Kanye the Shelter Dog

If a being that is all powerful, all knowing, and all compassionate exists, whence came such misery, but if it doesn't, why worship it?

My first church held to a literal interpretation of the Biblical account in which God made the world perfect. The first two humans were innocent of the knowledge of right and wrong, and it was to them that God gave the very first thou shalt not. As soon as these childlike humans were tempted by Satan, they disobeyed God, and God was forced by his perfect sense of justice (God's inviolable virtues are often in unavoidable conflict) to place an everlasting curse upon all of his living creation and their descendants forever. Everything that is painful in any creature's life is attributable to that curse. When, as pubescent, I argued that this was unfair, I was told that that my human sense of fairness was flawed; that God's sense of fairness is perfect; that I was never to question or doubt God; and that I was to "live a Godly life" (whatever that means).

Because I found it impossible to accept what I was told about God, I often asked other people how they explained suffering. Some said that we couldn't appreciate health and happiness unless we were exposed to disease and misery (why we couldn't, they couldn't say), and this meant that God had to make the world imperfect. I then wondered how a perfect God managed to get himself boxed into a corner from which he was forced to create imperfection in order to achieve his goal; why there has to be so much suffering; and why the suffering is unevenly distributed. I was told that some people suffer more than others because they are too proud and stubborn to ask to God for relief, yet I've known people who begged God for relief without getting it.

I was also told that it's our responsibility to end suffering, because it's not God who failed us but us who failed God, but how was it that we, the perfect creation of a perfect being, were able to choose imperfection, and what of creatures like babies and puppies that don't even know what the word means; would a God of perfect justice allow them to suffer? It's also true that even if millions upon millions of we humans worked together, we couldn't possibly end all of the misery inflicted by our species, and then there's the evil that's not inflicted by our species, things like tornadoes, earthquakes, cancers, Alzheimer's, birth defects, mosquitoes, freak accidents, mental illness, and so on.

I was often told that I "think too much" or that I "ask too many questions," but I could easily turn the criticism back upon my critics by arguing that the main problem with religion comes from thinking that one knows everything that's necessary to know about God despite being unable to answer even the most basic questions. Religious people form their beliefs based upon what someone else says is true, and they commonly persecute anyone who disagrees with what that someone else says (or at least with what they think he says), but why should they believe this someone else in the first place? There's a hymn that goes, "Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey," but if the existence of the very being that forms the foundation of a person's trust can't be substantiated, why have "faith" in Jesus instead of in some other god? 

Yet another "answer" regarding why a good God runs a bad world is that God really isn't all powerful, so he needs our help in making the world safe and happy. Really!? The God who made more galaxies than there are earthly particles of sand needs our help to make one little planet a fit place to live? Couldn't he at least put an end to some of the most obvious sources of suffering? For instance, he could remove the earth's entire stock of explosives, or he could make it so would be murderers would feel faint when they tried to hurt someone.

Look at it this way, when God made Adam and Eve, he walked in the Garden with them "in the cool of the day" (paradise being hot the rest of the time), and they knew him face-to-face as a friend, yet they chose Satan over him, so if he couldn't make a relationship work between himself and the world's first two humans back when he had everything going for him, how can he make it work for billions of people now that he's nowhere to be found, and when a big problem for those billions of people is that millions of them want to kill one another because of him? Couldn't he at least tell us all how he wants to be worshiped?

I regard earthly reality as an ocean of greed and hatred interspersed by islands of goodwill, like the one in the video. I'm told that ours is a back-forty solar system in a second rate galaxy amid billions of other galaxies, so maybe we are ruled over by a back-forty god who lives in fear of being judged by his betters. When I see a puppy screaming in terror before a loving hand, I have no choice but to deny the existence of any being that is worthy of being called God. Puppies deserve to be safe, happy, and loved, and if God can't even get that right, what can he get right?

I commit the unpardonable sin

Unofficial Motto of the Church of Christ
Some basics: The fundamentalist Church of Christ is congregationally ruled, and its beliefs and practices differ by time and location. The following is based upon my experiences in Mississippi and Georgia during the 1950s and '60s, places in which my father's father and his father had been preachers. 

The churches of my boyhood: (1) regarded the Church of Christ as the "one true church" and explained its actual 19th century origin as a resurfacing following two millennia of persecution; (2) boasted of having no written statement of faith; (3) held that salvation was through a combination of faith and works; (4) believed that members of other churches and religions were destined for eternal agony; (5) practiced baptism by immersion; (6) forbade women preachers and (in Mississippi) women Sunday school teachers and announcement makers; (7) celebrated "the Lord's Supper" every Sunday; (8) boasted of studying "the Bible only" rather than books about the Bible; (9) taught that "the way of salvation is so simple that even a child can understand it;" (10) held that all doctrinal mistakes come from willful disobedience and doom the person who makes them to hell

(11) regarded political involvement as un-Christian; (12) held that all lawyers are hell-bound liars; (13) disapproved of Masonry and other secret organizations; (14) believed that divorced people who remarry commit adultery; (15) denied the intellectual reality of atheism ("The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God);" (16) regarded instrumental music during worship services as sinful (people weren't even allowed to bring a piano into the church for a wedding for fear non-church attendees might think the church used musical instruments all the time); (17) denounced Christmas as a "pagan holiday;" (18) kept no membership roles because only God knows who is and isn't a member of his church and; (19) kept no tithing roles because the promise of future income would eliminate the necessity of faith; (20) believed that sincere seekers of God in all places and at all times would be led by God to a Church of Christ; (21) Churches of Christ that disagreed with other Churches of Christ claimed that these other churches were "false churches" and were therefore doomed to hell; (22) some churches forbade the use of more than one glass for communion because when he instituted "the Lord's Supper," Christ said "this cup" rather than "these cups."

Although people (ourselves included) commonly referred to our church as the Church of Christ, its official name was given in the plural because that's how it appears in the Bible. This meant that instead of saying, "I belong to Johnson Grove Church of Christ," I was supposed to say, "I belong to Johnson Grove Churches of Christ." Another example of literalism turned fanaticism comes from the occasional ministerial debates I heard that ran along the following line and that, coincidentally, related to my own history. To whit: the Bible says that a person has to be baptized to be saved; when I was twelve, I asked to be baptized during a revival at a church without a baptistry; I was taken to another church for baptism. 

The debate question was this: if someone dies in a wreck on the way to be baptized, will he go to heaven or hell? The invariable conclusion was that he would go to hell because he failed to meet one of the requirements of salvation. Small wonder that even the literalistic Southern Baptists considered the Church of Christ nutty, not that we cared about their opinion because they weren't even Christians in our view.

The most painful event of my boyhood occurred one day when I was thirteen and running my paper route. I had been struggling for two years to hold onto my faith, and in exasperation, I said to God at a spot in the street that I still remember, "I don't know how you can expect me to trust you when you failed your own son" (as he hung on the cross, Christ had uttered, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). I don't know how many seconds passed before it occurred to me that I might have committed the unpardonable sin (a sin that is mentioned in the Bible but, strange to say, never defined), but I lived in terror for years.

The prospect of telling anyone what I had done seemed unthinkable, yet I became so desperate for reassurance that, a few years later, I went to the country home of Bro Buford Stewart (we called our preachers Brother because the Bible didn't authorize the word reverend) the man who baptized me. Once there, my courage failed, so I suffered for several more years until I had so little remaining faith that I stopped worrying and started hating. First, I hated the Church of Christ for the needless pain I had endured because I trusted it; I hated the people who abandoned me when I left the church; and I hated the deity that it represented, not because I still believed in him, but because of how much I had suffered because of what I had been told about him. From my earliest memory, I had been made to feel so afraid of God that I would sometimes hide under the bed in tearful terror after a "fire and brimstone" sermon (something that the Church of Christ was big on), and I now concluded that this made me a victim of emotional abuse.

Some men my age remember the War in Vietnam--I remember living in daily fear of eternal hell. I have been told that, had I grown up with a kindly image of God in some other church, I wouldn't have become an atheist, but all churches worship a deity that is depicted as all-powerful and all-loving yet one that created an imperfect world and that continues to remain passive in the face of an infinity of suffering and death, much of it committed in his name. Even if a deity should exist, I believe that we commit an act of cowardice and even immorality when we profess to love him for "sending his only begotten son to die for our sins," when it is he who is in need of our forgiveness. We might as well whitewash shit and serve it up as bread.