An Atheist Hymn

by Michael Potemra

I grew up believing that it was Martin Luther who — in his effort to liven up church services with adaptations of secular tunes — first asked, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” (This attribution is now in dispute.) But I have just run across a case of the anti-theists’ swiping one of the theists’ best tunes. It’s the tune of the great doxology, the tune known as Old Hundredth, and the parody version goes as follows:

Praise God from whom all cyclones blow

Praise him when rivers overflow

Praise him when lightning strikes the steeple

Brings down the church and kills the people.

(Quoted by legendary Catholic apologist Frank Sheed in his 1974 autobiography The Church and I.) I have done some (perhaps too much) reading on theodicy, so I’m amazed that I’ve never run across this impressive little ditty before. It’s a succinct, clever, and witty summary of the skeptics’ strictures against the conventional notion of divine benevolence. As such, though, it might be taken even by theists as pointing to an important truth, one that runs counter to much of today’s sentimental-Christian kitsch. (NB. I say this as someone who personally exults in a great deal of sentimental-Christian kitsch, most especially the colorful Catholic variety. Great examples at that link!) The truth is the one captured by Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” The God of that verse from Job is one who loves His creation but is not domesticated into accepting his creatures’ understanding of what is good for them; who has plans that are not ours. In short: He is the opposite of the Santa Claus God whom I once encountered in an offensive cartoon, in which, in the first panel, we are shown a pious mother and her children praying at the dinner table, O-Lord-please-bring-Daddy-home-safely; and, in the second panel, we see Daddy about to be hit by a car on a city street, only to be pushed out of its path by a massive hand reaching down from the heavens.

Christianity is not a promise to people that if they are good, rule-obeying Christians, no harm will ever come to them. Much of Christian comment and behavior might, superficially, lead one to the conclusion that it is; but it isn’t, and any serious argument against real Christianity needs to come to terms with that.

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