A Firefighter Speaks-Out

Dear Editor,

I am a professional firefighter-paramedic for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado; a
beautiful but ultra-conservative city that boasts of its plethora of military
institutions: Fort Carson Army base, Peterson Air Force base, NORAD (remember the movie Wargames?)
and The Air Force Academy. It is also (I’m convinced) the fundamentalist
Christian epicenter for the entire planet and serves as home base for Dr. James
Dobson’s massive Focus on the Family corporate headquarters, the World Prayer
Center, massive displays of tax-free wealth on practically every corner, and a local paper
that caters to evangelicals. In short, there is no shortage of opportunities for
encountering and debating proselytizing Christians, and that includes on my own fire
department where I am currently fighting the presence of Christian propaganda bulletin
boards that are placed in all the stations by the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters
(FCF). While that is an interesting story in itself that I may be sharing with you in the
near future, at this time I would like to offer something a little different, perhaps,
than many of you are used to; a perspective through the eyes of a profession where the
disconcerting tragedy of child deaths cut to your core and, unfortunately, is dealt with
all too frequently.

The following is a recent article with which I challenged the eighty-plus members of the Colorado
Springs Chapter of the FCF.  It’s interesting that not one of them has been able
to give an answer to the dilemma (and some of them are ordained ministers and chaplains
for our fire and police departments), but I have certainly received a few
“hateful” responses—a sure sign that I have touched a sensitive nerve that
is disturbing to them, but which they will never admit. 

*************************************************

A FIREFIGHTER SPEAKS-OUT

If Jesus is really God, then he knows that I used to believe, and he also knows
that today I am a doubting Thomas, a doubting Peter, a doubting Saul. If Jesus is really
God, then he also knows that the only way I will believe in him again is if he proves
his divine reality (at least to my satisfaction) by performing one little
“miracle.”

BRUCE MONSON’S PERSONAL APPEAL TO JESUS:

If Jesus will resurrect one (just one) of the many children I have seen die in my
profession (usually under exceptionally tragic circumstances), I promise that I will
devote my life to spreading His Word to all the world, especially to atheists,
agnostics & people professing belief in all the thousands of other “false”
religions extant in the world. I will give all of my possessions and money to the poor as He
commanded (Luke 18:22); I will hate my father and mother, wife and children, brothers and
sisters, even my own life in accordance with His requirements to be His disciple (Luke
14:26); I will do all of these things and be a suffering servant for Jesus. I will make it
my purpose in life to be His greatest disciple!

Is it really so unreasonable to require physical proof? Was it
“unreasonable” for those questioning Apostles?

In Luke 7:18-22 (and Matthew 11:1-5) we are told that John, who is in prison at
this time, sends two of his disciples to go forth and ask Jesus “if he is the one
[that should come] or if they should look for another?”  And what is Jesus’
response?  Does he just send John’s disciples on their merry way with instructions to
“just have faith”?  No, he does not! Rather, he provides physical proof
to John’s disciples through healings (the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers
are cured) and actual resurrections (Luke 7:11-17) in their presence, and then
instructs them to return to John and tell him of these miracles they have seen!

WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?

Obviously each person is different; as such, each person has different levels of
skepticism and requirements of proof that will satisfy that skepticism.  Throughout
the Gospels we see the differences in the disciples; some need virtually no convincing at
all, while others need more proof. Some need to see for themselves first-hand physical
evidence, and these were the very disciples who supposedly witnessed all of these
“miracles” allegedly performed by Jesus, and yet they still were not
convinced!
   They either asked for or were seen by Jesus as needing proof, and
they got it!

I ask you again,

WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?

Resurrections seem to have been a fairly common occurrence in 1st c. Palestine
(and not limited to just Bible heroes, it seems), so is it really too much to ask Jesus to
provide just one single resurrection of a child today?

Surely, if Jesus was willing to provide physical evidence to convince Thomas,
Peter, Paul (remember, like each of us, Paul never actually met Jesus, and he was
allegedly a hater and persecutor of Christians prior to the incident on the road to
Damascus), John’s disciples, and hosts of complete strangers, then He should understand
that THAT is what it will take for me to believe again!

I am not picky.  All I need to convince me is the resurrection of just one
child
, and I don’t even need to see Jesus do it himself; he can have any one of his
“believing followers” perform the resurrection in His name (John 14:13).  
After all, according to scripture, these abilities of healing and even resurrection are
supposed to be possessed by any believing and faithful Christian!

Passages indicating that “believers” are to be afforded

special “healing” abilities through Jesus.

Mark 16:17-18, 20 — [17] And these
signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they
will speak in new tongues; [18] they will pick up serpents, and if
they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay
their hands on the sick, and they will recover. [20] And they
went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and
confirming the Word by the signs that followed. Amen. (my emphasis)

Matthew 10:8 — Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse
lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. (my emphasis)

Luke 10:9 — heal the sick in it [towns] and say to
them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you. (my emphasis)

These are just a few among many such passages, more of which I will be happy to provide
upon request.

So let’s recap–believers are supposed to be able to:

===> Heal the sick
===> Raise the dead
===> Drink any deadly thing without harm to themselves
===> Speak in tongues
===> Pick-up serpents [without harm]
===> Cleanse lepers
===> Cast out demons

Passages indicating that any believer who has “faith” in
Jesus

will have their prayers answered.


Matthew 21:22 — And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you
have faith. (my emphasis)

Matthew 7:7-8 — [7] Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and
you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you [8] For every one
who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Mark 11:23-24 — [23] Truly, I say to you, whoever says to
this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but
believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. [24]
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and
it will be yours.

John 11:40 – Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you have faith
you will see the glory of God?’ [Note: Jesus is then said to have resurrected Lazarus
from the dead, to prove to those present that He was sent from God (cf., v.42)]

John 14:13Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may
be glorified in the Son. (my emphasis)

Notice that the text says “you will receive” and does not say
“sometimes I say no”, the stock answer that so many Christians like to dole-out
as an attempt at rationalization for why their prayers (even with millions of
Christians praying in virtual unison for a common cause) did not produce the
desired results–a perplexing dilemma considering that all it is supposed to take is just
one
“believer” to pray, and it will be
granted …”so that the father may be glorified.”

And what kinds of prayers DO get answers?


James 5:17-18  [17] Eli’jah was a man of like nature
with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six
months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again and
the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

I think the obvious question being begged here is, if something so utterly trivial as
praying for rain to stop and/or start at the whim of one man (“who is like
ourselves”), then surely something as deeply personal and tragic as the sickness or
death of a child would be a no-brainer for any all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving deity
. . . well, one would think.

2 Kings 2:23-24 [23] He [the prophet Elisha] went up from
there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the
city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away baldhead!” [24] When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of
the Lord.
Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of
the boys
. (my emphasis)

Bears mauling forty-two children to death; and for what, making fun of a man’s
bald head? Not only is this a supreme example of injustice, but again we see God dealing
it out at the beckoned call of a man. I guess the next time we hear of a child getting
mauled to death by a Rottweiler we should just assume that the child deserved it, and
justice was served?

Joshua’s long day fable is another example (but certainly not the last) of God
allegedly answering to the requests of a mere human, and for no other purpose than to
allow Joshua more daylight so he could finish his massacre of the fleeing Amorites:

Joshua 10:12-13 [12] Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the
day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of
Israel, “Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of
Ai’jalon.” [13] And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of
Jashar?
The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about
a whole day.

Of course, I will contend that this is just another typical example of literary
embellishment by the author(s) of the Book of Joshua.  However, since many Christians
believe this to be a literally true historical event, I will use it as a means for
expressing the notion that the prayers of just one man (even for such an atrocious act as
slaughtering people who are fleeing from him) was apparently good enough to receive an
immediate and physical confirmation from God–and on a grandiose celestial scale.

WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?

PART II

A DISTURBING SCENARIO:

I wonder… do you suppose Christians among the general public would be just as uncritical
of us (professional firefighters) as they are of Jesus when He “fails to answer their
prayers,” if we, for example, responded to a house fire and arrived to the pleading
shrieks of children trapped on the 3rd floor with steadily increasing black smoke pouring
out of their open window, and having the direct power and means to save them, we
instead chose to just stand and watch as they burned to their deaths, all along while
their hysterical parents screamed for us to “do something!”? Hardly! In fact,
the loss of our jobs (deservedly) would be the least of our worries, since we would most
likely be brought up on charges of gross negligence for our “failure to provide
aid,” and probably buy a stinging jail sentence.

This is a troubling comparison to be sure, and one that is sure to anger those
Christians reading this, but it is nevertheless completely accurate and a very serious
argument against the reality of a personal savior who “hears our prayers.”

Indeed, consider the two-year-old girl that burned to her death in Station 10’s apartment
fire this past December–that little girl’s mother was pleading to God to save her child
(as can be vividly heard on the 911 tape!) and “Jesus” did nothing!  
Unfortunately, it was also too late for even the valiant efforts of our firefighters to
save her, and that is a tragedy!

Christians have a propensity for arbitrarily assigning credit for perceived
“good” things that happen as being the divine works of Jesus (usually at the
expense of the real miracles of modern medical science), but when things
take a turn for the worse they will always find a way to rationalize such events so as to
absolve their “loving” god from any responsibility whatsoever, but deep
down I suspect they have the same feelings that I do (that most people do), but are afraid
to speak the question that sits in the pit of their gut; afraid because they have always
been taught to be afraid and to not dare question God.  Well, I am not afraid!  
As the saying goes, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

===> If Jesus is really God and he did not predestine this tragedy, but had
the power
to save that child and chose not to, then I hold Jesus responsible for not
only the child’s death (because he “failed to act”), but also the suffering that
family will endure for the rest of their lives!

===> If Jesus is really God and he did predestine the death of this child, and
in this agonizingly tragic manner, then I hold Him responsible for not only the injustice
of taking the life of a two-year-old girl, but also for inflicting life-long guilt upon
her five-year-old brother (who accidentally started the fire), and for the endless pain
and sorrow that the mother and father will have to endure for the rest of their lives!

I will close with a restatement of my Personal Appeal to Jesus:  If Jesus will
resurrect this one little girl and return her to her mother’s arms, I promise that I will
devote my life to spreading His Word to all the world, especially to atheists,
agnostics & people professing belief in all the thousands of other “false”
religions extant in the world. I will give ALL of my possessions and money to the poor as
He commanded (Luke 18:22); I will hate my father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, even my own life in accordance with His requirements to be his disciple (Luke
14:26); I will do all of these things and be a suffering servant for Jesus. I will make it
my purpose in life to be His greatest disciple!

Yours in Truth,

Bruce Monson


[This article originally appeared in the September 2000 edition of Freethought Today – the publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It served as the focus of
Natalie Angier’s recent article in the New York Times entitled The
Bush Years: Confessions of a Lonely Atheist.
]