John Minus Kate Divided by 8

Well, its over. America's favourite Christian couple has called it quits, citing personal differences and the strain that raising such a huge number of children has put on their relationship. Never mind all of those conspiracy theories about them having actually filed for divorce two years ago (not true) and claims that they've been cheating on one another. That's not what I want to discuss today. I want to attack their personal view that somehow god was the agent behind them being able to 'pull through'. If they feel that god was the one that got them to this point, how is tearing their family apart part of his marvelous plan? No, you may not use the "God works in mysterious ways" cop-out.

You might not guess it from the show but if you give their book "Multiple Bles8ings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets" a read, you'll see that they're a strongly christian family. Taking a glance at some of the reviews for the book on Amazon.com, you can see that their religious views have really been highlighted in this book. Unfortunately I don't have a copy in front of me to take any quotes from, but some enlightened reviewers have said:
"This book really shows that you should turn to the Lord in tough times."

"Most importantly, I think Kate is a great witness of the Christian faith. Her devotion to God and her family is demonstrated throughout the book. As a Christian and a mother, I learned a lot from this book on patience and love."

"I especially liked that Kate is very forthcoming about her strong faith in God and how He alone brought them through their trials in dealing with twins and sextuplets as toddlers and infants. God's timing is truly perfect, and I found myself moved to tears by some of the miraculous little stories Kate shared."
I'll save you reading the book and give you the truism they're trying to communicate in this book: "If shit gets messy, throw up your hands in defeat and let God take over. Give yourself to christ and everything will work out just fine. See, look, it worked for us!" Wow, how inspiring. This is the part that really grinds my gears: whenever hardship is overcome, you hear them saying "Thanks to God for giving us the strength to get through it". Name one thing that god did, besides exist as an idea in your mind. You could get the same strength in an invisible friend named Grover if you could delude yourself enough to think that he was really there. I can't stand it when people who achieve success credit their work to god instead of themselves and those who really did help. Sports teams who thank god for helping them win the superbowl, or musicians who get up on stage to accept an award and thank god for getting them to where they are. Do you understand how self-serving and ridiculous this sounds? Why did god choose your team, or your band, or your family over all the other ones out there? I guess you just prayed harder, right? Wow, and you thought atheists were arrogant. I've got a better idea: stop trying to look humble via god and give credit where credit is due!

Buy my book so I can feed my kids!

Not to mention this show sets a disturbing precedent of promoting massively large families. It has already inspired copycat shows like 18 Kids and Counting, a strange show about a family that glorifies the idiocy of the Quiverfull movement, which is basically just Christianity for people who love to fuck and want to dump their twisted views on as many minds as they can influence or create. On an unrelated note, if you want to read up on how I feel about overpopulation, check out my previous post on what I think will bring about our demise on this planet.

You know the ones I feel the most sorry for are the kids here. They've been put on display for the world to watch, just like many multiple births in the past, and I can't see how anything positive will come from continuing the family circus. They've got enough money to raise the family, and the fame is already starting to rot the core and tear them apart. If they really did care about their kids, they'd put an end to this right now. They're not an inspiration, they're a trainwreck, and perhaps now that their family is crumbling, they'll take a moment to wonder if THIS was all part of god's big plan too.

I'm not holding my breath though. It seems like the crappier things go for people of faith, the more they claim the event has 'only strengthened their faith in god'. Wake up people! He didn't get you in this mess, and he's not going to save you either.


God Provides?

There is a very old and rather cliched joke about a devout Christian who was warned on the radio that the river next to his house was rising and would flood the town and that all of the residents should evacuate their homes. The man saw no need to evacuate. "I'm religious," he told himself. "I pray. God loves me. God will save me." So time went by and the river swelled and flooded the first floor of his house. A neighbour in a row boat came along and, seeing him through the second story window, shouted, "Hey, you in there! The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety." But the man shouted back, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me and God will save me." The waters continued to rise and soon the man was forced up on to his roof. A helicopter came by and lowered him a rope ladder. The pilot shouted down to him in a megaphone, "Hey you, down there. The town is flooding. Climb up this ladder and I'll take you to safety." But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and would take him to safety. The man drowned and standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. "Lord," he said, "I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?" God said, "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"

Following up on the last topic of prayer, another promise religions seem to make is that God is watching out for us and is there to provide for us. This is a common theme reiterated time and again to tired, frustrated parishioners from the pulpits. The Bible is full of promises that if one lives a moral life (according to Yahweh) or has faith in Jesus, they will be rewarded.

Televangelists often attempt the argument that if a person gives their heart and mind to Jesus they ought to demonstrate that trust with their pocketbooks. Trust God with your finances, they say, he wants you to be wealthy and happy. I'm thinking of Joel Osteen and his prosperity gospel but there are many others, the minister in my local pentecostal church, for example. If you give ten percent of your income to God, he will give you a return on that investment in terms of the blessings he will shower upon you.

This is probably an instance where the "man-made" aspect of religion shines through a little stronger than others. Interestingly, though not at all surprising, religions never use this psychology on themselves. The local Roman Catholic church decided that due to the high volume of parishioners it now claimed, a building expansion was required. So a committee was struck to approve the plans and begin fundraising. Then parishioners were called on to donate money directly through mail campaigns, as extra at collection, and through special fundraising events. All of these activities were completely orchestrated by humans, driven by a goal.

So where is God in all of that? It seems strange to preach to the congregation that God looks after your finances and will bless you and make you wealthy, yet at the same time, when his own house needs fixing, he relies on his followers to do EVERYTHING. You would almost think, if religion wasn't entirely false, that God might throw in some money of his own or he could just make a new building appear for them and save them the trouble. I guess the age of such miracles is past us, but why are we now reduced to "finding God" in the work of human beings? If one contractor donates the materials out of a sense of religious and civic duty, praise is given to God. God should only be given praise for things he actually did, by himself, without the aid of humans. But then what would that leave?

The common rebuke of the religious is that God works through human beings. He uses us (like puppets?) to do his good works. That contractor must have done the good deed because God made him do it, a claim the contractor might discount. Or we can take a less direct and less objectionable approach by diluting God and his powers down to being synonymous with any good deed. We find evidence of God in good works or God is the good works of others. This means nothing, it is purely semantics; a rhetorical trick where one changes the definition of God to equal good deeds and then can successfully argue that because good deeds exist, then God also must.

To return to the opening narrative about the religious man, either the helicopter and the rowboat pilots were compelled by God to go help the man, in which case free will has been decimated. Or they felt a compulsion based upon their own moral convictions, in which case they themselves were responsible for attempting to rescue the man. How then did God, "send" them? This is a question with implications beyond the scope of this post, but it is enough to point out that the joke's punchline does not, at a closer, more theological view, provide a simple easy answer to the question of why God seemingly does not provide for his people.

I think it would show greater faith, if the particular Roman Catholic church I spoke of before, or any such religious center in general, rather than do the work themselves to build and rebuild the temporal lodgings of the divine, simply prayed for God to provide for them. If prayer, trust and faith are enough for the faithful, they should be good enough for the priests, right?

There is, of course, an example where the faithful did exactly that. There was a certain United Church that fell on tough times. It had a long and proud history, from humble beginnings meeting in a tiny one room church at the turn of the century, to growing into a large congregation, having multiple additions to the building, suffering the deaths of many members during the First and Second World Wars, and continuing to grow throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, managing to make it to its 120th anniversary. As the east end of London began to decline and families generally moved to more affluent areas, church attendance and revenue began to decline. When the minister retired, the church committee prayed hard and long before selecting a replacement, hoping that God would aid them in their decision and send a saviour. The replacement minister was not a success and through his dull sermons and offensive manner, drastically swelled the decline. By the end of the decade, after much prayer and reflection, as well as heated debate, he was forced out by the saddened parishioners and replaced with another minister, who promised to get the job done of increasing attendance. A few years later the church closed, having failed to bring in new regularly attending members, and unable to afford the rather costly maintenance bills for such a massive centennial building. What remained of the church membership was amalgamated with another more successful church in a different part of town.

How does the closing of this church and the loss of so much of its history and members, factor into God's plan? Where was he? When the church committees prayed for God's aid and guidance, why did he not offer it? If he did, it was faulty. Why did he want a church to grow and then die? Obviously such questions are silly. This church's problems were demographic not theological, but yet it raises them nonetheless. Why couldn't the church afford its bills to stay open and provide community services for the local people of the east end? Why couldn't God have aided them? Why didn't God provide? No explanation was ever requested, nor provided.

United Church members are among the most liberal and worldly of the protestant denominations and never questioned the fact that it was worldly factors which led to the church's closing. The faithful are very reluctant to blame God today for effects which have causes which we can clearly identify scientifically as having natural explanations, without any sort of supernatural requirement.

Clearly from countless examples across the world, God does not provide for his people. His people still suffer and lose their wealth and he does nothing. They pray and ask for guidance and instead, his churches close and discontinue important social services. They grow and require structural improvements and he does nothing, so they do it for him. God does not provide because God does not exist and what is most interesting is observing the dissonance between how the faithful insist he does, yet are forced to live their lives as though he does not, taking matters into their own hands whenever something useful must be done. God helps those who help themselves, the proverb goes, and today the faithful are subconsciously aware that much like the religious man on the roof, failure to acknowledge the laws of nature means death. Unfortunately, there is no God waiting on the other side of death with a humorous punchline.


Doing Nothing

Welcome welcome, today's topic is prayer. Yes that's right, it is time to take the magnifying glass to another building block of faith, or as I like to picture them, ants.

Such a serious topic. You disagree? Go look at the search results for 'prayer' on google images. Look how serious those people look!

If this guy was any more serious, he'd be in a gravitas-off with Stone Phillips. Alright, so we've established that prayer is a central, important activity for the faithful, and even extends beyond the boundaries of one religion. It makes its presence known in each of 'the big three', as well as variations in many other spiritual outlets around the world. However, prayer obviously comes in as many flavours as Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Some light candles, some get out the doormat, some wash, some make a sign, and some don't eat. Whatever the case, what actually happens when someone prays?

I recall wondering this same question when I was a child and feeling disappointed that everyone else seemed to 'get it' while I had no idea what was going on. I was told that prayer was a chance for me to 'talk to God' or 'have a conversation', and when I looked around at all the other kids deep in concentration, I figured they were actually conversing with God. I didn't understand why when I closed my eyes and concentrated, nothing happened. Literally. I heard my own voice in my head, then waited for a reply, only to be greeted with silence. I wondered what I was doing wrong that all the other kids got to hear what god sounds like, but I couldn't. It wasn't until I was much older that I became aware that I wasn't the only one getting god's answering machine. So without all the pomp and reverence, prayer is:

Closing your eyes, concentrating, then talking to yourself.

How, then, is praying any different than making a wish, or even daydreaming? You go through the same actions, although maybe thinking about a different subject, and you get the same answers. Oh, but prayer is addressed to God, you say. I used to address my christmas list to Santa until I figured out that unless my parents were cc'ed a copy, I probably wouldn't be seeing those presents. There is physically nothing different when a person says a prayer for their sick child and when they wish for them to get better. Labelling it as a 'prayer' doesn't somehow send out a beam of spiritual energy to empower the petitioner. Apparently, a few religious leaders have realized the stupidity of this 'talking to oneself' and come up with a new form of prayer they call Listening Prayer which involves convincing people that the reason they're not hearing god speak to them is because they're doing it wrong and simply aren't 'tuned-in' to god while they pray. Oh my, aren't we being pretentious now? Well I can be churlish, so for the rest of this post, we'll refer to prayer by a new name: Doing Nothing.

When someone says to you "I'll pray for you", I don't thank them, I say thanks for nothing, because in essence what they've said to you is "I care about you, but not enough that I'd actually get off my ass and do something to help you".

But prayer doing nothing works, you say! Does it? Well, despite what your personal experience might lead you to believe, when you take large numbers of people (an appropriate sample size) and run the tests under controlled conditions, there is no effect. Perhaps your great aunt's miraculous recovery gained its strength from the fact that she had the social support of a family that loved her and hoped she got better, or maybe another phenomenon that is not fully understood played some part, such as the placebo effect. Francis Galton showed this over one hundred years ago with his study on Royals and the efficiacy of doing nothing. It does nothing to further our understanding of what is happening by attributing the reason to a force that is beyond our comprehension or control. In fact, I have always considered the 'God is beyond our understanding' argument to be incredibly weak, simply because if he was truly beyond our understanding, that invalidates any claims that the religious can make about him. Unless of course those who say this are actually arrogant enough to believe they posess mental powers that the rest of the population does not, as Bill Maher so eloquently put in his film Religulous. I'm getting off-topic though.

In the end, I think we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we're so special that when we close our eyes and open our hearts, there will always be a person listening to us and to us specifically. No matter how lonely we our, how much everyone else hates us, there is an operator on our mental line who never needs to put us on hold. What a comforting, yet naive thought. What it comes down to is the reason for your doing nothing. Do you want to actually do something about the problem, or do you just want to feel better about it? Atheists such as myself don't have the luxury of this choice, although I'm sure actually doing something about a problem would probably have a greater effect in the end.

As Robert Ingersoll once said, "Hands that help are far better than lips that pray".


Lets Roll!

Our first dose of publicity! Maybe this is what it feels like to bring software out of the beta testing phase.

We've joined forces with the Atheist Blogroll run by Mojoey, a blogroll with over 700 other atheist bloggers such as ourselves already posting and sharing their thoughts. I hope this will bring us a visitor or two, and I'm really looking forward to what the future has in store!

And here's your WTF image of the day!

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