Duct tape and baling wire

An interview with Valerie Tarico.

How and why she left evangelicalism:

I would say that from adolescence on I struggled to fend off moral and rational contradictions in my faith, evolving  more and more idiosyncratic ways of holding the pieces together.  In particular, I couldn’t understand how I was going to be blissfully, perfectly happy – indifferent to the fact that other people were experiencing eternal anguish.

Bingo. That’s something that always troubles me (to put it as mildly as possible) about non-questioning evangelicals – that indifference to the fact that other people are experiencing eternal anguish. It’s a horrible, unspeakable thought, yet some people are apparently perfectly fine with it.

The final straw came while I was completing a doctoral internship at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.  My job was to provide psychological consultation to kids and families on the medical units.  I was working with kids who were dying of cancer or enduring horrible, frightening treatments in order to survive it.  As I listened to the explanations offered by people who believed in an all powerful, loving, perfectly good interventionist God, it seemed to me these “justifications” were comforting, but they didn’t make things just.  I re-read The Problem of Pain, and the resident rabbi offered Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Both rang hollow.  Finally I said to God, “I’m not making excuses for you anymore.” And suddenly it felt like I had been holding my God together for so long with duct tape and bailing wire that all I had left was tape and wire.  So I walked away.

She took the problem seriously, as so many people fail to do.

Morality doesn’t come from religion.  Healthy human children come into the world primed to become moral members of society, just like they come into the world primed to acquire language. Moral emotions like empathy, shame, guilt and disgust begin to emerge during the toddler years regardless of a child’s cultural or religious context. A toddler may pat an injured peer or offer a grubby toy to an adult who is distressed. A preschooler may hide behind a couch to cover a transgression. As a child’s brain develops, moral emotions are joined by moral reasoning. By age five or six, kids can argue long and loud about fairness.

Research is just starting to show how our moral emotions and reasoning are guided by powerful moral instincts.

Cf Patricia Churchland’s Braintrust – see here and here and here.


  1. Roger says

    “that indifference to the fact that other people are experiencing eternal anguish. It’s a horrible, unspeakable thought, yet some people are apparently perfectly fine with it.”

    Even worse, I think for some people that’s the main attraction of religion: that other people will be tortured for ever. Both christianity and islam make watching the damned in hell one of the perks of heaven and some believers seem more concerned with people going hell than people going to heaven

  2. anthrosciguy says

    I’m seconding Roger’s thought: altho for some this may be a problem, well, as the saying goes, for many it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Look around at what they do, and try to do, to others; their happiness depends on others being unhappy. For someone like that to experience ultimate joy, someone else must be experiencing the opposite. They live in a zero-sum universe.

  3. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    The god of the bible, even if it existed, is not a being worthy of worship. “Sophisticated” theology has to make up more excuses all the time to try to save the reputation of this dreadful character.

  4. John Morales says

    I think that the variety of deconversion stories is indicative of the fractal wrongness of the belief.

  5. Roger says

    “They live in a zero-sum universe.”
    Not a zero-sum universe, but something worse, anthrosciguy: an actual belief that eternal torture for most of the human race would be a good thing.

  6. Egbert says

    “Research is just starting to show how our moral emotions and reasoning are guided by powerful moral instincts.”

    Moral instincts? Really?

    We should be very sceptical about that, because the animal kingdom isn’t known for being moral, but rather amoral. If we have moral instincts then we also have immoral instincts if we are to explain all the evil humans get up to. Animals seem rather less evil when they chomp an antelope.

    Again, sounds a bit like trying to put morality into human nature again.

  7. sailor1031 says

    “Moral emotions like empathy, shame, guilt and disgust….”

    Theses aren’t actually moral – they’re just emotions. And yes, animals do experience them too.

    As for humans being moral – well it’s obvious innit? They are made by doG and he wants them to be just like him, so he makes them ‘moral’ (snickers up sleeve and leaves……

  8. Cassanders says

    You have some homework to do. The hypothesis that social animals has “protomorality”, and that the similarity with humans increases the closer primates you move, have convincing scientific evidence. “Good natured” by F. de Waal (and the references therein) is a good entry to the field.

    The understanding of the biological mechanisms(s) leading to morality has increased tremendously the last decade.
    see e.g. : http://wiringthebrain.blogspot.com/2011/06/where-do-morals-come-from.html

    In Cod we trust

  9. Dave says

    I’m going to be the pedant and say ‘baling wire’.

    Anyway, I always preferred ‘Stuck together with chewing-gum and bogies’ [that might be ‘boogers’ for N Americans?]

  10. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    I’m going to be the pedant and say ‘baling wire’.

    Yeah, I’ve tried bailing with wire, and it just doesn’t get the job done.

  11. Jeremy Shaffer says

    She took the problem seriously, as so many people fail to do.

    The more I have discussions/ debates/ arguments with believers the more I think that that is one of the primary ingredients to belief: a lack of seriousness about the subject. Despite their assertions that this is the most important discision one can make in their entire life, with everything riding on it, it appears that believers never really think about it. Just what ever their clergy or some apologist says or what ever pops into their head (even if it greatly contradicts what they said just a moment earlier) is good enough for them, just so long as they don’t have to seriously think about it.

  12. Egbert says


    I agree that they’re playing a role and aren’t serious about anything, including religion. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are very serious about their ideals, but not serious enough to understand the world. It’s all some form of self-deception and I would add ‘insanity’.

  13. says

    Hahaha – oops, I missed the “bailing wire.” That’s whoever transcribed the interview. It’s funny, because I’ve spent a lot of time around baling wire, what with one thing and another.

  14. Ken Pidcock says

    This is wonderful defense of not only of rejecting belief but of rejecting belief as a positive position.

    Because Christians self-perceive as a city on a hill, a light shining in the darkness, they assume they have the moral high ground. Some think that there is no basis for morality apart from the Bible and a redemptive relationship with Jesus. So what they fail to recognize is that much of the critique of Christianity is a moral critique, and much of the outrage is moral outrage.

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