Overview:

Losing my child to suicide has given me new perspectives on atheism.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Isn’t that just special? In the week after my son took his life, my fundamentalist ex-mother-in-law sent me a sympathy card. Adding a personal note, she suggested unforeseen blessings could emerge from Josh’s suicide.

I’m still infuriated by her insensitivity, this callous attempt to backdoor evangelize by way of traumatic death. But in pondering her religious microaggression, I realize she’s only parroting God-talk she’s heard across most of her lifetime.

This probably isn’t the “blessing” she had in mind, but her sympathy card has catalyzed a reconsideration of my atheism. No, I haven’t fallen in love with Jesus, but Josh’s death reframes my reasons to disbelieve.

This column, the start of an occasional series, will cover the first reason. In case you didn’t know it, the God of the Bible is A-OK with child murder as a means to an end. As my ex-mother-in-law clearly believes, dead kids can be a blessing for the faithful, collateral damage on the road to abundant life, pawns in the sickest game of divine chess. Such a perspective is hostile to humanism, which posits that people are infinitely valuable, intrinsically.

Allow me to elaborate with a short walk through the Bible. Shortly after the whole Adam and Eve debacle (how dare you give in to the temptation I dangled in your face?), Yahweh chooses to wipe everyone but Noah and his fam off the face of the earth. Ironically, the reason for this ultraviolence is that the earth was “full of violence” (Genesis 6:9). No mention of what wickedness all those babies and toddlers were up to. Coveting their neighbor’s pacifier, maybe?

My ex-mother-in-law clearly believes dead kids can be a blessing for the faithful, collateral damage on the road to abundant life, pawns in the sickest game of divine chess.

Jump ahead a few chapters, and we have Merciful Jehovah nuking Sodom and Gomorrah. Since even the surrounding vegetation suffered divine wrath (Genesis 19:25), it’s safe to assume no youngsters survived this pre-Hiroshima.

A little later, God mindfucks Abraham, commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). But then it’s “just kidding, bro!” as an angel stays Abraham’s hand in the nick of time. Like attracts like: a child-killing deity and a wannabe child-killing human. Funny how Abraham’s deed, if perpetrated today, would get a dad locked away as psychotic or sociopathic. But in the millennia-long gaslighting of adherents to the big three monotheistic religions, Abraham is esteemed as the paragon of faith.

In the next book of the Bible, we’re served up Moses, Pharoah, and the plagues of Egypt. After hardening Pharoah’s heart a few times to extend the Israelites’ slavery–so much for human autonomy and freedom of choice!–Jehovah brings out his big gun, the slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn. Exodus 11:5 informs us this pedo-genocide involved not only Pharaoh’s child but also “the firstborn son of the female slave.” Really sweet, huh?

After 40 years in the wilderness and 40 more years of kids buried for the sins of their parents, the 12 tribes set about conquering the Promised Land. Under direct orders from the God of War Crimes, we get accounts of every human, young and old, exterminated in cities like Jericho (Joshua 6) and Ai (Joshua 8).  In the intervening chapter between Jericho and Ai, we’re gifted with the account of Achan, a covetous Israelite whose entire family is executed for his sin. That’ll teach ‘em!

Once David is ensconced as King of Israel, we have the messed-up tale found in 2 Samuel 24. There, God prompts David to carry out a military census, after which God punishes all of Israel for said census, smiting 70,000 in a plague. Let the punishment fit the crime, amirite?

Yahweh even made child murder personal in his relationship with David. After King Dave formed the beast with two backs with Bathsheba, the Lord punished him by snuffing their firstborn.

In case you aren’t sufficiently repulsed yet, Psalm 139, from the “song book of the Bible” includes these charming verses: “Daughter Babylon…Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” I wonder if Hillsong ever set those words to music?

Lest we think juvenile collateral damage ends in the Old Testament, in the second chapter of the first Gospel, Matthew tells how King Herod tries to terminate the newborn Messiah by killing all children under two in the environs of Bethlehem. This slaughter of the innocents is a divine diversionary tactic, allowing Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus to flee safely to Egypt. The icing on the cake is Matthew informing us this bloody spree occurred to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy. I mean, c’mon, everybody knows prophecy fulfillment is more important than children’s lives!

Next, and crucially, the whole Jesus on the cross thing is yet another instance of child sacrifice. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only-begotten Son.” Say what you will about the morality of other mythologies, at least Odin had the decency to only sacrifice himself to himself on the World Tree.

I hope this selection of Bible stories makes clear that Jehovah, the Trinity, or whatever you call the Judeo-Christian Dude in the Sky is a bloodthirsty despot who makes the mass killings of Hitler, Stalin, and Milosevic look mild by comparison. He’s Vladimir Putin on steroids.

I can already hear the Christian objections. “Well, the God of the Old Testament was wrathful, but the New Testament deity is a God of Love.” Nope. The Bible underlines again and again that God never changes, his attributes forever the same (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).

And let’s not forget the alleged “good news” of salvation, that faith in Jesus saves believers from an eternity of torment. As if suffering in this life isn’t enough, unsaved men, women, and children will burn “where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:48).

I can next hear Christians protesting, “Hell is just a metaphor. Those Bible stories merely illustrate deeper theological points.” I’m not buying that bill of goods either. Even if these narratives aren’t intended literally—a supposition I don’t accept—any sacred text using tales of dead children to make broader points is downright malign.

A former mental health colleague of mine often asserted that “he only hit me once” is never a valid justification for returning to a violent partner. But God is worse, a serial abuser, repeatedly slapping around (and murdering) his followers and their children to keep them in line. Believers, please walk away!

In the years before Josh’s death, I was mellowing into a “you do your thing, I’ll do my thing” brand of atheist. Now, the needle is tilting back towards anti-theism. Any deity that can be compared unfavorably to a genocidal demagogue or violent husband, remorselessly using children as a means to an end, isn’t worthy of worship. He demands to be dropped in the Dumpster of History’s Bad Ideas.

Voltaire famously wrote, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” 250 years later, I say if God did exist, it would be imperative to despise him. Thank you, ex-mother-in-law, for this reminder.

This is Part 9 of the Secular Suicide Survivor series. Here’s how it began. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone you trust, establish care with a therapist, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), or go to your nearest emergency room. Please stick around. We need you.

My son Josh, absolutely loved, infinitely treasured. Photo by author

Lincoln Andrews

Lincoln Andrews

Life seemed as good as it gets in early 2021, with a happy family, a job I loved, and a long-desired move out of the Bible Belt to the Pacific Northwest. My world split open on September 12th, when...