Reason 4

To help with earthly problems

I’m talking here about divine intervention. i.e. miracles or prayers being answered. Not words of wisdom in an ancient text that some use as a “life coach”. You only need the text for that, not the God who inspired it and who hasn’t been heard from since.

This one seems similar to the forgiveness argument, but it isn’t really tied to guilt.

In my country of Australia, an illustration of the level of belief that God is actually of practical use to humans is a joint advertising campaign by the major Christian sects, the slogan of which is “Jesus, all about life”.

Now I’m not suggesting that followers of a God don’t feel that their lives are somehow improved by praying, singing, dancing, (well waving their arms in the air), wailing, rocking, walking in circles, mock or real mutilation of themselves, handing over their money, reading ancient religious texts or (more commonly) having them interpreted for their consumption.

However, a God isn’t necessary to perform all of that religious routine and ceremony. He pretty much delegates all that to his mortal lieutenants and followers. It’s when the going gets really rough in one’s life that direct supernatural action would be of great help.

Clearly there are theists who believe in times like these (e.g. severe illness, missing pets, boats lost at sea) that their prayers (read begging god to intervene in the physical world) are answered. They often receive proof of these miracles. The sick person was cured; the dog came home; the boat was found!

I hope there’s no need to insult your intelligence with an explanation of how the physical world works, such that all these occurrences are perfectly possible in a universe controlled by the known laws of nature/physics, without solicited supernatural intervention. Some may seem statistically improbable, but so are the odds of any one individual ever winning Powerball.

I’m sure if a census was taken of every prayer asked of God, the balance of “response” to “no response” would be heavily in favour of the “no response” side. Why might this be?

The explanation common to the Christian faith is that “God works in mysterious ways” or my favourite “God did answer, just that the answer was no”. I’ll deal more with these convenient excuses later, but for now let’s avoid those obviously weak explanations and look at an illustration of how an interaction with God might work in a theist’s life.

I have a big problem, my child is dying of cancer. We’ve tried doctors (God helps those who help themselves) but they are failing, so I start talking (praying) to my silent and invisible God.

I’m no idiot, so I realise that there’s a chance he won’t answer or do anything, because it’s his mysterious way to pick and choose who is worthy. He might think refusing my most serious of requests (literally life and death) in favour of helping a football team win their grand final is justifiable on some divine ethical basis we humans just can’t fathom.

The parents of the child in the bed next to us in the hospital are also praying to my God for their child to survive. Perhaps he will pick one or the other to save, perhaps both, perhaps neither.

I don’t know about you, but that situation doesn’t look like it would give me a great deal of comfort, or my child much reliable help. Let’s look at both possible outcomes of the prayers.

(a) My child starts turning the corner and getting better. His cancer goes into remission despite the doctors saying that he had a 1% chance of survival (or 1 in 100. Vastly better odds than winning any lottery). God has surely answered my prayers, it’s a miracle!

(b) My child dies after an extended period of pain and suffering, with fear in his eyes. God has decided that he could suffer and die, I can suffer for the rest of my life, my wife can, his siblings can, his grandparents can, his friends can, and the world is better off without him.

God has either abandoned me, doesn’t exist, or has reasons for causing all this suffering that I can’t understand. Either way I’m not real happy, will probably never have comfort (about this), and I have no way of rationalising any of it because God hasn’t deemed me worthy enough to explain himself.

Not really feeling the slogan, “Jesus, all about life”.

One apparently logical argument for God being necessary in cases like these is that if you don’t believe at all then your chances of getting help goes from slight to nil (gotta be in it to win it!). It’s essentially like playing a slot machine for free. When the possible rewards are so high, it’s better to play than not.

Pretty powerful psychological pull, again based on fear and/or reward. If the first time you pull the slot machine lever you (seemingly) get a payout, you’re more likely to play again. If your parents, family and friends all play the slots and your teachers tell you it’s not only good, it’s compulsory, even more chance you’ll play.

I can’t understand how intelligent people can rationalise away the complete incongruity of an omnipresent , supremely powerful, loving God who promises help from suffering, on earth, now, via worship and prayer, but at the same time doles out both assistance and suffering on a seemingly random basis, without explanation or excuse.

Even the Pope doesn’t really trust God to intervene on his behalf. He prefers to rely (somewhat logically) on 3 inches of bullet proof glass and lots of human bodyguards instead.

The same people who laugh derisively at the “primitive” savages who sacrificed animals to a God to get crops to grow, will get down on their knees to talk to a statue of a distinctly European looking Jewish Israelite, tortured and dead on a cross, and beg for help they know they only have a very remote chance of getting.

I know some of us would rather play the divine slot machine of miracles than not. However, I put to you that I can demonstrate the same statistical success rate in getting a “miracle” by asking my dog for one.

It may look like there’s nothing to lose playing the mystic slots (except some sanity). However, if civilisation had stuck to sacrificing goats to God to get our crops to grow, we never would have discovered fertilisers and plant breeding, and we’d all still be eating ancient strains of poorly yielding grains.

So what does an atheist do about problems? Pretty obvious really. Faces reality and tries hard to solve them in the physical world.

If things don’t work out in a positive way for us, at least we don’t have any additional mental anguish over why our God decided not to help us.

If they do work out, we might have learned a valuable lesson in how to solve a problem using our own resources, which will be of more help to us (and others) in the future, than gambling on the mystical slot machine again.

So you can hardly say God is necessary to help you with problems, or even reliable (just ask the Pope). At best he/she is a possible explanation for a positive (or negative) outcome; but so is my dog.

Perhaps they should change the slogan to “Jesus, occasionally about life”.