There are no theist parents on child cancer wards

I spoke recently to one of my local city council members about why he voted to put, in large letters, behind the deus of city council chambers, “In God we trust.”

I told him that not everyone in our city is a monotheist–and that we live in perhaps the most diverse county in the United States (Los Angeles County). There are Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, agnostics and atheists in our community, as well as a good number of political libertarians, who would like to see city government neutrality maintained with regard to religion.

His reply was a shrug, a broad smile, and a triumphant retort: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I did not say this to him, but it occured to me later that a fitting reply is this: “And there are also no theist parents on child cancer wards.”

In other words, our relationship to religious belief, if it is indeed situational, is situational in its relation to suffering, and whether someone we love is doing the suffering. The problem of suffering makes problematic belief in God, for if God is omnipotent and good, whence the suffering? Can he (she) prevent it, but does not–or would prevent it, but cannot?

To put “In God we trust” in large letters in a public space thus trivializes the ambiguities and difficulties with which each human being must, everyday, relate to religious belief (or non-belief). It pretends to bring communal closure and conformity of opinion to an issue where complexity and ongoing thought is the more honest response.  




About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to There are no theist parents on child cancer wards

  1. ubahleeob says:

    Oh, I disagree about the cancer wards, check out the halls of St. Jude’s and you might be surprised, very very surprised.

  2. santitafarella says:

    I appreciate the different perspective, but don’t you think that the problem of suffering at least complexifies religious belief? Doesn’t, for example, the Holocaust raise at least a smidgen of doubt about the existence of God?

  3. ubahleeob says:

    The holocaust raises doubts about God, in what way? Evil people did evil things. The fact that it happened doesn’t cause me to doubt God. As one that believes I also believe in a God that allows choice. In the case of the Holocaust, the German population were starving and fractured as a people, Hitler brought them hope. “Oh and there is this little Jewish thing that I want to take care of, never mind that, I will make sure you are safe and fed.” And they let it happen. They choose to overlook the evil, because they had jobs and bread. That it was allowed to happen doesn’t cast doubt on the idea of a loving God, it in fact supports it. Love allows you to choose.


  4. santitafarella says:


    You raise a number of important points about the holocaust and so I’ll address them in a larger blog post on the main page (rather than here in comments) so that others might see our discussion.


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