For the well-meaning Christian: credit to whom credit is due.

Speak­ing of giv­ing cred­it to whom cred­it is due, many thanks to Tama­ra Rice for help­ing me solid­i­fy some of my thoughts on this top­ic.

Ren­der to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; cus­tom to whom cus­tom; fear to whom fear; hon­or to whom hon­or.”
Romans 13:7

I don’t have health insurance.

Haven’t had for 3 years.

I know this is a weird place to start, but bear with me, okay?

Despite the Afford­able Care Act mak­ing insur­ance more afford­able*, I’ve been liv­ing pay­check to pay­check all of my adult life. Health insur­ance is just one of many things sim­ply out of my reach, along with things like den­tal care, a sav­ings account, or reg­u­lar car main­te­nance. Cou­pled with extreme anx­i­ety in the face of sched­ul­ing any sort of appoint­ment, let alone a doctor’s appoint­ment, I let sev­er­al of my chron­ic phys­i­cal health prob­lems go untreat­ed for the bet­ter part of 6 years. Things like asth­ma, chron­ic migraines, and PCOS.

It wasn’t until I lit­er­al­ly began to fear for my life after months of intense breath­ing prob­lems that I found the courage (aid­ed by my mom and my part­ner) to become a patient at the local free health clin­ic. I’m relieved and thrilled to report that now, all of my most press­ing chron­ic health prob­lems are receiv­ing treat­ment, and I’m already see­ing so much good from it all.

The reac­tion to this from many in my life who were deeply con­cerned about my health has been, “We’re so thank­ful to the Lord that you’re get­ting healthy.” In fact, the last time I was at the clin­ic and was giv­en more treat­ment for var­i­ous health prob­lems, I breathed a sigh of relief and instinc­tive­ly thought to myself, “Thank God.”

Don’t get me wrong, the phrase “thank God” is often just that — a phrase. It doesn’t always lit­er­al­ly mean the per­son utter­ing or think­ing it is actu­al­ly ren­der­ing thanks­giv­ing to a divine being. A lot of times, it’s sim­ply meant to con­vey gen­er­al­ized grat­i­tude. And for some­one who spent over 20 years as a Chris­t­ian, speak­ing the lan­guage of the reli­gion, of course it’s an easy thing for me to say with­out thought.

But as I thought to myself, “thank God,” it occurred to me that who I real­ly ought to thank were the vol­un­teers at the clin­ic who were pro­vid­ing me with qual­i­ty, com­pas­sion­ate care and treat­ment free of charge.

That’s why I make sure, dur­ing every vis­it, to express my deep­est thanks to those who are vol­un­teer­ing their time, mon­ey, and atten­tion for the health of the com­mu­ni­ty.

I think we real­ly do a dis­ser­vice to our­selves and the peo­ple around us when we attribute the good or bad things actu­al­ly done by peo­ple to the super­nat­ur­al, or even to some sort of intrin­sic good­ness like hard work. I don’t begrudge peo­ple the com­fort they take in believ­ing a divine cre­ator has orches­trat­ed their life to their ben­e­fit, or even want­i­ng to believe that bad things have hap­pened due to an invis­i­ble malev­o­lent force. I just can’t help but notice how this ten­den­cy to cred­it the super­nat­ur­al with what man or chance has wrought often serves to cre­ate a dis­con­nect between us and our com­mu­ni­ties.

To God be the glory?

When I was a Chris­t­ian, I remem­ber being supreme­ly thank­ful to God every time I found my way on the oth­er side of a hard­ship, great or small.

Whether I real­ized it or not, I was giv­ing God the glo­ry for things that weren’t His doing.

I con­stant­ly down­played my own strength (after all, I was noth­ing with­out Christ, remem­ber). I con­stant­ly took for grant­ed the gen­eros­i­ty and sup­port of those around me, because they were just tools God was using to min­is­ter to me. Not only that, but this view­point encour­aged me to over­look the many priv­i­leges I enjoyed that helped me over­come hard­ships: priv­i­leges like rel­a­tive phys­i­cal and men­tal health, the col­or of my skin, the finan­cial secu­ri­ty of being part of a mid­dle class fam­i­ly, the sup­port of a com­mu­ni­ty of like-mind­ed believ­ers, and my edu­ca­tion, among oth­er things. As a result, I often lacked the per­spec­tive required to be tru­ly thank­ful to those who helped me, to grow in my appre­ci­a­tion of my own capa­bil­i­ties, or even to take into account the luck of the draw of my cir­cum­stances. After all, God was pro­vid­ing. To Him be the glo­ry, not any man. Right?

I think this ten­den­cy to thank God for good things comes from the dis­tinct­ly pes­simistic belief that good­ness can’t exist apart from God; there­fore, all good things must stem from God. (Once again, I must link to Dan Fincke’s excel­lent essay on the top­ic.) In my for­mer branch of Chris­tian­i­ty, we often referred to Mark 10:18 when talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of intrin­sic good­ness in human­i­ty. Not only was no one good but God, but we beliv­ed no one was capa­ble of good.

Attribut­ing good­ness to God rather than rec­og­niz­ing it in our­selves or our fel­low man doesn’t exact­ly pro­mote healthy rela­tion­ships.  As Neil Carter says, “At its core, the Chris­t­ian message—or at least the Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian message—is anti-human­is­tic. Rather than affirm­ing what is good with­in human­i­ty, it begins with a con­dem­na­tion of all that is bad (even resort­ing to call­ing some things “bad” which are noth­ing of the sort). In order to do this well, it must mag­ni­fy in us what­ev­er isn’t as good as it could be. It must focus on the human neg­a­tives, empha­siz­ing every short­com­ing peo­ple have.”

What if I had just said, “Thank God!” about my health­care rather than rec­og­niz­ing it wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out the efforts of many peo­ple vol­un­teer­ing their time, mon­ey, and resources? On the small, imme­di­ate scale, I wouldn’t have thanked my nurse as thor­ough­ly as I did. Maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, or even some­thing large­ly notice­able to most peo­ple. On a larg­er scale, how­ev­er, it would have allowed me to ignore the com­mu­ni­ty of good peo­ple around me for the belief that God sin­gles me out for bless­ings above oth­ers. It’s dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a mean­ing­ful and healthy emo­tion­al bond with peo­ple when you believe both that they’re inher­ent­ly evil and only tools in God’s hands.

This nec­es­sar­i­ly dove­tails into talk­ing about prayer and mir­a­cles, though I wish to only touch on those things a lit­tle bit. I think Cas­sidy says it best: “when Chris­tians beg their god for a mir­a­cle, even pri­vate­ly, even des­per­ate­ly, even from the purest place pos­si­ble in their hearts, what they are ask­ing is for their god to ignore all the oth­er peo­ple need­ing that exact help to help them.”

Put anoth­er way, when we claim that God has blessed us, we’re say­ing our sit­u­a­tion was some­how deemed more wor­thy by God than the 21,000 chil­dren world­wide who died pre­ventable deaths today, or the 293,066 vic­tims of sex­u­al assault last year (not even count­ing the chil­dren under the age of 12), or the 610,042 home­less peo­ple in the Unit­ed States alone, or any num­ber of oth­er atroc­i­ties He appar­ent­ly allows for rea­sons that are, of course, high­er than ours.

Do we not see the arro­gance of this sort of think­ing? Do we lack the col­lec­tive social aware­ness and intro­spec­tion that would reveal such claims to be jar­ring­ly incon­sis­tent at best? Or do we real­ly think that every good gift comes from above in spite of the choic­es we and the bil­lions around us and before us make?

Of course, maybe cir­cum­stances in our lives aren’t all that good. Maybe they’re being influ­enced by some…oth­er…super­nat­ur­al being.

Seeking whom he may devour.+

Plen­ty of Chris­tians attribute lack of bless­ings or pres­ence of tri­als in their lives or the lives of oth­ers to some lack of dili­gence on an individual’s part. This is just one of many ways Chris­tians seek to make their faith con­ve­nient­ly impos­si­ble to dis­prove. Maybe there is sin in your life, or God is telling you to wait, or He is try­ing to teach you patience. After all, as Cas­sidy says, “When we mis­tak­en­ly believe that our suf­fer­ing has some super­nat­ur­al pur­pose and cause, we start think­ing we can influ­ence the events that lead to our suf­fer­ing.”

But there’s anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty that nev­er fails to astound me, despite the fact that I enter­tained this pos­si­bil­i­ty reg­u­lar­ly, though qui­et­ly, as a sin­cere Chris­t­ian.

Satan wants to ruin your day, your tes­ti­mo­ny, or your life.

I’ve heard the dev­il cred­it­ed for try­ing to tear a fam­i­ly apart when a vic­tim of incest steps for­ward about their abuse. He’s also appar­ent­ly inter­est­ed in delay­ing the trav­el plans of God’s anoint­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly if they’re going some­where to colo­nial­ize the hea­then…I mean, to do God’s work. Did you know that Satan can cause car prob­lems, finan­cial dis­tress, mar­i­tal trou­ble, and health prob­lems both phys­i­cal and men­tal? It’s almost like Satan is the anti-god: just as pow­er­ful as the almighty, but total­ly out to get you.

Ignor­ing that this attri­bu­tion of so much pow­er to Satan utter­ly negates the so-called belief in an all-pow­er­ful God, there are more rea­sons this view is pret­ty awful and has seri­ous real-life ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

It’s hypocritical.

They’ll nev­er own up to it, of course, but a lot of Chris­tians use this excuse when they think that they’re too spir­i­tu­al for sin in their own lives to be the cause of their prob­lems. Being an athe­ist who finds the con­cept of sin utter­ly unhelp­ful, I total­ly think sin has noth­ing to do with it. But maybe it’s nei­ther sin nor Satan, but the result of a deci­sion you made? I mean, maybe Satan isn’t tar­get­ing you and dis­man­tling your car because you had an impor­tant mis­sion to accom­plish for God…maybe you just ignored the “check engine” light for way too long. I’m just say­ing.

It ignores the autonomy of yourself and others.

In my view, this lack of aware­ness is part and par­cel of Chris­tian­i­ty. Nev­er­the­less, attribut­ing some­thing to Satan that’s a direct or indi­rect result of choic­es that humans made strips peo­ple of all auton­o­my and respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own lives and their duty as humans to the com­mu­ni­ty around them.

It encourages a lack of personal responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a “boot-straps” kind of per­son. I absolute­ly rec­og­nize there are social sys­tems in place that pro­vide a frame­work for cir­cum­stances to unfold in gen­er­al­ly pre­dictable ways. I also rec­og­nize that some­times bad things just hap­pen. But as I point­ed out in the pre­vi­ous point, some­times bad things hap­pen because I made a bad deci­sion. Whether I knew that deci­sion was bad when I made it or not, the sit­u­a­tion that unfolds as a result isn’t because God is test­ing me, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t because a supreme fall­en angel inter­vened in my life.

It glosses over abuse.

In any case of abuse — sex­u­al, phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, finan­cial, men­tal — please, please hear me out. Abuse is not Satan try­ing to tear a com­mu­ni­ty apart or try­ing to get a strong­hold some­where. Abuse is the fault of the abuser, and to attribute that dam­age to any­one oth­er than the abuser enables a sys­tem where abuse can flour­ish unchecked. This is dam­ag­ing to indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties both, and is a real­ly fright­en­ing and unac­cept­able way of inter­pret­ing the evil things humans do.

It enables people to be unthinkingly insensitive.

I’m large­ly think­ing of phys­i­cal and men­tal mal­adies here, like the times when the Bible says Jesus or His dis­ci­ples or apos­tles would cast demons out of peo­ple who seemed to be clear­ly exhibit­ing signs of phys­i­cal or men­tal ill­ness. In fact, because I noticed this cor­re­la­tion even as a child read­ing the Bible, I grew up believ­ing most men­tal ill­ness­es were demon pos­ses­sion** (or oth­er Satan­ic influ­ence, if the suf­fer­er was a Chris­t­ian — Chris­tians can’t be pos­sessed, of course). It’s what those who hold heal­ing ser­vices exhib­it when they tell var­i­ous demons to be gone so heal­ing can be enjoyed. It com­plete­ly ignores genet­ics, cir­cum­stances, and basic respect for oth­ers. It views peo­ple as mere ves­sels and not whole humans, and treats them in a real­ly creepy, voyeuris­tic and objec­ti­fy­ing way. They cease being peo­ple and become projects, then sto­ries we can tell to prove God’s great­ness.

What now?

Facts don’t care how you feel about them or what your reli­gion is. They are the same regard­less.”
Cas­sidy

Com­ing from the Ply­mouth Brethren, who tend to be decid­ed­ly more prag­mat­ic in their admit­ted­ly fun­da­men­tal­ist approach to Chris­tian­i­ty, was cer­tain­ly help­ful as I decon­vert­ed from the faith. I was used to look­ing at charis­mat­ic claims with skep­ti­cism — we didn’t put much stock in claims of a super involved Holy Spir­it or Satan­ic influ­ence. So it wasn’t as dif­fi­cult as it oth­er­wise might have been to extend that skep­ti­cism to all super­nat­ur­al claims, even the ones I upheld. And as I began to rely more heav­i­ly on empir­i­cal, observ­able evi­dence, the more I real­ized that super­nat­ur­al caus­es for nat­ur­al occur­rences just could nev­er make sense.

More impor­tant­ly than that, though, I began to be a more active part of my com­mu­ni­ty both online and offline. The gen­eros­i­ty of friends and fam­i­ly is no longer sim­ply a tool in God’s kit, but is the result of human kind­ness. The harm per­pet­u­at­ed by sys­tems of oppres­sion, even in my spheres of influ­ence, is no longer some­thing I can just pray about or blame Satan for: it’s the clear result of the bias­es, big­otry, self­ish­ness or igno­rance of peo­ple indi­vid­u­al­ly and at large. Nei­ther God, Satan, or my own hard work alone help or hin­der my life — I rec­og­nize there are social sys­tems and physical/mental capa­bil­i­ties I enjoy or suf­fer from that some­times ben­e­fit me and some­times work against me.

I’m no longer a spe­cial snowflake, cho­sen by God or tar­get­ed by Satan. I’m a per­son, actu­al and whole, and I’m part of a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty that depends on its mem­bers to func­tion. The health of a com­mu­ni­ty isn’t deter­mined by an invis­i­ble super­nat­ur­al realm, but rather by the actions of its mem­bers. And that’s one of the strongest argu­ments for human­ism I can think of.


*If you seri­ous­ly just read the first two para­graphs and jumped to the com­ments to argue about “Oba­macare,” your com­ment is going to be delet­ed. Just a heads up. It’s beside the point of the post and you can opine about it to your heart’s con­tent on the social media of your choice. Just…not mine.

**The belief that men­tal ill­ness was often caused by demon­ic influ­ence is not a belief I shared with many peo­ple. That’s kind of how I did the messier bits of my Chris­tian­i­ty: the beliefs I held that I knew were par­tic­u­lar­ly heinous I tend­ed to keep to myself unless asked direct­ly, which didn’t hap­pen often, to my utter relief.