God’s Inexcusable Negligence/Incompetence

It’s as if he isn’t all-powerful—or doesn’t exist

“…seven-year-old Adrian Jones was tortured repeatedly with some of the most inhumane practices, including being left standing overnight neck-deep in the family’s filthy swimming pool and being forced to exercise for hours without rest. In the end, he was confined to a shower stall where he was starved to death as he screamed through a vent, ‘I’m going to die.’ His torturers fed his corpse to pigs.”   


This is one of several cases mentioned by Darren Slade in his essay, “Failed to Death: Misotheism and Childhood Torture,” in the John Loftus anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering. Slade explains that “failed to death” (FTD) “…originated from a 2012 investigative series by The Denver Post and 9News that examined the murder of 175 children in Colorado who were beaten, starved, suffocated, frozen, or burned to death.”  (page 123)


[Darren M. Slade is president of the Global Center for Religious Research, which published this anthology. Check out the GCRR’s website to see its publications and conferences.]


One of the iconic images that Christians cherish is that of Jesus surrounded by little children. There have been so many depictions of Matthew 19:14, “…Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” This thought of Jesus bouncing toddlers on his knees helps divert attention from the Christian god’s failure to protect children—i.e., use his power to make sure they’re okay. For so many thousands of years—before humans discovered/figured out modern medicine—there was high infant mortality; so many babies died before their first birthdays. Why didn’t God include a book in the Bible about germs and hygiene? The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami crushed and drowned probably 80,000 infants and toddlers. God didn’t see that coming, and had no way to stop the tragedy? If you claim that your god is all-powerful and caring—but doesn’t intervene—your theology is deeply dysfunctional.  


So already we can be skeptical about God’s loving care of children, but Darren Slade’s essay focuses attention on a problem that doesn’t grab as much attention as it should: god’s neglect of children who are tortured by adults. “…the thesis of this chapter,” he points out, “is that misotheists (those who scorn god for moral reasons) are justified in their refusal to worship any deity who exhibits a ‘depraved indifference’ by refusing to intervene on behalf of victimized kids.” (p. 122)


There have been plenty of cases where child protection services have failed—for any number of reasons—to stop child torture and murder, despite what Slade identifies as Sufficient Conditions for Intervention (SCI). We can understand how humans can fail at the job of compassion, but


 “…god is morally obligated to intervene in some circumstances… because those cases are of such an acute degree above routine human misery that the shocking display of cruelty meted out on innocent children demands immediate intervention by any agent available.


“If an agent possesses the knowledge, authority, means, safety, and opportunity to stop a child from being tortured to death, then that agent is morally obligated to intervene in all conceivable situations of a similar nature.”  (page 130)

“…for an SCI agent to refuse intervention, despite having no prohibitions or constrains is egregiously unethical.”  (page 132)


I have mentioned the many millennia of high infant mortality rates and the 2004 tsunami—two examples of nature taking its course—but child torture and murder can be credited to human viciousness. Does that make it easier to excuse god for not averting tragedy? No. As Slade points out:


“All anyone needs as evidence for the immorality of nonintervention is to look at what happens when ethical agents do nothing to stop the heinous murder of children, such as when ‘Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about 1.5 million Jewish children and tens of thousands of Romani (Gypsy) children, 5,000–7,000 German children with physical and mental disabilities living in institutions.’ [a quote from the Holocaust Encyclopedia] Deliberately refusing to intervene is what gave tacit approval to these killings.”   (pp. 132-133)


Apologists who want to exonerate the Christian god must themselves deal with their claim that this god is all-powerful…as well as with his terrible job in creating the world that we see around us, with so much ongoing horrendous suffering that is built in. Wasn’t fumbling the basics when he set up the world a tremendous blunder? In John Loftus’ article on animal suffering in the same anthology, he suggests several ways in which the world—humans and animals—could have been created to drastically reduce the amount of suffering. How is it that god was so unimaginative, didn’t foresee the colossal blunders? Apologists claim that the world has been fine-tuned—supposedly that is one of the proofs of god. But the fine-tuning falls far too short, as many smart humans have pointed out.  


Certainly the suffering of children has to be considered one of the realities that sabotages belief in a good god. How is god not vulnerable? Atheist Stephen Fry, when asked by an interviewer what he would say to god if—contrary to expectation—he found himself facing god after he’d died, he didn’t hesitate for a moment: “Cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you.” Indeed, why allow cancer to happen in the first place—how can that be fine-tuning? —and why not simply eliminate it with the flex of a few of his almighty muscles? 


In this essay, Slade takes on the role of relentless prosecutor, building the case against god and for misotheism. With its extensive footnotes and eight-page bibliography, it is a portal into intensive study of the issue of god’s complicity in evil—and the attempt of apologists to find   ways to make god still look good. Apologist themselves follow a pathetic agenda: 


“The problem is not that god (if he exists) possesses the ethical integrity of a hypocrite, commanding love and compassion while exhibiting violence and cruelty. Instead, the problem is with apologists who make excuses for god’s inaction.”  (p. 146) 


The essay opens with a parable or thought experiment. Slade tells the story of a police chief who witnesses the brutal rape of his own daughter, but does nothing whatever to stop the crime. Later, in court, asked to explain his inaction, the police chief speaks as Christian apologists do, i.e., he had no right to interfere with the free will of the rapist, his daughter would ultimately be a stronger person because of this suffering. All the yada, yada, yada we hear from apologists is voiced by the police chief. Their foolishness becomes so obvious.  


The relentless prosecutor Slade presents his case against god in sixteen pages (pp. 126-141) of carefully stated arguments under several headings (e.g., Moral Necessity of InterventionThe Immorality of Nonintervention). This is followed by a section titled, The Inaction of Moral Monsters, which reminds us of the irony that apologists must deal with: that the god of the Bible—supposedly the one they’re sticking up for—fully qualifies as a moral monster. Yahweh in the Old Testament is a rampaging tribal deity, and his revenge theology carries over into the New Testament: upon the arrival of God’s kingdom, there will be more suffering than at the time of Noah…so said Jesus, whom Luke also quoted as saying, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49) How can this be the same Jesus who hugs little children? With this world-on-fire scenario, we would have to assume that tortured and murdered children wouldn’t grab that much attention. Apologists are stuck with their own scripture. 


Christian theologians have to swim upstream against human realities, and this has involved knocking the rough edges off the Bible god. A major part of their job description is to engineer concepts of god that are pleasing and palatable. Slade will have none of it:


“Why is it immoral for humans to refuse helping innocent children but not immoral with the so-called ‘perfect model for us as ethical agents?’ What makes god’s refusal to help especially depraved is that his inaction had harmed those innocent failed-to-death children in unimaginably terrible ways. The suffering they endured before dying was egregious, gratuitous, and intolerable, yet apologists still declare god a ‘perfect model’ of compassion for them to emulate…for apologists to claim that god’s love ‘is fuller than even a mother’s love’ is plainly absurd.”  (p. 147)


This Darren Slade essay is a brick wall for theism. It merits repeated reading and pondering. If there could be a top 10, or 20 or 30 list of writings that blast the idea of god out of the water, this essay would be included. One of Slade’s comments perfectly states the apologists’ dilemma:


“…god’s hiddenness during times of extreme crisis lends itself toward an atheistic conclusion. Presume that some of those children cried out for god’s help; and yet, he did not answer their prayers while they endured years of torment. The deafening silence of god’s inaction makes it evident that a loving, compassionate deity never existed in the first place…Although a specifically macabre and horrid deity may still have existed who would, likewise, not be worthy of worship.”   (page 157)





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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