Most atheists and agnostics I know arrived at that position after a great deal of thought, and a careful weighing of the evidence concerning the existence or non-existence of not just the Christian God, but of the entire supernatural realm. Most of us were indoctrinated in some religion or other as children, and chose to reject it (sometimes painfully) for reasons we found personally compelling. For some of us, our decision was due to lack of evidence for the supernatural, for others it was acceptance of scientific principals that reduced religious claims to the absurd, and for still others it was critical observance of conditions in the world that simply precluded the existence of any of the “standard” Gods currently being worshiped, conditions such as the existence of evil and suffering.
Bart D. Ehrman is a legitimate biblical scholar, who has written over twenty books dealing with biblical history, Christianity in general and Jesus Christ in particular, including two New York Times best sellers, Jesus Interrupted and God’s Problem. The latter deals with the reasons Dr. Ehrman describes himself as an agnostic, the problem of the existence of evil and suffering.
This is not in any way a review of God’s Problem, although I highly recommend the book to anyone searching for an excellent discussion of the problem. I’m writing because, as I was reading along, a few paragraphs jumped out at me as they expressed thoughts that were nearly identical to those that started me on the road to atheism.
How many of us have been admonished by concerned parents to “Finish eating your dinner, and don’t waste food, because there are starving children in Africa,” or some variation? On page 129 of God’s Problem (in the paperback version), Ehrman discusses his thinking concerning the saying of “grace” at mealtime:
“…But there came a time in my life that I could no longer thank God for my food. And the irony is that it was because I came to realize (or, at least came to think) that if I was thanking God for providing me with my sustenance, and acknowledging that I was fed not because of my own good efforts but because of his gracious actions toward me, then by implication I was saying something about those who didn’t have food. If I have food because God has given it to me, then don’t others lack food because God has chosen not to give it to them? By saying grace, wasn’t I in fact charging God with negligence or favoritism? If what I have is because of what he has given me, what about those who are starving to death? I’m surely not that special in the eyes of the Almighty. Are these others less worthy? Or is he starving them intentionally? Is the heavenly Father capricious? Or mean-spirited? What would we think of an earthly father who starved two of his children and fed only the third even though there was enough food to go around? And what would we think of the fed child expressing her deeply felt gratitude to her father for taking care of her needs, when her two siblings were dying of malnutrition before her very eyes?” (emphasis in the original)
It was thinking like this that first made me feel as though the conditions in the world didn’t reflect the things I was hearing in Sunday school. I found it difficult to reconcile an all-knowing, all-loving God with starving children in Africa, or anywhere for that matter. This is before I even considered the details of all those old testament myths and folk tales, and what they said about the moral and ethical standards of the God of the bible.
All things considered, it is difficult for me to see how any thinking person could possible reconcile the conditions that exist on earth with any of the Gods of any of the religions of which I’m aware.