11/21/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Freeing God of His Maggots

Excerpted from The Evangelical Phenomenon: What is it? How should the rest of us respond? - a panel discussion at Town Hall Seattle on November 16, 2006. These remarks were addressed to an audience of modernist Christians, non-theists, and Jews.

Sometime around 1986, after leading children to Jesus as a counselor at Child Evangelism Camp, after dialing to win souls during the "I Found It" Campaign, after attending the Wheaton College of Billy Graham fame, and after struggling for years to deal with the moral and rational contradictions in my fundamentalist Evangelical faith, I finally got mad at my God and said, "I'm not making excuses for you any more." I walked away, and didn't really look back.

But something is happening around us that is hard to ignore.

Like many others, I have spent much of my adult life honoring a "don't ask, don't tell" rule about religion. But for better or worse, the Religious Right has re-opened a public conversation about moral values and faith in America, even in Seattle. And because that conversation was started by Evangelicals and is largely dominated by Evangelical voices, much of the dialogue is about Evangelicalism itself. Over time I have come to feel a responsibility as an ex-Evangelical to push past my anxieties about conflict and to join that conversation.

Sometimes I talk with my brother, DF, who is still staunch in his beliefs. I don't have to tell you that in recent years our government has undertaken pre-emptive war and the systematic transfer of wealth away from the poor and middle class to the richest members of our society. These are moral matters, and one might hope that they could offer common ground among people who care deeply about morality. In fact, in many cases, they do. Evangelical Jim Wallis, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and humanist Paul Kurtz have found moral common ground here. But on these issues, DF's position is, essentially, "Bush says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me."

DF's a smart guy, and compassionate – a genuinely decent person. I not only love him, I like him. But as fundamentalists, we were taught to approach important questions in a certain way: to defer to hierarchy, to fend off doubt, to trust ideology more than data, to believe that the main thing you need to know about someone's character is whether he is born-again. I don't think that it's a matter of coincidence that DF takes this same approach to his civic responsibilities.

Fundamentalist thinking has profound implications.

A couple years ago, I sat down in Starbucks with an earnest young couple who hoped to win a convert, and they asked me (among other things), "What is the problem you have with the Bible?" And I said, "Well, for starters, there are those verses in Genesis and Joshua where God gives a bunch of land to his favorite blood line, despite the fact that it's already occupied by other herdsmen and subsistence farmers. And he doesn't just allow them--he actually commands them to kill every single man woman and child, even the livestock—except that in some battles they are allowed to keep the virgin girls for themselves."

And the husband, who spoke for the two, said, "You have to understand how evil those people were. They were engaged in human sacrifice, they were, killing children and laying their bodies on the altar of their god, Baal. They were the first abortionists, they had to be destroyed!"

And I said, "Every person? No baby was to innocent, no old person to helpless, no slave too indentured?"

And he said, "Yes. They were like a poison in the land. They would have seeped into the tribes of Israel and contaminated them, destroying their faith in God."

And I said, "But everyone? Can you imagine any village, any place in which every person is so evil that they deserve capital punishment? Every single person, no exceptions?

And, utterly exasperated, he said, "Yes. I feel that way sometimes about Fremont." (Note: Fremont a quirky, artsy suburb of Seattle that hosts a summer solstice parade with naked body-painted bicyclists, belly dancers, space-ship floats, peace activist carrying daisies, and the like.)

I sat there thinking, "Wow, I am in the presence of the human genocidal impulse. And not only am I witnessing it in this otherwise normal, moral person in front of me, I am feeling it in myself, because what he said is so terrifying to me that if I could push a button and make all people like him disappear right now, I would." I don't know if I was more horrified by what I saw in him or myself.

So, what is going on here?

Lots of psychological explanations come to mind. But it occurred to me recently that one piece of the answer has to do simply with our place in history. We are still caught in the Protestant Reformation. Let me tell you what I mean.

From the time of the Apostle Paul, --actually, even before -- Clear back to the Torah, the Prophets and the words of Jesus, part of what you see in Judaism and then Christianity is a struggle to separate tradition/orthodoxy/superstition from whatever transcendent truths may lie beneath. Paul chastises some of the early churches for superstitious rituals, Jesus challenges the way in which the Law has become a God unto itself, the writers of the Torah - in their own context - try to cleanse worship of earlier forms of idolatry.

The Protestant Reformation is another time when this sort of cleaning process took front and center. Even thought Martin Luther and Calvin had some horrible racist and sexist and violent ideas, in their own context, they genuinely were struggling to cleanse Christianity of what they perceived as accumulated superstitions: worshiping saints and relics, paying indulgences, the absolute authority of the papal hierarchy, the sanctification of feudal structures. The Reformation was a time of intense conflict. The reformers were fiery, and the establishment fought back, sometimes with theological arguments, sometimes with torture or executions.


Social psychology teaches us that in interpersonal systems, whether we are talking about a marriage or a whole society, people resist change. Even if, in the long run, change is for the better, it is threatening, and it means some things are lost. People who change get "change-back" messages.

Early in 20th Century – faced with findings in fields as diverse as linguistics, anthropology, psychiatry, physics, and biology, many Christian theologians said, we need to rethink our understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and the Christian faith. A new phase of Reformation was born. Until it went underground following the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, the dialogue was intense and public. It played out not only churches but in the nation's newspapers.

Traditionalists fought back in defense of the fundamental doctrines that had dominated Christianity for almost 1500 years: one god in three persons, original sin and universal sin, the virgin birth, the unique divinity of Jesus, cleansing of sin through blood sacrifice, salvation through right belief, a literal resurrection, a literal heaven and hell. A series of pamphlets entitled "The Fundamentals" reiterated the absolute, unquestionable status of these tenets of orthodoxy. From the title of these pamphlets we get the word "fundamentalism."

At the beginning, people labeled themselves fundamentalists, proudly. Now fundamentalism a dirty word: We talk in negative terms about Islamic Fundamentalism or Free-Market Fundamentalism . . . Fundamentalism is associated with not only unquestioning and absolute adherence to an ideology but also harshness and even violence.

Consequently, I think, we don't recognize theological fundamentalism when it is soft and kind. Today very few Christians self identify as fundamentalists. The torch held aloft by those early self-proclaimed fundamentalists is carried by people who call themselves "Evangelical," "born again," or even simply "Christian" based on their belief that they speak for the one true form of the Christian faith.

Layered on top of this orthodox retrenchment, Evangelicalism as a movement has some characteristics that distinguish it from earlier forms of Christian orthodoxy.

An emphasis on the Great Commission - go into all the world and make disciples of every creature over the great commandment: love the lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
A particular view of the Bible as the literally perfect and complete revelation of God, essentially dictated by God to the writers - For some Evangelicals, but not all, this has moved several other threads in Christianity from the margins to the center of their faith.
End times Theology- The book of Revelation, with its apocalyptic visions, has become central to the beliefs of many Evangelicals who expect that Jesus will return soon, all true believers will be bodily removed from Earth, and human society will descend into a bloodbath. Tim LaHaye's series of Left Behind novels sold millions and helped to popularize this kind of theology.
Dominionism- In recent years, a subset of Evangelicals has been drawn to the notion that Christians have a responsibility to take hold of the reigns of power in this country and the world and to run our social institutions according to selected biblical principles.

These ideas are being advanced through ever more sophisticated thought modification or communications techniques that draw on the domain expertise of Madison Avenue, small countercultural cults, and Hollywood: High quality multi-media attract the curious and model the group way of thinking and living; belief communities foster dependence and divert charitable impulses toward institutional growth; young recruits receive intensive shepherding , beautiful websites communicate that outsiders exist for the purpose of becoming insiders; and a parallel information economy helps to maintain the orthodox view of reality.

In Africa we have people fighting archaic tribal feuds with 21th Century Weapons
In America, in my opinion, we have people defending archaic tribal doctrines with 21st Century technologies of persuasion.

So, what got me out of the closet as an ex-evangelical?

I think that two key characteristics make this movement dangerous.

One is the value it places on certitude. Our strongest ally in the quest for truth is doubt. Our scientific understandings must ever withstand new tests that have the power to prove them wrong. Our theological understandings are subject to dialogue in the recognition that they are provisional at best, limited by the filter of the human mind, and articulated with words that fail us when we try to describe something as simple as a flower or a fine meal.

Second, as Sam Harris points out, by applying this certitude to the notion of received truth, by embracing the Bible as the definitive moral guide, fundamentalism separates morality from real questions of suffering. Decent people get to the point that they are more worried about sex than war. They put more energy into fighting about public symbols than fighting starvation.


Most Evangelicals I know are genuinely loving people. But if we want to serve the well-being of those around us, it is not enough to be loving. We also have to be right about real world causes and effects. In the name of love, megachurch counselors tell women to submit to men who have broken their bones. In the name of love, parents shame and reject their children who were born gay. Outsiders think of these things as hateful, but many of them are motivate by real love in the hands of people whose moral priorities have been co-opted. Every day, cruelties are perpetrated by those who truly seek to serve the God of Love. A few of them are unspeakable enough to be newsworthy or historic. Jonestown parents gave their kids the Kool-Aide in the service of love, not hate. Conquistadors baptized native infants and then ran them through with swords not out of spite, but to insure them access to heaven.

The only protection we have against horrors such as these is humility, a level of intellectual rigor that forces us to ask those questions that might show us wrong, and real evolutionary dialogue with others who see the world differently than we do. The mindset that I embraced for over twenty years is dangerous because it takes away these safeguards. Absolute certainty about revealed truth dulls our moral instincts and leaves us vulnerable to some of the darkest of human impulses.


******************

Political liberals and theological liberals have some tendency to honor tolerance above all other virtues. We forget that we are tolerant for a reason – because most of the time it serves the well being our fellow humans, the community that binds us together, and the natural order that sustains us. But our strengths and our weakness are always two sides of the same coin. Tolerance can also mean intellectual or moral sloppiness. It can mean that we fall into the habit of speaking hard truths so softly that they cannot be heard. Or not allowing ourselves to speak at all.

Victor Hugo once said:
It is not enough for us to prostrate ourselves under the tree which is Creation,
and to contemplate its tremendous branches filled with stars.
We have a duty to perform, to work upon the human soul,
to defend the mystery against the miracle,
to worship the incomprehensible while rejecting the absurd;
to accept, in the inexplicable, only what is necessary;
to dispel the superstitions that surround religion —
to rid God of His Maggots.

So I want to ask you a hard question. What is your role in ridding God of his maggots? What are your deepest hunches about what is real and what matters? What would it mean for you to join our public dialogue, to be the spokesperson for whatever insights life has given you –to do so knowing that we all are blind men struggling to understand an elephant, but also trusting that your fragments of insight about what is real and what is good are both a sacred responsibility and a gift to us all?

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth www.lulu.com/tarico.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went to Wheaton too, I even became an unbeliever there. As you might imagine, I had a rough time.

However I´m glad that it happened at that point in my life and not late.

Valerie said...

I'm afraid I was a bit slow :)

I have a friend who went to Catholic school. The only African American kid there misbehaved regularly. The nuns would hit him in order to drive the devil out, but my friend could see even at age 7 or 9 that the Black boy was acting out because he got picked on for being different. He immediately recognized that the nuns were giving superstitious names to psychological processes.

Another friend, around age 7, got into an arguement with his father about whether all the animals could fit on Noah's ark. His father insisted that they did but gave no credible explanation for this. He finally threatened a spanking if the son didn't shut up. As the son tells it, "From that moment, I didn't believe, because I knew my father didn't either."

I sometimes wonder why it took me so long.

Audie said...

"Our strongest ally in the quest for truth is doubt."

This is so simple, and yet so profound. I was taught growing up that doubt is "the devil trying to lead us away" and "doubt the doubt". Is it any wonder some will never find any truth for themselves?

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best postings I've read here. I wonder what would happen if I stood outside a church (a liberal one, so I wouldn't get pelted) with a sign saying, if you have any doubts about God, speak with me! There are other ways!

Naomi

Valerie said...

I've actually imagined paying for a billboard that said, "Doubts? It's not just you. Exchristian.net"

Anonymous said...

Valerie, this is not a bad idea. How much is a billboard? What if we had a fundraiser? (hit big - put it up in NYC)

Naomi

Valerie said...

I don't know, but I'd be willing to team up if other folks are interested. I suspect that a lot of people don't even know that there is such a beast as an exchristian. The mere concept might be an eyeopener. My email is valerietarico hotmail

.:webmaster:. said...

As long as all of you are willing to help field the resultant fundie posting influx, I'm all for it.

Dave8 said...

An influx? We'll need a flow chart, and a little systems engineering to be efficient enough to communciate with all of N.Y. There would have to be flow-charts designed to provide answers based on comments/questions that come in, hehehehehehe

Q: Were you ever really a true question?
S: You were never really a true christin!

Ex-C Action: Flip to flow-chart number 1... :-)

Dave8 said...

An influx? We'll need a flow chart, and a little systems engineering to be efficient enough to communciate with all of N.Y. There would have to be flow-charts designed to provide answers based on comments/questions that come in, hehehehehehe

Q: Were you ever really a true question?
S: You were never really a true christin!

Ex-C Action: Flip to flow-chart number 1... :-)

Dave8 said...

Don't know why the double post, perhaps I didnt' read the flow chart close enough :-)

Dave8 said...

Okay, somehow, the posting and characters are in flux... meant the characters to display like...

Q: Were you ever really a true christian?
S: You were never really a true christian!

There that's better... Geeeeesh.

crazybeautiful-- said...

the billboard is a great idea!! i would be in on helping to fund it as well!

Paul said...

This website is just plain sad. I'm very sorry for you all that think there is "another way" and that truth can be found any place other than Christ. "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord". Sorry, it doesn't say every "christian", or every "believer"...EVERY KNEE. I hope each and every one of you remember that when you're standing in front of the Lord. It's not a matter of IF but WHEN you do. We all die. It's 100%. It's just too bad that your unbelief won't be a good excuse on that day.

Anonymous said...

you're not ready, Paul!

Jim Arvo said...

Hi there Paul. Wecome to the site. Are you willing to explain your views a little bit and maybe answer some questions, or are you just driving through?

Have a nice day.

Valerie said...

Hi Paul -

The image of people forced to their knees on their way to a torture chamber that the inquisitors, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein could only dream of . . . any dissonance there with the idea that God is the absolute embodiment of love?

Please understand that we all used to believe this too.

Leonard said...

Dear Paul: what makes you think your god is real and will judge us?

We don´t think so, and we would like to hear your arguments why we should. Because unless you have valid reasons why we should believe you, your utterance is just a hollow threat.

Great essay, btw. as always :)

Bentley said...

Hi Paul, I would like to thank you personally for posting that very kind and very wise and insightful comment. BTW, you wouldn't happen to be the the very same Paul that posted a testimony on Oct. 28, 2006 would you? Nah, of courde not!

Paul, would you happen to be the very same self-righteous s.o.b. that posted a giantic load of self-righteous feces and never once had the balls to return nor answer not one single question that we posed to you? That wouldn't happen to be the same ignorant fundy jackass Paul would it?

If you are the same Paul, even if you're not the same Paul, then you're still a full fledged holyier-than thou-self-righteouus-cretin maggot brained fool.

Did I leave anything out?

Dave8 said...

Paul: "I'm very sorry for you all that think there is "another way" and that truth can be found any place other than Christ."

Okay, I was going to let it pass... but, flipping to flow chart number 3.

Paul, you're fear that there exists another way to truth, far outweighs how sorry you feel for all of these people you don't know.

And... while I'm at it, because I haven't really delved into psychology in a while.

When is the brain fully developed?

"Another way of measuring brain development is to look at the speed of neural processing. A newborn's brain works considerably more slowly than an adult's, transmitting information some sixteen times less efficiently... Myelination (the coating or covering of axons with myelin) begins around birth and is most rapid in the first two years but continues perhaps as late as 30 years of age."
http://www.zerotothree.org/brainwonders/FAQ.html

Perhaps, Paul, you are only neurally transmitting eight times less efficiently than a fully developed adult's, that puts you at about 15 years of age, based on the mean research data.

Sigh, well... perhaps, if the information sits in your brain long enough, the connections will be made, and you "too" will be set free. Hopefully, your mid-life crisis isn't turbulent... I mean, when you finally start making the connections that lead you to conclude that you have lost years of your life, living a lie.

Have a great day.

Dino said...

Bentley: "Did I leave anything out?"

Yep, Paul hasn't reached puberty, that about sums it up :-)

JT said...

I'm all for the Billboard. Let's fuckin do this. Shit I'll give what I can. It may not be alott but I'm all for it!

Dave8 said...

Okay, to appease my conscience (that would be a material conscience).

Neural development during childhood can be affected via social trauma, malnutrition, anemia, etc.

The slower the rate of neural development, the slower the processing of information. The slower the processing rate, the less "aware" or "alert" one is in their daily lives. A child, will still absorb sensory inputs, but the information will lay dormant, until the neural processor is capable of pulling the raw inputs, into mental meaning.

I was a slow learner/processor of information. However, my capacity to absorb sensory inputs as information, seemed limitless. I am still processing information from my past, in order to make sense out of previous life experience.

So, Paul... the information that is being presented to you, may not be processable by you at this time, but... if you have the ability to store information, you have hope in your future - for freedom.

Dano said...

Valerie,
How can you write a book like the "Dark side" and then come here and blog just like a normal person.

I am reading your book, and keep looking for the part that gets convoluted and difficult to understand, but it just keeps making more and more sense. Anybody who can reach someone who suffers from acute ADD like me, must be a little bit immortal.
Dan

Valerie said...

Thank you, Dano.

. . . "a little immortal" or, alternately, a little ADD. My psychologist friends would be glad to give you their impressions of which it is ;)

Andrew said...

I wasn't going to post anything on this string until I read the comments about ex-christians never having really being Christians.
This may well kick up a real storm from both sides.
I believe the parable of the lost son shows that just as a loving father would be over the moon to have his delinquent son back so too is God.
Ex-Christian? - No.
Never was a Christian? - No.
A prodigal child? - Yes, who will always be welcomed home by His/Her heavenly Father.
Love and prayers in Jesus name
Andrew

Wes said...

>>"Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord"
>>

Hahahaaa! There it is again! That same old stupid verse they use! Over and over like a broken record! Har har! "Every knee shall bow ..skip..; every knee shall bow ..skip..; every knee shall bow ..skip...

New material, please? -Wes.

boomSLANG said...

This may well kick up a real storm from both sides.
I believe the parable of the lost son shows that just as a loving father would be over the moon to have his delinquent son back so too is God.


Speaking of sons---in the biblical parable, the "Heavenly Father" murdered his son, or at the least, let the murder---or suicide---depending on whether you use "divine" mathematics, or not---take place. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure the mortal "father" would accept his lost "delinquent" son back, unconditionally. This can't be said for the biblical "Father". I wish religionists would stop making absurd non-correlating analogies like this.

Ex-Christian? - No.
Never was a Christian? - no


Who makes these determinations? You? So Muslims aren't "True" Muslims because they aren't Christians? People who switched midlife to vegetarianism aren't "True" vegetarians because they used to eat meat? Stupid logic, right? You claim to know people's minds better than they? Your clarvoiyant skills won't fly here, and neither will your one-size-fits-all rubbish. What part of that don't you get?

A prodigal child? - Yes, who will always be welcomed home by His/Her heavenly Father.

Prodigal child? More like PRODDED child....you forget, welcomed back...IF. Yes, you conviently leave out the most important stipulation in the exclusive "Club Christ".

SoothSayer said...

Paulie, Andy, Wes….all you little babes in arms, gullible little kiddies fresh out of kindergarten.
You’re very lucky you are here on this blog, cos you might actually learn something.
Most assuredly, you will be teaching us piddle squat, and if you’re thinking that the drivel you scrawl will have any effect, it’s time to wipe the green stuff from behind your ears clean away! Now listen to teacher and let’s get the lesson underway:

The god of your Holey Bi-bull, is a malicious, rancorous, cruel, immature, psycho, schizo, lying excuse for a god. (Give me Zeus or Thor anytime!)
The first clue is that he stated that he wished to make man in his own image, that’s a very scary thought. That means that we are exactly like god, warts and all!! We also know that this god “created” Satan (his alter ego perhaps?) This would go a long way in explaining why christians are so bewildering and act out a life of paradox, ala Ted Haggard et al.
Also, as a christian , your god cannot be trusted not to throw you into his hellfire.
There is so much double-talk in this babble, how can YOU be really sure that you have not fallen foul of this ignominious power that you believe in? Don’t you have niggling doubts haunting you late in the dark of the night??
Andy, you mention the prodigal son. How can you tell if all is forgiven?
Yes, you’ve gone back to church 3 days a week, the people there say it’s all well & good…. but it’s just the people…..how can you be sure that your schizophrenic god is appeased. You now need substantial proof, not just pats on the back & a nice feeling in your gut, that could be a delusion. All those double-meaning, undecipherable parts in the buy-bull cannot be discounted or dismissed.
Paulie: “We all die. It's 100%. It's just too bad that your unbelief won't be a good excuse on that day”
Paulie, dear one, I can promise you that the people on this blog will not be making excuses to get to live with Bi-bull god for ever & ever, because if you think about it, that would be hell…..just sitting there worshipping this ego-maniac endlessly! Simple death is infinitely better. (read the WM’s “Christless Grave” a few posts down for an education)
From what you’ve been taught today, it’s glaringly obvious that a strange deity like this plainly does not exist…it’s man-made, ancient middle-eastern man at that.
It’s time to let your mind wander along different and newer paths. Perhaps more abstract avenues. It’s time to search for and learn new things. Come back here often….not to scribble nonsense…just read !!
End of lesson.

Dano said...

Valerie
If we can agree on this, "Some humans are very smart, and some humans are very dumb," can you give me your explanation as to how some of the very smart ones can live their whole lives, like your brother has "In the faith," and not be able to think their way out.
I have a tendency to automatically downgrade the I/Q anyone who calls themselves Christian, but am stuck with the dilemma of recognizing that some of them seem to be a lot smarter than me.
How can a really smart person not see the convoluted logic and the obvious Pagan genesis of the Jesus Story?
Dan (Agnostic)

Trancelation said...

I am an ex-Christian. This seems to be an idea that some Christians are having trouble dealing with. Not because the idea of an ex-Christian is so impossible, but because I, and others, have found happiness in our deconversion from Christianity. It's a lot like leaving an abusive household.

Whether it's a spouse, parents, or a legal guardian, escaping the confines of an abusive relationship is scary at first, then wonderful, and ultimately necessary. For those of us that find happiness in our freedom from abuse, we sometimes leave behind others that are so entrenched in their Stockholm's (sp?) Syndrome that they lash out at us in one way or another. We can't save everyone, and leaving the abusive relationship of religion is a largely personal choice.

The abusive relationship of religion is unique in that it is not one that is always manifest physically. Matters of the spirit, after all, are unseen. One of the ways in which those still suffering the abuses of a religious relationship lash out at the deconverted is to tell us that once we are saved, we are always saved. This is essentially saying that, even though we want to leave home, we can't. We're stuck. For all of our gnashing of teeth and wailing and whining and wantng to leave, we're going to Heaven to be with the Father for all of eternity because He loves us. Nevermind that one would think a decent parent would allow a grown offspring to leave of their own free will if they were so unhappy. The Christian God operates on a level of morality entirely different from our own; that is to say, OPPOSITE from our own.

One poster that wrote a letter to the webmaster a while ago, known simply as 'Mark,' identified being once-saved, always-saved as being unable to change the fact that one's biological parents will always be their biological parents. I found this to be rather deficient logic. 'Mark' was implying that we had little choice in the matter of acknowledgement in our parents, even if our birth parents completely deserted us while other people took up the reins and were there for us. Giving birth does not make you a parent.

All that aside, any attempts at discrediting the Christian notion of once-saved, always-saved with simple, rational analogies will not work. I favor the analogy that just because a person was once overweight, when they lose that weight, they are no longer overweight and therefore are not once-overweight, always-overweight. The Christian has two shields with which to protect their delicate, fragile, oh-so-easily broken ego with: faith and the Bible.

Faith, or one might call it a defense mechanism, can defend against any attack. When a person is so deeply involved in structuring their reality a certain way, any threats to that reality will be rerouted to the mental dumpster whereupon they will be trashed and forgotten. For some Christians, this is even true in the case of the Bible. Many Christians proclaim, when beaten upon with a Bible verse, that the words in question is what the Bible says, but not what it means. This, put quite simply, is when you know you have won. Just repeat the verse and ask for what it means, and they will eventually go away and try to figure out what the shadows on the cave wall are.

There is one such set of verses for the issue of being ex-Christian. It is not a popular verse among Christian; why should it be, when misery loves company? The verses quite plainly states that there si such a thing as an ex-Christian.

Here they are:

Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

Hebrews 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

Hebrews 6:6 If they shall fall away , to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

I have recently been engaged in debate with several Christians over the existence of ex-Christians, and these verses have proven to be excellent tools in providing support for the existence of ex-Christians. Logic, rationality and reason are not the tools with which to defend the existence of ex-Christians. as is usually the case in deferring the ideas of Christianity, the Bible is the weapon of choice. When Christians claim that you don't exist, bring those verses up. The only thing they can do from that point is attempt to show that you were never a Christian to begin with.

Andrew said...

Soothesayer
Been there, done that, probably while you were still in nappies. Decided against your line of thinking as being futile. Do all men and women love you unconditionally? Yes so long as you are doing what they want you to do. Be it drugs, booze, sex, religion (sadly including many Christians).
You and others here want Christians like me to simply accept what YOU say as being right. And you have what 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 maybe 50 years experience of living and most of that in nanny states where if you don't get what you want you go crying to the courts to imprison the nasty man or woman who offended you and give you a whole chunk of money.
Dear little children grow up, lift your eyes higher than your wallets and see the rich things God has given you and realise that he wants to give you even more good things.
Tes it is going to cost you yes you will have to die to your own passions and desires but will gain much much more.
Out of all I have read on this site there are only two people who have come close to doing what this site is supposed to be about. They are the web master and valerie.
Finally boomSlang you are right there is an IF. It is in returning and in rest you will find peace, in other words it is in your hands

Kuroikaze said...

Dano, in my opinion what is happening here is called cognitive dissonance.

Otherwise rational people are conditioned to not think about the rationality of their beliefs. It happens all the time. My mom is a doctor and she is as fundy as they come. When it comes to treating a patient she would never use faith to decide a treatment, but when it comes to religion she never once questions the use of faith

Dano said...

Kuroikaze wrote:
"Dano, in my opinion what is happening here is called cognitive dissonance....."
posted: 11/23/2006 1:48 PM EST  

Kuroikaze,
I know you are correct. A stubborn refusal to accept anything that would shred their security blankets, is automatically seen as evil and coming from the devil, but I wonder what the psychologists have figured out. Have they found any effective way to make an otherwise intelligent person, recognize their predicament, and take a peek at reality?

Even though I am totally convinced that virtually all religion is a bunch of bunk, there still is a part of me that wants to believe in a creator who has a plan to recycle me in a good way, when I die, or better yet, free up stem cell rechearch soon enough to cure my old age.

Dano (Set me adrift on a sea of hope...)

Anonymous said...

How we think, is typically how many describe "smart/dumb". Biologically based.

What we think, is tyipcally how many describe themselves/identity, family, life, etc. Environmentally based.

Nature/Nurture. Just because someone is capable of processing information (even at faster rates than others), because of their genetic ability, doesn't mean the fuel/information they are processing is more clean, in some fashion.

Psychologists usually pursue a specialty to be employed. Of the specialties, I am not aware of any of the psychologists classifying what is "good" information to process, or "bad" information to process. Typically, behaviors are classified according to the norm of a society, using Chi Square modelling techniques, or ANOVA testing, etc.

However, psychologists exposed to abuse victims, are legally mandated to report their findings to law enforcement.

So, to your point. Many genetically gifted (smart as you say) people are exposed to different environments, and react accordingly, based on their perceived needs. Perceived needs, and the environment/climate can be manipulated.

There are those who naturally study the environment with caution, and then, there are those who accept what they perceive at face value. Personality type (cognitively based) and environmental exposure will be the driving factors.

Wes said...

>>SoothSayer said...

Paulie, Andy, Wes….all you little babes in arms,..
>>
Hey! Why did you name me?? I'm not subscribing to christian nonsense!! Goo goo! Ga ga!!! -Wes.

infidel666 said...

A billboard! Funny I was thinking about that a few months ago when I bought some exchristian bumper stickers.
Count me in

SoothSayer said...

Wes: My deepest apologies…..for tarring you with the same brush…I was skimming too quickly …sorry!!

Andrew: my foolish one, who said anything about wanting to be “loved unconditionally’…what tripe.! Please don’t go and superimpose your wants and desires on me mate!! It’s YOU lot that crave unconditional love & affection from your invisible “pie-in sky pop” Personally, I go out of my way to be disliked…especially by you horde of fundies.
Besides, “What is this site for?” This site is not there to convert fundies……its called EX-CHRISTIAN, we owe you lot nothing, zilch, nada.
And let’s not get onto the subject of money….great rollicking bollocks…...here you are superimposing again !! Who are the money-grubbers really!!! Churches…they don’t let up for one minute …it’s all about the money…...super-rich mega-churches and their minions!!! And you….it’s your type that makes these churches and you do it for your own REWARD! Buy yourself a ticket to heaven …ha ha
As for the rest of your post….it’s just blabber. You make no sense whatsoever, which is not surprising….as your last depleted brain cell holds on for dear life!!!
Bug off…you have nothing to say, your just another indoctrinated sheeple wasting your life.

Dano said...

If God is mother nature, then of course I believe in her.
If God created the universe, then I believe.
If God is supposed to be all those omni's, powerful, everywhere, loving, all knowing, then it makes no difference what I believe, because it will do with me as it pleases.
If God wanted me to be a Christian then I would be a Christian. period, case closed!!
Dano (agnostic, atheist)

Valerie said...

Re the possiblity of a billboard - My time is a bit squeezed because I'm between trips. I'll try to do some research in the next week or so, and if not, then in January.

Valerie said...

If we can agree on this, "Some humans are very smart, and some humans are very dumb," can you give me your explanation as to how some of the very smart ones can live their whole lives, like your brother has "In the faith," and not be able to think their way out.

Hi Dano -

You asked about why smart people can be Christians. It's a very good question. There is an inverse correlation between measured IQ and belief in a person-God. And percentage-wise there are more believers among prisoners than elite scientists. But we all have met, lived with, and often loved very smart people who are fundamentalists. So smart/not smart isn't the whole answer.

When psychologists measure "smart" they're trying get an approximate read on someone's ability to retain information, link it up with other information already in their brain, analyze it logically, and apply it where it fits. And yes, even though Americans like to think that any of us can become anything, the reality is that life gives us these gifts in very different chunks. Near my home is a school that houses the most gifted and most impaired kids in the Seattle Public Schools. Some are reading Orson Scott Card in the 2nd grade. Some will struggle all their lives to form a simple word or two. (Funny how it has nothing to do with justice.)

A lot has been written about whether some people simply cannot think beyond the concept of a super-human in the sky. That may be partially true. We do know that people all over the world are inclined to this kind of thinking. But we also know that when political or other factors interrupt the spread of viral religious memes, the percent of people who can live without supernaturalism is much much higher than what we see in the United States today.

So, back to people who seem particularly smart and particularly stuck. Here are some factors to put into the hopper.

1. "Smart" has a lot of different components. People can be very good at retaining or processing some kinds of information and not others.

2. We human beings, including those who are smarter than average, are far less rational than we like to think we are. Much of our thinking is just a bunch of rationalizations for preferences and behavior that are driven by our more primitive emotions and instincts.

3. Our brains have all kinds of built-in hard-wired shortcuts they use to simplify information processing. (See Pascal Boyer: Religion Explained.)One consequence of this is that we have a remarkable ability to hold beliefs that are incompatible with each other. The incompatible beliefs are perfectly comfortable until some experience forces them into contact with each other.

4. We don't just store facts as independent little scraps of information. Rather, we weave them together into stories and theories about the world around us. New information gets slotted into this big framework (and often altered as need be to make it fit.) A great example of this is the neocon-iraq debacle. Neo-con foreign relations vision is driven by ideology - an overarching theory - essentially a secular religion. They got stuck because information coming in from the Middle East was forced to fit the basic assumptions of this theory.

5. As Michael Shermer points out in his book, Why People Believe Wierd Things, extra-smart people have even more ability than the rest of us to build a complex rational structure on top of a few false assumptions (or base prejudices).

6. One should never underestimate the power of a social group to shape beliefs. For many people their emotional bond with a group of believers is the lock that holds their beliefs in place. When we have warm loving relationships with people, we tend to reconcile our beliefs to theirs. Thinking very differently than they do is uncomfortable, and often requires distancing emotionally or leaving the group. Social groups also determine our information sources and trusted authority figures.

At the risk of repeating myself excessively, the best protection any of us have against egregious falsehood is doubt coupled with the willingness to honestly ask those questions that could show us wrong. Being part of a social context that values doubt and hard questions is tremendously helpful - especially when that group is diverse enough so that people catch each others blind spots.

One reason I am ever grateful to Dave for creating exChristian.net is that it provides this kind of community.

Dave8 said...

Thank you Valerie, that was a pleasant post, and articulated well. I enjoyed it tremendously. I wish I would have had you as my psych. professor in my undergraduate studies (INTJ) :-)

If you reach a point in researching the billboard project that requires some support, I am willing to assist as much as I can.

This is a great community, and I thank Dave as well.

Anonymous said...

This is in reply to Valerie Tarico's article, "Freeing God of His Maggots." I have nothing but the highest regard for people like Valerie and Dan Barker("Losing Faith in Faith") for being able somehow to cross over to the other side (pun intended). In Valerie's comments to Dano about why supposedly bright people still chose and find the most irrational reasons for believing in fundamental Christianity, Valerie made the comparison between high IQs and inmates in prisons. I've worked in two prisons for about 10 years now so I have some familarity with prison life. I can tell that they all find Jesus once they are incarcerated, especially the child molestors and rapists. And the prison ministry systematically encourages and indoctrinates inmates into fundamental Christian beliefs. Fundamental Christianity has become a industry like the prison system itself. Don't you know that Jesus forgives everyone. Even child molestors and rapists. (But I thought Jesus cared about them? Read his sermons.)You have to remember, if you're right with Jesus, you're alright. That is, regardless of all the harm you've done to others as well as to yourself. I've witnessed (pun again) staff praising Jesus and lifting arms up to the sky towards some imaginary being while both staff and inmates watch videos of popular born again Christian preachers. Incidentally, this is done on the payroll during normal business hours for staff. It's all about "sales" just like a car salesman. In fact, Christianity and big business are entwined in America. Reference, Geo. Bush and his buddies. To get back to the prison system. The Muslims get a lot of perks for claiming to be Muslims especially during Ramadan. Claiming Jesus and enrolling in the sex education programs are simply ways the inmates use to try to reduce their sentence. It's all a farce and rehabilitation is a joke. As regards to high IQs, Dano. You just have to accept that some of the most educated, bright people are weak minded when it comes to rationally looking at their belief system. You also must realize, and this is an extremely important factor, we live in a country that is Christian. And that's all these people know like the Muslim fanatical terroists born in a Muslim society. This is also why I have so much admiration for people like Valerie and Dan Barker who have the patience to try to reason with Christian fundamentalist. They are as a lot pretty close minded and impervious to reason when it comes to Jesus and the Bible. I don't have Valerie and Dan's patience. Sorry if I got carried away with my comment. For what it's worth, I thought I might add mine to all the others. One more thing before I forget. To the person who made a bunch of profance name calling of Christians: You don't add anything to a serious discussion of why Christians believe and act the way they do. You might want to look at that since you accuse them of never looking at their beliefs.

Dano said...

Anonymous wrote:
"I've worked in two prisons for about 10 years now so I have some familiarity with prison life. I can tell that they all find Jesus once they are incarcerated, especially the child molesters and rapists. And the prison ministry systematically encourages and indoctrinates inmates into fundamental Christian beliefs........."

Dano ponders rhetorically:
Yea I wonder if any prisoners ever go up before the parole board and say: "Since I have been in prison, my atheism has become more solid. I now believe without any doubt whatsoever that there is no God, especially no Christian or Muslim God. As I stand before you I do not believe in anything mystical,magical, or mythological. I do not believe in heaven, hell, Satan, angels, miracles, Or any of that other bullshit.

I do not believe Jesus was anything more than a Jewish rabbi, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time saying things that pissed off the Roman rulers, and I find the whole blood sacrifice for atonement of sin, thing, ridiculous and repulsive. In fact I don't believe in sin at all, original or personal. I think the God of the bible looks a lot like your average mortal, bloodthirsty tyrant that lived, and ruled during several millennia before Christianity, and were ruling at the time the Jewish history was being written.
I ask you to consider this as you contemplate your decision as to release me from prison, for I am confident that you all are free thinking people, completely devoid of any bias toward those like me, who have rejected any and all religious nonsense. Thank you very much. I will go back to my cell now and pack my clothes.
Dano (Skeptic)

Anonymous said...

To Dano from anonymous: Of course not. You think inmates are that stupid! They'll tell the parole board whatever they want to hear. That's precisely my point. The whole rehabilitation system is entwined around the idea of being sorry for your sins. The Jesus craze is part of this phony system that is "pushed" upon the inmate if he wants to fool the administration into believing that he's been "born again" because he repents of his sins and is now forgiven until he gets to the parole board. Incidentally, they have a vested interest in retaining their life appointed jobs by keeping the inmate in the prison system. That's something the average person doesn't know and doesn't have any real knowledge of how the whole penal system in America is a industry. Anyway, you know, there probably is some sincere inmates who honestly believe in Christ, etc. I've just never seen any. But that's me. People need something to believe in to pass the time. Valerie probably knows more about that than me. In any case, as I said earlier, the whole Jesus and Muslim movement in the prison system is a farce but that's true of life in general. I forgot a interesting thing you might want to hear: Devil Worship is now a bona fide, recognizable religion in prison with it's visiting priest and rites that's now legally acceptable. But I wouldn't advise some inmate to tell the parole board he believes in the Devil. But, hey, Christians do. By the way, I don't leave my true name because I am afraid of co-worker born again Christians who would set out to get me at the prison if they found out who wrote this. Scary, huh?

House Cleaning said...

Deception is profitable in a capitalist economy.

Many people are in jail, because they were deceptive.

The judicial system is deceptive (the more money the more legal protection).

The penal system that houses prisoners, are deceptive because workers have a vested interest to keep their jobs, by keeping prisoners locked up.

In order to get ahead in a deceptive system, the prisoners conform to what they are asked to do by the warden/correction officers - one can only imagine what the extent of "what they are asked to do means".

The deception is rewarded, and reinforces deceptive behavior for gain.

The prison cadre and staff judge the rehabilitation of the prisoner by what the prisoner was willing to do, in order to conform to the system.

Accepting religion is one of those conformity measures, that show "progress", in a deceptive system.

If the prisoner is released, then they received "positive" reinforcement for being deceptive.

Truth, in this process is not profitable, so is it any surprise that when prisoners are released, no one really feels relieved.

A person can only be as honest as the system allows. When someone else can profit from using someone else, abuse will continue. In a capitalist economy, nothing escapes from being considered a commodity - to include "people".

The truth, is that the U.S. is supposed to have gov't oversight, so it can regulate the abuse of using people for profit, but the reality is that it's far more profitable to make money proliferating the ideal of the "people" commodity, than if one fights against it.

What's scary is the proliferation of abuse... consider the number of immigrants that are escaping their countries in order to find a better life. The major companies are more than willing to use cheap labor as a commodity, even if they are really breaking the legal minimum wage rules, or health codes in the process.

The U.S. hasn't determined where to draw the line on the "people" commodity, it's part of American society, as well, as all over the world to be fair, but... seems one has to accept their moral and political limits with humility before they go around the world trying to clean other peoples' houses.