Just When I Thought a Christian Apologist Couldn’t Go Any Lower

“At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?”
One of intrepid Christian apologists who haunts the Debunking Christianity blog has, in coming to his god’s defense, reached a new low of callousness. In response to my article about the Black Plague in the 14th Century, which killed a third or more of Europe’s population, he wrote:

“Yes, the Black Death and other epidemics throughout recorded history killed a lot of people - perhaps as many as 400 million altogether. That's still only 0.4% of the 108 billion people who have ever lived. Those who died of the plague died relatively quickly - within around four days or so. Compare that to cancer or Alzheimer's, and take your pick.”

This grimly makes my point that I stated in the article: “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.”

This apologist has taken a ‘just-do-the-math’ approach to make it look not so bad: Gee, not even one half of one percent of humans have met this fate. This is obnoxious, and he thereby obliterates the argument that people need to believe in God to have meaning in their lives. “Meaning”—to be worth anything at all—would be knowing their worth in the context of their limited time on the planet, and not in the context of 108 billion human lives since we began walking upright.

Not only that, is he trying to give his god a merit badge because the victims of the plague died quickly? “…within around four days or so. Compare that to cancer or Alzheimer's…” How utterly heartless and devoid of compassion. And it only begs the question of why a good, caring god tolerates cancer at all. (And, please, spare me the bullshit about his god’s mysterious ways.)

To grasp his heartlessness, try this thought experiment: Suppose a terrible plague wipes out a third or more of the town where you live: hundreds or thousands of people die horrible, excruciating deaths; corpses are piled on every street corner; all survivors are in advanced states of depression and anguish that so many of their friends and loved ones have perished; an unbearable stench hangs over your neighborhood; the medical professionals have no clue about the causes. AND THEN your preacher emerges from behind a heap of bodies to make an unctuous pronouncement, “Oh well, these piles of bodies represent only 0.00009 percent of all the people who have ever lived. No big deal. Snap out of it. Don’t be too hard on God.”

A character in a Dorothy Sayers novel, Lord Peter, offers this piece of advice: “I don’t think you ought to read so much theology. It has a brutalizing influence.” How brutal is this: To use the word “only” to describe the Black Plague and other epidemics: “That's still only 0.4% of the 108 billion people who have ever lived.” This apologist qualifies as a thug—and he’s supposed to enjoy moral superiority because he holds fast to belief in a god?

But then his fatal concession: “I'm not going to play the fool's game of trying to provide a theological reason for the Black Death. There isn't one. But it doesn't strike me as a particularly impressive argument for atheism.”

Indeed it IS a fool’s game to provide a theological reason. And yes, he’s quite right: “There isn’t one.” Which is precisely the point of my article. The Black Plague is one of Christian theology’s brick walls. It cannot rise to this challenge of explaining it away: all the posturing about a good god being in change and attentive is nonsense. Atheism is a more impressive, honest response to the world.

When I read his appalling response, I thought immediately of Joseph Welch’s famous response to Senator Joseph McCarthy: “At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency…have you no sense of decency?”

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 in 2016 by Tellectual Press.