Guest Post: God Cannot Help

Below is a guest post from Shanan W., who expresses frustration that many of us have felt. How do we handle these sorts of conversations with friends, frenemies and family on social media and in person? Should we ignore them? Point out inconsistencies?

Thank you for sharing, Shanan!

I don’t typically get into arguments on the Internet, because honestly, I think they are rather pointless. However, when the Malaysian airliner was allegedly shot down on July 17th over the Ukraine, I couldn’t help but respond to one particular post. Snippets of the post were as follows:

(All but first initials redacted to protect those involved.)

K: (After several “God help us” posts, and this is a paraphrase, because the original post seemed to be removed): 1) God cannot help. 2) Deepest sympathies to the families of all of the victims. Please wait for all facts to be gathered before coming to conclusions about what really happened.

R: K that is your twisted opinion. You are misguided if you think God cannot help!

My Response to R: Whose God? Which one is going to help? Yours? Where was this God when the plane went down? Why is it God can help after the fact, but doesn’t get the blame for the act to begin with? Why is it “God works in mysterious ways” when bad happens, but then God is the first thing people look to if they need comfort. God: Created in the image of man.

KS: (different person from K): Why do these posts always end up with jerks insulting each other?
My gosh just get over yourselves! Not every one [sic] had the same views or opinions.
Shame on you Shanan Winters for insulting someone’s personal beliefs!!!

Now wait just a minute, here. I didn’t send that response to someone who offered up a sincere prayer. KS asserts that not everyone has the same views or opinions. That is correct. But R was the first one to insult someone’s opposing view (which, again, was not in response to anyone’s sincere prayer). Why is it that the non-believers are the “jerks” and why is it “shame on us?” This conversation went on for a few more rounds, and never once did I or any of the other non-believers who got involved stoop to name-calling or shaming. What kills me is the irony of the fact that KS didn’t realize that she called herself a jerk. In a follow-up, she asserted that she never once insulted someone based upon their views. Oh really? I guess “jerk” and “shame on you” are terms of endearment?

Let me state that I would never respond in a derogatory manner to someone’s heartfelt prayer for the victims or family members of a tragedy. I may roll my eyes quietly behind the scenes and then express sympathy in my own way, but I wouldn’t outright insult someone else’s sincere wishes. I wouldn’t have said anything at all, except that R decided to blast K for her assertion that God cannot help.

What it boils down to is this: It is acceptable in our society for strangers to “shame” us and insult us for our lack of belief. Yet, for the most part, non-believers assert that people can have their beliefs all they want. We just tend to get sick of sitting in the wings, listening to everyone go on and on about them, especially when they outright attack a non-believer verbally. But when one of us speaks up, it’s somehow shameful. But that’s ok… hypocrisy is hypocritical.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t reply unless you believe the same thing they do? Honestly, I’m kind of done with that thinking.

The fact is, this allegedly-shot-down aircraft is a horrific tragedy, and people reach for that which comforts them to ease the fear. In many cases, it’s a prayer to God. In our case, we simply feel saddened by the senseless loss of life, and wish there was more we could do to help.

My one wish for humanity is a growth of intellect, and that all people would reach for peace instead of violence. My main beef with the “God” argument is that it seems to cause more wars than it stops. It justifies retaliation and perpetuation of violence, as long as the other person’s “God” doesn’t match the aggressor’s. If religions preach peace, why don’t we have it? The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’ve been trying religion for a long time now, and it’s not getting us very far. I’d love to see humanity evolve beyond superstition, learn how the natural world works, and realize our place within it.

I do hope that the investigators of this airline crash are able to pull together the pieces and figure out what happened. It doesn’t bring back the deceased, but it can offer a measure of closure for the impacted families. I hope that they can find peace in the days, months and years to come. I hope that the people involved, if it was an attack, can find better, more constructive, and less violent ways to resolve their conflicts.

And my sincerest wish is this: for those who would invoke the name of their God in this tragedy, please do so out of love and peace, and not as an act of wanted vengeance.

Was I wrong to reply? Maybe. It’s not the best forum to express this specific frustration. It might not be the optimal time or place. I just couldn’t help it.

(All comments on this thread, along with the original story, can be found here: under the post “BREAKING: Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in Ukraine with 295 people on board, Reports coming in that it was shot down.”)


31 responses to “Guest Post: God Cannot Help

  1. “Was I wrong to reply?”

    No, not at all. You were perfectly right to call that nonsense exactly what it is. Well done!

  2. I.too, hate those conversations – both on and offline. I get a case of hives every time someone saved by a fireman or paramedic, being interviewed later loudly proclaims, “We were saved, thank God.”

    Excuse me? God? Looked like an EMT dude, or a young firefighter who saved your bacon, hello!

    And yes, I am unpopular, too. How dare I…well, because I’m a mean old broad who has had her fill of bullshit. Because yeah, why didn’t “God” just misfire that missile launcher if “he” was Oh So There.

    • Syrbal-labrys. It is f-ed logic, yes?

      I wonder why more firefighters or emts don’t get offended…

      • It is certainly f****d, but I don’t think it is related to logic, not even by marriage.

        • LOL @ “not even by marriage” This lack of logic just kills me… like when a skilled surgeon performs an amazing feat of both knowledge and skill and saves a life, and everyone praises God. If I was the surgeon, I’d be all kinds of irritated…. not to mention all of the scientists and engineers behind the advanced medical technology used by the surgeon. So much of human-kind’s brilliance and ingenuity is completely overshadowed by an offhanded prayer to an invisible non-entity. It’s no wonder we don’t respect each other, let alone our planet. It’s all on the “pay no mind” list, because so many are putting their god first. It’s kind of amazing we’ve come as far as we have, technologically and scientifically speaking :/

  3. Shanan, speaking as a former believer, the existence of God is simply assumed as fact by many believers, so to question his existence simply doesn’t compute. God is as real to them as their closest family member. You are right that in instances such as this most are simply looking for agreement, so your comments probably took them by surprise. I’m not sure exactly when a “good” time would be to say the things you said because I ask myself that exact question all the time. “My friend just posted some lame Joyce Meyer quote. Hmmm. Should I say something? They have no problem invoking their deity, so why should they have a problem if I don’t believe and say so?”

    In the end I just don’t say anything because I know it will likely turn into something like what happened to you. The biggest problem as I see it is that it’s not a one-on-one discussion: any one of their 400 friends can jump in and chide you, then you’re no longer having a productive dialogue. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have any good answers. Something should be said, but how and when? That’s the question.

    • @MichaelB. One day (hopefully) they will no longer have 400 friends…

      • I was very surprised, on one of my responses, that my response got more “likes” than the “I’ll pray for you” response that someone else directed my way. I was also surprised at how many people did back me up… sometimes I do think that just opening the door brings the rest of the non-believers out of the shadows and gives them a little bit of courage to say, “Yeah, me too.” It’s well known that the believers have 400 friends, but what they really don’t realize is, our numbers are steadily growing.

        Again, I have no problem with them having belief… and I wouldn’t have said a word, except for that one person specifically called out a non-believer and said that her opinion was sick and twisted. Honestly, I don’t care if they say, “I’m praying for the families”… in fact, I see that as an act of compassion. The post I responded to was not one of those, but was a pure and simple slam of someone for expressing their own lack of faith. That was where the line was drawn for me… that’s why I had to say something. Well, that and I was feeling all kinds of feisty this morning. LOL

  4. You were right to reply! I am so so sick of people writing cliches like “Anything is possible with God,” “God has a plan for you,” and “Miracles happen every day!” No. No, they don’t.

    I was just thinking earlier about John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” When I was a kid, I was disturbed by the first line: “Imagine there’s no heaven.” I didn’t want to imagine there was no heaven. Who wouldn’t want to imagine there not being a wonderful place that you go to after you die? But as I got older, I now understand the wisdom in those words.

    No heaven, no hell, people living for today. Unfortunately, peace will never come about. It’s difficult enough for peace to happen in families, much less an entire world.

    I kind of went off on a tangent, but my point for all this is, until people let go of these superstitions and empty promises, humanity, as a whole, will never intellectually evolve.

  5. Josepg GYETVAI

    Abstract In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children’s upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories. © 2014 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.

  6. haydendlinder

    Soooo this post will be unpopular. [FULL DISCLOSURE: Christian No Denomination.]

    When is a good time for an Atheist to post? Well, all of those other times when you guys said you just didn’t want a fight. You’re an Atheist. Start wanting to fight. Because you’re never going to get anyone’s respect for your beliefs if you just sit quietly in the proverbial corner.

    When is a bad time for an Atheist to post? Actually, I am sorry to say, this airline post is. Let me give this to you another way. Shanan, lets say we;re friends and so I of course know your beliefs. You know mine because, I;m obnoxious. One day you post in tears how your loved one’s plane may have gone down. MY RESPONSE, because I know you’re an Atheist, has to be, “I am so sorry Shanan. Is there anything i can do to help? Just tell me and I will get it done.”

    That’s it.

    If you were some other religion then I would do whatever I could as a Christian to support you. But when people are in a frantic situation like this plane crash, that is not the time to have this argument. What “K” did is the same as if I had come to you in my story and said, “Oh Shanan. Take my hand and let us pray that the Lord will give you strength to get through this.” (pious expression to sell it.) It’s just not cool.

    Now, should you have gotten involved? I don’t think you should have. Overall it sounds like we went from this being a post of support for those who were in fear and pain and turned it into another slam dance of “You suck Atheist. No YOU suck Christian!” Of course I only have your word to support that all the Christians acted childishly. Which of course I doubt very much since Christians never act poorly in public. There is no great trail of evidence throughout history showing time and again how Christians conducted themselves like irreversible douchery… Yeah OK. I wrote that because I really just wanted to invent the word douchery.

    In the end, I think you guys put off posting all those times when it would be the right thing to do until you just snap and eventually you can’t take it anymore. So you blow up on the wrong thread.

    I’m sorry Shanan, but it was not healthy for you to get involved.

    • Except… I responded directly to a religious person who attacked someone else for their secular statement. That was what irked me. Maybe she was a little heavy-handed with “God cannot help”… but at the same time… like you said… we sit back and say nothing, and then we finally snap when something huge comes along. It’s not healthy, but then… when we do respond (whether the right forum or not), we still get the ritual chiding for simply existing with our chosen mindset.

      I do agree that we put off posting or responding “all those times”… but then again, when do we hear the “god” line the most? We hear it in times of hardship and tragedy. In terms of tactfulness… I saw the airliner post as rather anonymous… a world event… rather than a personal one. I didn’t see anyone on the thread saying “My grandpa was on that plane”, or I probably would have reconsidered answering. It’s not quite the same as responding on someone’s personal thread regarding a family member’s death. That… I’d never dream to do. It would be douchery in the extreme (totally adopting your word… though I also like douchbaggery 😉

  7. Hi Shanan, Debbie and all – yes, this kind of behaviour is commonplace among believers. It is very difficult to deal with, since they have been conditioned into “willing the belief” and using all measures to fend off any idea or person that might detract from their beliefs one bit. They specialize in emotional tyranny, and if fearmongering doesn’t work, they tend to use every other fallacy in the book. (It reminds me to do a special chapter on religious fallacies in a forthcoming book…). It becomes difficult though with many believers who do find some consolation in their beliefs, esp older people who are nearing the end, as they don’t intend harm to anyone else, most of the time. In such cases, depending on the person’s attitude, I think its best to simply ignore it. I draw the line when anyone tries to draw me in or elicit a response, to see whether I confirm their belief. Remember many are constantly under the spell of feeling guilty if they don’t evangelize whomever is around them. And since the beliefs are based more on emotions and less on reason, it is “normal” to propose imaginary deities are existing for real.

    Yet, even to those who overstep the boundaries of sanity, it is like trying to argue with a drunk man. No matter WHAT you say, propose, ask, or do, they will find some or another, mostly ludicrous, way to explain anything that doesn’t fit, away.

    So I’ve resorted for quite some time now to stating the obvious in a more humorous, if not more offensive way, like responding to “Praise God” uttered by a Christian, with a: “Yes, praise Allah, or Buddha.” It usually stops them in their tracks altogether. You can smile at being somewhat of a juvenile when it comes to such childlike minds….

  8. Great post. These discussions are so hard. I wish I had more guts to really get involved with them, especially in real life (aka not online). It’s just so hard knowing that your lack of belief can make people think all kinds of crazy, horrible things about you when you know deep down that you’re still a good, decent person. Christians always want to say they’re so persecuted in modern America but sometimes I just really want to tell them they have no clue what they’re talking about. Try being atheist or agnostic… I like what someone said about how the Imagine song scared them a little as a child. I remember reading the lyrics once as a child & thinking “no heaven? That sounds horrible.” But as I’ve grown up I’ve come to love that song & realize how much real wisdom is in it. Sadly until people grow up intellectually, I agree that the world will never know true peace. I find it so ironic that religions supposedly promote peace but they are so often used to justify evil, horrible violence against others who are somehow apparently less human b/c of their different beliefs (or lack thereof).

    • I don’t understand how they can state that they are persecuted… I think those who claim persecution are the ones who think religious freedom equates to religious rule. They won’t be happy until we have a Christian government. I don’t think that’s all Christians… just the really loud, outspoken hardliners.

      As for discussions in real life… I’m becoming more open about my lack of beliefs. Maybe it’s just that “I’m over 40 so I no longer give a shit” thing… but I also understand that we can be open without being antagonistic. I also try to find commonality, rather than differences.

      One thing that struck me the other day is a way of thinking about prayer. Sure… the religious person truly believes that they are praying to a divine power. We don’t believe that. But typically, secular types do believe that we can affect positive change in our own lives by changing our thinking. There are some striking similarities in those two ideas… the religious person puts their will and intent into their prayer, and then thanks God when their prayer manifests. We put our will and backbone into it, and we give ourselves a hefty huzzah when we succeed. So if someone says that they are praying for an outcome that I’m desiring, I can thank them, and take it as a positive energy boost, rather than being antagonistic and belaboring the Godless angle.

      • That’s an awesome perspective. I don’t fear growing older at all b/c I know I’ll become a lot more confident in my beliefs (I’m mid 20’s now). 🙂

  9. haydendlinder

    Before I forget;
    Because it’s always a good time for John Lennon.

    Hey Shanan, you said, “It’s not quite the same as responding on someone’s personal thread regarding a family member’s death.”

    OK. My bad. From your description in the original post I mistakenly got the impression that it WAS some kind support thread for those who had lost some one. My advice still holds true. It just has absolutely nothing to do with what we are talking about. IT – IS – VALID – ADVICE. Just not in anyway useful to anyone reading this post… IN all seriousness I am sorry. I got the story wrong.

    As a side note, I am fine with you stealing my new word “douchery” and since you are probably going to interact with many more of my Christian brothers and sisters I figure you’re probably going to need two words that describe the same thing.

    • Eh, only some of them require the application of the word “douchery”… I have plenty of Christian friends who understand my lack of faith completely, and have no problem with it. I’ve also met some non-believers who require liberal application of the word “douchery”, for they exemplify the meaning. Such is the nature of humanity… once you start to categorize and label people, they pull a mind-bender and challenge your perceptions 😉

  10. lancethruster

    Jesus Christ @Jesusontwitter 3h

    Dad’s plan:
    1) Make humans
    2) Drown most
    3) Kill myself (as my son)
    4) Hide

  11. haydendlinder

    You people and your douchery.

    Hah hah! Hayden’s plan:

    1) Create word
    2) Get word accepted by all present.
    3) Use word against them.

    Yay!.. Aw hell. I’m just another televangelist.

  12. Late as usual, but…

    When humans first tried to understand lightning after probably watching one of their numbers get fried by a stray bolt, it most likely seemed a rather personal attack. Who was the “person” responsible? Some sky god who had it out for the person who got killed. Rules were instituted to make certain no one annoyed the sky god so as to avoid the capricious wrath of one who could hurl lightning bolts. That so-called logic worked for who knows how many thousands of years.

    Then human developed the scientific method (in fits and starts), and suddenly the sky god lost power. Lightning was not consciously directed at people. Idiots who stood under trees or went walking through open fields during thunderstorms were ones who got fried. However, the notion of a sky god who hovered over humans still seemed like a good idea for all the other things we did not understand. If something happened we could not explain, then we crammed the sky god into the hole in our knowledge until such time as real fact pushed it away.

    Now comes the modern age and suddenly there is a lot less room for sky god, but there are still people who desperately cling to the notion. In a huge (I mean HUGE) universe that is totally impersonal, the idea of a sky god keeps some sense of order in the minds of the frightened. They cannot grasp science or are afraid of it because they were taught to be afraid, and science becomes the anti-sky god in many guises. What happens is that the theists cannot tolerate having any more space taken away from sky god. Hence, when someone calls into question the role of sky god in their arguments, they take it as a personal affront.

    Sky god is dying and it scares the crap out of them. Theists will fight that death tooth and nail with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yet in their heart of hearts they probably see the emptiness of their beliefs in sky god, how it offers little if any real solace for acts they cannot understand, and that sky god doesn’t truly offer an explanation for anything if one wants it to make sense. In the end, they lash out in their own fear at any who contradict them

    I would say you were right to reply. Gentle but forceful refutation of their illogical thinking is required. Perhaps in time reason will prevail and they will see the fault in their beliefs. One can only hope, but there is no hope without active participation.

  13. Yes, this is one of the most frustrating aspects in our culture (what it really boils down to is Christian privilege) to me: that believers get to spout off with their beliefs anywhere, anytime, and it’s not only tolerated, it’s generally admired, but if a non-believer speaks up, all hell breaks loose. We non-believers are just supposed to be quiet about our views.

    As for invoking god – yeah. Sorry, but it makes me want to gag. Just yesterday, a friend of mine who had moved up north with her family for the last year and a half and was miserable returned with her family. She sent out a group text to several friends, including me, saying, “We’re back! Touchdown!” And someone replied, “God is good!” And I just thought to myself, “Really?!?!? With people dying horrific deaths all around the world, children being raped and starving to death, people living on the streets with no shelter, and ‘god is good’ because this one person had an opportunity to move back to the town she prefers?” Seriously, it’s all such incredibly twisted thinking.

  14. haydendlinder

    Hey Shanan, I was reading some fo the latest comments and realized I actually never said, when I was wrong about the post you commented on, it actually WAS exactly the kind of post where you stand up for what you believe. I got so caught up in say I’m sorry for my mistake that I forgot to mention, you did exactly as you were supposed to. Now, before you start having delusions about what a great person I am I’ll end with Jesus loves you:) Bwahahahahaha! I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help it.

    • LOL!! Hey, not all Christians are asshats… It’s just like anything; the most outspoken are usually the most extreme. That goes for Christians, Muslims, Atheists, etc. Except Buddhists. They’re usually pretty chill…

  15. Late to the party it seems. I just wanted to add my two cents (U.S.). You were right to post as soon as R used the word “twisted” to describe another’s opinion. KS made the mistake of blaming the last person on the thread with a generalization. You can’t help that this person didn’t read the whole thread, and if misunderstanding people is a valid reason to keep quiet then nobody would be able to say anything.

    I agree with the other opinions that atheists should speak up more often, if not to speak out against an errant belief, then at least to mitigate the harm careless expressions of faith cause. People posting faith-inspired comments on the Internet should know they can be responded to by secular-reasoned comments. Complaining about it is like petulantly whining about something as obvious as a sunrise.

    Finally, take heart that reason is slowly taking over humanity. While people on the sidelines may pray and ask God for help, consolation, and peace, journalists, government authorities, and other interested parties will be relying on scientifically tested theories to find out and provide real understanding to everyone interested in knowing what happened to bring about this tragedy.

    • I’ve started being more outspoken in my own life… not pushy or demanding others follow my path… but just, “This is who I am, take it or leave it.” I no longer scroll past those secular memes that make me think “Yes, exactly.” Now I post them with the comment, “Yes, exactly.” And in person, if someone tries to talk religion at me, I decline gracefully stating that I’m not of that mindset. We can be out of the shadows, but not all up in everyone’s grill. Considering how much we just love it when the religious get all up in our grill, I would hope it’s not a character trait that we emulate in our frustration. But we do need the religious to realize our substantial numbers; I’ve heard religious people say, “Well, there’s not *that* many atheists out there…” Um yes. Yes, there are.

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