Yesterday evening my wife and I were invited to friends house for New Year's eve. We met them when I was a christian and we have kept in touch. They had a few other friends there as well, including the new church pastor and his wife. I was introduced to them briefly 10 years ago but didn't know them well. They were at the local bible college back then and moving to a church in Glasgow.
So I went through to the dining room to get some more food from the buffet and John the pastor follows me. Nobody else was in the room so I was guessing I was being set up for some gentle persuasion.
Sure enough, I am busy ladeling some rice and curry onto my plate when he opens with, "so you don't come to church anymore?"
Here is a paraphrase of how it went from there..
Me - "No its been over 10 years since I was in church. In that time my views have changed a lot. I would describe myself as an atheist now". (might as well get it out there)
John - "Really! Did you ever have an experience of Jesus as a christian or was it just about doctrines?"
Me - (thinking, cheeky bugger!) "No I was genuinely a born-again christian in every sense" I expanded on this at some length.
John - "It's funny how things in your lives can lead us down different paths...."
I perceived he was wanting to ask, "what the hell happened?" so I obliged.
Me - "I was having some doubts, but its difficult to be objective when your life is full of preaching and prayer meetings and other activities. So I accepted an offer to coach a youth team who played on Sundays knowing that would give me space to think about things. It was 10 years ago this week that I was driving to a Boxing Day charity football match when I heard the first reports on the radio about the Asian tsunami. It eventually turned out that a quarter of a million people had been killed in a few minutes. I spent the next few months paying very close attention to how believers and prominent theologians responed to it."
John - "What answers did they give?"
Me - "You know as well as I do John, all the usual apologetics. I eventually concluded that it is all vacuous. There was no answer, and I knew I no longer believed in a god or in anything supernatural".
John - "I would say that ......
(here Pastor John spent 20 minutes trying out 6 theodicies, summarised as follows...)
1. God does good things, Satan does bad things.
My response - So Satan caused the tsunami and god did nothing. That makes god look weak as well as wicked.
2. Calamities can be prevented by intersessionary prayer
My response - So god would have saved 250 000 lives if only a christian had remembered to pray?
3. There are lots of stories of christians who were saved from death in the tsunami. (this is a way of saying those who died basically had themselves to blame = prosperity teaching)
My response - I'm sure there are lots of stories of atheists and Muslims who were saved from death in the tsunami. There were also many thousands of christians who died. If god picked a few favourites that only makes him look even more nasty and capricious.
4. Humans cause suffering.
My response - The tsunami was caused by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean. There was absolutely nothing any human could do to cause it or prevent it.
5. Free will. Here he manged to link it to 9/11?
My response - I am deliberately not talking about human actions. I am only interested in "natural evil". If god had prevented the tsunami no free will would have been involved.
6. All creation including the planet was harmed by the "fall".
My response - It was casued by the movement of tectonic plates. Earthquakes are an intrinsic part of how the earth was made. They have been happening for billions of years. It would have been trivially easy for him to quell the beginning of the tsunami wave long before anybody even knew it had happened. He chose to do nothing except watch the wave wipe out a quarter of a million lives.
At this point he impressed me with his honesty. He said explicitly that he had no answer. He said that as christians they ought to have answers because people do ask these sort of questions. I suggested that theology has had more than long enough to think of one.
In retrospect it was appropriate to have that conversation on the 10th anniversary of the event that marked the end of my journey from faith to reason.