1/30/2007 View Comments
So now you're not a Christian anymore. Maybe you've not been for years, or maybe it has been a few intense days. You're a free man or woman, and... when you're really scared, you wonder about God. When you hear about the apocalyptic end of the world suggested by climate change, you can't help but think of the Apocalypse of St. John ("Revelations.")
Christianity isn't just a varying set of beliefs around a core drama -- its a fractured and ancient culture. It's a set of symbols, and those symbols are so hard to exorcise precisely because they are powerful, potent, and deeply buried.
When you burn yourself, you jerk your hand back -- often times with far greater force than is necessary. When you "stop" being a Christian, you often find yourself seeking solace for what's missing in rational science, in a naturalist point of view (eg, only things I can experience exist, everything else is theory or hyperbole,) or perhaps you embrace a new religion -- the number of ex-Christian Wiccans is astounding -- and by Christian or ex-Christian, I mean one who's world was shaped by those beliefs to the exclusion of others, whether or not they themselves fully and zealously embraced it.
My breaking point came during my last lunge into the faith -- a variant of the same crisis I assume most of the interested readership has shared; I had never had a particularly strong relationship with my father, though I would be the last to suggest his intellect was anything short of "bright guy." We had never had much to discuss until I was in my late 20s and we were able to engage in extended discussion via email. We discussed theological issues, church history, etc.
Being an autodidact, when I want an answer to something, I start reading. In the case of the church, of course, I went straight to the history books and discovered the council of Nicea. Through that, I discovered the Greek church, its history and... how everything got blurry right around the 4th century. The bible was, at that time, assembled by men 350 years distant from the alleged historical Christ.
My father's position, as a Presbyterian was Reform theology -- that's the basis of most western Christianity that is not specifically catholic, episcopalian or Anglican. The split between the catholic church and the heritage of the protestant churches was the notion of "Sola Scriptura," which means "by the scriptures alone," or, that matters of the faith were not to be arbitrated by councils of men as much as by the bible itself. Yet, when I brought my points to my father, he would cite Augustine, various catholic philosophers and so on to support points that they ultimately and logically would grant credence. When I finally asked about the sacrament of baptism -- infant baptism -- he suggested that this is essentially what had kept me looking to the faith, that being sprinkled with Indianapolis city water by a fat dude as an infant had somehow sealed my bond with God. Initially, this idea provided some comfort -- that all of my frustration and confusion -- the contradiction between my experiences and what I was supposed to believe -- was a trial by fire that would ultimately end in a kind of enlightenment and spiritual accord.
It did indeed, but not the way a Presbyterian deacon would have it. With this tenant of faith revealed, the last thread connecting me to Christianity turned a brilliant white, glowing and... like a filament in the air, burned out and snapped very quickly. The sheer absurdity of the proposition, and the logical tenants that followed simply fell flat in the face of the obvious: You can't know anything until you know yourself. You cannot know yourself if you are depending on someone or something else to make clear to you what you are. And if the source of guidance for your self-knowledge suggests that you deny yourself exploration, the right to question, and the right to be dissatisfied with answers -- then that source -- person or institution -- is fleecing you.
So take a moment, recall the last time you came into church late, or had some reason to be looking into the faces of the congregation from the choir or a balcony. Did you look closely?
For the most part, the congregation of any church or temple represents well-meaning people who are seeking authoritative answers about the nature of the world they live in. An illiterate and an academic will experience equal awe confronted with a southern sky filled with stars when no other distractions are present. The simple person may be satisfied with any explanation about what those stars are -- something that fills the question-slot and allows that person to move on -- others won't be satisfied until they're in a spaceship with a very large tape measure on their way to confirm what they've been told.
In this sense, faith is no different. Some people are comforted by someone simply suggesting that there is a God that hears your prayers -- others want to touch, see and interact with the creator. It is very obvious that the patrician God we knew was built in such a way that an august man could kind of fill in for him at the pulpit.
The need to touch God, the need to see a star up close, the need to know what you cannot know -- whether the person you're partnered to genuinely loves you, or has been putting on a spectacular act for 5 years -- are examples of the painful need for answers that drives many people to seek them at extraordinary risk.
Consider the life of a freethinker in the middle ages -- a life that often ended at a pyre. Despite their indoctrination, their upbringing, the pressure of the community around them, and, of course, the threat of their comfort, livelihood and death itself were not enough to dissuade them from their explorations. Eventually, enough of them over enough time with enough courage were able to shake loose the stranglehold of the western church in legal matters -- but even today, it haunts us through cultural values, and the symbols embedded in our minds through our own indoctrination. Our base notions of right and wrong, how we understand our relationships to other people, are filtered through the aggregate experience of our culture generally, and then through our individual personalities and experiences. A bit of your worldview is inherited from the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aboriginals, English, German... Chinese... and the Judeo-Christian milieu that dominated the civilizations that would come to dominate the world's thought and means for the last thousand years or so.
So, we come around to the point: Christian, Judaic and Roman ideas, symbols and values inoculate our culture, and our minds as individuals. Every time you catch yourself saying "God," -- "Godd____t," "God only knows," "Jesus that was amazing!" Think of yourself like a wounded soldier who still has bullets in their body -- little pieces of "God" that were never properly removed. What of your ideas still maintain a heavily Christian DNA -- If the world isn't going to end because of Armageddon, then it must end in a climate conflagration? Or is that just the need of the Christian in you for an end of the world scenario that serves as a great excuse for not claiming your power in this world? Do you find yourself looking for another religion to fill the cavities Christianity left? Did you jump to the other side and declare yourself a cynic with a strictly scientific worldview because anything intangible or irrational had to be flushed out along with God (... the baby with the bath-water?)
Don't let Christianity steal the joy of mystery, the profound embrace of the unknown, or your sovereignty as a free individual with a duty to this world and the other people in it in because of the painful stretching of the surgical scars left from your God-ectomy.
It seems I have been getting a lot of nasty personal emails from Christians calling me all sorts of names, saying I am bitter, angry, resentful, hateful, sad, bigoted, lost, confused, wavering, over-reacting, disillusioned, schizophrenic, bi-polar, and lactose intolerant. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I keep getting the same stuff everyday. It seems there are lots of Christians out there that feel it’s there duty to rebuke me and put this poor’ lost atheist in his place. Like an average blue-collar middle-of-nowhere small town Oklahoman whose face is easily lost in any crowd is a major threat to their faith. They could just as easily overlook me and ignore me as just another tiny voice of no real threat on the vast global network called the internet. But the emails just keep coming.
I’m certainly no threat to them…or maybe I am. Yes, I think I am. Why?
Well, the more I thought about it today the more I realized something about Christians (especially myself when I was a Christian). I had read on Ex-Christian.net a few weeks ago this idea that Christians are constantly having to convince themselves of the ‘truth’. At first I thought this was incorrect, but the more I thought about it I realized it made a lot of sense.
Case in point: I began to look back at my entire 12 years as a Christian. for the first 6 years (ages 14-20) I was pretty naive. At 14 I pretty much believed what I was told by an adult who was a perceived authority in the matter and certainly wouldn’t steer me wrong. However, as I began to age my naturally curious mind wanted to know how all the pieces fit together. The more I looked at the puzzle the more I realized that things weren’t fitting together like they should. I mean, if Christianity is THE truth then it should all go together nicely, right?
My college years hit me like a bombshell. Christians, if you want your kids to stay ’strong’ then don’t send them to liberal arts universities. The one class that almost did me in was “Logic and Critical Thinking”. I thought I was a strong Christian but I was hanging on to my faith by a thread by the end of the semester. I realized the only way to regain my strength was to totally immerse myself in Christians studies and stop being skeptical. I force-fed myself all the latest in books and CDs. After a while I stabilized and was even more zealous for my faith. But I was never the same. It seemed I had to continue to immerse myself in my religious studies. I couldn’t seem to uproot that small sapling of doubt in my heart. I kept hearing over and over “something just isn’t right” deep within me. I think this is how I ended up crossing over into Christian Hebraic-Roots movement.
I always pressed myself to live beyond the status quo of those around me, to live passionately and full of zeal. I could match wits with any minister I came in contact with because ignorance was not bliss. I knew that traditional Christianity was all screwed up so I knew I had to get back to the ‘roots’, back to the 1st century, back to the way Jesus lived his Christianity. What I didn’t realize is that he lived as a Jew…because he was a Jew. It was at this time that my skepticism became a GOOD thing. I began to question everything I had been taught in traditional Christian theology and doctrine. I also changed a lot of my practices to conform more to how I thought Jesus would have done it. Fortunately for me I let my skeptic muscle get stronger, so strong that I began to question the very foundations of my faith. It came to the point that I could no longer deny all the evidences I had revealed before me. The burden of proof laid with the Christians and there just wasn’t enough preponderance of the evidence to convince me of the ‘truth’ of Christianity. I lost my ‘faith’.
Getting back to why a guy like me is such a threat to some of these people is that I think deep down in their own hearts they have to be violently defensive about their beliefs because if they gave me any inch it would completely unseat their own faith. Just like me, they have to immerse themselves much into their studies to stay convinced. I personally spent thousands of dollars on books to keep me convinced. And I think the more intelligent a Christian is the more it takes to keep them convinced. They need more ‘proofs’. I think this is why Christians have to have thousands of books covering every topic beyond what is written in the Bible. The Bible simply isn’t enough for them.
I have a ‘friend’ who is highly intelligent and a believer. He really is incredibly smart, and much more articulate then I could dream of being. But he also has several thousand books in his library, and he even admits that his daily bible study lacks. Some would say that because he read those books he is intelligent, but I would argue that because he is intelligent, highly intelligent, he needs all those books to stay comfortably nestled in his faith. I think if he for one second allowed himself to think objectively he too would be a strong atheist. But he has way too much at stake, way too much vested interest to change sides now. I think he would rather live and die wrong than live the truth and be rejected by his peers.
Me? Well, I have nothing to lose. And I am not afraid. Life will be what will be, come what may. But I will face reality with open arms and in the end, well, it won’t matter, I will cease to exist, and that’s okay.
1/29/2007 View Comments
For the past 10 years, I accumulated so many DVDs I hardly have any time to watch them. It's been over a year since I bought a DVD movie, and with such a backlog of DVDs, I thought I wouldn't buy another one in a long time. The movie "Jesus Camp" came out in 2006 and was shown as an independent film at selected theaters and times, and this January it came out on DVD. After covering footage from Jesus Camp, I decided to buy the Jesus Camp DVD. So how does it rate?
I can't really give a numerical rating, grade, or thumbs up for this kind of movie. It is a reality documentary film that gives the straight details on what happens in these evangelical Christian churches, particularly in the mid-western red states. Jesus Camp provides chilling accounts of brainwashing cult tactics and religious fanaticism on the most moldable population, the young children. For those of you who think these fanatics are safely isolated from your community, Jesus Camp provides a double dose of harsh reality. First, young children are being brainwashed into religious fanaticism. Second, the adult Christian cult leaders have a strong influence ruling over the United States of America. They have direct contact and influence with President George W. Bush, which trickles down to the cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court, all the way to your state and local community.
Ted Haggard was featured in the movie. A few months later, he dishonorably resigned for sexual liaisons with a male prostitute and drug abuse.
I would recommend Jesus Camp, which you can rent or buy on DVD. I can imagine Jesus Camp II coming out. In the imaginary sequel I concocted, a few years pass by and the young girls go through their teenage puberty stage. They develop womanly physical characteristics, and their middle aged pastors and counselors develop attractions and start secret sexual liaisons with them. The irony in the end is that the stringent sexual morality laws these religious right fanatics helped pass will be their own downfall, as the adulterating adults are arrested and face decades in prison under the severe anti-pedophilia laws.
1/28/2007 View Comments
For me, the most heart-wrenching aspect of an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent God, was his silence.
Prayer eluded me. I never could quite understand why we had to pray at all, since we were to pray for his will to be done. Seemed to me that Christians should just say to God, "Heavenly Father, do what you want, since you're going to anyway, in Jesus' name I pray, Amen."
I could not relate to other Christians who just loved to bang on the doors of Heaven in effort to praise and petition their God. A "relationship" with Christ was impossible. Humans relate through their senses. That isn't our fault; it's biology. If someone wants to correspond with me or connect with me, it would take some effort on their part to achieve it, right? Well, the Christians claim that the Bible is God's way of doing that, but then how did the early believers hear from God? Was he still speaking audibly then?
No, he wasn't; people sat around telling stories to each other, playing the telephone game for hundreds of years, until a council of power hungry men decided they knew what writings were "divine" or not, compiled them together, and put God's stamp of approval on it.
This is how I'm supposed to hear God's voice? Okay, fine, I'll take it, but as I begin reading it, I am left in a quandary, finding God's will and character even more elusive than when I had never "heard" from him in the first place. He continually contradicts himself, so is it my fault that I am still left not feeling any kind of bond with him?
The next step is to pray or ask people who might be able to clear up these contradictions. Well, we all know that it's pointless to ask God anything, because he never answers back, so I might as well just go straight to the guy with the white collar or Rolex watch.
After listening to a regurgitated and oft times incoherent answer to my question, I am left feeling a little fucked up in the head. His "answer" just doesn't make sense. The next thing to do is to consult ANOTHER wise follower of the Lord...and around and around it goes. None of the answers make sense, and even the answers contradict one another.
So here I am, some sixteen years later, still trying to "know" God, to connect with him and "hear" from him. Some told me, that it was Satan hindering me. Some say it was a lack of a "want-to" in me. Some say I didn't try hard enough. Some say His voice is to be found in that still and quiet place within me ( can someone please tell me what the difference between the "voice of God' and common sense is).
Years go by, life gets harder, and God seems to become evermore distant. I cry out to Him begging Him to answer, to visit me in my dreams or to actually take me to Heaven like the others he took during 'near-death experience'. I ask him to just TALK to me in some discernible way, but He never does. I cry out from the depths of my soul with hot tears running down my cheeks, for my Heavenly "Father" to just interact with me in a personal way, but SILENCE, deafening silence, is all that rings back at me.
I have only been a de-convert since July. It was finding this site that solidified it all for me. The trauma of losing my religion haunts me some days...they made us hope. They made us believe and become dissatisfied with what we have. They made us expect more, and it's very difficult to accept less. I have read the atheist apologetic response to this. I know that many atheists feel fulfilled and plan to meet death with steady hearts, regardless of the fact that their lives essentially mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, because this world will eventually pass away, and collide with another, and thus mankind and all of his endeavors were absolutely pointless. I am not one of those atheists. I am having a hard time with the possibility that my life has no real purpose in the end. Perhaps that is vain of me. If only I could grasp the wonders of evolution than I would get it, right? Sounds like a Christian argument that goes the other way. If I could just grasp this "loving God" that will throw everyone in Hell who believed the wrong thing, than I would have peace.
Well, I don't have peace with any of it! I'm mad as Hell. If there is a God, how dare He leave us down here to kill each other over proving just which religion is right! If there is a God, how despicable of him to refuse the pleas of a child being raped or tortured? If there is a God, how low and debase an act to watch humans suffer mercilessly! If there is a God, I hate him for remaining silent (except for the occasional sighting of he or his mother in a peanut putter sandwich, the side of a building, or toilet paper).
The notion of a loving God is nonsensical when paired with all that we see and know to be true about our existence. No, a loving God that is silent can not be reconciled in my mind.
What would you think of a person who came up to you, broke both your legs, and after you had wallowed in your misery for a little while, offered you a pair of crutches? Most of us would be confused and bewildered, (not to mention angry) at this behavior. Yet this is exactly what is being done to the minds of Christians everywhere.
One of the main things I've noticed about the Christians at my university is that they are utterly convinced that a life without God is a hopeless, pointless existence. They assume that people who lose their faith are wallowing in a pit of never-ending despair, that they have a hole in their hearts that they are trying to fill with 'the things of this world', but to no avail. Oh, if only those poor lost souls could know the tender mercy of our Lord and Savior!
I remember taking a writing class with a professor who loved to go off on tangents. One of the things he said struck me, because it showed me just how much Christians have this view entrenched in their minds. He said he walked by a shady masseuse parlor that promised clients "a real girlfriend experience" and that it filled him with sadness because he could see how lonely people with searching hearts might find respite there, and how it illustrated people's need for God.
That's right, people, if you don't have religion, you'd better start heading down to the masseuse parlor now. It's your only hope.
These are the type of people who think that every time you go out on Friday nights, you're not really just trying to have a good time, you're trying to fill your soul. That popping of the tab on your beer can is really the groaning of your aching heart.
Of course, like any other religious doctrine, the idea of life being pointless without a deity must be ingrained in you at a young age. Thus the crutch metaphor, and it goes something like this:
The parent is standing over his child holding the iron bar of religion over his prostrate child and begins.
"There is no hope in this squalid world!"
"Ever material thing is empty and meaningless!"
"You will never find what you are looking for down here!"
"You are a wretched sinner not worthy of any grace!"
And so on, until the child's legs are sufficiently crippled. Then, the parent sets the bar down and holds up a pair of crutches.
"But there is a big man in the sky who cares about you," he croons. "And since this world is so wicked and meaningless, you need to fix your eyes on him!" The child gratefully accepts the crutches. The parent continues, "This is the only way you can go on in this life. You part from these crutches, and you will drop dead in your tracks."
I really do believe that some people have an emotional NEED for there to be a god. But I believe that this need must be planted in them, that it is not naturally there. For a while, I believed I had that need. But when I tossed the crutches, I realized I could walk perfectly fine without them. And suddenly the world was wide-open and full of possibilities, and I needed not be frightened of them. I'm not saying that atheists are always happy, or that we never search for answers. But I will say this: A life without a god or religion is only hopeless if you DECIDE it is. If you decide that you can be a fulfilled person by having a naturalistic view of life, then it's absolutely possible. Hell, anything is.
1/26/2007 View Comments
By Dave, the WM
I've been thinking about something lately: Christian salvation.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians said,
"For by grace are ye saved and through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast."
The way this has been explained to me is that salvation is something that comes by grace, through faith, and not something anyone earns.
In Evangelical circles, this kind of grace is described as unmerited favor.
Unmerited: Not earned.
But I was also told that a person must believe certain things in order to acquire this unmerited favor. Without the correct beliefs, no favor is granted. In fact, unless a few mandatory beliefs are accepted and adopted, no favor can be extended. No matter how this was ever explained to me, if in order to be granted "favor" a person had to do something, even if it was only the acceptance of a few ideas, then it seemed to me that the favor was merited. It's simple quid pro quo. The "favor" is granted in exchange for embracing the correct beliefs. One is "favored" for possessing the right beliefs.
Without faith it is impossible to please God, says the writer of the book of Hebrews. So does that mean that with the aquisition of faith, it is possible to please God?
What is this thing called faith? And what is belief?
Can you touch faith? Can you taste it?
Can you see, smell or taste belief?
I believe my wife loves me. I have faith that my children will not abandon me when I grow old.
These are two statements of how I view the world. They are my conceptualization of certain things in my life. They are, in essence, my perspective — my thoughts — my ideas.
I believe I have an attractive family. I believe I have an ugly body. I believe I'll have another beer. I have faith that my car will start in sub-zero temperatures. I have faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning.
These statements reflect my views based on my experience, my personality, and my general self image. They are, in essence, ideas. These ideas may be correct, incorrect, or somewhere in between, but they are nothing more than ideas. They exist nowhere outside of my brain.
I have been assured on numerous occasions that one day I will find myself eternally roasting in the horrific torture chamber of a loving God because of one sin, and one sin only: the sin of unbelief.
Because I do not have certain ideas in my head, I will be tortured eternally. If I embrace certain ideas, I'll be rewarded with everlasting life in heaven.
It's not the things I have done, or the things I do that will get me into this place called heaven, says the Evangelical. It is the beliefs (the ideas) that I hold to be true that is my ticket into either heaven or hell. Nothing I do can change my status, except of course getting hold of the correct beliefs.
Does that really make sense?
First, salvation is described as unmerited, and then, in the very next breath, salvation is described as something that must be acquired through "right thinking."
I must think correctly about certain things in order to be granted the unmerited favor that will result in salvation.
This is why there is so much discussion about people who have never heard the Gospel message, and those who are below the age of accountability, and the retarded, etc. Salvation is acquired through understanding and accepting certain ideas into one's brain. Those devoid of the ability to grasp certain concepts, through ignorance or nature, are in some circles considered innocent and exempt from the requirements for meriting unmerited favor.
Now, there are those who will say that to believe means to trust. In other words, where it says "Believe on the Lord Jesus..." what is intended is "Trust in the Lord Jesus..." To my mind, it makes no difference. Something is still being required of me to merit this favor — trust. And trust is still just a concept, much like belief and faith. Trust is an idea or a feeling that only exists in the mind.
Or is belief and faith better described as magic?
What do you think?
1/25/2007 View Comments
When I read the Bible, I see three basic "themes" that bother me. I think these "corruptions" (my term) are best explained as being introduced by the Bible's many human authors. These same themes are later reinforced and collaborated by the Canonization Process itself as the Christian Church became an integrated part of the "New World Order," that is, the New (Christian) Roman Empire. The resulting Dogmas also influenced Bible translation endeavors over the Millennia and these core teachings persist today, largely unabated. To be clear here, my strivings are not necessarily with "God," but rather with the Canonized Bible and the Dogmas associated with it.
My three "Bones of Contention" are:
1. The concept of Exclusivity - A (single) "Chosen People" and their "Sacred Land". Don't get me wrong, I have no problems at all with the Jewish people and I love my Jewish friends but I don't think “God” has, or should have, any "chosen people."
2. The Perpetuation of the Religious Bureaucracy - Theocratic Rule v Secular Rule
a. Control of People and Governments via the "Priesthood" (Church) and God's Laws (Bible?)
b. God seems to honor the concept of quid-quo-pro. That is, people think they can manipulate God, His will, His Blessings and His Wrath if they do the "right" things.
c. God does not appear to want "Church and State" to be separated, leaving the door wide open to Religious Fascism.
d. Largely because of (c.), all scientific discoveries that are not consistent with the "Interpreted Truths of the Bible" must be wrong and are deemed the likely work of "Satan."
3. God's Nature Appears very "Man-Like" and Evil with potentially Mythical Roots
a. Just like other pagan gods, the "True God" appears to require appeasement, hence, the Sacrificial System
b. "Original Sin" and curses can be passed on to all of ones descendants
c. God commands and supports Slavery
d. Anything God does, commands or allows is "defined" as good regardless of whether or not it violates God's own precepts.
e. Success in Life is many times centered on Conquest (Holy Conquest, of course)
f. God is VERY human-like (blood-thirsty, jealous, prejudiced, changeable, capricious and unjust) and from time to time "plays" or "tempts" his best subjects (ex: Job, Jesus)
g. God seems to hate homosexuals (although he made them) and commands or allows child abuse, rape, incest and genocide.
h. God’s persona and mystical deeds have strong, non-unique parallels to more ancient pagan gods and mythological stories.
From the above, "God's Nature and Love" are extremely difficult to understand. Countless times I have heard this phrase: "we don't understand this (or that) because of our 'finite human minds.'" Well, ok, I admit that I’m not that bright and have been wrong many times, but it still seems to me that if God gave me my mind, why didn’t He either: a) give me and everyone enough gray matter to easily understand His writings or b) make His writings and His Will absolutely clear to me and the unwashed masses?
I would be hard pressed to recommend this type of "faith" to anyone, although, I have read that I must. But which of the thousands of Christian Denominations should I choose? Worse yet, most fundamentalist, evangelical groups (True Christians?) teach that I must believe and do the "right things" or else I am not a "True Christian" and, therefore, I am doomed to Hell with all the other unbelievers and just plain stupid people, like me, that can’t figure it all out.
As a consequence, the earnest truth-seeker could then reason that since the penalty for believing the "wrong things about God" is the SAME as unbelief, then, it may be just as SAFE not to have any beliefs or opinions about God. The unbeliever could then "have faith" that the "True God," if he/she/it exists, would ultimately forgive us, all of us, for the "sin" of trying to understand but ultimately failing to "properly" do so.
"To err is human, to forgive divine." — Alexander Pope, Christian English Poet (1688-1744)
What do you think?
1/24/2007 View Comments
For someone who doesn’t believe in God, I think about God a lot.
Exploring Texas, where megachurches are more common than oil wells (and probably more profitable), lately it's made my mind itch a little more than usual. I was raised a Pentecostal Christian, and these places remind me of the intellectual darkness I experienced inside the stifling walls of organized religion. That a hundred million of my fellow Americans believe these buildings are their best gateway to the Ultimate is heartbreaking indeed.
In my early teens, based on instinct and little else, I rejected fundamentalist Christianity and stopped going to church. My mother was (thankfully) open-minded about it and accepted my decision. I wasn’t sure why it felt so wrong to me, but even at that age I realized that my natural mode of inquiry was incongruent their systemic resistance to questioning and self-examination. Growth and challenging one’s faith was heretical and an invitation to doom. Accept the faith as it is or meet eternal damnation. I knew I had to move away for the sake of things much more real and valuable to me: my own intellect and personal experience.
This oft-tamped instinct of the young to grow intellectually, to question the underpinnings of their inherited faith, to attempt to integrate it into what they see and know - is well-described by M. Scott Peck, the late Buddhist-turned-Christian:
“In a very real sense, we begin with science. We begin by replacing the religion of our parents with the religion of science. . . . There is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.”
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins challenges the social acceptability of children inheriting their parents’ religion. At PopTech last fall, he described the religious practice of early indoctrination as a violation of childhood innocence with superstition. I agree with him entirely. I’d also take that thought on a (perhaps less atheistic) tangent to say that if you have the same spiritual convictions as your parents, chances are you’ve exposed the issue about as much intellectual light as your choice of socks this morning.
Fundamentalists of all faiths blindly accept a version of God that was handed to them, and one that is no less ridiculous than the Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster of Internet fame. While most of these people have the clarity to see the absurdity of such deities (if perhaps missing out on most of the joke), they remain reliably blind to their own phantasms. This is because the truth can be so scary that the mind will do anything to shield you from it. For many, a life without their cherished version of God - or being forced to peek into the abyss that is the Infinite Mystery - is simply too scary to contemplate.
I’m attracted to Sam Harris’ sense that we need to be more intellectually honest and tackle such delusions head-on. Spirituality is saddled by fantastic beliefs that, were they not at the core of two billion earthlings' identities, would be more at home in a fairy tale.
Throughout human history, empires have risen and fallen, wars waged, religions birthed and extinguished, treasures created and lost, trillions of interpersonal dances danced - all in the quest for these truths. While perhaps nothing is more important - fear prevents most people from even peeking behind the spiritual curtain.
I started by saying I don’t believe in God. Explaining this is where we get into the definitional trickery of spirituality and the limits of language, but I’m uncomfortable with atheism due to many of its adherents’ aggressive rejection of Greater Truths. Many tend to believe that we are witnessing All There Is, that consciousness is just an illusion, and there’s no point looking any deeper. I reject that view as wholeheartedly as I do the view that there is a guy in the sky with a kingdom of gold.
For me, the problem of pure ashes-to-ashes atheism is that I believe I’ve had direct cognitive experience of the Great Mystery from which we all arise. Not that I could comprehend or explain it - our minds are simply inadequate - but I’d bet my life that I’ve at least feebly touched the hem of its dress. And it’s nothing like what the Christians, Muslims or Jews have in mind.
What have I learned while sipping from the ocean of the mysterium tremendum? Well, to butcher the words of Wei Wu Wei, I can’t be the moon, but I can point. I am a spiritually fulfilled person. I feel blessed to have lived as I have, and every day (ok, almost every day) feels like another drop into a cup already brimming. But my spiritual fulfillment has derived from direct personal experience of a world that feels - in its every detail and unfolding - like an infinite, interconnected, breathtaking miracle.
I’ve learned a lot about life and how to live it. I’ve learned that it’s possible to be both perfect as you are, yet still have a lot of growing to do. I’ve learned how important honesty is. But the most important lesson I’ve learned thus far is that the Universe wants to experience itself, to become itself. The meaning of life is not in figuring it out, but in the figuring itself. The infinite miracle is the process of discovering, seeing, and evolving. If you know this, you are well on your way to spiritual fulfillment.
Inquiry brings us much closer to Truth than any conclusion ever could - and this is why the brainwashing of theistic western religions is a tragedy and a group crime perpetuated en masse, all day, every day. To prescribe (and proscribe) religious belief while discouraging the process of evolution is antithetical to truth. Rather, it represents the ultimate in institutionalized darkness and repression.
This exploration is more than a little important; it’s literally the hunt of your life. At this stage in my life, I find myself subscribing to a personal brand of mystical atheism; an entheogen-steeped brew of Buddhism, pantheism, and the sciences of cosmology and quantum mechanics.
But that's me and where I am on my road. You need to be committed to making your own journey. And there will be, in your pursuit, countless mistakes, meanderings, squabbles, misunderstandings and imperfections - for without them, the journey will have been pointless.
I enjoy listening to Christian Talk on satellite radio. It is a combination of the inability to turn away from a train wreck, and research for blogging.
The other day I was listening to a fellow talk about senior citizens. He said, "Don't lose the faith in the last quarter of the game of your life that you have held on to since the first quarter." He spent some time, concerned about them struggling with their faith—using words like "strive" and "endure" and "work hard" and "labor."
A young person chimed in how they were surprised to consider their grandparents having to work at hard at keeping faith. She felt by then they should have it all figured out, and would not be having the same problems as she did. The preacher replied, "We have to continually work hard, all our life to maintain the faith."
Why? Why all the hard work? Why must it be a constant, never-ending pursuit, in which the slightest relaxation of effort opens the flood gates for complete disintegration? Does the Christian realize that they are putting in 100% of the effort in that relationship, and God is doing nothing?
The movie Dumbo came to my mind. In order to provide the confidence that Dumbo needed to fly, the scarecrows provide him with a Magic Black Feather which he believes gives him what he needs to master flight. Of course, the audience knows it is merely a trick, and the feather is not really doing anything—Dumbo is actually flying all on his own.
Eventually Dumbo discovers that he didn't need the feather at all. It was a harmless deception to provide him the self-confidence to do what he was always physically and actually able to do on his own.
In the same way, Christians have created a Magic Black Feather called “Faith.” They understand that it is not attached to them; it is not within them, and they must grasp it with all of their human might or it could possibly slip away. If they lose their vigilant concentration of grip, even for a moment--because it is a feather it could easily slip away.
This "Faith" is a somewhat unclear concept. Oh, we get that it can have some fact or reason at its base, but it is something more than that. A certainty of an unproven claim. Something beyond just what a person can observe. It provides the opportunity for cute pillows and plagues that say “Faith is not thinking God can; it is knowing that He Will.”
But where is the certainty in the Christian belief? Why the constant re-affirmation, if they are certain in the first place? Look, if I rush into a room and scream "Fire!" — I will know in fairly short order who has "faith" in my claim and who does not. Despite the lack of smoke, or flame or heat, those that are certain of my claim will trample each other to get out.
The Christian is perpetually on guard to retain the "faith" while never being quite certain as to what it is they should believe. Should they believe God will cure their cancer? Or cause their sickness to be a testimony? Or is God telling them it is time to die? What is it they should be certain God is doing?
Christians have made their Magic Black Feather invisible. They never know quite whether they actually have it in their hand correctly or not. Dumbo had it easy.
"Hey Dumbo. Time to Fly!"
All he has to do is check for the Black Feather. There it physically is—good to go! Can't find it? No way is he going up that ladder! But a Christian does not have that item to view—to know they are holding faith. The only test is whether to see if they fly or fall!
Watch a Christian look for employment. A non-believer sends out resumes. A Christian sends out resumes. A non-believer hopes to get a job. A Christian has faith that God will provide a job. A non-believer is offered a position. A Christian is offered a position.
The non-believer weighs the options of taking this job, or continuing to seek employment (or both.) But now the Christian must pause. Do they have "faith" that this is the right job? If it is not the job they want, do they have "faith" that God will provide a better one? If the salary is not enough, do they have "faith" God will provide more?
They look for their Invisible Black feather—knowing they should be holding on to it—but do they have it right? Is it in their hand? Is it the right Feather? Being this perpetual untouchable, unseeable object one can never be quite sure if one has it correctly.
Further, Dumbo only needed the feather to fly. He didn’t use it to walk, or to eat, or if he got sick. That would be silly! The only reason it existed was to allow him to fly. A Christian has no such refuge.
When is faith to be used or not? Should one rely on faith for food, clothing and shelter? Should one be confident that God will provide everything one needs at any moment? Should one have faith that even though the needle is on "E," God will give them 100 more miles before they need gasoline?
Now, it may be said, "Wait. We need to use common sense." Really? Does common sense "trump" faith? Or, like Dumbo, are Christians picking and choosing when they want to use the Magic Black Invisible Feather or not?
Getting out of a boat in the middle of a lake during a storm, thinking one is going to walk on water is not "common sense." Yet that is exactly what faith requires. Matt. 14:24-32.
Here is the reality. Believers and non-believers work there way through life equally. We both look for jobs, look for spouses, look for friends. Some situations pan out, some bomb horribly. We all get sick and heal. We all have people we love die. Equally, we manage through life as best we can. Whether we constantly cling to a nebulous idea of faith or not—it looks the same.
Like Dumbo, at one time I performed my routine with my Invisible Black Feather firmly in grasp. Also like Dumbo, in a moment of surprise, my Invisible Black Feather of Faith was ripped from my hand. And, just like Dumbo, I discovered that everything I was doing, and everything I was about to do, did not require a feather at all.
The whole time I had been flying on my own.
1/23/2007 View Comments
Here is a poignant video about the coercive persuasion, mind control, and brainwashing of Christianity. It exposes all kinds of mind control characteristics and methodologies even of those outside Christianity, but anyone who either is a Christian or has been a Christian will see the marks of Christian programming and indoctrination in this little film. I have made some comments below concerning one aspect of this mind control that is touched upon in this video. I hope you enjoy it!
In this video you hear the following statement: "Your bible clearly states that I am the the Messiah" (concerning a cult leader). The vast majority of people, both Christian and non-Christians alike, know that if someone claims to be the messiah you know it is just bullshit.
One of the greatest deceptions of Christianity is for the bible to claim Jesus as the Messiah. Why? Because he is not here. He is not a person to talk to physically. He is supposedly only reached through the holy spirit (which of course you cannot sit down with at a table and have a cup of tea together and chat). The mind is forced to have faith in an unseen deity whom cannot be physically questioned or communicated with (physical, verbal communication). The only source of physical "communication" with god is the bible (For christians: here is not the place to discuss spiritual communication through prayer and internal dialog with the holy spirit, thats another article) and the bible teaches that the leaders of the faith (pastors, elders, deacons, bishops, priests, bible scholars, and even parents, etc) hold a special divine authority as the leaders of god's kingdom here on earth (the church). The communication of authority only goes ONE WAY. Down the hierarchical chain-of-command: Father to Jesus to Holy Sprit to church leaders (or elders) to fathers then mothers. This is the flow of "divine authority." Ultimately, of course, the source of this authority is the bible, which just so happens to give itself its own authority and in turn gives an authority to the chain-of-command.
Now, the deception lies in that since the authority, practically speaking, is carried out by Christian leaders. You cannot question their authority because the bible says so. If you question the bible's authority you are in effect questioning god's authority and the leadership will not tolerate that, because they have the authority from the bible. So the mind is forced to either rebel against the whole system or become obedient. Theoretically obedient to the bible and practically obedient to the church authority.
Christianity is a mind control Cult and Jesus is its Cult leader. But because jesus isn't here we must worship him in the spirit with faith. Its sub-leaders, the pastors, elders, and teachers, - "God's Anointed Servants", practically speaking, are "under-shepherds" and point everyone to the invisible Jesus through faith. Thus the mind control is so much more difficult to see because the focus is not on any physical man, but on god and Jesus. Thus no matter how insane or abusive the "under-shepherds" or sub-leaders are the Cult program continues. See, if a physical cult leader started doing insane and abusive things it is much easier for the mind to wake up and say "wait a minute" and start questioning things. But because invisible Jesus is the Cult leader the system can continue forever because he is perfect and holy and just and all loving savior that does no wrong. Of course! You in effect have a Cult, just like any other more noticeable cults like Sun Myung Moon, but without the danger of it falling in on itself by the actions of a physical person. Because Jesus was perfect (as the "authoritative" bible says) and the Cult is focus is on him, the real programming and control goes unchallenged and unimpeded.
This is just a little food for thought.
"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore." So said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven children, one of whom recently was threatened with exposure to An Inconvenient Truth, in her suburban Seattle science class. Frosty also stated, for the record, ""The information that's being presented [in the movie] is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD." The world, according to Frosty, is about 14,000 years old. Maybe it's been around long enough?
Frosty was quoted in papers and blogs across North America. He even made The New Scientist, a British weekly. The thinly veiled implication, with the quotes themselves as stand-alone evidence, was that Frosty is a fool. If boldly proclaiming transparent falsehoods makes one a fool, so be it. But Frosty is not alone in his foolishness.
The media would have missed out on Frosty's comments altogether if it weren't for one simple fact: Ed Barney, school board president, and David Larson, attorney, thought his complaint had merit. They put a moratorium on showings of the movie, calling it controversial despite the fact that it has been authorized as nation-wide curriculum in two Scandinavian countries and Scotland.
Frosty, Ed, and David pitted themselves against the virtually unanimous agreement of the scientific community that global warming is real, people are causing it, and if we care about the consequences we need to take action quickly. They pitted themselves against the evidence after Exxon had given up the fight and started investing in solutions. They held out even after the Bush administration conceded.
Frosty's brain--along, I would suspect, with Ed's and David's--is on ice. Do I mean these men are stupid? No. Not in any ordinary sense of the word. Ed graduated from a good Mormon university. David has a law degree from a respected Catholic school. And based on the technical know-how reflected in his website, Frosty would appear to have a pretty normal human brain, probably better than most in some regards.
What I mean is that Frosty's mind is in a cryogenic state of developmental arrest. Just like the frozen blastocytes that Mr. Bush and his publicity team call snowflakes, Frosty's mind is a living organism that cannot grow. It has been zapped by what cognitive scientists call a "limiting belief."
A limiting belief allows no challenge. In the mind where it has taken root, it functions as a given. It becomes as unassailable as the force of gravity or the life sustaining effects of breathing oxygen. Inside the bounds set by such a belief (and there may be many), the rules of evidence and logic apply. But the limiting belief itself is not subject to these rules. It is exempt. Any evidence or reasoning that appears to contradict the limiting belief must be explained within the confines set by the belief itself. This can lead to some extraordinary mental contortionism, but it is what a limiting belief demands.
In the case of Frosty, the relevant belief is that the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, the direct and definitive revelation of a human-like Creator to us, His creation. By implication, it is the final word on all matters of ultimate importance.
What does this have to do with global warming? Frosty, as we have seen, tries to make the connection through rational argumentation, something along these lines: The Bible is the final word on everything that matters. The end of the world matters. The apocalyptic visions of John the Apostle emphasize fire over ice. Voila, global warming – not human-caused, but as a part of God's master plan, a sign of promised glories to come.
Don't get drawn in to critiquing Frosty's reasoning. There's a catch. Frosty's refusal to consider the evidence about global warming, has nothing to do with reasoning. It can be understood only if we step back and look at it from the viewpoints of cognitive and social psychology. His public statements simply display what is left of his ability to reason and seek evidence within the confines imposed by his limiting beliefs.
The same, I might propose, can be said about the vast bulk of theological argumentation. The arguments may be spurious. But the psychology, as we are just beginning to understand it, is fascinating and has implications for us all.
People who think that fundamentalists are stupid underestimate the power of belief. So do fundamentalists themselves.
As cognitive science is discovering, beliefs have a life of their own. A belief can come in as an invited guest, tentative and hypothetical, and end up taking over, dictating which values, open questions and behavioral options get to linger and which must go. This is because any belief has a vast web of corollaries and implications. Once embraced, it essentially reconfigures a piece of the mind, usually in a small peripheral way, but sometimes in a radical transformation that feels like being born again. A belief can do all of this independent of whether it is good or bad, healthy or destructive, true or false. .
Some cognitive scientists study self-replicating beliefs that they call memes. These are notions that get transmitted from one person to another in much the way that chain letters or computer viruses get passed along. Some memes are beneficial. We email each other (and teach our children) comforting stories, handy tips, and bits of senseless beauty. But other memes are destructive. We also pass along ugly gossip, tasteless trends, and bits of senseless paranoia. Whether a meme is an effective self-replicator is a different question from whether it has merit.
In fact, some beliefs that are very good at getting passed along may be thought of as parasitic, meaning that they actually do harm to their human host. Daniel Dennett draws a compelling analogy in the opening words of his book, Breaking the Spell.
You watch an ant in a meadow, laboriously climbing up a blade of grass, higher and higher until it falls, then climbs again, and again, like Sisyphus rolling his rock, always striving to reach the top. Why is the ant doing this? What benefit is it seeking for itself in this strenuous and unlikely activity? Wrong question, as it turns out. No biological benefit accrues to the ant. . . .It's brain has been commandeered by a tiny parasite, a lancet fluke (Dicrocelium dendriticum), that needs to get itself into the stomach of a sheep or a cow in order to complete its reproductive cycle. This little brain worm is driving the ant into a position to benefit its progeny, not the ant's. . . .
Does anything like this ever happen with human beings? Yes indeed. We often find human beings setting aside their personal interests, their health, their chances to have children, and devoting their entire lives to furthering the interests of an idea that has lodged in their brains.
Does it really make sense to talk about ideas as parasites? Possibly. Don't we entertain them of our own choice, embracing those that make sense and discarding the rest? Not as much as we might like to think. Don't they get their very existence from us? A parasite always does.
The notion that the Bible is divinely inspired, has a long history of transmission from one person to another, though not exactly in its present form. Each human writer of the fragments we now call scripture found his received tradition inadequate and labored to articulate a better understanding of God and goodness. So did the Catholic council of Hippo Regis that decided some books were holier than others, giving an official canonical seal of approval to the most holy. So did Protestant reformers who publicly questioned those Catholic decisions. But by the time a Bible got handed down to Frosty, it had evolved into God's Perfect Word.
I would argue that Frosty's notion of the Bible, like the lancet fluke, is detrimental. Not that there is any public record of Frosty putting his life or health in danger in the service of this idea. All that he has endangered is his dignity. Well, that and his ability to analyze and act on some of the core moral questions of our day: population pressures in a finite world, responsible stewardship of our planetary life support system, and rational inquiry as a guide to collective action.
Where did Frosty acquire such a detrimental idea?
In part from our historic context. American fundamentalism has been growing steadily for thirty years. Some of the most important questions in life are hard to answer. The more complicated things get, the more we want answers, and the simpler we want those answers to be. In an era that both creates and resents an overwhelming flood of information, what better idol than a book--a book that, on the surface at least, offers a set of clear answers from a simpler time and place. A golden book is the new golden calf.
Child development may have played a role; Frosty may have been born into fundamentalism. Children are wired to absorb ideas from their elders, and most of these stick. Bring up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Frustration has led one scholarly theologian to complain recently that it's ok to have a fifth grade understanding of the Bible, if you're a fifth grader. Another has expressed the sentiment that Christians don't need to be born again, they need to grow up. But in the absence of support from adult authority figures, young people raised in fundamentalism may never reassess their childhood concepts of God or goodness.
Proselytizing could have played a role. We all seek explanations, and true believers are quick to offer them to vulnerable seekers. In fact the fundamentalist meme complex demands that they do. The fastest growing religions, Evangelicalism and Mormonism, for example, are those with the strongest proselytizing commands. Go into all the world, and make disciples of every creature.
Powerful emotional experiences may have played a part. Under certain conditions of sound, light, and solitude or social dynamics, the human brain triggers experiences of transcendence, otherness, and spirit beings. If Frosty had such experiences in the presence of fundamentalist memes, he may very well have interpreted his sensations through their explanatory filter.
A warm, nurturing community built around shared illusions is likely to have been a key, both to creating and maintaining Frosty's beliefs. Fundamentalist congregations offer connection, playfulness, entertainment, guidance, meaning, and mutual support at the same time that they erect barriers against questions and answers that are off limits.
Even American culture probably played its part, encouraging Frosty's disinterest in history, his reactive focus on what people do naked, and his entrepreneurial style of bible-based religion.
One way or another, Frosty bought in. And once he did, a vast dimension of rational inquiry was closed to him. Evidences took on different meanings. And Frosty could maneuver only within the bounds set by belief. Who knows what he might have become, unshackled.
Are you still wondering about the connection to global warming? Why, you ask, would three ordinary men elicit public humiliation by taking a public stand on an issue completely outside their arena of expertise and seemingly outside the purview of their religious dogmas?
Don't think about the actual content of fundamentalist beliefs or climatology. Think about social dynamics, at both the group and individual level. Here are some potential factors to put in the hopper.
1. Fundamentalism isn't at odds with just climate science. It is at odds with the whole scientific endeavor. The scientific method insists that any question that can be subject to rational and empirical scrutiny should be. It insists further, that people of sound mind and intellectual integrity be bound by the results of this inquiry, whether they like those results or not. This violates the foundational authority of received truth. Even the sophisticated fundamentalists of the Discovery Institute have acknowledged that ultimately, their goal is to replace empirical inquiry about this material world with a view that embraces supernaturalism. Science is threatening.
2. In fundamentalism, answers are accepted not because of the process that they emerge from but from the status given to authority figures as well as authoritative texts. Even in matters of policy and education, Frosty, Ed, and David may be bound emotionally to the inclinations of their respective authority figures, regardless of relevant expertise. In addition, it may be important at a gut level that additional status not be ceded to scientists as authorities. Scientists are suspicious figures.
3. Fundamentalism is fundamentally tribal, and American religious conservatives has been successfully courted by the political right. Free marketeers have wooed and won the tribal loyalties of the Religious Right, and acknowledging the reality of climate change would violate these loyalties. Climate scientists, environmentalists, and Al Gore, in particular, belong to the wrong tribe.
4. We all tend to associate with people who think like us, who affirm our core assumptions about the world, our cherished notions about what is right and what is real. Frosty, Ed, and David are probably no different in this regard. Until they saw the letters to the editor, until they read the derisive blogs, until the school system was flooded with thousands of offended emails from scientists, parents, and scholarly people of faith, they may have had little idea how far out of the mainstream they actually were. Even in the face of this onslaught, the opinions of insiders may matter more than a teeming mass of strangers, no matter how many facts they may wield.
The superficial moral of this story may be that credible debate on global warming is over. Stand by Michael Crichton or Bruce Chapman at the risk of your own intellectual credibility. But the deeper moral is about the way in which we all are susceptible to individual and shared delusion in the service of an idea or ideology that has us in its grip.
Richard Feynman once described the scientific method as "what we know about how not to fool ourselves." Even after generations of refinement, the rigorous rules of scientific inquiry still allow foolishness to slip through on occasion. Only the critical demands of peer review and replication eventually catches these errors.
No wonder the world's great wisdom traditions, including Christianity, universally teach the value of humility. Humility recognizes the provisional nature of our tribal dogmas and doctrines and even our carefully tested theories. It allows us, with provisional clarity, to embrace inconvenient truths as they emerge from the fog.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist, author, and ex-evangelical in Seattle, Washington. Her book, The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth can be found at www.lulu.com/tarico.
1/22/2007 View Comments
These four short films were produced, written, and starred by Brian Dalton. Brian is a creative genius who has many talents and interests, and in his latest project he explores the lighter side of religion through these humorous short films. Launched January 17, within a few days there were over 200,000 downloads of them from YouTube, iTunes, and at his own webpage, mrdeity.com. Everyone who watches them — whether religious, nonreligious, or antireligious — enjoys the wit and humor.
He has written a pilot for a television series based on his character, Mr. Deity. Enjoy!
Mr. Deity Episode 1: Mr. Deity and the Evil
After creating the universe, Mr. Deity and Larry decide what evil they'll allow.
Mr. Deity Episode 2: Mr. Deity and the Really Big Favor
Mr. Deity seeks help to save mankind while Larry oversees construction efforts.
Mr. Deity Episode 3: Mr. Deity and The Light
Mr. Deity and Larry have trouble with the lighting on their new world.
Mr. Deity Episode 4: Mr. Deity and the Messages
Mr. Deity explains prayer to Jesus while Larry gathers info on the evening's activities.
Do you know any atheists? Polls show that 1 percent to 3 percent of Americans do not believe in God. If your circle of acquaintances is bigger than 100 people, chances are it contains an atheist, although you may not know it.
I never deny that I'm an atheist, but I don't always offer up that information. This is not because I am unsure or ashamed of my disbelief in God. I don't mind the questions or even occasional accusations that follow when I declare my atheism. I'm happy to discuss it.
But I hate thinking about the conversations that people have and the conclusions they draw when I'm not there to respond.
Living in America, this discussion usually plays out in terms of Judeo-Christian beliefs. The most common criticism about atheists is that without belief in God, we have no ethics or morals. A recent letter to the editor said, "No system of ethics ... can stand alone. To make [ethics] understandable to a child, it must be clothed in religious terms, such as having an omniscient, omnipotent father in Heaven." I completely disagree.
When a child hits another and the second child cries, the first one doesn't need to have read the Bible or gone to Sunday school to know his action was wrong. Nor does he need to fear eternal damnation to discourage him from doing it again.
I try to teach my children right from wrong with a simple principle that most Christians will recognize. "How would you like it if Johnny took all the toy trucks and wouldn't share them with you?" It's not as eloquent as "do unto others," but the message is the same and it gets the point across.
When it comes to solitary offenses, such as cheating on a test, I rely on my own honor and values. Truth and honesty are the values I try to teach my children, through words and example. I want others to see me as an honest person, and thus I make the decision not to cheat.
The guilt I feel when I go against my own values is probably not that different than the guilt a believer feels when she goes against her religious values. Although I don't fear God's judgment, I face the judgment of my friends and family, peers and professors, as well as my own conscience.
Since becoming an atheist several years ago, I haven't stopped giving money to charities or being friendly to my neighbors. However, I am part of the least tolerated group in America. Recent polls show that nearly half of Americans (47.6 percent) would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist.
When asked, "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist, would you vote for that person?" Only 49 percent answered yes. For comparison, 59 percent said they'd be willing to vote for a homosexual. More than 90 percent were willing to vote for a woman, black or Jewish candidate.
Atheists don't believe in God, but that is the only generalization you can make about us. This doesn't mean that we are more immoral, uncaring or selfish than the rest of the population -- just as lack of belief in the divinity of Jesus doesn't make Jewish people more (insert your stereotype here) than others.
All of which brings me back to the question of whether you know any atheists. It's much easier to hate or distrust an abstract group of "others" than to hate or distrust the friendly woman in the next cubicle or the guy on your softball team who might not believe in God.
That is why I want people to know I'm an atheist. I encourage other atheists and agnostics to make their views known. This won't change our reputations overnight. But every time someone says, "Well, I have a friend who's an atheist ..." it's a step in the direction of tolerance, and that's a value I hold dear.
1/21/2007 View Comments
If you are a Christian, you are about to begin a fascinating journey. In the next ten minutes it will become clear to you that your belief in God is delusional.
The goal of this short video is to help you look in a mirror and understand the delusion of Christianity. Once you can see what is going on, the hope is that you will be able to start healing your delusion. With each healing, we make our world a better place.
I, along with many other ex-Christians, am in a rare position to speak on one of the most oppressive thought systems that has ever been subjected upon humanity and because I honestly care about our world and our spiritual and psychic evolution of humanity do I set out to help some to be free from this darkness. This HAS to come out of me. I need to know that I did all that I could with the knowledge that I have to help humanity in the best way that I can. It is a part of who I am and what I am here to do with the remaining time I have left.
Okay, why is it that Atheistic arguments cannot work against Christian Fundamentalism? Over the past three years I have read most of the major and many of the minor works on Atheism and its arguments against theism in general and fundamentalism in particular. There are some great arguments for sure, yet as a very knowledgeable ex-Christian I can logically answer 99% of all the hardest questions that can be posed to a Christian. I had (and still have) a solid answer for every question, and well-educated Christians (that is those Christians who truly know their bibles, hermeneutics, and the various disciplines of theology) also can answer such hard questions (though maybe not to the satisfaction of an Atheist). So being able to rebut Christianity through logic, science, nitpicking the contradictions of the bible, or various other means just doesn't work (on the whole). It just doesn't. If it did there would be hordes of people leaving Christianity. Certainly other religions have even less of an effect upon Christian ideology. If anything it strengthens the resolve of those who are serious Christians. If Atheism, rational thought, science, and every other religion cannot dismantle the Christian religion then is there any hope of freeing the world from this incredible darkness?
Yes. Most Atheists have never been a die-hard, living martyr for Christ and "the Faith." There are some of us Atheists who have lived that life, gave ourselves to Jesus and "his truth", sacrificed everything in our utter devotion to love and serve him, his truth and his church. "That Christ might live in us and that we might die" all for Jesus. There are ex-Christians who were as devout or deeply ingrained within it as I have been and they know, as I do, why arguments, whatever they might be, just didn't hold water. We know the passion and determination of other extremists from religions like Islam and Mormonism as well.
Ultimately, there are only two ways to break through this incredibly resilient ideology and belief system, to break into the minds of these people and help them to see. The first being: Universal Reconciliation, the third major theological system of the bible (the other two being Arminianism and Calvinism). Universal Reconciliation is the most consistent New Testament theological system and portrays god in the highest and most loving and merciful light. Universal Reconciliation is a much higher view of Christ and god than the vast majority of evangelical Christianity holds to, which falls within the confines of Arminianism or Calvinism (usually an inconsistent combination of the two). Anyone who truly knows the bible understands that the bible is broken up into covenants, mainly the new covenant and the old covenant. The new covenant was created when Jesus died on the cross (according to the bible that is). Everything before Jesus' death was under the old covenant, which was just a foreshadow or anti-type of the real, which was Christ and his new covenant. This is why knowledgeable Christians will never be moved with all the horrid and murderous quotes from the Old Testament - "that was under the old covenant and was fulfilled in Christ." The Old Testament is not the canon of the Christian, the New Testament is. Though many less knowledgeable Christians see the Old Testament quotes and try to follow them. This is why the Phelps' and other members of Westboro Baptist Cult in, Topeka, Kansas can say and do what they do. They take the Old Testament scriptures as their cannon (that is, it is authoritative to them) and use it for their own horribly deviant agendas. The new covenant puts all the duties and requirements of the Old Testament law completely fulfilled in Christ, but more than this Universal Reconciliation states that Christ died for EVERY person, past, present and future regardless whether or not they believe. Sure it is ideal to come to faith and be born-again in this life and know Jesus now, but it is not necessary for reconciliation with god. He did it all. Thus all the sins of all the people in every age, past , present and future were propitiated by christ on the cross, reconciling everyone to himself, yes, even Hitler, Dahmer, and Phelps. Some also believe that Satan will be reconciled and restored to god in the consummation of the end as well. This is a MUCH more positive and loving, (and I must say more scriptural) understanding and view of god under the new covenant. Though mainstream Christianity calls Universal Reconciliation a heresy and those who believe it are damned to hell. This blocks nearly 100% inquiry into this understanding of the New Testament. I didn't want to even look into it at first because I was so deeply programmed with the Christian status quo.
Once one also understands that 98% of English translations of the bible are translated by people who are programmed themselves with a certain theological system and that there are many places in the New Testament that are purposefully mistranslated to concur with their own theology, then you can understand that the word "hell" is never even in the New Testament. There is much to this of course, but suffice it to say that there are agendas within agendas even with translating the bible. If there is no hell in the New Testament then the current, mainstream evangelicalism and fundamentalism basically falls apart. Hell is a more generally a more treasured doctrine to Christians than redemption or reconciliation is, whether they would like to admit it or not, because without hell there is no NEED of faith in Christ.
Thus Universal Reconciliation frees the mind and heart to love Christ more or to seek other avenues of meaning in life. If I am reconciled to god whether or not I believe then I am free. Free to love Christ all the more or free to leave Christianity altogether. So this is the first way to free the minds and hearts of devout, truth seeking Christians.
The second and only other way is to expose them to the methods and means of the mind control that they are subject to. Logic and reasoning cannot penetrate their mind control and indoctrinated programming, no matter how sharp your logic is. See, knowledgeable Christians have an answer to every question that can be imagined. Their box is complete. This is why debating a devout Christian ONLY hardens them in their position. This is the nature of their control. The more you question them, the more you try to shake them from their faith, the more resolute they become. When they believe that there is an answer for EVERY question, no matter how difficult it may be, there is no way to rationally dethrone their thinking, because even though they might not have the answer - there is an answer - and thats good enough for them. This is just one part of the programmed mind of the Bible believer.
Christian mind control is based on indoctrination. Their indoctrination is, of course, based on the bible. Their understanding of the bible is based on a specific framework or system of interpretation of that bible (generally considered as theology). Their interpretation of that bible is largely based the on teaching of that interpretation by others, generally pastors, bible teachers, seminary professors, or parents, friends, or even popular Christian literature. In turn these people (pastors, teachers, seminary professors, parents, etc.) are indoctrinated by others and the cycle is continuous. This indoctrination, in order for it to be successful, must be authoritative. That is, the teaching that one receives is one of authority, either by parents or by a charismatic pastor, etc. This authoritative indoctrination, if accepted by the mind, reforms the thoughts of the person from one ideology to another or in a child's case from a blank slate. This is called Thought Reform or more generically brainwashing. Thought Reform or Brainwashing is unnoticeable in the convert since they continue to have a fully functioning free will and do not feel inadvertently coerced. They want to be taught/programmed with "the truth."
The gospel message of salvation or any other teaching by Christians that seeks to convert someone to "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" is usually a message designed to bombard the mind with the threat of eternal damnation (fear) and the reward of eternal life (joy). Evangelization, generally speaking, is psychological warfare of the mind. It is designed to confuse your current non-belief with a powerful, authoritative message of tremendous weight - eternity. Those who are in a weakened emotional or psychological state (from some inner turmoil, external stress, or even being lonely or homesick) are much easier prey to this psychological bombardment, and when it is masked with the guise of spirituality it becomes a serious burden to the Self.
When one undergoes the "born-again" experience and feels like a different person (and psychologically is) this is the mind succumbing to the psychological warfare and tremendous emotions of relief are felt and "renewal of soul" are felt because that burden, in a sense, falls through the mind of the person and is now free from it by being taken over by it. This is classic mind control. Any true research into psychological manipulation, Thought Reform and Brainwashing will reveal this very process. It is NOT a spiritual re-birth but a psychological reprogramming of the Self. There is no more powerful experience that one can undergo. Once one is programmed in this manner it is nearly impossible to be brought back or to be involuntarily deprogrammed.
The human mind is incredibly strong in many ways, yet it is weak just as much as it is strong and it is susceptible to suggestion, manipulation, and many other forms of coercion. Overt forms of control are easily thwarted, but it is the subvert or subtle forms of control that the mind is so easily turned by. If you have any question about this I recommend you watch some of the material by Derren Brown, Criss Angel, or any other talented mentalist and it is clearly evident how frightfully simple it is to control people without their knowledge. (Please see my Derren Brown videos I've uploaded to My Videos section).
When authoritative preaching is conducted, especially on a podium behind a pulpit (the elevation of the stage or podium above the congregates is a subliminal message of authority and exultation. The pulpit is also a symbol of an authoritative position) along with the "perfect and holy Word of God" this becomes an extremely powerful force upon the minds of those who are witnesses. You add the submissive rows of silent, attentive hearers and the mind is even further at risk to programming. The very sight of this kind of submissiveness and attentiveness of rows of people speaks volumes to the mind. The human mind has the tendency to "get caught up with the mob" or go along with the crowd and be swayed by what the others do. Its called the sheep mentality. You mix these powerful ingredients and you have mind control par excellence! When the preacher starts to preach the congregation goes into a specific type of hypnotism. This hypnotism keeps the congregates continually renewed in their indoctrinated programming. This is why pastors insist on members coming to worship every Sunday, because it helps to keep the sheep in line (the money flowing as well as their accolades for the ego of the pastor).
If one has a thorough understanding of this Christian mind control, what it is and how it works, one can use this knowledge to not attack their beliefs but to attack their process of mind control and help them to see the control without them feeling like their Faith is under attack. Once one comes to see the means of control and how psychological programming works then on their own they have the ability to look at the program and question it. Do you see? If one attacks their beliefs it will NEVER free them. It will in fact harden their beliefs. Though, help them to see the means of programming and they will in time question the program.
This is just a very condensed version of a book that I am currently writing on Christianity. I go into much deeper detail of the methods and means and effects of evangelical psychological programming as well as the teachings of Universal Reconciliation and the dangers and conspiracy of Dispensational theology, which is what mainstream Christianity is.
If you like this article feel free to visit my others at my MySpace site at: http://www.myspace.com/psychicevolution
This post is excerpted from The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth.
Thou to Whom the sick and dying Ever came, nor came in vain, Still with healing word replying, To the wearied cry of pain —Godfrey Thring1
ONE OF THE MOST POTENT CHALLENGES THAT NATURE RAISES AGAINST THOSE who want to believe in a just, loving, and omnipotent God is human suffering. We may diminish or even dismiss the suffering of “dumb beasts,” but we know that our own pain hurts. Worse, empathy makes it difficult to ignore the many forms of trauma suffered by our fellow humans.
Very empathetic people may find themselves unable to ward off the pain around them even when their own lives are relatively intact. An attorney lies awake in the wee hours, thinking about the battered clients she represents. A father, tucking his child into bed, is intruded by images of other children, burned or missing limbs, in hospital beds in a war-torn country. A third grader develops nightmares and stomach aches because a classmate is undergoing chemotherapy. Human pain can be mild or horrific, and we know it.
Volumes have been written on human suffering from a Judeo-Christian perspective. The title of this chapter, “The Problem of Pain,” comes from a book of the same title by famed Anglican writer, C.S. Lewis. Publishers have reprinted it and readers have consumed it steadily for more than half a century. When Bad Things Happen to Good People,2 written by a Jewish Rabbi on the same topic, is selling in a Twentieth Anniversary Edition. So, why bother to comment, when brilliant men have sold millions of books addressing this concern? Here is why. The answers don’t work. They don’t work emotionally, morally, or intellectually.
Despite being armed with volumes of justifications and explanations, Christians continue to think suffering is bad. So did the writers of the Bible: God showers blessings on those he favors and rains plagues and destruction on their enemies. The suffering of the righteous is attributed frequently to Satan. Illness, sterility, and death are blamed on bad behavior; they are punishments, terrible but deserved. Some suffering is described as lessons or tests that strengthen the faithful. But nowhere does the Bible attempt to argue that all misery serves some good end. In fact, most of the miracles attributed to Jesus involve healing— easing the burdens of illness and pain. Orthodox Christianity insists that God both cares about human suffering and intervenes in a myriad of ways to relieve it.
My moral vision, instincts, and emotions were formed in the bed of Evangelical imagery and belief. And what I find when I attend to their prodding is that the explanations writers like C. S. Lewis offer up for human suffering are unsatisfying in part because they contradict those foundational beliefs and images. The Twenty-third Psalm echoes in my memory:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (KJV)
If the psalmist isn’t saying God offers peace and comfort in this life, then what is he saying? Alternately, if he is talking only about his own experience and not how God generally cares for his beloved, then why does this psalm hang, illustrated by soft-hued portraits of the Good Shepherd cradling a lamb, in bedrooms around the world? “Let the little children come unto me,” said Jesus. My primary childhood image of Jesus is that of the Teacher, seated, with a child on one knee, his hand raised in an act of blessing or teaching a small cluster of trusting innocents. What does it mean to say that he watches over little children if it doesn’t mean he protects them from horrors like molesters and spinal cord tumors and napalm? Ask an Evangelical child what it means, ask her parent. Ask her pastor. Ask a hundred. Without exception, they will tell you that Jesus watches over his beloved to protect them from earthly harm, not just spiritual harm.
My mother, daughter of a church organist and a devout believer herself, recently called me, crying. Her friend of thirty-five years, Marjorie, was in excruciating pain. “It isn’t fair!” Mom sobbed. Marjorie’s life during those thirty-five years had revolved around her Evangelical beliefs. She attended church regularly, prayed regularly, listened to Evangelical radio stations, gave to her congregation. She otherwise lived an exemplary life, working long hours for long years to provide for two daughters whom she raised alone, all the while declining to divorce the philandering husband who had left her decades before.
A few months earlier, Marjorie had been on the verge of a vacation she had dreamed of for months and saved for longer. She was going to Hawaii with her daughter. Her son-in-law, my mother, and a nephew would tag along. They ended up going without her. Shortly before the scheduled departure, Marjorie, not feeling one hundred percent, had sent home the kids from her childcare business and gone to the doctor for a checkup. There she learned her kidneys were failing. Instead of going to Hawaii, she went to dialysis where she caught a staph infection that left her writhing on the bathroom floor, waiting to be found. She was given pain medications that made her, briefly, psychotic, and instead of providing a hotel bed by the sea, her money went for a bed in a nursing home.
Is there some good in this that we can’t see? Possibly. Was God trying to teach her a lesson? Maybe. But couldn’t he have waited till after Hawaii?
I’m a reasonably good parent and am crazy in love with my kids. Yet I’m willing to cause them pain for their own good—if I think there’s no other way to get that good or if I think my causing them pain will prevent greater future suffering. They had their immunizations. Their warts got frozen even though it made my stomach hurt. I endure complaints about raw cheeks from orthodontic devices and tears about homework, as long as I feel confident there’s no other way. In fact, I think less of myself when I am unwilling to cause them short-term discomfort for their long-term good. I understand how one might argue, by extrapolation, that a loving heavenly father must be willing to cause pain, although this does raise questions about omnipotence.
So, I’ll be reasonable. Maybe there is some good in Marjorie’s situation that Mom and I couldn’t see. Maybe God was trying to teach Marjorie a lesson. Maybe it couldn’t wait.
Now let’s suppose Marjorie had died on the bathroom floor. She didn’t, but her situation is far from unique. If you’re not actually living it, her story is almost mundane. Plenty of people do die alone in very similar circumstances and leave behind evidence that theirs weren’t exactly peaceful passings. What lesson then? You’re in pain, you’re in pain, it’s all you can think about (because when physical pain exceeds a certain threshold we humans can’t really process anything else), and then you’re dead. A lesson? Perhaps. But it does get a little harder to imagine.
I’ve heard it suggested, in situations like this, that the suffering, the lesson, might be for the benefit of someone else. This sounds reasonable at first, but consider: Now we’re saying that God, all good and all powerful, is causing someone to suffer without his or her consent, to suffer an excruciating, can’t-do-anything-but-be-in-pain kind of pain and then to die, for the benefit of another person? If a human did that, most of us would say it was bad. It’s not okay for me to decide for you to die a painful death for the benefit of someone else without your having a say in it. Is it possible to construct some moral dilemma in which this would be the right thing to do? Perhaps, but it requires no small amount of mental and moral gymnastics.
My own faith-crunching encounter with this kind of suffering came when I was working at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. I was a psychologist trainee on the Consult and Liaison Service, a cadre of mental health professionals who visited children on the medical units and their families and their staff, and helped them to deal with the emotional ramifications of injury and illness. I was assigned to Joey, a two-year-old with a spinal tumor. Joey was, as you might imagine, too young to understand why he couldn’t walk any more, why he had to drag his legs around. He was too young to even ask whether he would get better. (He wouldn’t.) He was too young to understand suffering unto death or any of its hypothetical benefits. He was too young for lessons.
The thought that he might be suffering for the benefit of an unknown someone else did little to comfort me. It didn’t seem to help his mother much either. What it did, instead, was to discredit this kind of rationalization, which functions primarily to medicate those who might otherwise suffer from an excess of empathic pain. In the unfettered world of imagination, where anything is possible, it is easy to imagine that someone somewhere might benefit from a child’s journey toward death. And since such conjectures are impossible to test, they can never be ruled out, no matter how unlikely they may be. But the whole exercise is not only rationally dubious, it is morally repugnant if one assumes that the whole affair is enabled by an omniscient, interventionist God. In what moral system is it fair to torture a two-year old for the benefit of anyone?
From my experience in the hospital, it was a small step to contemplate the suffering of other innocents, meaning children too young for “lessons,” in other times and places. Pick a time, pick a place. You don’t have to look far for the images: a child watching her parents get shot in Cambodia while waiting for her own bullet; another feeling the napalm on his back in Vietnam and not being the lucky survivor; an infant starving to death in Africa, anonymous to all but the pagan mother whose bony arms and dry breasts have nothing to offer; American children, natives, whimpering fever-glazed in small-pox-infested blankets. What lesson there? What goodness?
The fact is, no visible benefit outweighs the harm. Quite the contrary. Suffering can be unspeakable or unbearable, and the presumption that the benefits are greater than the horrors has little basis in evidence. This presumption is faith and faith alone, and as such it illustrates both the best and worst aspects of ungrounded belief.
How? At best, this belief may help us to function, even to survive in a world where every work of art, every note of music, every glimmer of joy, every act of kindness has occurred in parallel with atrocities and death. When we can convince ourselves that the suffering is meaningful, useful, justified, or deserved, we can fend it off. It hurts less, and we are more able to experience life’s goodness. Finding just the right explanation for the awfulness we see around us works emotional magic. It relieves anxiety and empathic pain and replaces them with feelings of safety and peace. The attorney can fall asleep again, nestled in the comfort of her own home; the father can tiptoe away, relishing the beauty of his own sweet child.
What’s Wrong With a Little Comfort?
At worst, though, this very same faith mutes one of our most important biological and psychological alarms. It teaches us to deny the evidence of our senses, our minds, and our powerful empathic resonance. It makes us more able to cope with realities, but less able to change them. We don’t throw ourselves quite as forcefully into peacemaking if we can excuse war deaths. We don’t give quite as much to help cure cancer when we can convince ourselves that those little cancer victims have brought goodness into the world. Pain, including empathic pain, motivates us to do something, to fix something, to do whatever it takes to make the pain stop. If we can dull the pain with rationalizations, then it loses its power to compel action.
Insistence that suffering is meaningful also stunts compassion. None of us wants to live in a world in which bad things, unbearably bad things, happen at random to other people. This would mean that they might happen to us or to those we love. So, we want to believe that what happens to other people is predictable, deserved, or within their control. One kind of justification we use routinely is what psychologists call blaming the victim. We convince ourselves that another person’s suffering was caused by something that person did or failed to do: That rape victim should have dressed differently. My poor neighbor is lazy. Those families that got killed in Fallujah were doubtless supporting terrorists.
Blaming the victim diminishes our empathy and our willingness to help individuals and solve societal problems. Ironically, it fits quite comfortably with the notion of divine justice and may even be necessary if one hopes to sustain belief in a God who is fair, loving, and omnipotent. The irony lies in the fact that, if there is a God who is loving, just, and powerful, the process of rationalizing suffering actually makes his followers less god-like on all three counts.
To reiterate, Evangelicals agree that earthly harm is bad, which is why, when it occurs, it must be justified. When they argue that suffering is good or meaningful, they talk about specific suffering, not suffering in general. Even then, they begin with a premise that is tautological. It is good, this suffering, because it must be good, because God is good. It is justified, because it must be justified because God is just. Then, like good attorneys, they search for evidence, any evidence, that might support this a priori position. When no such evidence is forthcoming, even when the evidence is to the contrary, we are told the good effects must be there, because God is good and they are simply not visible to us.
To humbly and hopefully take such things on faith in the absence of evidence is what faith is all about. But to take such things on faith in contradiction to the best of our logic and experience and moral comprehension is to render logic, experience, and the word “good,” meaningless.
If you liked this chapter, The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth is available at www.lulu.com/tarico.