8/31/2006                                                                                       View Comments

8/30/2006                                                                                       View Comments

The great depression

Tom had lost his faith. He felt a mild sense of euphoria at having rediscovered the freedom to think, to act, without fear of divine retribution and condemnation. He also felt apprehension that when he died, nothing would follow. There would be no heaven, no hell, no resurrection, no rapture — no life beyond the grave. When Tom breathed his last, he would be no more. At 25, when he’d first abandoned belief in God, death didn’t bother him. Lately, however, episodes of depression troubled him. His parents had died, first his father to a heart attack, and then his mother to an agonizing battle with breast cancer. A few years later he lost a good friend to a tragic automobile accident. Knowing he would never see any of them again, a sinking sense of hopelessness seeped into his psyche.

He understood the illogical nature of belief, especially belief in Christianity’s god, a god of “love” that threatened to roast all unbelievers in a torturous chamber of unimaginable horror throughout all eternity, not for any positive reason, but out of pure sadistic retribution. But, the prospect of never being united with his loved ones still ate at him. He knew it was all emotional, but, the depression… the depression.

So Tom went back to church.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!” thundered a portly preacher from behind a modern clear-acrylic podium. For 20 minutes the man expounded, quoting Bible verses, explaining the way of salvation, pleading, weeping, laughing, admonishing, attempting to weave a hypnotic spell over everyone in the mega-church’s multi-million-dollar auditorium. Finally it was time for the invitation to come forward for those seeking salvation and prayer. The organist and the choir, which until then had been softly singing in the background, raised its volume to a feverish pitch. Goose bumps rose up on even the most calloused arms.

“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.”

Tears welling, Tom stumbled forward.

As the 3,000-member-strong congregation added their voices to the choir’s, a heightened feeling of urgency electrified the air. Hands reached skyward, “Praise the Lords” were heard, and many men and women openly wept.

At the altar, Tom bowed his head and repeated the sinner’s prayer, a prayer he’d known since he was five-years-old, a prayer he’d repeated dozens of times during his youth, especially in times of insecurity. These magical words, if said sincerely, comprised the mystical formula allowing mortals to gain entrance, and live forever, in heaven, after physical death.

And then Tom woke up.

“Holy shit,” said Tom, bolting upright in bed, his naked, sleep-heavy body drenched in sweat.

“What’s the matter honey?” his wife Sally groggily rasped without lifting her head from the pillow beside him.

“I just dreamt I went forward to be saved during an invitation at a church,” said Tom. “They were even singing ‘Just as I am.’”

As Tom’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed a deep red glow coming from outside the bedroom window.

“Sal, get up. Something’s going on outside.”

Something was going on all right — a raging inferno. Flames lapped at everything. People were running and screaming. Some appeared to be on fire.

“What the fu..?”

Tom could smell it now. An overpowering stench of smoke laced with a heavy, sickeningly sweet scent of something cooking. He couldn’t pinpoint the smell, but it reminded him vaguely of a pig roast he’d once attended. Meanwhile the flames seemed to be raging out of control, licking at his neighbor’s homes, climbing up the trees. Fire was fricken’ everywhere. The entire street was awash in a hellish conflagration.

“Sal, get up. Something bizarre is going on.”

No response.

“You’re in hell,” boomed a disembodied voice from somewhere in the room.

Hell? Did I die? And how come my wife is still asleep?

“Sal, did you hear that?”

“Come back to bed,” his wife complained. “It’s cold, and it’s the middle of the night.”

It must be 150 degrees in here, thought Tom.

Still naked, sweat dripping on the carpet, Tom found his way downstairs.

I must still be dreaming, thought Tom.

At the bottom of the stairs the world changed again.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” shouted some guy with long hair, a beard, and wearing a white toga.

“Okay, what the hell? Er, umm, I mean…, what’s going on?” asked Tom.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me.”

“Ahm, yeah… I’ve heard that before. So am I… dead? Or just crazy?”

“Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” continued the man.

“Okay, this is just nuts,” said Tom.

Suddenly the room was filled with dozens of androgynous figures in bathrobes singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

Meanwhile, outside, Tom spotted his next-door neighbor’s distractingly attractive 22-year-old daughter streaking nude through the flame-filled street. Close on her heels, in hot pursuit, was what appeared to be an unclothed horned devil with an unreasonably long, thick, and apparently wart-encrusted, erection. The phallus seemed to have a mind of its own, twisting, bending, pointing, and dragging the demon toward the fleeing beauty, much like a divining rod drawing a dowser toward water.

“She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses,” said the Alpha-Omega character.

“Ah, yeah,” said Tom. “Listen, could someone please tell me what this is all about? If I’m going to have a heavenly vision, or whatever, could I least have a little explanation?”

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has put in his own power.”

“I should have known,” mumbled Tom.

A cacophonic alarm blared. Everything shook violently and the entire room blurred and dissolved into nothingness. Tom rolled over and hit the snooze button on his clock. This time he really woke up. The depression he’d been suffering was gone.

“Honey,” said Sally as she cuddled up to him. “You know what I like best about our lives since we left Christianity?”

“That we get to stay in bed and make love Sunday mornings?” said Tom.

“No silly. Well, yes, that too. But what I was thinking is that since I’ve gotten all that religious insanity out of my head, the world just makes a whole lot more sense. You know what I mean?”

“I couldn’t have said it better,” agreed Tom.

Is it possible to de-convert Christians?

By an anonymous agnostic Baptist minister
From Infidels.Org

Two concepts few would ever find themselves combining into one are “Baptist minister” and “agnostic” – unless of course one is describing a debate of some kind. Keep them separate and they make sense, bring them together into one person and the dissonance begins. And yet, an agnostic Baptist minister is exactly what I am. How I came to this place from fundamentalist Christianity is a story in itself better told another time, and where my beliefs might end up is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, this is what I am today.

I have been impressed with and an avid reader of articles on the Secular Web for about two years now. In fact, I suppose one could say that the Secular Web has played a significant role in my move from an advocate and employer of conservative Christian apologetics to a place of general theistic agnosticism. The Internet Infidels helped jam my own theistic memes, not by jamming anything down my throat, but by providing a resource of information to which I could turn as I sought answers to my own personal questions and suspicious regarding my religious tradition. In my life experience, when an “evangelistic atheist” came along attacking my faith, I would immediately respond defensively with an arsenal of apologetics. I would never have changed my mind because of frontal attacks on my beliefs. Neither did those attacks play a role in my eventual turn to agnosticism. That gradual decision came about as a result of other, much more subtle events and resources slowly helping me to be more honest about why I believed what I did at the time. I was not coerced but rather persuaded by a combination of rather subtle information and my own reasoning. I believe there is something very valuable to learn from my experience – especially when it comes to the mission of culture-jamming theistic memes effectively yet respectfully.

Perspective-Respect

As a non-Christian, if you’ve bothered to enter into debate with a Christian – say, in a Christian chat room – then you have probably discovered that the debate quickly reduces to “Yes it is / No it isn’t” kinds of exchanges. Instead of discussing the issues at hand with relative openness and a willingness to learn, both parties often end up staking their claim without so much as attempting to try on the metaphysical glasses through which their contender views and interprets reality. Now, already some might be balking at my suggestion that we should learn from each other; that it is the Christian who needs to revise his or her beliefs and abandon the bent to explain naturally occurring facts by invoking supernatural myths. It is important to understand, however, that both sides are operating from a particular viewpoint. Both believe themselves to be equally right. Now, I concur that reason and the history of empirical success are more than enough to make the naturalistic worldview a cogent one – likely the correct one. What we’re talking about at this juncture, however, is perspectives, not necessarily reality and it is critical that one remains conscious of this point while in debate. From the Christian perspective, naturalism flies in the face of much of what Christians hold true by faith – and the atheist or agnostic must at least, out of respect, try to understand that perspective. By better understanding the Christian’s perspective, not only do non-believers show basic human consideration, but they also better understand why Christians often respond the way they do. If the Christian is unable to return this basic human courtesy, then at the very least you have done the right thing. Furthermore, showing respect and courtesy for the other person’s perspective tends to help lower guards so that genuine exchange can transpire. But I believe it would be productive to explore a little more specifically just why most Christians react the way they do to non-Christian challenges to their beliefs. In so doing, I hope to increase some understanding to those who get frustrated trying to debate (or at least discuss) your respective epistemological differences.

The Common Christian Worldview

Let’s begin here by cutting to the chase. The reason the Christian worldview is so at-odds with naturalism is because of its dependence upon and veneration of its sacred writing, the Bible. Bottom line: to argue with a Christian is to argue with their faith that the Bible is a book inspired by God. The atheist must understand that when he or she sets out to dismantle the Christian beliefs, he or she is arguing with an entire system of thinking, another world wherein lie even its own debates and viewpoints based upon varying interpretations of its own sacred text. Thus, even the famous Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga wrote in his now-renowned article “Some Advice for Christian Philosophers” that Christians (particularly apologists and philosophers) should stop worrying about defending Christianity from atheists and focus more on questions and issues within Christian theology and philosophy (see http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth10.html). Probably 90% of the debate regarding Christianity is internal/internal (i.e., debates among professing Christians stemming from multitudinous and conflicting theologies and interpretations of the Bible) rather than external/internal (i.e., non-Christian/Christian debates about the veracity of Christianity or theism in general). Therefore, try to argue the scientific certainty of evolutionary theory with a Christian and you will get quotes from Genesis as a rebuttal. The Christian may take the literal, six-day creation stance and simply deny science is correct at all, or perhaps claim that there is an evil mind motivating the theories of natural science (e.g., the devil or some demonic force). More often than not, however, the believer will often try to intertwine science and the biblical text in order to attempt preserving biblical integrity in the face of scientific fact. Either way, they will refuse to abandon their text as anything less than divine in origin and thus, ipso facto, as correct no matter what. If one tries to undercut the integrity of the Bible by revealing contradictions, blatant historical and factual blunders, etc., then be prepared for either the classic “Wall of Rejection” response (i.e., “You simply refuse to believe God’s Word, so I have nothing more to say…”) or the growing “Volley of Apologetics” response (i.e., “Those are not contradictions, they can be explained this way…”). But it is doubtful you will get much farther than that. Why is that?

There are many reasons why you will get a Christian only so-close to thinking twice about his or her presuppositions regarding the divine nature of the Bible. Let me mention just three of them that I believe to be the most salient. First, one’s metaphysic, one’s beliefs about reality, is usually a very personal thing that resists being violated. This is due, as you might have guessed, to the fact that one’s metaphysic is the means by which he or she makes sense of the world. It helps one deal with the ebb and flow of life, self-concept and worth, joys and tragedies, etc. In this way, the atheist is no different than the theist. We all try to make sense of the world, even if we’re not fully aware of it, and we all have our own metaphysic, even if it has been handed down to us from our teachers and mentors. This brings us to the next reason.

Second, everyone has certain innate conceptual templates hard-wired into our brains from years of evolutionary development, and these concepts are susceptible to being attached to religious ideas. This is a fascinating and compelling theory spelled out in great detail in Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (New York: Basic Books, 2001). Without getting into the ultimate origins of supernatural belief here, we can at least say that religious concepts are passed down, generation to generation, culture to culture, so that their inferences seem as real to many people as inferences for any natural empirical fact. With this in mind, one must remember that faith-based concepts held by Christians are very concrete to them, so that for them to question such concepts would be like questioning their own existence or the existence of “that tree over there”. I should, however, qualify all this a bit by saying that it is nonetheless still possible for a Christian to question those deeply held religious concepts – it’s simply unlikely if they are soundly rooted. Once supernatural concepts become attached to certain naturally occurring conceptual templates in our brains, it becomes very difficult, though not impossible, to separate them.

Third, Christianity has a built-in defense system that effectively wards off attackers with the flick of a cliché or pat answer and a retreat to Bible verses considered relevant for supporting “proof”. Here are a few examples.
  1. The non-believer cannot understand the things of God because he doesn’t believe; if you would only believe, then you would understand. This is clearly a circular argument, but one usually used with confidence nonetheless. Such a statement further presupposes that there is some mystical, epistemological window of understanding opened up in the mind of the believer because he or she has taken the “leap of faith”. Thus according to most Christians, anyone, regardless of their education, will a priori have a deficient understanding of reality unless and until they become a believer in the Bible.
  2. The Bible is the Word of God; therefore, anyone who disagrees with it must be wrong. This, again, presupposes the very thing it sets out to prove. Nevertheless, it serves as a very effective shield against rational and critical thinking that might undermine the believer’s trust in the Bible. To undermine this presupposition, one would have to convince the Christian to doubt the veracity of the Bible, but then this presupposition automatically dismisses any such argument to do so outright. So, we end up going in a vicious circle:

    Christian: “The Bible is the Word of God.”
    Critic: “But what about verse x and it’s blatant contradiction with verse y?”
    Christian: “The deficiency is not with the Bible, but with our understanding of it. After all, it is the Word of God and thus cannot be in error.”
  3. Jesus said we should expect unbelievers to try and lead us astray. This might be stated in any number of ways using words like “persecution”, “deceive” and “Satan” to give additional support to the idea that Christianity is the truth and anything that seems to be subversive should instantly be relegated as a “lie”. The Christian worldview tends to be very dualistic: that is, most things are interpreted as either God’s will or Satan’s doing. The everyday events of life are often perceived as either being orchestrated by God or the Devil, and often believed to contain warnings or messages to help guide one through his or her day. Thus, anything you present as contrary to biblical truth (however they might interpret it) is often automatically interpreted as deceptive, originating from some evil source, since it could not be from God.
  4. The Bible is backed by scientific proof. There is a great deal of Christian literature that tries to establish the Bible’s truthfulness using evidence from various scientific fields: physics, astronomy and cosmology, medicine, microbiology and archaeology just to name a few. But again, most of these writings are fueled by the same adamant presuppositions that they are setting out to prove (i.e., that the Bible simply must be literally true). Thus, the “evidence” is almost always very selective, very biased and often inaccurately interpreted. Christian professionals are quoted and non-Christian professionals often misquoted (or taken out of context) in order to shift empirical weight to whatever biblical claim being staked. In brief, this answer is often given with a cluster of quotations and “did you know…?” trivia, but it hardly has the kind of backing Christians would like to think. Nevertheless, the literature available to buttress this kind of defense of the Bible is plentiful and gives the Christian the rather confident feeling that they’re using their opponent’s arsenal against him while giving strength to their own position. Pseudo-science and misapplied good science supply a false sense of certainty to beliefs, but don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. And don’t expect to change too many minds set in this way…no matter how much evidence you bring to the table.


Taking these three factors alone into account – the personal nature of one’s metaphysic, the difficulty of disassociating supernatural concepts from natural ones hard-wired in the brain, and Christianity’s built-in defense against attack – one can see just why it is so difficult to get beyond “You’re wrong and I’m right” volleys in Christian/non-Christian debates. To question the veracity of the Bible would be to cast a shadow of doubt over what we might call the believer’s RCP – their Reality Central Processor, the central presuppositions by which they live their lives. They live in the security and safety of the walls of “Castle Christian” one might say, and they are taught that, truly, there is nothing outside its walls, or at least nothing but lies. Thus, it is a frightening prospect for them to discover that there is a much bigger world beyond the walls of “Castle Christian.” This is frightening to them for at least two reasons, one socially motivated and the other more personal. From a social standpoint, Christians usually face a great deal of (often unspoken) peer pressure from fellow believers to remain faithful in the face of doubt and the accusations of infidels. To question those traditionally held beliefs places one in danger of being ostracized, ridiculed, avoided and/or pitied as a believer who has “strayed from God’s truth.” Second, there is often a personal fear associated with facing life without the emotional and psychological safety nets that Christianity provides. Most Christians have established their worldview through their lens of their faith as a way of understanding life with all its ups and downs as we’ve already mentioned. Seeking hope in the face of the finality of death or trying to find purpose in the midst of suffering is inextricably woven together with their faith. Thus, although some have ventured beyond the walls of “Castle Christian” and have claimed to experience a newfound, even euphoric sense of intellectual freedom, for most inside the safety of the walls, such a journey looks foolish at best and hopeless at worst. Additionally, for many Christians there is the fear of being condemned to hell for all eternity if they choose to abandon the faith and become apostates. With all of this in mind, it is not difficult to see why the whole enterprise of trying to win a debate with a Christian (i.e., make him concede) is highly unlikely.

Recognizing Futility and Respecting Feelings

So what is the point of trying to get a Christian to abandon his or her faith? Is there good reason to try and “de-convert” those who are established in their faith? Or am I suggesting here that “culture jamming [Christian] memes” is an impossible or unethical thing to do? Not necessarily, but hear me out. To be sure, there are some “evangelistic” atheists out there with such a passion for educating the public that they do little more than engage in debates with Christians or publish writings intended to dismantle beliefs in the supernatural as superfluous, even dangerous. Then there are others, like Shermer and Sagan, who have written popular books just trying to preserve the integrity of methodological naturalism in science by exposing and discrediting pseudo-science (i.e., science mixed with supernatural or paranormal hypotheses). I will be the first to admit that there has been (and continues to be) a great deal of pain and suffering in the world caused by religious beliefs. I will also concur that the search for truth (i.e., the correct facts about reality) is something of no small importance and science should not be diluted with theistic ideas. At the same time, however, one’s method of “culture jamming” will have everything to do with both success rate (putting efforts where they are most effective) as well as whether such jamming, understood by those involved as a positive effect on our world, actually becomes personally hurtful to some people. What can we say about these two concerns? At least two things.

First, and probably not surprising at all, I believe it’s a waste of time and energy to try and change the way most Christians already believe. Based upon what I’ve already mentioned above, it’s just not going to happen at any rate worthy of notice. A few believers might venture out beyond the wall, but most will not. If they do, it will not likely be because a debate effectively shattered their faith; rather, it will more likely be because they decided to journey beyond the wall for their own personal reasons.

Second, I believe that actively trying to dismantle someone else’s faith, and thus their current Reality Central Processor, is simply unnecessary and can often even be hurtful. Now, granted, there are some who are wrapped up in truly harmful, hate-propagating cults and need rescue from causing harm to both themselves and others, but that, I think, goes without saying. We’re talking here about Christians who are just trying to live their lives by living out their faith in positive ways (which includes, by definition, hoping to see others also become Christians – and respecting their wishes if they choose to decline). Do they need to know the truth about the historical and philosophical problems that exist within the infrastructure of Christianity, its evolution and its sacred text? Will it truly free them, or will it crush them? We must remember that there are a great number of people in the world, and not all of them have the same desire to seek truth “whatever the cost”. There have been many simple people who have lived simple lives with simple faith in their god or gods, and I believe we must respect their beliefs. For many people, their faith is not a tool to rule or dominate the lives of others, but merely how they get through their day. Who am I or anyone else to raze their hope, even if that hope doesn’t in fact jibe with reality (i.e., if there is no God, etc.)? True, there are many Christian groups and coalitions that seek to impose the Christian belief system on others through the power of politics, and those groups need to be dealt with and neutralized by the same political medium they are using to gain power. But for me, as an agnostic Baptist minister, though my personal beliefs differ significantly than those of my parishioners, I have no reason to try and pull the confessional rug out from under them. If Christianity works to help them deal with life, then well and good. My job is to teach and preach the sacred text of the Christian faith and I do that faithfully. I veer away from interpretations that induce judgmental or condemning attitudes and draw close to those that engender love and acceptance of self and others…and my parishioners – most all quite conservative in their thinking – seem to love it.

“Culture jamming the theistic memes” is a perfectly legitimate enterprise if that is what one believes will make a positive difference in the world. Keep in mind, however, that it will be most successful reaching those not already rooted in their particular faith, not to mention that militant culture jamming could hurt some people who truly aren’t hurting anyone with their faith and have no reason to abandon their beliefs.

So what about me? As a Baptist minister who is also agnostic in many ways, do I try to live by what I’m “preaching” here in this article? I try to. Am I a hypocrite for believing one way and teaching another? For some who believe that Christianity is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, yes, I suppose I would seem to be. And even to some atheists or agnostics I might seem a little on the hypocritical side. To me, and to others who understand my perspective, however, no, I am not. But this “Yes and No” answer also sheds a great deal of light on why it can remain in apparent contradiction without actually being contradictory. It reveals why I believe it is not only pointless to try and convince my church to abandon their faith, but also why I think it would be wrong to do so. It reveals how religion, though perhaps a colored lens through which to view reality, can serve a practical purpose in people’s lives if they so choose to believe and that I should not seek to break that lens. It reveals how, if I were indeed asked by an inquisitive Christian about what might be outside the walls of Castle Christian, I would gladly and gently express my views, what I have discovered in my search. The rest should be up to them.

8/28/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Saying goodbye

Saying Goodbye
By Ian

***

A few years ago, I was reading a strategy guide for the video game Dino Crisis and came across a quote near the back of the book. In the section of the game, the main character is fleeing a tyrannosaurs rex and has to fire grenades into it's face to slow it down. At the end of the section, the book says "After three or four grenades to the face, he'll (the T-rex) come to understand that some partings are inevitable, that even fleeting friendships help you grow as an individual, and that Regina's (the protagonist) haste to leave Ibis island is in no way a rejection of him personally."

That book was one of the funniest things I've ever read, and at the time I did not give much thought to that particular paragraph. But now, years later, I can see how truthful the general statement of that is: That sometimes partings between individuals are inevitable and that friendships, no matter how fleeting, help you grow.

Why do I bring this up? Because on the 24th of August, 2006, I said goodbye to someone I have known for six years.

***

During the month of august that this piece is being written, I had a great many mornings when I would wake up in the morning, go through my days, and have a feeling that I was not doing something I was supposed to be doing, as if I was being given a warning that something was wrong.

As you can imagine, walking around with a constant sense of dread and uncertainty will inevitably wear and tear away at your emotional health. And when coupled with the fact that throughout the coming and going of days, I was coming across Christian ideas, books and propaganda wherever I went. Even on vacation, I came across those insulting bumper stickers that say "No Jesus, no peace". I even saw billboards that had the words "If you want me to save you, I will…Jesus".

As an ex-Christian of two years, the thought that perhaps something beyond the senses is trying to bring me back into Christianity inevitably comes up. I did sometimes wonder if Jesus was trying to bring me back into the fold, and that the feelings I had were signs that I should come back.

Day after day, it began to build on me. Until finally, on the 24th, I snapped.

***

It was a fairly ordinary day. I woke up, got dressed, got into the car and went to work. Then, afterwards, I drove to college for the day's classes. At that point, the thoughts of what I had been coming across, especially with regards to Christian fundamentalism, was beginning to anger me. When it comes to spiritual matters, I am the type of person who just has to look and see what others say. I can't really help it, because I'm a curious person and I want to know.

Yet…sometimes it can be too much. I kept going over what has been said about Jesus by many different sources, that he was the prince of peace, that he came to earth to show us how to come back to God and to show us how to live. About how he is the great leader and the great teacher of all spiritual seekers.

Yet…I couldn't help but say to myself, "No he's not." So many see Jesus as a kind and friendly man who wants to save you and be your friend. Simply take a copy of the bible, open it up and you'll see that Jesus is far from that. Bible-Jesus is, in all honesty, not the kind of person I would want to make friends with. I'm not sure I'd even want to be with him, or even near him.

Why is that? Because of his in your face attitude, because of how often he uses threats and even how he insults people at time. How he seems to mock people by saying "Oh ye of little faith." several times. Bible-Jesus is not the wishy-washy, friendly being who is seen so often in paintings and drawings. Bible-Jesus is direct, in your face, and threatening. Don't believe what he says? According to Bible-Jesus, you're pretty much fucked. Don't believe what he says? According to Bible-Jesus, you're a fool. Don't believe in Jesus? Then according to Bible-Jesus, "woe to you."

Jesus, at times, resembles a cult leader more then anyone else. He tells his followers to go out and do things for his sake, to leave their families for his sake, and to be glad to be persecuted for his sake, for great would their reward be. He says that if you deny Jesus, he will deny you before God. If you are ashamed of Jesus, he shall be ashamed of you.

Me, me, me.

No wonder I admire the Buddha, Ghandi, and the Dali Lama, just to name a few. They won't damn you for not believing in them, and the lifestyles they lead inspire me to do more then Jesus's life did.

Looking at Jesus' words was an eye-opener for me, but not in the sense of "Wow, I need him!" It was more like, "Wow…Jesus isn't a very friendly guy." Perhaps Jesus' most infamous statement can be found in Matthew, where he says that if anyone does not hate his family and those who love them, they cannot be my (Jesus') follower. Yet even this statement is starting to be white washed. In the study bible at my house, the verse has been changed to "Anyone who does not love" instead of "Anyone who does not hate" Why are people changing Jesus' words?"

Jesus' guidelines on love, possibly the single greatest virtue in the human race, are very odd. The most famous of course, is Jesus’ famous command that we “love one another” (John 15:17). Yet he also “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In other words, Jesus tells his listeners to hate their families and themselves before they follow him. When you compare that with “honour thy father and thy mother” and John’s words: “he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen” (Exodus 20:12 and 1 John 4:20,), and Jesus begins to get a raised eyebrow of suspicion.

Jesus's teachings are so well known that there is no real reason to go over them all. But they eventually boil down to "The end of the world is just around the corner. Get yourselves right with God now before you're thrown into hell. And you can only come to God through me."

Yet the end of the world did not come. Jesus told his followers and others that the son of man (Jesus) would return within their lifetime, their generation, etc. Yet he did not return. He did not come back. He failed to show himself. As time went on, his disappointed followers were forced to adapt and change some of what they believed.

Today, hundreds of years later, there are, in general, two camps of Jesus followers. Those who see the bible liberally with many metaphors and stories meant to make a point then tell actual history, and those who see the bible as completely literal and infallible, and that Jesus is THE ONLY way to heaven and to God.

Guess which group is more well known? Guess which group is more present in everyday life?

And behind it all is a man who claimed to be the son of God, the son of man, and the person who was going to help bring the kingdom of God to earth at the end of the age. He's dead. All his disciples are dead. All the towns he condemned, all the groups that didn't believe him, are all dead. Judgment day has not come, even though Jesus heavily implied that it would within the lifetimes of his followers and those around him.

I was once a follower of this man. I believed what I had been told, that he was the son of God and the only way to heaven. That without him, you were doomed to an eternity of hellfire. I followed him for four years. And then, even after I left Christianity, I still hung on to him, believing that I could get something from him. And I did this for two years.

But that time has come to an end.

***

How do you say goodbye to someone you've followed for six years? How do you say farewell to someone you trusted more then any human being?

I don't know. All I know is that it ended with cursing and anger and bitterness.

When I was driving to school that day on the twenty fourth, I couldn't stop thinking about all that was being said about Jesus by so many people, how great he was even though when I look at the bible, I see otherwise. I thought about how so many said he was wise and perfect when to me it is clear that he was not.

The cult of Jesus worship. That was what I saw. The liberal, more easygoing voice was nowhere to be found, buried and crushed under the feet of Billy Grahams, Greg Laurie's and others just like them.

I can't remember exactly how it came to it, but eventually my anger began to overflow. And when I reached the parking lot of college, I was raging. I was furious at how so much attention is focused on this…this…this idol that is not a man I'd want to be with, or perhaps even associate with.

What I do remember, all too clearly, is what happened. I had parked the car, I had turned off the keys, and I told Jesus how much I hated him.

I raged, and I told him how much I hated what he said. I raged, and I told him how much I hated his self-superiority, his own self-authority. I raged, and then I told him how much I hated his teachings.

I hate you.

It was the first time in six years, in my entire association with the man that I insulted him out loud. It was the first time I spoke out loud my true feelings about him, where I told him how I felt. Where I had once adored and worshipped him, I now just told him how much I didn't like him. The illusion, the idol, was gone.

Eventually, I was hunched over in my car, my fist pounding my backpack. "Damnit." I cursed. "Damnit, damnit, damnit." Over and over I said it. I had let my true feelings out, and there was no turning back, no denying how I felt.

Eventually though, I stopped. I slowly picked up my backpack, silent from the abuse it had gotten, and I got out. When I left that car and walked across the parking lot to class, I simply said one thing to the man I had once worshipped.

"Leave me alone."

***

I felt different in school that day. We watched a movie in class, "Some like it hot." I didn't pay much attention to it. What I did notice was that I felt…hollow in a way. It was not an unpleasant hollow, perhaps more like the feeling you get when a watch that you've worn for five years is suddenly not on your wrist.

And when the movie was over, I slowly walked across campus back to my car. I noticed how the sky was blue. I looked at the chalk drawings of history someone had drawn on the sidewalk. I let myself go through the grass.

I felt different.

The feelings of dread, of uncertianty, that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing...were gone. And to date, they haven't come back.

And when I got in the car and began to drive back home, my focus turned to God. I told God in my car that I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. I told God that I never wanted to go back. Never again. I didn't want to go back to what I once believed because it would be like falling back into an addiction that had taken so long to break.

And then, for the first time in my entire life, I yelled at God. I yelled at him that I was never going back, and that I would no longer tolerate all the Christian material that I would encounter in my life. I yelled at God that if he was going to try and send me messages, could he please be so kind as to send them in any other way then through religion, and especially through Christianity.

But mostly, I just yelled at him how I wasn't going back. "You got that God?!" I yelled. "I'm not going back! NEVER! DO YOU HEAR ME GOD?! DO YOU?! NEVER!"

And then…it was over. It was done. No lightning bolts came down to destroy me, no car suddenly appeared out of nowhere to crash into me. I was still driving down the road, still driving home.

I pulled over. I got out, found some rocks, and chucked them off the side of the road into a small gorge below. I imagined I was throwing bibles, throwing them away so that no one else would ever find them, ever read them. I threw three rocks. The last one, a heart shaped one, cut my little finger as I grabbed it. I didn't even notice the blood until it had left my hand.

And then I got back into my car and kept driving. And I drove. I drove and drove until I reached a small valley road, away from the cities and the hustle and bustle of life. I drove past a flower stand. Something made me stop at the next parking lot.

Perhaps I was being guided to say my final goodbyes.

Getting out of that car, I just knew that this was it. It was the end of six years of following Jesus. In a sense, I was still hanging onto one piece of my past, one thing I refused to let go of. I had left Christianity, I had left it's doctrines, but I had not left Jesus. I was still hanging onto him, refusing to let go.

But now…now I just couldn't hold on any longer.

As I left the car in the parking lot, I began my walk down the road. The sun was at my back, low to the horizon. It would be dark in another hour or so. My family was expecting me at home, but they would have to wait. This was more important.

I didn't speak at first. I didn't talk for a while until I had crossed the street and was walking next to a hill that I said my final goodbyes to Jesus.

"Listen Jesus…I just don't want you in my life anymore. I don't want you to be in it. Please, just leave me alone. Just…just leave me alone and don't bother me."

I reached the flower stand. I got a small bouquet of flowers for no real reason, other then they looked good. I paid for them, and I started to walk back to the car, the sun setting in front of me, it's light making the top of the trees grow.

***

Maybe in life we're meant to follow some people for a time, then leave when we longer need them, or when they can no longer help us. Perhaps, as the video game strategy book said, friendships, no matter how fleeting, help us grow as an individual.

Perhaps…perhaps I had come to the end with Jesus. I no longer needed him. I had taken from him what would be useful and helpful to me in my life. For although he did say many threatening things, he said some good things too. His commandments to love God and love your neighbor as yourself are very good guidelines one can use during life.

I had known him for six years. We had some good times together. I did grow when I was still with him, but there is only so much room to grow in with one individual, one book, one way of believing. Does the Christian bible not say that when I was a child, I played with childish things. But now I am a man, and I put away childish things?

I am ready to move beyond the need to depend on someone else for everything in my life. I am ready to take responsibility, to learn and grow from my own choices, my own actions. I am ready to make my own decisions based on my own values and my own ideas. I have read about Jesus found in the bible and in Christianity. And I have come to the conclusion that what we have today is an idol who will solve all our problems for us…all in exchange for worshipping him and following him of course.

Follow the herd, or become a lone wolf? That is the question I face. I am a spiritual seeker. I do not limit my search for what is right and what is true to only one source. And in order to have this freedom, you must be willing to give up the security of having a home base, a belief that tells you what to believe and what to do.

Is it a price I'm willing to pay?

Yes…yes it is.

***

As I walk towards the setting sun, to my car and to my family waiting at home…

I see myself walking down a small path in a garden somewhere. The grass is thick and lush. There are flowers in the fields that sparkle and shine. A bird sings somewhere. Mountains, tall and majestic are nearby.

The path I am on is made of smooth wood. It is wide enough for two to walk on it. Looking back, I can see it stretching for miles. Looking in front of me, I see a small platform in the field, also made of smooth and soft wood that is pleasant to my feet. It has a bench on it, and on the other side there is another path, one leading far ahead.

But there is only room on this path for one person.

As I come to the platform, I see a man sitting there on the bench, calmly waiting for me. I recognize him immediately. It's the man I've followed for six years. It's Jesus. He sees me coming to the platform and he slowly stands up, waiting for me.

I walk up to him, and look at him eye to eye. He looks at me as well. I turn to look at the path ahead. It is leading to a wide, open field beyond the mountains that is green and lush. It looks beautiful. Jesus looks at it too. Then we look at each other again.

I talk to Jesus. I thank him for all that he has done for me in the six years that we have been together. I thank him for all the help he has given me. But, I tell him, I can't go any further with you. I wan to walk this path by myself.

He smiles. Looking in his eyes, I know he understands.

I hold out my hand, offering it to him. He looks down at it, and then he takes it softly in his hand. Our palms meet, and we give a gentle shake. And then we give a hug to each other. This is the end of our path together, the path that we have walked.

We hug each other for a long time. But eventually, it ends. It is time to move on.

I do not know if we will meet each other again. I do not know if our paths will cross. I cannot see the future. I do not know what it holds. I may meet Jesus again one day, or I may not. I may be leaving him, but perhaps I will encounter the spirit that was in him along the path.

I take a deep breath. Jesus slowly steps back, giving me room. I look at the path ahead of me. It is so long…but deep down in my heart…I know I want to do this. It is time for me to walk this path by myself.

And then, raising my foot…I take my first step onto the path.

I walk. I keep walking. The path ahead is long and I have a long way to go. But even as I walk, I pause. And then I turn around and look back one final time. Jesus still stands there in his white robe, watching me. He is not angry, nor is he sad. For I know he understands.

He slowly raises his arm towards me, in a gesture of goodwill. And then I hear his voice in my head.

The path is before you. It is yours to walk, yours to enjoy, and yours to see.

Looking back at Jesus, I give one more smile. A deep breath of air enters my lungs. And then I turn back to the path, and I keep walking, each step taking me further away from my past, from all that I have held onto. Inside me, I feel sad in a way.

But there is hope as well.

As the sun sets, and the path continues on, I keep going.

I don't look back…

I keep walking.

8/27/2006                                                                                       View Comments

William Lane Craig versus Eddie Tabash Debate



Secular Humanism versus Christianity, Lawyer versus Theologian. Evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig debates humanist atheist lawyer Eddie Tabash at Pepperdine University, February 8, 1999.

8/21/2006                                                                                       View Comments

8/19/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Joy in tribulation

By Ian

Recently, a Billy Graham tract arrived in my mailbox called "Joy in tribulation". Looking through it, I chuckled at some of what it said.

While I may not personally agree with Mr. Graham's approach to spirituality, I must admit that he is dedicated to his views and his ideas. But then again, so am I.

With that in mind, I decided to…ahem…adapt and rewrite his own brochure into something new, in the vein of my own views. Here is the end result.

***

Learn how to get through suffering knowing that it can help you:

*Focus all your energies on improving your situation
*Think "How can getting through this improve me as an individual?"
*Know that by being exposed to life, you are become a more mature, well-rounded individual.

Many people today are suffering as a result of natural catastrophes such as tidal waves, hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, etc. This has been happening since when humanity first appeared on the face of this planet. Religious fundamentalists would have you think that things are worse now then ever before, but it's just another chapter in the continuing story of life on earth. Think things are tough now? Try being back in Europe during the dark ages and the bubonic plague.

Nowhere does the bible teach that Christians are to be exempt from natural disasters that come upon the world. That is true, because Christians are human beings, just like you and me. The only difference is that they have a different view of the world then you and I do. However, some fundamentalist Christians say that the bible does teach that the Christian can face tribulation, crisis, calamity, and personal suffering with a supernatural power that is not available to the person outside of Christ. This is true in one sense, but not in another.

Anyone can face tribulation, crisis, calamity and personal suffering and come out on the other side as a stronger person. You don't need a supernatural force or a messiah to grant you power to get through it. You are a human being. You are a magnificent, wonderful, and complex being with the ability to think, reason, and create. You are more powerful then you know. Within you is strength that many of us aren't aware even exists. Sometimes the only way we know this strength is by going through hard times.

Thousands of Christians have learned the secret of contentment and joy in trial. At least, that's what fundamentalists say. People from all over the world, from all different countries, cultures and religions have found greater self-esteem and self-confidence from going through tough periods in life. Notice how fundamentalists often call hard periods in life a trial. This gives the impression that God is glaring at you under a microscope to see if you mess up, and that an all powerful, all loving God is deliberately putting you through pain and suffering to test you. Not a pretty picture is it? Especially considering the fact that the god fundamentalists are talking about is all powerful and omnipresent, meaning that he would already know how strong you are and thus have no need to test you. Hmm…

Instead of looking at life as trial and punishment, as fundamentalists often do, why not try looking at it in terms of experiencing and learning? Don't call hard times trials, call them strengtheners. The analogy of being forged is good here, because only in hard times can we see how strong we are, and how we can improve ourselves.

A fundamentalist once said that the happiest Christians he had met have drunk the full cup of trial and misfortune. Some have been lifelong sufferers. They have had every reason to sigh and complain, being denied so many privileges and pleasures that they see others enjoy, yet they have found greater cause for gratitude and joy then many who are prosperous, vigorous, and strong.

Why is this you might ask? According to the fundamentalist, it is "They have learned to give thanks "always for all things to God the father in the name of our lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV)."

What do you notice when going over that passage? To me, it's how the fundamentalist doesn't mention those who are outside the Christian faith who are happy and content with what they have. Take a look at survivors of POW camps, of natural disasters, of shipwrecks and other disasters. I have found that it is often true that the happiest and most content in life are the ones who actually live life to the fullest, who experience what is has to offer, both good and bad, and have come through the hard periods without having to resort to believing in a celestial candy land.

I myself have gone through tough times in life. When I went to Philmont New Mexico, I had to hike through 80 miles of wilderness and go to the top of the tallest mountain in the state. It was hard and tough and I did complain and grouch at times, yet when I came out, I was more appreciative of showers, a nice bed, and a roof over my head. I was also able to go through other, shorter trips through ease. By going out on a journey that was hard, I was able to come back as a better, more experienced and well-rounded person. Did God and Jesus have anything to do with it? No, they did not.

I've had to go through failing classes, getting low grades, falling out of fast go carts and getting scraped up, screaming fathers, emotional misery and going through various other unpleasant situations. The hardest of them all was leaving Christianity after four years, which was emotionally devastating. For those of you who have never had to go through Christianity and deconvert from it, you are fortunate. Leaving a mindset that is controlling, fear based, and uses threats of eternal torture in hell is not easy. It took me two years to go through and it just about destroyed me emotionally at times.

Yet, after having gone through it, I'm happier then I've ever been. I chose to leave Christianity for something different and after going through the living hell of leaving it, I am now better then before. One advantage I have gotten is that I am now more compassionate and tolerant to others and their faiths. When I was a Christian, I thought most of them were doomed. Now, I see them as human beings with unique gifts and talents who are precious and special.

Fundamentalists may tell you that "Christians can rejoice in tribulation because they have eternity's values in view. When the pressures are on, they look beyond their present predicament to the glories of heaven. The thought of the future life with it's prerogatives and joys helps to make the trials of the present seem lighter and transient." Here's how I would put it. "People can take comfort in knowing that by going through tough periods, by facing their challenges and difficulties, they can overcome them and become stronger individuals, more well-rounded and more mature to help others around them."

Don't focus your life on a distant heaven in the sky. Focus all your efforts on life here and now. A fundamentalist's idea of eternity's views might be like this:

*Accept Jesus as lord
*Worship God and Jesus
*Save yourself from an eternity of hellfire

However, what if Eternity's views are completely different?

*Being compassionate and loving towards others
*Cooperating with others
*Working to solve earth's problems
*Making the world a beautiful place for all people to live in peace and harmony
*Constant growth as an individual so that you can contribute to the rich tapestry of humanity

What if God, instead of wanting mindless worshippers, is more interested in people growing up and becoming experienced and mature individuals who are compassionate and kind to others? If I were God, I know that those are the kind of people I would welcome and accept with open arms.

The early Christians, the fundamentalist continues, were able to experience joy in their hearts in the midst of trials, troubles, and depression. They counted suffering for Christ not as a burden or misfortune but as a great honor, as evidence that Christ had counted them worthy to witness for him through suffering. They never forgot what Christ himself had gone through for their salvation, and to suffer for his name's sake was regarded as a gift rather then a cross.

What do you see in this passage? I see people who were more interested in getting to heaven then anything else. As a spiritual person, I do believe in heaven, but I also believe that life on earth is more important, because it is here that you live, and it is here that you grow and evolve as a person and as a being. It is a good thing, no matter who you are or what you believe, if you find reason for getting through hard times. The best views however, are the ones that keep you firmly grounded in this life. Stay focused on the here and now. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come. It is better to go through life to grow as an individual then to focus all your efforts on going to a heaven to worship a god forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. Why? Because worshipping a God forever sounds pretty boring to me.

"Jesus Christ spoke frankly to his disciples concerning the future" the fundamentalist continues. "He hid nothing from them. No one could ever accuse him of deception. No one could accuse him of securing allegiance by making false promises."

Personally, I have a lot of issues with this passage. Jesus did not tell them everything. People may not accuse him of deception, but we can certainly say that he was wrong. And we can say that he did secure allegiance by making false promises. How so? Let us count the ways…

Jesus did speak to his followers about the future, but told them things that have never happened. When Jesus told his followers to preach the good news, he warned them that they would be hated, but that the son of man (Jesus) would return before all the cities of Israel would be covered. (Matthew 10:22-23) In other words, Jesus would come back before his followers finish their journey to all the cities of Israel. The good news has gone over the region for a very long time…and Jesus has not appeared.

Another time, Jesus told his followers "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28, also see Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27). Jesus is clearly saying that those standing before him shall not taste death until they see Jesus coming (since Jesus is the son of man) into his kingdom. Those men are all dead now, and Jesus has not appeared. It is also worth noting that Jesus says that he shall reward every man according to their works. Yet fundamentalists say you are saved by faith alone. Hmm…

Want more? Here's another one. When Jesus tells a crowd of Pharisees that they are pretty much fucked, he concludes with: “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:36). Jesus is saying that all these things will happen within his current generation. Fundamentalists can twist this all they want, but Jesus is clear on his meaning. And he was wrong, for the things he said did not happen.

Let's continue. Once, a high priest asked Jesus "‘Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?’ But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, ‘I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:62-64, also see Mark 14:60-62). Jesus tells the man that he will personally witness the imminent return of the son of God and clearly tells that these events will happen within the priest's lifetime. The priest is dead, and Jesus still hasn't shown up.

These events tell a lot when you look at them in context without fundamentalist excuses. Namely, they show that Jesus was wrong, that either he lied, or he simply made mistakes and was not infallible. He also says many things that are highly questionable too.

Let's go back to our fundamentalist. He says "In unmistakable language, He (Jesus) told them that discipleship meant a life of self-denial and the bearing of a cross. He asked them to count the cost carefully, lest they should turn back when they met with suffering and privation."

In this aspect, the fundamentalist is right. Jesus, contrary to the popular Sunday school image, was not a kind, gentle man who was kind to everyone. If you read through the bible, you see that Jesus was often direct, often harsh and often threatening. He says "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In other words, Jesus tells his listeners to hate their families and themselves before they follow him. That, to me, sounds like the words of a cult leader. Further reinforcing this image is a passage from Luke 14:33 "… any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple". And from Matthew 5:11-12 he said "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

In the words of Agent Smith, "Me, me, me."

Who among you is willing to hate everyone around you (except Jesus of course) and give up EVERYTHING you own in order to follow him? Come on, don't be shy…I count…hmm…zero hands.

Jesus also makes promises that are clearly not true. Matthew 21:22 has Jesus saying “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” In other words, you will receive ANYTHING you pray for as long as you believe that you’ll receive it. In John 14:12, Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it." Jesus says if you believe, you will receive. No hidden meaning, no twists, no strings attached. Yet, it goes without saying that these two statements are undeniably false. You can say, "In the name of Jesus, I pray for a velociraptor to appear and take out that man who is raping a woman." You can say "In the name of Jesus, I pray for that car to float so the injured person can get out underneath."

Yet, as we know, if you say such things, they won't happen. Jesus clearly says that if you ask for anything, ANYTHING in his name, it can be done.

This Jesus tells people about a reward in heaven for leaving everything behind and following him. He promises that you can have anything you want by praying and asking for it. With these passages, we can clearly accuse Jesus of deception. We can clearly accuse him of false promises. Or we can say that he was a man who believed the world was going to end within a hundred years or so.

Think about the possible consequences of this. Hundreds of people died in this man's name, believing his promises, and…well, we don't know what happened after they died. Each person is free to choose what they will do with their life, that much is certain. You can decide to become a writer and make inspirational, moving books. You can choose to become an architect and create beautiful buildings. You can be a great chef. All of these things can contribute to humanity and affect people for years to come. Yet…these people chose to go through suffering and chose to die. They did not leave any long term impact, except to inspire others to believe in what they believed.

To me, it is a tragedy that those lives were not as used or lived fully as they could have been.

I could go on for pages about our fundamentalist saying how it's good to suffer for Christ, that it's good to be persecuted, how it's good to be in deep sorrow and pain, yet to be eternally grateful to Jesus that you've been chosen to suffer, even when you've been chosen by a man who said to hate your family and all those who love you. And why should you be happy? Because you're going to heaven where you'll worship God forever and ever.

The fundamentalist says "I have found in my travels that those who keep heaven in view remain sere and cheerful in the darkest day". I am a spiritual person, I believe in heaven, yet I am not serene and cheerful in the darkest day. I have days where I'm depressed and gloomy, but that's okay because I'm here on earth and I have good days and bad days.

Perhaps in some ways, those who remember heaven and remain cheerful despite all that is going on around them are on placebo. Simply trust in Jesus, believe in him, and that's all you have to do to go to heaven. No thinking required. You don't have to think in this mindset of looking forward to going to heaven.

I too, would like to go to a place that is loving and joyful, but right now I need to focus on growing as an individual so I can reach my full potential to enrich this world. When I was a Christian, I was a bit happier in one respect, in that I constantly looked forward to going to heaven and getting out of this world. There was one problem though. When I was a Christian, I barely evolved, barely grew as an individual. All my time was spent on Jesus, on worshipping him and on securing my place in heaven.

Now however, I no longer am ignorantly blissful. I know that Jesus isn't the loving, gentle man of Sunday school. I know that he was direct, that he was often intimidating, and that he said things that haven't come true, and that he said things they never tell you about on Sundays. I no longer have the calming effect in constantly looking forward to heaven, but the advantage is that because I experience the world and all it's emotions and turmoils, I know that I'm growing as an individual with every experience, every hardship, into someone better then I am right now.

I would rather arrive in an afterlife as someone who has lived life to the fullest and who has worked to make earth better for everyone, then as a churchgoer who spent his entire life working at worshipping Jesus and securing his place in the good book.

The reason Jesus encouraged his followers to believe in him so much and to follow him so much is because he was convinced that God had chosen him to perform a special task, to help usher in God's kingdom on earth. Jesus was convinced that it was right around the corner, that it would happen within 100 years, and that he would be the head honcho (along with God). To Jesus, all that mattered was getting a place in this kingdom, to be among the righteous. This was more important then your family, then your friends, then those who loved you. They were scum, they were dirt compared to the glory of being on the winning team.

Yes, Jesus did say wonderful things. He said many good things such as love one another, to treat others as you would want to be treated. But he also said a great many other things. Some of those things were wrong, and some of those things never happened even when Jesus said it would happen. The end of the world didn't come. Jesus's generation died. The son of man did not come back to earth.

And throughout history, how many have died following Jesus's message, a message that was meant for a specific people in a specific time. Get right with God, because the end of the world, and judgment is about to happen. Jesus did not stand for family values because your family is nothing compared to Jesus. Jesus is not the loving, kind man your Sunday school has painted him to be.

And people have been dying and suffering for him.

Suffering is never good. What IS good is what we can learn in the midst of suffering. What IS good is that we can, if we work at it, come out of suffering as a better person, as a more well-rounded and mature individual. Those who have undergone much suffering and sorrow can be the most compassionate people, the most caring. And you don't need to be a Christian to be like those people.

What matters most in your life is not pledging yourself to Jesus, but to grow as an individual. When you grow as a person, you can help the world so much more, and you can use you gifts and talents to make the world a better place. If I had never gone through the agonizing process of leaving Christianity after being a full fledged believer, I never would have been where I am today: Someone who understands spirituality better and how it can change people, for better or worse. I know that I am better off today then I was in Christianity. It was a part of my growth and when it was finished, I left.

I may no longer have placebo Jesus or placebo heaven, but I do have knowing that I can be strengthened by whatever I go through in life, good or bad, to become a better individual. And so can you, no matter who you are.

8/17/2006                                                                                       View Comments

The Sick Mind of a Lone Christian

By John W. Loftus

Because of the sick mind of one lone Christian I no longer comment on any other blog but my own at www.debunkingchristianity.com. If you see a comment purportedly from me dated later than 1 PM August 16th 2006 (EST), I did not write it. I repeat, I did not write it.

Someone is sending emails to people with mine and Daniel Morgan's return email addresses on them. Ed Babinski pointed it out to me because he received something that had the official look of coming from me, but it didn't come from me. Then on a different blog someone commented using my name who made statements to the effect that I was a homosexual pedophile, and by clicking on my name it takes a person to my blogger profile. I was alarmed at this and immediately denied that such a comment came from me, but my comment was deleted, leaving the other comment falsely attributed to me to stand.

I'm very surprised that I threaten someone so much that this is justifiable in the name of his God. And I am also surprised that a Christian simply does not believe that Christianity can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas such that he needs to slander me like this. So, as of now I am not, I repeat, not commenting on any other blog. If you see my name on a comment in another blog, I did not make it, starting at about 1PM (EST) on August 16th, 2006. Any comment posted after that date is not from me.

My thanks to Dave for allowing me here on his site as a blogger. It's great site and I read it often!

This does not silence me at all! I can still do business just fine from my own blog, and here. If I see something I want to comment on, I'll just create a blog entry here or there, at least until things are different.

8/16/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Family finds new ways to save, give

By Lorena

I found this in a newsletter around my house, and I couldn't resist the temptation to share it. It makes me wonder if I was ever brainwashed enough to buy into this sort of stuff.

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John’s family had committed $7,500 to their church’s capital stewardship program, but after private prayer and study, John came to believe that God wanted them to double that amount. He knew this challenge would not go over well with the rest of the family, as they had already made significant adjustments to commit to the $7,500 mark. Yet in obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he gathered them all together and revealed his heart’s desire.

His proposal was that each family member would pray during the week to ask God to reveal to them how and where current expenditures could be freed up to increase giving. Then, on following Sundays, they would again meet to discuss each person’s ideas. As a family, they would then assign a dollar amount to each suggestion and decide whether or not to pursue it. If God showed them nothing, the family would be free of the projected commitment of $15,000.

Four weeks later, John’s five-member family had come up with a surprising number of wide-ranging cost-saving strategies. The major saving concerned the family’s routine of dining out four times a week, a luxury on which they were spending more than $100 a week. They adopted his suggestion of reducing this habit to twice weekly, and donating the saving of $50 a week to the church’s project. In the same spirit, they reevaluated their auto and home insurance premiums, cablevision, and magazine subscriptions, food purchases, and auto usage.

Even the younger members of the family found creative ways to make their own contributions. Henry, the middle school son, began taking his lunch to school rather than buying it, thereby saving eight dollars a week. He also suggested having his weekly ten-dollar allowance cut in half. His elder sister Bessie, a high school student, volunteered to cut back on her weekly social outings with friends, which released another $30 monthly toward the effort.

When totaled, the personal sacrifices of each family member amounted to a figure of just over $100 per week--$15,600 over the course of three years! Greatly encouraged, John discovered they could more than triple their original commitment of $7,500—to $23,000!

“I never dreamed we could do it, but we are thrilled God could use our family to help grow our church this way,” John said. “And the extra blessing is that we’re a stronger and better family for it.”

Not surprisingly, the suggestions were easier to come up with than they were to practice and maintain. Golda, John’s wife, admitted there was an initial period of adjustment for each member of the family, but added that things soon became easier.

“We came to discover that what we had thought of as necessities were not, after all,” she said. “Though it did take three months for us t o come to that realization.”

Struggle is part of the nature of sacrifice, but this family’s story illustrates what one family, firmly committed to its faith in God, can achieve through sacrificial giving to advance the cause of Christ.

8/12/2006                                                                                       View Comments

"The Naked Truth"



This hour-long+ video explores the origin of many of today's religions. Producers/speakers are Derek Partridge, Jordan Maxwell and Bill Jenkins. Although it was obviously made on a shoestring budget, it does contain some interesting information.

It's also available from Amazon.Com: Click here.

The collection plate

sent in by Naomi
jasminedancer at optonline dot net

I've seen a lot of references to the collection plate and I'd like to contribute my own crazy observation.

More than a few years ago, being a born atheist and under extreme emotional stress, I decided to go to church. In my own way of thinking, it was very consoling (I could listen to the sermons as parables, not as truth) and I got to shake hands with strangers and feel the warmth of community which I was sorely lacking. This was the most well-known, politically-connected church in Manhattan and the interior was gorgeous, well-lit, clean, inspiring in its own fantastical way. People were very well-dressed (it was Christmas) and there were wreaths and everything. I cried my eyes out, it really got to me and I needed it.

Then: The collection.

(I went back several times, so this is a recollection of that repeated moment. The first time I may not have registered this.)

The ushers all passed their plates up and down and eventually made it to the back of the big hall.

And THEN!

THE ORGAN!

The guy opened up his loudest stops, AND THOSE PIPES WERE BLASTING! It sounded like the king, the queen and God were all sitting up there in the front and applauding and glittering and glaring and the whole military and the President of the United States and Jesus and Bach were up there with all the angels and looking down at us! Chords of organ music filled the air like all the jewels that could fill the place, as the ushers marched with obvious pride like harried peacocks, in order, down the aisle, and piled up all the plates into the waiting hands of other volunteers on the stage. Wow!

You know, more than the obvious ego of the pastor, more than the ludicrousness of the stories, it was that loud bashing celebration of money taking that curdled in my gut.

Praise the lord and pass the plate!

8/10/2006                                                                                       View Comments

8/07/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Calvinism Explains Everything...and Nothing

By John W. Loftus

Matthew, a fellow Blogger with me on Debunking Christianity wrote:
"But is it always rational to accept a simpler theory? It is true that simpler theories always have greater explanatory scope. But there is a point where a theory can have too much explanatory power in which it explains everything, and actually doesn't really explain anything because there is no observation or fact which it cannot explain. Such a theory, having too much explanatory power ceases to be a simple theory and becomes simplistic."


I liked what Matthew said so much that I want to use it as a basis for making an argument against Calvinism, if I can.

Too much explanatory power? No observation or fact which it cannot explain? Since there are a disproportionate number of Calvinists on the web, let me explore what this means when applied to Calvinism.

Take for instance their whole notion of a completely sovereign God. God does everything…everything. There is no room for human causation…none. It’s all been planned in advance, and God executes everything according to his eternal plan, which he has always had. Nothing can happen outside of God’s plan…nothing. He’s in complete control of everything that happens. If it happens in our world or in heaven, then God planned it, and he did it…everything.

Calvinists will argue that human beings desire to do the things that they do, and so God is not to be blamed when they do evil deeds, even if God decreed that they should do them. However, when pushed on this Calvinists will also recognize that God decrees that human beings also DESIRE to do everything that they do.

The Calvinist will also have to admit that whether or not a human being thinks Calvinism is true is also decreed by their sovereign God. So, for everything we as human beings do, and everything that we believe, God makes us do things and think things the way we do. This is the bottom line for Calvinists, regardless of the logical gerrymandering they do when using linguistics to defend this theology, which of course, once again, God decreed that they should do in order to defend their theology.

Okay so far? That’s why Calvin describes it as a “horrible decree.”

Now what reason does God have for punishing human beings on earth in hurricanes, and fires, and diseases like the Spanish Influenza which killed millions of people, and then later sending us to hell when we die? Well, the offered reason is because we have sinned. Since we sin, God has a right to do with us as he pleases and there can be no critique of God’s dealings with us. We deserve everything that happens to us. But the only thing we can be guilty of is that we desired to sin, and the reason why we desired to sin in the first place is because God sovereignly decreed from all of eternity that we should desire to do every sin throughout our entire lives.

And what reason does God have for sending innocent babies to hell if they die? The offered reason is because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. But here again, why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place? They sinned because God decreed from all of eternity that they should sin. He produced in them the desire to sin, and made Eve grab the fruit, eat it, and made her desire to give it to Adam, who also was made to eat it. Their only crime was in being created. To blame them because of God-implanted desires cannot be their fault anymore than a puppet on strings can be blamed for any of its actions. But because they sinned in the Garden, God is now free to do with human beings as he pleases, and he is not to be blamed for anything he does to us if we suffer.

This Calvinistic God also has two wills, one revealed in the Bible and a secretive one…the real one…that decrees the things we actually do. But both wills cannot be true at the same time. If the Bible says, “thou shalt not kill,” and then God secretively decrees both the desire to kill and he actually takes a man’s hand and causes the arm to swing an ax to split another man’s head open, there is a contradiction in what God actually wants us to do. Does God want this man to kill or not? The contradiction is resolved for the Calvinist because she will say that God’s secretive will is his true will. But this means that, on Calvinistic grounds, the Bible is full of lies and cannot be trusted when it tells us what God wants us to do. Calvinists will respond that the Bible is used as a means to get people to do his secretive will one way or another, good deeds or evil deeds. If, for instance, God says “Thou shalt not kill,” it might actually lead someone to kill out of rebellion, which is what God secretively decreed all along. And in this way, God needs the Bible to accomplish his secretive will.

The Calvinist will fall back on the idea that God is an artist and he’s creating a massive mural painting on a wall. In any painting there will be bright colors and dark ones. There will be highlights and shadows. There will be points of focus, and points that accentuate the points of focus. God’s painting is beautiful, we’re told, and he needs all the colors to create it. So some humans will be points of focus while others will be in the recesses, dark and foreboding. We who want to judge the painting simply don’t understand what God is doing. We have no right to complain if we are used to accentuate the beautiful colors in the mural and are condemned to hell, because after all, we all deserve hell. The end result will be a beautiful painting that brings him glory. Every color is needed, and likewise, every evil deed and every condemned soul is needed, to make this a beautiful painting and to bring him ultimate glory.

If we say that such a God does not care for us and is only interested in himself, the Calvinist will respond that he has a moral right to be concerned with his own glory over anyone else's, since he alone deserves all the glory. We deserve none of it. The Calvinist will claim that we deserve nothing…nothing. And why is that? Because we are “worms,” miserable sinners deserving of nothing. Any mercy God may want to offer us by decreeing such things that bring us happiness, including salvation, are undeserved. They will claim we all deserve to be in hell, so anything good we receive is because of God’s love and mercy extended toward us. And why do we deserve to be in hell? The bottom line is because it brings God the most glory. If God can cause us to desire to do evil deeds, then he can also cause us to desire to do only good deeds. But doing so would not bring him as much glory, and as his creatures we have no right to complain. This end result is what will bring God the most glory in the painting he’s creating on the wall. We should probably even be happy to be in hell, for if we do, we’ll bring God the glory that he deserves for both decreeing that we desired to reject the gospel, and also decreeing that we did. “Praise God for what he has done!”—sorry.

Now, how did Calvin (and Augustine before him) come to the conclusion of what’s known as Calvinism? They argued for it from the Bible and outside sources, including Plato. They reasoned that this describes their God. Man is totally depraved, God’s election is unconditional, Jesus only died for the elect, God’s grace is irresistible, and once saved no man can reject his salvation. All of these doctrines are disputable on exegetical grounds, and I’ll let non-Calvinists do that. But they are based upon the exegesis of a historically conditioned document purportedly being from God, even though a proper understanding of history (and the documents that report that history) is itself fraught with so many problems that most historians now claim we cannot know exactly what happened in the past nor even what people believed in the past. But the bottom line is that these theological conclusions based upon Calvinistic grounds, were the conclusions that God had decreed both Augustine and Calvin should arrive at from all of eternity.

If so, how is it possible to trust any of these Calvinistic conclusions if we don’t have access to God’s secretive will? As far as the Calvinist knows, God’s secretive will may be that they should be deceived about Calvinism. Based on their own theology they have no reason to trust God…none. God may be leading them astray, based upon his secretive will, only to cast them in hell for his own glory. For all they know God may turn around and reward those of us who are atheists, simply because he secretively decreed us into unbelief. For the Calvinist to proclaim that she can trust God just because he says he “doesn’t lie” doesn’t solve anything, for the Bible is merely his revealed will, which leads people into believing or not believing what God’s secretive will has decreed from all of eternity for them.

All that the Calvinist can say is that “this is what God has led me to believe, and that’s why I believe it.” There is absolutely no guarantee that what they believe is true, based upon their own theology. And I can say the exact same thing as an atheist from their perspective: “this is what your God has led me to believe, and that’s why I believe it.”

So here’s where Calvinism has too much explanatory power. It explains everything…and nothing. It has an answer for everything…and nothing.

Take for instance the whole problem of human suffering. The amount of human suffering is intense around the globe. There is an unbearable amount of it for many people. Indonesia suffered through a tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people due to an underwater earthquake that God could've averted before it happened (and none of us would've known God averted it, either). A year later the survivors have suffered through a horrible earthquake which killed even more of them that God could've secretly averted too.

The Calvinist answer is that none of us deserve anything from God. We deserve hell, so what’s a little tsunami and/or earthquake on top of it? So there’s the answer. It’s simple. It explains everything. And there are no silly questions left over. The Calvinist answer is that everything God does is good, even if we cannot understand it. So every instance of human suffering that any human being has ever experienced is good. Everything that happens brings God glory. We are not to complain. He's creating a beautiful painting. God knows what he’s doing. We should trust him.

But think of that last statement! “We should trust him.” Why does a Calvinist think anyone...anyone...should trust their God? Why? What reasons are there for trusting such a God? There are none…none!…not on Calvinistic grounds, for reasons I just specified. Who knows what God’s secretive will really is? They don’t. On their own grounds they can’t trust him to even be truthful with them.

Since this is the case, I can look at the amount of suffering in this world and reasonably conclude there is no good God. If he exists, he’s a monster. That’s the reasonable conclusion to arrive at when looking at the observable facts. Why shouldn't I trust my own conclusions when I am not even given one reason why I should trust or believe in Calvin’s God? I already know I cannot trust such a Calvinistic God on it’s own grounds, so when I see the amount of suffering in this world that I do, I am better off trusting what I conclude, than in believing what Calvinists do. They have no basis for trusting their own God! They have no basis for calling their God good! They have no basis for believing he never lies! They have no basis for believing that our sins are such terrible deeds that deserve hell! They don't even have a basis for believing God is good, since we have no reason for trusting God when he says that he is good, especially when all the observable evidence of suffering in this world overwhelmingly denies this! But the Calvinist has an answer for this too. God is decreeing that I reject him for his glory. That's a simple answer. It solves everything.....and nothing. But it absolutely fails to take into account the observable suffering that human beings have observed since the dawn of time.

That’s why Calvinism explains everything…and nothing. It has moved from being a simple theory to a simplistic theory. It explains nothing…nothing. There is no reason why I should become a Calvinist. None. There is no reason why I should trust that God. None. Since I cannot trust such a being, and since I can see no reasonable solution to the problem of observable suffering coming from such a God, I reject him. The observable facts of human suffering around the world, which could take up an entire encyclopedia, say otherwise.