery and rape.
Take this premise, which is how I was raised: The Bible is the absolutely inerrant, inspired, literal Word of God, which we are to take and live our lives by as an absolute code.
And yet, it allows slavery. Growing up in the South, this was something that never made sense to me. I was acutely aware of the history of slavery in the United States, because I could see the reminders all around me. When I brought up these concerns, the answer was that the Bible was written in a different time, or that God knew that we would do it anyway, so he wanted to make sure that slaves were taken care of.
This, again, didn't really make much sense to me. This really came into clarity for me as I began to parent. Just five minutes before sitting down to finish this post, I told my children to put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Tomorrow, I will do the same thing. Over and over, I will tell them, "Dirty clothes belong in the hamper, not on the floor." And over and over, the dirty clothes will be on the floor. I won't stop telling them just because I know they'll do it any way--it's my job to teach them the right way to do things, and the right way to deal with your dirty clothes is to put them in the hamper. So I will continue to encourage them to put them in the basket, however long it takes, in the hopes that at some point, the clothes will be in the basket without my encouragement. It makes no sense to me, then, that God would decide that we were just unteachable, and instead of showing us a better way, would just guide our natural impulses.
This particular explanation also flies in the face of how we handle almost every other sin. Premarital sex? There's no guidelines for doing it anyway. Homosexuality? No guidelines for doing it anyway. Stealing? No guidelines for doing it anyway. And yet, it's completely arguable to say that these sins, also a part of our nature, harm no one or harm very few people (in the case of stealing), whereas slavery adversely affected entire groups of people--entire societies. Why would there be prohibitions against some sins, and a guideline for how to do this one in a moral way?
The concept of rape also bothered me as a Christian exploring morality from God's perspective. You probably know what verses I am going to cite, but I'm going to post them anyway. From Deuteronomy 22, we have this passage in particular:
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.This is the NIV, of course, but the King James isn't much better:
28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.Reading these verses for the first time led me to look for rape in the Bible, and in the end I realized that it's a huge gap--there is no prohibition against raping. In fact, it's arguable that rape is encouraged in the Bible, a topic I have briefly touched on before, in my Atheist Mama post on the Bible.
The bottom line, I suppose, is this: If I accept that the Bible was written in the way that I was taught, that it reflects the mind of a perfect God, I would expect to see that the society it organized was incredibly progressive, that said society was in line with values from far ahead of its time.
Instead, I see a morality that is quite reflective of the time period and geographic location that it formed in.
This is the one point on this relatively short list that I did not struggle with as a Christian. As a Christian, I couldn't understand how no one would believe. The evidence of God was all around me. The questions that I asked weren't because I didn't believe; I asked the questions that I did because I DID believe, and I wanted to understand. I wanted to be able to live my Christian walk fully.
No, the idea of evidence became an expectation when I left my faith. It started with a question in an online discussion with an anonymous theist: "What evidence would change your mind?"
And I had to respond honestly: "I don't know what evidence would change my mind. I won't know unless I see it."
After that conversation, as I mulled over it like I am prone to do, I realized with a start that one being should know what that evidence is, at least in accordance with my upbringing and religious indoctrination--God. God knows everything. I was told again and again that no one, not even my own mother, knows me as well as God does. So it stands to reason that God knows what evidence would convince me of his existence, and, assuming he exists, withholds that information.
Now, with my eternal soul on the line, why would God withhold that information?
I've encountered various answers to this in the time since it occurred to me. Perhaps the most insulting is the idea that God is giving me the evidence and I am willfully ignoring it. This undercuts the entire premise--we are talking about evidence so convincing that I can't ignore it, that it would revive my faith and belief. Remember, my eternal soul is on the line according to many of these people.
Other answers are the timeless, "God works in mysterious ways," and, "Only God knows," and, "The evidence is all around you." Remember, that last one is one that I believed myself, wholeheartedly, as a Christian.
But why? When something as important as eternal damnation is on the line, WHY would you withhold information that could inspire people to believe? It's the kind of mind games that women are often accused of playing with men--we never say what we mean, we never give them the information that they need, we withhold that information and then expect them to figure it out anyway. No one wants to be in a relationship like that.
I expect a deity to provide appropriate evidence of its existence. I expect it to give me what I need to make an informed decision on the subject. I expect it not to play games with my supposedly eternal soul and possible damnation.
In the end, I apply Ockham's razor to these problems. What's the simplest explanation?
The simplest explanation, the one that resolves all of these issues and explains many others for me, is that there is no deity out there. On second thought, let me refine that a little--there is no deity out there of the sort that I was taught to believe in.
Could I be wrong? Of course. We all could.
But barring the evidence that would convince me, and barring convincing explanations for what I see as some very serious contradictions or shortfallings, I don't believe that I am.