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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Much Ado About Ducks, the Church,…and Anuses?

Phil Robertson from A&E's Duck Dynasty

As usual I’ll be late to the party in my writing about Phil Robertson’s recent interview with GQ, in which he discussed homosexuality and race in not so PC terms, and his subsequent suspension from A&E show Duck Dynasty.

 

If you live under some sort of rock or don’t have any social network accounts whatsoever and you don’t know what Phil said I’ll give you a refresher:

 

Regarding Homosexuality:

 

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

 

and

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

And regarding African-Americans prior to Civil Rights:

 

I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

To me the offensiveness behind these comments is fairly obvious. I mean – Phil is making arguments that many of us in the South hear rather frequently from homoantagonists (a word I’m using for people that I don’t believe are fearful of homosexuals or homosexuality, but antagonize them just the same. Morgan Freeman once tweeted something to the effect of “You aren’t a homophobe, you are just an asshole” and I think homoantagonist is a word that covers that.) regarding the perceived slippery slope that is homosexuality. I have to wonder how many homosexuals Phil Robertson knows, and furthermore how many he knows that also have sex with dogs, cats, and sheep. A local Christian blogger has a take on this I really thought was insightful – over at Square Watermelons.
I don’t know that I even need to touch on his comments regarding “blacks”…to me its even worse and its pretty embarrassing as a Southerner.
Robertson’s defenders were quick to rush to Facebook and other social media outlets to praise him as “Standing up for the Bible and Christianity”  or to claim that he was being persecuted because he was expressing his freedom of speech. Now, I’m no expert on Constitutional Law…but the last time I checked – while the Constitution does indeed guarantee the right to free speech it does NOT guarantee the right to a multi-year reality TV contract. I think we call what A&E did to Phil Robertson “business”, not persecution.

I still haven’t fully figured out why the persecution complex amongst Christians is so serious, especially this day and age – and especially over the right to say things that can be absolutely devastating to people – and this is where I get into the meat of this post.

 

Grasp, for a moment, what people are defending here:

 

A straight white male is claiming that homosexuality is illogical because vaginas look better to him and then he is claiming that homosexuality inevitably leads to bestiality because…just…because.  Oh, then he tops it off by telling homosexuals plus a bunch of other sinners they won’t make it to heaven because of something Paul said.

Dear Church,

Put yourself in the position, Dear Church, as I’ve asked you to do before – of the LGBT community – especially here in the South – and as I appeal to you I’m going to put on my Christian hat do to so:

 

LGBT people are often alone in their communities with few people who understand their daily struggles and who care deeply about what they go through or have been through since they recognized that they were “different” than everyone else. They’ve asked god to take this away from them, to purge from them what they don’t know how to control.   Imagine sitting in the church Youth Group as a young pastor talks about how the inclinations you feel toward the same sex are disgusting and immoral and vile leading  you to believe that you are evil and hell-bound…and nothing you do, nothing you say, no prayer you recite can change the way you feel. This doesn’t just go on for a week or a day – this goes on for a lifetime for many.  Try to stand in that place. Try to be that broken, hurting person. Empathize.

Then answer these questions:

 

Do the words of Phil Robertson and your defense of them exhibit love to that person?

 

Do the words of Phil Robertson and your defense of them exhibit grace to that person?

 

or

 

Do the words of Phil Robertson and your defense of them further alienate that person?

 

Do the words of Phil Robertson and your defense of them feel like hate to that person?

 

 

Answering these questions should lead you to a fairly simple conclusion, a revelation maybe:

That the common Christian response to this whole thing hasn’t been at all what it should, and that rather than crying “Persecution!” every time people disagree with your opinion on something that doesn’t concern you in the least you should attempt to understand why it is that people don’t agree with your opinion. Maybe, just maybe – these words cut deeply. Maybe what you believe about homosexuality doesn’t matter and exposing the world to your  malformed and hurtful opinion is doing more harm than good.

 

Most importantly, what you should be recognizing is that what the Phil camp is so upset about is the wrong thing entirely – they should be upset that this stanchion of Christianity led such a terrible example of how to be a loving person in word and deed. The critique from the Church should be directed at Phil, not A&E and not the LGBT community – they should be examining their own as they are instructed to do in the Bible – they should be telling Phil that  when he speaks in disgust he can’t possibly speak in love too because you can’t love someone who’s life and deeds you are examining closely enough to be disgusted by.

 

Phil Robertson’s mistake isn’t having his convictions, it’s thinking that they are more important than loving people exactly where they are.

 

Taking up the cross on the “gay issue” is almost like the Church’s soup du jour for believers that don’t want to live it the rest of the time. They’ll flail their arms around anytime a deeply offensive opinion gets someone in trouble like the rest of us are supposed to believe like they love Jesus every other day of the week.  I think most of us know better by now. You can stop pretending to love Jesus when homosexuality comes up, when the atheists are taking Christ out of Christmas (where you never put him in the first place), and when “Freedom of Speech” is threatened because Jesus – from the Gospels I’ve read, had bigger fish to fry – and he wasn’t into religions of convenience…assuming he did exist of course.

 

In the end of all this I just want my Christian friends to not say hateful things that hurt my gay friends. I hate seeing them hurt. I feel like they’ve hurt enough and it drives me insane that somehow it’s still OK to stomp all over their emotions because of the perception that someone tried to silence an unpopular opinion. If your words are potentially harmful to someone – stop talking. Censor yourself because you want to be a beacon of love, then no one will need to do it for you when you ruin their platform.

 

 

 

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.

– – –

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.


On Being Nothing: Strong Belief, Strong Doubt, and the Skeptics Role

Strong Faith, Strong Doubt

 

Authors note:  This post will use a lot of Christian catch phrases and paraphrase a lot of Bible verses, so if I use the term “soul” I’m not stating that I believe in a soul, I’m putting myself in the position of a person who does and who uses their scriptures to justify the idea of one. The same goes for terms like holiness, luke-warm, or any other typical Christian colloquialism that may be used in those particular circles – as I’d have used while I was still in those circles. Please also note that I’m not attempting to address any specific theology, but the potential aftermath of any personal theology. This is not a counter-apologetic critique of any belief system and this can be applied equally to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, et al.

 

God created the world out of nothing; so as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us. ~Martin Luther

One of the foundational aspects of my former faith was the futility of my efforts toward being, doing, or realizing goodness.  The most important lesson my faith had to teach me, the thing that brought me to obedience and surrender to Christ was acknowledging that I am ultimately nothing.

Worthless, degenerate, corrupt: these are the terms that identify the Christian disciple before his god as he strives to meet his creator in the terms set by that creator.

The nominal Christian will never grasp this idea, he’ll reject it in lieu of scripture that affirms his importance in the eyes of god or that talks about how the hairs of his head are accounted for. The nominal Christian leads an easy, luke-warm life of faith where he actually feels worthy. The disciple, however,  is convinced only of the opposite. The average Christian life and the life of the few who believe Luke 14:33 and attempt to live by it are miles apart.

The latter was my faith, the scars from which I still struggle against as they sometimes feel freshly carved.

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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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Book Review: Hope After Faith by Jerry DeWitt

Available on Amazon in Hardcover and on Kindle

I first became aware of Jerry DeWitt as he became the first person to “graduate” from The Clergy Project, a collaboration between many atheist and humanist organizations that provides a private forum for members of the clergy looking to quietly pursue a way out of their positions, or simply for moral support. I have friends in The Clergy Project and have applied myself, in fact the last post here on RagingRev was from one of it’s members that has since died.

Jerry’s story has brought a great deal of publicity to The Clergy Project; but I always felt that there was more commotion and rhetoric, one-liners, and hubbub than there should be – a common theme in the meme driven atheist community of today. I’m more interested in Jerry’s story though, which is why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read his book:  Hope After Faith – An Ex Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism.

Hope After Faith

In his book, the formerly Reverend Jerry Dewitt walks us through his 25 year journey beginning as a 17 year old United Pentecostal (aka Oneness Pentecostalism) evangelist in and around the small town of DeRidder, LA. As his story progresses and various tragedies strike both Jerry’s family and his parishioners he reveals glimpses of his doubts as they slowly surface and as he tucks them away again and again.

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Testimony of a Dying Man

Last night a friend of me sent something to me from a friend of his who is dying. I don’t know the man who wrote this personally and his name is intentionally being kept anonymous, though I did get permission through my friend to post this testimony of the last days of this man’s life.

I’m thankful to this anonymous man, a former minister himself,  for the opportunity to share this very short but very touching part of his life with my readers.

It is often said that we unbelievers will find ourselves quick to repentance at the end of our days, grasping fearfully at the prospect of eternity. Here, proof otherwise.

Testimony of a Dying Man.

15 years ago I missed a turn and drove off a 30 foot cliff knowing absolutely that I would not survive when it was over.  I had often wondered through the years what I would say or do when facing certain death and I found out at that time. My wife was riding with me and as we went airborne I heard myself say “oh, sweetheart”… In that short moment airborne… And utter complete mental silence.  8 feet of snow saved our lives a second later.

A week ago I was scheduled for a gallbladder x-ray to confirm the presence of a problem which could be surgically removed… Perhaps even that same day.  Unexpected phone silence ensued.  My spirit began to open to other unexpected possibilities and to ready itself for whatever it may be.  My Catholic upbringing had instilled the concepts of sin, salvation, resultant heaven hell and purgatory.  My 44 year search since leaving that world view had exposed me to alternatives of every age of mankind.  During that 44 year search I have often wondered if, when faced with an ultimate certainty of death in the near future, would I resort to the old paradigm or could I bring forward and live within what I had found in the meantime…. For within the last year of my life I have arrived at a silent and deep knowingness that taking evolutionary cosmology to the deepest emotional level gave me the foundation I never found in an anthropomorphic God structure…. But I always had a slight wonder, “is it only conceptually deep?”

Five days ago, I and my wife listened to the words on the speakerphone as she sat opposite me and she later said that when I heard the words she saw a huge transformation of calmness and clarity come over me….”You have inoperable metastasized liver cancer, and may expect two months at the outside”.  And in the five days since that news I have experienced a calmness and centeredness such as religious faith had never provided.  I have found a sense of place and process within the world view of evolutionary cosmology such as I have searched for relentlessly in my 77 years…. And it is increasingly feeding my spirit daily with a sense of readiness for every present moment in this process of dying.

I am finally really learning how to live in the moment.  Fear and hope have no place in this process. It is a readiness and willingness of an utterly deep knowingness.

Farewell. We truly all are in this together.

 

When Christian Ethics aren’t Christian Ethics

Note:  For the purposes of this discussion it should be understood that when I’m referring to that which is properly “Christian Ethics,” I’m referring to the idea that that which is Christian is also Biblical. So for the purposes of this post and any discussion about it, think of Christian Ethics as Biblical Ethics and, more specifically, the ethics demonstrated in the New Testament and by the early Christian Church as described in the New Testament.

Recently I’ve discovered a new and masochistic pastime of listening to a Christian talk-radio station called American Family Radio on my long trek home from work at night. I discovered this program on the night of the election, looking to confirm the news when NPR called the election for Pres. Obama, and heard a number of exclamations about the apparent lack of ethics and morality in our once Christian nation. Christian ethics, the lack thereof,  or the symptomatic persecution of Christians seems to be the rotational topic of this station, or at least the programs that are on while I’m in the car.

These programs have featured a number of guests  who all lay claim to the idea that Americans are moving away from their heritage of Biblical Christianity being intimately entangled in every facet of life, most especially government and politics. They claim that Biblically grounded Christian Ethics ought to be the guide for the way Christians vote and, as a result, should be the foundation of the laws of our nation.

Stopping abortion, refusing homosexual equality, guarding capitalism, and  protecting both monuments and prayer to their god in the public square are examples of these supposed Christian ethics I’ve heard lauded on this program and in my daily conversations with believers. But are they truly?  Are they even Biblical principles ?

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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.