Talking to a cynic about religion


My daughter is a cynic and my conversations with her are very entertaining. This morning she said to me, “when one person hears a voice in their head it is called schizophrenia, when multiple people hear voices in their head it is called religion.” The conversation started because of her reaction to a book that she has to read as part of the curriculum she is following. We work at the dining room table and as I type blog posts she constantly interrupts my train of thought to exclaim about something she has just read in the book.

The hero of the book is meant to be an example of a good Christian. The theme of the book so far seems to be to trust in God.The problem my practical and logical daughter has with the character is that he ( and I quote my daughter here ) ” is stupid.” The character has taken trusting in God to extremes in her view.The examples she gave me reminded me of this joke. 

John, who was in financial difficulty, walked into a church and started to pray. ”Listen God,” John said. ”I know I haven’t been perfect but I really need to win the lottery. I don’t have a lot of money. Please help me out.” He left the church, a week went by, and he hadn’t won the lottery, so he walked into a synagogue. ”Come on, God,” he said. ”I really need this money. My mom needs surgery and I have bills to pay. Please let me win the lottery.” He left the synagogue, a week went by, and he didn’t win the lottery. So, he went to a mosque and started to pray again. ”You’re starting to disappoint me, God,” he said. ”I’ve prayed and prayed. If you just let me win the lottery, I’ll be a better person. I don’t have to win the jackpot, just enough to get me out of debt. I’ll give some to charity, even. Just let me win the lottery.” John thought this did it, so he got up and walked outside.
The clouds opened up and a booming voice said, ”John, buy a bloody lottery ticket.”

In the book the main character’s inability to take personal responsibility for anything is highly irritating to my daughter. In one chapter he manages to find work but his employer tells him on day one that he is very forgetful and likely to forget to pay him. The employer asks the character to please remind him. The character instead trusts that God will provide and when payday comes he has not been paid. After three weeks the employer finally remembers but cannot pay the character as he has already sent all his cash to the bank. Totally broke and hungry the character prays and amazingly a letter arrives that strangely contains children’s gloves. Puzzled he picks one up and a gold coin falls out of one of the gloves.

Throughout the book the character turns down help from others as he is determined to instead ” trust in God to provide.” He makes foolish decisions and then trusts in God to bail him out of his difficulties. My daughter’s exasperation with this character is quite comforting. I know that she believes that she is the author of her own destiny and that it is up to her to make good decisions. She understands that others find strength in a belief in God which in many ways is just another version of her turning to her inner strength when she has a challenge to face.What they call prayer, she may call thinking. What they call acting like a Christian, she may call being a good person.

I enjoy talking to my daughter because she still has the black and white certainty of youth. I used to be equally as certain about my beliefs when I was her age. As an adult I think very differently to how I used to think but I have more of a live and let live attitude and don’t feel that I have to prove others wrong in order to believe that my ideas are right.

I really do believe in freedom of religion as long as it does not impinge on anyone else’s human rights. Personally I no longer care whether or not God exists or not. I actually think it is more likely that God does not exist but was made up by human beings to explain what they didn’t understand. It was the historical existence of Jesus that convinced me when I was younger but now I know that our written history in any form will contain both inaccuracies as well as outright falsehoods. People wrote it after all and people are always biased and sometimes dishonest.

It concerns me when genuinely lovely people want to declare the bible and the koran for example as the authoritative word of God and infallible. No one in their right mind would declare any history book to be infallible let alone one written by multiple authors.It is simply not logical to make such a statement so that is where people’s ‘faith’ comes in I guess.

When I attended a Catholic primary and intermediate school I struggled with the concept of having faith. Intellectually it is quite a leap to put your life in the hands of someone when you can never know for sure if they actually exist. Like my daughter I have faith in what I know. I have faith in myself and I have faith in my loved ones. That is what works for me but I understand that religion and a belief in God works for others.My daughter has yet to accept that. She is as rigid as any fundamentalist follower of a religion. Her way is right and others are wrong. I have faith that she will not think this way forever.





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  • KatB

    This springs to mind about the guy leaving it all up to God, “The Lord helps those who help themselves”, (and I don’t think it’s meaning burglars).

    • kereru

      Hi KatB!
      This is an interesting idea but it isn’t Biblical as you probably know. I didn’t realise where it came from but it seems its earliest appearance (around 620-564 BC) is from one of Aesop’s fables: Hercules and the Waggoner.

      ‘God helps those who help themselves’ seems true for the simple reason that things tend to get done more if we get down and do them. Our obedience to God produces fruit. The more modern version of this proverb is ‘It’s easier to steer a moving car,’ meaning, God can lead us more easily if we just start working for Him and let Him direct us. :-)

      • KatB

        Thanks, I didn’t know where that came from but gathered it wasn’t Biblical but it’s always made sense to me. I gather a God who loves me would want me to use my abilities and talents to the best I can and be as self sufficient as possible, (still with God’s guidance), hence having a feeling of great self worth, just as I want for my kids.

        • kereru

          Yes, I agree and have found that when I start a work He has prompted me to do, He adds the blessing and then gives me more opportunities. It’s no good sitting with your arms folded and waiting for Him to start – you have to take the first steps and see if the doors fling open or remain shut. You soon know if what you’ve started is in His will, or was just a ‘good idea’ on your part. Many a time I’ve taken matters into my own hands and it has come to nothing. I think the feeling of self worth is not so valuable as the warm feeling of doing God’s will His way and in His timing. Nothing beats that!

  • digby

    One of the most telling things about religion being mass idiocy is that we now have yet another religion popping up (Destiny) which seems at the heart of it to be a person (Tamaki) who has dreamt up a way of avoiding real work in favour of convincing the masses to donate a proportion of their wealth to him. A bit like Jesus only far more interested in the wealth side of it and 2,000 years late. I don’t doubt Jesus was real, its just that he’s not the messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy. Religions should be seen for what they are, businesses, and taxed accordingly. Look at the wealth amassed by various spokespeople (ie CEO’s, manager equivalents of the corporate world) of the religions around the world.
    The other thing I hate is the presumption of many religious people that they have a monopoly on morality and that they even invented morality.

    • johnandali

      When you say that he convinces the masses to donate a proportion of their wealth to him, I would ask, “What wealth?” I think you’d find a huge proportion already live on the edge of poverty.

      • digby

        Supposedly (not a fact unless someone can enlighten us) the destiny church request that patrons tithe around 10% of their income to the church for “running expenses”. This is the wealth I am referring to. 10% of their income relates to a very large percentage of their disposable income and may very well be the reason they live on the edge of poverty.
        While I am not against this occurring, as they are essentially buying a sense of well being, comraderie etc, I think it should be taxed like every other service provider.

        • johnandali

          But I worry about where the money goes. For instance, I recently read an article about a church leader who had taken his wife off for a lovely holiday in Las Vegas. I recently saw photos of the floor of a church in a low decile area completely covered in $50 notes, and the parishioners felt that they also had to throw their high denomination notes on the floor, otherwise they would feel belittled in the community. I don’t like seeing poor people being taken advantage of. Mind you, I’m agnostic, so I’m probably biased.

          • kereru

            Neither do I. It’s utterly appalling what these guys get up to in the name of Christ. Unfortunately, they get all the publicity and people think they represent Biblical Christian belief when they are nothing more than charlatans.

            You are right to be biased against such displays. So am I, and I’m angry at their misrepresentation of Christian teaching as well. The moral of the story is do NOT look at fallible mankind. Look at Christ’s teaching and example if you want to know what Biblical Christianity is all about.

        • kereru

          It is totally unBiblical on several counts. Destiny is more like a cult than a church. Unfortunately the uninformed see the likes of self-appointed ‘bishop’ Tamaki and believe he represents the Christian faith. He does not. He’s a wealthy showman with the gift of the gab and the ability to extract money from his congregation, imagining that God is pleased with him.

          Firstly, tithes were levied on the Israelites during their 40 year exodus when they were being formed into a nation. They do not apply now because we already pay income tax and other taxes.

          According to NT teaching, the amount you give is purely up to you. God looks on your motives and is pleased with your gift. if it is given ‘with a cheerful heart’. A few coins from a genuine giver pleases him more than a big showy display of wealth from a rich man filled with pride because He sees the hearts of men. I’m afraid many Pentecostal-type ministers do not know their Bibles very well.

          As for taxing churches, they are non-profit and run entirely on the the donations of their congregations who have already paid income tax. Our church produces a balance sheet which can be seen by anyone who wishes to pick up a copy after our AGM. The accounts are audited by an independent auditor every year. We do not get grants or any other form of funding from any secular organisation, and we pay rates and utilities like anyone else. If our Pastor was paid for the time he spends meeting the needs of people, visiting hospitals, hospices, people going through difficulties and giving counselling, we wouldn’t be able to pay him the modest salary he draws.

  • Seriously?

    I think your daughter is on the right track.

    A common theme that annoys me is when the media interview a survivor, typically an American one, of some major incident in which many died, and the survivor exclaims to the world “Thank God we were safe”. Don’t thank God. Thank luck.

    But if they really believe their God saved them they should have the decency to keep it quiet out of respect for the families of all of those their God decided would die.

  • spanishbride

    “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.”

    ― Emo Philips

    • kereru

      Not how God works either, but never mind.

      • spanishbride

        I know :) It is a funny joke particularly to an ex Catholic like myself. The best thing about being a Catholic is you can do whatever you like then go to confession and get it all forgiven ;)

        • Duchess of Pork

          That was a never ending source of bewilderment to we Prods when I was growing up as our ministers were very adept at making their flock feel the guilts. Particularly the girls who all learned to carry the burden of Eve’s original sin. It took years to divest ourselves of that guilt and the ministers never did understand why most of us became feminists in adulthood.

  • Keyser Soze

    I am your daughter. Well figuratively.

  • phronesis

    Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I exist. Everything else you ever thought was true is the product of inductive reasoning. It’s probably true but you can’t be sure that it’s true. When you act on the basis of inductive reasoning you essentially have faith that your inference is correct.

  • Disinfectant

    Well here’s someone who has never, ever hedged his bets.

    There is no God, Allah, Budha, Tooth Fairies, Ghosts, Lepricauns, Mermaids, Poltergeists, Yeti’s, Santa’s, Angels, Flying Reindeer, Martians, Live Elvis’, Free Lunches, Easter Bunnies or Chocolate cars running on ice cream.

    And I gaurantee I will not be struck down by a bolt of lightning in the next hour because there are no Cumulonimbus clouds anywhere to be seen as I sit here in Queenstown.

    • XCIA

      Sorry, I must disagree. The Tooth Fairy left a note under my pillow “Your tooth is too small, so it is only worth 3d”. She left me an Irish silver 3d piece which I couldn’t spend anyway because we were in Edinburgh……so there! ;-)

      • Disinfectant

        An Irish silver 3d!

        Maybe there are Lepricauns, but it thought it was a Tooth Fairy.

        Sounds like Murphy at work in Scotland.

  • HunuaRanger

    The best example I can think of is this story:

    A man was standing on the front deck of his house when floodwaters began to rise, as the water drew level with his deck a truck stopped close by and the trucker yelled “get in the truck and I’ll drive you to safety”

    The man replied “no thanks , I trust god to look after me”

    The floodwater kept rising and drew level to the second floor landing, a boat then sailed close to the house and the captain yelled ” get in the boat and I’ll sail you to safety”

    The man replied “no thanks , I trust god to look after me”

    finally the water rose to the top of his roof and the man was standing on top of the roof when a helicopter landed on the roof and the pilot yelled “get in and I’ll fly you to safety”

    But the man said “no thanks , I trust god to look after me”
    Well the man drowned in the flood and was standing in heaven in front of god and said “I don’t understand it god, why didn’t you save me?”
    to which god replied ” I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want me to do?”

    • rua kenana

      He might also usefully have demanded his 72 virgins since god failed to allow him any more in his previous life.
      He could usefully have asked, “If the muslims are allowed them why aren’t I? Isn’t there a better heaven around somewhere?” or maybe just “I want my money back, after feeding the collection plate in church and donating megabucks to CEO’s and others in putative Christian charities for years, I’ve in the end got buzz all to show for it other than the privilege of wailing monotonous dirges of praise for all eternity.”

      • kereru

        ‘He might also usefully have demanded his 72 virgins since god failed to allow him any more in his previous life.’

        Except that the God of the Bible is the exact opposite of Allah, and promises no such thing.

  • Just me

    Ask her what she makes of the tenants of Islam and the imposition of sharia on millions of women worldwide. Get to her before the liberals “adjust” her views on that too…

    • spanishbride

      Every single one of her male friends is a liberal. It drives her to distraction when she tries to have a discussion with them. They call her racist and they call her Islamophobic. They are pro Palestine and anti Israel and dismiss her views because her father is Whaleoil and her mother is Islamophobic because she is critical of the ideology of Islam on the blog.

      I have tried to explain to her that there is no point discussing issues with them because they have been brainwashed by the state school system as much as she has been brainwashed ( according to them ) by her parents.

      While we have certainly influenced her she is a critical thinker and is not afraid to disagree with us. A case in point is her opinion of religion. Her Dad for many years has gone almost every week to a bible study group but she has no interest at all in the bible. She went to two christian schools and they both turned her off religion totally.

      I kept my lack of belief to myself until she started to tell me why she didn’t believe. She reads the blog because she is interested in certain topics. She is a strong young woman and if 4 of her close male friends can’t change her views then no other liberal has a chance.Like her Dad she is quite capable of debating 4 people at a time.

      • contractor

        So you’ve brought her up to think for her self rather than follow social dogmas!

  • contractor

    Ah the innocence and freshness of the young (another loss of aging).
    I respect believers right to their religion, and what they get from it so long as they don’t enforce it on others in any way including on family members.
    However I have yet to see a shred of evidence that any of the many hundreds of gods throughout history has ever actually existed. This is reinforces why secularist freedom so important.

    • rua kenana

      There’s an interesting and brief YouTube clip on this topic which I think makes the point very well:

      • spanishbride

        This one is also very brief but points out that we must not forget how religion used to be in the past.

        • Seriously?

          It was very sad when he died, but he left us with plenty to ponder. You should google the video of Krauss’ eulogy for him.

    • Monty’smate

      So it all just ‘happened’ by chance, did it? The miracle that is the human body just kind of ‘happened’ in response to the environment- or some such thing? The beauty of a rose just kind of ‘happened’? Only a wilfully blind person could look at the miracles that surround us and claim that they ‘have yet to see any evidence’ of a creator. It all just kind of ‘happened’.

      • spanishbride

        I admit that science cannot explain it to my satisfaction. However our inability to explain our existence does not comprehensively prove that there must be a God. I used to think that it was logical that God existed as the big bang couldn’t have made something from nothing. Now I realise that human knowledge has limitations and that there is never going to be only one definitive explanation for what we don’t understand.

        God is a pretty good explanation for the unknown I admit and I used to rate that possibility a lot higher than I do now. These days, how humankind came into being along with the rest of the world, well let’s just say I am quite at peace with it being a mystery to me just like algebra :)

        • kereru

          I wasn’t around much yesterday, but I do NOT recommend books by John Spong or Lloyd Geering. Why would you read the vitriolic rantings of two apostates, far less pass them on to somene you love? Engage her mind with books which describe the uniqueness of Christ and God’s abundant love for her. There are far more wholesome books she can read than those penned by bitter old men who desire to draw people away from the love God offers so freely, so abundantly and at great cost to HImself.

          No other ‘deity’ has reached down to mankind freely as He has and does. All others demand you work for your acceptance to meet their approval. No other God calls Himself Father (actually it’s better than that. He calls Himself Abba with means Daddy), or has a fatherly love for us. He is knowable, and wants to be known, unlike all other deities. We can have full assurance of His love and acceptance, and a life with a certain knowledge of a future filled with joy and blessing.

          Atheists and agnostics seem think they are qualified to comment on something they have never experienced for themselves personally. Furthermore they are spreading the untruth that Christianity is a religion – it is not, it is a wonderful relationship with our Creator who is always reaching out to us. Religion is man-made and therefore full of error, pride and posturing.

          ‘Religion’ was as much shunned by God as it is by the detractors on this thread. ‘Religion’ is not what Biblical Christianity is about. It is full of wolves not shepherds who fleece the sheep rather than feed them. God says He ‘hates’ (stong word) meaningless rituals and repeated prayers. He is looking for hearts that are open to Him and He will fill them with His love.

          I have to go now, but the best thing you can do is to learn what Jesus says of Himself. Have a look at John’s Gospel in a modern version of the Bible (ESV or NIV), preferably with explanatory notes, and just take it slowly because every word is there for a purpose. It was inspired by God to counter the errors that had already crept into the 1st century church. It is the best section of the NT to start your journey of exploration with your daughter!

      • contractor

        So what is the evidence of what you suggest? Saying that life cannot just have happened is not proof of a creator, or that life cannot have evolved as science argues.
        As I implied, it is a personal choice what to believe and I certainly wouldn’t place a bet either way, because I have yet to see proof of either but my personal leaning is the science, perfect or otherwise, because I have seen no thread of evidence as to any creator. I hope there would be respect for personal choice.

  • Totara

    I completely get your daughter’s exasperation with the so-called hero of the book. But if she is genuinely interested in expanding her knowledge of Christianity, then it would be helpful for her to know that there are some very different viewpoints out there from those of the all-too-vocal fundamentalists and charismatics.

    She could try the ideas of New Zealand’s very own Lloyd Geering who wrote Christianity Without God.

    Or alternatively, Jesus for the Non-Religious, by John Spong would provide a perspective that doesn’t require abandoning her intelligence.

  • Jimmie

    For those who go to such extremes they should remind themselves that though God asks us to have faith in Him, He also was the one who gave human beings a measure of common sense, reason, and the ability to work to provide for themselves as well.

    Some folk tend to get their lives out of balance.

    Faith is good, common sense is good, reason is good. Get them all in balance and you can have a complete and happy life. They do not have to be in conflict with each other.

  • Mags

    Great post SB.

  • Shane Ponting

    In my study bible there is a line that says something like “You must act as if all depends on you, and pray as if all depends on God”. The idea is that faith extends/complements your humanity it does not substitute your level of engagement/effort.

    “I actually think it is more likely that God does not exist but was made up by human beings to explain what they didn’t understand.”
    I’m truly sorry you’ve reached this point, many people who discover more and more about the world around them find their faith strengthened as they marvel at the complexity of the created world and appreciate all the more how impressive the creator is.

    • spanishbride

      It is all good Shane. I am happy with my conclusion and I am happy that you are happy with your belief. It is like when your child marries. It doesn’t matter if you personally like who they marry as long as they are happily married to that person and that person treats them well.