Category Archives: Secularism

What You Know, You Know

Growing up, my father carefully laid out The Kalam Cosmological Argument to demonstrate how a Heavenly Father was necessary to the workings of The Universe.

My mother took me aside and showed me all of the apologetics to show how literal horses, and steel swords weren’t really necessary to the historicity of The Book of Mormon.

The Sunday School teachers introduced us to all of the evidence for The Exodus and explained out secular archaeologists were merely covering up the truth.  They taught how The Egyptians never recorded any failures or reversals.

My grandparents taught me how even a single digit in a thousand zeros in a certain cosmological value would mean that our universe would tear itself apart.

That’s why I believed.


I would suppose that no one has had that experience as a child.  We do not believe in a god, or savior, or a bible, or a qu’ran, or a book of mormon as children because our parents, grandparents, and religious leaders make good arguments.  Children believe because children have evolved to believe authority.

In general, this is a good thing.  There are some things that children should not learn from evidence or experience; “That’s hot.”  “That’s sharp.”  “That’s poison.”  “That car will kill you if it hits you.”  Children assume that parents are correct.

They also assume, however, that parents are correct when they tell them there is a God.  The Bible is The Word of that god.  That Mohamed spoke to Allah.  That Joseph Smith took gold plates from the ground and translated them.  That they will be healed through prayer, or a blessing.  All of this they, quite naturally and understandably, accept without evidence.  They don’t demand good arguments for the existence of a spaceless, timeless, immaterial creator.  They don’t know enough to ask for secular evidence for the history of The Scriptures.

Children are told these things are true.  They believe it.  They are told they will be rewarded for their belief and faith.  They are told they will be punished for their doubt and questions.  Then, they are rewarded when they demonstrate their belief and faith, through praise and even awards.  They are punished when they demonstrate any doubt, with rebuke and disappointment and even real punishment.

As an LDS child, I was richly rewarded for demonstrations of faith.  Given praise for answering questions in class.  Given parts in church presentations.  I earned my ‘Faith in God’ and ‘Duty to God’ awards.  I was put in positions of authority in my classes and over church events.  I felt powerful and confident in my faith.

When I began to doubt and turn away from faith, I felt rebuke from my parents, teachers, and church elders.  I remember the visit of one beloved couple from my ward after I had not been at church for several weeks.  They came to tell me how disappointed they were in me.   To tell me how happy I used to seem in church.  How promising a servant of The LORD I had been.  Couldn’t I just have faith?

No, I couldn’t.

If religious beliefs were based on good reasons, on good evidence, on good arguments, and if the arguments for any one faith were more convincing than the arguments for another, wouldn’t we have a much more mixed religious culture?

That’s not what we see.  Children across The United States will likely be Christian.  Children in Utah are likely to be Mormon. Children in Saudi Arabia will be Muslim.  Children in India will be Hindu.  Children in Israel will be Jewish.  Are they basing their belief on critical thinking?  On good arguments for why Mohamed is a prophet, but Joseph Smith was not?  On why Jesus was not really the Messiah, but who is still to come?  On why the morality of The Book of Mormon/The Bible/The Qu’ran/The Torah is superior to The Torah/The Qu’ran/The Book of Mormon/The Bible?

Or, are they merely taking the word of their parents?

Instead of teaching children what to believe, it would be more honest to teach children how to think critically and allow the arguments for religion and god and scripture succeed or fail on their own merits.

I think we know why the religious don’t use that method.

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.” – William Shakespeare, Iago, Othello

Conditioned To Believe

I had a conversation with my father-in-law about why I’m not having my daughter baptized when she turns 8. I explained how I didn’t think she’s old enough to make such a major decision and she should wait until she is older and fully understands what she’s doing – which he naturally disagreed with. He felt confident she, like other 8 year olds in the church, understand the choice and what it means…

So I asked him that simple question… If she chose to get baptized into a different religion would he still think she’s old enough to make that choice? And more importantly, would he be supportive and respect her “choice”? — ireallyshouldbeworking (via reddit)

What a powerful question.  LDS Children are encouraged and expected to commit and devote their lives to The Church when they turn eight-years-old.  The “age of accountability.”  The common assertion is that children of this age are old enough to understand right and wrong and to follow The LORD’s commandments.

If your eight-year-old child came to you and wanted to study Islam, or Judaism, or Catholicism, or any other religion unlike your own, would you let them?  If they wanted to join that religion permanently, do you believe they have the maturity to make such a decision?

For me and my child, we do study other religions and cultures and myths.  She knows about Pharoah, and Noah, and Odysseus, and Achilles.  We’ve read about Egyptian and Chinese mythology too.  If she asked to go to a church, I would likely allow it, as long as I went along with her to answer her questions and propose some of my own.

I have to say, however, if she wanted to permanently join any group, especially one that demands lifelong commitment, I would withhold consent until she was much, much older.

At the time of my baptism, I don’t believe I had ever set foot in anything but an LDS Church.  I don’t know if I honestly knew there were other ways of thinking and believing.  I knew that some people didn’t believe the same way I did, but I was never taught what those differences were and why.  How can you reliably dedicate the rest of your life to only one way of believing when you haven’t even considered any others?

Seems like choosing at eight to leave your radio station on just one frequency forever.

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” -Aldous Huxley

Arrogant Faith

Growing up, I was taught by my LDS parents and teachers that the LDS faithful would one day be commanded by The Prophet to return and reclaim Independence, Missouri.  I was told that we may even have to walk there as our ancestors had.  That the journey could be just as hard as our forbearers, but that, as The Faithful & Elect, we would be protected and blessed.  I was told that we would listen to our prophets and we would do as we were commanded.

What would you be willing to do if commanded by your religious leaders?  What wouldn’t you be willing to do?  If they speak for and behalf of The Almighty God, who knows all, shouldn’t you be willing to do absolutely anything?

“If God told you to kill your child—would you do it?” — Penn Jillette

I wouldn’t.  Not if He personally came down, 100% proving His existence and power, knocked me out of bed, and told me that, if I didn’t murder my daughter with my bare hands, He would torture me for eternity.

I would hope I could even muster the courage to spit in His almighty, but definitively evil face.

The story of Abraham is truly terrifying.  Believers teach it as a story of faith; that we must trust to God, who knows best.  “But, Heavenly Father saved Isaac.”  No.  Abraham had murder in his heart.  A willingness to cut open his innocent and only son.  Not a desire, but a willingness.  A blind obedience to commit an act of pure evil if only commanded.  God didn’t save Isaac; He merely changed His mind.

Mr. Jillette asks the question above to illustrate, if you would not murder your child at the command of the god you claim has the right and authority to command your actions, you are probably already an atheist.

If a religious leader in whom you trust told you that your God had commanded your family to sell all of your clothing and belongings and live unprotected in the winter mountains? That God had promised to provide for you? Would you do that?  Would you willingly put your family in mortal danger?  Trusting in God to provide?

If the religious leader commanded that you, not even kill, but pointlessly harm your child in some small way?  That God had promised you blessings without number for an earthly demonstration of your faith, would you do it?

If a man you *knew* to be a prophet told you to turn and rant and rail against your child, just because of whom they love?

Would you do it?

Or, instead, would you love your child regardless, and help them to grow up happy and healthy?  Loving those they loved and who made them happy – regardless of what a man who doesn’t know you, and doesn’t know your child, chooses to say from a great and spacious building?

“It’s not arrogant to say that you can’t figure out the answers to the universe with your internal faith. It’s not arrogant to know that there’s no omniscient, omnipotent prime mover in the universe who loves you personally. It’s not sad to feel that life and the love of your real friends and family is more than enough to make life worth living. Isn’t it much sadder to feel that there is a more important love required than the love of the people who have chosen to spend their limited time with you?”– Penn Jillette

One Half of Wisdom

“What do you believe, and why?”

. . . is the unofficial motto and often the first question asked of theistic callers to The Atheist Experience.  It is the question that drives most religious debates and discussions.

While listening to Tanner Gillibrand on MormonTransitions this past week, I stumbled upon his response to a family member who asked the question of Tanner when he announced his resignation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (…).  Tanner’s response, in which he details his desperate efforts to keep his faith, is beautiful, heart-breaking, and brilliant.

This was the hardest time of my life. I used to drive out to the fields in Rexburg and pray out loud for hours, begging God for some light, but it never came. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?” I begged for a loaf and received nothing. I would have taken a stone over the silence.

[…]

I thought I loved God my whole life. But as I studied the scriptures I realized I could not love such a God. Rather than a God that was found through love, I saw a God that was found through loyalty tests…

Tanner’s family member was brave to ask the question, and Tanner was brave to lay open his story.  Reading his letter, however, I realized that I had never been asked that question by my family or by those friends who had raised me to be a good, believing member of The LDS Church.  None of them  asked me to write on this blog.  None of them likely read it.

When I lost my faith, I was taken to a therapist.  I told the therapist I didn’t believe The Church anymore.  The therapist told my parents.  My parents were disappointed, and hurt, but I never remember them asking me why I stopped believing.

After I stopped attending services, my father once asked me if I was going on an LDS Mission.  Somewhat befuddled by the idea of giving two years of my life to a religion in which I no longer believed, I answered with a quick, “No.”  He asked why not, and I replied impatiently, “Because I don’t believe it anymore.”  He never asked a follow up question.  Was it because of my teenage attitude or his lack of curiosity?  I’ll never know.

Later I ran into a member of the local bishopric and a good friend of my father’s.  He asked why I stopped coming to church.  I replied that I didn’t believe it anymore, and that I had some problems with some doctrines and beliefs.  Before I could go on, he stopped me and told me that he knew people who had left The Church, and knew their problems with The Church, but it didn’t matter.  “It’s just true, and I think you know that.”

Instantly dismissive of my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.  How intellectually lazy and willfully ignorant.  Though it is highly doubtful, this man may have been able to address some of my concerns, but, for him, it seemed better to dwell in ignorance.

After my child was born, our families passively danced around the issue of religion until I felt it necessary to confront my mother about my lack of beliefs.  Though she acknowledged the atheist position, of which she was already aware, she asked no other questions of me.  Even when I resigned my membership in The LDS Church, and sent a direct e-mail making my actions known, not a single member of my family, including my innumerable extended family members, asked any variation of, “What do you believe, and why?”

Why are we so afraid to discuss this topic?  I am guilty as well.  I often want to ask my siblings, father-in-law, brother-in-law, what they believe and why they believe, but I I avoid it – afraid of offending them, as I have been offended.  Why is this one topic so volatile?  So alarming? Though I study and obsess over these subjects, I never really ask those true believers who are all around me.  Are we all really that thin-skinned, or do we just assume that everyone else is so easily distressed?

It is likely part of why I continue to write here; so that I can openly express to strangers what I’d really like to express to those I love.  In which case, thank you for reading.

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

Happiness, Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” – Christopher Hitchens

What is better about being an atheist rather than a theist?  Than a Christian?  Than a Mormon?

  1. Blaming yourself.
    • When you make a mistake, it’s your fault.  It isn’t Satan.  It isn’t God.  It’s your fault.  You can choose to learn from it, or you can ignore it, but it’s your fault and it’s your choice.  When you have trouble understanding something, it isn’t because “God works in mysterious ways”, or because you didn’t ask with enough faith.  you just need to study more, or ask better questions.  If you’re selfish and hurt a loved one, you weren’t “tempted by The Adversary”.  It’s your fault.  It’s your choice.  You’re not being punished.   You’re not being admonished.  It’s just you vs. The Universe.
  2. Praising yourself.
    • You earned the job.  You earned the paycheck.  You earned the bonus.  You caught the ball.  You hit the homerun.  Your anti-bodies beat pneumonia, or the flu, or the cold.  Your body healed the broken leg, and the sprained knee, or even beat back cancer.  You weren’t “blessed.”  You weren’t rewarded by God.  You did it.  Biology did it.  Your genes did it, and that feels pretty damned good.
  3. Blaming Nature.
    • Earthquakes are tectonic plates.  Volcanoes the same.  Hurricanes are warm air and a spinning planet.  Disease is biological and chemical reactions.  Parasites are an unfortunate side effect of evolution.  You don’t have to wonder why evil and suffering exists.  You don’t have to wonder if you’ve angered some omnipotent being.  You don’t have to wait for help and relief from above that isn’t coming.  Make your own miracles.
  4. Helping.
    • Really helping.  No “thoughts and prayers”, but actually donating time, money, and effort to help those in need.  Thoughts and prayers don’t work, and if they did, we wouldn’t need ambulances, first responders, or doctors.
  5. Sundays.
    • …or whatever Sabbath day was previously set aside for praising and worshiping.  Having two weekend days, pretty nice.  Wonderful, in fact.  An extra day for shopping.  And extra day for taking your kid to the aquarium, or the zoo, or the museum, or a hike, or a bike ride, or just to sit around and watch Ghostbusters for the 10th time this month.  An extra day to teach her how to make muffins, cookies, or soup.  An extra day to sit outside and enjoy the sun with a cool beverage, or an extra day to sit inside and enjoy the warmth with a warm beverage.
  6. Thinking.
    • Nothing is off limits.  You can imagine that there are ten gods, or none.  You can debate endlessly with William Lane Craig, or Rabbi Schmuley, or Frank Turek, or Christopher Hitchens, or Bertrand Russell in your mind.  You can contemplate the repercussions of any position without fear of going over some imaginary line.  “Was Jesus real, or wasn’t he?”  “Is there evidence for The Exodus?”  “Is there enough evidence to justify that position?” “What if there is a god?”  No stone left unturned for fear of the truth that may be waiting underneath.
  7. Reading.
    • Much the same as #4.  Nothing is off limits.  You can read history that destroys your heroes – secular and religious.  You can read history that builds up the ‘villains.’
  8. Money.
    • There’s no registration fees or membership dues to be an atheist.  As opposed to religions who say, “But God loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.” (George Carlin)
  9. Guilt Free Sex.
    • Notice I didn’t say, “consequence free”.  Of course there are still consequences for your actions, but you need not feel guilty for responding to natural, healthy sexual instincts.  Masturbation is perfectly healthy and natural.  Safe, consensual sex is perfectly healthy and natural.  There is no need for young people to be shamed and guilted about natural drives.  They are better served with education about healthy and safe  sexual behaviors instead of needless shame.
  10. Freedom.
    • In short, freedom.  Freedom from supernatural thought, theistic thought, and religious thought.  Freedom to think for yourself.  Freedom to reason for yourself.  Freedom to be yourself.  Freedom to blame yourself.  Freedom to praise yourself.  Freedom to spend your money as *you* see fit.  Freedom to love, physically, mentally, emotionally, or all of the above.  Freedom to live without wasteful wishes for something more and better and to love all that this life is and has to offer.

An Uncomfortable Condition

“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave This Church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered. As if nothing in our contemporary life mattered. As if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint!?” Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”
Apostle Jeffery R. Holland (audio link)

Mr. Holland was not yet an apostle when I was a Conference watcher, so I don’t have much experience with him, but may I offer a brief riposte to the above tersely worded statement?

Dare to bail.  I am so joyous when someone grabs hold of truth, and facts, and reason.  To take the path they know is right, even in the face of difficulty.  I don’t know whether ‘joyous’ is a very good heathen word.  But what on Earth kind of conviction does that take?  What kind of fidelity to veracity?   To let your ability to reason and logic lead you into the unknown and unfamiliar?  Just as if this all is exactly the way it is supposed to be, with all it’s warts and problems, and that “I don’t know, but I will strive to learn more” is a perfectly acceptable answer to hard questions.  To admit that knowing something with your heart isn’t the best way to know anything, and that not knowing is far more honest.

Well, I suppose there’s just enough skepticism in me for that.

Bail on beliefs that can be shown to be false.

Bail on beliefs that cause more strife than they relieve.

Bail on organizations that promise hope and deliver pain.

Bail on leaders who command sacrifice and give none of themselves.

In the words of a man much wiser than I, “Believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.”

“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a
ridiculous one.” – Voltair

Well Documented Evidence

“Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if they were less well-documented.” — Richard J. Maynes, Seventy

The founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith Jr., began his journey to prophet with an event that has been called “The First Vision.”  When I was growing up as a young Mormon boy, I was told that Joseph knelt to pray in a grove of trees to ask God which of the many churches was true.  According to the story I was told, Joseph was visited by both Heavenly Father (God) and Jesus Christ, who told him none of the churches were true, and that he was to found a new one.

In the 17 years I was active in The LDS Church, that was the only version of the story I ever heard.  It turns out that there are many versions, with widely differing timelines and subject matters.  The LDS Church even has an official essay on the subject, and you can read them for yourself at The Joseph Smith Papers Project.

FirstVisionsMormonInfographics

For many people, who were as ignorant to these facts as I once was, discovering this can be a bit faith-shaking.  This event is absolutely pivotal and essential in the Joseph Smith narrative, and the inconsistencies are troubling. One might think that such a momentous moment as meeting God, or God and Jesus, or an angel, or a Pillar of Fire, would be distinctly memorable.

If this is bothersome to you, let not  your heart be troubled;  Elder Richard Maynes explains how differing versions of an important story, with different dates, and different people, with different messages actually make The First Vision “the best-documented vision in history.”

To demonstrate my particular reaction to this breach of logic and reason, I present my original one-act play:

The Best Documented Dinner in History

[Scene:  Interior.  A small police department interrogation room.  Two detectives (Cop #1 and Cop #2 stand at a table in front of a seated ‘Gary’]

Cop #1: Hey, Gary. We brought you in because someone said they saw you over by the old Buckner place last Monday, just before it was robbed. Can you tell us where you were last Monday night? At about 7:30pm?

Gary: Oh. I was at dinner.

Cop #2: Yeah? Where’d you go? Any good?

Gary: Oh, yeah. New taco restaurant. ‘Los Amgios.’ Great chorizo.

Cop #1: That sounds great. What time did you get there?

Gary: Let me see. I started walking from my place at about 7:00.

Cop #2: And how far away do you live?

Gary: About 3 miles, which is why I took my bike.

Cop #1: But you just said you started walking?

Gary: That’s right I started walking over to Les Poissons, the French place.

Cop #2: Huh? Didn’t you say you were going to ‘Los Amigos’?

Gary: I did. It’s really good.

Cop #1: What about Les Poissons?

Gary: It’s really good.

Cop #2: Did you get a receipt?

Gary: Yup! It’s there in my wallet.

Cop #1: [shuffles through the wallet] Is this the one? To a restaurant called The Burger Bar?

Gary: Yup! I drove over there at a quarter after seven last Monday.

Cop #1: Is he putting me on, or am I putting him on?

Cop #2: So, on last Monday, you walked to a Mexican restaurant, biked to a French restaurant, and then drove to a burger joint, all on the same night, during roughly the same time period?

Gary: Of course! The consistent inconsistency proves how true it is.

A Wave of Truth

“You can leave The Church, but you can’t leave it alone.”

The quote above is a common phrase wielded at former members, like myself, who continue to expend time and energy to talk, write, and discuss various Mormon topics.

Members seem to wonder why those of us who don’t believe still care what anyone else believes?  This is not limited to Mormons; atheists are often asked the same question by believers of all faiths.

If anyone should understand the impetus to share new knowledge gained by hard work and research, however, it should be The Mormons.

The LDS Church sends out tens of thousands of missionaries each year.  Most of those young men and women leave home with the assurance they possess a knowledge that needs to be shared.  They know something that much of the world does not and are desperate to hear.

Those of us who have researched unofficial LDS History,  other faiths, religions, and philosophies also feel that we have discovered something that many around us have not.  We have new knowledge!  New information!  Many of us grew up in homes where knowing Church History was considered a duty and a virtue. When we encounter facts and writings and events that were heretofore unknown to us, our inclination and desire is to share it – especially with our loved ones – even if that knowledge contradicts and calls into question the claims of that same Church.

I left The LDS Church when young and angry and rebellious.  I tried once or twice to discuss my then less-than-scholarly objections with family members, only to feel unheard.  I think it discouraged me from being more frank and honest for years.  As I continue to read more and more, and learn more and more — and there is ALWAYS something more — I want to share my message.  I want to share what I believe to be the truth, as I have it.  I want those I love most to know what I know, because, ultimately it has made me happier and more fulfilled knowing that nothing needs be unquestioned.  Nothing needs be unresearched.  I can try (and fail) to understand EVERYTHING.  Just as LDS missionaries believe their message to be, I believe my message is one of joy and fulfillment!

A former ward-member once chastised me outside of the SLC Temple at a sibling’s wedding.  I penned an unsent letter in which I wrote:

I am not sorry for questioning my beliefs, past or current, even if it seems unpleasant to do so at the time.  I still remember the story of a 14-year-old boy questioning the teachings of those closest to him.

I often ponder Mormons’ seeming distaste for questioning the status quo of their faith whilst simultaneously holding Joseph Smith’s prayer in The Grove in such high esteem.  What if Joseph had been too afraid to walk into that grove?  Too afraid of destroying what he already knew with what he might learn?

Either knowing Church history is a virtue or a vice.  Either questioning is a virtue or a vice.  It can’t be both.

In that same letter, I also wrote:

I will grant that, however unlikely, it is possible that someday, due to continued searching and questioning, I may find that the initial teachings of my life were always correct.  If so, I will humbly admit my mistakes and return.  Having said that, if such a thing does occur, it will not because someone tells me that my father always wanted me to view the Temple, or because I want to see my sister’s wedding.  It will be because I have spent hours, years,  and perhaps decades in careful reflection of those beliefs.  There is no end on the journey for knowledge and understanding; only rest areas.

But you can’t find new knowledge by refusing to look for it.

http://www.cesletter.com

http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director

http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/

Father of the Eon

“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”  — Christopher Hitchens

Religious people, especially Mormons, often talk about how God as if he is like our father. Our “spiritual” father.  He loves each and every one of us. He cares for us, watches our progress, and is either proud or disappointed in us and our choices. That does sound fatherly, doesn’t it?

Except, is it fatherly that He never tells us what He wants? Rather, God told people He knew before we were born to write down what He wants in a language we don’t speak?

Is it fatherly that He doesn’t give us those writings? Rather, we, His children, are supposed to stumble upon those writings, or be told about those writings, and buy those writings, and somehow know that they came from Him?

Is it fatherly that Our Father punishes or rewards us, in this life or the next, on whether we found those writings, then somehow knew that they were His inspired transcriptions, and were somehow able to live up to His demanding expectations?

Is it fatherly of God to utterly ignore us when we ask hard complicated questions?  Is it fatherly to answer, “It’s complicated and mysterious” rather than “Jerry lied on his resume. That’s wrong, so to teach him a lesson I gave him cancer” or “Elaine got HIV by accident. She’s largely a good person.”

Was it fatherly of Our Father to violently drown thousands/millions of our brothers and sisters, even the children and infants and pregnant women, because He was mad with most of the adults?

Is it fatherly to allow thousands of our brothers and sisters die horrifically in a natural catastrophe like an Earthquake when God has the power to prevent it?  Or miraculously save them?  Or even create a planet without tectonic plates in the first place?

If that is what it means to be fatherly, then I am a more terrible father than I first imagined.

Because, when my daughter asks me a question, I answer it as best I can, even if it’s over her head. I don’t ignore her entirely, say nothing, and let a friend who believes he knows what I want her to know tell her that the answer is a book written cryptically in Klingon.

When I want her to clean up her toys, I instruct her, “Clean up your toys, please.” I don’t write my instructions on a Post-It and hide it amongst a pile of other possibly related, but mostly unrelated and historically insignificant Post-Its and expect her to find it, and, if she doesn’t, severely punish her in an obscure way at some point far in the future.

I would never move her into a poorly constructed house prone to causing death and dismemberment and, when the inevitable accident occurred, write on a Post-It, “It’s just a test of your character. I think you’ll do fine with one arm. You can thank me and love me, but blame me or question my motives for this latest hardship and I’ll punish you more.”

God doesn’t act fatherly. He acts exactly as if He didn’t exist.

Intrinsically Impossible Power

In my quest for understanding and empathy, I frequently find myself having imaginary debates with imaginary religious people. Regardless of the subject of the debate, a question I repeatedly ask is, “Why do the religious believe that God is so impotent and powerless?”

That may seem an odd question, assuming that most religious people consider God to be the omnipotent creator of all things – and often the cause of massive, inexplicable miracles. To me however, from the outside perspective, it seems that most religious people have no faith whatsoever in God’s power.

For example, the Christian citizens upset about same-sex marriage. They insist that such a thing would anger and upset God. Yet, same-sex marriage is now common place. God, though ostensibly angered by this, did nothing and has done nothing. Why not? At the very least, He only had to convince only one more Supreme Court justice. Being all powerful, God could have forcibly changed the judge’s mind, or, respecting free-will, could have inspired the anti-marriage lawyers to say just the right thing to change that judge’s mind, or, more theatrically, He could have appeared in the clouds over The Supreme Court saying, “I am Yahweh of The Bible. Hear my words! Read Deuteronomy again! Did I stutter? No legalized marital buggery!”

But He didn’t. If He does exist, and if He does hate same-sex relations, He stood idly by and let a few believers wave signs and holler what they believe to be His wishes.

There are more personal examples; my daughter and I. My wife and I have chosen to raise her in a secular home. As one of God’s beloved children, this must be very troubling to Him. Why would He allow me to teach her about The Big Bang and Evolution? Why wouldn’t He lead me to a convincing apologetic book? Or inspire me to think of something that would lead me back to whatever the right path is? If not for my sake, then for my daughter’s? Instead, He, apparently, leads me to things like http://www.fairmormon.org or http://www.discovery.org/ – ludicrous, flimsy, implausible and dubious explanations of life’s more difficult questions.

I guess I have to assume that, since God has a plan and hasn’t punished me with boils, or whale consumption, or temporary blindness, or a sodium-chloride spouse, my apostasy and blasphemy is all part of that Divine Plan. As is me writing this, you reading it, you considering it, and, possibly, you refuting it in a way that will finally convince me that He’s certainly there and that science and evidence and rational critical thinking are all pointless in the face of pure faith.

As George Carlin so brilliantly put it (cleaned up to avoid over offending):

I’ve often thought people treat God rather rudely, don’t you? Asking trillions and trillions of prayers every day. Asking and pleading and begging for favors. “Do this”, “gimme that”, “I need a new car”, “I want a better job.”

And I say, fine. Pray for anything you want. Pray for anything, but what about The Divine Plan? Remember that? The Divine Plan? Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought. Decided it was a good plan. Put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, The Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a Divine Plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and mess up Your Plan?

And here’s something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? “Well, it’s God’s will.” “Thy Will Be Done.” Fine, but if it’s God’s will, and He’s going to do what He wants to anyway, why bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It’s all very confusing.