the god of small miracles

January 18, 2009 at 10:04 pm 56 comments

This story is heartbreaking. When Danny and Danielle learned that the baby Danielle was carrying had hydrocephalus, Danny was livid at Danielle’s god. Understandably so. Doctors told the couple that the baby would either be stillborn or would only live for a short time.

Enter the Christians. A compassionate pastor and a group of friendly church people befriended the couple. Church members raised money to help pay mounting medical bills. The pastor and the church members kept in touch with Danny and Danielle throughout the pregnancy. Eventually, Bobbi was born alive; she lived for 18 months. And, in that time, Danny became a born-again Christian.

I’ve got four things to say about this story. First, I commend the Christians for behaving according to their creed. Their religion commands them to love others and they did so. They gave both practical and spiritual support to people who were in great need emotionally and financially. Good for them.

Second, I can’t imagine the hell that Danny and Danielle endured and I understand how the support of a loving community made the difference between surviving their ordeal and sinking into despondency. When Danny and Danielle were in need, a nice group of people helped them and loved them. I also understand that even just a few short months of life with their child was better than never having that relationship at all. And, I understand the attraction that a group of kind people and their faith had for a couple searching for answers to some of life’s most profound and painful questions.

Third, I’m not at all impressed with the god of this story. He didn’t perform any miracles. Doctors predicted either a stillbirth or a short life. The baby lived, as predicted, a short life. Poor Danny asked for a miracle and this was what he got. He, his wife and their church friends set their standards far too low. If God is powerful enough to raise the dead, to smite armies, to feed thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, why didn’t he deliver a child free of a debilitating defect? I don’t see the activity of a deity in this story at all. I see nature working in its indifferent way, a way that sometimes leads to beauty and sometimes leads to tragedy. I don’t see God working in and through the lives of his people. I see people who probably would have befriended the couple anyway, with or without a religious creed to define their attitudes and actions. Their compassion was not the product of a god working in their hearts, it was the product of their own innate decency.

Four, I wish that the friendships that abound in this story would have been accomplished without the framework of religion to constrain them. This story speaks poignantly of both the power and the depth of human empathy and compassion. Danny, Danielle and Bobbi didn’t need a deity; they needed other people. The Christians didn’t need a deity; they had tremendous strength and love within themselves. Danny, Danielle, the pastor and all of the church people have sold themselves short. Instead of recognizing their own virtue, they believe that the source of all their goodness is a small god who performs pitifully small miracles. That’s almost as tragic as the death of baby Bobbi.

– the chaplain

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The Power of Prayer? God loves you….

56 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LeoPardus  |  January 18, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    If God is powerful enough to raise the dead, to smite armies, to feed thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, why didn’t he deliver a child free of a debilitating defect?

    Uhmmm…. ’cause he’s just a fantasy and those stories are just part of Hebrew mythology?

    I don’t see the activity of a deity in this story at all. I see nature working in its indifferent way, a way that sometimes leads to beauty and sometimes leads to tragedy.

    Yep. It requires real brainwashing to not see something that is so obvious. (But then most of us have been there.)

    I see people who probably would have befriended the couple anyway, with or without a religious creed to define their attitudes and actions. Their compassion was not the product of a god working in their hearts, it was the product of their own innate decency…… I wish that the friendships that abound in this story would have been accomplished without the framework of religion to constrain them.

    Actually I see religion as one of the things that tends to give people a rallying point and to focus there philanthropy. Without it, you’d need something to bring people together and give them that focus. I’m not sure what would do that.

  • 2. bloodyhell  |  January 19, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Kudos. Beautifully written.

  • 3. the chaplain  |  January 19, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Actually I see religion as one of the things that tends to give people a rallying point and to focus there philanthropy.

    I agree that this is one of the strong points of religious structure. Unfortunately, as you and other contributors and commenters here know, the strength that builds communities can also be abused to enforce conformity. It’s a double-edged sword that is all the more dangerous because it is one of religion’s most powerful weapons.

  • 4. LeoPardus  |  January 19, 2009 at 11:28 am

    the strength that builds communities can also be abused to enforce conformity

    Quite so. Is there really anything you can think of though that this would not be true of? For instance, membership in a club, a neighborhood association, an organization, etc. could all build community, but they also tend to enforce conformity. Ditto government, school, and so on. Though I do think that some organizations, governments, and schools allow more variety. But then, so do some religious groups.

    Ah well. I guess I just don’t know of any way to organize or rally humans that doesn’t have potential (and sometimes nasty) drawbacks.

  • 5. the chaplain  |  January 19, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Is there really anything you can think of though that this would not be true of?

    Probably not. But photography clubs and the like don’t usually threaten wayward members with eternal torment. :)

  • 6. LeoPardus  |  January 19, 2009 at 11:57 am

    chaplain:

    Right. I get the picture. :P

  • 7. The de-Convert  |  January 20, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Here’s an interesting story:

    Draper Twins

    From the page:

    “Nicolas and Nathaniel Draper were born on July 11, 2005, both with dilated cardiomyopathy – a heart too weak to do its job. The cardiologist called it ‘unfathomable’ for both babies to have this condition that would require a heart transplant to survive, and both infant boys were put on the heart transplant donor list. Their parents, Nicole and Michael Draper, moved their family from Phoenix to Los Angeles to be near their sons at the UCLA hospital while they patiently waited for the gift of life.

    Seven agonizing months later, and across the country in Panama City, Florida, Tracey and Russell York’s seven month old baby, Jordan – whom they called a miracle baby – lost his life. The York’s quickly made the decision to donate their baby’s organs to help save the lives of other babies.”

    In a cartoon I read, the mother of the baby who died to save one of the twins said she “just knew that God had a plan for her son. I’m so uplifted when I see God’s miracle and God’s plan in action.”

    So God’s plan involved 2 babies being born with heart defects and another baby dying to save one of these babies. Nice.

  • 8. Yurka  |  January 20, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Point 3 is the result of circular reasoning. You assume naturalism and then judge God based on that assumption. But that makes no sense. If you are judging the God of scriptures, you need to take into account what those scriptures say about God and about the existence of the soul: read Romans 8:18,28 for starters.

  • 9. Jason  |  January 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Their compassion was not the product of a god working in their hearts, it was the product of their own innate decency.

    If no God exists, then you statement is true by default. However, I’m not so sure the help and love they showed was not religiously motivated in such a manner that without the religious context they would not have gotten so much support. For instance, when it comes raising money for medical bills, those who feel there is a true afterlife to which they will be rewarded seem more inclined to make sacrifices now and lend monetary support.

    I’m not trying to say I haven’t seen atheists with love and compassion nor am I discounting the success of other religions in this area, but my own personal experience is that the religious are the most generous. I saw the same from a 20/20 once, who had done a study and concluded religious people give the most to charity.

  • 10. LeoPardus  |  January 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Once again Yurka, you get the point completely bollixed up in your head. Naturalism was not assumed and God was not judged. Now I could go into explaining this further, but I’d much rather that you go back, read the passage carefully and THINK about it so that you can figure out for yourself why you are so wrong. Only in this way will you learn to use your mind properly.

  • 11. orDover  |  January 22, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Right in line with this theme and the post on prayer, a member of my family was injured during a high school basketball game and had some severe tendon damage done to her neck. When they took her to the hospital to have it checked out they found something else unrelated that’s wrong. A family member who sent out a mass email about it said that God must have allowed her to have this severe injury so that the doctors could find and hopefully fix the other problem. I roll my eyes. Small miracles indeed.

  • 12. The Apologist  |  January 22, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Yurka, you need to settle yourself down, take some Bible courses, and grow up before you do anymore damage to your brain.
    That said, I must also disagree with the point made in number 3, albeit for an entirely different reason:
    Third, I’m not at all impressed with the god of this story. He didn’t perform any miracles. Doctors predicted either a stillbirth or a short life. The baby lived, as predicted, a short life.
    Einstein, although hardly a theist of any sort, stated that there are two ways to live your life: that nothing is a miracle or that everything is a miracle. Granted, this watering down of the word “miracle” doesn’t bode well for most “orthodox” Christians, but the last time I checked, God doesn’t need to check in with them in order to do his job. The miracle, chaplain, is that initial spark of life, however short. You may not see an active deity, but maybe what you are missing is the God’s eye view. Suffering is a reality of the human condition, and is something that all religions and secularists alike must come to terms with and explain through our own paradigms. So to this I say, what would life be without suffering? It would be a life without maturation, without growth, without, I would argue, feeling and passion. This is why the Buddhists exclaim that to be human is greater than the “higher” realms of the gods – we suffer, therefore we live.

    Death is not a tragedy whether you believe in a resurrection of the body/soul or not. It is what gives our life meaning and purpose, even when filled with pain and suffering. I do not say this to trivialize the pain that family is experiencing, but the harsh fact is that our lives, whether 18 months or 81 years is tiny and relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of the earth – again, whether you are a believer or not.

  • 13. Rover  |  January 22, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Do you think the concept of God has a positive impact in that it causes people to involve themselves in situations that they would otherwise not involve themselves in? My wife and I recently took in a single mother and her child. I don’t think I would have done this if it weren’t for my percieved understanding of how God wants me to live. No, this doesn’t prove God exists, but maybe it is one of the good aspects of religion. Perhaps the teachings of the Bible are not inspired, but they are, at times, wise. I am not addressing this to anyone in particular, just pondering. I know you have already made this point in the comments above and I know many of you are not opposed to religion per se. As I continue me move toward deconversion I still seek to cling to those positive aspects that faith in God gives to us. A sense of community and the motivation to help the truly needy are two aspects that I admire.

  • 14. thr3shold  |  January 24, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I appreciate your thoughts. My question is why, as a atheist, do you spend so much time thinking about a god who doesn’t exist? Also, I think the inate goodness of our specie is more of a wish, not a reality – at least right outside my doorstep.

  • 15. ymsg  |  January 24, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    The god so frequently perpetuated in these situations does admittedly serve as a rallying point to bring people together. I find that ironic, as religion in general is also paradoxically famous for driving people apart (see Palestine and Israel). However, it seemed to me that the gathering of Christians to come to this family’s aid was a way to at least make a dent on god’s behalf and boost his reputation; despite the failure that he that could not perform the miracle of saving a child’s life, he could at least work through philanthropic individuals who have devoted their lives to serving him. I do think that on god’s part, that is the easy way out. “Easy ways out” are embodied by humanistic characteristics, not divine ones.

    Or did it “happen for a reason?”
    That is one tenet that I believe with ardency, that things do not happen for a reason. Was it her time already after eighteen months, the world too dark for a burst of new life? Were Bobbi’s parent’s vile sinners? Was it because her husband wouldn’t have converted to Christianity without experiencing tragedy? I don’t understand how people go to god in a time of chaos; I never found solace in silence.

    I don’t see God working in and through the lives of his people. I see people who probably would have befriended the couple anyway, with or without a religious creed to define their attitudes and actions. Their compassion was not the product of a god working in their hearts, it was the product of their own innate decency.

    I agree entirely. What surprised me was that the father figure in this story immediately converted. I too commend the Christians; they acted exactly the way that their faith demands of them. But that aside, he was shown kindness by a religious group, yes, but their god did not save his child. Inferably because he could not or chose not to; this makes him either inept or cruel, neither of which is a characteristic of a god I would want to believe in. Epicurus said it best:
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

  • 16. Quester  |  January 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    thr3shold,

    Scroll up to the top, read the intended purpose of the site, and let us know if that answers your question or if you need more detail.

    ymsg,

    What surprised me was that the father figure in this story immediately converted.

    Well, we don’t know if he began to believe in anything more than loving people being helpful. I’m not really surprised he converted; I just hope he doesn’t now blame himself for a god’s inaction.

  • 17. orDover  |  January 24, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    However, it seemed to me that the gathering of Christians to come to this family’s aid was a way to at least make a dent on god’s behalf and boost his reputation

    I would find this entire story much more moving if the people came together for the family’s aid out of their own volition, because they felt it was their human duty, not a way to win brownie points with an invisible deity. I can’t help but feel that whenever religious people act charitably, they have an ulterior motive, and that ulterior motive is usually to convert whoever they are helping. They aren’t just helping for the sake of kindness or goodness, but as a way to win more converts for their team.

  • 18. ymsg  |  January 25, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Well, we don’t know if he began to believe in anything more than loving people being helpful. I’m not really surprised he converted; I just hope he doesn’t now blame himself for a god’s inaction.

    Quester, I agree– it would admittedly be a horrible thing if he blamed himself for converting and investing his full faith in a god that still let him down.

    oDover– that is exactly what I was trying to convey :)

  • 19. The Apostate  |  January 25, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    th3shhold,

    I appreciate your thoughts. My question is why, as a atheist, do you spend so much time thinking about a god who doesn’t exist? Also, I think the inate goodness of our specie is more of a wish, not a reality – at least right outside my doorstep.

    May I quote one of the Debunking Christianity fellas on this (later quoted in John Luftus book, “Why I Became An Atheist”)?

    I remember a sermon of Dr. Piper’s in which he described God as a flowing fountain of delight. The Psalmist writers, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8). Piper said that we would praise a fountain, not by standing passively by, but by sticking our faces deep inside it to take in its wonderful refreshment. We would stand up and shout, “This is the best water I’ve ever tasted; come and have some with!” He invited others to taste and see God’s goodness.

    But what about those of us who have left the fountaint with a horrible taste in our mouths? We came to the fountain and drank deeplyy as we could and, for a while, could not get enough of it. We loved reading the Bible and being instructed by it. We believed that it made us wiser than our counselors. We made our bodies our slaves so that they would honor God. We prayed without ceasing. We sought first the kingdom of God. We confessed our sins and believed that God was faithful and just to forgive our sins. We preached “The Word” in season and out. We attempted to study to show ourselves approved. We fed God’s sheep.

    But, then, something happened. The fountain became foul to us. We tried to ignore the taste. We went back to it again and again hoping something would change. We opened the Bible and, instead of finding wisdom, we found violence and the justification of immoral acts. We found anti-intellectualism and backward thinking. We found oppression. Our prayers returned to us void. They bounced off of the ceiling. We prayed harder and felt dumber for it. While we could still enjoy the fellowship of Christian people, we discovered that what we liked about them had nothing to do with their Christianity, but rather with their humanity. We found that we simply liked the people for who their were, not because they believed something about religion.

    We were’nt trying to “leave the faith” The faith was leaving us. We tried to hold on to the fountain, but something had changed. It wasn’t the fountain.; it was our taste for it. We realized that the founatin wasn’t a being; it was a religion. It was just dogma. It is like we had been drinking from it with our eyes closed and noses plugged. Somehow, though, we opened our eyes and unplugged our noses and discovered that we had been enjoying filth. The fountain was a fountain of blood and other foul things. We realized that we had spent most of our lives consuming a vile concoction.

    We would have been happy to have simply left, but we couldn’t help but want to pull others away from such a cesspool. We wanted to help them open their eyes and see what we saw. We wanted them to see the trouble the fountain was causing in the world…

  • 20. Ubi Dubium  |  January 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I like your analogy.

    We would have been happy to have simply left, but we couldn’t help but want to pull others away from such a cesspool. We wanted to help them open their eyes and see what we saw. We wanted them to see the trouble the fountain was causing in the world…

    And for those of us who would be content to leave believers to their fountain, and just live in peace, we can’t! They won’t leave us alone! We have escaped their fountain delusion, but the evangelists do everything they can to drag us back to it. They try to push that vileness into every corner of life, into politics, into the schools. They bang on our doors, and tell us that we will be punished for all eternity if we do not drink their cup of sewage. They try to silence anybody who suggests that they might not have the right idea. They proclaim everybody who does not have a taste for their fountain to be evil and depraved. We must speak up, and support each other, or we will be swamped! (I know, bad pun, couldn’t resist, sorry.

  • 21. Georgie  |  January 25, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Apostate—

    Your post is interesting, but is really not that hard to understand. The parable of the “Sower and the seed” mentions four groups of people. The first hear the word, but immediately the words are taken from them, or they simply don’t listen, and it has no effect. They are the first group, and how they respond to the Word. They are the group “by the wayside”

    The second group, however, hear the word and “receive it with joy” and “believe for a time” , but then that bad taste you speak of takes hold. They “fall away”, never to return to the faith. It seems to infer that it is because they truly only “tasted” and never really did drink—though of course any who once believed would say that did far more than taste. But whatever happened, they “fall away”, or apostasize–they are simply part of a second group of people and how they respond to the Word. These are the hearers on Stony ground who have no “root in themselves” to continue to believe.

    The third group receive the Word but the cares of the word choke it and it bears little or no fruit. These are the seed who fall among thorns. They also believe for a time, but the world is too strong an attraction, and they are pulled back towards it. There is nothing saying that these cannot become part of the last group if they turn around—though the first two groups appear to show a finality in their turning away. This is the third group and how they respond to the Word.

    The last group are the hearers of the Word upon which the ground is good ground and they receive the word and continue, bearing fruit, some more than others. These are those who not only taste, but drink deeply, and continue despite any “bad taste” that appears—–and the bad taste will most surely appear—-but because they have the root within themselves, they will not turn back, or turn away.

    So, the Bible says there are four groups of hearers of the Word–and many on this Blog are of the second group. That’s fine—it’s a confirmation of the Word and what Jesus taught—he said that many would be those on rocky ground who only “believe for a while”—-the de-converts here simply prove the word of God to be true. They can interpret their de-conversion any way they want to—-but it still is clearly taught in the Bible. The Word of God truly is alive and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword!!

  • 22. Ubi Dubium  |  January 25, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Yes, you can take anything and twist it to the interpretation that “the bible is true”. If everybody believed in it, then you would take that as evidence that it is true. If most believe, you’d say the same thing. If olnly a few believe, you will invoke the parable above, and the other “many are called but few are chosen” stuff. And if you were the only believer, you could use the “blessed are you when men shalt persecute you” line. Your bible says so many different things, and can be interpreted so many different ways, that you can use it to justify any conclusion you feel like coming to. That’s hardly convincing evidence of anything. Sorry.

  • 23. Quester  |  January 26, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Hey, Ubi Dubium, I think we should give Georgie credit for being upfront and admitting he has chosen to worship a god who sadistically torments 75% of those he creates for no good reason. This honesty should stand him in great stead when he starts paying attention to the contradictory implications of scripture and one day realizes that his two-edged sword has no handle, cuts no one but himself, and he, too, is one of his “second group”.

  • 24. The Apostate  |  January 26, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Georgie,
    You’ll note that the quotation I gave was an answer to why many former Christians feel the need to give their former creed the time of day. It was not an epistemological apology. Is it implied? Of course. But this has nothing to do with the validity of our claims. We is quite obvious that the Christian will argue for a particular sort of theistic deity while the atheist will argue for no deity at all and each will believe the other is committing some sort of intellectual idiocy. I would recommend Loftus’ book that I cited above, which actually goes into the epistemological conundrums of being an “insider” and an “outsider,” if you are actually interested in the subject.

    That said, it is also peculiar that you, I am guessing some sort of western-born 20th century self-defined “Christian” think that you actually interpret the so-called “Word” of God correctly – that is, a text written by 1st and 2nd century Jews in Palestine for Jews. As a former evangelical myself, as well as someone passionate about various religious treatise and stories, my own opinion is that the modern Christian, as well as the majority of those who have ever called themselves “Christian” would fall into the first (the fervently ignorant – the essence of evangelicalism) and third (hypocritically dogmatic – the essence of Catholicism) categories. But I concede, that is only my opinion.

  • 25. LeoPardus  |  January 26, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Ah, it’s so nice when you have the world all figured out and everything fits in your tidy categories. Like Georgie, many of us once live a “childish faith”. But it is so comforting. You get to be part of the “in” group. You’re special. There’s a great, big daddy who will take care of you (never mind that he doesn’t), and your daddy can beat up all the other daddies too.

    And to the highly complex problems of life and reality, faith in an invisible friend provides answers that are so convenient, neat, tidy, simple, …. and wrong.

  • 26. Jason  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    You say there was no miracle because Bobbi died, therefore suggesting that God does not exist. But what about Danny becoming a Christian? Isn’t this a miracle? And isn’t that miracle directly related to the experience of losing a child? Perhaps not the miracle everyone wanted, but a miracle nonetheless.

    Is it possible that we are focusing on the wrong thing? We should be careful not to conclude that because Danny and Danielle’s prayers were not answered exactly the way they wanted it is unlikely that God exists…

  • 27. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    You say there was no miracle because Bobbi died, therefore suggesting that God does not exist. But what about Danny becoming a Christian? Isn’t this a miracle? And isn’t that miracle directly related to the experience of losing a child? Perhaps not the miracle everyone wanted, but a miracle nonetheless.

    Maybe in your twisted view this is a positive net-net result.

  • 28. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    But what about Danny becoming a Christian? Isn’t this a miracle? And isn’t that miracle directly related to the experience of losing a child?

    I’ve said it before: when one is willing to see a miracle in anything, they’ll see them in everything.

    Besides, I’m really not interested in a God who’s so utterly impotent that the only miracles he can perform are conversions.

  • 29. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Besides, I’m really not interested in a God who’s so utterly impotent that the only miracles he can perform are conversions.

    And at the cost of a human life still stained with original sin no less!!

  • 30. Ubi Dubium  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    But what about Danny becoming a Christian? Isn’t this a miracle?

    Um, no. There is nothing miraculous in somebody changing their mind and deciding to believe in a particular set of superstitions. If Danny had converted to Buddhism because of these events, you wouldn’t call it “god’s doing”.

  • 31. LeoPardus  |  January 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Jason:

    Can you even imagine the Apostle Paul or Peter trying such a mealy-mouthed line?
    “Ah heh heh. Well, yes, I know I said “stand up and walk” and I’m real sorry you fell on your face, but hey! You did get to your feet right? And you did take one step before you fell and broke your nose. Bet you never got that far before eh. See, A MIRACLE!”

    It really astounds me. Folks read their Bible and see clear miracles written about, then they preach about their mighty god who raises the dead, etc. and then they offer up the most wimpy, mealy-mouthed excuses for the total impotence of their ever-living, eternally-the-same, loving father-god whose best modern miracle is … is… is…. uhm…. Wanda lost 8 lbs this week! Praise Jesus!

    what about Danny becoming a Christian? Isn’t this a miracle?

    NO dammit. Get a blooming dictionary and look up “miracle”. People converting to or from one or another belief is an everyday occurrence. C’mon man think! Words mean things. You don’t get to change the meanings whenever it suits you.

    And isn’t that miracle directly related to the experience of losing a child?

    It’s not a miracle, but yes, the conversion was due to a HIGHLY emotional state induced by tragedy. It was a response to kindness shown by the church people at a time when Danny needed it most.
    As for the child, well, no big deal. Dead kids are part of BibleGod’s stock in trade. He kills them himself if he gets sufficiently pissed at naughty adults. (See the David and Bathsheba story. Who killed the baby? The “pro-life” BibleGod.)

    We should be careful not to conclude that because Danny and Danielle’s prayers were not answered exactly the way they wanted it is unlikely that God exists…

    If it were an isolated incidence perhaps not. But it’s not an isolated incidence. Prayer has exactly the same effect as random chance. We’ve all seen that. Numerous studies have been conducted and found that. So when the overwhelming predominance of evidence, anecdotal and empirical, all show the same thing, it’s time to change your hypothesis.
    Unless of course you’re more devoted to your presuppositions than to reality.

  • 32. Jason  |  January 29, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Wow…quite the reaction…

    BigHouse:
    No, I don’t see this as “a positive net-net.” So before things get out of hand, everyone needs to be sure that there’s no miscommunication or twisting of words. Please do not put words in my mouth.

    Regarding your statement “still stained with original sin”…no one is “stained with original sin.” Original sin was a one time occurrence that happened at some point in the past. Instead, as a result of original sin, people are born with the effects – namely a sinful nature. Whatever one may call it, it’s pretty hard to reasonably argue against its reality; just look at the world we live in, it’s pretty screwed up.

    SnugglyBuffalo:
    I do not see a miracle in everything. But yes, I do consider a person coming to faith a miracle due to the sinful nature we’re all born with. From a Biblical perspective, sin of any sort keeps a person from God. But by God’s grace they come to faith.

    Ubi Dubium:
    Becoming a Christian is not a decision in the sense you seem to be referring; it is not a matter a simply “changing their mind.” Yes, in terms of membership papers, anyone can make that decision and then call themselves a Christian, even if they don’t really believe. But the impression we are given is that Danny actually became a Christian, that is, was not simply joining a church in the same way one would join a club. Coming to faith – in the Christian sense – is a matter of God taking the initiative through various means and working in a person’s life in such a way that they would eventually commit their lives to “following Jesus.” This is not a naturally occurring such as making a decision; it is supernatural in that science is unable to explain/describe it one way or the other. It just is. And Danny is the evidence that it has happened.

    Now to my original statement…

    We have no way of knowing whether or not that child ultimately ended up in heaven (if there is such a thing). All we know is that an infant died. This bothers us – and rightfully so. Bobbi is defenseless and unable to care for himself. He has committed no crime, and so for all practical purposes, Bobbi is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And we’re pissed off because things like this shouldn’t happen (at least we should be…that’s the normal thing to be).

    There are a few conclusions usually reached when something like this happens. 1) Prayers weren’t answered the way everyone wanted, therefore God doesn’t exist. 2) An all-powerful, good God has the ability to prevent things like this from happening – but it still happened; therefore, an all-powerful, good God doesn’t exist.

    Each of these conclusions assumes that God is compelled to act in the ways implied. But what reason do we have to think that an all-powerful, good God is compelled to do so? And why do we insist that saving Danny is the only good that could possibly happen in this situation?

    (NOTE: I’m using “we” because I wrestle with these same questions. I’m exploring with everyone else…)

  • 33. Jason  |  January 29, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    REVISION:

    That last question should read:

    “Why do we insist that saving Bobbi is the only good that could possibly happen in this situation?”

  • 34. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    BigHouse:
    No, I don’t see this as “a positive net-net.” So before things get out of hand, everyone needs to be sure that there’s no miscommunication or twisting of words. Please do not put words in my mouth.

    So, when the the everyday occurence (people joining a faith) is induced by the death of an innocent baby, you are ok using the word miracle to describe it?

  • 35. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 29, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    But what reason do we have to think that an all-powerful, good God is compelled to do so?

    Because any entity that allows evil when it has the capacity to prevent it is not good. An all-powerful God can’t be considered “good” if he allows evil (that, or he is good but not all-powerful). If you had the power to save Bobbi’s life, but chose not to, you would quite rightly be considered a despicable person.

    Cue the bullshit double-standard answers about how “God’s ways are not our ways.”

    I do not see a miracle in everything. But yes, I do consider a person coming to faith a miracle due to the sinful nature we’re all born with. From a Biblical perspective, sin of any sort keeps a person from God. But by God’s grace they come to faith.

    Do you accept people coming to other faiths miracles? If not, why then should we accept conversions to Christianity as miraculous?

  • 36. LeoPardus  |  January 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Jason:

    I note that you explained just what original sin is, and explained how someone comes to faith, and explained the effects of sin on a person “from a Biblical perspective”, and explained the state of Bobbi’s soul. To think that there are millions of Christians, in schools, in bible studies, in pulpits, in pews, in monasteries, and so on who might not have agreed. Yet you set it all forth authoritatively. Isn’t it a shame they don’t all have your crystal-clear understanding of the Bible? How ever did you obtain it? (Let me guess; the Holy Spirit revealed it to your heart.)

  • 37. LeoPardus  |  January 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks SB for starting the logical circle that gets around to “God is, we know not what.”

  • 38. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 29, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Even if God exists and is “we know not what,” that’s no reason to exempt him from standards of what is good. What kind of absurd deity creates intelligent beings, gives them a sense of morality and then violates that sense of morality on a whim? The longer I go without it, the more absurd the entirety of religion appears.

    So, I’d say that even on this logical circle, the end result is the same. God, if he exists, is either not all-powerful, or is not good.

  • 39. Ubi Dubium  |  January 29, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Coming to faith – in the Christian sense – is a matter of God taking the initiative through various means and working in a person’s life in such a way that they would eventually commit their lives to “following Jesus.” This is not a naturally occurring such as making a decision; it is supernatural in that science is unable to explain/describe it one way or the other. It just is. And Danny is the evidence that it has happened.

    But you are talking to a bunch of people who mostly think that the “supernatural” is just a myth. All we can see is somebody who changed their mind, and got wrapped up in the attraction of some religion. This happens every day, with many religions, and with groups you would probably consider cults. It is a “decision”, a decision that one religion is more believable than the others. You assume a god, so you see “god’s work”. We don’t think there is a god, so we see a human looking for solace and reassurance in a time of stress. To you a conversion to your “true religion” looks like a miracle, and a conversion to any other does not. To a non-believer, any conversion looks just like any other. No big deal. You won’t successfully convince an outsider of the power of your god with a weak example like this. That only works on those already predisposed to believe, and they don’t need any convincing.

  • 40. Jason  |  January 30, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Here’s the thing:

    Several yeas ago I found myself involved in the funeral of the infant son of a teen mother. Dad was a twenty-something dead-beat who bolted as soon as the girl missed her period…never seen again. None of the parents were Christian. The crisis brought the teen mother and her parents to their local church looking for help with the funeral arrangements. The death was not a matter of neglect on anyone’s part; the official report listed SIDS as the cause. It was a heart-wrenching situation to be a part of.

    No one became a Christian or an adherent to any other religion. As objective as I can, the situation was such that an infant died and the family mourned, never to have the essential questions answered.

    Psychologists the world over (there are always exceptions) affirm that personal spiritual belief has far more benefits than negatives – in other words, it’s far more rational to hold to some sort of spirituality than to not. To not, means you are intentionally rejecting the option that offers the most personal benefit.

    I have a much harder time justifying the situation I was involved with than the one presented above. Even if Danny became a Buddhist or Hindi or Muslim or any other religious adherent, I would still count that as a positive effect of a really shitty situation. Miracle? No. The reason being is that beyond Judaism and Christianity, no other religion requires God to take the first steps. Islam is fatalistic, Native American spirituality assumes only one possibility, and Eastern religions give you infinite chances. But, the story above still has a certain amount of good that did come out it: Danny attached himself to a spirituality that will bring personal and psychological benefit.

    ————–
    What I said about original sin is not one person’s ideas; my description is broad enough to be accepted by all Christians. Any theology book from any Christian perspective (Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Orthodox, Catholic, liberal, fundamentalist, etc.) will agree with what I said. That is a basic tenant of the Christian faith.

    Re: the supernatural. I must emphasize what is meant by “supernatural” as science and philosophy would understand it. The supernatural is simply that which current science cannot affirm nor deny. It really is that broad. Everyone believes in certain elements of the supernatural – to my knowledge, love has never been scientifically proven. Yet I’ve never met someone who would deny its reality. And so, an outright rejection of all things supernatural is virtually impossible without drastically changing one’s life.

  • 41. BigHouse  |  January 30, 2009 at 10:36 am

    What I said about original sin is not one person’s ideas; my description is broad enough to be accepted by all Christians.

    WOW. You are really sticking with this bit of hubris?

  • 42. LeoPardus  |  January 30, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    SB:

    You pretty near summarized my “God is we know not what” argument. You may not have seen the article I wrote by that name. It’s one of my “Reasons I can no longer believe” series.

  • 43. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Your definition of supernatural is ridiculous. It really is not that broad. By that definition, everything currently not understood by science is supernatural. Gravity becomes supernatural, because we do not fully understand it.

    And it is not any definition that is commonly used. Supernatural literally means “above nature,” referring to things that are above or beyond the natural world. Someone changing their beliefs is not beyond what happens in nature.

    So, something like love? Probably not supernatural. While we may not fully understand love yet (or even understand it more than a little bit), that doesn’t mean it’s supernatural. Chances are, it’s firmly rooted in brain chemistry. You can mess with a person’s brain and fundamentally alter their ability to love.

    And you’re really going to argue that conversions to Christianity are miraculous because Christianity “is the only religion where God takes the first step?” That argument is just as valid as someone saying conversion to Eastern religions is miraculous because “they’re the only religions that give you infinite chances.” Or perhaps conversions to Native American spirituality are miraculous because it’s the only spirituality “that assumes only one possibility.”

    As far as the good in the story, what happens when, years down the road, Danny’s spirituality tears him apart because his wife didn’t convert and is going to hell? My mom is blaming serious psychological issues on demons rather than seeking help, and her faith is making her absolutely miserable as she weeps for my allegedly lost soul; is her spirituality helping or hurting her?

    Seriously, man, you don’t have a leg to stand on here.

  • 44. LeoPardus  |  January 30, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Jason:

    Man o man. You’ve got all the same mental damage I had. It took years to do the damage and years to undo it.

    What I said about original sin is not one person’s ideas; my description is broad enough to be accepted by all Christians. Any theology book from any Christian perspective (Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Orthodox, Catholic, liberal, fundamentalist, etc.) will agree with what I said.

    Not only is this incredible hubris, as BigHouse said, it’s incredible ignorance. You have NOT read all those other perspectives. You’re not even passingly familiar with them, else you would not have made the statement (unless you’re counting on us to be ignorant too in which case thanks for the insult).
    Look fella, making a bald, wrong statement boldly does NOT render it true.

    <iThe supernatural is simply that which current science cannot affirm nor deny. It really is that broad.

    Again, making a bald, wrong statement boldly does NOT render it true. You know, the internet has dictionaries on it. You could look the word up.

    Everyone believes in certain elements of the supernatural – to my knowledge, love has never been scientifically proven.

    The common resort of the totally scientifically illiterate. “X” isn’t scientifically “proven”. The sentence of yours is so fraught with error, misunderstanding, ignorance, and bad logic that I don’t even know where to start. It could be the springboard for a whole semester course in critical thinking.

    Psychologists the world over (there are always exceptions) affirm that personal spiritual belief has far more benefits than negatives

    Oh please, do cite the studies.

    Ah geez, my brain hurts just reading your stuff. Maybe it’s the bad memories that hurt me to realize that I once was this far out of it. But there is hope. Even this level of damage and ignorance can be undone.

  • 45. Jason  |  January 31, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Alright…

    Perhaps I have over stepped and misspoke a few times. In some ways I am a slight fish out of water. Regarding my definition of “supernatural” it may not have been a text-book definition, but it is nonetheless consistent with the text-book definition.

    I decided to jump in here based on the fact that the sidebars and “about” section seem to be asking for respectful, thoughtful, and engaging inter-faith dialogue (my words/interpretation of what it actually written). And so I am seeking to engage in that very thing. If that is not possible, then so be it; let me know and I am more than willing to step out of the conversation. But if it is, then let’s continue…

    What I’m ultimately looking to bring to the table is what is known as the “Greater Good Defense for Evil.” This is an explanation for evil that originated from Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher at Notre Dame (and not Catholic).

    It’s basic assertion is this: “An all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good God can allow evil, if the evil is unavoidable for or conducive to a greater good that he wills to achieve.”

    If the object of the post is to through a difficult situation at the Christian community in an attempt to get an logical, reasonable response, then this is an appropriate point to bring up.

    If not, then we can let the conversation die here…

  • 46. Quester  |  January 31, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Jason, there are two problems with the assertion, “An all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good God can allow evil, if the evil is unavoidable for or conducive to a greater good that he wills to achieve.”

    1) If God can not avoid the evil, God is not all-powerful.
    2) If God uses evil to reach His purposes, God is not perfectly good.

    Most of us are perfectly willing to have respectful, thoughtful exchanges. All we ask for is thoughts we can respect. Regurgitated concepts that are contradictory within themselves do not qualify. People who post without thinking are not likely to get much respect, either.

  • 47. Yurka  |  January 31, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Quester, you’ve got a lot of nerve throwing up that shallow boilerplate stuff and accusing Jason of ‘regurgitating concepts’.

    The problem with 1: God is not all powerful in the sense that he can do the logically contradictory. If God wills to create free creatures, the possibility of evil arising exists by logical necessity, else they would not be free.

    The problem with 2: in order to make the judgment that an event was irredeemably evil, you would have to know all of its ramifications throughout all of history and eternity. You would have to know the internal states of all who were affected by it before and after. In short, you’d have to be God. Is that what you are claiming? God uses human evil to bring about greater good. Genesis 50:20, Acts 4:28.

    Another consideration. What may seem an all encompassing evil at the moment will shrink to nothing for those in heaven as eternity progresses. Think of C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce as Hell recedes to an infinitesimal point, or of Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

    Jason, it seems to me these people are emotionally committed to finding God “unacceptable” by their moral standards, even though they can give no account of how they can judge anything to be good or bad in the first place.
    They will never engage you at the level of Reasonable Faith, Triablogue, Dangerous Idea, etc.
    They are a self help group for those trying to convince themselves they made the right decision to abandon the faith.

  • 48. Quester  |  January 31, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Yurka,

    Perhaps you could explain to me what the tired, worn, “free will” excuse has to do with hydrocephalus. Please note that I do not concede we have free will, I’m just wondering what could make you think it’s relevant.

    Second, who said anything about “irredeemably”? If God needs redemption, what or who does he need redemption from? No, I don’t care about whether evil is redeemable, justifiable or excusable. If God uses evil, not human evil mind you, but God’s own evil acts (or evil lack of acting), He is not perfectly good.

    The Great Divorce is a favourite book of mine, but it’s fiction, and makes no pretense to be otherwise. Even if this were not so, evil that shrinks to nothing is still evil, and thus not perfectly good.

  • 49. LeoPardus  |  January 31, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    the “Greater Good Defense for Evil.” This is an explanation for evil that originated from Alvin Plantinga

    Hardly.

    From: Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 48, Article 6: “A wise workman chooses a less evil in order to prevent a greater, as the surgeon cuts off a limb to save the whole body.”

    There are many other citations that could be made (including those older that Aquinas), but I knew Aquinas had addressed this so it was the easiest to look up.

    The trouble with having such a tiny perspective on your religion and history is that you think everything happened recently. There are few arguments that haven’t been hashed over centuries ago. (Well, OK, if we haul in some of the arguments that try to use quantum physics, we get new twists.)

    The “Greater Good” defense sounds good and it works as long as you keep it vague. But when you force it to confront the specifics of the world we live in, it fails. Look for the greater good in an infant sexually abused and killed. Look for the greater good in millions screaming their lungs out for mercy from their deity and dying in slaughters. The list could go on.

    Of course you can always pull the “you have to know every ramification throughout history” foolishness, but that’s just copping out. We humans know evil when we see it. Your deity doesn’t seem to.

    And when you have a deity who fails of any sensible definition of the words “good” or “loving”, or worse yet, conforms to the definitions of the words “irresponsible” or “evil”, then you have a deity who is simply “we know not what” because we can’t apply any terms we know to said deity.

  • 50. LeoPardus  |  January 31, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    The problem with 1: God is not all powerful in the sense that he can do the logically contradictory. If God wills to create free creatures, the possibility of evil arising exists by logical necessity, else they would not be free.

    Here we go with the free will crud again. There are millions of Christians who deny free will. And they are often just as arrogant as you about insisting that they have it right, or you aren’t a “real” Christian, or the holy spirit assures them, etc, ad nauseum. You use the free will bit as if it’s a slam dunk given. It is not.

    The problem with 2: in order to make the judgment that an event was irredeemably evil, you would have to know all of its ramifications throughout all of history and eternity. You would have to know the internal states of all who were affected by it before and after. God uses human evil to bring about greater good.

    Would you be willing to accept this and contemplate it while I gut your family members? Would you like to debate this while Pol Pot slaughters millions? Would you like to accept the likelihood that by trying to stop me or Pol Pot, you might be interfering with God’s plan for the greater good?

    No? Of course not. No one believes this nonsense because we are generally capable of recognizing evil when confronted with it. This deity you’ve created doesn’t have that capacity.

    , it seems to me these people are emotionally committed to finding God “unacceptable” by their moral standards, even though they can give no account of how they can judge anything to be good or bad in the first place.
    They are a self help group for those trying to convince themselves they made the right decision to abandon the faith.

    After all the time you’ve trolled around here, you still refuse to read the RED EXCLAMATION MARK posts near the top of the page. You obdurately refuse to even look into the purpose of this site. You continue to think that it is a place for mealy-mouthed apologetic arguments, and a place for religious malcontents. In short, you formed an opinion based in your ignorance, and now that your petty mind is made up, you’re not going to let reality affect you.

  • 51. Yurka  |  January 31, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Perhaps you could explain to me what the tired, worn, “free will” excuse has to do with hydrocephalus.

    I’d say in two ways: 1) death exists because of an act of free will- as Romans 5 states, death exists because of Adam’s sin. People tend to resist the idea of original sin and federal headship, but this is inconsistent with how we behave otherwise. We are perfectly willing to accept vicariousness in other areas of life, such as doing an act of kindness for a friend’s family member – we do it for his sake. I imagine that Timothy McVeigh’s family are all ashamed of him. Therefore it’s inconsistent to reject this principle only when it suits us, while at the same time accepting it as morally acceptable in other areas of life without question. 2) we don’t know all the factors involved in why it may have been better this way, and some of those factors may involve free will. Why is it so unreasonable that this infant after death could say along with Paul in Phil 1:23 “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:”.

    If God needs redemption, what or who does he need redemption from? No, I don’t care about whether evil is redeemable, justifiable or excusable. If God uses evil, not human evil mind you, but God’s own evil acts (or evil lack of acting), He is not perfectly good.

    But human evil comes first. ‘Evil’ (or misfortune: Is 45:7) from God is responsive:
    a) punishment. Luke 13:
    1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
    2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
    3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
    4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
    5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    b) chastisement. Heb 12: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
    7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
    8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

  • 52. Yurka  |  January 31, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Here we go with the free will crud again. There are millions of Christians who deny free will.

    Yes – but it isn’t put explicitly in a biblical creed, so Christians are at liberty to disagree (even James White does not anathematize Bill Craig). You could say Christianity gives 2 explanations instead of just one, although personal salvation is more important that speaking of that which we know only in part.

    Would you be willing to accept this and contemplate it while I gut your family members? Would you like to debate this while Pol Pot slaughters millions? Would you like to accept the likelihood that by trying to stop me or Pol Pot, you might be interfering with God’s plan for the greater good?

    We do not have the right to make that judgment call since we do not have God’s knowledge and purposes. We only have his preceptive will. Also we do not have the right to do as we will since we are not the creators. We chomp at the bit, we are humiliated at our creatureliness but as Gordon Clark says, “God is the source of morality. He can no more be *immoral* than he can *steal*.”

  • 53. Yurka  |  January 31, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    in p4 I meant to say ‘we only have his preceptive will so we are morally obligated to stop Pol Pot, but we cannot say the same as God since we do know know if there is morally sufficient reason (MSR).’

  • 54. Quester  |  January 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    That’s your argument, Yurka? According to a couple of sentences in a certain compilation of books, God says His evil isn’t evil, or even if it is, it’s our fault, and thus God is perfectly good?

    You’re giving excuses for God doing evil. That’s lovely. I hope it helps you sleep at night, but if, for whatever reason or excuse you can come up with, God does or allows evil, God is not perfectly good. Or what definition of good are you using that includes evil within it?

    Doing evil to someone for the deeds of another is evil, however much it may happen in real life. Infants, before they are born or shortly after, are not capable of exercising free will. How can you even type this guff without utter shame causing you to flee your keyboard? How can you defend the death of innocents by blaming it on Adam, or on a baby? How little and pitiful is your God?

  • 55. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 31, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Seriously, Yurka, this is what you’re down to? We’re just to accept a good God in the face of evil because we aren’t able to understand him? Your grand answer is “don’t question it, we’re not able to understand it”?

    If you could provide me with any reasonable evidence that there’s a God in the first place, maybe I could commit intellectual suicide and accept that answer.

  • 56. LeoPardus  |  February 1, 2009 at 12:39 am

    [free will] isn’t put explicitly in a biblical creed, so Christians are at liberty to disagree

    It’s the foundation of your argument dude. You build almost every argument you bring in here on free will. If it’s just an option, and maybe, and may not be, your arguments are built on nothing more than invisible sand castles made of pixie dust.

    And we’ve all heard the “god can do what he wants ’cause he’s god” argument. As I said, it fails. If no rules or definitions can apply to your deity, then you have no idea what that deity really is, or what he really is up to, or what he really wants. In short, he is “we know not what”. Of course what he really is, is whatever you imagine him to be since you create him in your desired image (and recreate or alter him as needs suit).

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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