Study: Atheists Find Meaning In Life By Inventing Fairy Tales

Atheists often snidely dismiss religion as a fairy tale. Yet a study finds the meaning atheists and non-religious people attribute to their lives is entirely self-invented.


By Richard Weikart

MARCH 29, 2018


Atheists often snidely dismiss religion as nothing but a fairy tale. Allegedly, religion is a self-created mythical crutch to comfort people who are unwilling to face the stark realities of the universe. As one famous atheist put it, religion “is the opiate of the people.” By this Karl Marx meant religion is a tool to anesthetize the masses so they can be oppressed.


Atheists portray themselves as arch-rationalists who embrace reality without flinching. As I explain in my recent book, “The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life,” many prominent atheist thinkers, such as Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, have insisted that because there is no God, there is also no cosmic purpose, no objective morality, and no transcendent meaning to life. The atheistic Duke University philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg dismissed meaning and morality as an illusion in a 2003 article, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life.”




But then many of them flinch. Just a few weeks ago the online magazine Real Clear Science announced that famous Christian pastor Rick Warren and Christian scholar William Lane Craig were mistaken to claim that without God, life has no meaning. This article claimed that a new empirical study verified that atheists do find meaning in life. The subtext seems to be: See? Atheism isn’t so bad after all.


This is not an isolated phenomenon. The prominent atheistic evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has also expressed dismay that anyone would dare suggest that atheists don’t have any meaning in their lives. But if you dig deeper—for example, by actually reading the empirical study—you find that atheists who insist that non-religious people can find meaning in life have changed the meaning of the word “meaning.”


Life Does Have Meaning. I Just Invent It

The 2018 study in question by David Speed, et al, “What Do You Mean, ‘What Does It All Mean?’ Atheism, Nonreligion, and Life Meaning,” used surveys to try to figure out if atheists find meaning in life or are nihilistic. This survey defined someone as nihilistic if he or she upheld the position: “In my opinion, life does not serve any purpose.”


This study found that atheists and non-religious people are not nihilistic, because they claimed that they did have a purpose in life. This is an interesting finding that seems to refute the oft-repeated charge (levied by religious folks) that atheists are nihilistic.






However, there is a problem with this finding. The survey admitted the meaning that atheists and non-religious people found in their lives is entirely self-invented. According to the survey, they embraced the position: “Life is only meaningful if you provide the meaning yourself.”


Thus, when religious people say non-religious people have no basis for finding meaning in life, and when non-religious people object, saying they do indeed find meaning in life, they are not talking about the same thing. If one can find meaning in life by creating one’s own meaning, then one is only “finding” the product of one’s own imagination. One has complete freedom to invent whatever meaning one wants.


This makes “meaning” on par with myths and fairy tales. It may make the non-religious person feel good, but it has no objective existence.


I Find Meaning in Self-Contradiction

There is a long history of atheists wrestling with the question of the meaning of life, and it usually ends the same way. In 2015 the online periodical BuzzFeed interviewed atheists about how they found meaning. While they uniformly denied that there was any overarching meaning to life or the universe, they insisted that they find meaning and significance in their own personal lives. Many also implied that certain moral positions are objectively better than others, even though they presumably do not believe in objective morality.



One example was the response of the atheistic scientist and journalist Kat Arney. She said her rejection of religion was an incredibly liberating moment, and made me realise that the true meaning of life is what I make with the people around me – my family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. People tell religious fairy stories to create meaning, but I’d rather face up to what all the evidence suggests is the scientific truth – all we really have is our own humanity. So let’s be gentle to each other and share the joy of simply being alive, here and now. Let’s give it our best shot.”


Arney’s position powerfully illustrates the problem many atheists seem loathe to confront. The “scientific truth” does not tell us to be “gentle to each other.” It doesn’t tell us anything about how we should live (and obviously many people are not gentle to each other, so there is nothing empirical to suggest that being gentle to each other is the way of nature).

But apparently many atheists and non-religious people have a hunger for meaning and a sense of moral rectitude that their worldview cannot satisfy. Sure, they are free to invent their own meaning and morality, but then they should be honest and admit that their meaning and morality has no advantage over the meaning or morality religious people put forward —or for that matter, it has no advantage over the meaning and purpose evil people invent. Their self-created meanings are every bit as much “fairy stories” as the religious ones they like to lampoon.


Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of “The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life” and “Hitler’s Religion.”



10 Things Teachers DID NOTHave to Deal With 10 Years Ago



April 16, 2018

Something is wrong—very, very wrong. Teachers across the country at all grade levels, in all subjects, teaching a wide variety of student populations, can sense it. There is a pulse of dysfunction, a steady palpitation of doom that the path we are on is not properly oriented.


There is a raw and amorphous anxiety creeping into the psyche of the corps of American teachers.


We may have trouble pinpointing the exact moment when something in our schools and broader culture went wildly astray, leaving in its wake teachers sapped of optimism and weighted with enervate comprehension. The following is a small sampling—this list could easily have been twice as long if my conversations with fellow teachers are any indication—of problems that teachers were not facing ten years ago.


There is a raw and amorphous anxiety creeping into the psyche of the corps of American teachers.


Every failure of civil society—institutional rot, political cynicism and polarization, tattered family and other filial relations, depressed expectations of student behavior, a preening and non-apologetic narcissism, extravagant self-regard, anti-intellectualism in our minds and moral relativism in our hearts—manifests itself in our schools. The result is a weight of responsibility, an anvil of obligation, now pushing against the outer periphery of what schools can realistically achieve given their inherent limitations. It is no headline to announce that schools mirror the dysfunction of society writ large. With this in mind, I offer the following list of ten things teachers did not have to deal with just a decade ago.


#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools. While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country. While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well behaved and want to learn.


#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom. The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day. The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.


#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself. Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting. One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it. It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults. We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents. We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.


#4: Pep Rallies for Standardized Testing: The era of high-stakes testing has done very little to improve student performance. It has spawned cuts in the arts, less recess time for elementary school children, more rote memorization, and perpetuated the illusion that test-taking prowess is synonymous with academic achievement, not to mention the long-term effect of discouraging the brightest and most ambitious young people from entering the education profession. On a deeper level, schools are told they must be held accountable, which requires analysis of student performance, which perpetuates an endless stream of gimmicks, cynical incentives, and activities to motivate students to do well on standardized tests. Schools who do pep rallies are not at fault—the policies that make such activities necessary and even beneficial are the culprits of this new feature of the teaching landscape.


#5:  Constant Student Anxiety: Over 20% of modern teenage students experience a form of acute anxiety leading to disengagement, more absenteeism, and isolation. A frank discussion with modern teens often uncovers a more disturbing and grim reality, that anxiety has a number of harmful offshoots such as eating disorders, self-harm, and frequent fainting in classes. Instead of seeking counseling, taking a walk, or spending time with friends or family, the modern teen often finds solace in an online world that perpetuates this cycle of anxiety and isolation.


#6: Fear of School Shootings and Lock-Downs:It is true that Columbine was nineteen years ago, but it is also true that the frequency of school shootings are accelerating. In the corner of my classroom sits a bucket with a shower curtain stuffed inside in case we are on lockdown and a student is forced to use the bathroom in front of his/her peers. This is the sad and tragic reality of what might happen nowadays. Four of the deadliest five school shootings have happened in the past half decade and there is no reason to think this gust of school violence will abate any time soon.


#7:  Heroin, Opioid Epidemics: In 2015 alone more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. More Americans have overdosed than were killed in the entirety of the Vietnam War. A school superintendent from western Maryland was succinct in the harms this crisis can produce: “In establishing contacts with some of our families, some of the principals learned that we had an increasing number of parents who were addicted to opioids and were using opioids. They noticed that the chronic attendance issues were linked to parents’ use of opioids: parents were not able to get up in the morning and get the kids ready, to get them on the bus, and to bring them to school. It was not just absenteeism. It was also the rise in tardiness—kids who were brought in well after the school day had started.”


#8: Politicized Schools: Like it or not, schools have become epicenters of hot-button political issues. From transgender bathrooms to guns and second amendment discussions, schools are now at the intersection of division and discord. American education has always been a “political issue,” but that is a qualitatively different status than being the place where schisms about the culture manifest themselves.


#9: Era of “feelings” where students are neverwrong: It has happened to almost all of us recently. A student will “feel” like a test is unfair, will “feel” like a fact is not true, will “feel” like a teacher who is simply trying to modify a behavior is being “disrespectful” to them. In an era that no longer views reason and fact as tribunals of truth, it can be difficult to explain to students that they have a right to feel anyway they want but their feelings does not excuse behavior that is disruptive or harmful to themselves or those around them.


#10: Naked Utilitarianism in Education: Policy-makers absolutely never talk about education through any lens except as an exercise in early-job training. While education does prepare one for the workplace, it should also prepare students on a deeper and more human level. Our students will be more than workers in the future—they will be citizens, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends and confidants. They must be able to think, communicate, cooperate, and be reflective about the many conundrums of being a human being in the world, figuring out how to live what scholar Leon Kass labels the ability to lead “a worthy life.” Their lives will not begin when they go to work and end when they go home every evening. A true and edifying education recognizes that what students learn intimately affects who they are.

==============================================================================This article first appeared in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.


The Gospel for Bruised Reeds


      Among the early English Puritans, none has greater pastoral insight and enduring readability than Richard Sibbes. This blog hopes to honor his classic work, The Bruised Reed. First published in 1630, it opens with Matthew 12:18-21, which cites Isaiah 42.

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen… a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Reeds grew by the millions in marshes and river banks in Israel, so they had scant value. One could cut and shape a reed to serve as a measure, flute, or writing implement. But a bruised reed was worthless. If a perfect reed is fragile and a bruised one is useless, why will Jesus not break a bruised reed and why does it matter?

It matters because we are bruised reeds. Notice, Sibbes said, that Jesus compares us to a weak thing, as Scripture often does. Among the birds, we are doves; among the beasts, we are sheep.[1]

In the eyes of Jesus, everyone – everyone – is a bruised reed. Some can go thirty years without a serious bruising. Some have a sunny disposition even when storms descend. Others thrive on crises. Still others grow up in Christian homes, with wise and loving parents, and then they married well. Nonetheless, all are bruised reeds.

Everyone is wounded. If we cannot see this, the Lord may intervene so that we do. We cannot rise to maturity unless we see our immaturity, cannot rest in his grace until we see our need for grace. Therefore the Lord may bruise us and humble us, so he can reestablish us on a better foundation. To be bruised is to see our sin and its consequences, to see our weakness. It is to see that we have weaknesses, quite apart from sin, areas of inability, even incompetence, so that we need others. The bruised reed is weak at best, and then it is wounded. A bruised reed cannot heal itself and the wise man despairs of healing himself. Yet the hope of healing remains, for the bruised reed looks beyond itself, to Christ.

There are two kinds of bruised reed: the rebel and the believer. The rebel, together with skeptics and spiritual sluggards, have no interest in spiritual things. God may use pain, a bruising, to pierce and waken a slumbering heart. That bruising may lead him to faith. The gospel may cease to be a rumor and become life-giving narrative of God’s work. That bruising may enable him to treasure Christ. As Sibbes said, “Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed.”[2] For another person, the bruising may instigate a quest. Jesus says, “Seek and you will find” (Matt 7:7). The Lord guides the quest of bruised reeds who sincerely seek healing.

The Lord also bruises believers. Believers must know that they are reeds too – often weak, tossed and beaten by storms. Peter realized that he was a reed when he denied Jesus three times. He wept bitterly, but he took his tears, his bruises, to Jesus. So too, our failures can show that we are bruised, especially if we fail in a public way.

David bruised himself when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was shattered until he repented and felt God healing his bones. When we fail morally, whether anyone ever knows or not, we should see that we are bruised reeds.

The king of Israel bruised Jeremiah when he sliced up and burned his prophecy. Jeremiah prophesied and wrote again, but the king proved Jeremiah’s fragility. At work, we can labor for months and see it all come to naught with one sentence from a boss: “I don’t think we’ll go that way” or “You’re not ready for that assignment.” We are bruised reeds in our work.

The Lord bruised Paul with a thorn in his flesh. That pain taught Paul humility and dependence on God. The Lord humbles us when our bodies get sick or age and fail us. We are bruised reeds.

Our bruises grieve us. We wish we were stronger, but when we see the bruises on the great men and women of the faith, we take heart. Everyone suffers bruises that dissolve our overweening pride. God bruises the saints to teach us to lean on Christ alone. When we are bruised, we are in good company. Our bruising is God’s good work, if we receive it.

The blows of life can drive out pride and self-sufficiency. They can lead us to true strength. Bruises can lead unbelievers to the Lord for the first time. They can lead believers back to the Lord, for even a mature Christian can forget the gospel and live by law or self-discipline and trust his imaged strength. When we trust our knowledge or skill, we can forget the Lord. Our bruises teach us to run, even to crawl, to Christ, to reset our coordinates so they lead us back to him.

Furthermore, God limits the impact of our bruises, even if the pain can be terrible. Psalm 129:1-3 has another graphic image of affliction: “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows. The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.” The point is simple; We experience long and painful wounds at the hands of others, but the Lord limits the power of the wicked, so their afflictions,  their violence, lies, and betrayals, do not destroy us.

Bruising can leave us dismayed or angry. It can make us doubt our faith, doubt the goodness of God. So we remember that God cuts the cords of the wicked.

We also remember that Jesus blesses the bruised, saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3). He invites the bruised, the weary and the heavy laden, to come to him. He compares himself to a shepherd. He grieves and helps when he sees his people harassed and helpless (9:36). Above all, Jesus was bruised for us, that we might be healed. Isaiah says he was “stricken by God… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:4-5).

Because Jesus bore that great bruising, the bruising of God’s children may be chastisement and correction, but it is not punishment. The Lord bruises us for our good. He teaches us to return to him and find healing. So he is patient with bruised reeds “until he leads justice to victory” (Matt 12:20), when he fulfills his plans. So let us remember that we are bruised reeds and that Jesus is gentle with us.


Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.

[1] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA, 1630, 1998), 3. This blog also adapts my commentary on bruised reeds in Matthew (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2008), 506-9.

[2] Sibbes, Bruised Reed, 3-6.



Every True Practitioner of Piety (Bayly)

Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety is a classic work of doctrine and devotion that demolishes the idea that there’s any division between the two.

Those of us who simply love to read theology, more or less for its own sake, sometimes need to be reminded that knowing  God has practical ends as well. And those of you (it would strain credibility if I pretended to include myself among the number) who do not make it a habit to read theology sometimes need to be told why it is worth doing.

Bayly is helpful for both, because his Practice of Piety, as the name accurately indicates, is a practical book “directing a Christian how to walk that he may please God.” The only trick (which is not really a tricksy trick but the sober truth) is that in order to know how to walk in the presence of God, you have to know a lot about God. Otherwise you’re just walking. So Bayly starts his practical book with a major dose of highly instructive classical trinitarian theology. It’s a lot of pages of what we call, in the technical language of Christian dogmatics, the good stuff.

He concludes that section by saying, “this is the plain description of God, so far as he hath revealed himself to us in his word,” and immediately identifies “four special uses” which “every true practitioner of piety” stands to gain from knowing and believing this doctrine.

First is the benefit of distinguishing the true God from pretenders:

1. That we may discern our true and only God from all false gods and idols; for the description of God is properly known only to his church, in whom he hath thus graciously manifested himself (Psal. clxvii. 19, 20; Jer. x. 25.)

The second benefit is affective, with our hearts finding their homes in each of the divine perfections. Watch the verbs here:

2. To possess our hearts with a greater awe of his majesty, whilst we admire him for his simpleness and infiniteness; adore him for his unmeasurableness, unchangeableness, and eternity; seek wisdom from his understanding and knowledge; submit ourselves to his blessed will and pleasure; love him, his love, mercy, goodness, and patience; trust to his word, because of his truth; fear him for his power, justice, and anger; reverence him for his holiness; and praise him for his blessedness: and to depend all our life on him, who is the only author of our life, being, and all the good things we have.

Third is our transformation into the likeness of God, which begins with the informing of our understanding  and the directing of our desires:

3. To stir us up to imitate the Divine Spirit in his holy attributes, and to bear, in some measure, the image of his wisdom, love, goodness, justice, mercy, truth, patience, zeal, and anger against sin; that we may be wise, loving, just, merciful, true, patient, and zealous, as our God is.

And fourth is to guide our prayer correctly to God as he is, and drive away superstition imaginings of God as he isn’t:

4. Lastly, that we may in our prayers and meditations conceive aright of his divine majesty, and not according to those gross and blasphemous imaginations which naturally arise in men’s brains, as when they conceive God to be like an old man sitting in a chair; and the blessed Trinity to be like that tripartite idol which papists have painted in their church windows.

Check out Bayly’s Practice of Piety. Here, read Charles Wesley’s copy of it.


Fred Sanders blogs at SCRIPTORIUM DAILY.



If you’ve never been part of a church small group, or have been part of a group that was unhelpful, it might be difficult to appreciate their draw. Indeed, the case for small groups is often overstated, as in, “small groups are really where church happens.” To equate small groups with church is to miss Scripture’s emphasis on elder-led (1 Tim. 1:5) Word and sacrament (Rom. 10:14; 1 Cor. 11:17–34), and corporate worship practiced by a distinct congregation (Heb. 10:25).

Orlando Saer puts it well: “The basic ‘unit’ of the church is the church itself, not some subdivision of it.” Small groups are not the essence of the church.

But without something like a small group ministry, it can be difficult for Christians to reflect the biblical pattern of communal life. Again, Saer is helpful: “Small groups can be a very helpful means of achieving ends which certainly are demanded by the Bible of Christian churches.” The Bible does not demand “house churches.” But there is an undeniable beauty in church members meeting publicly as well as in homes (Acts 20:20; Rom. 16:5). Christ’s followers break bread together as a united family in the Eucharist and as smaller groups around tables where common life happens (Acts 2:46–47).

There are many reasons why small group fellowship meetings have been an important part of Christian experience throughout the ages.

1. Discipleship

Small groups provide opportunities for believers to learn from each other as they apply the gospel within the intimacy of relationships (Titus 2:1–8). “Who is Jesus?” (cf. Matt. 16:15) is critical to hear from the pulpit. But we also need friends to help us wrestle through that question face to face. We need people who are willing to get to know us so they can help us walk with Christ more faithfully (Acts 18:24–26).

2. Study

Some Christian groups meet to discuss and apply Scripture. Of course, there are pitfalls to group Bible study which the elders should work to prevent by providing good materials and capable, accountable group leaders. But by discussing and applying Scripture together, members can learn to understand not only the Bible, but also each other, so that each will know better how to love the other. The combination of a capable Bible teacher and eager learners, all exchanging ideas together, can be powerful.

3. Curiosity

When small group leaders cultivate an environment of openness and trust, group members are encouraged to ask questions they might not ask elsewhere. “I heard the pastor use the word ‘justification’ before. Now I just heard it again. What does it mean?”

4. Accountability

When we think about church accountability, we are right to think about elders (Titus 1:5–9). But elders should first equip God’s people to work out their problems together. Every member should encourage and gently urge their brothers and sisters to better follow the Lord (Matt. 18:15–20; Gal. 6:1–2). But how can we exhort others to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3) if we rarely witness them practice the faith outside of corporate worship?

5. Shepherding

If small groups can help believers assist each other, they can also help elders shepherd their flocks with greater familiarity and empathy. Model-elder Paul “lived among” the believers at Asia (Acts 20:18) so that he knew how to proclaim what was helpful from house to house (v. 20). If parishioners feel that their elders do not know them well enough to help them through the tears and trials of life, small groups can help close the shepherding gap.

6. Evangelism

If we fervently believe in the power of the means of grace—that God works his grace through the official proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments—we should desire that the “uninformed” and “unbelievers” be present in corporate worship so that they too will worship God as they sense his presence (1 Cor. 14:22–27). But small group meetings can be an important stepping stone to church worship. Likewise, many church members might find it easier invite friends to a small group who are unready to come to church.

7. Hospitality

Many believers feel drawn to practice the biblical imperative of loving those to whom they have no natural bond (Heb. 13:2, Rom. 12:13, etc.), but they don’t always know how to begin. The very thought of hosting non-family members can intimidate. But as believers gather in homes for food and spiritual conversation, those present can witness hospitality blossoming from theory to practice.

8. Commitment

Many churches have a number of guests or occasional visitors “orbiting” the church; they are considering landing but not sure if or how they can. Small groups can provide a way for those who are trying—or considering whether they would like to try—to break into the life of the church.

9. Prayer

In the New Testament believers prayed together “with one accord” (Acts 4:24). Believers pray in private and in their family networks. In corporate worship, they pray heartily while the minister voices the words for the community. But in small groups, children and parents, neighbors and friends, elders and new converts help each other come to the throne of grace, articulating their praise and petitions in personalized words and accents. In such settings, we can learn to pray even as we appreciate the universal fatherhood of God among believers.

10. Socializing

Fellowship is not a spiritually-neutral activity. As we catch up with friends and make new ones, we practice our calling to understand and love each other. As we share and listen to stories, we learn how others are attempting to intersect the common life and the sacred life.

Small groups can help us develop a greater sense of Christian community in a disconnected age. They can facilitate the formation of deeper Christian friendships, encourage greater spiritual accountability among church members, and become a natural opportunity for inviting unbelieving and unchurched (or under-churched) neighbors to interact with a covenant community.

Small groups should never supplant the church. But they can provide a setting where the church begins to experience the kind of closeness that will characterize the life of the redeemed in the age to come.




9 Things You Should Know About David Koresh and the Branch Davidians

This Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of the siege on the compound of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. Here are nine things you should know about the religious sect, their leader, and the deadly standoff.

1. The Davidians are a splinter branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and were founded in 1929 by Victor Houteff. Houteff, a traveling salesman and Sabbath-school teacher from Los Angeles, produced a 172-page manuscript entitled The Shepherd’s Rodthat called for denominational reform and reinterpretation of SDA eschatology. The denomination condemned the new teaching and disfellowshiped Houteff. This action prompted Houteff and his followers to move to a rural community near Waco, Texas, where they created the Mount Carmel Center.

2. In 1942 Houteff changed the name of his group from The Shepherd’s Rod to the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. The term “Davidian” was used in reference to their belief they were part of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom of Israel. After Houteff’s death in 1955, another group broke away and formed the Branch Davidians, a name alluding to the anointed “Branch” mentioned in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12.

3. While in his late 20s, David Koresh (born Vernon Wayne Howell) moved to the Mount Carmel compound in 1981 and began having an affair with Lois Roden, who at the time was the prophetess of the Branch Davidians and in her late 60s. Koresh became convinced he and Roden would have a child who would be the “Chosen One.” However, Louis’s son, George Roden, was considered the heir apparent to the group. George forced Koresh and two dozen of his followers to leave Mount Carmel at gunpoint.

4. In 1985, Koresh moved to camp in East Texas and attracted more followers, sometimes known as “Koreshians.” He also travelled to Israel, where he claimed to have a vision that he was the modern-day Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler who liberated the Jews from the Babylonian captivity (“Koresh” is a transliteration of the Hebrew name for Cyrus, “Kuruš).

5. George Roden, threatened by Koresh’s growing popularity within the sect, proposed a contest to see which of the two men could raise the dead. When Roden exhumed a corpse for the contest, Koresh went to authorities to file charges of desecration of a corpse. He was told he needed proof of the crime, so Koresh and seven armed followers returned to Mount Carmel to get photographic evidence. When he returned to Mount Carmel, Koresh and his men got into a gunfight with Roden, who was shot in the chest and hands. Koresh and his followers went on trial for attempted murder. The seven were acquitted, and a mistrial was declared in Koresh’s case.

6. Koresh identified himself with the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 5. Although this reference is traditionally identified with Jesus, Koresh believed it meant his role was to break the seven seals an open the scroll, ushering in the events leading to the Apocalypse. Koresh convinced his followers that God wanted them to build an “Army of God.” As a result, they began to stockpile large numbers of weapons, which caught the attention of U.S. authorities.

7. Koresh’s only legal marriage was to Rachel Jones, who was 14 years old at the time of their wedding. But Koresh asked his followers to embrace celibacy, nullified his followers’s marriages, and then took the women for himself—including Rachel’s 12-year-old sister, Michelle. The Branch Davidians were told that that if Koresh had sex with a woman, she was in the “House of David.” Koresh admitted to fathering 12 children by several “wives,” though other sources said he might have fathered 15 or more.

8. Federal authorities gained evidence to suggest Koresh was collecting a cache of illegal weapons inside the Mount Carmel compound. On February 28, 1993, when 76 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to execute their search warrant, a firefight broke out with the Branch Davidians that lasted two hours. During the raid four ATF agents were killed and another 16 were wounded. Five Branch Davidians were also killed, including two by their own people. This incident led to a siege that lasted 51 days.

9. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno authorized an assault to end the siege that was carried out on April 19, 1993. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team’s plan was to pump in tear gas (i.e., CS gas) in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians to leave the compound. No one left during the six hours tear gas was used, and around noon three fires broke out in various parts of the building. Only nine of the Branch Davidians escaped the fire, while 75 bodies were found in the aftermath. Pathology studies concluded that at least 20 Branch Davidians—including Koresh—were shot in the head or mouth and one—a 3-year-old boy—had been stabbed in the chest. Five of the shooting victims were children younger than 14. The studies indicated that many of those who died of gunshot injuries were from close range. (The FBI claims not to have fired any shots that day.) In total, at least 80 Branch Davidians were killed during the siege, including six Davidians killed on February 28, 1993, but excluding two unborn children, one of which was near term.

Joe Carter blogs at THE GOSPEL COALITION.


Why might a Christian refuse to attend, cater, or participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony? For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume this is a discussion among traditional Christians who believe—as the church has always believed and as most of the global church still believes—that same-sex behavior is sinful and that marriage is a covenantal, conjugal union of a man and a woman.

With that clarifying comment, we can address the question head-on: Why would a Christian feel conscience bound not to attend or participate in a gay wedding? It’s not because of bigotry or fear or because we are unaware that Jesus spent time with sinners that leads us to this conclusion. It’s because of our desire to be obedient to Christ and because of the nature of the wedding event itself.

A wedding ceremony, in the Christian tradition, is first of all a worship service. So if the union being celebrated in the service cannot be biblically sanctioned as an act of worship, we believe the service lends credence to a lie. We cannot in good conscience participate in a service of false worship. I understand that does not sound very nice, but the conclusion follows from the premise, namely, that the “marriage” being celebrated is not in fact a marriage and should not be celebrated.

Moreover, there has long been an understanding that those present at a marriage ceremony are not just casual observers, but they are witnesses who are granting their approval and support for the vows that are to be made. That’s why the traditional language speaks of gathering “here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation.” That’s why one of the sample marriage services in the Presbyterian Church in America still has the minister say:

If any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be wedded, let him now declare it, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.

Quite explicitly, the wedding is not a party for friends and family. It’s not a mere ceremonial formality. It is a divine event in which those gathered celebrate and honor the “solemnization of matrimony.”

Which is why—as much as I might want to build bridges with a lesbian friend or reassure a gay family member that I care for him and want to have a relationship with him—I would not attend a same-sex wedding ceremony. I cannot help with my cake, with my flowers, or with my presence to solemnize what is not holy.

In taking such a position, I’ve often heard things like this in response:

But Jesus hung out with sinners. He wasn’t worried about being contaminated by the world. He didn’t want to turn people off to God’s love. He was always throwing open the floodgates of God’s mercy. He would say to us, “If someone forces you to bake one cake, bake for him two.”

Okay, let’s think through these objections. I mean actually think for a few sentences, and not just with slogans and vague sentimentality.

Jesus hung out with sinners. True, sort of (depends on what you mean by “hung out”). But Jesus believed marriage was between a man and a woman (Matt. 19:3–9). The example of Christ in the Gospels teaches us that we should not be afraid to spend time with sinners. If a gay couple next door invites you over for dinner, don’t turn them down.

He wasn’t worried about being contaminated by the world. That’s not the concern here. This isn’t about cooties or sin germs. We have plenty of those ourselves.

He didn’t want to turn people off to God’s love. But Jesus did so all the time. He acted in ways that could be unintentionally, and more often deliberately, antagonistic (Matt. 7:6, 13–27; 11:20–24; 13:10–17; 19:16–30). Jesus turned people off all the time. This is no excuse for us to be unthinking and unkind. But it should put to rest the unbiblical notion that says if someone feels hurt by your words or unloved by your actions that you were ipso facto sinfully and foolishly unloving.

He was always throwing open the floodgates of God’s mercy. Amen. Let’s keep preaching Christ and preach as He did, calling all people to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

If someone forces to you bake one cake, bake for him two. This is, of course, a true and beautiful principle about how Christians, when reviled, must not revile in return. But it hardly can mean that we do whatever people demand no matter our rights (Acts 4:18–20; 16:35–40; 22:22–29) and no matter what is right in God’s eyes.

A wedding is not a dinner invitation or a graduation open house or retirement party. Even in a completely secular environment, there is still a sense—and sometimes the wedding invitations say as much—that our presence at the event would honor the couple and their marriage. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to attend a wedding (let alone cater it or provide the culinary centerpiece) without your presence communicating celebration and support for what is taking place. And, as painful as it may be for us and for those we love, celebrating and supporting homosexual unions is not something God or His Word will allow us to do.