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7/13/2009                                                                                       View Comments

My Thoughts on the Life Changing Power of Religion

By Bill J

change your lifeImage by Yersinia via Flickr

Most people view the architecture of life rather simply. This life is a process of purification, or separation for the next world, the real world. This life is like a boot camp, do it right here and you will reap the rewards in the next life, or fail here and find yourself separated from everything good. Most people believe in eternal life, a god or life force. Most people base their entrance into the good life based on what they do now, or how they treat people in this life, fundamentalist Christianity does not. In fundamentalist Christianity there are no second chances in the next life and what you believe now is everything and if you really believe, good works will follow.

We can’t really judge a fundamentalist Christian by his or her actions. Have you ever tried? Tell me what you hear. Usually I get answers like, just because I am saved doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or we all have a sin nature to deal with, or I am redeemed but still battle with a heart that wants to do evil, etc. In my experience, one can never pin down this type of Christian when they have committed a wrong. Do I mean that they don’t apologize or take responsibility? No, I don’t necessarily mean that. What I mean is that they are no different than any other religious believer or non-believer.

Are they less likely to get a divorce, struggle with greed, lust, gluttony, bigotry, selfishness, unfaithfulness, anger, etc? In my humble opinion, the answer is no. When I was a Christian I struggled with some of these things. I found that all my friends and parishioners did too. Yes, some had come from a life of drugs or crime and they had stopped this behavior, but they still struggled with other internal and external issues. They still ate too much, said hurtful things, lusted after another, looked at porn, got divorced, spent too much money, failed to tithe at least 10%, lost their temper or acted selfishly toward their family, spouse or friend.

Is there really any difference? I don’t see it. What I do see is people who often had no direction in life because of childhood neglect, or abuse find something to help re-parent them. I also saw people who were substance abusers find support and acceptance in a community which helped them stay safe and sober. I found people who grew up in church doing one of three things, rebelling against it, embracing it, or going with the flow. Did any of these later converts demonstrate a greater spirituality or morality? I couldn’t tell other than they seemed a bit naive and sheltered. They struggled with the same stuff. Did I see miraculous demonstrations of faith; no.

What sets fundamentalist Christians apart from everyone else? In my opinion it’s simply their rigid beliefs. They are plagued with the same issues everyone else is, but they strive to prove that they are different. They often try to appear more moral, ethical and honest.

With the rise of the internet and access to so much news I got tired of reading about pastors, youth ministers, Sunday school teachers, deacons, boy scout leaders, priests, church leaders and the like getting caught for thefts, sex offenses, domestic violence, fraud and other such immoral behaviors. Quite honestly, I don’t see any greater sense of compassion, love, fairness, mercy, honesty, accountability faithfulness or anything that sets them apart from other religions or lack thereof. Do you?

When I went through training as a sex offender specialist for the state I was introduced to the typical sex offender profile. It was supposed to help me prevent, capture or simply be aware of the sex offenders on my caseload. I was still a Christian at this time and I was discouraged when I learned that the typical profile is a church going, 40 something, white, educated male. Really, church going? I remember thinking to myself, how is it that we Christians, who have the Holy Spirit in us, are not able to discern this kind of evil, or immoral behavior in our churches? Why can’t we prevent any kind of immoral action in our Christian church families if we have God in us and on our side? Didn’t we pray for God to keep our children safe?

Like most religious people, I didn’t really have an answer that totally fit these questions. I sort of believed that without Christ in their lives people were doomed to be immoral and blind to the truth as I knew it. I kind of had this image that people were all sinners waiting to be punished for their sin unless we Christians could introduce them to the life changing love of Christ. Today I understand that people are people and no matter what they believe there isn’t any supernatural character, or ability to avoid being Homo sapiens and all that this entails. We are a mix of both primitive and sophisticated mental drives and motivations. We know that our character isn’t fixed and people, even highly religious people can do terrible things given the right circumstances. My faith in Christianity to make people better in some tangible way, or any religion is nil for that matter. As much as I longed to demonstrate that I was different, when I was a believer, I found that I wasn’t. If given enough time, I saw the same flaws, or different ones in my Christian friends, leaders and people I admired.

Do any religions truly change our fundamental make-up? None of them do in my opinion. In so much as you count changing lifestyle habits or addictions, or healing emotional pain, or making positive self improvement as proof, then I guess you can claim something, but hardly supernatural. Frankly, every religion claims these things and can easily demonstrate those claims. As a counselor & and as a parole and probation officer, I help people make changes all the time without any religion. Do I still know Christians who are obese, lie, lust, overspend, neglect their spouse, etc? Yes I do. Are they an example of the supposed power of Christ; absolutely not! Do I wonder if they are aware of how clearly evident their lack of power, lack of proof, lack of abundant life, or even lack of personal change is apparent to me and everyone else? I think at some level they are aware, but to admit it is another thing. If they do admit it, they find ways to rationalize their behavior as some personal failure on their part, thereby excusing the power of their god from transforming their lives.

One of the reasons I left Christianity is because I discovered that religions, faith, love of Jesus or a spiritual life in Christ didn’t really change people or me. I was just as blind to my faults as the next person when I was a believer. Education, self examination, learning thru suffering and the assistance of caring people helped me change. Even after giving up religious beliefs, I still continue to change based on these same factors. I’m not the fool who’s wisdom is darkened by my lack of belief in a god and I’m not the pagan hedonist who thinks of nothing but his own pleasure at the expense of others.

I’ve changed some of my values, and I’ve learned to be much more open minded, but since leaving the fold, I find myself learning more about me, my family and people then I ever did as a believer. I am more accepting of some things and more tolerant then I was as a Christian. I find myself free of the false guilt and shame I struggled with as a Christian. I don’t mean that I no longer feel guilt for a wrong done, or shame over a thoughtless act. I simply mean that I no longer worry about trying to be all things to all people trying to prove my changed nature, or demonstrate why we Christians are full of love and grace. I no longer worry about trying to be perfect or holy, always in the back of my mind wondering if I am loving people as God would, because I’m supposed to help people find the love of Christ. I no longer find myself having to befriend people I wouldn’t ordinarily befriend. I am no longer driven to do things against my will because God is watching. I am myself and I love, or like people for my own reasons, which are mostly based on being treated respectfully, honestly, compassionately, mercifully and so on. I find that even if we don’t agree on every issue, I can find friendship based on mutual respect and care. I find that relationships are much more important than religion. Many of my Christian friends don’t even talk to me simply because I no longer believe. I have even received insulting references to being a fool because I don’t believe in their god.

I really do wish life continued on long after death, but I just can't find any reasonable evidence that it does. I wish there was a loving kind power, or personal god that cared for us and helped us in this life and the next. I just don’t see this anywhere except as claims in the minds of believers and in their books. This desire for a caretaker is a longing that seems embedded in our DNA and quite possibly as a result of thousands of years of human development and our need to explain the mysteries of life and feel special.

Life is a journey in my opinion, but one that ends at some unknown point in time. I don’t believe it is eternal. I don't believe in a personal god, or otherwise and I don’t believe there is a judgment for wrongs done by a supreme judge, even though this goes against my own human desire to see justice. Life is what we make it and for whatever reason, I intend to keep learning, loving and taking account for my actions if only just to grow personally and connect more deeply with those I love and care about. I intend to be honest with my love and transparent with my faults and fair to people I don’t know.

Personal change can come from any number of methods and be beneficial even if the method isn’t perfect. Does religion change people for the better? In some ways I believe it does; however some of those changes come with additional luggage and at a price. It’s a cost that is far too great when it excludes people based on sexual orientation, traps people in irrational thinking and isolates them from both self awareness and the ability to question their beliefs. For me life is the freedom to be your self without having to be something for an invisible and unknowable god always hoping you are hearing him or obeying his will. I don’t believe life is a process preparing us for the next one. I believe living is the destination and one we can relish with great joy if we live in the moment. Life is amazing and I intend to enjoy it as much as I possibly can. Of course life isn't fair and no one hands us meaning. We live the hand we are dealt and we do the best we can to make life meaningful by doing things that are meaningful to us.

The reality is, that in the end, we get old, sick and die, or meet our end unexpectedly, so why make it harder believing in things that don’t really change people as promised and don’t have any evidence to support a life transformed full of power. Reality showed me a different picture then what I was taught to believe, what I hoped for and what I wanted. As hard as reality is, it’s far better in my opinion to meet reality head on verses looking through a set of religion colored glasses. I have yet to find these so called transformed people who don’t judge, are full of love, impartial, honest, ethical and are unified in mind and spirit, let alone heal the sick, walk on water, move mountains and do greater things then Jesus is supposed to have accomplished and promised his followers. If I ever find evidence of such people I will be sure to let you know.

Sincerely,

Bill J.

P.S. If you are a Christian and reading this, please don't take away from this the idea that I am bashing you as a person. I tend to seperate people's beliefs from who they are in character, and personality. My friendships with some of my Christian friends is based on our mutual care for each other and our respect for one another. I don't have to agree with someone to be their friend, but I do have to respect them.



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