Welcome the World’s 7 Billionth Citizen

An old-fashioned car odometer rolls over to zeroHere’s a scary thought for Halloween: today marks the rollover to a world population of 7,000,000,000 people.  Some say: No problem; God will provide.

Not me.  This freaks me out.

I recently came across the television show 19 Kids and Counting (yeah, I know—where have I been?).  It’s the story of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children.  No, they don’t adopt needy children, they make them the old-fashioned way.

Their web site is full of Christian talk, links to Creationist sites, and ads for Christian products.  Here they talk about birth control.

We prayed and studied the Bible and found a host of references that told us God considered children a gift, a blessing, and a reward. Yet we had considered having another child an inconvenience [by the wife taking birth control pills] during that busy time in our lives, and we had taken steps to prevent it from happening.

We weren’t sure if Michelle could have any more children after the miscarriage, but we were sure we were going to stop using the pill. In fact we agreed we would stop using any form of birth control and let God decide how many children we would have.

This is the thinking of the Quiverfull movement, whose name comes from Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  From Quiverfull.com:

We exalt Jesus Christ as Lord, and acknowledge His headship in all areas of our lives, including fertility.  We exist to serve those believers who trust the Lord for family size….

What kind of childish logic is this?  Maybe during the Bronze Age, people could say, “We’ll let God decide how many children we’ll have,” but today, we know very well where children come from and how to avoid them.

If you drink poison, you’re not letting God decide whether you live or not; you’re deciding.  If you wave a gun in a bank, you’re not letting God decide whether you get arrested or not; you’re deciding.  And if you have frequent unprotected sex, you’re not letting God decide how many children you have; you’re deciding to have as many as biologically possible.

Quiverfull aficionados reject all forms of birth control.  But if vaccines and antibiotics aren’t messing with God’s plan, why would contraception—not killing an embryo but simply preventing it from happening—be a problem?

Back to the Duggar family, someone might respond that they’re paying their way.  They’re not asking for handouts, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that the planet has a finite carrying capacity.  There’s only so much oil, fresh water regenerates only so fast, and so on.  To make it worse, Americans live a rich life compared to most other people.  For example, the resources that support these 19 kids, assuming they consume at the rate of average Americans, could support 600 average Kenyans.

“God will provide” might satisfy a child, but adults should know better.

In a discouraging article that concludes that religious believers will simply outbreed their competitors, author Tom Rees says:

In Israel and Palestine, both orthodox Jews and religious Muslims have astonishingly high birth rates, at least in part as a consequence of waging war “by other means.”  Throughout the Islamic world, those who have the most extreme beliefs are also the most likely to endorse the desirability of large families.

That other guy thinks he’ll win by having more children?  We’ll have even more than that—we’ll fight fire with fire!

We find similar thinking in the U.S.  Again, from Quiverfull.com:

Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement but as an army they’re building for God.

But is that the way to play the game—we just descend to the other guy’s level?

Is there no role for reason here?  You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight it with water!

Related links:

  • No Longer Quivering is a site that provides education and support to those getting out of the Quiverfull movement.
  • Bryan Walsh, “The World at 7 Billion: Why the Real Victim of Overpopulation Will Be the Environment,” Time, 10/26/11.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, “Billions and Billions,” The New Yorker, 10/24/11.
  • Tom Rees, “Shall the fundamentalists inherit the earth?” Epiphenom blog, 5/4/10.
  • “Overpopulation,” Wikipedia.

No Apologies or even Admission of Failure from Camping

What happens when you make a bold public prediction—say, for the end of the world—and it doesn’t come true?  Don’t analyze it or even acknowledge it; just pretend it didn’t happen and get on with life.  Maybe no one will notice.

That’s what Harold Camping is hoping about his May 21 prediction of the Rapture and October 21 prediction of the end of the world.

For a stock broker or farmer or scientist—professions where evidence is important—repeatedly and reliably missing predictions would demand a change in profession.  But within Christianity, this kind of inept song and dance seems to work.  Indeed, Camping gets hubris points for claiming that the non-Rapture on May 21 only seemed to be a non-event and that God actually did judge the world.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened (Winston Churchill)

Camping’s Family Radio web site now has deleted all references to its embarrassing and awkward predictions.

Maybe that was part of the plan.  Maybe they served their purpose in getting recruits, donations, and PR, and the ministry can move on to whatever’s next.  Maybe Camping’s been ahead of us all the time, knowing exactly how this would play out and that the rules of evidence don’t apply with Christianity.

[Update 11/1/11: In an October 30 article “Family Radio Founder Harold Camping Repents, Apologizes for False Teachings“, The Christian Post reports that Camping has retracted his claims about the end times.  “Camping confessed, after decades of falsely misleading his followers, that he was wrong and regrets his misdeeds.”

Camping’s Family Radio site has a recording of him backpedaling from his predictions.

Now, if he would only give back the money he received due to those nonsensical teachings …]

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

The Bible Shows Why Prayer Doesn’t Work

Illuminated (illustrated) manuscript I think I’ve figured it out!  The Bible itself makes clear why prayer doesn’t work, and the clues are all from within the same gospel, Matthew.

I’ve heard stories of people in fast food restaurants who aren’t content to simply pray to themselves but stand and pray aloud for everyone’s benefit.  Jesus isn’t keen on these pretentious people.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  (Matt. 6:5–6)

But later in the same book, Jesus says something different.

If two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.  (Matt. 18:19–20)

There’s the problem—prayer requires both a gathering and being by yourself.

No wonder it never works!

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related posts:

Tribulations of Leaving Religion

Naked Cathars are expelled from a castle door by knightsYou can leave a company with two weeks’ notice.  You can leave a club or association by giving notice.  But leaving Christianity often brings consequences.

What does your departure say to your fellow parishioners, and how will they respond?

For example, Rich Lyons (from the Living After Faith podcast) left his 20-year career as a Pentecostal minister.  His departure cost him everything: respect in the community, house, job, career, marriage.  He needed five years to get over his PTSD.  And his experience is not uncommon for those leaving some denominations.

Why should it be this way?  When you leave a company, they give you a going-away party.  You can still hang out with your old workmates.  Why isn’t it the same when you leave a Christian community?  Why instead are apostates often cut off from their friends within the church and even their families?

I got some insight into this from an anecdote by Stephen King.  In his book On Writing, he talks about a different kind of outcast.  In small-town Maine in the early sixties, life wasn’t easy for a socially-awkward girl he calls Dodie.

For the first year and a half of high school, Dodie wore a white blouse, long black skirt, and knee socks to school every day.  The same blouse, skirt, and socks.  Every day.  The blouse gradually became thinner and yellowed, the skirt frayed and patched.

The other girls kept her in her social place, first with concealed taunts, then with overt teasing.  If you can’t earn a spot above someone else, you can push that person beneath you, and the other girls made sure that Dodie stayed in her place at the bottom.

But something happened during Christmas break sophomore year.  Whether because of money she’d saved up or a Christmas windfall, Dodie returned to school changed.  She wore stockings over newly shaved legs, her hair was permed, and her clothes were new—a fashionably short skirt and a soft wool sweater.  She even had a confident new attitude to match her appearance.

This change in the social order couldn’t stand.  The other girls didn’t celebrate her accomplishment.  They turned on her.  Under the relentless teasing, her new smile and the light in her eyes faded.

By the end of that first day, she was the same mouse at the lowest rung, scurrying the halls between classes, her books pressed to her chest and her eyes downcast.

As the semester progressed, Dodie wore the same clothes.  Every day.  They faded as their predecessors had, she kept to her previous place, and the teasing returned to normal.  Someone had made a break for it and tried to escape, but they’d been brought back in line.  The social structure was intact once again.

Christian apostates are different because they successfully leave.  But are there similarities in how the congregation reacts to the challenge?  Seeing a congregation as a society, not completely dissimilar from high school, may explain why it sees a departure as a threat.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related links:

  • The full text of Stephen King’s On Writing is available here.  Search for “Dodie” to read his version (much better than my summary).

Christianity Can Rot Your Brain

Two men wearing crowns swing swords toward kneeling menThere’s a lot of killing in the Bible—the honest and wholesome kind.  The God-commanded kind.

What are we to make of this violence?  Apologist William Lane Craig takes a stab at justifying “The Slaughter of the Canaanites.”

Craig’s entire project is bizarre—trying to support the sagging claims of God’s goodness despite his passion for genocide—but he gamely has a go.  Craig responds to the question, “But wasn’t it wrong to kill all the innocent children?”

… if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

What’s this supposed to mean??  Does it mean that Andrea Yates was actually right that she was saving her five children from the possibility of going to hell by drowning them one by one in the bathtub?  Does it mean that abortion is actually a good thing because those souls “are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy”?  I hope none of Craig’s readers have followed up with this avenue to salvation.

It’s hard to believe that he’s actually justifying the killing of children, but there’s more.  Let’s parse Craig’s next paragraph:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment.

I thought that genocide was wrong.  Perhaps I was mistaken.

Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.

Yeah, right.  Killing children is actually a good thing.  (Are we living Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”?)

So who is wronged?

Wait for it …

Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Uh, yeah.  That was the big concern in my mind, too.

Can you believe this guy?  My guess is that he is a decent and responsible person, is a good husband and father, works hard, and pays his taxes.  But he’s writing this?  It’s like discovering that your next-door neighbor is a Klansman.

This brings up the Christopher Hitchens’ Challenge (video).  Hitchens challenges anyone to state a moral action taken or a moral sentiment uttered by a believer that couldn’t be taken or uttered by an unbeliever—something that a believer could do but an atheist couldn’t.  In the many public appearances in which Hitchens has made this challenge, he has never heard a valid reply.

But think of the reverse: something terrible that only a believer would do or say.  Now, there are lots of possibilities.  Obviously, anything containing variations on “because God says” or “because the Bible says” could be an example.

  • “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’”
  • “Despite the potential benefits to public health, we should avoid embryonic stem cell research because it’s against the Bible.”
  • “God hates fags.”

Or, as in this case, “God supports genocide.”

This reminds me what physicist Steven Weinberg said: “Religion is an insult to human dignity.  With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

In other words: Christianity can rot your brain.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related links:

  • Greta Christina, “One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide,” AlterNet, 4/25/11.
  • Adam Lee, “Defending Genocide, Redux,” Daylight Atheism, 4/11/11.
  • Richard Dawkins, “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig,” The Guardian, 10/20/11.
  • Tim Stanley, “Richard Dawkins is either a fool or a coward for refusing to debate William Lane Craig,” The Telegraph, 10/21/11.
  • “Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide,” Open Parachute blog, 10/30/11.