Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Undercover Agnostic: (Update 11): No Sympathy for the Suffering

Fundamentalists often do not deal with suffering people very well. Case in point, this past Sunday, my Sunday School teacher "Jason" and his sister "Kelly", which I have mentioned before (see my post on the fundamentalist obsession with having children) was talking about their nephew who died in recent months from an accidental drug overdose.

Jason was complaining about how his sister in law had reacted when she had asked him if he thought that her son was currently in Heaven or Hell.
First of all, he used the old fundamentalist dodge of "well, only god can know someone's heart".

He said it was possible, though a small chance, that he could have converted, asked god for forgiveness sometime, but never told anyone. However, he said, chances are that isn't very likely, due to the lifestyle that he lived. He though her reaction, which was less than pleasant, as you could guess, was rather "childish" and "bitter". After all, it's not him saying it, that's what "god's word" says.

Despite our differences in belief, (and the fact that he does know about me being in the closet about my change of beliefs, normally we are good friends, but this about sums up the way I felt:

You get the idea....

The facepalming didn't end there with my frustration over the fact that he couldn't figure out why his sister would be so offended by his insensitivity and fundamentalist beliefs, no he has to continue my constant mental facpalming with a point about suffering in the world and free will (as well as a response to the question over the morality of god in the Old Testament.).

This week was the last week of the current Sunday School book for this past quarter. The first half of the quarter was a book called The Cross of Christ, by the late minister John Stott (I wrote about that study here and here). The second half was the book Surviving in an Angry World by prominent Southern Baptist minister Charles Stanley

The discussion begins with that week's lesson about anger against god, and how god responds to it, and how we should deal with it. Here's an excerpt:

First, let me assure you that God can handle any angry outburst. He is not surprised by our anger. He is not upset by our questions. He is not threatened by our anger.
Sounds good so far, but wait, there's more:

Second, even though the Lord is able to understand our anger toward him, it is never justified. In other words, we need to be careful not to make God the object of our anger.
While it is acceptable to express your anger to God, be careful not to nurture anger towards him 
So basically, if you get angry about your life circumstances, it's OK to vent to god, but don't ever get angry at god himself. Why not? This goes to show the conundrum of fundamentalists always praising god for everything good that happens, but refusing to ever blame god for everything. Why not blame god? Anything that happens on this earth, according to their teachings, either happens because god either directly made it happen, or knew it was going to happen, but refused to do anything about it (even though he could).

It gets worse, when talking about calamities:
When bad things happen to God's people, you need to remember that we live in a sinful, fallen world. Much of the evil see, hear, or read about is a result of out Creator's giving mankind free will. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, in the garden of Eden, their sin set in motion a chain of events that negatively affects our world every second of of every minute of every day. Most of the evil and bad things that happen are due to the poor stewardship of our free will. 
It's the old, "fallen world defense" in other words, humanity brought this suffering upon itself by not following god's will.
But without that freedom, man would not be able to reject Satan and make a choice for good. Our free will enables us to choose god and experience a loving, intimate relationship with Him through his Son, Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit.
Now it's the "no love without free will" defense. This is a common defensive tactic when fundamentalists are confronted with the problem of suffering.

1. Humanity brings it's suffering upon itself because of sin, willful disobedience to god.

2. God could have prevented this all by taking away free will, the ability to rebel against him, and we would live in a Garden of Eden like state, but god didn't want that, because then we would be robots, people without the capacity to make choices for ourselves. Without such choice and free will, love is not possible, and god wanted us to be able to choose to willingly love him.

That is essentially how they present it, but I have several counterpoints:

1. Why couldn't have god forgiven Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden if he was such a loving, merciful god? The idea is not without precedent, as it turns out, that's how the story plays out in the Quran.

2. How is the concept of original sin, the idea that Adam and Eve's sin, and therefore our disobedience and suffering passes down through them to all of us, fair? Do western societies execute people or make them serve life in prison because their great grandfather was a serial killer? No, because we know that punishing people for the misdeeds of others, is not fair. Why doesn't god seem to know that?

3. Is it really "free will", to say that god loves us, and wants a relationship with us, but if we anger him, and sever or strain our relationship with him, then we will face punishment on this earth, and then in hell? Is that really "free will", is that really love?

Suppose someone told their spouse/lover that they had the choice to leave them, but if they did leave them, that they would track them down, beat them, and kill them? Is that "free will"? Does that person really have the choice to love them or not? Absolutely not! Yet, fundamentalism sees god in much the same light, and fails to see the irony.

When Jason was discussing this, the idea of god's punishment, and his morality, he turned to the argument that god can not be moral nor just if he commanded that the ancient Israelites to commit genocide, like he commanded them to in the Old Testament. His defense was that the people they killed deserved it, even the children, because they came from cultures that did very barbaric things, like child sacrifice.

I'm rather glad that the US government doesn't have a similar mentality, or they would be declaring nuclear war on nations that follow Sharia law, like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In all, I left church that day rather frustrated, not only because of the statements of the book, but because of an insert I found in the church bulletin. The church has a practice of putting rather bold statements in the church bulletin, including statements from groups like the Southwest Illinois "pro life" organization and pregnancy center chain, Mosiac, or statements from the Illinois Family Institute.

This time it was a statement saying that proposed changes will be voted on (and I'm sure, ultimately approved) by the church to the church's bylaws and constitution. Here's an excerpt of the changes, some statements an language to be added to the text:
We believe that any from of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography, or any attempt  to change one's sex, or disagreement with one's sex is sinful and offensive to god. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
We believe that in order to preserve the functions and integrity of the church as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church members and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, or who server as volunteers, should abide by and agree to this Statement on Marriage and Sexuality and conduct themselves accordingly.
In short, if you are LGBT, and/or admit to viewing porn, you are not welcome in this church as an employee, volunteer, or member, and we will a "sinful" person, and compare you to people who commit incest or abuse animals sexually.......

I don't know if this church is getting worse, or if it's just getting under my skin more, because I'm getting very close to coming out about my unbelief due to the fact that in a few weeks, once all the legalities are worked out, I will own a house of my own, and debt free at that.


  1. Seriously? They were more concerned about whether their nephew was in heaven or hell than, you know, their nephew OVERDOSING to death and their relatives MOURNING? That's cold, and it says volumes about twisted fundamentalist priorities.

    Second, preventing believers from being angry at God is a recipe for psychological problems. Stuffing down emotions is never good for one's mental health, and that deity of theirs has definitely earned some anger.

    1. It's been about 3? months since he died. "Jason and Kelly" have recovered faster than their sister in law and brother. What's disgusting is that the brother is starting to accept this BS.

      In fundamentalism, god is EVERYTHING, and beliefs about god come before everything else, even love for family. You see this when fundie families have a gay son or daughter come out. Some will rethink their attitudes, but most will turn on them, either try to convince them that they aren't really gay, or disown them.

      What does it say about a philosophy that people will turn on their own families because of it? A mentality that demands such devotion is a dangerous one.

  2. "I'm rather glad that the US government doesn't have a similar mentality, or they would be declaring nuclear war on nations that follow Sharia law, like Saudi Arabia and Iran."

    LOL...One could even say the same thing about the United States as well. Plenty of barbaric activities at the behest of the Land o' the Free and Home o' the Brave!

  3. I am with Ahab on this. These guys are idiots with absolutely no compassion. Like I saw on a post the other day sometimes its better no to talk about atheism when people are mourning out of respect.. maybe they could take a lesson from the atheists.

    As for free will.....Is god not omnipotent, hence all knowing, hence there is no free will anyway.

    1. Yes, there's a time to set aside one's beliefs, and just step in and help, and comfort the suffering, let the debates start some other time. Apparently fundies don't seem to get this.

  4. "I don't know if this church is getting worse, or if it's just getting under my skin more"

    My guess is it is just getting more under your skin. All of these things sound exactly like the things that I would have heard in my church growing up. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if doing the blog makes the problems in the church stand out to you more. Some of the things that drive you crazy now might have gone under the radar before.

    1. It could be, I have a completely different perspective on it all now that my beliefs have changed.


No spam, proselytizing, or personal attacks, such comments will never see the light of day around here.

Disagreeing with me is fine (I encourage it), but have some decency when writing your comment