11/30/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection

Resurrection of ChristImage via Wikipedia

By Kris Komarnitsky, author of Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? (also available in the UK and as an ebook).

According to well-known proponent of Jesus’ resurrection Dr. N.T. Wright, “The empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ with Jesus, when combined, present us with not only a sufficient condition for the rise of early Christian belief, but also, it seems, a necessary one. Nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain the phenomena before us.”1 This view – which is really the idea that Jesus’ resurrection is the only plausible explanation for the Christian origins evidence before us – has been popularized by lay authors like JP Holding (The Impossible Faith) and Lee Strobel: “I had seen defendants carted off to the death chamber on much less convincing proof!”2 It has also filtered down to the lay blogosphere: “The evidence is simply overwhelming. If you believe in gravity, you have to believe that Christianity is also true.”

But is it really true that there is no other plausible way to read the Christian origins evidence except to conclude that Jesus resurrected from the dead? Well, like most complex topics, that is probably a matter of personal opinion. Many non-believers dismiss Jesus’ resurrection out of hand based on the evidence that a God does not seem to intervene within human history in such a physically direct way. But what happens when non-believers engage people like those above? The answer is probably a lifetime of going back and forth on every single piece of Christian origins evidence without much progress. I do not know many people who would be interested in such a thing, but there is one particular piece of evidence that I found intriguing – the rise of early Christian belief referred to by Dr. Wright above.

Beginning my own inquiry into this topic several years ago, I took as my starting point the beliefs and traditions expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, widely recognized amongst scholars on both sides of the aisle to be the earliest known Christian beliefs and traditions, in existence well before any of the gospels were written:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

In considering the possible causes of these beliefs and traditions, notice that Dr. Wright does not appeal to the historical reliability of the gospels. He is saying that even aside from the gospel accounts of a discovered empty tomb and “meetings” with Jesus, nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain early Christian belief. In other words, he is temporarily granting for the sake of argument the position of many in non-traditional scholarship that the gospels are mostly legends, including the discovered empty tomb tradition.

If the discovered empty tomb tradition is a legend, not only is Jesus’ resurrection effectively ruled out, but so are several non-traditional explanations for the rise of early Christian belief, like the stolen body theory, the moved body theory, and the theory that Jesus only appeared to be dead and then resuscitated. With these ruled out, there is only one explanation that jumps out at me as a plausible cause of the two-pronged belief that Jesus died for our sins and was raised. That cause is the human phenomenon of cognitive dissonance reduction. Basically, this is the human tendency to rationalize a discontinuity between reality and one’s current beliefs in such a way that current beliefs are modified or added to instead of being rejected. Sometimes this results in extremely radical rationalizations. We have solid examples of this from other religious movements in history, such as the Millerite movement, the Sabbatai Zevi movement, and others.

This theory has of course been proposed before and the controversy surrounding it can be seen in Dr. Wright’s strong disagreement with it, followed by Dr. Robert M. Price’s response to Wright’s critique. According to Wright, “The flaws in this argument [that cognitive dissonance caused early Christian belief] are so enormous that it is puzzling to find serious scholars still referring to it in deferential terms” (The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3), pg. 698; full critique pg. 697-701). Price responds to Wright’s critique with:

…there are many viable explanations [for the rise of the belief that Jesus resurrected], not least Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction, whereby more than one disappointed sect has turned defeat into zeal by means of face-saving denial. Wright suicidally mentions this theory, only to dismiss it… with no serious attempt at refutation [emphasis added].

I agree with Price; Wright does not adequately rebut this idea.

If cognitive dissonance was the cause of these beliefs, the other traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7 seem easily accounted for as part of a growing religious sect. A few individual hallucinations of the beloved leader would not be unusual, nor would a fringe legend of a simultaneous appearance to over 500 people (the latter seeming a reasonable conclusion given that this appearance tradition does not show up in any other literary source). If there was a need to designate leaders in the new movement – those who had the ability to teach, preach, and defend the group’s new beliefs – the traditions of the appearances to the Twelve and to all the apostles could simply be designations of authority. This would be consistent with the hierarchical structure in the two appearance traditions – Peter apparently being the leader of the group known as the Twelve (“he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve”), James apparently being the leader of the group known as all the apostles (“he appeared to James, then to all the apostles”). We know too that an appearance of Jesus was required in order to confer authority to someone in the early church, for Paul says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1). This explanation for the group appearance traditions has of course also been suggested before. For example, Dr. Stephen Patterson says:

Both the Twelve and the church have everything to gain by the assertion that the risen Lord had also appeared to the Twelve. Including the Twelve in the appearance formulae probably derives from a decision on the part of the early church to expand the sphere of authority that was originally confined to the “pillars” to include the Twelve as well. It is not so likely that it derives from an actual experience of the risen Jesus….[This] could also be said about the claim in 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus also appeared to “the apostles”… [We] have in this expression a second authority-bearing designation from earliest Christianity… The inclusion of “the apostles” in this formula… derives from an ecclesial decision to expand the sphere of authority beyond James to include others who could be trusted with the task of preaching. (God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning, 1998, pg. 234-236)

Lastly, there would naturally have been an immediate need, almost reflex, in a growing religious sect to ground their beliefs in sacred scriptures. The third-day belief could be a byproduct of this engagement with Jewish scriptures, with some likely scriptural candidates being Hos 6:2, a Jewish sacred third day tradition, and Ps 16:10 (this would be consistent with the creed’s assertion that Jesus was raised on the third day “in accordance with the scriptures”).

If this is how these beliefs and traditions came about, it makes sense that later legends would be built on them, like a discovered empty tomb on the third day after Jesus’ death and corporeal post mortem “meetings” with Jesus where people touch his body. Further, if the gospels are mostly legends, the frequent argument of Christians that the presence of Jesus’ corpse in the tomb would have doomed the new movement, fails. This argument fails because the burial account in the gospels could simply be an integral part of the discovered empty tomb legend (experts confirm the two traditions are tied together verbally and grammatically). The question to ask is, what normally would have happened to the body of a crucified criminal from the lower classes which was allowed to be removed from the cross in deference to Jewish burial sensitivities? The answer seems to be – a ground burial, probably in the Kidron or Hinnom valley, with nobody attending except for an indifferent burial crew who only cared to mark the site with whiting or a pile of loose rocks to give warning of uncleanness.

In short, it seems to me that there is a plausible natural explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7, exactly what Wright is asking for. If true, this comes full circle and impacts on the historical reliability of the gospels. Why? Because 1 Cor 15:3-7 is used by traditionalists as “external evidence” for the historical reliability of the gospels, including the gospel burial accounts, the discovered empty tomb, and the corporeal postmortem appearances. But if there is another plausible explanation for the rise of these beliefs and traditions, there is nothing about 1 Cor 15:3-7 itself that supports the conclusion that the gospels are more likely historical rather than legendary expansions of these beliefs and traditions. One can always reject a plausible natural explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7 on the conviction that the gospels are historically reliable, but to avoid being circular, such a person would need to modify their argument for gospel reliability to not enlist the help of 1 Cor 15:3-7.

- Kris Komarnitsky

Notes:

  1. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 706. []
  2. Lee Strobel,The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 356. []



Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? begins at a place where believer, non-believer, and those who are not quite sure about Jesus' resurrection can meet - at the Bible's account of a discovered empty tomb three days after Jesus' death. Considering scholarship from both sides of the aisle, this book explains in clear and easily understood terms what many scholars have been saying for years - there is good reason to conclude that this tradition is a legend. If true, the historicity of Jesus' resurrection collapses. Following up on this possibility, this book turns its attention to a key bible passage (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) that is widely recognized to contain the earliest known Christian beliefs and traditions: Jesus "died for our sins...was raised on the third day...and appeared" to many people. Again drawing on a wide range of scholarly expertise and covering many topics often encountered in discussions about Jesus' resurrection, this book investigates and offers an answer to the question, what plausibly could have caused the rise of these extraordinary beliefs and traditions if there never was a discovered empty tomb?

Here is what just a few well-known scholars have had to say about
Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?
"Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn't been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means. Though I don't always agree with him, and some issues could be discussed at greater length, everything he argues is plausible, and his treatise as a whole is a must for anyone interested in the resurrection." – Richard Carrier, Ph.D. Ancient History

"If you liked my book Beyond Born Again, you're going to love this one by Kris Komarnitsky! He shows great acuity of judgment and clear-eyed perception of the issues. He does not claim to have proof of what happened at Christian origins, but he does present a powerfully plausible hypothesis for what might have happened, which is all you need to refute the fundamentalist claim that things can only have gone down their way. By now it is a mantra – it is also nonsense, and Kris shows that for a fact." – Robert M. Price, Ph.D. Theology, Ph.D. New Testament

"Komarnitsky is addressing an important topic in a considered and rational way. This book offers the open-minded reader an opportunity to work through some of the key questions surrounding the Easter mystery that lies at the heart of Christian faith." – Gregory C. Jenks, Ph.D. FaithFutures Foundation

"Clearly written and well argued, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection lays out a plausible and intriguing case for a non-supernatural explanation of the New Testament resurrection accounts. Don’t be put off by the fact that Komarnitsky is not a scholar – his book makes a solid contribution to the historical-critical understanding of these immensely important texts. This book deserves serious attention from scholars and all those interested in Christian Origins." – Robert J. Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, Juniata College

11/29/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Sounding False Alarms

by Fatalotti

Have you ever heard of someone who's yelled fire in a crowded room in which there was no fire, needlessly causing extreme levels of panic? These people are generally arrested for disturbing the peace. If someone were to get injured during the ensuing chaos, the charges levied against the perpetrator could be even greater, including reckless endangerment, and should someone be killed, it could extend to manslaughter. It goes without saying that the law considers this to be a serious offense because of the great damage it can cause.

But what if the perp claiming that there was a fire actually believed that there was fire? And, I don't mean he smelled smoke in the air, or felt intense warmth beneath his feet. I mean, he had had a vision, or believed that a supernatural power had warned him about this fire, and that it was his duty to proclaim in this crowded room about the imminent fire. But, there was no such fire. Would he still be held accountable for his actions? You better believe he would be. If he wasn't arrested and processed as thoroughly as a normal criminal in this situation, he would at least be detained and admitted for several psychiatric evaluations. Because, again, causing unnecessary mass panic and hysteria is a serious offense. It upsets the peace, can lead to great amounts of properly damage and most importantly, can lead to physical and emotional harm to lots of people.

So, if we all agree that these type of fear inducing tactics are criminal and should be treated thusly, why is it that Christians are allowed to consistently induce such fear and panic in people all over the world through their proselytization, with no consequence? Sure, there are certain establishments that discourage these activities, but the general view is that of an annoyance, not an act with dire consequences, and certainly not construed as a criminal activity in and of itself. The criminal activity is usually the act of disobeying the original ordinance not to proselytize, not so much the proselytizing itself.

To flesh this out, imagine I went around the city of New York and stopped people on the street, warning them that they were going to die within the year unless they began participating in volunteer charity work. I doubt many people would take me seriously, but beyond that, if the authorities got wind of my actions, I'd be stopped immediately. If I persisted, I'd be arrested (if I hadn't been arrested already). This kind of activity is severely frowned upon and rightly so. Now imagine, I out did even this. What if I began posting this message on bulletin boards/bumper stickers/mass e-mails/pamphlets handed out all over the country, etc.? I'd be considered something of a domestic terrorist, and there's no way that the US would stand for this. It'd be ridiculous if they did....

But wait, they do, and all in the name of freedom of speech and religion. Because how often does some unsuspecting person get attacked by a Christian, whether in person or through some literature, telling them that they are going to spend all of eternity in an everlasting torturous chamber of fire and brimstone, unless they surrender themselves to the whims of an insecure God? And how is this type of fear not infinitely worse than the fear induced by yelling fire in a crowded room. This is, without a doubt, the worst fear mongering known to man. And it's done all the time.

Today, I was driving home from my mother's, only to stop at a red light behind a man in a truck with the following bumper sticker. "If you live each day like there's no God, YOU'D BETTER BE RIGHT!", and of course this was complemented with extremely artistic flames bordering the bottom of the bumper sticker, implying that being wrong would be a one-way ticket to Hell. I mentioned at the beginning of this rant that today, I wanted to kill someone. Maybe that makes me as bad as this guy, but he'll never know how I felt. What else he'll never know is the levels of emotional, mental, and yes, physical trauma that can be, and are quite often caused by this ridiculously close-minded dogma.

See, he's so convinced that he's right that his loving God is going to send billions of people to Hell, he believes he is doing the world a favor by warning them about Hell (because obviously God isn't doing a good enough job). What he doesn't consider, is that he is causing fear, panic and unnecessary stress based on an unverified claim, buttressed only by his beliefs. He believes I need to know about Hell so I can avoid it, yet he never stops to think about how negatively he may be affecting my life. He doesn't consider the possibility that I may be so stricken by fear, that I would spend years gripped by the dread caused by Hell, effectively robbing me of my life and sanity, while ostracizing myself from friends and family, eventually leading me to lose hope in my life, the world around me, and all humanity. He doesn't consider how these doctrines of hate can ruin lives, and he obviously doesn't study history, or else he'd know just how cancerous this doctrine has been throughout the last several thousand years.

He doesn't consider these things, because he's a brainwashed drone, who has suspended his ability to think critically, all in an effort to be a better disciple of his lord. Yet, these doctrines continue to be propagated, because freedom of religion is a Constitutional right. Yet, at the very heart of the theory of the American right, is that any man can do anything he wants, so long as he doesn't impinge upon another man's rights. Well, isn't it my right to live out my life without having unfounded claims forced down my throat by overzealous religious nuts, claims that can (and have thus far been able to) ruin my life?

Of course it is, but there seems to be no stopping the religious machine, and so long as they continue to swear on the Bible in court every day, or at Presidential and other inaugurations; so long as they continue to sing God Bless America at every damned sporting event; so long as they continue to elevate "men of the cloth" to levels of esteemed respect and academic reverence; so long as they continue to turn a blind eye to the vitriolic effects that religion is having and will continue to have across the globe, this seemingly innocent practice of fear mongering will go on, unimpeded, and we will continue to have to read these oh-so clever bumper stickers, or observe these make-you-want-to-drive-your-car-into-oncoming-traffic bulletin boards, or handle these nauseous pamphlets until the day we shuffle off this mortal coil.

And I can't stand it anymore...

The Power of God

by Neal Stone

Caressing the sky / Acariciando el cieloImage by . SantiMB . via Flickr

According to the Bible and Christians, God created the earth and universe in just six days. Let us take a good look at this.

Let's assume that this god did indeed create the universe. Then he would have to have extremely advanced knowledge and skill in physics, mathematics, engineering and so on. On top of that he would require an immense power source beyond imagination.

So we are talking about someone with incredible power, knowledge and skill.

So herein lies the problem. With all this power, knowledge and skill god seems to have a few issues regarding a couple of other skills. Communication and planning.

Communication.

Given all his wisdom, power and ability to see the future as well as the past god's only communication to us is a book so confusing, convoluted and riddle with mistakes (he can create the universe, but not handle a handful of authors and document copiers????) called the Bible.

On top of that those that claim to understand it can't seem to agree on what it says and often twist it to their own advantage. Most of these people still don't even understand all of it anyway.

Then there is prayer. A system proven to be nothing more than chance at best. We are expected to believe in the power of prayer and yet most answers seem just luck and random chance. God listens to one believer, but ignores a great many more. Not only poor communicating to us, but poor at listening to us as well. Christians will come up with many (canned answers...yes it's a pet peeve) for why this is otherwise known as denial.

Planning

Given the history of the Bible and the fact that god built our home right in the middle of Satan central it is evident god has poor planning skills. Couldn't he have waited till Satan was destroyed or imprisoned? And with all the power why is it so hard to do so?

According to the Bible when Satan rebelled God kicked him out of heaven and LET HIM GO???? Surely he knew (and he did since he knows the future) that there would be problems to follow?

I am told that our suffering is part of his great plan. Here is that great plan. This is based on what I have been told by Xians.

“Man had to fall into sin so Jesus could die on the cross so we could have with god what we already had with god before the fall.”

See how clear it all is? Makes so much sense doesn't it? OF COURSE NOT!

It is quite evident that god isn't as powerful or smart as Xians want us to think. How could he be? I mean is this whole mess really part of his plan? Is this the best he could do? Why is his plan so easily thwarted by us mere humans. I can barely build a birdhouse, yet the builder of the universe's plans are easily thwarted by me.

I submit to you that there is no way this Bible god can be real? How could he be? If he is real, he should be fired.




I am on Facebook now! Please let me know who you are when you contact me.

No, posting my Facebook page is not an open invitation for Christian trolls to contact me with some stupid argument. I have a life and prefer to spend it away from the computer, as well as avoiding lame, warmed-over arguments.





Point of View

by WizenedSage

John 3:16Image by arti47 via Flickr

For those believers and fence-sitters who occasionally visit this site, I offer the following for your consideration.

The following passage is the very foundation statement of Christianity, so what it means is very, very important.
John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So, god is making a really big sacrifice for us, right? Well, that depends on your point of view. Here’s what I see in that passage.

“Your birth offends me. I can forgive you, but someone has to die.” Once we scrape off the sticky sweet frosting of words like “love” and “gave,” isn’t that the real message of that passage? You may think god is doing the sacrificing here, but isn’t he also the one demanding the sacrifice, and rather arbitrarily, since he makes the rules? And, like any good TV huckster, god adds, “But that’s not all! If you worship me, I’ll let you live forever!”

Many are willing to look past the barbarity of the arbitrary death sentence for that promised prize. In fact, most never even see the basic immorality of this scapegoating plan. As a friend once wrote, “There is nothing about me or my actions worth anyone suffering for, let alone dying for. Anyone who would give his life to make up for my 'sins' has wasted his life.”

Some Christians would argue that Satan is deceiving me here. But let’s think about Satan for a minute. Where did Satan come from? In the Christian cosmology god created everything. So, god created Satan to try to get you to do bad things, right? Or, at least, he allows Satan to tempt you at will. What kind of sick game is god playing in this? What does god gain by letting Satan get us to do bad things? Well, for one thing, he gets more victims to torture for eternity in hell. How can this scheme make this god worthy of worship? This is moral depravity of the basest, most obvious kind. Only the most tortured logic can begin to make any sense of it.

So, in John 3:16, what appears to be sweetness and light, ribbons and rhinestones, is just blood and guts in disguise.

Let’s be clear about this. This god demanded a human sacrifice to assuage his own anger, to satisfy his own ego. Blaming us for being born is absurd. We are no more at fault for that than we are at fault for Eve eating the magical fruit. And even if we were guilty of something, why doesn’t god simply forgive us? He makes the rules, right? So why does he demand blood? Simply because he can, it seems. Could it be any more obvious that this god is a smug, egocentric, heartless, blood thirsty reflection of primitive men? Might it even be that worshiping such an entity, a god who demands human sacrifice, should be considered immoral? It’s certainly inhumane (against humans), by definition.

And it gets worse. Have you even thought about the fact that, according to your Bible, this god decreed that justice would be served by torturing the majority of humanity for an eternity (Matt. 22:14)? Why would anyone expect anything good to come of that?




11/26/2009                                                                                       View Comments

A Humanist Thanksgiving Proclamation

by Robert Green Ingersoll (1833–1899), from The Works of Robert Green Ingersoll Vol IV

When I became convinced that the universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom.

The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world — not even infinite space.

I was free:

  • Free to think, to express my thoughts
  • Free to live my own ideal
  • Fee to live for myself and those I loved
  • Free to use all my faculties, all my senses
  • Free to spread imagination’s wings
  • Free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope
  • Free to judge and determine for myself
  • Free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past
  • Free from popes and priests
  • Free from all the “called” and “set apart”
  • Free from sanctified mistakes and “holy” lies
  • Free from the winged monsters of the night
  • Free from devils, ghosts and gods

For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings; no claims for my limbs; no lashes for my back; no fires for my flesh; no following another’s steps; no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love:

  • To all the heroes, the thinkers, who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain
  • For the freedom of labor and thought
  • To those who fell on the fierce fields of war
  • To those who died in dungeons bound with chains
  • To those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs
  • To those by fire consumed
  • To all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons and daughters of men and women

And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they have held, and hold it high, that light may conquer darkness still.




11/25/2009                                                                                       View Comments

“He’s a great science teacher, but he doesn’t believe in evolution.”

by Valerie Tarico

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

Last week, as I was driving a carload of middle-schoolers to a movie, the kids started talking about their teachers. I couldn’t help overhearing, “ . . . He’s a great science teacher, but he doesn’t believe in evolution.” Two days later, a friend reported that her 15-year-old daughter had just returned from at a junior government retreat. “They argued the pros and cons of teaching intelligent design in schools, and she said there were some very compelling arguments on the pro side.” When I repeated the story at the dinner table later, my own daughter mentioned a school mate who feels conflicted about his biology curriculum because his family doesn’t believe in evolution.

Charles Darwin published his world-changing work, On the Origin of Species, 150 years ago this week. What he proposed was breathtakingly simple. It can be reduced to three parts: variability, heritability, and differential survival. Variability means simply that creatures are different from each other, even within a species. Heritability means that those differences are in part handed down from parent to child. Differential survival means that not all of us live to produce the same number of offspring, and that those who have more offspring are better represented in future generations. Once you concede these three points, evolution becomes inevitable.

Even so, for 150 straight years, fearful Abrahamic literalists have been trying to deny the facts about natural selection or at least to keep them away from young minds. Reality threatens their belief that the earth was created in six days and then re-created in an ancient flood (young earth creationism), or their belief that it evolved but was tweaked regularly according to some divine blueprint (intelligent design). More to the point, reality threatens their belief that we -- stinky, mean, bipedal-primates-with-bad-backs who love and hate and make cool stuff and then destroy it -- are the pinnacle of creation and center of the universe.

Generations of scientists have subjected Darwin’s theory to tests that weren’t possible back in 1859. These include computerized reassembly of fossils, radio carbon dating, core samples of geological layers, DNA sequencing, even laboratory experiments that create distinct bacterial species out of a single ancestor. Mountains of evidence have confirmed that, with some adjustments, Darwin was right. Today our understanding of natural selection provides the foundation for the life sciences – genetics, biology, biotechnology, medicine, animal husbandry, and more.

And yet unbelievably, some religionists still labor to create the illusion of confusion. Unfortunately, this forces them to cast aspersions on the whole scientific enterprise. They love the fruits of science in the form of mammography and cell phones and airplanes. But they reject the obligations of the scientific method, which say that before making truth claims you must ask the questions that could show you wrong. And they are deeply suspicious of scientists themselves. (Why would scientists keep getting the answers so wrong unless they were deliberately trying to undermine faith?) Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we labor to deceive ourselves.Reality threatens their belief that we -- stinky, mean, bipedal-primates-with-bad-backs who love and hate and make cool stuff and then destroy it -- are the pinnacle of creation

If nothing else, creationist efforts to undermine science and science education should teach us something about our species, about our impressive capacity for delusion. Given enough motivation and community support, we humans seem to have an almost boundless ability to cling to a story regardless of the evidence. Without religion, there would be no such thing as a good science teacher who “doesn’t believe in evolution.” But given the right ideological filter, this paradoxical teacher becomes perfectly possible.

We all are prone to “confirmation bias” which is a tendency to seek information in support of what we already believe, disregarding any contradictions. Religious orthodoxy over the centuries has refined confirmation bias into an art form called “apologetics.” Apologists start with a set of handed down conclusions and then reason backwards from there, drawing in logic and evidence only as these support their foregone conclusion.

These people, in my mind, worship an idol with clay feet. They don’t worship a Power that is actually great enough to create the intricacies of the natural world, but rather a golden calf called the inerrant Bible or the inerrant Koran. (Call it bibliolatry—text worship. In an age of widespread literacy and printing presses, what better golden calf than a literally perfect book?) They don’t trust that all truth is God’s truth, and that nature really does have something to say about her creator. They minimize the fallibility of our ancestors who wrote and assembled our sacred texts and church leaders who interpret them. Consequently, they don’t see that they have made a god in the image of man.

When it comes to Darwin’s theory, some of the most sophisticated apologists in the country are housed in a Seattle institution called the Discovery Institute. They use the language of science to undermine the work of science. That may be why, in one of the most secular parts of the country, we can find teachers who think that disbelief in evolution is somehow compatible with the obligations of the scientific process.

The creationists will be shown to be on the wrong side of history, but in the meantime, they have the power to do serious harm. In the service of their idol, they undermine the cutting edge education and research that have let us attain our current cultural/technological nexus. In doing so they also undermine our ability to innovate and solve the great challenges we now face: climate change, population pressures, weapons of mass destruction, and resource depletion.

When Darwin first noticed evolution, it flew in the face of everything he, as a Christian, had been raised to believe. It flew in the face of his theological training. It flew in the face of his beloved wife Emma’s devout faith. And so, working almost alone, he spent twenty painstaking years assembling logic and evidence before he finally went public with his suspicions. Through all that time, he had the integrity to follow the evidence where it might lead and ultimately the courage to challenge the apologists. Those of us who care about the future of our species cannot afford to do any less.



You Can Be Healed!

by David J


Pastor Billy Joe Daugherty

"You Can Be Healed: How to Believe God for Your Healing" is a book by Billy Joe Daughtery, founder of Victory Christian Center (VCC), Victory Christian School (VCS), and Victory Bible Institute (VBI). Daughtery was also the interim president at Oral Roberts University (ORU) of which he and I are both alumni. In addition to being a graduate of VBI and ORU, I am also a founding member of VCC and a former student of VCS. In VBI, we had a class that was so important to him that he taught it himself. It was on healing. To summerize a semester in a few words, the premise was that Christ died for our sins and also our healing. Not only is salvation a free gift for all who accept it, healing is also a free gift for anyone who believes. I won't claim to know who wrote the various parts of the bible or why, but a plain text reading of several of the authors would lead to this interpretation.

Last month, Billy Joe Daughtery was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Thousands of people around the globe (VBI has schools in over 85 countries) began praying for his recovery. The church web site listed several specific things for which to pray, white blood count, cell count etc. Last Sunday morning at around 4:00 AM he died at the age of 57. I feel horrible for those he preceded in death including his wife, several adult children, and even his mother.

My question as a recovering Christian is: If Christ does not heal everyone who asks him, why should we believe that he saves everyone who asks him? It is a sobering thought to those that still believe in a hell/lake of fire. Perhaps this is the one time that the true peace that passes understanding is left to those of us in recovery. His theology was clear that salvation and healing were both paid for at the cross. If healing, that we can witness, is not available to everyone, why should we believe in salvation?

I am glad that knowledge (not faith) has delivered me from the fear of death that his theology instilled. For those left behind, I am sure they will continue to pray and believe and ...?

11/24/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Uncluttering

by Carl S

buy junkImage by bondidwhat via Flickr

First off, for any Christian reading this, what do the words “Lead us not into temptation” mean? I know that’s from the Lord’s Prayer, the Perfect prayer, of which there are two versions. It means that, out of all those fruits in Eden, the lord deliberately pointed out that you shouldn’t eat those of that particular tree he deliberately planted there, according to your beliefs. It also means that the hands placed so close to certain organs are not allowed to touch and play with them. In fact, there are many examples of the lord’s tempting. You can blame Eve and the serpent all you want, but guess who put the boiling pot of water just where the child would tip it over onto himself?

There is a line in the movie “The Princess Bride”, where the serf tells the padre, “I’m not buying what you’re selling.” All those reverends, popes, rabbis, imams, seers, etc. are selling. In a free market for religion they’re out with sales pitches, putting up advertising in front of churches, on billboards, and broadcasting 24/7.

“People will buy junk when they can’t afford the necessities.” Give them credit; they’re making money up the caboodle, usually tax free, no surprise there. They have also managed to create consumers from childhood, the way McDonald’s and Mattel do. And they get their consumers to endorse and push their products, despite the fact that their products are intangible, like all those other entertainments of TV, movies, magic shows, comedy routines, etc... What they sell is more akin to those “as seen on TV” gadgets. Lacking substance, what they sell, as Lee Iacocca put it, is sizzle. So much depends on keeping up the illusions, expectations, and hope, through slogans, constant trumpeting (the vaguer, the louder), and florid sales pitches and deceptive advertising that “there is more than meets the eye, trust me.”

The beauty of the product is that the fantasy is what the buyer makes it to be, like Barbie, G.I. Joe, that Nemo stuffed toy, that have their own lives plus the embellished lives the owner gives them. Religions try to meet the expectations of all of those who want the toy.

Religions’ stories (and they ARE only stories), and their “need to know” doctrines exist to keep their businesses in business. Another thing they do is adapt, like fast-food restaurants, adding new items to their menus from time to time. They use videos, movies, rock music, etc., all the high-tech available. But, they’re still selling junk you don’t need. You might wonder if many of them care.

They’re selling outdated, unworkable, complex and dangerous contraptions even they aren’t aware of being so, because it’s a living, it’s tradition, and there is ALWAYS a market for hope, of sharing in their versions of the Home Shopping Network, of a nationwide fascination with buying. Why, I know people, as you do, who have bought so much of that junk they don’t need that it’s overflowing their storage spaces. Their minds and psyches are so overloaded that they can’t find the facts and reason to make sense of it or put it in any order, why they hang onto it, or their reasons for purchasing in the first place. And they keep adding still more. It’s like a drug addiction, like alcoholism, aided and abetted by law, where the pushers are the spokesmen of supposed deities.

Well, the consumers are so taken in, have so much of the mutual support they demand, have so, so much invested, that they even swear by these pushers and defend them. There’s little chance they’ll change their mind; after all, that would involve facing the fact that they’ve been had.

There are so many salesmen out there, with so many dubious, conflicting claims and testimonials. What they have in common is that they want your money, even if they can’t use your mind and emotions to serve their power purposes. They CRAVE your trust. And even if you don’t trust them, they’ll welcome the money anyway, please, and thank you.

JUST SAY NO!

And seriously, they shouldn’t be allowed to claim that if you, your family, friends, neighbors or nation won’t buy their products, you will be punished beyond measure. (Or that you had better be punished here and now, and nuts to waiting for later.) All religions should, by law, be required to post the disclaimer: “WE DON’T KNOW.”

I worked with a man who would often quote from his father’s wisdom. One of those sayings was, “People will buy junk when they can’t afford the necessities.” Now that you are “ex”, and you have your life back, where will the money go, and the time, the effort, the emotions you had given to religion?

You might consider UNICEF. I received a newsletter from them thanking me for contributing to an African widow with five children. Her loan enabled her to become an independent entrepreneur, and she eventually took in other children orphaned by parents with AIDS. You might contribute to micro loans to third world citizens, enabling girls and women to be educated and freeing them to become independent businesspeople or doctors, lawyers, etc. You might write letters to the editor of your local newspapers protesting civil rights and moral violations and the ridiculous claims of religion. Some of them might not be published, but some will, and at least the editor will have to read them and think about your points.

There is a whole world to put your free mind to pursuing and discovering. You might think about the trust of your beloved and the tender responsibility you have for her or him. There’s an astounding amount of space created when you throw out all the junk, isn’t there?

11/23/2009                                                                                       View Comments

UnChristian Gratitude

by Dr. Marlene Winell

Watch me fly away, give me life like a butterf...Image by Te55 via Flickr

Recently I had a very short, but encouraging little dream right before waking up. I had been feeling burdened by all the problems in the world. In my dream I got the message that “the butterflies are working to lift our spirits.” I woke up surprised and delighted. Later I shared it with a couple friends who also liked it, amused by the image.

Then I mentioned it to a Christian I know, who responded, “Maybe that’s why God made them.”

Perhaps some of you who are also “recovering Christians” can help me understand my irritation. My guess is that I’m tired of this pattern of making everything good one step removed from our direct experience. In the typical Christian view, nature’s beauty is always “God’s handiwork.” When you look at a sunset or the intricacy of an orchid, you have to give credit to God and be thankful to Him. Nothing is simply beautiful or amazing for its own sake.

This Thanksgiving, lets enjoy and reclaim our gratitude for what IS. I do believe that when we experience directly, without the intervening “author,” we can appreciate more.Two stories from former clients come to mind. As part of their recovery, they were letting go of the Christian mindset and discovering a secular point of view. Much to their surprise, it was an enormous relief and emotionally powerful.

In Australia, “Catherine” woke up one morning and walked into her living room where she heard the early morning bird sounds outside. She opened the doors to the yard so she could hear more and was stunned by the beautiful sound. She realized she had heard these songs many times but never truly noticed them because she always attributed them to the work of the “Creator.” On this morning, she lay down on the carpet to listen. Her husband and kids were still asleep and she had time alone. Soon she was overwhelmed and began weeping. She felt like she was hearing the birds for the first time.

Dr. Marlene Winell

“Natalie” grew up in a sheltered fundamentalist environment in Virginia where everything had to be “of God” and the only art or expression had to be for “His glory.” So when she met a young pianist who could play great musical classics, she was enthralled. She found she loved music, and not just “worship music.” As a gift to her, her new friend played and played on a grand piano while she lay underneath, transported. It changed her life.

So this Thanksgiving, lets enjoy and reclaim our gratitude for what IS. I do believe that when we experience directly, without the intervening “author,” we can appreciate more. We can look at the amazing night sky and let it permeate our being. The smell of jasmine, the taste of pomegranate, the feel of a feather, the rush of a waterfall, the design of a snowflake. The list is endless, and our capacity for awe and wonder can be endless if we open ourselves up. If we must use any spiritual words, I prefer to say these things ARE God, rather than made by God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Things You Learn In Sunday School (Part 5) - Elisha Delivers Death to Children By Way of Bear

by MtlRedAtheist



The Holy Bible tells a story of how Elisha cursed some children to be destroyed by wild bears, because they mocked his bald head. Apparently killing children is not immoral when you do it by evoking God's supernatural powers.

Why are we allowing our children to be taught this stuff?

All music in this video is written and performed by MtlRedAtheist.

Why don't my words REGISTER with them?

by summerbreeze

It's nice to be "courted," isn't it? But, not when you are asked to return to something that caused you so much unhappiness to begin with.

Amongst other bible studies, I was enrolled in Community Bible Study (CBS) when I was a Christian. I jumped ship after I realized that Christianity was a lie, and it made me feel so beat-down.

After I left, CBS ignored me for several years. Now this past year, they have been continually sending me news letters and forms galore to fill out and rejoin. A few weeks ago, I got fed up and decided to write on the form WHY I left Christianity (I was hoping something just might "register" with someone).

Today I received a two-page letter from Mr. Pat Robertson, Executive Director of Community Bible School. I'm sure that he's not the doofus who we're familiar with. Anyway, at first I tore it in two and tossed it in the kitchen waste basket. After a while I decided to fish it out and read it (it was a slow day).

Have any of you ever been asked to come back to Christianity, in spite of your "well explained" protests?

A two-page letter is way too long to bore you to tears with, but these lines stood out to me:
"I realize you said that for you God does not exist. Many disagree with you but your future will be determined by your own decision "
*** in other words, " Lady you is going to Hell ! ***
"I challenge you to pray if God exists, that He would reveal himself to you -- to open your eyes and heart to understand His love for you. What have you got to lose by doing that? You may gain a lot!"
***I waited for years for him to "reveal" himself! The postman never rang ! ***
"God created a perfect environment, but man in choosing to disregard His will has created a fallen environment for us to live in. We suffer the consequences of sin in our own lives and in the world around us."
*** Dang, I knew that what Billy Jones & I were doing in the back seat of his 57' Chevy wasn't right, but I never dreamed that Hurricane Katrina would be the result !***
"Only by having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us can be hope to have eternal life and produce the fruits of a righteous life. That's why we need a savior because we are incapable of earning our salvation. Yes, there are plenty of good, kind people who do not believe in God. But they are not good enough to earn salvation so that without belief in Jesus Christ they will not experience the Kingdom of Heaven."
***hmmmmm, eternal life and Heaven, there's two words that put together give me the creeps. Just what I want -- kissing God's feet (that's the nice version) forever and ever and ever and ever***

I am toying with the idea of sending him a copy of The God Delusion -- but maybe not. It just could be used as a classroom example of "what happens when we let our minds run amuck in that scary secular world out there... BEWARE!"

11/21/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Taking the "super" out of "supernatural"

by Nathan

I no longer consider myself a Christian and told my wife, her parents and my parents earlier this year. However, I still go to church with my wife (a “non-denominational, a cappella” congregation with about 10-12 members) because we have three little ones and it doesn't seem right to make her drag all three out the door and drive 25 miles alone.

So I have been sitting in church every Sunday listening to a particularly conservative, literal message and it has driven me nuts. Sunday's sermon was particularly egregious and so I thought I'd write something just to get things off my chest.

The guy bringing the message started by saying science is a religion in and of itself, then moved on to saying that god is like wind and gravity; you can't see wind or gravity, but can prove they exist by the effects around you. He moved on to say that the defining characteristic for Christians is the resurrection of Jesus and if you can prove there was no resurrection then there would be no reason to believe in Christianity. The reasons cited for believing the resurrection include writing that people saw Christ afterward (up to 500 people at once) and also because the disciples turned from fearful introverts to outgoing preachers of the gospel. The speaker even cited Pinchas Lapide, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: a Jewish Perspective, as writing that the disciples' change is a very powerful argument for the historicity of the resurrection.

I rolled my eyes as I sat listening to this. I took a course called Persuasive Communication and one of the textbooks assigned was Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. In the book, Cialdini cites the study by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter (written in 1956 titled When Prophecy Fails) of a UFO doomsday cult that went from an inclusive sect to open and disciple-seeking when the end of the world didn't happen as predicted. So is the resurrection the only explanation for why the disciples started preaching after Jesus' crucifixion? And it wasn't just the UFO doomsday cult.

From Cialdini's book:
So it was with the Montanists of second-century Turkey, with the Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Holland, with the Sabbataists of seventeenth-century Izmir, and with the Millerites of nineteenth-century America.
The preacher then asked why would people suffer for their faith if it was a lie? I find that question to be equally answerable without the supernatural. There are innumerable instances of people who suffer for some group. Cialdini's book cited research showing that people feel a greater attachment to a group if there has been some personal price to pay. So the idea that a person wouldn't waver even if they were incorrect is perfectly reasonable. From the chapter on Commitment and Consistency, talking about hazing and initiation rites:
There is another striking similarity between the initiation rites of tribal and fraternal societies: They simply will not die. Resisting all attempts to eliminate or suppress them, such hazing practices have been phenomenally resilient. Authorities, in the form of colonial governments or university administrations, have tried threats, social pressures, legal actions, banishments, bribes, and bans to persuade groups to remove the hazards and humiliations from their initiation ceremonies. None has been successful.
And later in the chapter:
A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observation that "persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort." The real stroke of inspiration came in their choice of the initiation ceremony as the best place to examine this possibility. They found that college women who had to endure a severely embarrassing initiation ceremony in order to gain access to a sex discussion group convinced themselves that their new group and its discussions were extremely valuable, even though Aronson and Mills had rehearsed the other group members to be as "worthless and uninteresting" as possible. Different coeds who went through a much milder initiation ceremony or went through no initiation at all, were decidedly less positive about the "worthless" new group they had joined. Additional research showed the same results when coeds were required to endure pain rather than embarrassment to get into a group (Gerard & Mathewson, 1966). The more electric shock a woman received as part of the initiation ceremony, the more she later persuaded herself that her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable.
So my view of the “resurrection” is the following: It's made up because that's what people do and people believed it because that's what people do.

Thank god not everyone believes...

11/19/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Parenting Beyond Belief

Faces of mother and child; detail of sculpture...Image via Wikipedia

I have not read the actual book (Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion), but I thought it was an apt title for my own story as a parent, because in the end, even with everything I dealt with as a child myself, I somehow managed to parent beyond belief, at least beyond belief in Evangelical Fundamentalist teachings. This also included beyond the trappings I still had to pull my own self out of as an adult too. I do not know how I did it, but I seemed to have done it.

When I was little, I made a vow to myself not to do to my children what my parents, grandparents, and other relatives did to me. This also included on the religious front too. Now of course I did not have children yet, but like every little girl I had dreams about adulthood and family. To this day, I believe I kept that promise to myself and the other day, a conversation with my older son, seemed to confirm that I did in at least one area.

When my sons were little, I did not allow anyone to take them to an Evangelical Fundamentalist church, not even their own grandmother, to her dismay. That was part of my vow and I did pretty well with that because neither knew what it was like to attend one until they were teens. They only knew from my rantings that I did not agree with the beliefs of their grandmother or any of my other relatives.

I would "censor" everything my mother gave them that was religious, making sure it did not talk about "hellfire and damnation", before I allowed my sons free access to them. One Christmas she gave them several Children's Bible story books and saw me inspecting them. She asked, "Is what I gave them OK?" I sort of gave her a white lie and said, "No, they are fine." They were only fine in the respect that they did not preach any particular Christian doctrine, but told the stories in a manner more appealing to children. For all I knew, some Episcopalian wrote the stories to suit children, because it did not appear to be by any Evangelical author.

While I took my sons to an Episcopal Church until they had no interest in attending anymore and only to appease my mother, they had no actual interest in the stories, except for two- one a piece. My older son recently told me that he liked Samson and Delilah, only because Samson had long hair and “kicked ass” when someone cut it. I reminded him, that that did not happen until his hair grew back. My older son said, “Yeah, but he still kicked ass!” My younger son liked the story about "Joseph and the Coat of Many Colours", although I am uncertain as to why.

Regardless, my older son had no clue what it was like for me until he attended my grandmother's funeral. Up until that time, he only heard my rants on various things concerning Christianity, including in a priest's office. The funny thing was, just like myself as a young person, he wanted out of that church as fast as reasonably possible. I thought it was rather ironic, but when we got home, he said, "Mom, I am beginning to understand you."

The sermon was on "The Path of Salvation" and even my mother and aunt, who requested their minister preach on the topic, thought she was going to have an altar call during the funeral. She did not, thank goodness, because I did not want my son exposed to that, even if he was eighteen at that time. However, he felt ripped off, not because the sermon made no sense, but because he wanted to learn something about his great grandmother, who he hardly knew thanks to a few family disputes over religious stupidity. He did not learn a thing about her. Instead, what he got was some bizarre religious concept, which neither one of us can actually explain, because neither one of us understand what the hell they are talking about. We only know such a concept exists and it has to do with how one gets to heaven by following Jesus, Wesleyan style. This means being a "Perfect Christian", whatever that is.

Then the other day, we were once again talking about my mother and my teenage years, when my mother dragged me to church regularly, whether I wanted to go or not. This was after her last “born again” experience. Before that, it was very sporadic that we went to church. Even so, when we did go, I always found it a frightening experience, especially her behaviour after the first two times she was “born again”. She only got worse as I got older and my teen years were not much fun at all. Up until recent years, thanks to her forcing me to go as a teen and calling people heathens if they did not go, I worried about what other people would say about me not being there if I missed church for any reason, even as an adult. I did not want to deal with people telling me this or that all because I did not attend every time the church doors were open.

I also told my son that belief was not a choice, which it was not, and it took years for me to realize I did have a “choice”. He had no clue what I meant by that, so I explained that it was a case of "believing" whether you did or not and IF you said you did not, you caught the wrath of the adults, which I did not want to deal with. So, I said I did when I did not, just to keep them from getting angry with me. As long as you said you did, regardless if you did not, everything was fine and you did not catch hell from the adults.

This is not to say I did not believe some things about it. I did, but it was not what they believed nor did I believe it as strongly as any of them did and do. If any of us kids (my step-cousins and I) said anything that did not stick to what the adults wanted us to believe, we got the Inquisition and my mother still tries to give me the Inquisition to this day, if I say something she deems not to be Christian. Which is becoming more and more frequent and quite a challenge to deal with. There will come a day, probably soon, in which I will confirm to her, I am not a Christian, but rather a humanist and “the Inquisition” will be worse than ever, I am sure of that.

He still did not quite understand, except he remembers the anger my mother spews when we say something contradictory to her beliefs, so he too tries to avoid it. I further explained to him that every piece of information that came my way was censored, adding that we did not have the internet back then, so it was very easy to censor things. I did not get to read anything unless it met the adults' approval. My son jokingly said, "Thank God for the internet." He knew I knew he was joking, because he knows I usually go on rants that humans actually did it, but I did not that time. Instead, I proceeded to tell him about the time when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, in my room, and minding my own business as I read with great interest some information about humanism. I forgot exactly what was now, but I remember it was on humanism and when I stumbled onto humanism as an adult, it all seemed very familiar to me.

I was so intrigued by what I was reading that I did not notice my mother had walked in unannounced, until the humanist reading was suddenly snatched out of my hands. Her face was so red with anger as she shouted, "THAT'S NOT CHRISTIAN!", which she still screams to this day, if something contradicts her beliefs.

I had no idea what I had done wrong, but she walked out with MY reading material without any explanation. I never saw that particular reading material again. To this day, I have no clue what she did with it, except maybe threw it away, like she did so many other things that did not fit her dogma, including Jehovah Witness material.

When I was finished telling him about the censorship and invasion of privacy, he said, "I am so glad you did not do that to us." I agreed with him, adding that is the worst thing you can do a teenager. As a teen, I knew there was a bigger world out there than just my relatives' religious world, because I spent most of my childhood in it, but I was not allowed to learn anything about more about it. The door was slammed shut on the real world and the only thing I was to learn was their religious beliefs, the Bible, Billy Graham, and other like approved reading.

Instead of an occasional foot into the religious world, it was now a 24/7 ordeal, which made life even more miserable than just living with it only when we visited her relatives. I went from a miserably abusive world, in which we had to stay in, due to her relatives religious beliefs, to a miserable religious one after she finally left my father. While I was glad to be free of him, I was not so glad that my reading activities had suddenly become limited and I was forced to believe what they taught, rather I wanted to or not. It was not a choice, unless I wanted to face their primitive anger over it.

Music was a different story, even if they preferred I listened to Christian music. However, it was not censored as much as the reading material was. What I read was more important than the music I listened to as a teenager. I do not know why reading was more important than music, but to my relatives it was. Regardless, I still had to parrot them, if I wanted to get along with them, no matter what I thought. As long as I kept my thoughts to myself, I was fine.

However, my language was censored too. I could not say any bad words or say “God” unless I was talking about Him and in a respectful manner. I had to respect my elders, regardless of what they did to me. This included my bio-father too, for they were/are certain that God will deal with him appropriately and I should not be angry with the man, because anger is a sin.

Thus even my emotions were censored, but even my sons know that is not what the Bible says about anger. Still, any display of emotion beyond happiness or joyfulness, was a sin. I am sure if I had always grown up in that religious environment on a constant basis, my life would have been even more miserable than it was. Even worse if she had not left my abusive father and constantly enforced religion on me at the same time. However, that does not mean some of these beliefs were not imposed on me before she left him. They just were not a constant, except for the one where we were forced to stay with my abusive father due to their religious beliefs. Again, none of it was a choice. It was do or else.

Obviously, I did not take any of this crap to heart, for if I did, I would have raised my sons in a similar manner. Instead, I taught them the Bible was filled with stories and were not meant to be taken literally, there was no talk of Satan, hell, or alike in our home, and above all, I taught my sons to think for themselves, instead of blindly following others. They know the Bible is very errant and that it is filled with myths, but they are not afraid to read any of it. My sons have also been free to read anything else they want to read. If they had questions I could not answer, I would get them the appropriate reading material. Sometimes I would even take them to the appropriate person, like a doctor when they hit puberty, to answer their questions. All of this has made for some very lively discussions between my sons and me because almost no topic has ever been off limits in my home. They expressed their thoughts, even if we did not agree and sometimes I would express mine, if I felt like it.

The moment my older son said, "I am glad you did not do that to us," I felt as though I had done something right as a parent and knew that in at least one area, I managed to keep the vow I had made to myself as a child. I know I was not a perfect parent. What parent is? However, when your adult child says to you such things as, "I am starting to understand you" and "I am glad you did not do that to us", it gives you a good feeling and an acknowledgment that whatever parent you had set out to be at the start, you succeeded, at least in the one area they are referring to at the time.

In this case, with one son who claims to be “Tao Buddhist” and another who states he makes his own rules with no religious affiliation, I would say that, without any help from other non-theists, I managed to parent "Beyond Belief". I do not know how I did it, except to do the exact opposite of what my relatives did to me. My sons are now eighteen and twenty and to this day, no one has indoctrinated them into Evangelical Fundamentalism and I hope no one ever does. They are not even Christian for that matter. So, I must have done something right as a parent.



Big Butter Jesus



King of Kings (Also known as "Touchdown Jesus" or "Big Butter Jesus"), is a 62-foot-tall sculpture of Jesus just outside of Cincinnati. Jesus appears to be rising from the waters behind the amphitheater at Monroe's Solid Rock Church.

Music by Heywood Banks, the version originally broadcast on the syndicated Bob & Tom radio show.

All images except the first three reproduced with the permission of the web creationists at jeeebus (www.jeeeb.us).

Accept no imitations!