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On Abortion

hanger

I go into this subject with some trepidation and great fear – because I believe so strongly in women’s rights and their rights to make decisions about their own bodies I do support a woman’s right to access to abortion and I’ve even counseled close friends of mine to do so.  I do consider myself to be a feminist, after this I may be drug up to a cross and not have any hope of coming down but I have to address this now – I have to talk abortion right now, as a man.

 

Caution: reading beyond this point may be difficult for some readers, and young readers. Please use your own discretion before you click through.

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Why Cling to Faith?

People of faith  often share an experience that is so rarely discussed among themselves that, at first glance, it seems as if it’s existence is completely covered up – this quiet secret is not rare in any way at all, however, and most people of faith know more about doubt than they are willing to admit in public or even in private to their peers. There has to be a reason for this hush surrounding the uncertainties that are likely to accompany faith and that often do – that reason is that with doubt comes consequences.

And so doubt is buried and ignored and handled with no real help at all.

The first moment in which a person has an inkling of doubt about something foundational to their understanding of reality and something they have up until this time known to be true is utterly terrifying. Most people, as they test these feared waters, find themselves bravely dipping their toes in and then quickly retreating as soon as they realize just how difficult this will inevitably become.  Faith is that thing we most fear questioning as the implications of being right vs. being wrong are eternal and severe.

“I’m going to start by questioning the goodness of god,”  or “I’m not sure who Jesus really was,”quickly turns into supplications made out of an overwhelming fear often generated by the simple thought of this intent toward questioning. Fear is faith’s built in survival mechanism, you threaten faith – even momentarily and even in the most seemingly miniscule way, and fear will overcome every crevice of your person. This is precisely why many never fully experience doubt – they try it out, become overwhelmed by fear, and retreat to the comfortable lie they’ve always known.

Those who fully embrace doubt do so at the expense of every comfort they’ve ever known.

The first time I started to approach my doubt I recall being absolutely terrified to the point that I trembled.  I would lay awake at night pouring with sweat as I prayed for forgiveness for my uncertainty, knowing – like Pascal – that the price of being wrong was heavy and eternal and yet at the same time fiercely angry at the god who would allow for such muddy waters where the truth about his will and existence were concerned. It’s easy to be a young man who knows only his faith and only the basics of even that – it’s much more difficult to have a library of religious knowledge at your feet and still view your own faith with the same objectivity that worked previously.

Unlike Pascal and nearly every young apologist I’ve ever encountered I understand something about belief that, upon first approach, is very difficult to swallow; you are not in charge of what you believe, you will believe what you are convinced is worthy of belief – but never anything that hasn’t met that criteria. You may study and learn and throw yourself into your faith – but if you, for whatever reason, later become unconvinced of the truth of that faith – not believing it’s tenets is entirely out of your control. Simply put:  You cannot believe what you do not believe.

That’s what makes doubt so dangerous, once it’s seed is planted it cannot be stopped – and once well rooted and growing it won’t be pulled out by any amount of force. Of course, there are counter measures one can make – all of which are, in my experience, temporary.  Most who experience doubt retreat quickly and then employ some sort of cognitive dissonance to explain away their experience – but as I said, these efforts are generally fleeting and as long as they may last the dormant root of doubt one day revives and lays the faithful to waste once again. I certainly experienced this a number of times throughout my life as a Christian. If I look back on it the times that I was most outwardly devout they are likely also the times I was most fiercely attempting to dissuade uncertainty. I think many people are the same way; their desperation leads to devotion – strained though it may be.

As surprising as it may seem to those unfamiliar with this territory, I’m not describing any unknown phenomena. There isn’t a pastor alive today with more than a few years experience that hasn’t been precisely where I’m describing, in fact, there are ministries set up just for pastors who are so burned out that they are in peril of losing sight of what it is that led them into the ministry in the first place. Doubt, despite it’s obvious existence in the day to day life in even the most average of Christians – is a topic spoken of like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. “That which shall not be named,” largely due to an overwhelmingly and absolutely justified fear that a congregation that gets even the slightest whiff of doubt may oust their beloved clergyman altogether.  Uncertainty a dangerous thing to admit to when your financial well-being depends on a steadfast commitment to absurdity.

Clergy aren’t the only people with a vested interest in maintaining a faithful status quo. The average believer will have invested a good chunk of his or her life into building a social construct consisting mainly of people who won’t challenge their beliefs. Within this social construct exist friendships and families, churches and social clubs that watch out for one another; if there is anything that the religious are good at it’s being inclusive of those with homogeneous stances and beliefs on the issues deemed important by the bodies that make those decisions.  It should be noted that they are also incredibly good at being exclusive to those who fail to fall in line. It doesn’t take long for a convert into your average religion to notice what happens to those that begin to fall out of line, many of us grew up hearing the gossip about the backsliders in our churches and watching how those people slowly became appendages of little or no use – only to be cast away.

Not only does the average believer have an interest in maintaining membership in “The Social Club”, they also generally want to maintain the simplicity of faith.  It’s altogether easier to believe that every disastrous moment in the life of a person is a part of some divine plan, and to rely on whispered prayers in times of difficulty or crisis for comfort rather than facing this cold and unforgiving universe as it is. I don’t even have to mention the benefit of promised eternal heavenly reward (even if imagined) to make the ease of faith seem like an improvement over the harshness of a life without those small comforts.

The faithful cling to their faith in lieu of exploring the questions and uncertainties haunting the back of their minds for many reasons – most of them having to do with the sheer terror they face when attempting to approach those questions, the danger of losing their social or family structure as well as their membership in a believing majority, and the exclusion provided by those that remain – who exclude for fear that doubt may be infectious.

And it is.


Discussion points:

Are you a Christian or other person of faith clinging to your faith?

What keeps you from embracing the questions and critiques you have about your beliefs?

Are you a former believer who has experienced something similar to that which is described here?

What made you finally decide to begin allowing your questions to drive your thoughts? Where did they lead you?

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.


Letting Go – Sarah’s Story

I’ve decided to start doing a regular segment on RagingRev.com from readers who want to tell their own story about how they came out of their faiths. If you, as a reader, would like to submit your story please use the Contact Me link at the top of the page. This segment will be called Your Stories.

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“What do you do when you are having doubts about God? “ I asked.

“You pray about it.” She replied.

This is the short conversation that took place in my 11th grade Sunday school classroom. I had attended the First Baptist Church in my hometown for as long as I could remember. I was there every Sunday, every Wednesday evening and for most any other church sponsored event every week. When I was eight years old, I made my way up the aisle to tell the preacher that I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart and I was baptized the following week. I never really felt like God was speaking to me the way other people described hearing him speak to them. I only decided to speak to the preacher because I felt obligated to. It seemed like everyone expected it, especially considering that everyone was so happy and proud of my little brother for doing it the week before.

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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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The Role of the Ex-Christian in the Church

Despite my moniker to the contrary I actually try to be the voice of calm reason when I talk to believers; and trust me when I say it, I talk to a lot of believers. Many of these conversations happen with what one might call “infant Christians” or new converts to the Christian faith – I find myself drawn to them because I know that they’ve likely just experienced an incredible emotional high that led to their “salvation” and I want to try to guide them into a faith that is more than just a culmination of feelings that occurred one Sunday morning at church. I’m an Ex-christian now, an atheist even.

When I was a Christian in my early and mid teens I had a mentor that felt it was important to train me up in the doctrines of my faith. He put me under a rigorous method of study, gave me books to read, and introduced me to collegiate level concepts when I was still a teenager. Despite the many flaws of this man he did one thing that so many are failing to do in the church today: he ensured that I knew how to study and think. He knew that this study would generate a thirst for more knowledge in me, and he was absolutely right – it did. Without this mentor in my life I doubt I could have ever studied to the point at which I was able to question the concept of god, much less the basic tenets of my faith. Why is that? and why is this seemingly missing from so many churches today?

I don’t believe an individual can truly question the fundamentals of any concept without having a working grasp of that concept.

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Why Chick-Fil-A’s stance against GLBT equality, and our response to it matters

It may seem as if I’m coming into this discussion a bit late, in fact – I’m not –  I’ve been participating in the  boycott against Chick-fil-A for nearly 3 years now and in those 3 years I’ve probably been 5 times when other people were driving. I’m not sure why Dan Cathy had to make it official that he and the company had a stance that was specifically geared against GLBTQ equality, perhaps the media simply didn’t pick up on the millions in donations made every year to Focus on the Family and similar organizations – or their attempts to blackball PFLAG groups from making grounds in private colleges the WinShape Foundation makes sizable donations to. (These are old news stories that are almost impossible to find because of the torrent of hype surrounding the recent statements by Dan Cathy – once this dies down it should be easier to find them and I’ll update the post with links.)

Contrary to what many conservative Christians might have you think, this is not a witch hunt all about taking away a single man or even a companies’ rights of freedom of speech away;  though you may have a few people taking advantage of the emotions of the moment willing to ban privately owned franchises (likely because it will benefit them politically, and yes I’m looking at you Mayor’s Menino, Lee, and Emmanuel) Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A are perfectly within their rights to talk about how sinful they believe same sex marriage is – and they can even give money to whatever causes they deem appropriate. Obviously I believe that, as a boycott participant if I didn’t believe that I’d be a hypocrite.

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An Aversion to Labels

I frequently encourage people to define themselves – to state who they are with some sort of adjective that describes their position on any given subject; atheist, theist, Christian, Muslim, Humanist, pro-life, pro-choice, straight, gay, liberal, conservative, ad nauseum. We call these adjectives labels.

For reasons that I’m not fully sure I understand many people seem very resistant to being labeled. Perhaps the aversion to labels comes from holding negative associations with others that share a certain label with the objector (which is understandable sometimes) , or perhaps it’s the desire to be free to change one’s position without being accused of flippancy. I remember doing all that I could to remove myself from the label of Christian during the death throes of my time as a believer, and so I told people not to even call me a Christian anymore as it was just too embarrassing a term. I couldn’t handle being associated with the homophobic, racist, ignoramus that were most easily visible and most widely associated with the word – and so I asked to have the label removed, the fact remained that I still believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ – so I was still a Christian, label or no label.
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(Another) Former Atheist Embraces Faith

The world of Christian news has been buzzing lately with news that Rich Suplita, Professor of Psychology for University of Georgia and former sponsor for the campus’ atheist club UGAtheists, has renounced atheism and embraced the Christian faith.

Suplita isn’t the first atheist turned Christian to be used as fodder by the evangelical camp; Anthony Flew, Lee Strobel, and others are all well known as “former atheists” that saw the “light” – nor will he be the last. These types of conversions excite the evangelical community around me, they think that seeing a man like me return to faith for whatever reason will eventually break whatever barrier they believe prevents me from being a believer. I pay attention to why people believe though, and Rich’s stated reasons fall short of reasonable.

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Appropriate Conduct for Christians

Twice in the last three weeks I’ve been witness to two different Christians in group settings openly ridiculing atheists and science. I’ve also in the past seen believers ridicule other believers of a different sort, a double standard by my book.

The first was at my favorite coffee shop, I was there early in the morning and a group of 12 or so men were having a Bible study. I was a little early for work so I decided to sit down for a bit and finish reading The Blind Watchmaker. I overheard one particular gentleman comparing any non-christian with dogs by saying that he expected  bad behavior from non-believers and other faiths because that’s just who they are just like he expected a dog to lick his behind. The same gentleman later said, “What takes more faith; believing that we crawled out of a swamp, or that god created us?” to much agreement from the group.

In this situation I patiently held my tongue, though I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust.  I did later send an email to one of the participants that I happened to know, and last week I attended the study myself. Turns out these guys are really nice, were open to my discussion points on the parts of the Bible they were discussing, and welcomed me into the group very openly. I’ll continue attending. (I do intend to discuss their offenses eventually and write about this entire experience here on the blog.)

The second offense was from a guest pastor that held a moment of reflection at an event I volunteer for every couple months, a live music show that benefits my local arts guild. The pastors first words were a quote of Psalms 14:1, “The Fool hath said in his heart, there is no god”.  He continued to deliver a plea for salvation at a clearly secular event. I’ve yet to email this gentleman but I intend to explain that he need not pity this fool.

The point I’m trying to get to is that for some reason it’s ok to make fun of people and beliefs that aren’t your own in the Christian world and to even do so in a public setting, often with the assumption that those beliefs are so rare in your community that there won’t be anyone particularly offended by such things (and for those few that are, well – obviously they deserve it).

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