Civilla D. Martin and (composer) Charles H. Gabriel wrote what is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest gospel hymns of all time. I still know all the words, by memory...
"I Sing Because I'm Happy
I Sing Because I'm Free
His Eye Is On The Sparrow
And I Know He Watches Me"
If you grew up "in the church", like I did, just the very mention of these lyrics will also bring the melody immediately to mind. (I caught myself singing it as I was preparing for this post) Or perhaps, if you didn't grow up in the church, you know this song from some of the more recent renditions (such as the one by Lauryn Hill).
Frankly, it's not hard to tell why people like it so much. The sentiment expressed is quite touching, not to mention biblical...
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) and "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).
I used to like this song myself (in certain ways I still do).
Frankly, some of my de-conversion is now a complete blurr. That's the main reason I started this blog...I wanted to get my experiences written down so that, one day, my kids (who are still very young) could come to understand why Dad changed his mind on such an important issue. I now realize that most former believers don't "lose their faith" all of a sudden because of, say, a difficult life experience. It also doesn't typically happen in a moment of epiphany (or, as is often assumed by Christians, in an act of rebellion against God). Instead, one loses their faith in a stepwise process, piece by piece by piece by piece...often as they become more educated, and begin to see much more clearly Christianities many implausibilities. If I were to compare losing my faith to demolishing a house, it feels less like using a wrecking ball and more like removing a brick here, a window pane there, and a few roof tiles over there...at what point is the house considered "demolished"? It's hard to say. The line between "Christian" and "non Christian" is not at all as distinct as I used to think it was.
Having said that, along the way, there were a few especially poignant moments that I know I'll remember forever. I've already written about one such moment, here, but in this post I'd like to tell you about another...
Although I purposefully haven't covered it yet, if the truth be told I was musing a great deal on the problem of suffering during pretty much the entire two years of my de-conversion. Even as a Christian, it had always bothered me a little that people die of starvation, every day, which of course isn't to mention those who perish, with what seems like alarming regularity, in natural disasters and the like (back then, it was just another nagging question). I now realize that it should have bothered me a lot but, if I'm being honest, I tried not to think too much about it (my sense is this approach is pretty typical among believers). After all, we need to leave those things that we don't fully understand "in God's hands"...right??
Suffice it to say, as I began to lose my faith, I felt compelled to look into this issue in a much deeper way. I began reading about it, a lot, and I found myself thinking about it even when I wanted to put it out of my mind. On one particular morning (after yet another late night of reading) my head was spinning as I tried to conceive of one possible reason for God to not send rain if/when it would (literally) save a child's life. There are children who die of drought, I mused, so why doesn't God just send rain? There must be a reason that I just don't understand.
On the very morning I was having these thoughts, I arrived at work and opened up my e-mail inbox. The first e-mail to catch my eye came from the church I was (still) attending. Here is a rough paraphrase of the first line in the message I saw that morning...
"Thank you for your prayers and praise God for holding off the rain, yesterday, during the church's annual 'outreach BBQ'!"
Now, of course, I realize my reaction that morning was an emotional one...and emotions are not always, well, entirely rational. And I also know that Christian apologists have some (rather complicated) ways of "dealing" with this problem (more on that later). But, for this post, I merely want to convey to you the complete explosion of cognitive dissonance that forced itself on me as I read the e-mail in question. Christians get so used to simultaneously believing that: a) people die of starvation, thirst, natural disasters etc., and b) God can control the weather when he wants to, that it never occurs to them these two things completely contradict each other. Is God deliberately allowing those children to die? Is he unable to stop it? Does God love the people in your church more than those children half a world away? Christian, will you turn your face away from this blog, simply because I posted a disturbing picture? Will you criticize me for doing so, to deflect the issue? Or will you allow yourself to think more deeply about what it is that you believe? Do you have good reasons for these beliefs, or is it easier not to look at them?
God's eye is not "on the sparrow", and the "heavenly father" certainly doesn't "feed them", despite what the Bible says in Matthew. In fact, it can't possibly be true, unless he loves the sparrow more than he loves the children who die every 4 seconds.
Please think about it.