Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell: Leaving faith against your will

 

Any atheist who has spent any time talking with or debating with theists is going to have heard it at least a dozen times, “You have just chosen not to believe” or “You’ve chosen one faith over another faith” or some derivative of this idea. Personally, I’ve heard it hundreds of times – largely because of my status as an apostate.

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Georgia’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and the Right to Discriminate

By now many of you have heard about Arizona S.B. 1062, which essentially grants any business or individual the right to deny services to any person based solely on their religious convictions (This bill was vetoed by AZ governor Jan Brewer just before publishing this article). In lock step with Arizona the poor marginalized Christians of the Georgia House and Senate have found it necessary to propose their own bill – Georgia H. B. 1023 – dubbed ” Georgia’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” – aptly titled considering the long list of religious freedoms being threatened and/or taken away from people of faith currently. For reference I’ve compiled a comprehensive list below:

 

Oppressed Religious Freedoms

A comprehensive list of all the freedoms Christians and other people of faith are currently losing, lost, or at risk of losing.

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Gut Check for the New Atheist Jerks

Note: In this post you’ll notice that I lump various groups into a single group. I call atheists, skeptics, agnostics, and etc all Humanists – largely based on the assumption that most of us are. If you don’t identify as a humanist please don’t take offense to this post or that categorization, it was done for the sake of simplifying the language of the post and for the sake of brevity. For the sake of clarity I am providing a link to the Humanists Manifesto II.

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New atheists, we non-believers who dare to speak out against the evils we perceive inherent to religion, are consistently victims of a great number of stereotypes.  “Atheist jerks” or “angry atheists” are pretty common perceptions among those who maintain a faith system, but now it seems that those within our congregation might be growing weary of the people that cause these brash stereotypes to befall  the rest of us.

Don Rasmussen recently implored his fellow atheists to “stop being jerks” and identifies a number of things that he believes atheists should stop doing in order to improve our public image. Most of the things he alludes to — suing to keep manger scenes off of public property, suing to keep religious displays out of schools, etc. — really aren’t so ‘jerky,’ as they are intended to enforce the establishment clause of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that Mr. Rasmussen doesn’t make some very good points.

He says,

How can I ask 27 million Texans to put up with me if I act like they not only disgust me, but I’m entitled to legislate my disgust upon them?  How many nativity scenes have to be banned before Christians accept me? It’s a ridiculous strategy that makes enemies, divides people and carves up freedom; throwing away the parts that aren’t easily digestible.

In small part here, I think Mr. Rasmussen is dead on but please allow me to correct bits of it:

I don’t believe that lawsuits over manger scenes curtail freedom at all, people are allowed to put manger scenes on their private property all day long and I’d never even suggest that lawsuit is appropriate – it’s the fact that we all pay for the public lands and grounds that makes it reasonable to protect them from religious display.

Where Rasmussen is correct though is that it DOES divide people, and it DOES make enemies.  Atheists today don’t need more enemies and our country doesn’t need more division.

I’d like to pose an alternative to the American Atheists model of throwing lawsuits at every cross they find – here’s a screen cap from something I posted on my Facebook page in June of 2012:

American Atheists

This model doesn’t focus on being in the right, it focuses on being good and doing good.

I’m going to call this model the “Do it better” model. You see, atheists and agnostics don’t have a deity telling them what to do – we don’t have a James 1:27 telling us to care for widows and orphans like Christians, and unlike Muslims, we don’t have the zakat requiring that a percentage of our income go into helping the poor. What we do have, what all humanists have,  is a shared existence on this planet with theists. That shared existence leads me to a humanists  philosophy that requires as much social endeavor toward goodness as any other philosophy might but for some reason this endeavor hasn’t manifested itself in these cost efficient, good ways of helping real people.

I propose that we atheists of the world put our humanism into practice first before we concern ourselves with litigation and division. I propose that we solve what the combined efforts of Christianity and Islam have failed to do for the last couple of millennia  by focusing the bulk of our efforts on the truly important things: ensuring that the people in our world can eat, protecting the weak from abuse, and ensuring that liberty is extended to all people. I’d like to do these things better than those with a mandate to do so. I believe that this sort of action would not only repair the damage done to the atheist/humanist/skeptic/agnostic communities by fundamentalist religion thru the hate and propaganda we’ve earned by spending our time on less pertinent actions – it will also endear us in the hearts and minds of those we’ve taken the time to do good for. When we’ve become what people expect from big religion we won’t have to worry about fighting legal battles anymore because people will respect us enough not to push those buttons.

One of the giant 1.1 Million dollar crosses that have been built across the country by Cross Ministries

One of the giant 1.1 Million dollar crosses that have been built across the country by Cross Ministries

The way to transition from the most hated minority in the USA isn’t to call the ACLU every time someone wastes money and effort on a public religious display or spends millions of dollars erecting giant crosses throughout the country – it’s to do what they should be doing with their time, effort, and money: fulfilling the duties they are currently too distracted to worry with.

Let’s face it, they have more money and power than us – but I believe we have the compassion required to do this right around the world.  Let them spend 1.1 million dollars on a giant white cross in the American South (because we don’t have enough crosses around here) while we spend our efforts on food banks in our local communities and finding other ways to help real people with real problems. Without the distraction and threat of Hell we can focus on real problems.

Now, let me be clear for just a moment – I don’t believe that all Christians and all Muslims do nothing for other people. I don’t believe that at all. I know that the majority of the charity in the world comes from people that are either Christian or Muslim, of course – one would expect that considering they consume the majority of the population. Consider, however, that so much of the charitable giving that Christians do goes directly to their churches and then directly into overhead – like pastor salaries, staff salaries, building mortgages, taxes, and evangelism that simply isn’t focused on helping people in “non spiritual” ways. So little of the donations churches receive actually goes into feeding the hungry that it’s an absolute travesty – I suspect that if most Christians were more aware of the expenditures of their church they’d actually pull out (and you do, by the way, have the right to view the financial records of any church you are a member of – it’s the law). These “charitable” businesses simply aren’t efficient at helping people, even if well meaning members and donors believe they are!

Humanists, atheists, agnostics – the whole lot of us should rethink how we do things. I think I’ve given a brief argument for the way I think we can do good and make our name good:

We can do what they should be doing better than they are. It’s really that simple and it starts with me.


Book Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan

zealot

Reza Aslan has been burning up social media with his hilarious Fox News interview, which has helped his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. In his interview his interest, as a Muslim, in Jesus of Nazareth is questioned as opposed to his scholarly standing – it is truly worth a watch. The interviewer even quotes William Lane Craig, calling him a Philosopher.

As a lifelong “lay scholar” if you will with some familiarity with the scholarship behind Jesus of Nazareth and his historicity I was immediately interested in this book, and so shortly after seeing the interview I had to order it.

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Songs of the Deconverted by Jim Etchison- Review

Songs of the Deconverted by Jim Etchison It’s rare that I find stories that so precisely and eloquently put words to the way it felt for me as I lost my faith. It’s rare that I ever feel like someone actually gets it. Jim Etchison does such an incredible job describing these thoughts and feelings in his book Songs of the Deconverted, that I frequently found myself highlighting portions of the text and gasping for breath as I recalled feeling many of the same things described in the book.

Songs of the Deconverted is a collection of short stories, fiction, that reflect upon Jim’s own experiences. Each riddled with parts of his own life, they serve as the perfect allegory  for what it is like for the deeply devoted Christian to lose that which is most vital to him.

Jim says of his work:

I wrote this book of short stories for a rare group – those who dove in completely, let the current sweep them under, then realized their peril and swam for the shore. The people who climbed out, still dripping, and walk again on the dry land, are forever changed. The ocean won’t define them anymore.  Instead they will be defined by their singular decision to climb out of the roiling sea.

The stories introduce us to Andy, beginning with his climb up Tophat Ridge with an atheist friend who “baffles” him. By the time Andy and his friend reach the summit Andy too is without belief, no longer able to make God true after great revelations cause his religious infrastructure to implode on itself.

From:

Every action, every snapshot in time, was held up against the backdrop of God’s intention.

To:

…now I could see them [the clouds] for what they were: beautiful, gorgeous billows of white against a deep blue sky

Andy’s story is my story. Andy’s pain is my pain. Most importantly, Andy’s triumph is my triumph.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wrestling with deep and difficult doubts about their god, or for those just coming out of this transition period and waking up to a new life without.

Songs of the Deconverted is available on Amazon Kindle right now for only $2.99.

NakedPastor Strips Down – An interview with David Hayward

Today I’m excited to welcome David Hayward of NakedPastor.com, where he routinely practices the art of writing graffiti on the walls of religion, for an interview. Through his many controversial cartoons, comics, drawings, and blogs David consistently challenges the status quo in the religious world and most directly within Christianity.

I first found David just before he left the church, when he posted the comic strip below. When I saw it it hit me like a ton of bricks and I knew that this was someone not only going down a path that I well knew, but that cared about helping others do it too. This simple picture embodies my own experience, my story, and it was one more needed confirmation among many that I was not alone and that it would get better.

My questions will be in normal text
David’s answers will be bolded

David, for those of my readers whom are unfamiliar with you and your work – tell us a bit about  your time in the ministry.  How long were you a pastor? What things made you decide to leave the ministry?

I have been involved in the church for much of my life. I went to Bible College a year after high school. I met my wife Lisa there. We got married after I graduated. I went to seminary in Boston. From there I went into the Presbyterian Church in Canada. A few years later, in 1987, I was ordained. I served the Presbyterian Church for a while, then Vineyard, then independent, then Vineyard again. I finally left the ministry in the spring of 2010. 

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The problem with certainty

I recall being certain that God existed, that he loved me, and that he was embodied in a set of books we call the Bible. I was so certain of this that I would have said, without any question whatsoever, that I even knew these things. Certainty, according to many Christian presuppositional apologists, is the cornerstone of the Christian worldview because it and only it provides any way in which to ascertain truth.

I remember the first time I became uncertain about my faith like it was yesterday. It started with the first in a series of questions about some doctrine that I’d now say is insignificant. It was the first time since I had given all of my life to my god that I considered the notion that perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I had been worshiping him incorrectly, perhaps something I believed about him was out of line with the Truth, perhaps the elders in my life were not as wise as I thought, perhaps even god’s very character was in question.

I know of no fear more all encompassing than that which came with my first experience with uncertainty.

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An Insurance Policy against Doubt

The Bible and the Qur’an are similar books, I’ve been clear on that before. One of the many similarities is a certain tendency to provide an insurance policy against the likelihood or fruition of doubt.

They both do so in the same ways; by ostracizing those unsure of their claims, demonizing them as deceivers, and apostatizing them in order prevent their dissent from spreading. Doubters and the questions that plague them, according to these holy texts, are like a cancer that will spread unless you cut it out and kill it.

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Keeping Church and State Separate – Without Compromise

Many of you have heard by now of The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, in Pike County Kentucky whose membership recently voted to disallow membership, marriage, and some participation in worship services to interracial couples.  You’ve also likely heard the many voices in the atheist  and Christian communities calling to have the government intervene and have this church closed down. I’ve seen a few – but I’d rather not call any names.

As a white Southerner I’ve been raised by the adults in my life to believe that “race mixing” is wrong.  I’ve been raised with the idea that black people are somehow inferior to whites and that it’s best that we just avoid associating with one another. The ‘ N ‘ word was probably the most commonly used word in my family growing up. None of these things are atypical of white people raised in the community I come from. In fact, my county is still arguing over Confederate flags – I couldn’t be more embarrassed by this fact.

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Reason for the Season

The time of year has come again where Christians all over the US are proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and that they intend to “Keep Christ in Christmas” in response to what many view as a secularization of a holiday that is solely dedicated to the birth of their Christ. This claim being erroneous has done nothing to stifle the annual fervor many believers get caught up in when a retailer uses “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas”- many of the same people that I’ve sat down to discuss the pagan and secular origins of this holiday continue making the same chants every year.

This year, rather than discussing the pagan origins of the Christmas holiday (and others) or going off on yet another rant about how frustrated this whole thing makes me I’m going to ask that the members of the Christian faith that are reasonable enough to know that they don’t have a monopoly on holidays during the winter months hold the less scrupulous believers around them accountable for their words and actions. I’ve made this plea before – but in this instance it is a matter of timing.

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