I just had a conversation with my mother about my younger brother. My brother has had diagnosed learning disabilities for a long time, and was never any good at school. My mom told me that he's known it for a long time too, and he felt really bad about it. She said that when he was younger, he asked her why god had made him so dumb.
I got pretty ticked off at this point of the conversation. Here is a kid who has been brought up to believe in god, not question its existence, who believes that this god decided to not give him the gift of intelligence. His brothers were all pretty smart, but he wasn't. Why had god chosen to give him learning disabilities and to consequently make him suffer through school the way he did? What had he done to deserve that?
It's important to note that my parents had recently separated/divorced. We didn't have all that much contact with my dad after that. So not only had his father left, but god was also picking on him.
My mother, being a believer, could not say, "God didn't make you that way, because god doesn't exist." So she did the usual, explaining about different people and different abilities. But I'll bet that did little to answer his question about why he had to do it with a brain which didn't run normally.
When atheists say that religion can be hard, and possibly even torturous, for a child's mental development, believers often scoff and insist that it does no damage. But for those among us who are born with one disability or another, or some other disadvantage, I say that it can indeed be damaging to believe that this all-powerful creature did it to you intentionally.
To be fair, perhaps there can be some comfort (no relation to Ray) in knowing that it is intentional, if you believe that god's plan for you doesn't require intelligence. But I think that's not useful to a kid suffering through not only the social and academic worlds of school, but also with a collapsing family life. It also doesn't do anything to explain why the kid has to have learning disabilities for the plan to work.
I'm pretty interested in comments on this one, if readers have any.