The ExChristian.Net blog exists for the express purpose of encouraging those who have decided to leave Christianity behind. This area contains articles sent in between January 2001 and February 2010. To view recent posts, click on the "Home" link.
Choose a screen name, click the log-in button, and you're chatting.
This A/Video Chat application created by Userplane Webchat enables users to connect through webcams, microphones and phone conference, as well as text. However, as this sort of service is expensive, it is supported by annoying advertisements.
Screen names can be registered by clicking on the "sign-up" link. Those who take a minute to register will find they have a several advantages over guests.
Molecular biologist Dr. Zachary Moore studies the effects of DNA, RNA and proteins on human disease. He is a former Christian, a moderator on this site, and recently began participating in a series of talks for The Infidel Guy website entitled "Evolution 101".
In this first talk Dr. Moore talks about evolution, alleles, information theory, phenotypes, retroviruses, eugenics, mutations and more!
Special thanks are extended to Infidel Guy, Reginald Finley, for allowing us to offer this interview here.
Click the play arrow to listen. Forum subscribers can download the file to their hard drive here.
Biblical scholars have long ago dismissed the literal interpretation of the miraculous virgin-birth of Jesus. Also, many liberal Christian denominations have either quietly purged the curious piece of teaching from their body of philosophy, or conveniently ignore the issue altogether. Despite this, the allure of such an intriguing concept is still very powerful and Jesus' virgin birth continues to enjoy the unquestioning belief of millions of people. The purpose of this essay is to explore the mythological connections between prodigal children in history with an emphasis on the meaning and symbology of virgin birth as it particularly relates to Jesus. In this way Jesus' virgin birth and the mysteries surrounding it will be fully explored in the mythological context from which it derives.
We know very little about the desert nomads and goddess worshippers who settled the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley. Mesopotamia, situated as it was between the ancient lands of Ur and Sumer, was almost constantly at war in the three millennia preceding the Common Era. What we do know comes down to us through the Ashurbanipal library. King Ashurbanipal (fl. 620 BCE) of Nineveh ruled the Assyrian empire just prior to its decline. His brutal accomplishments on the battlefield were tempered only by a driving passion for letters and learning so that, over time his spoils included the religious texts and history books of all of his conquered neighbors including the Mesopotamians. After his death, his empire collapsed and in a few short years Nineveh itself was utterly destroyed by Persian invaders. The invaders were only interested in destroying Nineveh's military might; they ruined the city's walls, but completely ignored the Ashurbanipal's library, perhaps considering it a mere whimsical endeavor. The library was soon swallowed up by the shifting sands of the desert. Finally in 1845 British archaeologists rediscovered Nineveh and the wealth of books which lay buried there.
The pre-civilized world of ancient Mesopotamia, consisted of small farming settlements whose people worshipped Ishtar, a fertile, mother goddess. Ishtar caused the rains to fall and the crops to grow in a continuous cycle of birth, life, and death. Over time, Ishtar-worship began to wane as the warlike male gods of neighboring tribes emerged in positions of prominence. The warrior-kings of neighboring desert tribes continually invaded the fertile lands of Mesopotamia, eventually seizing the land and incorporating it into their own rising and falling empires. One of the first warrior-kings to rise up among these early peoples was Sargon of Akkad, who established his kingdom in 2200 BCE. Ishtar was by now fully absorbed into the stronger cults of the patriarchal deities and she became a lesser deity who was subservient to the new male gods of the warrior-kings.
Sargon is perhaps the first Babylonian king who was said to have a larger-than-life birth and childhood. He was born in secret to a mother of lowly birth and a father who was a mountain god. In a motif which would later be borrowed and attributed to Horus and Moses, Sargon's mother placed the child in a basket of rushes and sent him down a river to protect him from the god's enemies. The babe was rescued downstream by simple folk and the goddess Ishtar loved and guided Sargon through his early childhood and to his final destiny: the ascension of the throne. Sargon's biography started a "tall tale" tradition that subsequent kings felt the need to match. The attribute of divine birth and predestination became an important vehicle whereby a mortal king was said to be god-favored; gaining recognition and power during his life which often continued into posterity long after death.
By 1000 BCE, we find this tradition improved upon so that the biography of kings and important men insist that they were not only divinely born, but said to have transcended death to become gods themselves. Zoroaster, the Persian prophet and patriarch who lived and preached in ancient Babylon, was said to have been God-begotten and virgin born. Virgin-birth was the responsibility of the Ishtar priestesses, who conducted fertility rites, prophesied and performed elaborate rituals in the temples throughout Babylon. The priestesses who administered the temples also managed a lucrative prostitution business that provided a steady stream of financial support for temple activities. Upon their return to Palestine, Hebrews of the Babylonian captivity brought back to the Mediterranean peoples wondrous tales of the priestesses and their blasphemous sexual ministries to the men who visited them. The role of the Ishtar priestess was to act as both mother to the prospective man's child and minister to the child's divine needs:
"Holy Virgin" was the title of harlot-priestesses of Ishtar (and) Asherah. The title didn't mean physical virginity; it meant simply "unmarried." The function of such "holy virgins" was to dispense the Mother's grace through sexual worship; to heal; to prophesy; to perform sacred dances; to wail for the dead; and to become Brides of God."
The Hebrews called the children of these priestesses bathur, which meant literally "virgin-born" as in those children who were born of the holy harlot-priestesses of the temple. The Hellenic world had no equivalent to the bizarre rituals of Ishtar, and mistranslated and misunderstood the literal Hebrew's bathur as parthenioi, also "virgin-born" but in the sense of physical, not spiritual, virginity.
The Zoroastrian cosmology told of the world lasting for twelve thousand years in four, three-thousand year blocks of time. The last block of time began with the divine birth of the prophet and would end by ushering in the apocalyptic end of the world and the restoration of good over evil:
[Zoraster's] birth and teaching in the world marked the opening of the final three thousand of the world span of twelve thousand years--at the end of which term his spritual sons Saoshyant, "the Coming Savior," the World Messiah, would appear, to culminate the victory of Truth over the Lie and establish forever the restoration of the pristine creation of God. As the legend tells, the birthplace of Zoroaster . . . was beside the river Daiti, in the central land of the seven lands of the earth, Eran Vej. . . . Angra Mainyu [Demon of the Lie] rushed from the regions of the north, crying to his horde, "Annihilate him!" But the holy babe chanted aloud . . . and the demons were dispersed.
In the Hellenic empire carved out by Alexander the Great during the third century BCE, these eastern beliefs and myths mingled with those of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Semitic peoples. Alexander was anxious to connect the Mediterranean world with the strange ways and customs of the Orient and sought to connect his two empires culturally as well as politically. The Greeks had already devised well-developed concepts of divine impregnation. The savior-god Dionysus was said to have been born after Zeus visited Persephone in the form of a serpent. The Persian contribution to these Hellenic myths was to bring the fascinating idea of the virgin (parthenioi) birth to the old Dionysus and Herakles stories. Eventually the pagan mysteries had fully incorporated the virgin-birth ceremonies of the Ishtar priestesses into their own beliefs and religions as each savior- god took on the divine attribute themselves.
The Greeks related that Persephone was hidden in a cave by her mother, the goddess Demeter. While there, Persephone began weaving a great tapestry of the universe out of aweb of wool. Zeus learned of her presence and approached Persephone in the guise of a serpent. She conceived a son for Zeus and named him Dionysus, whom she cared for and nurtured in the cave to protect the young child from other jealous wives of Zeus. Eventually Herakles, whom the Romans would rename to Hercules, was said to have been born of a god as well. In due time Perseus, Minos, Asclepius, Miletus, and many others, were all reputably born of a specially selected mortal woman and a god in the manner of the Ishtar virgin priestesses. Often the god would impregnate the woman as a spirit in special ceremonies. Zeus was said to have impregnated Danae by visiting her as a ray of sunlight and the dove, sacred to Ishtar, manifests itself as a Holy Ghost to impregnate Mary and announce Jesus as the son of God.
One result of the Persian-Hellenic blend of myths was Mithras.Mithras was a Persian deity, but other than his name used" to give itself an exotic oriental flavor," Hellenic Mithraism wasdistinctly pagan. Mithraism began and flourished at the same timeas did Christianity. The cult gained enormous popularity and bythe third century hundreds of mithraeum--underground temples whereMithras was worshipped--were spread out across Asia Minor, Africa,Italy, Greece, and the German and Scottish frontiers where Romansoldiers were stationed. Mithras is the most recognizable of theMediterranean gods that was said to have been physically virgin-born; a flattering imitation of the Ishtar priestesses ofBabylon. Mithras was depicted as a" bull-slayer" and stone-carved reliefs display a tauroctony where Mithras plunges a knife into the neck of a great bull, while the blood spills down to the ground. The bull-slaying scene always takes place inside of a cave, symbolically represented by the mithraeum's locations in caves and underground grottos. To understand this symbolic bull- slaying, we must first look briefly at the Greco-Roman world's understanding of the universe.
The ancients believed that the sun, the moon, "wandering" stars (planets), comets, and other celestial bodies were heavenly gods who were in motion about a stationary earth. Since the sun (Sol invictus) seemed to be the most influential of the celestial gods, it was especially worshipped and regarded as annually "reborn" at its lowest point in the sky during the winter solstice of December 25th. Since the plane of the ecliptic--the path that the sun travels in the sky--traces out the band of the twelve star-patterns that make up the zodiac, the sun was considered a god that gave "birth" to, or was a father of, the twelve zodiacal gods. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus made the astounding discovery in 128 BCE that the zodiac of constellations slowly drifted backward over time so that they appeared, with respect to the suns position at winter solstice, in a new location in the heavens. Every 25 thousand years these constellations slowly moved; a phenomenon we know today to be the precession of the equinoxes which is caused by the "wobble" of the earth on its axis. To the ancients, it was a frightening and astounding event:
Hipparchus, who assumed that the earth was immovable and at the center of the cosmos, could only understand the precession as a movement of the entire cosmic sphere. In other words, Hipparchus's discovery amounted to the revelation that the entire universe was moving in a way that no one had ever been aware of before. . . . [The precession] had profound religious implications. A new force had been detected capable of shifting the cosmic sphere: Was it not likely that this new force was a sign of the activity of a new god, a god so powerful that he was capable of moving the entire universe?
At the time Hipparchus made his discovery, the spring equinox, which signaled the resurrection of the sun-god, appeared in the constellation of Aries the Ram. Before Aries, it was seen that the equinox fell on Taurus the Bull. This celestial movement taking place among the heavenly gods and the "death" of Taurus the Bull made a tremendous impact. Mithras became that celestial force who was strong enough to slay the bull and was able to command the very heavens to do his bidding.
In Mithraism, just as in Christianity and Zoroastrianism before them, the world was a constant battleground of good and evil; a bitter dualistic struggle between the hosts of demons and the elect who serve God. Spirituality warred against the physical, and darkness imperiled the good fortune of light. Mithras represented the divine son of the sun-god and the savior of good against darkness in the universe who battled against the minions of evil to save mankind.
Because Mithras could move the celestial sphere at will, he was seen as outside of the universe. Carvings of Mithras reflect his birth as a naked child bursting from an egg-shaped petra genetrix, or "Generative Rock." The rock caves where the mithraeum were located symbolize the "womb" from which Mithras emerged. His escape from the confines of the rock, attest to his extra-universal power to escape the celestial sphere and command the heavens:
[Mithras'] birth is said to have been brought about solo aestu libidinis, "by the sole heat of libido...." The earth has given birth--a virgin birth--to the archetypal Man.
Mithras was born on December 25th, the eve of the winter solstice when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. With the dawn of light on Mithras' birth "the priest emerged from the temple to announce triumphantly: The God is born!"
When Christianity gained power in the fifth century, Mithraism was declared heretical and ruthlessly scourged. Before that time, Christianity and Mithraism coexisted and were undoubtedly influencial upon each other. This mingling and influence are apparent in the manner with which Christianity overtook Mithraism. The former had no trouble incorporating Mithraism's followers into its own ranks and many former mithraeums were converted to churches. Many Roman churches today, the Church of San Clemente in Rome most notably, still contain well-preserved mithraeums in their vaulted burial crypts. The lines that divided Mithraism from Christianity were understandably blurred due to this slow and steady absorption of Mithraism by Christianity during the centuries that the two existed side-by-side. This process led to the similarities that we now see shared between the two religions:
[Mithras] was said to have been sent by a father-god to vanquish darkness and evil in the world. Born of a virgin (a birth witnessed only by shepherds), Mithras was described variously as the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Word, the Son of God, and the Good Shepherd and was often depicted carrying a lamb upon his shoulders. Followers of Mithras celebrated December 25th (the winter solstice) by ringing bells, singing hymns, lighting candles, giving gifts, and administering a sacrament of bread and water. Between December 25th and the spring equinox (Easter, from the Latin for earth goddess) came the 40 days' search for Osiris, a god of justice and love. The cult also observed Black Friday, commemorating Mithras' sacrificial bull-slaying which fructified the earth. Worn out by the battle, Mithras is symbolically represented as a corpse and is placed in a sacred rock tomb from which he is removed after three days in a festival of rejoicing.
Jesus' virgin-birth was probably attributed to him during this time. Matthew and Luke write that Jesus was born of a virgin in 1:18-25, and 1:26-35, respectively. Mark, the earliest of the synoptics, makes no such claim and the Gospel of John would never think of reducing Jesus, the divine Logos, to mere flesh and blood. The Gospel of Mark aligns itself closely with the earlier Q--the forty or so oral tradition sayings that are believed to be derived from Jesus' teachings directly--and does not think to concern itself with the biography of Jesus prior to his baptism by John. To early Christians, the childhood or place and manner of the birth of Jesus was irrelevant. The Kingdom of God was at hand and Jesus the messenger had warned them of that fact and that they should prepare for the new heaven and earth that was to come in their lifetimes. Given Jesus' apoclyptic message and instructions to repent and prepare for the Lord, a posterity-driven biography would seem absurd. If the Kingdom of God was at hand, as Jesus taught, then there would be no future generations to read anything that was codified in the present. Thus, the oral tradition preserved Jesus' teachings in short, concise pericopes (short sayings) and Jesus' followers gave little thought to writing them down at first because of the very nature of the apocalyptic movement that had sprung up around them.
As time went by it could be seen that the Kingdom of God was delayed. Among the Hellenized Jews and the Greek pagans who were considering conversion to Christianity, this delay posed more questions than answers. Additionally, Greek pagans, from which Christianity was to draw its converts and eventually thrive, were naturally skeptical of any new savior and the heavenly rewards they might promise. These Greeks had to pick and choose among the dozens of mystery cults and gods that had sprung up, each promising riches and eternal bliss in a heavenly afterlife. Jesus had little to offer these Greeks. He was, by all accounts, a mortal Jewish messiah, speaking only to the sons of Abraham and telling them to prepare the way of the Lord who would build a new Jerusalem especially for his chosen people. The Marcan Jesus that was known to his followers during the middle-to-late first-century (before the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John) shared none of the attributes of the time-honored moral-savior deities of Dionysus or Herakles. Jesus' later-added attribute of virgin-birth necessary if Jesus was to be made acceptable to the pagans of the Hellenized world.
Hebrew teachings do not specify that the Messiah would be born of a virgin; the very idea is alien to Jewish expectations of who the Messiah would be. Quite contrary to the Hellenized Jesus "there is nothing in the Jewish sacred books to suggest that the Messiah or anyone else was, or was to be, born of a virgin." Jesus had been thoroughly rejected by the Jews who had decided that he was not the messiah that would usher in the new Kingdom. Early Christians had no choice but to turn away from Palestine and introduce Jesus to the Gentiles.
The Gospel of Mark begins with the Baptist in the River Jordan and the baptism of Jesus there. Early versions of Matthew and Luke, which were circulated among Greek Christians, began with the Baptist as well. At some point, these Christians felt the need to tailor their savior after the Greek savior-gods that they were familiar with and felt that it would be necessary to write a biography of Jesus to fill that need and make him as powerful and honorable as the pagan gods. The Gospel of Mark (70 CE) was already too well known and circulated, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were perfect for inserting the childhood biography of Jesus:
The first two chapters of Matthew and the first three chapters of Luke were added in the second century by Hellenizers who would accept only a divinely born savior-god like those of the pagan mystery-cults. . . ."
By the close of the first century it became necessary to codify the origins of Jesus so as to defend him from the pagan critics who hesitated at following a new god when their current ones, like Herakles and Perseus, were well known to have been born by the union of a god and a virgin mother. Writing independently of each other, the authors or interpolators of Matthew and Luke proceeded to elevate Jesus to the status of the Greek savior-gods by inserting at the front of their gospels, the birth narrative of Jesus. The end result however created another problem:
Although Matthew and Luke, who deal with the Virgin Birth story, are considered "inspired" writers . . . they yet disagree on minor details. It was to Joseph that the angel appeared to according to Matthew; it was to Mary according to Luke. And the Annunciation (the angel Gabriel's announcement of the Incarnation) took place before Mary's conception, if Luke is the authority; and after, if Matthew is the authority.
At the time of Matthew and Luke's interpolation, Christianity deeply rooted itself in the Graeco-Roman world and had completely separated itself from its mother religion Judaism. Former pagans were converting en masse and brought their religious beliefs with them to the new religion.
Even the Hebrew's Tanakh was forgotten, having been replaced by the Greek Septuagint which translated the Old Testament books into Greek terms and concepts that often were misleading, innacurate, or mistranslated from the Hebrew texts. The Greek- speaking author of Matthew, relying on the faulty translation of the Septuagint, rendered the Hebrew word almah (young woman) into Greek parthenos (virgin) when he wrote:
Behold, a parthenos shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
The Septuagint had retained the Ishtar-worshipping virgin-temple practices in part by insisting on the physical virgin-birth of Isaiah's prophetic Emmanuel in verses 7:14. The later writers of Matthew and Luke relied on the Septuagint for their references. After reading this passage in Isaiah, Matthew sought to find a way to fit Jesus into the virgin-birth role that Isaiah spoke of, thus achieving a prophecy in Jesus' own birth. The impetus for the idea and the motivation which would eventually permanently seal it into the canon, came from the huge numbers of pagan converts. These converts didn't want to leave behind Mithras and Perseus, who were both virgin-born, in exchange for a Jewish Messiah who was not.
The text in Isaiah 7:14, properly translated from the Hebrew Nevi'im reads:
Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.
This "young woman" may perhaps be unmarried or a physical virgin, but she should not be confused with the role of the Holy Virgins of the pagan temples of Ishtar whose job it was to bear savior- gods. This passage could not refer to anything other than a direct sign of Yahweh concerning the events of Isaiah's time. Isaiah specifically refers to the time and place in which the prophet is speaking to King Ahaz and reassuring him that Syria and Ephraim will not go to war with Judah. Isaiah "is simply saying to Ahaz that a lady who is now a virgin will shortly fall pregnant and bear a son, and that by the time this has happened the political dangers will have been averted." Matthew, straining to provide some kind of scriptural basis for the virgin- birth of Jesus, takes Isaiah out of context in order to support a prophecy fulfillment through Jesus' virgin birth. We see the context-dropping in 8:3-4 where Isaiah's prophecy is said to have come true in that "the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria" shall be plundered by Assyria while the child is yet an infant. These invasions and the resultant booty did occur in the seventh century BCE. How did such a doctrine ever become promulgated?
What actually happened is obvious enough: at an early date, Judaizers interpolated passages designed to make Jesus the Messiah who would establish a Jewish empire at His Parousia; but then, about 115-125 (CE), since it had become impossible to remove these interpolations, certain Hellenizers simply superimposed Matt. 1:18-25 and Luke 1 upon them, which provided Jesus with a Virgin Birth and made of Him a savior generically similar to Dionysus and therefore acceptable in the pagan world.
By the time pagan philosophers like Celsus (fl. 180 CE) were denouncing the virgin-birth mythology, it was too late. The doctrine was already imbedded in the collective minds and manuscripts of the early Christians. Celsus anticipated the motive behind the virgin birth narrative and accused Christians of attributing the virgin birth to Jesus in order to imitate the pagan savior-gods:
Many of the nations of the world hold doctrines similar to those espoused by the Christians.... The Galactophagi of Homer, the Druids of Gaul, and even the Getae (for example) believe doctrines very close to (the historicity of Christianity and Judaism) ... Linus, Musaeus, Orpheus, Pherecydes, Zoroaster the Persian, and Pythagoras understood these doctrines .... What absurdity! Clearly the Christians have used the myths of the Danae and the Melanippe, or of the Auge and the Antiope in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin birth.
Celsus' bitter criticism necessitated a Christian apology that never quite overcame the defensive posture that it was forced to take. Early Church fathers like Eusebius and Augustine compare and contrast Jesus heavily against his pagan contemporaries, claiming that if Jesus is false, then so is Mithras and Herakles. During this period, the early Christians were still tied to their pagan roots and had not yet stated a clear case for why their god should not be considered an equal of Mithras, Dionysus, and other Greek and Roman gods. Roman critics and neoplatonic philosophers who argued against Christianity from a conservative status quo position, couldn't understand why Christians would want to so closely fashion their god after those of the standard repertoire of state-endorsed gods.
The pagan idea of a savior-god being virgin-born was very persistent:
a...factor making for the survival of such tales (virgin birth) in religious cults is stressed by Gilbert Murray. He notes that it is the saviour gods of paganism who are often reputed virgin-born. The father-god supplies the human race with a saviour, his son, by impregnating a goddess or a mortal. He must, however, not be regarded as actuated by lust. His purpose is the birth of a great saviour of mankind, and so the impregnation has to be effected without carnal intercourse. Hence Io was made pregnant by the laying on of the divine hand, Danae by the golden sunlight.
Nowhere is virgin birth so stressed as in the Graeco-Roman world where the synoptic interpolators were deeply rooted:
[T]he doctrine of the Virgin Birth, without which no prophet or savior-god could be a divine incarnation, was so common among ancient cults that it was impossible for any religious founder to achieve acceptance without it.
The virgin-birth story which is attributed to Jesus, is a later pagan addition interpolated for the sole purpose of adding support for the Christian savior. Not having been based upon a solid textual foundation like the Jews, early Christians needed to attribute the characteristics and events of existing gods to their savior in order to legitimize him as a god worthy of worship. Jesus represents a crossover from Messianic Judaism and Graeco-Roman paganism; an embodiment of the best of both worlds.
Clues from the apocryphal--texts not included in the canon--that account for the persistence of Jesus' virgin-birth may be from the Gospel of Thomas, which dates to perhaps 50 CE. Jesus is preaching in the desert using parables and saying that "he who has ears, let him hear." A woman calls out saying "[b]lessed are the womb which bore you and the breasts which nourished you" to which Jesus replies:
Blessed are those who have heard the word of the father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, `Blessed are the womb which has not conceived and the breasts which have not given milk.'
Jesus is referring to the hard times that may befall those who choose to serve God for the path to the Kingdom of God is narrow indeed. Often Jesus is depicted in the gospels as being taken literally (e.g., Nicodemus' "born from above" narrative) when he meant to use figurative speech, so this may be just such a case. Also, in the same gospel Jesus tells his disciples that when they "go into any land" and "see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him." Thomas' Jesus constantly plays on words and tells his disciples that only by searching for the beginning will they find the end of their journey. Aside from the Buddhist overtones of this statement, it is possible that later Christians decided that the "beginning" (Jesus) must have been one not born of woman since no mention is made of such beings after the disciples traveled and preached.
The Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the gospels, relates that Jesus is a Jewish Messiah, and so born quite naturally in the manner expected of the Davidic Messiah. The Jewish ascetic sects who were expecting a son of David to arrive who would invoke the Parousia and regain the throne, said that he would be born in Bethlehem. The earliest references, upon which Mark's gospel is based, insist that Jesus was instead born in Galilee at Nazareth. The last two synoptics, Matthew and Luke, attempt to correct Mark's error by again placing Jesus' birth back in Bethlehem. The Gospel of John, which is totally unconcerned with any notion of Jewish expectations of the Messiah, places Jesus back at Nazareth merely for the sake of argument ascribing the conflict as a "division among the people over him" (Jn. 7:43). The conflict would be a minor one if it were not for the fact that there was no such town in Galilee named Nazareth during Jesus' birth. In a humorous self-fulfilling prophecy, the Galilean town was established in the third century after news of Jesus' birthplace had become famous. This curious insistence on associating Jesus with Nazareth may predate the Christian oral traditions and told among apocalyptic groups like the Essenes, who practiced a form of sun worship. Early Christians may have considered Jesus a sun-god. Nazareth is very closely worded to Nazaroth which in Hebrew is "the twelve signs (of the zodiac)." The root verb nazar means to "surround" as in the twelve constellations of the zodiac which pass overhead each night, thus surrounding the earth. Job is reminded of his human limitations and the celestial astrological power of Yahweh, when the latter speaks to him from a raging desert whirlwind:
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Nazaroth in his season?
This theory is supported by the evidence that the inhabitants of Qumran by the Dead Sea, who Pliny referred to as Essenes, used a solar-based calendar, rather than the traditional lunar-based Judaic calendar. Pliny the Younger reported in a letter to the emperor Trajan in 112 CE that "Christians appear to be harmless people who meet at daybreak and sign hymns to the honor of the Christo quasi deo (the Christ as if he were a god)."
Matthew and Luke sought to fill in the missing genealogy for Jesus. Jewish Messiah's were considered important only in the capacity that they fulfilled the role of a "Son of man" and told their people the message of God who had appointed them. The Messiah himself was unimportant compared to the mission which he was elected to perform. But when Matthew and Luke wrote, Jesus had taken on a greater meaning to the Christians than just a fulfiller of Messianic duties. Understandably, many early Christians wanted to know more about Jesus than the earlier texts and the Sayings Sources had shown. Writing independently of each other, Matthew and Luke wrote conflicting genealogies based on OT scripture and numerology.
Matthew's genealogy is an attempt to invoke credibility through powerful numerological magic. He bases Jesus' lineage on watershed events in history in three sets of fourteen:
"So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations."
Since "seven" is the Hebrew magical number we find a strong desire to tailor Jesus' genealogy in groups that are divisible by seven, and in groupings that denote historical events of which Jesus' birth is as important as the "carrying away into Babylon" and King David himself:
Here are the six sets of seven names each that Matthew derives:
Abraham Aminadab | Solomon Joatham | Jechonias Achim
Matthew omits Joash, Amaziah, and Azoriah from the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3 and mistakenly counts Jechonias twice in order to achieve the perfect three sets of fourteen which when halved invoke the magical properties of the number seven. Jesus can be said according to Matthew's genealogy as being the "seventh son thrice and one" of King David himself. An impressive lineage indeed and one which testifies to the powerful influences astrology and numerology had on the ancient world and the early Christians in particular. Pagan critics accused Christians of practicing chicanery and magic learned from the Masters in Egypt. Matthew and Luke's birth narratives also show astrological magic in practice by having Jesus born when the stars are correct in the heavens. These myth-making elements liven up the gospels, but should not be taken literally. Again, we can safely assume that these accretions which attach magical properties and visiting magicians to Jesus' birth are stories designed to Hellenize Jesus for the pagan converts sake.
" ... you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
"The real freedom of any man can always be measured by the amount of responsibility which he must assume for his own welfare and security" -- Robert Welch
Introduction People often view a de-conversion as a sudden, bursting decision, but it is rarely so. For me, leaving my faith was like the creation of an oil painting. At first there were vague shapes that I couldn't identify. Then, stroke upon stroke, the details came into focus, and finally what was happening in the picture became clear. At the time, the picture I saw was my worst fear coming to life -- but I knew I had to proceed. I wasn't until long after the painting was finished, however, that I could recognize the beauty in the creation.
And you will see the beauty too ... eventually.
Even though I've changed drastically since my de-conversion, the basic elements of my identity are still the same. The same person who once wanted to be a minister now wants to help those who, like I once was, are locked in the error loop of the church and can't get out. Before I made my own foray into the unknown, I was filled with apprehensions that actually postponed my leaving the church for many years. I believe thousands of fundamentalists struggle with those same fears today. Some of them will eventually leave the church; others will never seem to find their way out. For those who decide to leave, my hope is that this book can help.
To that end, my goal has been to write a book that would have been useful for me about thirteen years ago. I was seriously doubting my own faith, mentally thrashing through philosophies and contradictions with myself and what my church believed. I would have benefited a great deal from a book that gave me a bit of assurance in very broad terms.
This book has three parts. The first part will help you understand how you got where you were, and help you weigh your decision to leave your religion. Part two will offer methods to prepare for making your move, since the quality of your preparation for this life change can determine the success of the outcome. Part three offers practical steps on actually making the change, and how to navigate the difficult terrain you're heading into.
Please note that I freely interchange a few terms in this book. Terms like Fundamentalism, religion, Christianity, and the church are all interchangeable. Note that in all these cases I'm talking about a system of beliefs that has become oppressive to certain people. Most of the principles in this book can be applied to virtually any such system. Since I happen to have been a part of Fundamentalist Christianity, that's the specific religion I'm targeting in this book, but if you're a Mormon or a Hindu or a Zoroastrian -- the same principles may apply.
I'll be honest. The idea that this book will actually get published frightens me. I fear the reactions of my family and friends. I fear the reprisals from Christians who feel I am their enemy. I fear the potential tragedies that invariably occur when people leave their religion. And then there are the nagging fears that I am wrong and the church is right, and I am helping people to get into hell by publishing this book. I've learned that these particular fears will never go away, and so I've also learned to put them in their place. You will too, because fear never forces you from doing what is right.
PART ONE: On Your Mark
1984 Of all the members at my church, I was considered among the most ardent and faithful. My church was a progressive but fundamentalist pentacostal church in the San Fernando Valley. At the time, it had over 5,000 members. At 22 years old, I was a key leader of the college group. I led worship, taught a Bible study, and was frequently delivering "words from the Lord". I truly believed that I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I could look strangers in the eye and understand deeply spiritual issues they were encountering. I attended church most days for some reason or another. Church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Bible studies were held in my apartment on Tuesday nights, and there was usually some other event that would take me to church another day or two every week. In short, I was completely immersed.
I hadn't just jumped into the water, either. My parents became born again Christians when I was nine, and in an effort to fit into the family, I gladly joined in. From that point on I was a believer, and my fervent drive to get "closer to God" led me deeper and deeper into the ways of the church. By the time I was 15, my step-father was a graduate of Bible College and beginning his career in the ministry as an Associate Pastor. I was, by definition, a model son, and was already showing signs of being an effective minister. My parents encouraged me to join the ministry, and I decided to go to the same Bible college and join the Lord's work. After all, with all the encouragement and acceptance I was getting, coupled with the fact that I knew practically nothing else, why shouldn't I?
By the time I was 22, I prayed, read the Bible, and wrote a spiritual journal every day without fail. (You could say I did it religiously.) There were few people who could defend the gospel better than I could. But I was filled with anxieties and doubts.
Why can't I defeat my flesh? I would ask myself. I would combat my sexual urges every day, but continually found myself returning to the "sinful" world of pornography and masturbation. These defeats not only discouraged me, but kept me in a state of ongoing "repentance" and insecurity. This syndrome kept me eternally needy of the reassurance, acceptance, and "grace" offered by the church. I didn't see, of course, that the church was not only the cure for my disease, but the virus as well.
Chapter One: Why the church is so hard to leave
Christianity is a lot like a political party. It was borne out of a specific need of a specific culture. Its ideals were impassioned and brimming with good intentions. It saw vast successes at first, but lived long past its usefulness because its tenets were designed not to meet its original mission, but to keep the organization alive.
If you have found yourself snared in the trap of the church, it is important to realize two things.
It's most likely that no one has done this intentionally to you, and You've been snared in a trap that was not only difficult to avoid, but extremely effective.
The last thing you should do is get angry with yourself for being trapped. Nor should you get angry with your pastor or your spiritual mentor. In fact, they probably struggle with some of the same doubts that you're facing.
This chapter will show you the nature of the trap you're trying to extricate yourself from. It's important that you understand how you got there, because it will help you keep a better perspective on certain fears you may encounter when deconverting.
The Seductive Community
The initial draw that the church places on most converts is insidious. Whether you grew up in the church or converted at some point, the church's first implied message is "come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Simple. Just hang out with the folks without any sacrifice on your part and you will gain all of the following:
>>Friends >>Encouragement >>Spiritual support >>Financial support (sometimes) >>A place to go
In a word, the church provides you with community. We are all hard-pressed to find a sense of community in Western society, yet a community is required for us to thrive as humans. In part, the success of the church can be attributed to a growing lack of modern society to provide a community for individuals. When we discovered the church and its benefits, we breathed a sigh of relief at finally finding a sense of community. Some of us never even knew what a community could feel like, but found it wonderfully fulfilling. And what were the requirements for us to gain these benefits at first? Practically zero. All we have to do is dip our hand into the well and partake.
I've created a simple formula that illustrates how we make decisions. It's fairly simple:
Benefits - Cost = Degree of Desirability
I will place somewhat arbitrary numeric values to this formula to show how it changes over time. Initially, the equation is very clear, and obviously to our benefit:
Benefits to partake in church: 7 Cost of partaking in church: - 1 Desirability: 6
Strength of Action: 6
So, like any good drink. We want to drink a lot. And we do. And for awhile, everything is great. We make friends, we develop a network of caring supporters, we have enough events in our week to keep us busily entertained, we gain a sense of importance and belonging, and we feel secure.
But it usually doesn't take long for this equation to slowly change. As we get to really know Christians, they begin telling us the "bad news." Here's an example:
"You know, Jim, you really shouldn't use that kind of language now that you're a believer. The Bible says 'Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth,' and as you allow Jesus to become Lord of your life, you will need to tame your tongue."
It could be language, drinking, smoking, or any number of superficial "sins" that are immediately apparent to your fellow Christians. The statements will usually be made in a non-offensive manner, with intentions that seem completely forthright and good.
But what if you don't change? Although it's not stated overtly, you know that if you continue using foul language, or smoke, etc., you will be placed at a certain distance by others in the church. They would classify you as someone who doesn't really want to grow in the Lord. Even as I write this, I cringe at remembering times when I placed this exact pressure on new Christians.
Our subconscious fear of not changing is that not changing would detract from our primary benefit: community. For those who grew up in the church, this shift is even more insidious. Because our entire culture, family and friends have all sprung from church and church-oriented events, we are deeply ' entrenched in this benefit by the time we are old enough to face temptations to stray. So our desire to protect our investment is high, and our willingness to conform is equally high.
These and many other "seemingly small" pressures begin to change the equation:
Benefits 8 Cost - 3 Desirability 5
Strength of Action 5
You'll notice that concurrent with the growth of the cost is the growing value of the benefit. This happens because we get closer to our friends, we get more visibility in our community, we gain respect, etc. As a new Christian's enjoyment of the benefit increases, the pressure to conform increases as well. As a result, increment by increment, these small changes become harder and harder, requiring more and more personal sacrifice and investment. For many people, the costs build faster than the benefits. If we were able to keep a cool head, we would realize in short order that the outcome has become negative, and leave the church. But two other very influential factors come into play at a conveniently crucial time: stubbornness and fear.
The Stubbornness Factor
Stubbornness is often the initial roadblock that prevents people from ever even looking at other options. Once a Christian begins investing time, changing his behavior, and sacrificing money and pleasurable pursuits, he develops an extremely stubborn veneer that prevents him from believing he could possibly be wrong. He doesn't want to believe that he could be wrong because his investment has been so costly. This is a human characteristic that cult leaders take full advantage of. A cult leader will require more and more bizarre behavior of followers until they've invested so much that death seems a trifle. Sexual abstinence, hair and clothing styles, seclusion from society, and other bizarre behaviors exact such a high cost that a person would feel unbearably foolish to admit they have made a mistake.
If a Christian is open-minded enough to admit to himself that he might have made a mistake, the stubbornness factor can be overcome. But the difficulty of this hurdle is chronic because it grows in direct proportion to the size of your investment. For me, having grown up in the church, 20-or-so years of consciously molding myself to the "look and feel" of being a Christian added up to a pretty big stubbornness factor. I did not want to admit that I had "saved myself" sexually, and missed out on all those parties and concerts in my youth on a completely false set of beliefs. That was too painful an admission for me to make! A second formula can be used to show this syndrome, and it looks like this:
Value of costs paid = Level of Stubbornness
There is good news, however. Our stubbornness grows in equal proportion to our investment only after we have made the investment. Unfortunately, the church has a clever (and probably unconscious) practice to counteract this.
A cult member who has only cut his hair and been with the group for a week will not be willing to kill himself for the cult. The perceived benefit of staying with the group must always be larger than the gap between our stubbornness and the value of the next requirement. Let me simplify by saying that the requirements grow in baby steps. They must grow in baby steps because our resilience and stubbornness will not be sufficiently high if the church is asking something significantly greater than we have already invested.
Most religions and cults have "higher truths" or "higher learning" that you are only required to partake in after you have been with the group for a great period of time. In fact, you may not even know about these after taking part in the group for many years. The reason these "truths" are reserved for long-standing members is because their stubbornness factor, after years of investment, is high enough to withstand the absurdity being offered, or the exorbitance of the cost. Scientology is a classic example. Only after being a member of that church for many years, and paying thousands upon thousands of dollars, are members allowed to read certain texts that would appear preposterous to any normally functioning person. The texts talk about race wars on other planets and suggests we are all possessed by the spirits of these other-worldly creatures. But intelligent people have read and believed them. (Some of them are big box-office draws, in fact.) The reason this works is because the benefits of the group are still a greater influence than the cost of suspending one's skepticism.
So as the formula for your involvement in the church begins to equalize, your stubbornness factor can prevent you from leaving. An example of this would be:
The cards begin to seem fairly stacked against us to ever leave the church. Eventually, however, even this formula would become tipped in our favor by the human need to end our cognitive dissonance. But one more factor comes into play: fear.
The Fear Factor
The second factor that contributes to the formula is fear. While stubbornness comes from within, the ideas that lend to the fear factor come almost primarily from others. The fears are usually delivered via word of mouth, and often that mouth is behind a pulpit. The pulpit is the point of sale where any congregation will either buy (and grow in size) or not buy (and shrink). Because of this, churches learn to say things that add to the benefits side of the equation. They also learn to add to fear. Here's why:
Fear is a contributor the a believer's tendency to stay in the church. So by preaching fear, a church can more effectively dissuade believers from leaving the flock. Here are some common fears that they preach:
Preached Fears: If you die an unbeliever you will go to hell. Non-believers live in despair. God does not bless non-believers
Let's deal with each of these fears one at a time.
Going to hell
Pardon me, but I'm going to make an exception and launch into my own theology for a moment ….
Hell is one of the most brilliant inventions the church ever devised. And remember, the church devised this. Yes, it is spoken of in the Bible (although it's only mentioned a small handful of times, it's described several different ways, and given several different names) but the church has capitalized on this vague notion and done so very effectively.
Hell is one of the most profound fears that a person faces when leaving the church. The vivid descriptions of fire and brimstone may be stereotypically humorous, but the fears go deep nonetheless. Do not run from your fear of hell. Think about it head-on and kill it. If God does exist, then creation is the one source of reliable evidence we can use to understand his nature. The God that created all this diverse life is not the same God who would pull the wings off of a fly for sheer enjoyment. Nor would he put his creation (whom he allegedly loves) into a place of eternal torture based on a technicality. (And if you really dig into the facts of any of the major religions, what separates a person from heaven or hell is always a technicality.)
(Need to do research here. Find out the origins of Hell in theory and theology. When did it become a dominant part of belief? Was it emphasized out of a few diverse scriptures to scare people?)
Hell does not exist. If I'm wrong, I'll probably go there, but I'm not at all worried.
Non-believers live in despair
As I grew up in church, I often heard preachers talk about the horrible despair the non-believers experience on a daily basis. As a Christian, I understood the depth of my own soul and the intricate complexities of my thoughts. I felt I was special and important in some undefinable way. Because of these teachings, I attached my sense of soulish depth and importance to the fact that God lived inside me … because I was a Christian.
This idea, to put it bluntly, is pure bullshit.
We all feel important. We all have deep thoughts. Christians and non-Christians alike experience despair at various times in their lives. If a Christian says they are never sad then they are sadly lying. People who were frequently depressed while they were Christians are frequently depressed after they leave the church too. People who are usually happy when they are Christians are still usually happy when they leave the church. The secret is out: being a fundamentalist Christian is not transforming in any positive way at all. In fact, deconversion is usually a liberating experience that allows people to transform into what they were designed to be. The end result: more happiness.
In my case, I became decidedly happier after leaving the church. But I'll talk more about this later … God does not bless non-believers
When I became a non-Christian, my previous methods of thinking become laughably absurd. One of these now-comic tendencies was how I used to place some higher significance on ordinary events. Here's an example of this type of thinking:
"I went to the grocery store today, and I had to go back to aisle seven because I had forgotten to get applesauce. But when I was there I saw a sale on a special breakfast cereal that my husband loves. So I knew the Lord had caused me to forget the applesauce so I could do something special for my husband."
"When Billy left the house this morning it was very warm, but I made him put his jacket on anyway. Sure enough, the weather turned cold and he ended up missing the bus. I'm sure the Lord knew that Billy was going to miss the bus, and that's why the Holy Spirit impressed me to make him wear his jacket."
What ends up happening is we ascribe positive outcomes, as well as the avoidance of negative outcomes, to God's blessing. We make this even more silly by doing this:
"I forgot to buy my husband's favorite applesauce today and we ended up getting in an argument. Satan is attacking my marriage."
"Billy forgot his jacket and missed the bus after school today. He had to walk home in the cold and now he's got a fever. I believe Satan is attacking my family."
Pure silliness and tripe. But we get caught up into this thinking, and the end result is that we believe all good things tend to come from God, and that all bad things tend to come from Satan. The resulting fear is that if we leave Christianity, and God's hand is removed from our lives, all these horrible things will start to happen, and none of the good things will happen.
There is a basic psychological principle that describes this phenomenon in graphical form. A triangle forms three connections between three points. A human trait is to establish an overall positive balance between these three connections. Imagine that either a positive or negative relationship exists between three elements. The three elements are you, God or Satan, and a certain event (say, forgetting your applesauce.)
You -- forgetting applesauce
Bear with me while I delve into another math analogy. This graph is not a complicated as it might seem. The relationship between you and Satan (especially if you are a Christian) is ostensibly negative. The relationship between you and the event of forgetting applesauce is negative. Therefore, the relationship between Satan and that event must be positive. Satan made you forget that applesauce! Here's why:
When you multiply the positive or negative values, our human tendency is to work out the equation so that there is a positive outcome. If you multiply a negative with a positive, you get a negative. If you multiply the negative with another negative, you get an overall positive outcome. Our fallacious minds want all three-sided relationships to find this positive equilibrium. A simpler version of this would be if you meet someone that you know your best friend hates, you will automatically have a pre- disposed negative feeling toward them.
The only possible two outcomes that result in a positive value are two negatives and a positive, or three positives. Let's look at another example:
Imagine you don't forget the applesauce. Instead, you remember at the last minute, and upon returning to the applesauce aisle, you bump into an old friend and have a pleasant conversation. Here's how our warped minds might interpret this scenario:
+ + +
You + remembering applesauce
Upon reflecting on the positive event, we might be inclined to place God on top of the triangle because it fills it out with a positive balance. Satan could not have reminded us to buy the applesauce because the outcome was so nice, and we have a negative attitude toward Satan.
Now here's where the fear comes in. Let's say we leave Christianity:
You -- forgetting applesauce
The illogical fear is that by leaving Christianity, we will have a negative relationship with God, and therefore all of God's actions will result in a negative outcome. And since God is more powerful than Satan we'll have the wrong guy on our side! Yikes!
In order to successfully take control of your own mind, you will need to stop thinking like this. It's hogwash! The Biblical validation that this is a fallacy lies in the scripture: "The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous." (See, the Bible isn't always wrong.)
Now … on to more fears. Some of them aren't generally preached, but they are implied.
Implied fears are hinted at by the society of the church, and inferred by our own paranoid minds. These fears are not actually fallacious in nature. In fact, they might be downright true. But it's important to recognize them and to place the appropriate amount of value on what these fears actually mean. There are three fears:
If you leave the church, your friends and family may abandon you. This is a legitimate fear. It could happen. Weigh this cost carefully. If being accepted by your friends and family is more important than being able to believe in the way you live your life, then don't leave the church. I'll deal more with this topic in later chapters.
If you leave the church, you will have to make your own decisions. Most Christians don't actually think about this fear, but I believe it is latent in nearly everyone who has turned the responsibility for creating their value system over to someone else. Especially if we grow up in the church, we become reliant on some church father to decide (usually via some lame interpretation of the Bible) what is morally right and wrong.
This fear is not imagined: it is reality. Although if you've actually gotten this far into this book without burning it and cursing me to the bowels of hell, you probably won't have too much difficulty with this. If, however, you can't handle making your own decisions and being your own moral arbiter, don't leave the church. General fear of the unknown
This is a vague, but very real fear. If you have immersed yourself in the culture of Christianity, leaving your religion can be much like moving to another country. Everything will look strange, sound strange, feel strange, and if your really spiritual it might even smell strange. I believe this fear alone is what keeps people from venturing away from a lie; they have grown so accustomed to the lie that the non-lie is frightening.
My advice in overcoming this fear is fairly simple. Try it. If you don't like it, go back.
This chapter has hopefully shown why it is so difficult to leave the church. The costs tend to be outweighed by our own fears and stubbornness as well as the actual benefits. Hopefully this chapter has inspired you to do two things:
Place an accurate value on the benefits of the church. I never stated this overtly, but you may have gleaned this from the text. Exactly what is it worth to continue friendships with people who do not truly accept you for who you are, but accept only their idealized version of you? Less than you may have thought … Wipe the stubbornness factor out completely. You can do this by having an open mind and by adhering to such pithy sayings as "today is the first day of the rest of your life". Minimize the fear factor by seeing them for what they are. Don't wipe your fears out completely. Some of them might be real and should be carefully considered. But many of them are pure fallacy.
By doing these three things, hopefully Benefits 6 Cost - 10 Desirability - 4 Stubbornness + 0 Fear + 2
Strength of Action - 2
So to return (for the last time, I promise) to my arcane mathematical analogy, let me sum things up:
Chapter Two: Should you leave the church?
Religion is like Country Western music. Some people are blessed with the ability to like it.
I've come to the conclusion that three types of people will read this book. First will be my intended audience: people who go to church but aren't too thrilled about it. Second will be adversarial readers: people who've heard about the book and think I'm an evil Pied Piper. The third group consists of all the people who don't fit into either of the first two groups, and serve to prove that indeed only three groups will read this book.
This chapter is not intended to mollify the second group. I'm including this chapter because we need to achieve a balanced attitude when we deconvert or we risk leading an "anti-Christian" life that would be fraught with, believe it or not, the same pitfalls and traps as Christianity. This chapter will offer perspective that will say, in a way, "don't throw the baby Jesus out with the holy water."
Who shouldn't leave the church
The first chapter explains in detail the trap that Christianity (or any religion) can be for some. It's important to realize that even though these mechanisms exist, they do not have the same effect on everyone. And, the mere fact that the mechanism does have an effect on you doesn't mean you should leave … not yet anyway. There are four groups who shouldn't leave the church: those for whom church works, those who don't have a specific place to go once they do leave (and risk "the overload"), those who are unsure about leaving, and those who are running from a recent traumatic experience or person.
Believe it or not, the church works for some
Some people aren't affected negatively by the various costs described in chapter one. Some people can fit the moral mold without any turmoil. Some are not bothered by the conflict between doctrine and science. These people might only benefit from the church, and it's your job as a good person to let them continue benefiting.
Even though there are some ex-Christians who will vehemently disagree, it's my opinion that people can believe a myth without any damage. To assert that any of us know the "truth" is arrogant, so we all believe myths to some extent. Just as parents wink at the notion of Santa Claus for the benefit of their children, belief in a fundamentalist religion can benefit some people. It gives them a foundation of belief that they can accept so they can stop worrying about it. They usually "choose" it because it's the default religion of their culture. To borrow from a bumper sticker, they say "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." These people go about their lives with happy contentment in not having to think about deeper truths. They don't bother anyone else about it. For them it works. Bully for them.
Later in this book I'll address the issue of why we need to let these people be. The point of this section is to make a simple point: if you're happy with church, don't leave it. It's a pretty obvious point, but I don't want it said that I'm trying to woo people away from the church. I'm only trying to help those who want out. (Have I beaten that point to death? Okay then, I'll drop it.)
Avoid "The Overload"
Even though this point is fairly simple on the surface, it's worth contemplating long and hard. I know because I made this mistake.
Don't assume that your involvement in your religion is based solely on philosophical alignment. If you do, you might say "I don't believe that anymore, therefore I shall leave. Spit spot." On the contrary, as I've outlined in chapter one, the church's tendrils may very well be intertwined with every facet of your life. To explain this point further, let me tell some more of my story:
In 1985 my lack of fulfillment with my religion became fully realized. I had been removed from my leadership position in church because I had confessed to having sex with my girlfriend. After a series of unlucky events, several elements of my life began to crumble including my job, my car, my friends, etc. I began questioning anything and everything-even my faith. I began reading philosophers and other non-biblical religious texts. In particular, I read Fear and Trembling by Sfren Kierkegaard. (If your faith isn't already demolished, this book will do the trick.) For me, the book introduced the though for the first time that perhaps my faith was a sham.
Shortly after this, I took a trip to Japan. Even though it was a business trip, I ended up staying with a youth missionary group that was stationed there. These young kids were hell-bent on converting the entire city of Tokyo for Christ. I went along with them out of sheer habit -- witnessing on the streets and riding in the trains whilst singing the latest, hippest worship tunes. The Japanese people on the trains -- who were just trying to mind their own business -- had a powerful effect on me. Even though I didn't speak of word of Japanese, there are some facial expressions that speak volumes in any language. They thought we were rude, and they thought we were funny. But believe me they weren't laughing with us. Even though I'd faced this type of rejection before, this time I wasn't in America and for some reason it cut me to the bone. I was repulsed by my own behavior. It was as if I'd woken up from a dream to find myself sleepwalking nude in public. I was horrified.
That night I took a walk, and found myself in the plaza outside the Shibuya train station. It is a common meeting place for people, so the crowd was thick with people. I looked over the sea of dark- haired people and broke down. I was so far from home, and my faith seemed completely irrelevant there. These people don't need to be saved, I thought. They're no different from me. I knew that if my faith was irrelevant there, it was irrelevant period. So I deconverted right then and there. Because I was so accustomed to talking with "God", the statement of deconversion took the ironic form of a prayer. I told God (and mostly myself) that I didn't believe anything anymore. Nothing. I "Rasaed my Tabula."
After flying back to the United States, I went back to work and school, but I was a complete zombie. At the time I had no idea what was going on, but I was reading voluminously, writing constantly, and the rest of the time I was lost in thought. I felt as if I had to answer all my questions immediately. Looking back now, I can understand why. I'd build my house on the proverbial sand and … well, the sand shifted. Even though it was an easy mental leap for me to abandon my faith, it was another thing altogether to try and grasp the world afterward.
A psychologist would say I had an emotional breakdown. My only problem with the phrase is that it sounds far prettier than it felt. I felt a constant barrage of emotions -- none of them good. Even driving down the street would find me severely confused. I remember talking to my roommate at the time, who was a good and noble man. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, "What is wrong with you?" I couldn't answer because I didn't know. Nothing made sense anymore. I would lay in my bed and listen to the Talking Heads' song "The Overload" over and over again. I'll print the lyrics here just for laughs:
The Overload A terrible signal, too weak to even recognize. A gentle collapsing, the removal of the insides.
I'm touched by your pleas. I value these moments. We're older than we realize … in someone's eyes.
A frequent returning, and leaving unnoticed. A condition of mercy, a change in the weather.
A view to remember, the center is missing. They question how the future lies … in someone's eyes. The gentle collapsing of every surface. We travel on the quiet road …
These lyrics could probably mean just about anything to any one at any time. But to me they described exactly what I was going through. My doubts had been a terrible signal that for years was too weak for me to recognize. And now that I finally could hear it, every surface of my life was collapsing, and I was on serious overload.
The reason I was on overload was because I made a very daring leap into the abyss without a net. Courageous, yes, but stupid too. You need to be very aware that if you've been a churchgoer most of your life -- especially while you were a child -- that the Christian lifestyle is your center. Leaving the church in a rushed manner will tear out your center. It's kind of like when you catch fire. If you run in a panic, you'll only make matters worse.
I ran from the church, and ended up running back. I wasn't happy about it, but I found myself begrudgingly darkening my church's door with my tail between my legs. My pain in the outside world had been sufficient for me to run to the most effective anesthesia I knew: church. I went back in and tried my hardest to stop thinking about it. For almost 10 years I succeeded.
Bear in mind … those 10 years of worship-induced non-thinking were 10 pretty lousy years. And it was my fault. I was too cowardly to stick out my deconversion. All because I was averse to the pain caused by my hasty retreat.
As Homer Simpson would say: "Doh!"
So take a tip from me: don't run from the church. Plot your course carefully so you don't find yourself back where you started. We'll talk more about that issue in later chapters.
Lukewarm works both ways Another group of people who should think twice before leaving the church is the group of people who are lukewarm about leaving. You know the thing Jesus said about being lukewarm? I agree with it. It's a pretty good rule in life to never do anything half-assed. If you are considering deconversion half-heartedly, please apply the lukewarm principle to yourself. In addition, you can take some advice from Paul: "Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do so mightily!" (Colossians ?:?)
Please don't be a half-assed de-convert because you were a half- assed Christian. If you are dispassionate about your own life then your faith is a secondary problem. You won't be fair to yourself if you pretend to be a Christian around your friends or family -- even if you say you're doing it for "them."
Identify the Real Cause of your Pain Because all religions are made up of people, there are a fair amount of churchgoing bastards in every denomination. If you are leaving the church after a particularly negative experience with a person or group, be careful to identify the true source of your pain before deconverting. Don't assume that all churches are like the one that traumatized you. If you are unclear on your motivations for leaving the church, you will have diluted results later. You might actually feel an affinity with the teachings of the church, but dislike the pompous ass behind the pulpit. In that case, don't confuse your dislike of the pompous ass with your distaste in what he's teaching.
If you leave the church because of a negative person, the reasons for your initial attraction to the church will still exist, and you will very likely feel "tempted" to go back to church as those issues resurface.
To play the "angel's advocate", I can say that there are churches that are attended by truly good and even wonderful people. I know because I've attended them. Toward the end of my faith, I was attending a church that had one of the most balanced and loving approaches to faith I'd ever found. So if mean people are your problem, go find a church with nice people. Granted, this type of church is difficult to find, but they are out there.
Who should leave the church
There are three types of people who should strongly consider leaving the church. First, and most important, are people who are involved in a destructive cult. Second are people who have reached a point of despair in their life because they feel trapped by the church. The third group are people who go to church only to please their family or friends, but really don't think about it the rest of the week.
Some of the most intelligent people in the world can be found in cults with the most hare-brained beliefs. Humans have strange tendency -- we want to believe adamantly in things that are completely untrue. Remember the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego? The ones who got Beatles haircuts and ate cyanide pudding? Those were valuable people who were destroyed by their own inability to recognize this tendency. It's of life-or-death importance that everyone be able to step outside themselves and ask these questions about their religion:
Here's a definition of a destructive cult:
If you are involved in an organization that fits the above description, I will advise you without reservation to plan a hasty retreat and get out. Go immediately to an organization designed to help people in your situation. And for God's sake don't be embarrassed. One of the most prohibitive factors people face when leaving a cult is their own embarrassment. To admit the cult was wrong, and individual faces the looming though of : How could I be such a dope to believe such tripe? Don't worry about it. There are a lot of people who've been there. Feel the fear and do what's right anyway.
(refer to other books) Despairing Christians There were several breaking points for me during the few years it took to break from my faith. One of them came straight out of the Bible:
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
I'd taken a logic class in college (not by choice, but I'm glad I took it.) I learned about logical statements in the class, and after taking that class, I was able to break down this scripture into the following statement:
This would be read "If Truth, then freedom." One of the cool things about logic is that there are right ways and wrong ways to modify such if/then statements. One example of a wrong way would be to say "not truth/not freedom." After all, the scripture does not imply that the only way you can become free is by knowing the truth. However, here's an example a correct assumption:
Not Freedom/Not Truth
When Jesus said "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" he was also saying "If you aren't free, then you can't possibly know the truth." This is logically sound. And this realization caused me great consternation because I knew that -- no matter how I could personally define freedom -- it did not describe me. Ergo, no truth. Bummer!
Not free described not only me, but many of my friends. There was a palpable weight to our conversations when we would be truly vulnerable with each other. Being a Christian felt unnatural to us, and was a constant struggle. We all felt like Sisyphus: pushing a rock up a hill that would only roll back down in time. What kept us going was not our faith, but our staunch dedication to encouraging one another. Encouragement is good, but it was only required because we were trying to live a life that is damnably impossible to live.
The paradox of Christianity is found in the scripture by Paul "What then, shall I go on sinning because grace shall abound?" (Chapter, verse) The Freedom offered in the promise of truth is, according to the Greek translation "freedom from mortal liability." So apparently we shall know the truth and we shall go to heaven, but our life on earth shall still suck because we shall still be bludgeoned by temptation and sin. And even though the grace of God will atone for the sin, we still shouldn't succumb to it. Just because. But the Christ's teachings about the Kingdom of God imply that our lives shall be liberated in the soulish sense as well. What's up with this? Is our freedom soulish or is it merely some midnight posting of a check in heaven? I felt as if my faith was full of complicated contradictions that were caused over centuries by compromise and sophistry. Examining my faith was like stripping the paint from a piece of antique furniture that has been painted several colors over decades. Is it red? Is it mauve? Is it burnt sienna?
I spent hours and hours in restaurants with names like "Denny's" and "Coco's" discussing these things with my Christian friends. I think they were a bit perturbed by my constant questioning, and many of them challenged the validity of my faith because I was so beset with doubt. The fact is, my questions made them even more uncomfortable than the orange vinyl seats they were sitting in. When facing brutal reality, they had to agree that the soulish rest they had hoped to find in Christianity was indeed evanescent and ungraspable.
It's the memory of those friends that motivates me to write this book. If you have sincerely tried to find something real about Christianity, but have ultimately found despair, you need to admit that it is not you but your faith that has failed. Once making that realization, it's time to continue your search for meaning elsewhere. Lukewarm Lifers As stated before, you shouldn't leave the church if you are lukewarm about leaving. On the other hand, you shouldn't stay in the church if you are lukewarm about staying. The bottom line is to not be lukewarm. Think about which way you want to go, and do it with a passion.
Jesus hated the idea of people following his cause with lukewarm convictions. I hate the idea, too. But if you find it impossible to get excited about the Christian way of life, then leave. Jesus and me see eye-to-eye on this one. (Read .) Don't misinterpret my statement to mean you should feel bad if you are lukewarm -- I don't blame you if you are.
A lot of people at church -- especially "lifers", people who grew up in church, -- continue to go merely to placate their families. I could have easily fallen into this syndrome. My mother, bless her kind heart, would love for me to become a churchgoer again. It would have been easy for me to "pretend" to want to go to make her happy. Others might have significantly stronger familial pressure to be affiliated with a certain religion.
There is no pressure strong enough that should coerce you into attending a church against your will. I will discuss this more in later chapters, but you must be true to yourself, and until you are you will not be as effective a person as your potential might dictate.
Hopefully this chapter helped you decide whether you should leave the church or not. Granted, I'm making fairly broad generalizations. In the end, I hope you will look into yourself for your ultimate answer.
Yesterday, November 1, I took another trip there as the self proclaimed "roving reporter" for ExCristians. Hope you don't mind WM Dave.
It was pretty much the same, although I had hoped they would have added more fun creationist displays, such as Native Americans frolicking with the dinos.
The first display as one enters the gift shop was still the little knights jousting with dinos. I looked at it more carefully this time. Two knights fighting the largest dino were clearly winning and had their jousting sticks, or whatever they are called, stuck into him. However, the other knights appeared to be losing to thier dinos. So it seemed to be a fair and well balanced fight.
Up the stairs I went and looked again at the glass fronted display cases. The first case still had a wooden dino skeleton in it and rock with some fossils embeded in it. I quoted one page of text accompanying this display in my Oct 6 report and here is the other page of text shown with this display (punctuation and caps all exactly as they were written):
"....in young-age creation theory, the fossil record can be divided into three parts; a portion found before the Flood (Precambrian), a portion found during the Flood (Cambrian through Cretaceous) and a portion found after the Flood (Tertiary-present.)
-most fossils in Flood sediments were probably of pre Flood organisms transported long distances by the waters of a global flood.
-fossils were buried in an order reflecting the spectrum of pre Flood environments.
-in the post Flood world, sediments were burying organisms at the same time that they were diversifying.
Young-age creationists, then, would be expected to show the consistant global change seen in the rock columns.
-because of the more rapid burial, fossils should be more common and better preserved in young-age creation theory.
-young-age creation theory would also expect few fossils in the right place to be evolutionary transitional forms and more diverse among fossils from the very begining.
The fossil records seems more consistant with these expectations that with the corresponding expectations of evolutioinary theory." Excert from Kurt Wise, "Faith, Form and Time," 2002
Really a bunch of gobbledy-gook. The next display had pix of dinos, a world map, etc, and tried to explain that plate techtonics happened faster than science indicates due to the rate of rainfall during the Flood.
The store had a lot less mechandise than it did a month ago. The four sided book rack was the most indicative, it only had about a dozen or so dino coloring books, just dinos, no people with them. There was one other lone coloring book titled "God Made All People" with a rainbow of children on the cover: pink, brown, yellow, black, etc. I didn't bother looking at it, though, didn't want to throw up. No more creationist books, either, just a couple other picture books of animals, plants, etc.
The rest of the store, as previously mentioned, contains mostly dinos toys and stuff like that, but much less of it than before. I did notice this time a section containing plastic knight gear such as helmets, shields and swords that nobody seemed to be buying.
As I walked throught the store the same tired video was playing as was last time. It discussed how dinos are still alive all over the world and in up coming tapes, the narrator would show us this. Of course, you had to purchase the next tapes. Then it went on to talk about how satan is trying to fool us with false evidence he planted and how we should know what god wants by some analogy about how if you ask your kids to clean their room and you come back later and it is not done, look out. Blah, blah, blah.
On the walls of the little gift shop there were several quotes posted and this was my personal favorite:
"Nowhere was Darwing able to point to one bona fide case of natural selection having actually generated evolutionary change in nature......Ultimatly, the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more no less than the great cosmogenic myth of the 20th century." Michael Denton, "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," 1986
As I was preparing to leave, I went to the glass case under the cash register where before there had been a display showing Noah and the gang loading dinos onto the ark with the other beasties. I was stunned, it was gone! I so wanted a better look! Inside the case was now a selection of telescopes. WTF? I was baffled.
There is a church nearby that I think might belong the owners. It is a dump and has hand written signs and junk all around. The gift shop is the main source of income as far as I know and it appears the whole place is going down hill fast and has lost much of it's popularity. Hard to tell, though, at mid day during the week. Hopefully the idiots that bought it will go broke and lose it.