Disproof of the Christian God, Without a Doubt

The Easy Acceptance of the Very Terrible
When did doubt begin? H. L. Mencken thought that it could have happened at the get-go:

“There must have been skeptics at the ringside when the first priest performed his hocus-pocus, and no doubt, some of them, revolting against its transparent fraudulence, set themselves to find a better way to deal with flood, fire and famine.” (Treatise on the Gods, 1930)

Maybe so, but skeptics were outnumbered. In the ancient world, gods were imagined, invented and worshipped all over the place. With little understanding of causation, it’s no wonder. Earthquakes, volcanoes, thunder and lightening were warnings and curses from higher powers. Good things that happened—the return of spring and vegetation, crops and harvests—were credited to gods in a good mood.   Some people used their heads, however, prompting one ancient poet to complain, in Psalm 14:1: “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” This verse is thrown at atheists at lot, as are its insults: “They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” Aristophanes, born in the fifth century BCE, showed a greater fondness for logic: “Shrines! Shrines! Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What’s your argument? Where’s your proof?”

But when did doubt really begin to gain traction? Was it perhaps an unprecedented human tragedy? In fact, there’s a tragedy that ranks as Exhibit A in disproving the Christian God. It happened so long ago, and isn’t even a blip in Christian consciousness today. But it stands as a reminder that god-is-good theology has been damaged beyond repair.

In the middle of the 14th Century, the Black Plague killed thirty to sixty percent of Europe’s population. Try to wrap your mind around that: It has been estimated that 75 to 200 million people died. It has been said that God did not get out of Auschwitz alive, but that verdict should have been rendered in the aftermath of the Black Plague.

The following are quotes from Pulitzer Prize-winner Barbara Tuchman, found in her book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.

What was it like to die of the plague? Try to wrap your mind around this was well; at least 75 million people died this way:

“The diseased sailors showed a strange black swelling about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms. As the disease spread, other symptoms of continuous fever and spitting up blood appeared instead of the swellings or buboes. These victims coughed and sweated heavily and died even more quickly, within three days or less, sometimes in 24 hours. In both types everything that issued from the body—breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine, and blood-blacken excrement—smelled foul. Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms, and before the end ‘death seemed to be seated on the face.’” (p.96)

But God has a plan for everybody, right?

“Ignorance of the cause augmented the sense of horror.” (p. 105) The All-Knowing God, in his infinite wisdom, had deemed it inappropriate to tell humans about microbes (despite inspiring a thousand pages of Bible). It was imagined, of course, that the plague was God’s wrath for sin. Self-flagellation, on a massive scale, was adopted to deflect the wrath, and the penitents wandered Europe.

“In every town they entered, the flagellants rushed for the Jewish quarter, trailed by citizens hollowing for revenge upon the ‘poisoners of the well.’ In Freiburg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Munich, Königsberg, Regensburg, and other centers, the Jews were slaughtered with a thoroughness that seemed to seek a final solution. At Worms in March 1349 the Jewish community of 400, like that of York, turned to an old tradition and burned themselves to death inside their own houses rather than be killed by their enemies.” (p. 120)

But God has a plan for everybody, right?

Tuchman notes that God’s wrath did not have the desired impact:

“The plague accelerated discontent with the church at the very moment when people felt great need of spiritual reassurance. There had to be some meaning in the terrorizing experience God had inflicted. If the purpose has been to shake man from his sinful ways, it had failed. Human conduct was found to be ‘wickeder than before,’ more avaricious and grasping, more litigious, more bellicose, and this was nowhere more apparent been in the Church itself.” (p. 128)

In the wake of all this horror, theism deserved to die, should have died:

“Survivors of the plague, finding themselves neither destroyed nor improved, could discover no Divine purpose in the pain they had suffered. God’s purposes were usually mysterious, but this scourge had been too terrible to be accepted without questioning. If a disaster of such magnitude, the most lethal ever known, was a mere wanton an act of God or perhaps not God’s work at all, then the absolutes of a fixed order were loosed from their moorings. Minds that opened to admit these questions could never again be shut. Once people envisioned the possibility of change in a fixed order, the end of an age of submission came in sight; the turn to individual conscience lay ahead. To that extent the Black Death may have been the unrecognized beginning of modern man.” (p. 129)

“…perhaps not God’s work at all…” But how could that be? The catastrophe was so massive: How could something that big have played out against God’s plan for the world? Trying to put a dent in that plan, billions of prayers were sent to heaven appealing for help. How could God not have noticed what was going on? How is it that God’s plans for people can go so horribly wrong? How disappointing that defeating microbes isn’t in his job description.

Please, apologists, look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that you think there’s a good and wonderful God in charge. I’ll wait for an explanation of how your theology can hold it together. But, please, also, spare me the tedious excuses, e.g., it’s a mystery (= maybe this will fool the gullible), we puny humans are not privileged to know God’s plan (= we don’t have a clue), he can test and punish us as he chooses (= God is a sadistic son-of-a-bitch), etc. The magnitude of the Black Plague undermines all such vacuous appeals.

Years ago I wrote an essay that I titled, “The Easy Acceptance of the Very Terrible.” It was an early draft of the chapter in my book on the problem of suffering, in which I discuss the Christian practice of waving off criticisms of God. Name any disaster or catastrophe, big or small, and we can count on Christians finding ways to shrug them off—to keep God’s hands clean. Their faith depends on accepting very terrible things as—well, as just the way God does his thing. The biggest mystery, I suppose, is how the word “good” can still be applied to such a mediocre, neglectful deity.

Hey, should we move on to discuss the influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed 50 million people? No, because the list of natural disasters is endless. Over and over God has been missing in action, but that’s what keeps Christian apologists in business: A god propped up by sophistry is better than no god at all. I haven’t touched on wars and holocausts, by the way, because free will is hauled out to get God off the hook. But plagues and tsunamis are immune to that dodge.

In his book, Why I Became an Atheist, John Loftus wrote:

“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 God.” Barbara Tuchman has described “the most lethal disaster ever known,” which would be hard to top on any list of evils. The human condition found no sympathy whatever from heaven in the 14th Century. Without a doubt, the Christian God should have been chucked a long, long time ago.

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 by Tellectual Press in 2016.