The Appeal of Holy Books

Fred Phelps, the repugnant leader of Westboro Baptist Church and the  “God Hates Fags” protests at fallen soldiers funerals has one thing in common with Martin Luther King Jr., the most important figure in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s who died in pursuit of equal rights and treatment of all people. That one thing they held in common was that they both believe(d) that the Bible is the Word of God.

There aren’t two people that I can say are more different than these men, yet they are both believers in this supposed “holy” book and consider it the inspiration for their life’s work.  How can two people so unquestionably opposed to one another in every way believe that this book is inspired by their same god?

From the outside looking in it can be rather bizarre for the non-believer to understand why books like the Bible and the Qur’an hold such wide appeal, so much so that they are  the most printed books in the history of print and because so many people have faith in their words they are the most trusted and believed works of all time. What drives people to these books? Is it simply the tradition or do they hold some great advantage over other books to embed themselves into societies?  Most surely it’s a combination of things, but I’d like to examine why it is that the books are so beloved as well as why such seemingly different people can and do adhere to the same texts.

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Jesus for Sale: The Church and Capitalism

I know it’s an unpopular idea and somehow it’s a surprise to most Christians today but the early Christian church was an organization with Communism at it’s core.

The book of Acts is replete with references to communal life, there is no question that the Book of Acts describes a decidedly communist church with verses like this one:

All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

When I was a Christian this verse along with many others that support the idea of a Communist church led my political ideals which eventually led me to become a member of the Socialist Party USA.  It was at this point that I recognized the disparity between what I see as a clear mandate from the Bible and what the modern Christian church actually puts into practice.

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Who Hijacked Your Faith?

I’m going to start a new series of posts called “Dear Church” , this will be where I’ll put all my frustrated rants and pleadings with the members of the Christian faith I’ve left behind. This will be the first in this series.

Who Hijacked Your Faith?

If you’ve  ever spent a lot of time around Christians, be they devoted or your standard backslider, it’s almost inevitable that a discussion about faith will eventually turn into someone making the claim that “Real Christians ®” would not do or say “x” – replacing “x” with whatever position they oppose and others eschew. The folks that say this often mean well but depend on the notion that their “True Faith ™ ” has been bastardized by what other Christians say and do and furthermore go on to explain why my understanding of their faith is flawed based on my experiences with these hijackers of their faith – meaning I can’t possibly make the rational or informed decision to reject that faith.

Dear Church,

I just want to know, who hijacked  your faith and what are you doing to fix it? Where did things go so wrong?

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Christian Charismatic: Debunking Experiences with God

People "Slain in the Spirit" at a Pentecostal church service - one of many Christian Charismatic movements

People “Slain in the Spirit” at a Pentecostal church service – one of many Christian Charismatic movements

There seems to be a modern resurgence of the Christian charismatic movement that is focused largely on evangelizing young people, hyper-emotional worship services, and “experiences” with the “Holy Spirit”. The kids these new ministries are reaching out for are largely between the ages of 10 and 18 and tend to take on a very “Jesus Camp” like atmosphere.  Some of the trends I’ve seen in these groups I find rather disturbing because of my own past experience with similar groups.

When I was little (between 6 and 10 if my memory serves correctly),  I attended a Charismatic Pentecostal church – of the  Church of God denomination. There was always the typical fire-breathing and fear mongering but with that was coupled this amazing experience….what I was told to believe was the result of God’s “Holy Spirit”, the third person of the Hypostatic Union – or Trinity that identifies the currently “orthodox” Christian deity.  The experience was amazing, for lack of a better word. I remember this feeling of euphoria as I begged God to bless me with his physical presence – a heat would overwhelm my body,  I shook uncontrollably, cried tears of joy, and sometimes when the pastor or evangelist would pray with me directly lost the ability to stay on my two feet – a phenomena called being “Slain in the Spirit“.  These experiences were magnified when I would attend a yearly summer camp – it was like a week long Christian charismatic church service – kinda like the one in this video except with mostly kids under the age of 12 and in a dark room with a full light show like at a rock concert:

 

*Watch this whole video, an excerpt from Jesus camp – it’s something important for people to see.

These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience.  I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.

Today I’m not really writing to tell my story – I’m writing to try to explain the dangers of experiences like these pose to young people and how some of these youth will ultimately be let down by these experiences and why they, as great as they may seem, are the result of psychosomatic responses to emotional over-stimulation.

 

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Facing Doubt with Integrity and Honesty

There are a few Christian ministries popping up here and there that are dedicating themselves to ministering to doubters, one such ministry is called Credo House which has recently hosted a few podcast programs and blogs dedicated solely to being a haven for Christian doubters looking to restore their faith.   I contacted one of the ministers involved with this organization in order to offer to be a guest one of the pod-casts to give my testimony of leaving the faith.  He wasn’t interested.  I was surprised by the response because I thought this was an attempt at an honest examination of doubt and faith with the goal of giving people  hope that, regardless of where you end up as a result of your doubts, the depression, fears, and suicidal thoughts that often accompany these events can eventually get better.

Before I really became entrenched in facing and realizing my doubts about the Christian faith I had certainly dealt with doubts before. Small things like the Trinity, Biblical lack of clarity on some subjects, post or pretrib eschatology had made me question myself and the Bible in small ways but never in ways so ground-shaking as I eventually began to deal with.  I recognize that many of my Christian friends  deal with those same small issues and because of my own personal hindsight I recognize one of the main problems with the way believers of any faith deal with those doubts.

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Popular Misconceptions: Knowing Truth

In my last post I talked about how difficult it was to move from absolute belief not holding any belief and how, despite everything you know being turned on it’s head, that your experience can truly get better.

Today, I’d like to talk about the nature of knowledge. When I was a believer my understanding of knowledge was something entirely different from what it is today. I think it’s important that we rightly define it in order to understand what the word knowledge actually means. I know this probably sounds absolutely nuts to those of you that have never lived in the world of faith – but this was probably the most massive change in my psyche during my deconversion.

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Is Debating Theists Futile?

Many atheist activists take the time to debate and discuss religion with theists while others often assert the futility of such discussions.  I spend a good amount of time in discussion with theists and aside from the fact that I truly enjoy this type of discourse I personally find that the exercise is more often healthy for all parties involved than not.

Consider the following three examples:

Here in the deep south, in a small town where there are almost as many churches as people – many believers have never been exposed to such fundamentally differing opinions as my own rejection of the faith worldview in exchange for a naturalistic and evidence based approach to determining truth. In my discussions with “real life” people here I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of believers are under-prepared for this level of debate and in many cases find themselves admitting that they are ill-prepared and under educated in the tenets of their own faith.  Most of the time I’m the one that has to explain what the Bible says about any certain topic and I think that this fact has had an impact on many local believers in-so-much that they frequently commit themselves to better understanding their faith and even other view points.

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Popular Misconceptions: The Definition of Atheism

Quite a few of the conversations I’ve been involved in with theists lately seem to start off with a basic misconception about what atheism actually is. Since there is such a disconnect between the definition of the term and what people think or believe that it means I’d like to clarify a few things.

Most recently multiple pastors have asserted that the term atheist was best defined as  ” to be certain there is no god” or “to believe that there is no god” – both definitions are decidedly incorrect.

Theism is defined by Mirriam-Webster‘s as:

belief in the existence of a god or gods

 

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Religion Founded on Fear

Fear is one of our most base emotional responses that expose the core of our evolutionary survivalist instincts, which is why it is unsurprising to me that it is often one of the most easily manipulated emotions when evangelism occurs or when we try to seek out the things that we will be devoted to in any major way.

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Strange Double Standards

I get witnessed to fairly frequently which is absolutely to be expected as an outspoken atheist here in the South. Generally I don’t mind when someone wants to share with me their version of the gospel. I don’t mind it in the least so long as the individual taking the time to tell me the “Truth” is also willing to listen to what I have to say in regards to that “Truth”.   You see, I believe that if you are willing to share your faith with people (as Jesus commands in Mark 16) that you should also be willing to hear criticisms of that faith. It’s a simple trade really; most Christians are happy to tell me that I’ll go to hell for eternity if I don’t accept their brand of the faith so I should be allowed to criticize the faith that they get those beliefs from.

Even when a young evangelical does his or her best to avoid terms like Hell  and damnation there are certain underlying tones of the Gospel; that I along with everyone ever born am fully depraved and unworthy of salvation, or that there is actually something that I need to be saved from that though not as blatant in their attempt are still just as insulting to the human mind as more confrontational fire and brimstone tactics. Virtually any sort of evangelism being exacted upon myself is grounds for challenge. This should go without saying.

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