Why Praising God in the Storm Should Make Your Stomach Turn

Nothing puts the cognitive dissonance of faith on display like a destructive storm system ripping through a religious community.  And that happens quite a lot in this country, in case you weren’t aware (see graphic below).

tracker

Once again this week a violent storm system cut a destructive path through towns across the Deep South, killing more than a dozen people and destroying churches, homes, and offices in multiple communities.  Some of the most devout people you’ll ever meet either lost homes or had significant property damage in the wake of the storm.   Most of them prayed for protection as the storm bore down on their communities.  Many of those who prayed lost their homes.  Some lost their lives.  Some only lost their deductibles.  Those who survived will testify that they prayed and that God spared them.  The death of their next door neighbor will sadden them, but it will not lessen their conviction that their prayers made some kind of difference in their circumstances.  We won’t hear from the ones whose prayers for salvation went “unanswered,” so this scenario sets up the survivors for a kind of confirmation bias which assures them that “prayer works.”  Since their surrounding culture overwhelmingly endorses this belief, very little will work against this conviction, and this belief will grow stronger through this tragic experience.

stormsign

Let’s illustrate the many logical inconsistencies of this belief with a hypothetical (yet entirely realistic) scenario, shall we?

A Not-So-Hypothetical Scenario

A tornado hits a cul-de-sac containing four homes.  Two homes are hit, two are spared.  Three of the homes are occupied by devout Christians, and one by a non-religious family.

cul-de-sac2

Allen is a spirit-filled Pentecostal who, after marshalling his wife and three children into the downstairs hallway, prays earnestly for God to protect his family and their home from the oncoming storm.  His family is spared and his home suffers no damage at all.  They praise God for delivering them from certain destruction.

Barbara, a devoted Presbyterian, isn’t so fortunate.  Although she prays just as fervently for protection, her home is razed and she does not survive the storm.  She lived alone, so no one will hear her story. The majority of her community will not credit God with her death; it was just an unfortunate tragedy.  Her church will see it differently, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Craig is a Southern Baptist deacon, and he and his wife lose virtually everything except their lives and the lives of their two children.  Their home is demolished like Barbara’s, but they have a basement, so their lives are spared.  Their insurance policy will cover the replacement of their property but their family photos, boxes of memories, and their grandmother’s china were all irreplaceable.  Still, they praise God for sparing their lives.

Daniel is unusual for his very religious community.  No one in his home prays when the storm comes because as most of their little town knows, he and his family are agnostics.  They seek shelter in the most logical room of their home, and they huddle together just as all the others do.  When the storm passes them by, they are relieved.  Their relief is short-lived, however, as they soon learn of the death of their neighbor, Barbara.  On top of that, they learn that their back-yard neighbors, who were also non-religious, didn’t survive the storm.  Ellen was a single mother with two children of her own.

What happens next is both fascinating and infuriating to anyone with a lick of sense.

Allen’s church will gather together later in the week to praise God for answering his prayers for protection.  His pastor will make much of how devout Allen and his family are, recounting how valuable they are to their church family and to the kingdom of God as a whole (they speak in grandiose terms at Allen’s church).  His fervent prayers will be credited for saving both his family and his personal property.  They will sing and clap and rejoice for the triumph of their faith over the forces of the Devil, who clearly was trying to harm one of God’s precious children.  But praise God, he failed!  Jesus won and Satan lost.

Barbara’s church will be much more somber come Sunday morning.  Citing the sovereign hand of God, her minister will remind his flock that God alone gives life and takes it away again.  The minister will remind his people of the story of Job, arguing that whatever the circumstances, the name of the Lord is to be praised. He works in mysterious ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, so we must not question the right of the Creator of all things to do as he pleases, potter and clay and whatnot.  Someone (probably not from the same church) will likely reason that “God must have needed another angel” so he “called her home.”

Craig and his family will join their Baptist congregation in thanking God for sparing their lives.  Contrary to the Calvinists down the street, Craig’s pastor won’t credit God with sending the storm, but he will credit him with keeping it from killing the family.  He will never bring up the notion that God could have prevented the whole storm in the first place, nor will he mention that God could have kept the storm from destroying all of the family’s precious heirlooms, clothes, and keepsakes at any point in the process.  “God is good, all the time!” he will proclaim, only looking at half the picture and ignoring any perspective which places the blame for this destruction on God.  Bad stuff just happens sometimes, and God can’t be blamed for those things.  But praise him, he does protect his people…sometimes!

No church will gather to rejoice with Daniel nor to mourn the death of Ellen and her family because they weren’t members of any local churches.  Friends and family will pull together and pick up the pieces of what remains.  After helping settle Ellen’s financial affairs, Daniel will help to start a fund to upgrade the community’s early storm detection system and will start a petition to rewrite the residential building codes to include a safe room in all homes which lie in storm-prone paths.  It won’t bring Barbara or Ellen or her family back, but it might help spare lives in the future.  Daniel will mourn, and he and his family will do what they can to make life safer for others in the future; but they will not attempt to ascribe meaning to the tragedy, nor will he claim there is any divine purpose in what happened. The rest of their community, on the other hand, will offer up many diverse religious interpretations—all claiming to be the right view—producing multiple layers of cognitive dissonance, each in slight disagreement with the other.  Let’s see how many problems we can count.

So Many Problems

Allen’s church believes that his prayers protected his family.  This implies two other inescapable things which most will never consider, or at least which they won’t say out loud:

1.  Barbara’s prayer was futile and God did not protect her.  Maybe she didn’t do it right.  Maybe she forgot to say “in Jesus’ name.”  Or maybe she had some unconfessed sin in her life so her prayers weren’t answered.  Yeah, I know that sounds awful, but very large groups of Christians teach and preach that, so there it is.  They could always just say “It wasn’t God’s will,” but if that’s the reason, then prayer itself becomes pretty meaningless when you think about it.

2.  If Allen hadn’t have prayed, the Devil would have had free rein and he would have killed Allen and his family, too.  Evidently they believe the Devil is in charge of most things, and that God only protects his children from him if they ask him.  What a great father that makes him, huh?  Unless, of course, they fall back again on “It was just God’s will,” in which case, once again, prayer becomes unnecessary.

Barbara’s church, convinced their way of looking at things is the right way, would be appalled by giving the Devil credit for anything.  For them, God is in total control, which means that both good and bad things come from him.  This is the way that most of the Bible talks (it’s not always consistent), so that’s the way they’re going to look at it, too.  All other interpretations are wrong.  This presents many more problems of its own (most notably, it makes God an amoral monster), but they’re not going to let that deter them from being “biblical.”

As I’ve already implied, Craig’s church makes the least sense of all.  They aren’t keen on ascribing meteorological powers to the Devil, but they likewise recoil from blaming God.  Both of those notions make them uneasy, so instead they say that storms just happen, and it’s not right to talk as if God made them happen for any specific reason (Just don’t ask Fred, who lives just one street over.  His church teaches that God sends storms to punish communities for things like allowing gay people to exist in the same vicinity).  Craig’s church puts God into more of a “first responder” position.  He diligently watches events as they unfold and swoops in “at just the right moment” to keep things from getting worse.  He watches as the storm tears through home after home but when it gets to one particular family, he “puts his hand over them” and protects them so that their lives are spared.

This familiar pattern happens a lot, by the way.  For example, when a terrible car accident happens, they have him waiting until after the cars collide to save one guy out of four, leaving him paralyzed for life.  That man and his family will probably praise God for saving him from this tragic accident.  It could have been worse, right?  God could have waited a second longer.  Or perhaps someone gets cancer.  God didn’t stop her from getting it, but after trained oncologists and surgeons cut away and treat the afflicted areas, God sweeps in and “heals” her…for at least a few years.  Don’t even get me started on God working to bring to justice the guy who molests his stepdaughter.  You’d think he might have stepped in before that happened; but hey, his ways are higher, remember?

This is terrible talk, I agree.  Doesn’t it make your stomach turn?  It should.  It does mine.  The truth of the matter is that nobody is sitting silently by, watching these awful things unfold.  We are the only protectors, defenders, and first responders we will ever have.  Sometimes things happen and we can’t keep them from happening.  All we can do is do our best to prepare for the worst, and pull together to help each other out when things do go bad.  That’s what people do, religious or not.  They don’t do it because of their religion; they do it because we’re in this thing together, and we know we have to look out for each other.  Nature rewards those species which help each other out.  That’s why it feels good to do things for people, even complete strangers, expecting nothing in return.  That’s how people get by down here.  Around here they will almost universally credit God with the good parts of what happens (unless they’re Calvinists, in which case he does it all), and they will likely never ask themselves any of the questions I mentioned above.

One more tidbit I must throw in.  Fundamentalist preachers (like Fred’s) are fond of interpreting storms as either signs of the immanent return of Jesus or else as God’s judgment for doing something bad, like allowing a gay pride festival in your town.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson come to mind, but so does Bryan Fischer of American Family Radio.  The reason that’s significant is that the hardest hit town in Mississippi this time around was Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis and also the location of the national headquarters for Fischer’s AFR outfit.  If the address I have for the AFA is correct, it looks like the tornado touched down extremely close to where they’re based.  I wonder if there’s any chance he will take this as a message that he and his organization are doing something wrong?

Yeah, I don’t think so, either.

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70 Responses to Why Praising God in the Storm Should Make Your Stomach Turn

  1. Doobster418 says:

    Good commentary but I fear you’re wasting your time. People like those you described probably won’t read this, and even if they did, they’d just chalk you up as one of those damn secular atheist types who is a tool for Satan. I swear I don’t know how you manage to live in the part of the country that you do and maintain your sanity. I don’t think I could do it.

    • ianyboo says:

      I think i saw a poll one time that found that most atheists are former believers, this is true for me personally. If not for blog posts like this and others taking the time to make me aware of the arguments against my beliefs I might never have broken free.

      I think we are worth talking to!

      • Big Black Dog says:

        All believers were former atheists or agnostics. And there is no “former” believer. You either are, or you are not. A leopard cannot change its spots.

        • davewarnock says:

          a leopard cannot change its spots, but a snake can shed his skin. And a person can change his mind. It’s very possible to once have believed something and now no longer believe it. Santa hasn’t brought me any presents in a very long time. Or maybe I’ve just been a bad boy.

  2. Ruth says:

    I’ve been meaning to write about it but recently in my hometown a Southern Baptist Deacon and his wife(a nurse) witnessed an accident at a busy intersection. They stopped to help the victims. The one the nurse was working with had minor injuries until a second accident happened in which a car plowed into the nurse and first accident victim killing them both. The Deacon stayed and continued to assist victims because he said she was now with the Lord and there was nothing he could do for her which was admirable.

    They planned the viewing(wake), at which they were celebrating her life. They all were at peace and happy. The man’s three children who are Hindu Indians came to the viewing. So the story goes(I wasn’t there) they were so in awe of what was taking place they wanted to know how they could be so happy. The pastor took them aside and explained to them the ‘plan of salvation’ and the three accepted Christ right there.

    The mystery was solved. God allowed the Christian woman so the three Hindu Indians could be saved.

    What about the Hindu man that was killed along with her? What about what happens when these Hindus go back to their families and tell them they’re changing religions? Are they going to be freaked out when they realize that they now believe their father is in hell for all eternity?

    The news was on when I was walking out to take the dog for a walk. Some tornado victim was on there saying how blessed he was and thanking God for sparing him though he had lost his home or had damage of some sort. My agnostic(I think) husband looks at me and says, “This bloke is thanking God for not dying in the storm. Why doesn’t he wonder why God would send a storm to destroy his house in the first place?”

    Me? *shrug*

    • Ruth says:

      God allowed the Christian woman to die*

    • Big Black Dog says:

      Weather conditions sent a storm. The Bible is very clear. “It rains on the just and the unjust.” We’re all a part of this world, and this world is not fair. That’s not God’s fault. That’s our fault.

      • Tony says:

        So a storm happens, killing people and destroying lives, god either did it, or is able but unwilling to prevent it and your response is:
        “That’s not God’s fault. That’s our fault.”

        There are four characteristics of battered person syndrome and you are displaying two:
        1. The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
        2. The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.

        Pretty sure you also have a third:
        3. The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

        This is an unhealthy pattern.

  3. The_Physeter says:

    Those hypotheticals really pack a punch.

  4. Southern Skeptic says:

    That’s exactly how it is in the religious world. And if a devout believer dies and that was just God’s will, then as you say, “…if that’s the reason, then prayer itself becomes pretty meaningless when you think about it.” That’s the point that made me seriously start doubting the whole concept of prayer.

    • Big Black Dog says:

      A believer can “approach the throne of grace boldly” to petition God for whatever he wants, but doesn’t mean God will allow it, anymore than you would let your kid play in a busy street, no matter how hard he petitioned you. We don’t see the big picture. Sometimes our prayers can be answered the way we want with no harm. Sometimes, the answer to our prayer will cause nothing but problems for us. We just can’t see that.

      The best prayer, the prayer that expresses what faith in God really is, says, “Not my will, Lord, but Thine be done.” Now, you can open the prayer with all sorts of requests, but if you close it, or open it, or just have that attitude as you pray, that’s saying you know that your ways aren’t His ways and your thoughts aren’t His thoughts, that we can never understand Him completely because He’s too vast for our infinite minds. And it’s saying you trust Him to do the right thing and use you the right way so that He is glorified.

      • Tony says:

        Then prayer serves no purpose except to stroke god’s ego. If you are only going to get what is in god’s will then it doesn’t matter what you pray for because his will we be done regardless. All you are doing is telling god how great he is and how thankful you are for the cancer or the tumor or the tornado or the amputation or the rapist or the murderer he sent. As you so eloquently put it: “we can never understand Him completely because He’s too vast for our infinite minds” so just try to lay back and try to enjoy it.

      • Scott Berry says:

        The bible’s pretty clear about this:

        Mark 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours in God’s own time, as long as it is part of His divine plan.”

        John 15:7,” If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

        1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

        You’re only making excuses because when you try prayer, the bible’s guarantees fall short.

  5. Judy Whisenant says:

    The Bible says that it rains on the just as well as the unjust. The difference is that when one has a relationship with God that prayer is a connection to Him and a comfort… not necessarily that things will turn out the way you want it to but that He is in control. As Ruth mentioned in her comment three came to know God through the death of one. God’s purpose of furthering His kingdom was brought about. It is about faith and trust. May each find it.

    • The Bible says that it rains on the just as well as the unjust.”

      Yes, and it also asks: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6) Which means that it’s also biblical to view natural disasters as God’s judgment. The Bible is like a “choose your adventure” book. You get to pick which verses to accept and which ones to reject. It’s so adaptable!

      • Ryan Johnson says:

        There are some major fallacies in your arguments. Your point was made loud and clear, Christians don’t respond to disasters uniformly and often do so out of biblical ignorance. The problem with your argument is that just because some believers disagree nr the manifestation of their faith and how the inner workings of prayer and God’s sovereignty works, doesn’t make it any less credible. That would be like discounting the theory of evolution simply because there are varrying views of how it all happened throughout the course of time.

        Also, the main mistake you made in interpreting the believers response is that you left out the entire notion that live in a fallen world due to sin. When we read Genesis we see that sin effected every portion of our world, not just the human condition. I consider myself a fundamentalist, but I’m NOT saying that someone who died in a tornado was being directly punished for their particular sin but rather that because of original sin and the effects of the fall, we live in a world where God sovereignty permits bad things to happen. God brining disasters on a sinful people doesn’t make him “an amoral monster.” If anything, any time spent apart from hell makes him a forbearing manganous God worthy of praise.

        • That would be like discounting the theory of evolution simply because there are varrying views of how it all happened

          Except that over time, scientists’ views converge because the incorrect views don’t withstand empirical testing. Dogmatic beliefs have no such method for eliminating the wrong answers. It’s worse than that, even. None of the views on prayer actually track with empirical observation or testing. We are told in the end that we can’t test these claims at all, despite what the Bible tells us to do (“test me on this”).

          When we read Genesis we see that sin effected every portion of our world, not just the human condition.”

          So you’re claiming that tornadoes are the result of people doing things? How? Because scientifically we know exactly what causes tornadoes. It happens when high pressure systems and low pressure systems collide. Is that the result of man’s activity somehow?

          God brining disasters on a sinful people doesn’t make him ‘an amoral monster.’ If anything, any time spent apart from hell makes him a forbearing manganous God worthy of praise.”

          Wow. Not your best argument, man. This line of reasoning says: hey, if you think getting torn apart by a tornado is bad, just imagine how bad it’s gonna be when God unleashes ALL of his wrath on you. Anything short of that is him being merciful to you.

          • Ryan Johnson says:

            “Dogmatic beliefs have no method for eliminating wrong answers”

            You are correct in that there may not be empirical evidence to help to eliminate wrong answers, but that doesn’t mean that wrong answers aren’t eliminated. It simply means they’re eliminated through testing by scripture and reason. If you say you can’t get rid of wrong answers without empirical evidence, then we would have no ability to make a claim about morality in any situation. It stands to reason that there would not be empirical evidence for God seeing as (according to the Christian belief, which is the one being scrutizned) he created everything that we know as empirical evidence. How could someone who is trancendent and not empirical as we know it have empirical evidence other than the very existence of empirical things.

            Secondly, natural disasters aren’t caused by our current sin, because as you pointed out we know very well how tornados happen, but rather the effects of man’s original sin and the fall on the universe itself. Obviously if you don’t believe in a God or sin, this won’t stand, but working from a Christian worldview this is correct.

            And while the argument concerning God’s wrath may not be the most pleasant, his eternal fury against sinners unleashed cannot be fathomed. God’s name will not be defamed. He will protect and get his glory that he rightfully deserves and we will do well to appreciate the time and patience and grace that God has given us.

            Again your entire argument comes down to “because there are inconsistent responses and beliefs about the meaning of evil or tragedy in the world among Chrisitians, Christianity must be false,” and that is simply false. Ignorance of truth does not change truth. It may shade it or make it more difficult to find, but you can’t take a biblically illerate response that is false or ungrounded in the bible or reason and use it as proof of a truth being a lie.

            I would like to say thank you for writing this article. You raise EXCELLENT points and while I disagree with your logic and conclusions, it’s refreshing to see someone searching for answers. I hope we can disagree with respect and grace, and I encourage to be careful in tearing down other people’s faith in the sight of tragedy. Christian or not, we have to stand together and help those who are hurting.

    • Ruth says:

      I think you may have misinterpreted the meaning behind my comment.

      Three came to know an imaginary being while at the same time probably at their peril in the here and now, possibly severing real relationships in their present. And what about Mr. Hindu? According to their new belief he went straight to hell.

    • Dra says:

      …wow…
      Do you buy into your own crap, or is this satirical?

    • Tony says:

      Morphine provides comfort as well. And if “He is in control” and allowed these storms to happen when he had the power to prevent them, then he is a monster. As it was said in Ancient Greece by the philosopher Epicurius:
      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?”

    • Paul says:

      That would be the death of at least two. We know there were other victims and we don’t know if anyone else died. Holy hell. Did you just justify the murder of an innocent nurse trying to save a life, that of a well loved father and at least a few more cases of serious injury because it was a factor in converting three people? That’s some shitty math right there and truly psychotic behavior if taken to be the will of god. Any being, god or otherwise, that relies on murder as a tool to achieve a goal is not worthy of worship. Doubly so when that goal is to accrue more worship for itself.

      I really hope you don’t believe that a god you worship would willfully murder a woman trying to save a life, who has probably saved lives in the past, would likely save lives in the future, and was obviously trying to do good in the world as a means to gain worshipers. Regardless of whether you believe that worship means salvation it should be very obvious that salvation isn’t the main goal when a nurse isn’t allowed to help a dying man who could himself be a convert and would likely then have that influence on his family. What about the salvation of that man? Did god just chalk that one down as a loss? Does that mean god decided to damn a man and cut off his path to salvation to convert someone else? Doesn’t the idea that this was god’s will imply salvation is not an option for everyone as god acted to not only stop this man from being saved but actively killed the person trying to save him?

      • MN Atheist says:

        Its hard to argue with people about death when they believe that in bodily death, their souls ascend to paradise to live on forever. To them it’s not murder, but a transcendence to the next and more wonderful stage of life. Never mind the suffering of her family and friends. Never mind that she worked hard to make the world a better place. Never mind that she worked tirelessly to save lives. Because to them, this life doesn’t really matter (Other than to make sure you worship the correct god in the correct manner). Its where you go next that counts.

  6. Sam Daniels says:

    People believe that which fits their world-view. And if it doesn’t seem to fit (being capricious or random), they MAKE it fit. Many Christians claim their prayers are not for God, but for benefit only of themselves. It’s just another way to express hope and meaning against the void of death. Having been so close so often myself, I tend to dwell on this more than most people, even without the storms. I never gave much thought to the weather until I became a property owner. I know that I am living on borrowed time, and I think about my pending death, even on the nicest days.

  7. Snowbrush says:

    I spent my first 37 years in Brookhaven, MS, and my last 38 in Oregon mostly. I left the South largely because of the religion, and I get sick all over again when I see people in the news praising their dumb-ass deity for saving them while destroying their homes and killing their neighbors. Even so, I miss the South, and I feel a little guilty for leaving because for every nonbeliever who gets out, it leaves the ones who stay that much more alone. I can easily see, though, that the Internet has at least made it easier for atheists to find one another. When I lived in Mississippi, I knew exactly two other atheists who called the state home, and the closer of the two was 120 miles distant from where I lived.

    • bananafaced says:

      Don’t feel bad about leaving. MS is lovely but not worth your peace of mind. You’ll be happy to know that there are LOTS MORE atheists here now which allows me to remain sane.

  8. MandoZink says:

    Several months ago, a tragic house fire in Muhlenberg County, Ky, took the lives of 1 adult and 8 children. The area is rife with illiteracy and a perpetual reliance on evangelical faith as a source of pride – a culture shock I recently experienced there.

    Although I was horrified at the terrible suffering the children must have endured, none of the locals ever expressed any sympathy towards them. Every comment was how lucky they are to be with Jesus now and just how good a thing that must be. A classmate of one of the victims, as reported in the news, was awakened the next morning by her mom saying “Guess what, so-and-so went to Heaven last night. Isn’t that wonderful?” The news was constantly distorted into a glorious event for the victims.

    I would suppose there is a certain benefit to focusing only on the bliss of a delusion, but I could not be oblivious to the suffering these children must have endured. In my world, none of them were “lucky”, as the locals endlessly touted.

  9. Thinker1121 says:

    Several years ago an older family friend of ours was going through a series of cancer treatments. He is very religious, and I remember one time when he and I were alone and talking about his situation – when he got very emotional. He looked and me and said, “I just can’t understand why God would put me through this. Can you think of why this is part of his plan?” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I thought his situation was just bad luck because I thought it would be cruel to put him on the defensive about his faith while he was already going through so much pain. But at the same time, how do you deal with people who seem like they just HAVE to find a way to explain the randomness in life? With our family friend, he eventually had a complete recovery, and while he was in the hospital he apparently converted one of his fellow patients to Christianity. So he now believes that God put him through that trial to use him as a missionary.

    Neil, do you still have to deal with people with respect to religious issues like these in situations where you have to remain in the closet? There’s no way I’d ever be able to reveal myself as a skeptic to our family friend without serious consequences, so I have to make do with him the best way I know how.

    • That’s pretty much my whole IRL existence. I’m mostly “out” online, inside this alternate reality that is the blogosphere. In my daily life I am surrounded by ultra red-state fundamentalist/evangelicals. I do not usually tell people that I’m not a Christian, because they’ll start treating me differently. If they ask me a direct question, I’ll answer it. But I’ve already lost one teaching job because of this, and I know of at least a couple more I could lose for the same reason (I work a lot). If these alternate realities come in contact with one another, so be it. But I’m not pushing hard to make that happen.

      • Thinker1121 says:

        I can certainly relate to where you’re coming from. I live in an adjacent southern state to you and face the same social pressure to never say anything that could be seen as undermining religion. In my world, the term “people of faith” is synonymous with “moral people.”

        Another crazy story. I occasionally get requests from associates trying to help young people find jobs. More than once I’ve gotten an email that reads like: “Hi there! I know this person who is looking for a job in X. He is a good, Christian man, and has experience in X, Y and Z.” Seriously, they find it necessary to communicate that the person is a Christian, presumably because they think it will enhance that person’s image in my eyes.

      • j.e.glaze says:

        My experience is similar, Neil. Living in Oklahoma most of my life, being raised in the Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) Church, and now being agnostic/atheist, or whatever, it drives me mad, almost. The worst parts of it all, in personal experience, is 1) never being able to openly share who I am and what I think with anyone. As you said for yourself, I would be treated differently, shunned in one or more ways, etc. 2) being so alone. This is the loneliest existence, not being a believer while living in a hotbed of Evangelical Christianity. I’m here because my daughter lives in the state, and I want to be nearby for her while she is still in high school.

        j.

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  11. MIchael E says:

    Last week, there was a political debate in North Carolina. Candidates were asked if they believed in man induced climate change. There was huge laughter throughout the hall. The candidates all expressed the fact that God controlled the weather, not man. The next day the state was hit with a dozen tornadoes which destroyed 250 homes. I guess God has quite a temper at times.

  12. To be fair, I do not believe all atheists would behave the way Daniel would. But the rest of the story does display a fundamental flaw with religion and cognitive dissonance. All powerful and all loving, but god is also an ass.

  13. Rachel Winkler says:

    I am a Christian, and I have read both the article and many of the comments. I’m a student at the University of Arkansas (forgive me if I’m not able to respond to any replies this may get as I have finals next week and several papers to write). My family lives 20 minutes from Vilonia, Arkansas where one of the tornadoes went through and I have many friends who live there. My first comment (and main issue with this article) is simply this; if someone goes through such a tragedy, and they are able to find hope or peace in something, then why are you trying to tear that hope apart? I understand that to you it is false hope, but to those people it Is not. Whatever religion you belong to, you should have the right to take comfort in it after a tragedy without being criticized. I’m extremely lucky because everyone who I know in Vilonia was safe and were not injured in the storm. I have no problem with everyone criticizing Christianity, because that happens every day. However, I do think that it is horrible that you are taking a tragedy and using it as a way to debunk Christianity less than a week after this has happened. Let these people grieve the loss of their loved ones and their homes in peace for at least a little while before you begin to criticize them. I have no idea how close any of you are to the situation in Arkansas, but from someone who spent Sunday night and all day Monday and Tuesday calling people to make sure that they were even alive, all of these comments are extremely insensitive.

    • To be fair, I dont think it was criticizing religion. I think it was more begging the question why does god allow these things to happen if said god is all powerful and all loving. Its a tragedy and lives were lost, but to praise an imaginary fairy god for false hope of an afterlife to see someone again is not the way to deal with pain.

    • From your perspective what I have done here is capitalize on people’s moment of weakness and loss, using it to advance an agenda. May I submit to you that this is precisely what all the preachers and Sunday School teachers and deacons and elders will be doing as well? Why is it okay for them to use a significant moment to do this but it’s not okay for me?

      You say it’s because I am removing a sense of hope and comfort (one which you acknowledge I believe is a fiction). But am I even doing that? Do you as a Christian even agree with anything I have said above? If not, then what have I even taken from you, or them? It appears that I have taken nothing.

      I happen to believe that religion can be a harmful thing in people’s lives, but that it harms them in ways that they learn to see as beneficial rather than detrimental. That means I am in the awkward position of trying to tell people things they don’t want to hear, attempting to help them by doing things they see as hateful instead of loving (the very same reaction most of us have when our loved ones threaten us with hell). From my perspective, now is as good a time as any to talk about this. If it’s okay for preachers to swoop in at this moment and interpret these events their way, it’s only fair that I can share mine as well. My intention is not to harm but to help. And as a parent and a teacher, I am quite used to hearing that something I am doing for their own good is “mean.” If that fazed me, I’d be terrible at both those jobs.

      If and when you choose to respond, I would be very interested to hear your opinion about one of the key questions I ask in the article:

      Do you believe God brought these storms? Was he in control of where they went, or not?

      • I’m a Christian, and I see all your arguments as making a decent amount of sense, but I still think there are logical ways around it. I work at a Southern Baptist church and would like to say that all of the pastors here are very deep thinkers and don’t see things as plainly or one-sidedly as in your Southern Baptist example (not offended, just wanted you to know).

        You said “My intention is not to harm but to help. And as a parent and a teacher, I am quite used to hearing that something I am doing for their own good is ‘mean.’ If that fazed me, I’d be terrible at both those jobs.”

        That’s my exact argument for God’s allowing evil things to happen. I think there’s more to it, and of course God’s allowing death and suffering are much more extreme and jarring things than you questioning someone’s faith. But at the core of my thinking about God and evil, I would say that God is allowing these things for someone’s good, and allowed evil to have any place in the world at all to bring about ultimate good.

        You can use more gruesome anecdotal examples, and I’ll become increasingly sympathetic for the victims of such things, but it doesn’t change the underlying premise. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, the only explanation is that good is being brought about through the bad. Sometimes we don’t know the good or the good doesn’t seem worth the bad, but I would argue that “His ways are higher than ours” is a great and succinct way of saying that God knows the possibilities of every single action and reaction and He allows/causes those things to bring about the best possible outcomes.

        I hope I don’t come across as cold for trying to remain detached and logical in my thinking. I’m a pretty emotional person and have, I would say, just as much if not more empathy than most. I definitely care about individual, real life situations and don’t just sit around waiting for God to “help those who help themselves” or any BS. I buy homeless people food when I see someone who needs it and want to be a hospitable person who takes up the cause for helpless people.

        But ultimately, I truly believe that everything is in God’s control and that He makes good things happen and allows evil things to happen for the best possible outcome. I hope you see my thinking as logical even if you disagree with it and hope for a level-headed response.

        • davewarnock says:

          so if God allows bad things to happen for a good reason, and makes all good things happen, then why pray? He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do anyway, so what’s the point of anything? Let’s just all live as we want, and God will spare some and allow some to die slow painful deaths (at his omniscient discretion). But Christians pray all the time anyway. Why?? God’s gonna do what he wants anyway. If the prayers aren’t answered, it’s God allowing something bad “for a good reason”. If a good thing happens, then our prayers were answered, hallelujah. I, for one, don’t see that as logical thinking at all. It’s standard Christian-think, but not logical in my opinion.

        • That’s my exact argument for God’s allowing evil things to happen

          Yes, but as you just said, I’m using it to defend speaking critically about beliefs, while you’re using it to defend taking people’s lives. That’s a gargantuan false equivalency. The analogy should be retired permanently. In cases like torture and murder, even the child has enough sense to know when someone is being cold and uncaring, so the analogy fails so very badly. To you it suffices to say, “Maybe there are reasons we don’t understand.” That doesn’t satisfy me at all.

          First, I am told that God created my moral sense and that he expects me to live by it. I’m made in his image, they say, stressing the continuity of character. I am to imitate him, they say. But then I am told he destroys people’s homes, leaves people disfigured, and even puts them through abusive situations (he’s in charge, they say), and yet when I exclaim that this runs contrary to every bit of said moral sense, I am to set it aside just because. This doesn’t work for me.

        • MN Atheist says:

          What’s the best possible good outcome for a child that is taken and repeatedly victimized for years and then killed and disposed of like garbage? What’s the best possible good outcome for a country ravaged by civil war and brutal military regimes? What’s the best possible good outcome for a life of addiction that ends in a lonely death at the end of a syringe? What’s the best possible good outcome when a community is destroyed by a natural disaster? Bodies lying in the streets, lives forever changed…nothing good comes from that. Communities pulling together to rebuild is not a good outcome if the whole thing could have been avoided. In the story above with the nurse who was killed for the sake of three Indian girls souls there is no good outcome. If this god is so damned powerful then why be so cryptic? Why do all of these things several thousand years ago when people were simple and there was no mass communication? All it would take is a couple of bona fide miracles or simply appearing in front of a large crowd here and there and boom…converts everywhere! Souls of millions otherwise doomed to hell saved! But no…leave it up to humans to take care of it. Why is that? Because god is man-made.

        • Scott Berry says:

          Three are two telling quotes here:

          1) “I still think there are logical ways around it.”

          The wording here is pretty specific. It’s not that this is not a logical consequence, it’s that I can wiggle around the straightforward interpretation by using logic.

          2) “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, the only explanation is that good is being brought about through the bad.”

          You left out all-knowing, but I’m going to assume it since it matches the tenor of your argument. Once it’s there, this doesn’t make any sense.

          Let’s say you find you have an aggressive strain of cancer, and are presented with a choice. You can do nothing, and die within a year, or undergo painful procedures that will probably extend your life by about five years. The important thing to note in this kind of choice is why we make it: because we don’t have better options. Clearly the best choice is c) I’ll just get rid of the cancer and keep living. The reason you don’t make that choice is that you don’t have the power to make it.

          So given the choice of a child dying today and five children dying tomorrow, which should all all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God choose? Clearly the choice is c).

    • Sam Daniels says:

      I am sorry for your angst, Rachel, and congratulate you and yours on your good luck (your word). As I have re-read my own comment here, however, I see no lack of either empathy or sensitivity. I know first-hand the fear and reality of both natural disasters and severe illness. Just like acute pulmonary embolii, I think the weather events of this week are a perfect time to examine the ways people find to maintain their courage, optimism, and hope.

    • Damon says:

      Somewhere, every single day, there is tragedy to someone. By your argument, the “too soon clock” is reset every time there’s another storm, another plane crash, another cancer.

      For that matter, what about all the disasters that haven’t happened yet? Once something is written on the internet, it can be there for years. It’s a logical extension to say, “Never say this, because it might make someone uncomfortable because of something that will happen in two years!”

      Given these parameters, perhaps you can let us know when it IS a good time to discuss this.

  14. You are different and I like that, I agree with some of the things you said and I disagree with you alot, but overall I think you have a valid viewpoint. Keep writing!

  15. brandon.mcguire@scripureunion.org says:

    “Then Whence cometh evil?” — from man. Folks, you need to stop pointing a finger at God and start realizing that you are wicked and depraved. Thinking yourselves to be wise, you have become fools. Let’s get real here.

    • Perhaps you run with “Fred” and his group :)

      See, I’m not the one claiming that anyone “sent” a storm, so there’s no finger pointing going on here. No one causes these things. They’re just the result of colliding air masses.

      Are you suggesting tornados are “evil?” And are you suggesting that people made these storms happen?

    • Courtney says:

      I can’t tell if this is satire or not, but either way it gave me a good laugh. It’s always nice to start the day with a bit of humor!

      I agree with godlessindixie, though; man can’t create tornadoes or other natural disasters. Even if such things were punishment for “man’s evil,” God is still the one sending them, and therefore mass murdering both Christians and non-Christians alike in the process. There’s nothing remotely moral – or wise – about that.

    • Tony says:

      Did saying that make you feel better? If so, that is about all you accomplished because I can assure you it did not convince anyone of the validity of your position.

  16. Eli says:

    At what point do some become just as bad as AFA or Westboro Baptist church. You are shrinking to the level of those fanatics with this an other comments I’m seeing. Some of them are not backing down because they think the have God on their side, so tell me why you are not respecting of their beliefs. I’m a gay man that lives in Tupelo MS that wants respect but I first know to receive or even get close to receiving it, I must respect others. I may not agree with them but as long as they respect me as most true southern Christians do, I will respect them. Only the fanatics need to be overlooked, cause no matter how much respect you give them they will still trample you.

    • I see writing a perspective on a blog as a far cry from showing up to the scene of devastation and waving signs in their faces. If people in my neighborhood were suffering losses of that magnitude, I’d be helping pick up the pieces, too (at least I would TRY to. I work an awful lot and don’t get the luxury of time off). So would the Christians around me. The main difference is: I offer my interpretation of these things a few steps removed from the situation. The church folks will not be so restrained. They will offer their interpretation of these things immediately and on the spot. Again I ask, why is it okay for them to tell what all this means and it’s not okay for me to?

    • Damon says:

      Why precisely does belief in god require respect? What makes that particular idea immune from examination?

      • Eli says:

        If you want normal sane Christians to respect your thoughts then you / I must respect theirs. The crazy fanatics are in both sides of this. Those you have to stand up to. Now you are more than welcome to fight AFA or Westboro Baptist church anytime or crazy fanatics who automatically say that just because someone puts belief in God that they are stupid. There are extremes on both sides and if you don’t see that then you are extreme on one side

        • See my next post. People deserve respect; ideas do not. Ideas should be evaluated based on their merit, and religious beliefs are ideas. Disagreement does not equal disrespect.

          I would also add that once you have become aware of a double standard (e.g. They can give their interpretation but I can’t), acceptance of that double standard implies consent.

          I would argue that it is in fact “extreme” to believe that an intelligent being sent a tornado to tear up property in Tupelo. Wouldn’t you agree that’s an irrational belief?

          • Eli says:

            I have not heard one reliable sensible Christian say that God sends things to punish people. The only people I ever hear say such things are fanatics. That is what I saying. You can not lump all of them into the lunatics. Most true Christians I know in the South do not feel that way. That’s why I said you / I have to show the normal ones respect if we wAnt to be respected. So why couldn’t you just say that some lunatic fanatics that claim to be Christians say these crazy things.

  17. Chelsi says:

    Haven’t had a chance to read all the commentary, but I found your thoughts very interesting. I’m a follower of Christ but I used to have the same thoughts/concerns as you on things so I know where you’re coming from. (& for the record, the thought of someone saying “God needed another angel” may have been the part that made my stomach turn a little, I’ve never heard that) But I guess what I’m commenting for is to just clear up a few things. Yes, there are some people who think the way that you posted but then there are also many Christians that don’t have initial “blind faith” and just go along with “God is all knowing and that’s that” (and that’s fine if they do) but there ARE Christians that ask questions and are skeptics (yes, you can be a Christian and a skeptic) & have a sound reason for what they believe in. As I’ve matured in my faith and gained an understanding & trust for the Bible, I’ve realized that you can’t only listen to what Christians say but you’ve got to take it back to the Bible and little of what was pointed out about the church was biblically sound. First, I’ve learned to go boldly to God’s throne of grace for answers. & I’ve never left without one. God doesn’t get mad when we ask hard questions (just read Habakkuk or Psalms) as long as we do it out of sincere curiosity and concern rather than a place of just trying to discredit him (I’ve been there). God is sovereign, & well…God, and we have NO right to question him, but the cool thing is he allows us to. Also, about the part that talks about God punishing a certain town for sin, that’s not biblical & we don’t believe that. Once Christ came, it put us all under the same grace (some accept, some don’t) and that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew). So unlike in Amos or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God no longer does that- instead he hopes that all may come to repentance under Christ. BUT this does show the seriousness of sin…the innocent and the righteous all suffer the consequences of a sinful world. The thing about sin is that everyone must admit it leads to is temporary fixes and pleasure but ultimately has the potential to lead to mistakes, poor self esteem or not-so-fun consequences. (Drunkenness, addictions, greed, eating disorders, pride, gluttony, sexual immorality, pornography, hate, gossip, etc.) They all have risks.You say we know what causes bad weather…high pressure systems and low pressure systems colliding…who created the systems? A God of a fallen, disobedient world that turned it’s back on him. Also, the new testament teaches that Christians will endure hardships in this life. Never once does it say “pray REALLY hard and I may save you”. No, it says that we will experience pain, suffering, will experience loss, etc. but to take heart because this is not our home. There ARE reasons he spares some and not others- does that make it easy? No. but that’s why he’s opened up his throne of grace to anyone who wants to come ask questions or be comforted. There were plenty of “biblical heroes”, if you will, that were sincerely angry with God, but God always responded to them. Oh yeah, another thing! Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to endure the cross, but instead that God could find another way but if that’s the way it had to happen he would do it. So….the son of God’s prayer wasn’t answered. Whoa. So, no, there isn’t a “prayer ritual” that works and doesn’t work. Prayer is just communication with the Father, not a request list or a magic spell. & being “devout” or not does not indicate how your prayers are answered. It’s called grace, not rewards.
    Oh! & fun theory about the maps. Very interesting to see that. I think most people are looking at the top one first wondering why God would let the second happen. But a little perspective would be to look at the bottom one first and wonder if that’s the reason for the top one. You’ll see throughout the old testament that the Israelites always turned back to the Father AFTER experiencing hardship and loss. Just a thought.

    • Also, about the part that talks about God punishing a certain town for sin, that’s not biblical & we don’t believe that.”

      So you’re suggesting God used to send tornadoes and such before Jesus, but he after that he quit doing it?

      Oh! & fun theory about the maps…look at the bottom one first and wonder if that’s the reason for the top one. You’ll see throughout the old testament that the Israelites always turned back to the Father AFTER experiencing hardship and loss. Just a thought.”

      So then maybe God does send the tornadoes? Are we back to that again? You’re flip-flopping a bit, here. Unless you mean that the storms are only accidentally causing greater faith in the more turbulent regions.

      One thing I must point out that really bothers me because I’ve been there before and I recognize the vocabulary. You said:

      I’ve learned to go boldly to God’s throne of grace for answers. & I’ve never left without one

      I was taught to talk this way too, Chelsi. But listen to what you’re saying. This isn’t a self-honest way of talking about how prayer even works. I should know. I wasn’t always a godless heathen. But this kind of talk is misleading and it really should be set aside.

      • Chelsi says:

        Well, I actually have not been “taught” to speak in any which way. Like I stated before, I am a skeptic and I take nothing at face value. Everything I say and believe has come from my own understanding and study of things. But man, yes, you were absolutely right- I was way off in left field wording it like that. I have to remember not everyone has read the Bible or has been surrounded by a culture that speaks this way like I have. It CAN come off as misleading, so let me explain. I will also try to use words everyone is more familiar with. Every time I’ve had a difficult question about the Bible, life, etc. I talk to God about it. Sometimes I get an automatic peace and understanding, if not when I go into studying, the Bible as well as secular reasoning, I always come away from it with a better understanding and peace about it…and sometimes a heck of an explanation. So, hence the “I’ve never left without an answer.” Glad I could clear that up, thanks for pointing that out.
        About the other two questions, that isn’t two different positions I had. Yes, God does things differently under the Old Testament covenant than now. You had the king and creator of the universe with a world of people in rebellion. The king loved his world but there is chaos, injustice, and hatred. Of course he’s angry. But he always warned them over and over again before the he sent (yes, he sent) destruction. (And they always returned to him, as I stated before) It also says over and over how having to do these things grieved him. After knowing this wouldn’t change things he came down and took the wrath himself. So why are there still natural disasters? Because from the beginning of rebellion, a corruption of the entire earth was set into motion. The Bible even says the earth is a slave to corruption because of the corruption that entered through sin. It affected everything. Did God allow natural disasters to be a form of punishment in the Old Testament covenant? Yes. Did every natural disaster mean punishment? No. So although God doesn’t pour his wrath out on all immoral cities and his blessings on all righteous cities anymore, there is still corruption in this world and will continue to be until he returns to restore and make things new.
        I am sincerely curious about one thing, and I hope you don’t take this as rude. You argue more about the morals of God than the existence. Do you not believe in God or do you just not like him? That will make the difference in the answers you’re wanting for those questions.

    • davewarnock says:

      Chelsi,
      I agree, never once does the Bible say- “pray really hard and I may save you”. No, it says more than that- and says it many times. More times than I can iterate here, Jesus said clearly and unambiguously- whatever you ask for shall be given to you; say to the mountain- be removed and cast into the sea and it shall be done; ask for anything and it shall be done; nothing shall be impossible; and so on and so on. He even said- if you ask for a fish, God won’t give you a stone- so we get EXACTLY what we ask for; not some “substitute” according to “the will of God”. He said- I give you power over serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall BY ANY MEANS hurt you.
      But Christians get hurt, and they die- just like non-Christians. And people ask for things they need and they don’t get them. And prayers are CLEARLY unanswered. But most Christians- and apparently, you yourself, cast this off as “God’s will”; or He has a better plan, etc etc. That’s the point of Neil’s post here. There is a huge cognitive dissonance here.

  18. Pingback: Is This a Bad Time to Critique a Religious Belief? | godless in dixie

  19. Charlie says:

    I believe that God controls and allows all things that happen. So I would say God allowed the storms to go where they did in Arkansas. We do not always know why people suffer. Even Job is never told why he went through the pain and suffering he went through. We can look back now and see that he is a great example to all of us who go through these tough times in our lives. Neil, you know that Jesus never says it’ll be easy. “Christians” have done a terrible job of showing the love of Christ. Each one of us are made in his image whether we are believers or not. We are to help the orphans, widows, the weak, and all who are in distress. Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world but that through Him we would be saved. As followers of Christ we are not to condemn people. We are to show grace and love to everyone we come in contact. God didn’t create a world with death and disease in it. Once the human race rebelled against God, “sin” entered the world. Not only did it effect our relationship with Him, it allowed for death and decay to begin. It’s like having water erode earth. It starts small but over a long enough time can create a large canyon. So as time has gone by and the earth continues it’s “decay,” disasters will become more frequent and harsher. God allows what has been set in motion to happen until all that will believe in him believe. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything that you haven’t already heard before. What is the good in the tragedy in Arkansas? I don’t know. Does God allow some to die and others to live whether believers or not? Yes. Why? I don’t know. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean He isn’t good. In a world gone to crap, wouldn’t a good god hit the reset button? Wouldn’t a good god show mercy? Wouldn’t a good god do whatever he could to make things right and rescue you and me from this world? That’s what Christ did on the cross. Even if it was just for you or any one person you love, he would have came to save you/them. He will set things right but is waiting until those He knows will accept Him come.

    • David W says:

      I almost never reply to comments like these, but I feel a bit grumpy, so I will make an exception.

      This is just a miniature version of a sermon we have all heard many times: “why does God allow bad things? trust him, he’s good, its really our fault… etc, now for the alter call and emotional music”

      One ought not to expect to achieve results by simply rewording the ‘message’ that is being called into question as problematic.
      Simply rewording something we have all heard many times, while advancing no new argument, will not result in the the author or audience suddenly saying “Ah hah! now I understand” and then reciting the back of a tract and suddenly become ‘born again.’

      Comments like these are just laughable.

  20. warebec says:

    I’ve spent most of my free time this week composing a much longer post on the problem of evil, but I think you’ve made most of my points much more concisely here. (I’ll drop the link below for anyone interested.) Bravo for this treatment of the subject!

    http://completehistory.me/2014/05/02/the-problem-of-evil/

  21. /christianity, is the problem, when things go wrong and people die its Gods will which makes God a monster, when things are great its because of God and is also his will??? will never understand that way of thinking, when a child is molested, is that also Gods will, Is it also his will when the person who did it gets away with it and does it over and over again??? or when a child is borne with a disease that will eventually kill that child that is also Gods will??? and then their is the blaming part, its because of the LGBT community, God is punishing every one, because of 1 small group of people. I have heard every thing from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, accidents, mass shootings, the common cold, the flu, unwanted pregnancies, diarrhea, and many other crazy things being Gods punishment, because of a small group of people? which makes him a monster, again if you ask me. but yet people want to yell, and scream it is not fair to punish a whole group of people because 1 of them did something wrong, but yet it is ok for god to punish every one because of the LGBT community??? how is that right. just some of the many reasons I can not follow the Christian religion, because personally, I think it is a bunch of crap, and to many christians only pick and choose which laws of their bible they want to follow, usually the laws they don’t agree with they make excuses as to why they don’t have to follow those laws any more. but the laws they do agree with any one who does not agree that these laws are right, are evil people, and somehow a second class citizen because their book says it is wrong, and even people who dont believe or follow their religion. should see it their way, every one should follow their religion, but only the laws that they see fit to follow. to much contradiction in Christianity for me.

  22. Pingback: Link Love (2014-05-17) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  23. archaeopteryx1 says:

    The first time, after the storm, that I saw that image, it was accompanied with this insightful comment:
    Thanking god for leveling your neighborhood and not killing you, is like thanking a serial killer for deciding to skip your house and stab your neighbors to death instead.

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