I read an article by John Piper this evening and it has left me feeling a little sick. It’s a Letter to a Perplexed Eleven-Year-Old, and it unintentionally teaches some rather disturbing things.
First, Piper attempts to establish an emotional connection using Paul’s awkward “members of the body” metaphor: The Bible says that you and I are like parts of the same body. You are like an arm, and I am like a leg. That means that when you are having a hard time, I feel it, because the Bible says “If one member suffers, all suffer together”.
Do all Christians feel the suffering of all other Christians at all times? Is it felt to a lesser degree by the people who aren’t directly experiencing it, like a sympathy pain? Why in the world is an arm injury affecting a leg, anyway?
Nitpicking, I know. Let’s move on.
Next, Piper teaches an eleven-year-old boy that Jesus intentionally plans and causes the deaths of millions of little birds all over the world:
Jesus is the absolute ruler over the world and everything in it, including how much food is in your refrigerator, and what kind of car your family drives, and what kind of house you rent, and how many toys you can have.
Do you know what a sparrow is? You’ve probably seen lots of them where you live. Jesus knew all about little birds like this. They were everywhere. So many of them you couldn’t count them. One day Jesus said, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father’.
This is amazing! There are so many of them! Millions all over the world. And God has so much knowledge of each of them, and so much power over them, that not one of them dies and falls to the ground apart from God’s plan.
Mr. Piper gets stuff wrong this time too…the estimated world population of Passer domesticus (the house sparrow) is at least 540 million. There are 34 other sparrow species. He needs a B with his illions. I know I’m being petty, but I’m channeling my eleven-year-old self. I was a strange child who was obsessed with animals and numbers.
But seriously, he’s setting up this kid to hear about the thousands of innocent children who die every day from starvation and then be catapulted out of his religion when he grows up, because one does not simply gloss over the problem of evil when Calvinism is on the line.
After having established Jesus as a sadistic being who is probably plotting my death about now, Piper goes on to explain why a Christian child would be going hungry:
So when you go through hard times — and there’s not enough food, and you are hungry — it does not mean that Jesus lost his power, or stopped caring for you, or started punishing you. No. No. No. That is not what it means.
What it means is that he is loving you with tough love.
Oh yeah, bring on the tough love. You know, the love that results in the daily deaths of many thousands of children. Because that’s totally something that would happen as a result of love.
I understand if you say, “It doesn’t feel like love.” No, it doesn’t. But think about this with me. When a doctor puts stitches in your chin, because you cut it open, it hurts. But he’s loving you. When a shepherd pulls a sheep out of a thorn bush, it hurts the sheep. But the shepherd is caring for the sheep. When a fireman tosses you from a burning window to the fireman’s arms below, the fall hurts you. But they are saving you.
Jesus is saving thousands of children every day by killing them! Isn’t that great?
Obviously Piper’s flaw here is that he’s trying to justify the massive amounts of pointless suffering his god causes by using examples of specific situations where a small amount of pain is needed to prevent greater amounts of suffering.
Excuse me, is he really trying to say that all the horrible suffering that has happened in this world, and the literally infinite future suffering of people in hell, is all necessary in order to prevent even greater suffering? Because there’s one simple thing his god could do that wouldn’t cause any pain, and would end all suffering immediately. He could, in an instant, remove everything other than himself from existence. Voila, no more suffering. He’s omnipotent, right?
So I’ve just logically established that all suffering is completely unnecessary if an omnipotent god exists. Why, then, would he cause all this suffering?
Another reason we may not have enough money, or food or clothing, is that God is making us more able to live in the right way. He’s helping us be holy, or righteous.
Jesus is always loving you, even when he loves you with tough love. He wants you to trust him more, and learn to live for what really matters. Food is important. But it is not most important.
Because Jesus totally couldn’t make us better people in any other way. It isn’t like scientific studies have shown that positive reinforcement works better than punishment for young children.
Piper goes on, trying to make excuses for the broken promises of Jesus:
You may ask, “But what about the promise?” Didn’t Jesus say that if we seek his kingdom first, “all these things will be added to you”? And didn’t Paul say, “My God will supply all your needs”? Yes. They did say that. And it is true.
But the promise to meet every “need” is not the same as the promise to meet every “want,” or even everything we think we need.
Yeah, food is just a silly thing humans think they need so they can keep living. What? Children are starving to death in a world where a bunch of rich Christians waste their money trying to prevent gay marriage from happening? Well, those kids just want to live, it’s not like they need to. What really needs to happen is for those gay people to stop living normal lives together!
Ahem. Moving on. Let’s see if Piper manages to convey at least one more traumatizing idea before the end of this miserable letter:
He knows what we need most in order to become the kind of people he wants us to be. And sometimes what we need is tough love, not tender love. Sometimes he withholds good things from us, because he has better plans. He bends our faith like a branch — almost to the breaking point. His purpose is not to break it, but to make it stronger.
I didn’t know bending branches almost to the breaking point makes them stronger. I grew up in a forest and that’s how I would weaken them so I could break them.
Notice that there’s no notion of consent here. You don’t have a choice, god is going to force you to be whatever sort of person he wants you to be. If he wants you to be a serial killer, that’s what you’ll be. And since Jesus controls everything, and serial killers actually exist…that means…he wanted some people to be serial killers. And he made them that way.
Maybe now you understand why I felt a little sick after reading this horrendous piece of attempted brainwashing. I hope it doesn’t work. I hope this kid is clever enough to see through the saccharine glaze in which Piper has smothered his monstrous deity.
It is Piper’s position that the only purpose for the existence of the universe and everything in it, and everything that happens in it, is to “glorify” god. If you’re not familiar with Christian lingo, to glorify something basically means to make it look awesome. As he puts it in another article:
So we don’t glorify God by improving his glory, but by seeing and savoring and showing his glory…
Our lives are to be telescopes for the glory of God. We were created to see his glory, be thrilled by his glory, and live so as to help others see him and savor him for what he really is. To know, to love, to show his glory.
If you keep reading after that, you’ll encounter some delightfully meaningless word salad. Crisp and refreshing word salad, garnished with the tortured remains of the English language. At this point he’s repeated “glory” so many times I’m not sure it’s a real word anymore. What does it mean? Where’s my dictionary?
Okay, here it is. Glory: high renown or honor won by notable achievements.
What are god’s notable achievements? He created a world in which everything suffers and dies, and then most of the special beings he made in his image get thrown away in a holy incinerator for eternity simply because they didn’t think the right things with their mushy brains. Oh wait…he intentionally made them unable to think the right things. So it isn’t even their fault that they’re being discarded.
I’m sorry, Mr. Piper, but your god is doing a demonstrably shitty job and he should resign before he embarrasses himself further. I nominate Morgan Freeman for the position.