The Most Horrible Thing I’ve Ever Heard a Christian Say

Endorsing an evil god…while saying grace
Christian theology is awesomely sabotaged by the New Testament. Its portrayal of god, so deeply rooted in ancient superstition, cannot possibly hold up under close scrutiny. And, sometimes, Christians do feel the pain of getting suckered in.

What are we told about God? It would appear, for example, that nothing escapes his notice. Luke 12:6-7 is a classic text reflecting this belief:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

This level of divine attention enables the whole prayer thing, which means that God knows what every person is thinking; we are assured by the preachers that we all will be held accountable for evil thoughts. And when the devout refer to God-given talents, well, how would that happen? Apparently God arranges stuff at the genetic level. This god is really involved.

So Christians set themselves up for disappointment when God fails to deliver. This god who pays such close attention doesn’t come through when things get really, really bad. Of course the professional Christian apologists have come up with tedious excuses to explain why countless tsunamis, earthquakes, and plagues have happened on God’s watch. And the folks who churn out the endless streams of Christian devotional books fall back on God’s mysterious ways and “bigger plans”—and the importance of “trusting the Lord.”

But then something comes along that is so horrific, so inexplicably evil, that Christians stagger in disbelief and shock. “How could God have allowed that to happen?” The god-is-always-good theology promoted by the pastors and priests doesn’t work when brutal reality smacks us.

It was five years go yesterday that a gunman massacred twenty kids—5 and 6 year olds—and six of their teachers in Newtown, CT. The shooter used bullets that explode when they hit their targets, so those children were torn apart. Nothing at all in life had prepared the first responders for the carnage they found at the school; it’s unlikely that photos of that crime scene will ever be released.

In the face of such pain, I really don’t want to hear preachers manufacturing lame excuses. Nothing can exonerate God: don’t even try.

It was especially hard that year to get into any “Christmas spirit,” but even so, ten days later I attended a Christmas Eve party at the home of a Catholic friend. It was during the grace that she made reference to the shooting—I was so unprepared for what I was about to hear. She uttered a prayer that, supposedly, would be heard by her Lord. Did he appreciate being blamed? She said: “God must have wanted more angels.” I was stunned. I left the room.

Had she really no idea what she was saying? The all-powerful, loving God who runs the Cosmos resorts to shooting kids to get more angels? But her blind piety mandated that God be exonerated, no matter the cost. She had given permission for that bloodthirsty God of the Exodus, who killed all the first-born in Egypt, to wreak havoc in suburban Connecticut. Is this really the God she wants?

The pious can flail helplessly, desperately, when faith collides head on with reality. Another callous wacko on Facebook also saw the bright side: those twenty kids got an early Christmas present, said he—“they’re now with Jesus.”

Years earlier, there was another comment, in similar circumstances, that reflects less cruel theology. In March 1996, a gunman walked into a classroom in Dunblane, Scotland and killed 16 kids and their teacher. Across Britain there was an outpouring of grief, and the school was soon surrounded by memorial flowers. Among them was a Teddy Bear, around whose neck was attached this message: “Wednesday, 13 March 1996—the day God overslept.”

My friend had proposed an evil god whom Christian theologians would abhor. Well, most of them; some theologians have argued that what we perceive as evil—from our limited perspective—is still part of God’s ‘good plan.’ But I suspect that most theologians go through the same agony as laypeople do—and they recoil in horror as I did when piety-amateurs say terrible things. They have enough trouble explaining how their god allows such evil; they don’t want to deal with a god who engineers it. The person in Scotland who left the Teddy Bear took a different route: God is negligent, incompetent, careless.

The absence of God is considered a possibility by some. A year after the Oklahoma City bombing, this item appeared in the New York Times (19 April 1996):

"A year ago this week, Satan drove up Fifth Street in a Ryder truck," said Jannie Coverdale, whose two grandsons, Aaron, 5, and Elijah, 2, were among the 19 children killed in the blast. "He blew my babies up. He may have looked like a normal man, but he was Satan. And I have to wonder, 'Where was God at 9:02 A.M. on April 19?'” It’s the most natural question for those who have been told that God has his eye on us. Why didn’t he do something?

It’s not hard for any one of us to come up with suggestions on what God could have done. Right on cue, we can expect some apologists to fall back on the free will argument: God doesn’t interfere; he lets humans do what they want to do. That’s the way he has ordained things. But of course this is feeble when our minds churn to understand the massacre of children. I know what I would have done with unlimited power, free will be damned:

• The guy who drove to the Newtown School? How about a flat tire on the way to the school, ending up in the ditch, or a fender-bender. When the police arrive, his cache of weapons is discovered in the trunk. Off to jail—not to the school.

• Or plant better ideas in his head. How many billions of times have Christians prayed, “Oh Lord, give us the wisdom to….[you fill in the blank]. That must mean that God has some powers of mind manipulation—how else did he “inspire” a thousand pages of Bible? You can’t have this concept of God and be okay with him not being clever enough to stop a killer.

See what I mean when I said at the outset that the New Testament God cannot hold up to close scrutiny? The theology is sabotaged by God’s spectacular neglect of the world. The catalogue of evil and human suffering—we all know this—is endless; another evil: Christians get used to shrugging it off. "God wanted more angels" is shrugging it off.

So, God wants more angels, or oversleeps, or is missing in action? No, it’s much simpler than that, and so very obvious: The Cosmos functions without a god—certainly without a micromanaging god who cares about sparrows and humans. There is no evidence—none whatever—to support such belief.

John Loftus tells it like it is: “If there was ever an empirical refutation of the Christian belief in an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, the problem of evil is it. It speaks like a megaphone against the existence of this God.”

Why can’t believers just snap out of it?

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published last year by Tellectual Press.


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