Theists have a script. No, seriously. They must. How else could it be that the very first response of every single theist ever to every single atheist ever is that we are ignorant about their scriptures and their religion? We haven’t read the whole thing, they complain, or we are taking it out of context, or we are cherry-picking the worst parts, or we are mis-translating, or yada yada yada. So let me put this caveat out there right up front: Every single one of the following statements can be found at any of countless online Christian ministries. The sentiments represented are ubiquitous not only in the Christian meme-o-sphere, but in discussions with Christians themselves. There has been no cherry-picking; there is no context to these outside of the standalone images and “whisper quotes” circulating on the Internet; nothing has been translated from ancient Hebrew into English by Google. This is their theology, in their own words, in all its contradictory and self-refuting glory.
1. “Nothing can stop God’s plan!” → “Pray because prayer changes things!”
Say what now? If nothing can stop god’s plan, doesn’t that include prayer? And if it does, then why pray? And if it doesn’t, why are they lying and claiming that nothing can stop it when something actually can stop it?
2. “God never gives you more than you can handle!” → “God WILL give you more than you can handle!”
So, is god making you suffer because he knows you can take it – or is he trying to break you so that you feel you have no choice but to run to him? (This claim is everywhere in online Christian circles – which, as an aside, is kind of a dick move on god’s part.) He either does or he doesn’t. Which is it?
3. “Every person in your life was sent by God for a reason!” → “God will never send you another woman’s husband!”
So let me get this straight: If a married man comes into my life he was sent by god, but because he is married he wasn’t sent by god? Or, he was sent by god, but not so I could fall in love with him? So if I fall in love with him, that wasn’t the plan? But then, how does that square with item 1A above about everything happening being part of god’s plan? Does anyone else’s head hurt?
4. “God gives us what we need, not what we want!” → “Sometimes God gives you what you want so you can see it’s not what you need!”
Geez Louise, god, can you stop being a dick for like five minutes?
5. “Everything that happens is part of God’s plan!” → “Don’t blame God for the bad things that happen to you, blame your own bad choices / people’s free will!”
In my unscientific observations, the “everything according to god’s plan” line usually comes up in the context of first world problems – unemployment, relationship woes, financial troubles, and similar personal challenges. Those are the times when it’s convenient to say god is working in your favor even if you can’t understand how. The moment you bring up hunger, or rape, or child abuse, or famine, all of a sudden god is no longer responsible, because whoa, man, you can’t blame god for that shit when it’s people who are bad! This leaves theists with the uncomfortable dilemma of having a god who intervenes in the easy stuff, like finding you a job, but can’t be bothered with the big things, like making sure babies don’t get raped; or of claiming two things that cannot simultaneously be true.
6. “God is directing all of your steps!” → “People have free will!”
If god is directing all of my steps, I don’t have free will. If I have free will, god is not directing my steps. Ironically, if theists would simply choose one of these it would be logically defensible (though it would still be false). As it stands, these claims are incompatible.
7. “God is all-powerful!” → “Satan exists!”
There is no reason for an all-powerful, all-loving god to allow a character like Satan to run wild tempting and destroying people unless he (a) is not all-powerful and is incapable of defeating Satan, or (b) he is not all-loving and Satan just makes a good scapegoat or good entertainment (or both). If Satan is real, then your god is either impotent or incompetent.
8. “God is all-forgiving!” → “Hell exists!”
“There’s nothing I won’t forgive you for! Except for this list of things that I won’t forgive you for!”
9. “God is all-loving!” → “God will punish the wicked!”
“You can freely choose whether or not to love me! And if you choose not to, you will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity! And yeah, genocide and war and child rape and disease and famine and natural disasters, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you coz I do! For realz! Even those idolaters and fornicators and blasphemers and apostates and unbelievers that I am condemning to hell! Love ya, mean it!”
10. “God is always in control / has a plan / answers prayers / will make a way / has put you where he wants you / is the reason for everything you have / bestows blessings / heals / creates miracles!” → “God can’t stop people from raping children / committing murder / starting wars / perpetrating genocide / torturing / lying / stealing / hurting each other because that would take away their free will!”
And finally we get to the crux of why religion does not hold water: Because Christian theology claims perpetual, continuous, incessant intervention by god in the most minute details of your life while simultaneously claiming god cannot intervene to stop suffering because that would take away free will. If intervention impedes free will, then god should never intervene in any human affairs for any reason. If he intervenes to, say, send the right people into your life, or send you the storm to make you see he is the only shelter, or answer your prayers, or direct your steps, how is that any less an infringement upon free will than saving children from rape and starvation? Or stopping the Holocaust? Or teaching humans to be kind to each other? Never mind, I’ll answer that for you: It isn’t. It’s just that it’s easy to give god credit for being The Best Thing Ever when the stakes are low, but when the stakes are high god miraculously no longer plays by the same rules and must be held to a different (read: lower) standard than his flawed, sinful creations.
Christian apologists, if you’re out there, you’re going to want to attack me for misunderstanding or misrepresenting your religion. However, you might want to consider redirecting that energy to the myriad Christian ministers and self-appointed spokespeople who are out there selling a version of your faith with which you disagree and making so many claims that cannot simultaneously be true. After all, it’s not actually my responsibility to correct your theology. That’s supposed to be your job.