This was sent me last week:

Dear John,

I am a secular humanist who practices Buddhism. I am writing to you because I appreciate your writings regarding people like me who do not follow Jesus. I would like to share some of my history with you, and explain why I no longer follow god.

When my son was nine years old, he was raped by his best friend and his best friend’s parents. All together. All in one night. He was drugged, and when he woke up in the middle of being raped, a gun was held to his head. He was told that both he and I would die if he told anyone, or attempted to stop himself from being raped.

Anyone who allows that to happen to a nine-year-old boy, or who has foreknowledge of such an event and does not stop it, is evil, and deserves no more respect than the actual perpetrators.

I had no idea this had happened at all. My son hid it from me because he was in fear for my life.

My son is now sixteen years old, and deeply troubled. He physically lashes out; his behavior became increasingly sexual and inappropriate. Finally, he tried to harm himself. He was admitted to a mental hospital, and has bounced from hospital to hospital ever since. He hasn’t been able to make it on the outside for more than a couple months at a time.

I had always taken my son to church. I prayed over him every night; I read my bible daily (and knew it well). I believed and trusted god with my own life—and especially with my son’s life, since he was born three months early. I dedicated him to god while they held him nearby the operating table so I could see him before they whisked him off to the neonatal intensive care unit.

I also believed god through my first (very young, very brief) marriage, and also throughout my second marriage to a philandering preacher’s son, who beat me and my son, as his father had done to his mother and children before him.

With regards to this second marriage, every single leader of my church—from the head pastor, to associate pastors, to bible study leaders, and all the way down—told me to stick it out. One church leader told me that I should “pray the bruises away,” literally. They said that. And I heard this exact same thing from the leaders of more than one church, because we moved a couple times.

So those are the big reasons why I no longer follow god. I’d rather burn for eternity than follow someone who would allow all this.

Since leaving God behind I have less guilt, and have been building a more solid and secure life for myself. It is hard sometimes to not be able to place all my burdens on Jesus; it would be nice to have someone else carry them for a while. But he couldn’t help my son, so he certainly cannot help me. I believe it is a matter of self-delusion to find peace from faith; I find the same peace nowadays when I practice meditation, which involves no deity.

The little reasons I don’t follow god? They are all ones I find in your articles: the inconsistency of believers, the greed, the judgmentalism. The hate spewed by followers of Christ—or followers of any religion, really—seems to be poisoning the world.

I hope you will take the time to respond to this. I would be interested in your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dear woman who has suffered so much I barely know how or where to start with this:

It means more than I can possibly say that you trust me enough to bring this to me. It’s a genuine honor. Thank you for it.

You amaze me. You have ultimately responded to the morass of dark pain that has been so much of your life by lighting your own way out of it. That is absolutely inspiring.

Instead of staying beaten, as most anyone would, you’re rejuvenating. You’re meditating. From all through which you’ve thought and fought you’ve forged an actual, practical philosophy. So I cannot be in anything but sheer awe of your strength.

That said, I pray that you will not find too offensive my saying this: God did not harm your poor child. God did not beat you. God did not tell you to pray your bruises away.

It was not God who did those things. It was ignorant, vile people.

Your complaint against God is that he didn’t stop those ignorant, vile people from doing the ignorant, vile things they did.

What you are in essence asking about God is what throughout time people have always asked about God: Why does he allow evil to exist?

And that excellent simple question has an excellent, simple answer: God allows people to do whatever horrible, vile, evil things they want to, because to do otherwise would be to violate people’s free will, which is something that God’s love for all people absolutely prevents him from doing.

God gave us free will. And he will not take it from us. And we do not want him to take it from us. Free will is what defines us. It’s our most precious attribute. Without free will we are at best animals, and at worst mindless automatons.

God gave us our free will because he wants us fully independent. He so loves us, in other words, that he gave us the power to reject him. That is love, and full respect. We would not want, or stand for, anything less.

The great downside of free will is that it grants each and every one of us the capability of violating the free will of anyone weaker than ourselves. That’s a despicable thing to do, of course: it is what crime is. Ultimately all crime boils down to one person exercising their free will to in some way override the free will of another—which we all understand as such an egregious thing to do that we punish the perpetrator of such a violation by in turn removing, via imprisonment, their free will.

Life is about the exchange and negotiation of relative free wills.

The irreducible truth is that right now, if I want to, I can beat my wife. She is weaker than I; she could not stop me from doing that. I am free to commit that atrocity.

What you would wish is for God to stop me from doing that, to stay my hand. You wish for God to look down, see that I am about to strike my wife, and somehow arrest that action: freeze me in mid-motion, paralyze my arm, instantly replace my crazed fury with peaceful thoughts and feelings.

You want God to in some way directly and purposefully violate my free will. You essentially and explicitly want me, at God’s will, to at that moment transform into God’s puppet.

But the truth is that you do not, in fact, want that. Because you would not want God to also be able to at will transform you into his mindless, will-free puppet. Ultimately you would insist for me what you certainly insist upon for yourself: absolute freedom.

Every blessing carries its own curse. The blessing of free will is the curse of human evil. The two are inseparable. That cannot change.

If you want will that is truly free—if you want everyone to have the kind of autonomy you certainly desire for yourself—then you want stronger people to be able to victimize weaker people. I know that feels pretty distinctly counterintuitive—but, if you think about it, that is where you arrive. It is where we all arrive. No human being wants a God who is constantly busy monitoring their every action and thought, and preventing or suddenly changing those which he feels cross the line between good and evil, between right and wrong, between acceptable and unacceptable.

None of wants to exist on a slope so weird, slippery, random, and out of control. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. We don’t want God interfering with our lives and identity that way. And we can’t wish for others what we don’t want for ourselves.

I’d be the last person in the world to blame you for rejecting God. But the hard truth remains that it was not God who betrayed you. It was people. And God did not stop those people from committing their horrible transgressions against you and your son for the same reason he did not stop you from recovering from those transgressions in the valiant, ennobling way you have. With all my heart I hope that the damage done your son is in time similarly undone.

Below is a video about this very matter that I once wrote and produced via the free online tools available at xtranormal.com. (When you make these things, you have no control over the look of your chosen setting, character, or character’s voice—and you have few enough choices for either those. So you just … do what you can.)

Again, I’m profoundly humbled and honored that you wrote and allowed me to share in this manner your gut-wrenching and ultimately inspiring story. As I say, I’ve zero interest in trying to turn you into a Christian. But, man, I know that if I were Christ, I’d want nothing more than to have on my team someone of your quality, drive, and integrity. I don’t know much about much, but I’m certain of one thing: God would love to have you back.

As, most certainly, would I. Please write me again sometime, and tell me how you and your son are doing. In the meantime all my love to you, and thanks again.