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Unbreaking the Broken Self (pt 1)

 

On my way home to work last night I was listening to fellow Southern apostate Neil Carter’s guest appearance on The Humanist Hour and I heard him talk about  being less judgmental toward other people since leaving the faith and diving into humanism and atheism.  After that he talked about being less judgmental toward himself, something many who have never been Christians will actually understand – because they’ll lack the context for understanding it. Most atheist activists understand how Christianity and religion in general harm those outside it’s walls – but because so few have a perspective on Christian philosophy  as devoted insiders they’ll struggle to understand how it’s doctrines lead to a broken self.

 

How the children of Christianity become broken.

I was six years old when I first learned to hate something about myself.

At six years old I had already attended three separate churches, exposing me to different types of preaching, but the one I had attended the longest at the time was a fairly small Pentecostal church in the town of Chester, Georgia. It’s the church where I was “saved” – which meant that someone had convinced me that I was a sinner and that I needed to believe in Jesus in order to be saved from the punishment I so rightly deserved.

This doctrine of depravity, which teaches that all human beings are born into sin as a result of the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, permeates all major denominations of Christianity in one form or another. It is a foundational and cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith as a prerequisite need for the sacrifice of Jesus as an atonement for mankind’s sins.

Jesus had to die because of me.

Believing that I, singularly or as a part of the human collective, was responsible for Jesus death on the cross was a heavy burden as I understood it. It was something I received with sincere pangs of long enduring guilt and my young mind didn’t know how to turn that guilt into a simple understanding of the Gospel message – it had to be, and demands to be a Gospel that destroys the self.

A Broken Self Image

As a child that grew up in an unrelenting culture of fear based preaching and sermons focused on how depraved humanity inherently was I was never able to find much self worth at a young age. All of my value was stored up in Heaven and in the refuge of Jesus’ love for me as displayed by his death, for me. Those of us who grow up believing in this way have a difficult time seeing past our own flaws to find a decent human being – every sin is picked apart and over analyzed, we beat ourselves up over every aspect of our lives that doesn’t align with what we believe – and because what we believe as our goal is so incredibly in-acheivable there’s an awful lot of self deprecation that happens.

By the time I was 13 I had no recognizable self-esteem.

All I knew how to do at such a young age was hate the things that characterized normal and natural adolescence. It was my belief that those things separated me from God and separation from God was separation from the only consistent and worthy part of my life. There’s nothing healthy and nothing good about growing up with those ideas in your head, for those lucky enough to escape that sort of religion; I envy you.

Proof-texting our inadequacy

Growing up fundamentalist meant that finding the answers to practically any question began and ended with a piece of scripture. It was an ignorant belief, sure – but one held dear and practiced on a nearly daily basis for me – and I was not only able to remember how the pastors, past abusers (which is a different story for a different time), and other adults had drilled into me the fact that I was a sinner – I was able to “prove” it against the Biblical standard of truth.

Romans 3:23 told us that each and every individual was a sinner that had fallen short of God’s glory.

Psalms 51:5 tells us that we are born in sin.

Mark 7:21 tells us that men’s hearts are full of evil thoughts and even murder.

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are deceitful and sick.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 tells us that there are no righteous men on all of the earth, there are none who live without sinning.

Titus 1: 15-16 tells us that those professing to know god often deny him in their disobedience. That purity is witness only to pure acts.

Galatians 5:21 says that if we do as the flesh desires (sin) we will not inherit God’s kingdom.  Verse 24 says that we must crucify our flesh in order to belong to Christ.

If you believe the words in this book to be true then it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that you are born as filthy rags that must be washed clean – and that you must continually fight against all the evil desires you hold.

It’s no wonder the people who leave this faith often struggle with feelings of inadequacy for years after the fact, suffer nightmares of Hell, and find it difficult to adjust to the idea that – in fact, they aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been conditioned to believe.


 

 

In my next post I’m going to talk about overcoming the psychological effects of the broken self, how I’ve managed to feel whole again after leaving the Christian faith and the doctrine of depravity – and why I believe society could improve wholly by rejecting this idea outright.  Please, share this post on social media if you’ve found something of value in it.

 

Your Stories – Eric vs. Fundamentalism

Today in Your Stories we have Eric’s story of combating fundamentalism in his own belief system.

Eric is another friend of mine whom started his perpetual journey at around the same time that I did and we’ve talked at length about that journey over the years. Without Eric I’m not sure I would have made it through my own doubts, and he remains a friend that I both respect and admire. Many of the same questions that brought about his doubts were my questions, and I suspect they may be your questions too if you find yourself here.

Eric writes his thoughts at his blog over at SavageSoto and is currently stationed in Cuba with the US Navy.

If you are interested in having your own story published on RagingRev.com – please click the Contact link and submit through the submission form

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Growing up in a Christian family, my first associations with Christianity are as old as my first memories. I “accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior” when I was 7 or 8 but didn’t really become devout in my faith til the age of 12.

I would speculate that I was probably more hardcore about my faith than most the people I knew through my teen years, though I wasn’t that into the specifics of theology. I would share my faith frequently with my friends and countless people online and was actively involved in the church over the course of about 7 years. During this time I had some casual doubts, but they would fade whenever I’d have a powerful spiritual experience or talk with a pastor.

Towards the end of the 7th year, however, I began to encounter questions and thoughts that couldn’t be explained away so easily. Questions such as “if God knew even a single soul would be lost eternally, then why create them to begin with?” . I quickly found the traditional Christian interpretations of things like “Hell” to be unconvincing  and began to study and embrace Christian Universalism (which believes that all people will eventually be saved and reunited with God). It didn’t answer all my questions still, but it helped me deal with many of the bigger ones.

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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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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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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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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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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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Any day now…really! (The Rapture)

“The Rapture” is one of the most often used fear tactics used by Christian believers in order to scare unbelievers into repentance. You see, the way some people interpret the Bible there will be a point in time when Jesus calls up all the living and dead believers to heaven, they call this event the Rapture (The term itself does not appear in the Bible). Now, there are many different beliefs as to when this is supposed to happen, there are Pre-tribulation believers that believe that it will occur prior to the 7 year Tribulation prophesied in the Book of Daniel as well as post-trib and mid-trib and even more theories/beliefs that I can’t remember from my Christian days.

The problem with this whole “Rapture” deal is that it has supposed to have been coming soon…2000 years ago. In fact Jesus said that he would come back before some of the disciples died in Matthew 16: 27-28.  Clearly Jesus was either confused or wrong. So why is it, after all these years, people still trust that this man is God and is coming back to earth for them? Some people go so far as to predict the date or time frame of this glorious event:

  • This Site has gone so far as to predict that the actual rapture will occur this Fall of 2009(Just a few days ago they said it would happen today, Wednesday November 11th 2009 but they changed it earlier today). The site includes plenty of warnings to repent, lots of fear mongering here
  • Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote the wildly popular Left Behind series of fiction books to explain how they believed eschatology would play out  in the near future, including the rapture where all the Christians disappear randomly leaving behind their neatly folded clothes – Kirk Cameron even starred in two movies based on the book series a few years ago.
  • Video’s have been passed around among the Tea Party elite (and other groups of fundamentalist/Republican half-wits) that claim to prove that President Barack Obama is the Anti-christ, which means that the rapture must be coming soon. Here’s one such video (don’t laugh too hard, people actually believe this stuff): Click for video.

It’s a sad reality, really, that people are living as if Jesus will show up in the clouds tomorrow especially after 2000 years of fruitless anticipation and preparation.  These types of claims should be met with the same skeptical eye as any other unsubstantiated claim and utterly rejected  in the likely event that they turn out to be just another control mechanism of faith.

One more thing…if the Rapture does happen, can you imagine how wonderful our world would be? All that superstition just floating away with Jesus in the clouds? I can’t wait!

Visit from a Pastor

Last Thursday my wife and I were in the midst of an argument. Nothing major of course, she was stressed out and when she is stressed she screams at me for a while until she feels better and then usually everything is all good. During our argument we saw a little head bobbing around through the window on our door…there was the pastor that performed our wedding ceremony standing there.

I’m not sure who sent him or if he had even been sent at all, this was the first time I had seen him in the three years since we were wed so the visit was quite peculiar. When my wife and I were in the process of getting married we both still believed though we had our doubts about Christianity, nonetheless the pastor found himself easily impressed by us and our resolve to remain virgins until our wedding night, so as far as he knew all was well with our faith at that time. I can only assume that he had gotten some wind of my fall from grace, this is a small town and I am very much an Out atheist, but regardless this is how our conversation went:

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