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How to Handle It When a Christian Says, "You're Mad at God"...and You're an Atheist
What Christians Say
It seems that, these days, Christians are determined to tell us atheists that we are mad at God. The line you may hear from such a conversation could go something like this:
“You don’t believe because you’re mad at God for something tragic that happened in your life and/or in someone else’s. But don’t worry. Just trust in Him and He will lead you safely to utopia. That’s what He did in my life; He can do it in yours, too. Why do you have so much hate in your heart?”
No matter how much you insist that you don’t believe in God, many Christians will locate the place you feel most insecure or hurting and say that this hurt is the cause for your anger at God. This can be difficult to go through, especially if it’s a Christian close to you and they know how to twist the knife. They may see you squirm and become uncomfortable, but they are probably going to be undeterred -- the rationale is that, by breaking your emotional strength and stability, they are forcing you to rely on God. And, honestly, this technique often works if one cracks under the pressure; Christianity evangelism is often at its most effective when all sense of your self esteem is broken.
Solution 1: Using Christian Logic Against Itself
How do you stand up against this attack, especially when it is dressed up in sanctimonious Christianeze that can, for the formerly devoutly religious, set off upsetting triggers? For starters, we can try to see this objection from the Christian's point of view. It's easy for us to say, "I'm not mad at God if I don't believe in Him," but, considering the Christian's point of view, they'll likely see that as a smokescreen (although it does make perfect sense, of course).
In taking apart the Christian’s motivation for this “You’re mad at God” speech, the first step is to notice that the reasoning is based on the very logic it criticizes. It accuses you of not believing in God because of something tragic that happened in your life (often ridiculed by Christians as a ridiculous reason to not believe in God)...and then it says that you should trust in God, even though (or especially because) times are hard, because God will make something happen in your life that outweighs the tragedy . So in both cases -- belief and nonbelief -- one’s attitude towards the concept of God is based on whether or not the tragedy in their life is or will be outweighed by its happiness (and most of this happiness will occur, of course, in a future utopia).
Thus, our lack of belief in God, in the Christian’s mind, is based on our thinking that whatever future this God is able to bring won’t make up for the tragedy we’ve experienced.
The relevant question then, becomes: What future is God likely to bring, based on the available evidence?
And here, the Christian may allow for a certain measure of doubt. Although some Christians may just be out to demean you, often the “you’re just mad at God” argument is used most stridently, it seems, by Christians who seem strongly impacted by their own tragedies, and who are thus wondering to themselves, “How can God be good in a world that’s so terrible?”
It may help to realize that this wondering is analogous to the hope any of us have when tragedy happens in our lives. Most of us atheists hope things will get better, even against seemingly insurmountable odds. We hope that our team wins the championship next year, we hope that we’ll smile wider, we hope that we’ll succeed. We hope, and that hope gets us out of bed in the morning, it motivates us to work long hours, often at jobs we hate, and to work at causes that most think are lost, and to withstand the strain of relationships in hope that they will get better. We all hope; this is nothing new or unique to the Christian.
It’s just that, for the Christian, the hope is wrapped up in God. All the hope you feel is often, especially for the most devout, encapsulated for them in that word “God.” And, to many of them, you’re a threat to that. You’re someone who says that the hope is false, that there is no brighter tomorrow, that the toil will end in dust. If you’re insistent here, the words from the Christian defending God may be trying to tell you that hope is still alive so they can tell it to themselves. To feel the desperation some Christians may feel, imagine -- what would your life be like if all the hope you had for tomorrow was called “God” and someone came, threatening to take all its possibilities away from you? How would you feel, especially if your life up to that point looked like a tragedy?
So, God is a reason for hope. And if this is where the Christian is coming from, you can assure the Christian that you still have reason to hope, and you can talk about some of your hopes and the concrete reasons you have them. This can show the Christian that yes, there is hope outside of God. If it’s in your power, you can try to give the Christian a sense of hope, too.
Solution 2: Asking Them To Use Evidence To Prove God Will Make Things Better
One response is to examine the supposed character of God. You can accept, for the sake of argument only (while making it clear you don’t believe in Him), the premise that God exists. Is there evidence that God, if He even existed, really will give us a better future? What does history tell us? Is God reliable?
In a sense we can admit that yes, we are upset that a nonexistent entity -- or anything, really, like perhaps a check from Bill Gates -- didn’t make things better for us in our past. We would have liked for the negative things that happened to us in our past to not have happened, in many cases. But they did -- and not only to us, but to many who prayed fervently, as well. A God who seems to have no overall positive impact in our lives here -- why would we believe He would have a positive impact on our future lives? If people have good and bad fortune here on earth as if God didn’t exist and wasn’t choosing one over the other based on any consistent criteria, who is to say that this will change after we die?
If your reason for belief in God is the awesome things he’ll supposedly do in the future, what is your evidence that he’ll do those awesome things?
Because surely, if I believed he would do those great things, I would believe in Him, right? And I would love Him. So the Christian can go ahead and try to convince you that he’ll give you a better life in the long term -- based on concrete evidence.
You see -- this is where the conversation begins. If there is no rational basis for a hope in God -- why should you trust that a God will change your circumstances in the future? Because even if you WERE angry at God and thus left him, that anger is based on the premise that there is no evidence that any God is going to make things better for you -- otherwise, you would believe in Him. And because the Christian believes in a God who can make things better for you -- obviously you don’t believe in that God, which means, concerning that God, you’re an atheist and who needs to be evidentially convinced that this God exists.
And in that attempt to be convincing, we’re talking about more than anecdotes about how the cancer was in remission without explanation, or the parking spot you got, or the raise. We’re also introducing to the conversation child poverty and the fact that some children die of a lack of water or antibiotics. They’ll have to convince you in the midst of earthquakes, etc., that God exists.
Tim Minchin's Response
It’s not enough to say that it’s man’s sin, that makes things happen. First, earthquakes and floods happen through natural means; there seems no evidence that a naked couple eating a fruit in a garden six thousand years ago caused an earthquake. And even if the Christian thinks that’s what you really believe in your heart -- if you really believed it, why would you reject the Christian’s supposed Utopia? And even if you did believe it underneath it all -- not that you do, but even if you did -- would that mean that it were true? Of course not. Such claims seem to clearly require evidence.
Thanks for reading!
So, that’s my take. The “you’re angry at God” attack is often more about the Christian, it seems, than the atheist. Sometimes it’s used to be nasty -- and sometimes, it’s because the Christian is trying to protect their own sense of hope. You can combat this reasoning by bringing the conversation back to a discussion on evidence and underlining more realistic sounding, evidence-based hopes you have as opposed to idealistically motivated, unevidenced hopes.
Do most Christians you know think your atheism comes from your supposed anger at God?
Thanks for reading!