Critiquing God and Journeying into the Desert

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? -Epicurus

Today’s Atheism for Lent reflection is this quote from Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century BCE. It is one of the oldest surviving arguments against the existence of God. And I am musing quite heavily on it this morning.

Last week AfL was a contemplative preparation of sorts. We read a comic book excerpt about finding a place with conflict can exist without war, we considered the enigma of belief, the necessity of both silence and words when we consider God, and then the value of disruption. We set the stage. Now, we are taking long hard looks at writings that question the very existence of God. Or, as Rollins puts it, “the critique of God as being.”

We are jumping off the high dive. I have zero answers to that above quote. And that is okay. Because belief is an enigma, and I can say that “I don’t know.”

I have to admit, I consider myself an agnostic Christian. I do not know that there is, in fact, a God. I cannot prove it. But I’ve chosen to hang my coat, as it were, in the Christian tradition. Because Jesus offers a great hope for the world. He offers love and meaning. And when I offer up a song of “I need you” or I confess that I have experienced trauma at the hands of a church to a pastor or I talk about the evils of capitalism with a friend, Jesus is within our conversation, offering hope and a better way of being. Whether or not God exists, it means something to me.

Lent is about going into the desert with Christ. Identifying with him in our weakness. The Lectio Divinia reading from yesterday I did today. It was an interesting juxtaposition: read and consider one of the oldest critiques of God and then contemplate Matthew 4:1-11: Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted.

Jesus fasts for forty days. And it is not until he is at his weakest that temptations come his way.

As I was meditating, I imagined a mirror image of Jesus, this one clean, fed, strong, a regal Son of God telling the dirty, hungry, weak Jesus, the fully human expression of the divine, to “bow down and worship me.” The temptation coming from within himself, to be something the world might consider better than this suffering homeless rabbi. “Be strong! Take what is yours!” Jesus tells himself. “No. That is not why I came here,” Jesus responds.

“Feed yourself. You have the power.”
“No, I will live off the words of my Father.”
“Throw yourself down. Prove your divinity.”
“No, I will not test my power.”
“Worship me! You deserve the respect, glory, and power of the nations!”
“No. Only God is worthy of worship.”

Jesus passes through suffering to become what he came to be: a fully human expression of the divine, here to bring heaven to earth. He could have taken what was his. He could have taken power. He could have become what the world thinks he should have been: a conqueror, a Lord, a God. But he remained the humble Jesus of Nazareth. And showed us all a better way to live.

I’m journeying into the desert this week.
Grace and peace.

Atheism for Lent

You’ve heard the story
You know how it goes
Once upon a garden
We were lovers with no clothes

Fresh from the soil
We were beautiful and true
In control of our emotions
‘Til we ate the poisoned fruit
And now it’s

[Chorus]
Hard to be
Hard to be
Hard to be
A decent human being

Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
That all this misbehaving
Came from one enchanted tree?

And helpless to fight it
We should all be satisfied
With this magical explanation
For why the living die?

[Chorus]

Child birth is painful
We toil to grow our food
Ignorance has made us hungry
Information made us no good
Every burden misunderstood

I swung my tassel
To the left side of my cap
Knowing after graduation
There would be no going back

And no congratulations
From my faithful family
Some of who are already fasting
To intercede for me
Because it’s

Hard to be, hard to be, hard to be a decent human being.

-David Bazan, “Hard to Be”


It is Ash Wednesday, and like so many Christians around the world I am observing Lent this year. I thought it would be a good start to this blog by writing at the beginning of something.

Lent is meant to bring one into suffering alongside Christ. 40 days of suffering yield to joy on Easter. These days it seems that people use it like a restart to their New Year’s Resolutions. Give up chocolate, soda, or sex for 40 days. Suffer without it. Pat yourself on the back when you make it halfway. No offense to those people, but eh.

Lent is marking a renewal of sorts for me. I walked away from the Christian church in August 2015. I’m just now making my way back. I have never been turned off from the church by Jesus. Or by a believer in another faith. Or by an atheist. It’s always been a Christian that makes me want to walk away. I’m trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But it’s difficult. So I’m taking the opportunity of the Lenten season to do a few things to try and strengthen my faith in Jesus and his teachings.

  1. Atheism for Lent: the wonderful Peter Rollins offers a 40 day Lenten program to take Christians through the greatest critiques of Christianity and of God. Reading writings from atheists and critiquers of religion “not to judge them, but to let them judge us.” This year’s theme is about the love affair between atheism and theism. One doesn’t exist without the other. I’m really excited about this, because I’ve reclaimed a much more progressive Christianity that listens to other voices and doesn’t exist in a fundamentalist echo chamber.
  2. The Liturgists Lent meditations: I’ve followed the Liturgists for some time now. Finding them helped me to keep from totally unravelling. This year, they are releasing meditations daily for their Patreon subscribers. I became a patron just so I could get access to these liturgies. They take the form of Lectio Divinia, which is a standard and highly used practice for Christian meditation.
  3. Bye Facebook: I wasn’t going to do this until just about an hour ago. But I decided that Facebook is completely unhelpful to what I am attempting to do this Lenten season. It’s a time suck, it gets me riled up, and I find that fundamentalist Christians on the internet make me hate God. Especially Christians who voted for 45. There is such a disconnect between the love of Christ and that man. I do not understand it. And so, I will stop attempting to understand it, and will stay off Facebook for Lent mainly to focus on the first two things I’m doing: Atheism for Lent and daily meditation practice.

The above song lyrics are from David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion fame). His 2009 album Curse Your Branches has been my Lenten playlist today. It seems fitting, since he so eloquently and emotionally struggles with his doubts on this album. It’s worth taking a look at the sincere criticisms of Christianity and religion. That’s exactly what I intend to do for the next 40 days.

Are you observing Lent? Tell me about it in the comments below!