I may not believe in god, but I certainly understand why people do. Life is uncertain and the world can be a pretty cold and scary place, no matter what you believe. In such a world, the concept of a benevolent god who watches over each and every one of us and intervenes in events on our behalf can be appealing. The problems begin when one tries to apply that concept to reality.
People have been doing that a lot over the past week.
When James Holmes walked into an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, set off a couple of gas canisters and opened fire on patrons in the dark, some claim god intervened to save them personally. There are a few different versions of what god was doing while the shooting took place. What is certain is this:
The god these people believe in allowed 12 people — including a six-year-old child — to be murdered and 58 people to be wounded.
Meet Pierce O’Farrill. He was in the theater with a friend when Holmes entered. Unlike everyone else in the theater, most of whom thought Holmes was part of the show, O’Farrill says he noticed Holmes, his weapons, garb and gas mask instantly, that everything slowed down and he couldn’t even hear the movie anymore. “Like, literally, I could feel like I could hear his footsteps walking into the theater. I mean, it was just … I was just locked in on him. … It was just a presence, you know, I mean, literally, it was like I could feel, like, just a cloud of evil just walking into the theater.”
O’Farrill was shot twice in the foot by the shotgun and assault rifle, and in his upper left arm with the Glock pistol. He says “there’s no doubt in my mind” that god saved him. Specifically. Why? O’Farrill explains:
“I have prayed so hard for the last year for the lord to just give me a chance to show the world who he is. To show the world how wonderful he is. I do, I believe that he saved me out of that theater so I can show the world that, that there is light.”
Perhaps the others in the theater just didn’t pray hard enough. Or often enough. Or perhaps they did, but god singled out Pierce O’Farrill because he would be the best person to convey his goodness and mercy to the world. He’s a good looking guy, he’s personable. Maybe god looked over everyone in the theater and decided Pierce O’Farrill would look best on television. Maybe god even made the whole thing happen just so he could save O’Farrill to be a big, shiny billboard to his love. Hey, if you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs, right?
Before anyone gets offended at the above paragraph, ask yourself — is that any more ridiculous, laughable or disgusting than what O’Farrill is saying?
When others suggest that if god had been involved, none of this would have happened in the first place, O’Farrill replies that god performed two miracles that night. First, his rifle jammed. Then the bombs in his apartment did not go off. In this massacre, with all this death and bloodshed, these were the miracles O’Farrill says god performed. And this, he says, is supposed to show us who god really is.
That’s some god. He’s a real take-charge kinda guy. Also? A bit of a prick. A limp prick.
But, Ray, you may be saying, how can you criticize this young man, who went through a traumatic, life-threatening ordeal? Doesn’t he have the right to interpret that experience in any way he pleases?
Of course he does, and I would never suggest otherwise. I’m not criticizing O’Farrill personally. I’m criticizing his interpretation of events, which is that god had the power to specifically save him in all that smokey chaos, but he let others die. When someone makes that kind of claim, I have no choice but to respond.
But as mind-boggling as Pierce O’Farrill’s interpretation of those events may be, Brad Strait goes even further with his irrational and cold-blooded explanation. On his blog Celtic Straits: Notes from Life’s Pilgrimage, Strait, a Christian pastor, tells the story of Petra Anderson, a 22-year-old victim of the Aurora shooting and a member of Strait’s congregation.
A blast of James Holmes’s shotgun sent four pellets into Anderson — three into her arm and one into her brain. According to her doctor, that pellet didn’t hit any blood vessels and missed any vital areas of the brain that might have crippled or killed Anderson. Here is Strait’s version of what happened:
“It seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without hitting any significant brain areas. The doctor explains that Petra’s brain has a small ‘fluid pocket’ in it. In our non-medical minds, it is a tiny route of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, winding from front to rear. Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it. It seems many people have these places in their brains, in random places.
“But what is significant is that in Petra’s case, the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this channel. The bullet is channeled from Petra’s nose through her brain. It turns slightly, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself, doing very little damage. Not exactly, but it is like a giant BB through a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, it follows the perfect route. …
“In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: god working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the god I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.”
According to Strait, god did not save Petra Anderson in the theater that night. He saved her 22 years ago, while she was in the womb. Knowing that she would one day be sitting in the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, when a bloody massacre would take place, god traced a path through her brain for the bullet to follow harmlessly so she would not be killed.
22 years ago, James Holmes was two years old. Today, we know that he is severely mentally disturbed. Surely this all-powerful god, who could make adjustments in Petra Anderson’s brain in the womb to save her in a shooting that he knew was going to occur, could have made some adjustments in James Holmes’s brain so that he wouldn’t confuse himself with a comic book villain, dye his hair orange, arm himself like a human tank and shoot up a movie theater full of people. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to focus on one female fetus in the womb, knowing that 12 people would be killed as a result of the shooting. Those 12 people didn’t interest him. But he saved Petra Anderson with “prevenient grace.”
And apparently, Brad Strait and his congregation are just fine with that. Too bad about those 12 dead folks, but hey, god saved one of our people! Yay us!
But it turns out that’s not quite what happened. After a post-surgery MRI, the “miracle” had to be tweaked a little. Dr. Michael Rauzzino, a neurosurgeon who operated on Anderson, says this had nothing to do with a congenital defect in Anderson’s brain, which was no different than anyone else’s. In an update, Strait writes:
“The channel was not a ‘defect,’ as we originally understood it to be. As the family understands it now, it is more of a fluid-filled pocket which starts right where the bullet entered Petra’s brain. Everyone has these channels, it seems, in random places. According to her doctors, the miracle is not that Petra’s brain was different than others, or deformed. The miracle is that the bullet hit Petra exactly where this fluid pocket occurred in her brain, and then traveled a journey through her brain missing all the vital areas.”
As it turns out, god did not make any adjustments to Anderson’s brain in the womb. Instead, he guided the bullet to make sure it struck her in precisely the right place in order to avoid killing her. Let’s be clear: The lord god Jehovah — the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful creator of the universe and all that’s in it, was in the theater. But in his infinite wisdom, he did nothing to stop the massacre. He saved Petra Anderson, but he let 12 people die and 57 others get shot. And that’s a miracle?
Oh, the miracle was that Anderson survived? I see. Because nobody’s ever survived a gunshot wound to the head before. That never happens.
But, Ray, you might be saying, so what if that’s what these people believe? What harm could it possibly do? Why does it bother you so much? What the hell is your problem, anyway?
Okay, I’ll tell you.
Jennifer Seeger was in the theater and was certain her life was about to end. When she and a friend tried to get out of the theater as the gunshots went off, Seeger realized that Holmes was targeting people who were leaving the theater. “He shot people trying to get out the exits,” she said.
And then Holmes came directly toward her, gun aimed. She stared down the barrel, which she thought was the last sight she would ever see. “I was just a deer in the headlights,” Seeger said. “I didn’t know what to do.” Then he fired. But he didn’t shoot her. He shot the person behind her. “I have no idea why he didn’t shoot me,” she said. Fortunately, Seeger got out of the theater safely.
Later, she told her mother, “Mom, god saved me. God still loves me.”
When I read that quote, my heart broke. It’s made up of only eight words, but they tell a sad story.
For some reason, Jennifer Seeger doubted that god still loved her. It seems at one time, she was confident that he loved her, but not anymore. We don’t know why, but that’s not important. Perhaps she’d even reached the conclusion, for whatever reason, that god had stopped loving her. Trust me, when you’re told repeatedly that god is infinitely loving and merciful, and yet you can actually believe that he no longer loves you, then you have to think you’re a pretty worthless, disgusting person. But it happens all the time. It took a mass murder, in which people all around her were being shot and killed, for her to conclude that god did, indeed, still love her. Seeger herself had to look death right in the eye. But more importantly, other people had to die in order for her to be convinced that this allegedly loving and merciful god still loved her.
That is the kind of love this god offers. And that is what bothers me. I’m thrilled that these people survived such a nightmare. But this belief system, which claims to be all about love and peace and humility, has inspired people to think this way about their fellow human beings … and about themselves.
They got killed and I didn’t! That means god loves me! That means I’m important! Even though I’m a detestable sinner, I must still have some worth in the eyes of god, and he just proved it by saving ME while all those OTHERS died!
That is perverse. It’s especially perverse coming from a religion that claims to be all about those other things — you know, love and peace and humility. There is no humility there. It is, whether James O’Farrill and Brad Strait and Jennifer Seeger are aware of it or not, an expression of breathtaking arrogance. I would go so far as to call it a kind of narcissism.
But they don’t see it that way. That’s what is so astonishing. This belief system has so corrupted their minds and perceptions that they cannot understand how anyone could find anything wrong with what they’re saying. After all, this is about love, isn’t it? God saved them because he loved them, right?
How did god feel about the people who were killed? A couple of prominent Christian figures have some explanations.
Jerry Newcombe, spokesman for the Christian group Truth in Action, says we just aren’t afraid enough anymore. There’s not enough fear in the world. He wrote in an article on the Christian website OneNewsNow:
“Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of god. It’s becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it’s all over. But that’s like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where’s the fear of god in our society? I don’t think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of Hell.
“I’ll never forget what an Alabama black pastor said to me one time when I interviewed him about Judge Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments judge. He said: ‘All across America people should stand with Judge Moore about the Ten Commandments. Why? Because when they took prayer out of school, you didn’t hear about kids killing each other, about them bringing dope to school, shooting the teachers, you didn’t hear about that. You see what I’m saying? That’s what’s wrong. We need more god-fearing.’”
Remember all that stuff about love and peace and humility? Well, forget about that crap. You need to be afraid. That’s what real peace is, you know — fear. Maybe if more people were afraid, this wouldn’t have happened. That’s how god shows his love for us and tries to set us back on the right path — by arranging a bloody massacre.
With love like that, who needs death squads?
Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, during an interview on the Heritage Foundation’s radio show Istook Live!, was asked why he thinks things like this happen. He said:
“People say … where was god in all of this? We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use god’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was god? What have we done with god? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”
Forget for the moment the deliberate disinformation about people being threatened with jail for using god’s name and keep in mind that, in addition to being a willfully ignorant, hateful bible-thumper who frequently makes outrageous statements, Gohmert is also a politician, which means his mouth doubles as a rectum. What he’s saying here is that not enough people believe in god. Because as we all know, back when everybody believed in god, there was no senseless violence and everyone loved each other. Oh, sure, there were occasional periods that were problematic. The Dark Ages, for example. But by and large, when everybody believed in god, things were great.
And if you believe that, I have a moon to sell you.
By the way, before he became a U.S. congressman, Gohmert was a judge. That’s right. A judge. I don’t know about you, but the idea of a man who thinks this way holding the fate of other human beings in his hands scares the hell out of me.
Back to Newcombe. On AFA Today, a radio show the Christian hate group the American Family Association, Newcombe explained why these things happen:
“Bottom line is, this is a fallen world, and the scriptures are very clear when it says that we’re all sinners, and this is why god sent his son Jesus to live a perfect life and then die for us as a sacrifice for our sins.”
Because when you think love and peace and humility, you automatically think “human sacrifice.”
“This life is not all there is. If a Christian dies early, if a Christian dies young, although that may seem tragic, in one sense, it’s not as tragic because really, they’re going to a wonderful place, a place beyond even the ability of the human mind to comprehend. On the other hand, if a person doesn’t know Jesus Christ, if they knowingly rejected Jesus Christ, then basically, they’re going to be, you know, going to a terrible place, and so forth. But god allows these things because he’s given us free will. If god intervened every time some attempted tragedy occurred — let’s say every time a person shot a gun, every single time, god intervened and snatched the bullet, and there was no consequence to that, and that happened every single time, free will would be basically taken out of the equation. God has allowed us, as human beings, to have free will, and some people, following their own evil inclination — and we all have evil inclinations — the issue is, how is it that we can curb those evil inclinations? And the ultimate answer is through internal restraints by god. But, anyway, when some people follow their inclinations and they do evil to others, that is the natural consequence of sin. … And yet, in spite of that tragedy, god’s word promises through Jesus Christ that everything that happens to the believer, uh, actually ultimately works for our good.”
Don’t you people understand? This is all for our own good! God has given us free will. We’re always talking about freedom, right? Well, here god has given us freedom. But in order to maintain that — in order for god’s plan of freedom to work — people have to be slaughtered. Why can’t you see that? And the only way to ultimately survive all this bloodshed and misery is to accept Jesus Christ, who died for our sins whether we like it or not.
Because, after all, Christianity is a religion of death that has at its foundation the human sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But in order for all of this to work, god must continue to allow more human sacrifices. And it’s all because he loves us!
And people wonder why I find this belief system so disturbing. What harm does it do? It conditions people to think this way, to actually believe these things. And when something bad happens and they are saved but others are harmed or killed, it means that god loves them, the people who were saved, and somehow, he just couldn’t bring himself to step in and save the others because — well, they must not have been very good people. He didn’t love them as much, or they didn’t pray as hard or believe enough, or something.
Too bad for them! Jesus saved me. That’s all that matters.
I was raised to worship and fear the same god worshiped and feared by these people. Hardly a day goes by when I am not told or in some way made aware of the claim that I should still be worshiping this god, and that I am somehow morally deficient because I don’t. To those of us who do not believe in gods, or perhaps worship other deities, this story of human slaughter is supposed to be an example of Yahweh’s love and mercy. We’re supposed to see in this what a great and powerful god he really is.
I don’t. I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to believe in these things — it’s that I cannot believe in them with a clear conscience and without forcing myself to believe things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
This is the god I’m supposed to worship? This god who obviously has such contempt for the lives of the beings he supposedly created? This is the belief system that I am supposed to respect with my unquestioning silence? I can’t do that. And when people like O’Farrill and Strait and Seeger and Newcombe and Gohmert say these things, I cannot remain silent. I have no choice but to speak up and object.
And yet, people who do worship this god and who say these appalling things that are so bereft of any human compassion — these people are lauded! Our media covers them and lets them tell their stories, and it does not, in any way, question them. Instead, it praises them for being “spiritual.” If that’s spirituality, I want no part of it.
If someone had survived that massacre and claimed that they were saved by aliens from the planet Omicron Persei 8, or by an ancient race of mole people who live in a vast subterranean city, they would be laughed at and ridiculed, and they most certainly would not get a lengthy segment on CNN. But Pierce O’Farrill did. And yet, nothing he said made a bit more sense than the aliens or the mole people.
The fact is, this god isn’t worthy of my worship. He isn’t worthy of my time. He isn’t worthy of anyone’s worship or time. This god should be ashamed of himself. But apparently, he’s too much of a psychopathic monster for that. I resent being told bald-faced lies about how loving and merciful he is and then being expected to keep quiet when I hear jaw-dropping explanations like those above. These statements are anti-intellectual and anti-human. They place the belief in a silent and invisible deity above human life.
Silent and invisible looks a whole lot like … nothing. And this extremely malleable god, who can be whatever you need him to be at any given moment, looks a whole lot like wishful thinking. A god who can be whatever you need him to be is really nothing at all.
There’s an old saying: Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining. I’d like to paraphrase that. Don’t splatter me with blood and tell me it’s the gift of freedom from a loving god. That’s bullshit. And so is that god.
Below are the names of the people some Christians believe were not good enough for the Judeo-Christian god to save. The ripples of pain and devastation sent out by each of these losses are immeasurable. As far as I’m concerned, any god who could have prevented their deaths but did not is a monster.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Alex Sullivan, 27
Micayla Medek, 23
Jessica Ghawi, 24
Navy Petty Officer John Larimer, 27
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Matthew McQuinn, 27
Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress, 29
Alexander Boik, 17
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Alexander Teves, 24
Gordon Cowden, 51