Christian “Truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown 6

Are you satisfied with an image of Jesus on a potato chip?

For a very long time, Christianity has depended on amateur and professional excuse-makers to keep it going. It makes claims about reality—that there is a good, all-powerful god keeping watch over everything—but even the most devout Christians don’t have to look far to see so much that disconfirms this belief. Hence excuses are needed to keep the faith, to protect Christianity from buckling and crumbling. Believers are desperate for excuses because there is so much emotional investment in believing.


The amateurs come up with excuses based on naïve concepts learned in Sunday school, e.g., a mother of two young children died suddenly because “god needed her in heaven”—or simply because god works in mysterious ways; the conclusion that god is absent cannot be seriously entertained. Of course, there are those who abandon the faith because they are appalled by such excuses.



But when we transition to the professional excuse-makers—let’s say there is progression from ministers and priests to the apologists in academia—the excuses become far more elaborate, esoteric, and mind-bending. Thus one approach in falsifying Christianity is the dismantling of the academic-level attempts to rescue the faith. 


The new anthology edited by John Loftus, God and Horrendous Suffering, qualifies as an epic takedown of Christianity, but I want to draw attention to one of the essays in the book especially, written by Loftus, “On Making Excuses for God” (pp. 182-211). Here indeed is an epic takedown. If the pretentious, sophisticated excuses for god

don’t told up, the faith is disqualified from the marketplace of serious ideas. Christianity remains in the category of ancient superstitions that deserve no more respect than other ancient cults. I suppose there has always been enormous comfort derived from the idea that a good god is looking out for us—people want the kindly Man Upstairs…. “this is my father’s world”—but our grasp of reality undermines such fantasies.  


Our grasp of reality. In his run-up to a dismantling of five excuses apologists make for god, Loftus discusses five facts that are commonly—though not always—downplayed or ignored by apologists. One of Loftus’ favorite words in addressing apologist arguments over the years has been obfuscation. Thus, in this essay as well, he lists as Fact 1: Horrendous Suffering EXISTS, because some apologists use sophisticated wordplay to downplay or even disbelieve in horrendous suffering. Loftus quotes Brian Davies (from his book, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil). In so many theology books I have scrawled in the margins, “How did he learn to talk like this?”…and this certainly applies here:


“The evil in evil suffered is not an existent entity. It is not identifiable substance or positive quality. Evil suffered occurs as existing things fail to be as good as they could be…the evil in evil suffered is not something with being, not something actual, and therefore, not something created by [god]…” p. 183. 


Loftus is blunt: “Suffering exists in our world, lots of it, a massive amount of intense suffering that is caused naturally and morally…do we really want to say that [those who suffer] are experiencing the absence of goodness? Does this language even make any sense at all?” (p. 184) Chances are, even many of the laity would not be able to identify with Davies’ statement, but apologists in academia construe obfuscation as wisdom.  


Of the four other facts that Loftus mentions, Numbers 2 and 5 are especially important, i.e., “Evolution Best Explains Horrendous Suffering,” and “The God of the Bible Is Not All-Knowing, All-Powerful, or Perfectly Good.” In fact, as far as I’m concerned, game over! I’ve often wondered why Christians don’t accept evolution as a way to get god off the hook: let it take the blame, for example, for thousands of genetic diseases. Who wants to say that god invented genetic diseases? But, alas, evolution destroys Christianity; it displaces god as a force in the natural world, as Loftus notes:


“If we can only accept the evidence for evolution, there would be no religion, since we would be forced to accept suffering as natural, normal, acceptable, eventual, and ongoing. We would see that the only way to avoid suffering, if we can, is to follow reason and science.” (p. 187)


Just as so many of the faithful are not aware of the overwhelming evidence for evolution, so too they are oblivious to the nature of the god depicted in the Bible. They don’t read the Bible, any more than they read biology textbooks. Well, they read the Bible selectively; their idea of the Bible is shaped by the verses read from the pulpit, quoted in hymns and ritual, and depicted in stained glass. But their omni-god as Loftus describes it—all everything you want—is missing from the Bible. Theologians have worked for centuries to knock the rough edges off the ferocious god Yahweh presented in Old Testament texts—and in far too many New Testament texts as well; yes, Yahweh evolved in the Bible, but not in a good way. 


Any version of Christianity that holds tightly to the god described in the Bible is a scary cult indeed. In Jesus-script we find a god who, when his kingdom comes to earth, will bring as much suffering as happened in the days of Noah. Are Christians paying attention? Most of the faithful, I suspect, want their kindly Man Upstairs, to whom they can sing hymns and ask for help getting thought life. Loftus quotes Jaco Gericke, from an essay published in Loftus’ anthology, The End of Christianity:


“Ancient believers were not as spoiled as those today who believe a god has to be perfectly good before he deserves to be worshipped. What made a god divine was great power (which is not the same as omnipotence)), not client-centered service, family values, or human rights.” (p. 193) In that same essay, Gericke drove home the point: “If you read the scriptures and are not shocked out of all your religious beliefs, you have not understood them.” 


After his description of five facts about reality and religion, Loftus devotes a little more than half the essay to a devastating critique of five excuses commonly offered by professional apologists. This especially qualifies as an epic takedown of Christianity. It’s worth it to learn his critiques by heart. No, wait, that sounds too much like Sunday school. Study his critiques, analyze his arguments carefully. 


First, he addresses the casual acceptance of our hazmat zone planet. Some theists seem to look at the world with a shrug: All the dangers we face in the world that cause horrendous suffering—-well, that’s just the way the world is built. A long time ago I read the words of a famous preacher: “You can’t have fire that warms your house that can’t also burn it down.” But why is the world built this way if an omni-god is in charge? Aren’t a few adjustments, corrections in order? As Loftus states:


“Since this present world is causing so much horrific suffering, the question for the theist is why the laws of this world are fixed and necessary when god could intervene to alleviate the most horrific kinds of suffering. If changing the world requires some miraculous adjustment that does not accord with any known laws of nature, what’s the problem? People should matter enough for god to do that. God apparently prefers this present set of natural laws with its sufferings over constant divine, miraculous maintenance. As I asked earlier, is their omnipotent god lazy? (p. 195, emphasis added)


People should matter enough. But, in this our father’s world, about 25,000 people starve to death every day. How many die of cancer? How many are taken out by one natural disaster or another? Yet devout believers don’t hold god accountable, while also believing that god and his saints are busy performing trivial miracles: statues weep and Jesus is seen here and there. As Loftus puts it: “All god does in today’s world is to imprint an image of Jesus on a potato chip.” (p. 195) Can’t god do better than that? If he is saving people from calamity, unbeknownst to us; he is neglecting far too many. He’s not up to the job.


How tired we all are of hearing that suffering builds character, and that—well, we just can’t understand god’s mysterious ways. Moreover, in the end, god will work it all out, he will “eventually” defeat horrendous suffering, with the hint or even promise that getting to heaven will set all things rights. Loftus skewers all of these. They are all dodges, no matter how clever the apologists may be in presenting their arguments. Obfuscation


“It will all get better in the end” is especially daft. Loftus notes that some apologists assure us that “…god will defeat evil in time, in heaven. Everything will work out from the perspective of eternity…But this presupposes what needs to be shown. We are on this side of heaven, and from these earthly shores we want to know if there really is a heaven on the other side. From here we just don’t have sufficient objective evidence for it.”   (p. 202, emphasis added) 


God will defeat evil in time. This banality may be a soothing thought for apologists spinning theologies in their ivory towers, but does this really satisfy? Would they have the nerve to say this to people in the depths of agony and despair? Would any one of them have signed up to be a chaplain at Auschwitz? “Here’s your job in the concentration camp: let these people know the power of positive thinking! Your suffering is all part of god’s bigger plan…there, doesn’t that make you feel better?” 


Christian apologists are stuck with trying to defend the traditional properties of their god: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. In the final section the essay, Loftus shows that, in fact, apologists are willing to delete, to modify, these “givens” about god. For the very simply reason that real human experiences show them to be false, despite being hyped with theobabble for centuries. An all-powerful god? “…in order to save their faith from refutation, they must allow god’s omnipotence to go only so far and no farther. This is where his power arbitrarily ends, where the apologist needs it to end to solve a problem for faith.” (p. 205)


I mentioned at the outset the enormous emotional investment in believing. When cracks appear in the Christian fortress, that’s the time for apologists to step up their game, as Loftus notes at the end of the essay: “There is no end to the excuse-making of people who will themselves into belief.” (p. 208) And: “…apologists are inconsistent and will claim pretty much whatever it takes to defend their faith.” (p. 203) They don’t seem able to grasp the obvious: Catholic apologists don’t agree with Southern Baptist apologists; the many brands of Christian apologists don’t agree with Jewish and Muslim apologists. Everyone agrees that Mormon apologists are nuts. Has there ever been an International Conference of Apologists? What would they talk about, what would there be for them to agree on?


Christian apologists apply so much ingenuity in defense of the ancient dying-and-rising Jesus cult. Maybe they should diversify. The other ancient cults faded away, but maybe they knew the secrets of eternal life. Folks who are certain the earth is flat, and those who are sure that astrology is valid…maybe the apologists can come to their aid. There might be a future here for Christian apologists who are up for new challenges, as Stephen Law has pointed out—Loftus ends his essay with this quote: “Anything based on faith no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.” (p. 208, emphasis added)  


Here are links to: Christian “Truth” in Shreds, Epic Takedown    ONE   TWO   THREE   FOUR   FIVE




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). He has written for the Debunking Christian Blog since 2016.


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