‘God changed my life’


I respond to religious believers’ claims that God, rather than human actions, improves individuals’ quality of life.

I often hear religious believers, rather than personally taking credit for improving their quality of life, giving sole credit to supernatural forces; people will say they God changed their lives rather than saying they took steps to become a more fulfilled individual.

Personally, I am somewhat saddened when I hear religious people — even after my inquiries asking about whether they would or did take credit for any improvement — failing to acknowledge their own efforts toward improvement. Further, a theologically complex situation is created when God is glorified although an egregious amount of suffering — having nothing to do with human actions — is permitted and/or otherwise caused by, according to a religious framework, God.

The stories I hear are so numerous… Jane or John were addicted to drugs/alcohol, involved with prostitution, were degenerate gamblers who were playing with no positive expectation, and — according to the stories — ‘tried everything’ to help themselves and only improved when they ‘found God.’ Rather than positing a supernatural explanation for improving one’s quality of life, more plausible explanations exist: joining a supportive community helped change one’s life, dedicating oneself to rigid religious standards may have helped someone (note: this can happen whether or not a god exists), and one finally (whether a god intervened or not) had the willpower to improve.

Returning to the theological situation I mentioned, I find believers to be quite — for lack of better words — self-centered and myopic when they say God intervened in their lives while so many other religious believers are in much worse situations. Why would God intervene in Jane’s behalf, compelling her or otherwise leading her to finally abstain from abusing alcohol, while God does nothing to prevent diseases, natural disasters, deadly birth defects, etc? Shall we presume God, then, if he is willing to intervene to improve the quality of ‘Jane alcoholic,’ is not an omni-benevolent being because he fails to improve others’ lives and does nothing to prevent more egregious disasters elsewhere? I think so.

It’s great that the Jane and John Does of the world can tell stories about how their lives improved. Increased human flourishing is a wonderful thing. However, taking no personal credit for accomplishments and claiming that God is responsible — or even partially claiming God is responsible — leads religious believers in an irreconcilable state; if God exists and will intervene on behalf of Jane and John Doe, why does he not intervene on behalf of others – especially other religious believers?

Religious believers are also faced with the problem of other religions – specially religious believers of other creeds/denominations claiming that the being they believe exists improved their lives? Does the Christian god intervene on behalf of Hindus? Who is right – the Hindu or the Christian? How can we know? Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. If a similar thought process leads to different conclusions skeptical red flags arise in my analysis. Perhaps it is most plausible, then, if multiple claims are being made by religious believers, that human action — rather than supernatural action — is responsible for change.

As always, feel free to comment below. I shall strive to keep my posts to fewer than 600 words although these issues can indeed be complex!

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.