2/19/2010 View Comments
2/04/2010 View Comments
Image by ajschu via FlickrChristian, your faith is not really in god and Jesus. Your faith is really in those men who wrote those ancient texts that now comprise the Bible. Now I’m not going to ask you to believe anything without providing evidence; I wouldn’t insult your intelligence that way. But let me show you the other side of this “faith” coin.
Let me repeat my thesis; your faith is really in those men who wrote those ancient texts. This is a very important point which, I’ll wager, you have never seriously analyzed. As you well know, you learned about god and Jesus from another human who told you about them. God and Jesus did not just appear to you. Someone told you about them, and you may have learned more by reading about them in the Bible and other books. This is what our courts call hearsay evidence, which can be defined as “evidence based not on a witness' personal knowledge but on another's statement.” It’s all about what other people have said or written. There’s nothing out in the world that we can all see together or test with instruments and come to the same conclusions about (this is why there have been so many gods claimed to exist). It is vitally important that you recognize that all anyone today really “knows” about god or Jesus is based on what was written by primitive people that you never met and know almost nothing about.
Neither god nor Jesus has ever shown himself to you directly in an unambiguous way. You may have had feelings, but feelings are just emotions and the only thing emotions can prove is that you’re human. When the Muslim says he has felt the presence of Mohamed, are you convinced? Couldn’t it just be a shot of adrenaline in his brain that caused his skin to tingle and the hairs on his neck to rise? Couldn’t that explain your feelings just as well? Could the Muslim suicide bomber blow himself up if he didn’t have convincing feelings? Yet, you know for certain that the Muslim is wrong about Allah and Mohamed.
You may argue that you have a “relationship” with Jesus. But how does one have a relationship with a being who has never acknowledged your existence? Have you actually seen him? Has he talked to you or left you a phone message? Is that really a relationship? Isn’t that pretty much the same kind of “relationship” I had with Marilyn Monroe when I was a teenage boy?
All you have learned about god and Jesus comes directly or indirectly from the Bible. Now how do you know these Biblical authors were telling the truth? How could you? They wrote about things that supposedly happened thousands of years ago; things that left little or no archaeological evidence, no confirmation by unbiased contemporary historians, and there are no photos, film, or DNA. And don’t just read apologist literature to prove I’m wrong here, read the other side too. You must know that the apologists only see what they want to see and ignore the rest.
And what do you really know about these Bible writers and the quality of their testimony? Can you be sure that they weren’t just drunk or eating mushrooms, or schizophrenic, prone to epileptic visions, delusional, or simply con men seeking power and influence? Do you really know for sure? How could you?
Yes, I’ve heard the story that Jesus’ disciples were willing to die for him, so that proves he was the real thing. This is really a silly argument. Jim Jones’ followers in Guyana were so convinced he was a genuine prophet that they drank the Kool-Aid. Does this make him a prophet? History is full of examples of people willing to die for things that weren’t true.
You are perfectly aware that these authors wrote some incredibly unlikely stories about things that you wouldn’t believe if you read about them in any other book. You would not believe that knowledge of good and evil could reside in a piece of fruit if you read it in any other book. And if you think those stories weren’t meant to be taken literally, then how do you know that for sure? The Bible itself never provides a clue except on those few occasions when Jesus announces he’s going to discuss a parable. And if those other wild Bible stories are just metaphors, then how can you be sure that the Resurrection was not also meant metaphorically – or heaven and hell, for that matter? Was Jesus just a metaphor? And what about god?
Obviously, everybody will draw the fact-fiction lines in different places if the Bible is full of metaphor. How could a god actually teach the facts, the truth that way? Isn’t that why there are so many different Christian sects, because everyone makes his own determination of what’s real and what’s metaphor, and what’s important and what’s not? Why would a god leave so much up for interpretation about stuff that’s vitally important, even life and death important? Wouldn’t that be rather careless for a god? Doesn’t all this suggest pretty strongly that men wrote this stuff all on their own? Wouldn’t a real god have done a much better, much clearer job of it?
If you take the Bible stories literally, then how do you hold down the doubts? Those writers wrote about talking animals and magical fruit trees and food falling from the sky and dragons and unicorns and 900 year-old men. How can you read of such things and not have serious doubts about the accuracy of those authors? Why do we never see any of these amazing things today? Did the world used to be full of magic and now it’s not? If god used these awesome signs to convince people in those ancient times, then why does he expect us to just take these writers at their word for them? If god thought he needed to show those primitive people signs, then wouldn’t it be pretty unfair of him to expect us much better educated, more skeptical people to just believe without any signs?
And surely you know that some of the things they wrote have been proven to be scientifically wrong or impossible. For example, they wrote that the world is flat (Daniel 4:10-11), but we now have pictures that prove it’s a sphere. They wrote that the earth is fixed, didn’t move (1 Chronicles 16:30), but we now know the earth moves very fast as it orbits the sun. The Bible authors wrote that all those tiny points of light called stars would someday fall to the earth, but they’re billions of objects which are all vastly bigger than the earth. They wrote that disease is caused by demons. We have since proven that disease is caused by microorganisms, congenital defects, or toxic chemicals. They wrote, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree (22 Matthew 13:31-32).” We now know many other plant’s seeds, such as orchids, are smaller, and shrubs do not grow into trees. They also wrote about 4-legged fowl (there never were any) and rusting gold and silver (they don’t rust – never have).
These writers were obviously very ignorant about how the world really works. Isn’t it likely that they made stuff up to fill the gaps in their knowledge? In fact, haven’t we just proven that they did so, given their theories of the flat, immovable earth, tiny stars, 4-legged birds, etc.?
Of course, the Bible says you just have to have faith. But, if someone says to you, “Just take my word for it,” aren’t you suspicious? Shouldn’t you be? Doesn’t that suggest pretty strongly that he can’t make a very good case for whatever he’s selling? Don’t you suspect that he might be hiding something? This is the same tactic used to fill the mosques and Hindu places of worship, you know; people are told, “You just have to have faith.” Does it really make sense to you that a god created human intelligence and curiosity, but wants you to just shut it off when it comes to religion?
Everything that has been said or written about god or Jesus in the past 2,000 years and more is based on the writings of these ancient, unknown primitives. EVERYTHING! You see, your faith ultimately depends on these writers, one-hundred percent. Your faith is not really in god and Jesus, your faith is in these anonymous scribes and the hope that they were telling you the facts, the real truth about things. If they were wrong, then so are you. How can you have so much faith in people you never knew, people who may have been utterly whacko or devious, people who have, in fact, been proven to be wrong about so much? That is a faith with a pretty shaky foundation, isn’t it? What did those writers do to deserve such trust from you? Shouldn’t you think about this some more?
2/03/2010 View Comments
Image by garethjmsaunders via FlickrI'll freely admit that I've become somewhat cantankerous lately. It's not that I'm an angry person, in fact I'm far from it. I laugh at life's follies, and thoroughly enjoy my existence. I am frustrated however.
Because of my past associations with various churches and living in the bible belt for ten years, a good majority of my Facebook friends are believers. There is quite a range in the levels of rationality and amicability among them, but given my fundamentalist background, it's understandable that I would have a few that are extreme on the right (some of those who are extreme are attempting to understand, so I don't want to lump them into one solid mass).
Needless to say I really can't go a day (yes I'm a Facebook addict) without seeing some kind of "praise the lord" or other wishful thinking in my news feed. This isn't really a problem in and of itself, and far be it for me to curb anyone's freedom of expression.
I'm relatively new in my committed stance on the improbability of a deity. I'm coming out of the closet so to speak, and just feel the need to break the assumption that I agree with my former associated theists.
Once in awhile I'll post something on my wall that might be a little agitating to believers, but since it's on my own page, I feel I'm within my right to express my thoughts and feelings. For me it's more about initiating discussion and raising awareness, not just to be controversial. Well I posted a status update over the weekend that got some unexpected attention:
"I wonder what our national debt would look like if churches weren't exempt from paying taxes. Hmm. We probably wouldn't have a national debt."
Now I would hope it's somewhat obvious that I intended it to be a more tongue in cheek comment about the separation of church and state, rather than a solution for our enormous national debt. Of course not everyone knows me well enough to get my humor style, but boy did I get a couple of interesting responses.
One of my very conservative friends made a joke about the government taking the money and doing nothing with it, which I thought was clever and funny. I agreed and elaborated a bit on why I made the comment in the first place. No issues there.
My thread caught the eye of the daughter of one my former pastors, and without engaging in the discussion at all, she posted "Answer not a FOOL!" in the comment thread. I felt the need to address this, as I thought it very rude and immature, but she had de-friended me. Talk about a hit and run comment. No tears shed for this loss. I think it's actually quite funny (and also sad).
What I wasn't prepared for was a rather fiery reply from a former college classmate. The details aren't all that important, but she obviously didn't understand my intent. I called her out on some of her points, to which I got an even more fiery, condescending, and very defensive reply.
What stood out was her outrage that I made a claim that the church promotes scientific illiteracy, and ranted about how she had two science degrees (bachelor's in nursing, currently working on her master's) and still believes in creationism.
I think this is pretty easy to detangle. Just because someone understands how the body works, doesn't mean that they understand (or need to believe) the documented evidence of how it evolved in the first place. Do I really need to list the evidence for evolution, abiogenesis, and the big bang?
This person may be scientifically literate in the function of the human body, but failed on a fundamental level to apply scientific methods and principles to her own belief system. Since she is a self proclaimed believer in creationism, it's safe to assume that she believes in magic.
God magically created humans. God magically concocted the Genesis flood (by all scientific accounts, the whole story is absolutely absurd). Snakes and donkeys talk, bodies of water part into walls, a virgin was impregnated by a spirit, a man comes back from the dead, and an invisible spirit dwells and manifests itself in humans. The list goes on and on (which I'm sure most anyone who reads this is more than familiar).
Of course it's very likely that I may be de-friended when this gets published. I won't deny that there is commendable charity work being done by religious institutions, and for that specific work I believe that tax exemption is valid.
What I have a problem with is that these institutions have no reasonable evidence for their claims and beliefs, yet they use tax free money to proselytize, advertise, and exert influence on politics. This is a HUGE violation of the establishment clause in the first amendment of the constitution.
I'd absolutely love it if I could put on a concert and rant my ideals to a willing audience, and take up donations tax free. I understand why there was such fiery backlash as the Christian right gets quite defensive when their tax exempt status is threatened (and I'm severely skeptical that my Facebook comment has the power to do this).
Christians seem to be all for free speech, until someone criticizes their claims and status. I shouldn't be surprised how my rather benign observation created such a fired up response, but I am.
Everyone has the right to believe what they want, and I fully support that right. I also exercise the right to criticize claims of magic (even if it's disguised as miraculous events caused by almighty god). I find it far more inspiring to explore and try to understand the wonders of the universe than to be awed by anecdotes of magic. Even in disagreement may we continue to discuss, debate, and express our opinions in a civil and intellectually honest manner.
2/02/2010 View Comments
How to Deprogram a Religious Cult Member
Deprogramming of religious cult members is a controversial topic, primarily because it is often done without the consent of the cult member. Families of cult members often resort to kidnapping them to get them away from the group. If you feel you have no choice but to deprogram a loved one who has joined a cult, be sure to use the help of a professional exit counselor.
Isolate the cult member from the group and bring them to a safe and secure place.
DID YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF THE CHURCH TO HELP YOU HAVE A CLEAR PERSPECTIVE THAT WOULD BE DIFFICULT IF YOU WERE THERE EVERY WEEK?
Use a professional counselor to conduct exit The counselor will spend the entire first day trying to get the cult member to think through the reasons he joined the religious cult.
DID YOU NEED TO HAVE SOMEONE WITH A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE THAT CHANLLENGED THE STANDARD CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW ENTER YOUR LIFE?
View video tapes with the cult member about other religious or political mind controlling groups. Discuss these groups and the reasons the members followed them.
DID YOU BEGIN TO SEE THAT CHRISTIANITY HAD MUCH IN COMMON WITH OTHER GROUPS UNDER THE SPELL OF DOGMA AND SUPERSITION?
Show the cult member evidence, such as newspaper articles, of her organization being a cult. Allow the member to challenge the evidence. Discuss the subject until it is somewhat resolved.
DID READING MATERIAL THAT CHALLENGED THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW HAVE A PART IN YOUR COURGE TO SAY GOOD-BYE?
Discuss what the member feels is right and wrong about his organization. Read passages from the Bible that contradict what the cult leaders have said. Talk about how the leaders lied to and misled the members.
I FIND FUNNY HERE THAT THE BIBLE IS TO BE CONSULTED TO PROVE THAT THE CULT IS NOT SO GOOD FOR SOMONE. WHAT ABOUT THE ATHIEST PRINCES VOLTAIRE AND INGERSOLL?
Ask the cult member if he is ready to make a decision regarding future involvement with the religious cult on the third or fourth day of deprogramming. Often by now he is ready to choose not to return to the cult.
WAS THERE A DAY OF DECISION FOR YOU WHEN YOU LEFT THE ADULT SANTA JESUS IN THE SAME WAY YOU LEFT THE CHILDHOOD SANTA? DID A DAY OF RECONING COME FOR YOU IN WHICH YOU MADE A CHOICE TO LET GO?
Provide a safe place for the ex-cult member to stay. Follow up contact with the exit counselor is an important step in the deprogramming to help her to stay strong in her conviction not to return to the organization.
HAVE YOU FOUND A SAFE PLACE TO BE A NON-BELIEVER?
How to Identify Cults
Watch for changes in the individual's personality and a growing estrangement from or even hostility towards family and friends. Cult members are discouraged from remaining in contact with former associates who might cause them to doubt the teachings and practices of the cult. Members are indoctrinated to distrust anyone who criticizes the cult or leader(s).
DO YOU MEAN HOW THOSE BORN AGAIN ARE IN CHURCH EVERY TIME THE DOORS ARE OPEN AND NO LONGER HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEIR OLD SECULAR FRIENDS?
Be aware. Cult members are often convinced to contribute all of their money and goods to the cult as a sign of their commitment. There is a strong emphasis on collecting money, which is often made by selling goods to the public and then donating it to the cult as part of their ministry. They spend much time recruiting other members, which they do by preying on their emotions.
DO YOU MEAN LIKE THE EARLY CHRISTIANS TOOK ALL THEIR POSESSIONS AND LAID THEM AT THE FEET OF THE APOSTLES OR HOW MODERN CHRISTIANS TITHE? OR ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT THE CHURCH BAKE SALES AND RUMMAGE SALES. COULD YOU POSSIBLY MEAN HOW CHRISTIANS TRY TO EVANGELIZE EVERYTHING THAT BREATHES? BUT OF COURSE NOT THAT WOULD BE “CULT”.
Recognize the lack of control over the member's private life. Cult leaders monopolize the member's time and relationships, cultivating complete dependence on themselves and the cult. Members are taught to distrust anyone outside the cult and are discouraged from reading any material except what is provided or approved by the cult. Marriges and living arrangements (usually communal living) are dictated by cult leaders.
DO YOU MEAN HOW CHRISTIANS ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT HOW COOL THEIR PASTOR IS OR HOW THEY SPEND ALL THEIR SPARE TIME AT THE CHURCH, WORKING TO EVANGELIZE FOR THE CHURCH OR HOW EVEN THEIR MARRIAGES HAVE TO BE CONFIRMED AT THE CHURCH?
Note that cult members are discouraged from thinking for themselves. They are given little or no time alone and are constantly engaged in physical or group activities. They are engaged in mind altering behaviors, such as chanting, denunciation of selves and others and encouraged to report suspicious behaviors of other cult members, including their own families. Shame and fear of alienation cements their dependence on the cult.
DISCOURAGED FROM THINKING FOR THEMSEVES? WELL “CULTS” SURE BUT THE CHURCH REALLY IS ALL ABOUT FREE THINKING, RIGHT? (GRIN). SHEESH!
Notice the unquestioning dedication which cult followers exhibit towards their leader. They learn to rationalize his behaviors even if these contradict previously held beliefs or common sense. They believe happiness and redemption comes solely from their leader(s) and they will sacrifice nearly everything for the benefit of the cult.
DO YOU MEAN HOW CHRISTIANS IDOLIZE JESUS? OR HOW THEY IDOLIZE THEIR PASTORS? I AM UNSURE JUST WHAT CONNECTION I SHOULD MAKE HERE?
Keep in mind that forcing or coercing a member to leave a cult can cause psychological and emotional damage. They have been programmed to believe God will punish them if they leave, and threats are used to force them to maintain silence about cult activities. It is necessary to get help from a professional deprogrammer and assure that they are kept away from other active cult members.
OH, YOU MEAN HOW CHRISTIANS ARE MADE TO FEAR HELL IF THEY LEAVE THE CHURCH OR HOW THEIR OWN FAMILIES GIVE THEM HELL IF THEY QUESTION CHRISTIANITY? NO? WELL OF COURSE NOT THAT WOJLD MAKE CHRISTIANITY ITSELF JUST ONE MORE CULT!
Gosh, we better get serious about getting folks out of those horrible “cults” and back in the church pews where they belong. Is that why they call it Christian CULTure? I think there needs to be someone who is out there to deprogram the deprogrammer. How about you?
1/31/2010 View Comments
Image by Wellington Grey via FlickrChristians seem to whine a lot about how they're ridiculed and disrespected in the media, and how this fallen world is somehow persecuting them. I think it's an absolutely laughable claim, especially here in the United States where Christians have far more influence on public and foreign policy than they should.
Now of course there is a spectrum of attitude among the entire Christian community, but I think it's safe to say among the evangelical (basically Protestant non-liturgical) denominations they believe they're being portrayed unfairly by a liberal, intellectually elite media (insert laugh about Fox News here).
Here's a list of my top 10 reasons (listed in no particular order) why Christianity shouldn't be given the respect it demands (and in many cases, should be ridiculed):
• Suspension of Critical Thought - Have "faith like a child" and "lean not on your own understanding". Basically, don't think for yourself, and if you question any logical fallacy, your pastor and fellow flock members can give you plenty of explanations.
• Promotion of Scientific Illiteracy - Evolutionary biology in it's entirety is as much a fact as the earth's orbit around the sun. It's not a matter of opinion, and there is no "alternative" explanation. The bible is not by default correct, nor does it have the authority to trump scientific evidence. Humans were not "created", and it's unlikely that some unseen intelligence put everything into motion (and if you have some tangible evidence to the contrary that is testable, replicable, and not from scripture, I'd love to see it).
• Willful Ignorance and Mistrust of the Scientific Community - When I've asked Christians to define the theories they oppose (evolution, abiogenesis, and universe origins), it's clear that they don't understand them (or the scientific method for that matter). When I offer resources to clarify the theories (with evidence), the usual response is "I'm too busy", or an outright "I don't care to know, and wouldn't believe it if I did see it".
• Intricate Maneuvering of Tough Questions - Ask a Christian the tough questions about contradictions, the suspicious origins, historical inaccuracies, and downright absurdities of the bible, the nature of god, and so on. Most likely you'll get a wide range of parroted responses that are rather elaborate, and in turn create more questions than answers. If it were all true, wouldn't it be pretty simple and straightforward?
• Blatant Dishonesty - Creationist propaganda alone is enough to prove the point. There's no way around it; creation apologists blatantly lie without excuse. What does the scientific community have to gain by lying about its evidence and theories? Nothing! A better understanding of our world helps us make progress, and it improves our quality of life. What do creationists (and subsequently churches) have to lose? A whole lot of tithing, that's what. There's also blatant political propaganda on which party you should vote for (ever so subtle), that gays and lesbians are detrimental to family values, and that our wars are justified because we have god on our side to help us eradicate evil.
• Extraordinary Claims - Do I really have to present the long list of absurdity? To believe in any of it, your critical thought process has to pretty much be eliminated. Christianity claims to factually know the origins of the universe, the earth, life on the planet, and ultimately the future of humankind without sufficient tangible evidence. Christianity also rejects any reasonable argument and tangible evidence against their claims, while demanding respect. And apologists say non-believers are arrogant and closed minded?
• Repulsive Attitudes - What is god's obsession with blood? For millennia he required blood sacrifices for atonement of sin. Of course the ultimate blood sacrifice of Jesus was a human one (and it changed all the rules!). How is a bloodthirsty god who accepts human sacrifice (if you look in the old testament, there are plenty of other human sacrifices) better than any other god? And why does god need to sacrifice Jesus (who is also himself) to appease himself when he created humanity fallible in the first place? Also checkout the long list of atrocities (rape, genocide, slavery) that are condoned (no matter which testament you read).
• Cherry Picking Theology - As we become more civilized, the bible becomes less palatable, but apologists will continue to preach the divinely inspired universal truth of the bible, frequently claiming the new testament trumps the old. The good things Jesus said (like the Beatitudes) are highlighted, but you forget that Jesus is also god (and the same god of the old testament). As mentioned above, that old testament god condoned slavery, rape, and genocide (and within any context is repulsive). Even Jesus condoned (not condemned) slavery. Yes, Jesus was passionate about his ideals (that were well ahead of his time), but he also had a lot of crackpot ideas that most modern Christians don't follow (like abandoning your family, killing people who deny Christ, selling your home and all worldly possessions to give to the poor).
• Atonement - God created humans, knowing that they weren't going to be perfect. When the first humans sin, all subsequent generations are cursed because of this. So basically you're born a rotten human being, repulsive in god's eyes, but he loves you so much, you just have to believe in Jesus so that he won't have to torment you in hell for all eternity. That really can't be good for anyone's self esteem.
• Absurd Worldview - Christians are apparently not citizens of this world, as it's just a temporary place to prepare for the afterlife. Why bother making this world a better place for humanity when it's all going to be destroyed soon once the rapture happens and the apocalypse destroys the planet? I know from personal experience that most evangelical Christians view a global economy and government as a sign of the antichrist appearing. It explains why so many Americans (dominated by Christian ideals) are notoriously opposed to globalization (although you'd think they'd be all for it, if it would speed up Christ's return). Personally, I'd like to see the evidence for an afterlife. Modern science shows us that there's no reason to believe that consciousness continues after our brains die (because the mind is the function of the brain).
I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I just think it's amusing to list some of these things. I'm surrounded by people who believe this stuff, but of course I do not deny their right to do so, nor do I devalue them as human beings. Nonetheless, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the media ridicules, criticizes or portrays Christianity in a less than favorable light.
And on that note, I would like to make a final point. Christianity tends to ridicule it's Mormon and Jehovah's Witness cousins (like the kooky family members no one likes to talk about it), although they unite on the political front. I think the cult spawns of Christianity are slightly more absurd, but Christians really shouldn't throw stones. Christianity is just as ridiculous, it just has a larger following.
Image by maxgiani via FlickrListening to the news about Haiti, and hearing the News Commentators talk about "the stench of death", revived a memory of what my Dad had said about his service in WW II. He had fought in the Battle of The Bulge, among other battles, and told us several times about how once you smell a decaying or burning body, you instantly know that it is human, and you never forget that smell. Dad was a very sensitive man, and you could see that even decades after-the-fact he was still disturbed by it.
There's a reason that I'm bringing up this unpleasant subject.
Over two decades ago, my husband was an Army Officer and we lived in Central Germany "off post" in a rented house among the German people.
While living there, we used to love to spend every week-end exploring German history from Castles to Concentration Camps. We're both History Buffs in a big way.
On a days' visit to Dachau, I was struck by the close proximity of the town of Dachau to the Concentration Camp. It is only three kilometers between the city's train station and the camp.
I clearly remember thinking as I looked over at the town... "Those people could see from their 3rd-story windows what was going on." Not only could they see, but they also surely could have smelled as well, and that thought was very unsettling.
As we went through the gates at the Concentration Camp, my oldest daughter said "Mommy I don't like this place." I'm sure that she picked up on our somber vibes.
Looking through the lens as an atheist now, I wonder about the mind-set of the average religious person living in Dachau at that time. Catholicism and Nazism had a complicated relationship, and nearly every person in the Nazi hierarchy had been or was a Catholic. Hitler himself was a Catholic (in spite of how Catholic's today denying it), although he also was anticlerical. I'm not saying that every single Catholic endorsed the Nazi Party, just that a large percentage ignored the atrocities.
I have a tremendous respect and awe for the courage that some average Germans had in WWII to save Jews by sheltering them or helping to secretly relocate them. Obviously these single acts of heroism show that a 'higher thinking' was able to transcend centuries of Antisemitism that had been spewed from every pulpit.
I had a German friend in my neighborhood there who was open-minded, and I guess I could describe her as an agnostic. She told me that her parents, grand-parents, etc., as far back as she could remember, sincerely believing that the Jews were "the Christ killers."
Had the Vatican spoken out so much more forcefully, and more often, would the result of the "final solution" been different? Me thinks that in their eyes, that would have meant acknowledging that just perhaps, they may have been wrong about the "Christ killers" package that they'd been delivering to Catholics for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Just how deep does the delusion, the self-brainwashing, and the hatred have to be when it takes precedence over the natural, in-born human compassion we all share ?
After our U.S. troops liberated Dachau, several of our soldiers were so horrified and repulsed by what they saw, the bodies piled high, the gas chambers and the walking corpses, that they opened fire on many of the guards there. Could you blame them ?
Our troops also went into the City of Dachau and rounded up the citizens and forced them to look at the horror inside the camp. I remember seeing pictures of the local men and women with wide-eyed "disbelief" on their faces.....then our troops forced the citizens to help clean up the camp---BRAVO !
At that point, I'm wondering just how many of them gave a sober, hard look at their belief and perhaps wondered just how one can believe such a doctrine of hate and at the same time be a loving human being.
Just as Christopher Hitchens says : "Religion Poisons Everything" ...............minds included.
1/30/2010 View Comments
In previous postings I have blasphemed the Holy Spirit, God, and Jesus in various ways. This time I am going to say something about prayer, which all too many Christians seem to think that getting housemaid's knees and praying to something that does not exist really does come true. If one tries to point out that it is nothing more than the role of the dice and pure superstition, they act like they are trying to save Tinker Bell from certain death by saying, “It's true! Prayer really works. I do believe! I do believe!”
Ah! Clap if you believe in fairies!
Now I realize many Christians who visit this site will insist that prayer really works, especially if you have enough faith, but that simply is not true. It truly is a role of the dice. A form of gambling, because with or without prayer, one has a 50-50 chance of whatever.
Take for example the co-worker I have who believes and often says, “Prayer really works!” A while back she gave me a ride to Walmart so we could cash our paychecks. Now, this is the bugger about it all -- for some reason, the paychecks where we work do not clear the bank. They often bounce and if you try to go to our boss's bank, they will not cash it due to “insufficient funds.” So, we were at Walmart, and she stated she had said a prayer that they would cash it. Walmart cashed our checks and she was going on and on as to how prayer really works and that was the example she gave, saying, “See? Prayer really works!”
The people do not need to be born again. They need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world. Reality check: We had a 50-50 chance of Walmart cashing it. Plain and simple. Prayer had nothing to do with it. They either would or they would not. She did not have to say any prayer and I bet we would have had the same results.
Again, some Christians may say that she had enough faith for the both of us, but that simply is not true. I could have gone in by myself and had the same results without prayer.
I was a Christian for several years and every night I prayed the same prayer before I went to bed. It went like this:
“Dear Heavenly Father (just as I was taught), we thank you for this day and all the help you have given us. Guard us, guide us, and protect us from all evil.”
So far it is a standard prayer and probably beautiful to many Christians, but from there, I would say,
“Do not let anything or anyone in our house tonight or any other night.”
Now, before my mother started taking me to church regularly at the age of fourteen, I did not pray before going to bed and no one intruded into our home. There was no change, even after I moved out of my mother's home and prayed that. So far there has been no intruder, with or without prayer and the truth is, it is the same toss of a coin.
Reality check: As long as one locks their doors and windows before going to bed, it is less likely one will break into one's home. Prayer has nothing to do with it. To make such a request of a supernatural being is purely superstition and luck of the draw. Such a prayer is basically a throw back to the days of primitive man, before we had door locks. I think Valerie Tarico put it best when she was on Mark Mythos show and I will try to recall it from memory that best I can. She used the example of primitive man thinking there was a lion or something out there that could harm their family. If you stayed awake and you were wrong, then you lost nothing but sleep, but if you went to sleep and there was a lion around, you could lose your life and your family too. It was something like that at least. I think such a prayer fits that primitive position, but we do not live in caves or in trees anymore. We live in a modern world in which we can lock out the outside world and cut down on the risk of an intruder and if we can afford it, we can install a whole security system in our homes.
However, if someone choses to break into your home, with or without you being there, there is nothing any man-made deity can do to stop that person. Your best bet is to lock your doors and windows.
Now here is the kicker. I also prayed for my sons. I asked God,
“Please do not let my sons become involved with gangs, drugs, or crimes, and to keep them safe from all harm.”
I truly believed that God would protect them from these things and keep them from getting involved with bad things. I did not consider freewill, in part because I never knew exactly what that was and having grown up with Wesleyan doctrine, freewill was not discussed very often. So it was never actually defined.
Again, my odds were 50/50 and most of it also had to do with parenting- two parents, not just one. I took my sons to church, specifically an Episcopal Church, because I did not like Fundamentalism. While my older son grew up to be a fine [Buddhist] young man, I did not have as much luck with my younger son, who admired his father.
Mind you, I left and divorced their father when my younger son was six months old and he did not have very much involvement with them due to his own problems. However, it would seem genetics played a role in my younger son's life, because he did become involved with drugs and alcohol by the time he was 13. At this time, I was still saying that prayer and wanted to believe that God would protect him from such things, but he was slowly making a spiral down a bad path as he made bad choices in his life.
When he became involved with the Disciples, I have no clue, but he did and now he is 18, serving 60 days in jail due to a series of MIPs (Minor in possession/intoxicated), trespassing, shoplifting (alcohol), stealing, and one other charge. His bond for the trespassing alone was $5000. He was there until the judge saw him and ended up with 60 days, is ordered to go to a drug and alcohol rehab program for 28 days after he serves his time, has a large fine, and two years supervised probation.
So much for prayer.
Now one might say that it is because I stopped praying, but if that were true, then it seems to me, he would not have started when he did, because I was praying then and faith that this unseen being would take care of my sons when I was not around to know exactly what they were doing.
Reality check: We all make choices and it is our responsibility to make the right choices, even as teenagers, and young adults. My younger son made some bad choices, plain and simple, and given that his father is an alcoholic and drug addict, genes also had a role to play in the matter too. It had nothing to do with prayer.
Both my sons had a 50/50 chance of being substance abusers due to genetics. They also had more influences in their lives than just myself. The rare visits from their father was apparently just enough to influence one of them as well as they friends they chose.
To say one did not have enough faith, did not pray hard enough, or did not pray at all, is to not face reality. In this case, the reality is genetics and the choices my younger son made in his life. My wishful fairy tale prayer, irregardless of enough faith or not, had nothing to do with it.
We all have responsibility for our own lives. As the retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has said,
“The Church doesn't like for people to grow up, because you can't control grown ups. That's why we talk about being 'Born again.' When you're born again, you're still a child. The people do not need to be born again. They need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world.” -- ref.
I find this to be true especially when one is trying to rely on the superstition of prayer too. To beg, plead, request, some parent figure in the sky to do something is not taking responsibility for yourself, especially since there is no parent figure in the sky. One is doomed to fail if they believe some parent figure in the sky will take care of everything, including their children. This simply is not true and I wish I had listened to Bishop Spong, Don Cupitt, Anthony Freeman, and other Anglican ministers like them a whole lot sooner, because maybe I would not have fallen into that trap. Of course, I probably would have left the Church a whole lot sooner too, if I had started listening sooner, because when I started listening, I started questioning, researching, and studying more than I ever did before.
The truth is, prayer is no better than meditation. It can comfort some people or it can make them more fretful and anxious. More often than not, I became more fretful and anxious when I prayed, because I would started praying for what was troubling me over and over again.
Yes, I had heard of the saying, “Let go and let God,” but I had also heard, “God helps those who help themselves,” and when I did not know what to do to help myself the anxiety kicked in even with prayer.
However, prayer, like meditation, can trigger neuro-chemistry in the brain, which can have a calming affect too. This has been seen in Buddhist monks concerning meditation, as well as Catholic nuns concerning prayer, but prayer has no affect on the outcome of reality. If it helps you relax, like relaxation techniques help others to relax, fine, but it does not do much more than that and your requests are nothing more than playing the lottery. You can pray for someone all you want, but in the end, it is they who need to take responsibility for their lives and make good choices. You praying the right way and/or to the right god has nothing to do with it and more often than not, if you put faith in prayer and your god concept in order to make people do what you desire, it will surely fail. When it comes to other people, it is not the prayer that gets them to do what you desire, whether it be to cash a check or to stay away from drugs and crime, but rather the choices they make in their lives. You also cannot make someone do what they have not chosen to do for themselves with a prayer to your god concept either. Again, they have to chose to do it and in the end, you would be better served in getting what you want by asking or seeking help from a real person.
Therefore, do not pray for me, do not pray for others, or yourselves. If you want to help others, do something besides get on your knees. If you want help for yourself, go seek help from another human being or more than one human being. Because prayer is just a crap shoot and no invisible being is going to intervene to make anyone do anything for you, themselves, or anyone else.
1/29/2010 View Comments
Image via WikipediaDisbelief in a NON-thing is different from disbelief in an actual thing.
When someone is a believer in the Spirit of God they rarely consider the fact that a spirit of any kind is not a defined thing. Our nouns are people, places or things which might be found and examined in the world in which we live. When we use the word “God” or “Spirit” however we may not consider that belief or disbelief in such an entity does not involve a limited person, place or thing that might be found in our world. So the word God is a very funky word. It does not work well in any context including arguments about its own existence.
What I am saying is that for most of the words we use as we speak to one another a real physical thing comes first and the word is secondary. First there is a real tree and then the word tree that refers to it. You know how could Adam name the animals (grin) if there were no animals there in the first place to be named, what sense would naming them make at all? The thing can be touched and has limited dimensions and a limited lifespan just alike all other things. To simply use a word IMPLIES that it is first real and that includes the world God. Of course there is no real Santa but be careful to use the word IMPLIES there was first a real thing to be named at all.
When we bring in “God” or “Sprit” there is no actual limited physical object that precedes the word we are using. I enjoyed reading once that someone might believe in a spiritual body but exactly what could that possibly mean? Take Casper The Friendly Ghost of TV cartoons of days gone by who could walk through doors but who could also catch a ball when it was tossed to him. Really? You can’t have it both ways. A body is limited and physical and it can catch balls or it can pass through doors untouched but doing both is really not so logical. Right? A spiritual body is not possible it is an imaginary physical body. I mean why do angels need wings anyway. Isn’t it birds in this world that need wings? See it gets really stupid.
Now what about “God”? IF God is a thing to be there then one might believe in God or not believe in God. If a horse was said to be in the barn one might believe it to be there or doubt it to be there but there would be a limited horse in a limited barn that was being evaluated for belief. With God and Spirit, since they are not limited things there is actually no PARTICUALR thing to be believed in or doubted, then believing or disbelieving in God is DIFFERENT.
Atheists quickly say, rightly, they cannot define God and the odd thing is that believers say they also cannot define God. To state any limits for God is impossible because God is NOT a limited thing to be defined to any limits. So here in that God has no DEFINITION both sides, atheist and theist, are in harmony. The Infinite does not do definition very well. God is really slippery. Ghosts seem to wear no one certain shoe size. Papa Bear’s bed might be too big ;Mama Bear’s bed too small ; but God’s bed is really neither big nor small because we are unsure what size is required for a being with no limited body. God is “infinite” and “ infinitely small” at the same time. He knows the full extent of the Universe as a grain of sand and yet is able to know the inner workings of the smallest cell. Sure. Really? Eats fire and shits ice and is going to win an Oscar for acting this year too! Anything else? If you do not need any physical evidence then you can make any statement you want. Religions do just that and then, get this friggin’ argue about who is right!
What does this have to do with us atheists anyway? Well when you do not believe in God you are an atheist. BUT the WORDING is such that one might assume too quickly that God IS something like a horse in the barn that MIGHT be there but in your case you personally do not believe is actually there in the barn due to the lack of evidence. BUT, if God is NOT a thing that should even have a word assigned to it in the first place then someone would be an idiot to believe in God. If there is no tree then to believe that the word tree means anything is just plain stupid. IF this is so, and it is, not believing in God is different from not believing in the horse in the barn. The horse is a real thing that might be there or not. God however never was a real thing to begin with and saying words will never make God real. To be an atheist is to be someone who does not believe in something that is actually nothing at all.
This atheism we have is a different kind of disbelief than ordinary disbelief. Atheism, properly understood has no THING at all in which it does not believe. It is a NOTing of something that NEVER WAS in the first place . I do not believe in Round Squares . I also do not believe in the content of what rocks dream about when they are asleep. Let the word “God “become as empty of content as a thought of a rock when it is asleep. If someone DOES however believe in such things as round squares and the thoughts of sleeping rocks it is up to them to bring forth such things as they claim to be real from their non existence in their own imagination into the very light of day! If someone believes in a yesterday that is coming up next week, well, you get the idea. Such people make about as much sense as round squares, the thoughts of sleeping rocks, fat-skinny people and “God”.
If we do not believe in “God “let’s make sure this “God” we do not believe in not only is a thing that is not real for us but never is a “thing” that never could actually ever BE just like an the word up which could actually never mean down. When the WORD “God” is properly examined and found to be no real definable thing disbelief in any real thing represented by that word God is the only sane position.
Image by Loci Lenar via FlickrJust about everyone has some knowledge of Moses, be it from the Bible, the Qur'an, or movies. A historical figure, credited with leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt as well as reputedly being the author of the first few books of the bible and famous enough that he is mentioned more times in the New Testament than any other Old Testament character; and is the most mentioned name in the Qur'an.
You know the story... as a newborn, placed in a basket in the river to save him from Pharaoh’s death sentence on Hebrew babies (shades of future Herod). Then saved and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. Later, kills an Egyptian for "smiting a Hebrew" and flees to Midian where he chances upon the seven daughters of Reuel, a Midian priest. He helped them withstand some unfriendly shepherds and then assisted them in watering their father's flock. When Reuel hears this he gives his daughter Zipporah as a wife (that's faster than online dating!). But there's a slight problem. In Exodus 2 (supposedly written by Moses himself) his father-in-law was Reuel as mentioned above. But in Ex 3, 4 & 18 it's supposedly Jethro... and over in Numbers 10 (also claimed to be a Moses effort) the father-in-law is called Hobab -- go figure?
And the last chuckle? That anyone with a working brain could call this anything beyond mythology! But if you really want to get a bit discombobulated concerning Moses, drop by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_in_Rabbinic_Literature
and check out what the Rabbis have to say.
There, in addition to his connections to the creation and water, you'll find that he was born circumcised and walked immediately after birth! Except another story has him snipped after eight days. AND.... he spoke on the day of birth and began prophesying at age three! Just imagine what a successful televangelist he would have been. And was his birth an important day?? You bet! At least according to one of the stories, some 600,000 Hebrew children had already been thrown into the river but were saved by Moses birth... hey, maybe they were the 600,000 that left Egypt with Moses some years later.
And I guess it would be a bit of problem growing up in the royal household when it came to giving names. Bithiah, his adoptive mother gave him the handle of Moses. But, depending on which story you follow, he had either seven or ten names. Among them, Jared, Abi Gedor, Heber, Abi Soko, Jekuthiel, Abi Zanoah, Shemaiah and Heman. Can you just imagine the confusion in a classroom full of Pharaohonic kids when the teacher has to conduct a roll call?
As he grew up he became quite sensitive to the plight of Hebrew slaves, helping them when the load was too great or their strength too low. Even convinced the Pharaoh that the slaves were entitled to some rest and got him to give them one free day a week... VOILA! The SABBATH!
And this sensitivity toward the Hebrew slaves is what caused him to flee Egypt. Ex 2 says Moses saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew and so killed him. But the Rabbis have a far more interesting take on this phase. Seems the dude he killed had forced a Hebrew woman to "commit adultery with him." Pharaoh was a bit upset and delivered Moses to the executioner who had a very sharp sword. But Moses' neck became like marble and dulled the sword. Or.... according to another version, angel Michael gave the shape of Moses to the executioner and thereby killed him (did the executioner/Moses lookalike kill himself????? Doesn't say).
Tho Ex 2 takes Moses to the land of Midian, the Rabbis seem to disagree on the timing. Evidently he went to Ethiopia, spent nine years in their army, was proclaimed king, married Adoniya (with whom he had no relations for 40 years) and when she complained about that to the princes and generals they dismissed Moses, gave him treasures and THEN.... he went to the land of Midian. And there, it really gets confusing!
In the next few paragraphs we find the following caveats to confusion…. “Moses was then twenty, or possibly forty, years of age” and “Moses lived for twenty years in Pharaoh's house” and “Moses lived for forty years in Pharaoh's house” and “kept him prisoner for seven, or ten” and “only seven years in Jethro's hands” and “must have been Jethro's captive for ten years” and finally, “After ten (or seven) years.”
And remember Ex 4:24-25 when Moses was headed back to Egypt and God sought to kill him. Moses’ wife, Zipporah grabbed a sharp stone and circumcised their eldest son. The Rabbinical stories claim that: “On the way he met Satan, or Mastema, as he is called in the Book of Jubilees (xlviii. 2), in the guise of a serpent, which proceeded to swallow Moses, and had ingested the upper part of his body, when he stopped. Zipporah seeing this, concluded that the serpent's action was due to the fact that her son had not been circumcised, whereupon she circumcised him and smeared some of the blood on Moses' feet. A heavenly voice was then heard commanding the serpent to disgorge the half-swallowed Moses, which it immediately did.
Let’s see, now… your husband is being swallowed by a giant snake and so you INSTANTLY CONCLUDE that it’s because of #1 son not having been circumcised???? Quite a jump to conclusion. Just imagine how upset (and pained) that kid would have been if her conclusion had been wrong!!
Anyway, all of the above speculations and disagreements occurred before Moses spoke to Pharaoh about letting his people go. But no sense bothering you with more and more. Those interested can go to the Wiki link above and chuckle through the rest.
And the last chuckle? That anyone with a working brain could call this anything beyond mythology!
1/28/2010 View Comments
Image by speakingoffaith via FlickrLast week I wrote an article about solar powered Bibles that are being sent to Haiti as aid. As a former Evangelical, I was trying to explain the psychology that turns a tragedy into a marketing opportunity for religions that need recruits. On a whim, I pulled up the website for Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Ok, it wasn’t a whim, it was a hunch based on past experience. At the time of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, I was researching local mega churches and ran across Mars Hill for the first time. I was appalled to see their home page recommendations for members: pray for the people in the disaster zone, give to Mars Hill church, give to our church building efforts in India. (Why wasn’t it “Pray for Mars Hill Church, give to the people in the disaster zone . . . ?)
There is little more sacred to me than compassion – the part of us that feels someone else’s pain as our own and seeks to alleviate it. My deepest spiritual values were violated by what Mars Hill was doing; I would say that the moral heart of humanity was violated.
The solar Bibles project struck a similar note, which is why it occurred to me to see what Mars Hill is up to now. To my dismay, they were once again channeling the compassionate impulse into what is best described as self-promotion : promotion of the church, it’s pastor, Mark Driscoll, and the viral fundamentalist ideology that both serve.
God never meant for Christians to take care of poor, suffering people but rather poor suffering Christian people. The Mars Hill website directs people to one of Driscoll’s side projects – a website (ChurchesHelpingChurches.org) seeking to direct aid money into church reconstruction. By filtering and selecting Bible verses, Driscoll makes the case that God never meant for Christians to take care of poor, suffering people but rather poor suffering Christian people (and potential converts.) “ I challenge all thoughtful, biblically-minded Christians to find a single instance of the New Testament church filling the plates of the ‘general population’ poor.” Cofounder of the site, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel penned these words: “Children are crouching in shivering fear as people stand stunned and staring in disbelief at the remains of what they once called their home. The world is racing to help these people in unimaginable crisis, but who will help the church?”
This explicit co-opting of the charitable impulse may be characteristic of successful mega-churches. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren hops among 15(!) Bible translations to back up his points, one of which is right in line with Driscoll. Warren chooses the New Revised Standard Version to ensure that readers don’t think God is talking about “general population poor” when Jesus says “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these . . . you did it to me.” (In place of the elipses, the NRSV says “who are members of my family”, which Warren has already defined as the tribe of born again believers. p. 126.) Later in the book, Warren comments, “Notice that God says the needs of your church family are to be given preference . . .. ” (p.259). To top it off,for Warren becoming a “World Class Citizen” means this:
If you ask me, I will give you the nations; all the people on earth will be yours.(Psalm 2:8 NCV) Prayer is the most important tool for your mission in the world. People may refuse our love or reject our message, but they are defenseless against our prayers. Like an intercontinental missile, you can aim a prayer at a person’s heart whether you are ten feet away or 10,000 miles away. What should you pray for? The Bible tells us to pray for opportunities to witness, for courage to speak up, for those who will believe, for the rapid spread of the message, and for more workers. Prayer makes you a partner with others around the world. You should also pray for missionaries and everyone involved in the global harvest.
(Note: If you didn’t fully appreciate the name of “Harvest Bible Chapel” you have the context now.)
After I wrote about solar Bibles and Churches Helping Churches, one Huffington Post reader (and, I presume, Mars Hill Member) pushed back: “While it is true that Mars Hill Church is encouraging efforts to rebuild churches in Haiti, it shouldn't be overlooked that the congregation donated over $429,000 to general relief efforts (not including the church rebuilding project).” As evidence, he or she provided a link to the church blog, so I went there. Perhaps their ratio of aid to recruiting was higher than I thought. But were the Mars Hill members donating to general relief efforts or the church general fund? The blog seemed to suggest the latter. (And wasn’t Driscoll explicitly teaching against the former?)
Here was Pastor Jamie Munson’s advice to people who want to actually do something in response to Haiti.
• Start giving to the church.
• Quit living on your own and join a community group.
• Pursue church membership and align formally with your church family.
• Confess to your community group about lack of giving or participation in Jesus’ mission.
• Consider financial coaching: get help building a budget so that you can align your finances with right priorities.
In my experience visiting Mars Hill, this is in keeping with the church’s general philosophy. At my last visit, the church newspaper Pop Vox made the case that God (not Mark Driscoll, but God) wants Christians to give first and foremost to their home church—and to do it regularly and to do it till it hurts. Perhaps one of the secrets to mega-growth is making sure to capture community resources and channel them in the service of that growth.
I am not saying that the Mars Hill effort is ill intended, and I have no doubt that at some level it will involve providing food, shelter and medical care to people in dire need. In a place where people are dying of trauma and hunger, Bibles and church buildings are likely to be much better received if they are paired with goods and services that meet people’s basic needs. Also, it must be remembered that congregation members who are opening their checkbooks are genuinely compassionate people, seeking to do good – or they wouldn’t be susceptible to the appeal.
But at what cost?
Because Bible believing Christians perceive themselves as a light shining in darkness, a moral beacon to the world, they often don’t understand that much of the critique written about their religion, like this article, is prompted by moral distress. For Evangelicals the diversion of energy into recruiting activities seems to be in the service of a higher good. From the outside, it seems opportunistic, just like Scientology’s high-profile relief work. It is morally distressing, with a high opportunity cost and, consequently, a high human cost: Genuinely decent, loving people who seek to serve Goodness are having their precious empathy and compassion channeled into activities that range from exploitative to merely inefficient or insensitive.
A young Christian friend of mine caught sight of the Solar Bibles headline. “Really?” she asked (with that inflection that only teenagers can conjure). “It seems so elitist. You have to be really not hungry and not in pain to think—Hmm. What would comfort me is a Bible. I think that’s what I’ll send.”
Note: Interesting comments at: The Daily Kos.
Image by George Eastman House via FlickrMy super fanatical fundy-in-laws are some of the most rude, disrespectful and arrogant people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I put up with them for my wife. She doesn't agree with the things they do either, but they are her family and she doesn't want to completely cut them off. We have come to an agreement that I won't just unleash and tell them what I think while forbidding them to ever step foot in my home. In return I do lots of little passive-aggressive things when their actions step over the line. My wife actually gets a kick out of it. The following are the first two stories of some of the countermeasures I have used.
My wife and I threw a birthday party for our daughter's 14th birthday. We specifically designed the birthday party as a cook-out because we didn't want loads of kids running through our house. We wanted our nephew (Nick) and niece (Kristy) who are 5 and 2 respectively to be there because at this point they are still just kids and they adore my daughters. This of course meant their parents, the fanatical fundy-in-laws (John and Jane), would be in attendance.
As everyone arrived we were very clear that the only reason to go into the house was for a trip straight to the bathroom and back. We told John, Jane and their kids twice just to make sure. About thirty minutes into the party Nick asked Jane if he could go in and watch TV. Noticing that I was standing nearby she said no and told him to go play.
A few minutes later Nick ran to Jane and told her he was tired and he really wanted to go in and watch TV. This time Jane was unaware that I was standing behind her. Thinking no one would hear her she told Nick to quietly go upstairs to my daughters room and to make sure he kept the volume down. She of course also gave him instructions on what channel to watch as he was not allowed to watch many things. She also told him to go to the bathroom first and wash his hands before touching anything.
I slipped inside the house without being noticed while Nick was in the bathroom. I picked up the TV remote in my daughters room and looked at the guide. On the local PBS station there was a show all about evolution scheduled to start in 5 minutes time. I set the DVR to record the episode. I hid in a room across the hall and watched my nephew go into the room. He turned the TV on to whatever station he had been instructed. Sure enough a couple of minutes later the station turned all on its own because it was set to record NOVA. Nick never thought twice about it.
About an hour later Nick came out of the house just as I expected. What happened next though was better than I could have imagined. Nick ran straight to Jane and started telling her something. I was too far away to hear the words, but he was very animated.
As Jane listened to her son a look of horror slowly spread over her face. When she had heard all her fundy brain could handle words literally exploded from her. Everyone looked as Jane shrieked, "Nick, that is a lie straight from the pits of hell. God made everything. That wasn't on the channel I told you to watch. Why didn't you watch the station I told you to watch?"
Sensing it was time for me to step in I ran over and went into action. Of course I feigned complete ignorance of the whole thing. I asked Nick which room he was in while he was watching TV. He told me. I immediately explained to Jane that I had set a show about evolution to tape up in my daughters room. I even told her I did it specifically because I knew she wouldn't want one of her kids to see it and I was afraid one of her kids may stop and turn on the TV downstairs during a trip to the bathroom.
Jane was fuming. I think she knew that she had been had and was irate over it. Before she had a chance to react I had one more thing to say to Nick. I asked him why he was in the house watching TV when I had told him and his mom that he wasn't supposed to do that.
I'm pretty sure Jane was praying her god strike me dead that very moment as Nick quickly informed me that his mommy had told him it was OK to go in and watch TV. I looked at Jane and told her I thought we had made it abundantly clear that no one was to be inside for any reason other than to use the bathroom.
Jane hollered for John and Kristy. After John and Jane had a quick whispered exchange they determined it was time to leave even though no cake had been eaten and no presents opened.
I can't be sure, but it seems like the party got much better after they left. I know it did for me.
By the way, before any one tells me that tricking the fanatic fundies kid into watching a show about evolution is no better than the way christians do things allow me to say something. This story does not give you any indication of the extreme amount of disrespect these people have shown me. They have no respect for me at all. Not even in my own home. They must really think that my non-belief entitles them to completely ignore and disregard my rules in my home. My purpose was not to convert their son. Jane is the one that came to our house and blatantly disregarded our rules. Her son should have never been in the house watching TV in the first place. If she had the simple decency to respect us it never would have been an issue. But this is an ongoing and long standing problem. As long as the fanatical fundy-in-laws continue to act this way in my home I will continue to take their disrespect and use it to turn the tables on them and make them the ones that are upset and uncomfortable.
My fundy-in-laws have a habit of taking extreme advantage of any kindness shown to them. Let them borrow something and your lucky if you ever see it again. I'm sure you know people like that and can imagine many of the other things they do. However, the one they are absolutely the worst about is when someone agrees to watch their kids.
The first couple of times they asked my wife and I to watch their kids we told them before agreeing what time they had to be back to pick them up. Yet both times they showed up far later than the time they agreed upon. My wife was ready to tell her own sister that she would never again babysit for her. However, I had a bit of a countermeasure brewing inside my brain. So I told my wife to wait and give it one more chance because the next time I would make them seriously regret doing it.
Just a few days later we got another request to watch their kids. We agreed. My wife and I were both adamant as to what time they must be back to pick up their kids. We even told them they would regret it if they didn't show up in time. They didn't like it at all. They tried to explain that they were attending some type of church event and they would have to leave earlier than they wanted to leave. They even tried to convince us it would be sinful of us to not allow them to stay for the whole event because they were doing something for god. Any other time a statement like that would have been cause for me to throw them all out of the house immediately telling them to find another babysitter. That wouldn't have allowed me to carry out my plan though. So instead I just said, "Then god should have known that and supplied a different babysitter." They finally told us they agreed to our terms. Though I knew they had no intention to actually follow through.
Nick and Kristy love playing with our dog since their parents won't let them have one. Not too long after they showed up both kids were on their hands and knees playing with the dog. I was counting on it. I snapped a picture of both of them in that exact position. I immediately took the picture and uploaded it to the computer and with a little bit of Photoshop, Nick and Krista were not on the floor playing with the dogs, instead they were both on their hands and knees locked into dog kennels. The pictures were ready if I had to use them, and I was pretty sure I would. My wife even asked if I would print separate pictures of the kids, the kennel, and the Photoshopped image out onto a single sheet of paper. I wasn't sure why she wanted it, but I obliged.
Of course the agreed upon time came and went without so much as a phone call from the fundy-in-laws. I'm sure in their mind attending a church event was a righteous and godly thing so it was OK to break their promise to us. Just to be nice we tried to call them. We got the result we expected. They didn't answer their phone. They ignored our calls. That is what they had done both the other times. Sporting a huge smile I set my plan into action. I took the Photoshopped picture and transferred it back to my phone. I sent a text to both John and Jane. It said: 'Had to go. Key under mat in back. Kids can't get into any trouble.' I attached the kids in the kennel picture and hit send.
Within 15 seconds both my wife and I were receiving phone calls from John and Jane. We followed their example and ignored their calls. We got text messages from both threatening to call the police. I wasn't really worried about it. I had all the original pictures to prove there were actually no children locked into kennels.
A few minutes later we heard a car come to a screeching stop in front of our house. Within moments the back door was open and John and Jane both came running into our house as fast as they possibly could. When they saw their kids playing a game on the Wii and not locked into dog kennels they realized we had played them like puppets.
It was obvious that both John and Jane were really pissed and wanted to say something. I could have sworn I saw steam coming from their ears. But both knew they had no legitimate argument. They had broken their promise to us and we had called them out on it. My wife however did have something to say. She stood up and handed Jane the paper with the three pictures. In a very calm voice my wife said, "I want you to keep this picture as a reminder. A reminder of the last time I will ever babysit for you because I won't allow you to use my kindness to take advantage of us anymore. Now, take your kids and leave my house."
At that moment I'm sure the Cheshire cat would have been extremely jealous of the huge smile on my face. I couldn't have been more proud of my wife at that moment. Nor could I have been any more thrilled to see the look of complete and utter defeat present in John and Janes' expressions and body language.
That has been over two years ago and we have kept our word. We have not babysit for them again. They won't even ask us unless they are completely desperate. As a matter of fact Jane was so desperate a few weeks back she called me and asked if I would watch her kids. Asking me specifically is a very rare event indeed. What did I say? I barked twice and hung up.
1/27/2010 View Comments
Image via WikipediaI'm quite exhausted from politicians and religious people talking about evil in regards to foreign affairs (particularly Islam), and propelling this idea that there is some kind of eternal struggle between good and evil in the world.
I think as humans, we're preoccupied with opposites, forgetting there is a spectrum contained within polarized concepts. Good vs. evil permeates our legends and movies. History is viewed through the lens of culture, and humans generally have a real problem with moral ambiguity.
I recently saw a fascinating video on the theory of how the universe first started to expand (the origin of space and time). During this birth, there was only matter and anti-matter in a struggle. Matter ended up dominating just enough to allow the universe to continue forming as it has over the past 13.7 billion years.
I wonder if this neutral struggle for dominance is ingrained in the human subconscious somehow, birthing a meme of good vs. evil. Various cultures (and religions) tend to view good and evil in very different lights. It's relative to cultural attitude rather than moral absolute.
Yes, there are dangerous people in the world, that pose a threat to our safety and our way of life. There are dictators, serial killers, terrorists, criminals, extreme religious leaders and corrupt politicians. As members of civilized society we don't condone murder, rape, slavery, genocide, theft, and so on. These are things that we choose to oppose and dismantle in our societies because they violate human rights.
I think it's absolutely lazy and irresponsible to blame the atrocities of the world on some invisible (and not empirical) force of evil, because such a force can't be truly understood, studied, and effectively combated.
I think we'd be much better off realizing that people take action because of what they think and believe in. Terrorists believe what they're doing is good for their country (and many times for their god). Serial killers have very good reasons (if you understand their thought process) for murdering their victims. The acts that result in such tragedy are obviously not to be condoned, but ultimately it's a process of warped thinking that drives people to do horrible things, not an invisible force.
The universe is indiscriminate in tragedy, and ultimately indifferent in human affairs. When we make foreign policy decisions (and really any other public policy decision) we must look at it rationally, trying to understand the motives of those who try to violate essential human rights. No invisible presence of good or evil (aka God and Satan) should be considered in these affairs. They are imaginary.
With an increasingly Christian military (evangelicals are proselytizing all over the place) and people of faith in public office, we must be wary of the consequences of superstition in relation to our freedoms, our national security, and ultimately our lives. Be afraid of superstition and irrational thought, not of an invisible force of evil in the world.
1/25/2010 View Comments
Image by borkur.net via FlickrAmerica is adrift in a sea of propaganda. Depending which brand of propaganda you like best, you tune in dutifully, become convinced that They are evil and We are good. Everything that They say is false, everything that We say is true. I use the word "brand" to refer to our favorite forms of propaganda purposely, because that's technically what information has become. In a media saturated world, which is conversely a world predicated on advertising, everything is about the "brand." This is why a football stadium can be named after a bank, or a shaving cream, or any number of things which have nothing to do with football. As long as you create a brand, and then create brand awareness, you are successful.
That is the endgame in today's world. A brand is like a dogma or a creed. Once crystallized, it cannot be deviated from or tampered with. Cursed is he who adds to or subtracts from words like these: "15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance." I'm sure you instantly recognize that tag line and the name of the company that uses it, along with the font that their name is printed in, and the lizard or caveman who sells this insurance, came instantly into your mind. Can you tell me who the 6th President of the United States was? Or what the 6th Amendment is about? Could you point out Yemen on a map? Do you know as much about anything as you do about brand names and logos? Sadly, in a world like ours, where we are inundated with brands, and where everything has been converted to a brand, whether it's the News we watch, the cereal we eat, the water we drink, or anything else in our lives, all of it is meticulously researched, produced, and packaged to target a certain demographic in order to build
brand awareness and customer loyalty. Although we almost never complain about it, we know that we are pawns in a great corporate scheme about as well as we know that we need to keep breathing oxygen in order to survive.
My concern here, as you'll note in the title, is less with secular branding than with the sacred. I'm under no illusions about the Church and the ways that it uncritically adopts the practices of the "world" and baptizes them into spiritual disciplines. I'm a veteran of many an Evangelism class, many a church growth strategy, and many a Pastor's meeting. Even when I was buying what the church was selling, I was fiercely critical of the fact that the Church is indistinguishable from a secular business. The vast majority of Pastors that I knew, or whose worthless books I read, fancied themselves as spiritualized CEOs. The Church was God's Corporation (incidentally from the same Latin root for "Body", corpus), and they were at the helm. The elders and deacons were alternately the board of directors or the mid-level managers.
Congregational meetings were like shareholder meetings, where the future direction of the company or the brand were discussed at length and where, besides a prayer to start and one to finish, you'd have no way yo tell whether the people gathered were a part of a community of believers or whether the church sanctuary had been lent out to a small company for the evening. As a zealous and academic student of God's Word, I despaired of leaving college to enter "the ministry" knowing that, while I had spent all of my time in school studying the Scriptures, their languages, the history and customs of the Bible, and the meaning of the gospel, that as soon as I stepped off campus and on to the property of whatever church I would work at, all of that was over. I would spend all of my time in "ministry" conducting meetings, raising funds, discussing "church growth" strategies, using not the language of the New Testament but the lingo of the board room. Most of the Pastors I knew were power hungry, schmoozer types. Most of them reminded me of managers I'd had at other jobs. I honestly can't think of a single Pastor I ever knew who was more immersed inthe Word of God than he was in the pie charts and diagrams and statistics about how to grow a church. I used to make a point of scanning the shelves in a Pastor's study, to see what kind of books he collected, for to paraphrase, Where your Books are, there your Heart will be also. I was almost never impressed, and nearly always disappointed at the corporatist crap that filled the shelves.
When a pastor talks about "souls", he's really talking about "consumers". When a pastor talks about "church growth" or "evangelism", he's talking about marketing and brand awareness. To be a Pastor in American Evangelicalism, you must see the church as business first, and maybe spirituality... not even second. Maybe you get around to it, but what matters is the brand and brand awareness. If you go to church, ask yourself this simple question, which is a litmus test for just how corporatized your church is: When is the last time your knowledge of the Bible increased? I mean, really--outside of your first year of being a Christian, did you ever learn anything in church about the Bible, who wrote it, where it came from, and the millions upon millions of details about what is allegedly the most important book in the world, and which is allegedly the church's raison d'etre. Even back when I was buying what the Church was selling with all my heart, I knew this to be the case. There was a time in my life when I wanted to teach the Word of God to people more than anything else in the world. Equal to my passion for the Bible was my disdain for the role of the American Evangelical Pastor, who is just a snake oil salesman or a half-assed business person who could never hack it in the real world, so they play make believe CEO in the church. If you go to church, you probably know what I'm talking about.
Beyond the fact that the church is just a baptized version of the corporation, however, and more to my point in this article, is the deeper problem of the worldview. In most places in America, if you were to draw a circle in a five mile radius from where you're sitting right now, you'd have at least 5 to 10 churches within that circle. Some places, you'd have even more. So, when pastors talk about "evangelism" and "church growth," what they're talking about is getting people to stop going to the church on 5th Street and start coming to the church on Main. Or taking families from Second Presbyterian and bringing them to First Baptist. Each church is a product or a brand, or offers many different products to church consumers. The primary draw for Christians is the "Children's Ministry" (read: free daycare). If you have kids and you go to church, most likely you chose the church you go to based on the "children's ministry", or the quality of free daycare they provide. The church may speak in tongues and cast out demons and you may not be comfortable with that, but if the children's ministry is good, you'll overlook it. And vice-versa, if you want some demons to come out of you now and again but aren't getting it, you'll overlook that, too. The #2 draw is probably the quality of the music, then the entertainment value of the sermon, and so on down the line. There are the rare individuals for whom doctrinal purity is a concern, but most Christians wouldn't know the Nicene Creed from the Westminster Catechism, and even if they did, they'd chuck it if the music or the daycare sucked.
With that in mind, let's do a little thought experiment. Close your eyes and imagine with me. OK, don't actually close your eyes, but pretend to, since you have to read. Imagine that it's not only true that the church, at its heart, is a business, proffering a brand which is distinguished from other competing brands by the goods and services it provides. Just imagine for a moment if you lived in a world where the very fabric of your understanding of the world, the system of beliefs through which you understood the origin of the cosmos, man's place in it, your role in society, and our collective destiny, if all of those things were literally up for grabs, and you had to choose which "brand" suited your particular taste when it comes to these crucial questions. Imagine if you lived in a world where the formation of a worldview were treated like a product. Imagine if you lived in a world where people actually went "church shopping", which is also to say that they go worldview shopping. Imagine if it were commonplace for people to shed the foundational beliefs that they hold about all things near and far, about the most important things, as though they were buying a new pair of sneakers. Imagine if we lived in a country where people literally had a menu held up before them from which they could choose what they want to believe in, and where they could then construct their worldview, and therefore their life, accordingly.
Imagine no longer. Open your eyes...
Do you like the idea that God is in control of everything, even your decisions, so that what looks like a "free will" choice that wrecked your marriage was actually God's will to bring you to your new girlfriend? OK. Then you'll love what Reformed Presbyterianism has to offer. Or, are you frightened by such a notion, preferring to believe that God loves you enough to let you choose your own way, as your overbearing parents never allowed you to do? Well, have you tried Methodism? Do you like fantasy worlds like Dungeons and Dragons and J.R.R. Tolkein novels, and want your religion to look like more like Mordor than Missouri? Well, check out one of the many varieties of Dispensationalism. Did you used to love getting wasted, being so emotionally free and falling all over the place, even if it occasionally meant you made a fool of yourself in the process? Then you should sample some Pentecostalism--those people are wild! Not to beat a dead horse to death, but this is precisely what Brit Hume was engaging in when he made his altar calls to Tiger Woods. If you want a new worldview, one that will take your old mistakes, take your old turds and polish them up to look like priceless diamonds, then come on down. That's what we do here in the church. The best part is that we have so many brands, and therefore so many variations on worldviews, that if you get tired of seeing the world through fire and brimstone colored glasses, you can trade them in for some "emerging church" lenses. There, good as new.
I am no fan of Chuck Colson. I don't know how getting thrown into prison for basically being a traitor got cashed in so that now he's one of the leading Evangelical voices on all things Church and State. But, even Chuck Colson knows that the McChurch phenomenon has taken over American Christendom, as he states:
The roots of the church's identity crisis are found in the consumer mentality so pervasive in our culture. Aside from those hierarchical denominations that assign members to the parish wherein they live, most Americans are free to choose which church they will join or attend. And choose they do.
Ask people what they look for in a church, and the number-one response is "fellowship." Other answers range from "good sermons" to "the music program" to "youth activities for the kids" to "it makes me feel good." People flit about in search of what suits their taste at the moment.
The former traitor and ex-con turned worldview peddler is right. Though, of course, he dislikes this phenomenon because he wants everyone to buy his brand, instead of church brand X, which is competing with him. But, McChurch has taken over. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, which broke the giant monolith of the Catholic Church, which is to say which broke the Monopoly of the Catholic Church, Christianity has devolved into millions of splinter groups, each competing with one another for a share in the worldview market. Most Christians know little or nothing about the Bible, and so they're left to make their choices based on the services offered by competing churches. Those who do know something about the Bible are probably worse than those who don't, because they will literally argue with fellow Christians about whose worldview is from God and whose is from Satan. You believe in Predestination? Haven't you read John 3:16? God so loved "the world". It doesn't say he only loved the ones he chose. You must be believing the doctrines of demons, as Paul said. You baptize infants? You offer communion to everyone? You recite the liturgy? And so on, and so on.
If this is the world that we live in, and it is, is it any wonder that most people don't believe in facts? What I mean is that, when confronted with scientific evidence, at least half of our country will dismiss it and claim that it's fabricated by a competing worldview peddler. Of course they do--this is what they're used to in their churches. Second Baptist has a better worldview than First Presbyterian and has exposed the fact that First Presbyterian only believe what they do about baptism because they're relativists who don't trust the Word of God. Or vice-versa. So, if you have facts, and you want to talk to an American Evangelical about them, you should realize that you are only one choice on a worldview menu. They've spent their lives in line, choosing Spiritual Value Meals from the McChurch menu board. They've literally been trained to believe that there's no such thing as a fact--there are only competing worldviews. They learned it first when they chose their church from the McChurch menu board, and passed on the worldview of church Brand X. Then, they were trained to believe that the Church itself is a worldview in competition with secularism. There are no facts, just competing worldviews. If you want to talk about facts, you're not going to get far. They're used to discarding worldviews and trading them in for others that suit them better. Yours had better look tastier than piping hot tongues of fire, or sorry, you're out of luck.