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Donald Trump's Christianity

Donald Trump’s Christianity is probably yours too

This is the first time I’ve written anything in months; my last blog post on Removing the Fig Leaf about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child was more emotionally taxing than I expected, that coupled with the political climate of late has given me the desire to write but not the wherewithal to do so. The way this election cycle has been going leads me to feel like anything I might have to say would be trivialized or obfuscated by those unwilling to see my point.  Alas, here I am discussing my least favorite person – Donald Trump, and his version of the Christian faith. His is a version of the Christian faith I think some find confusing and unfamiliar, but for many I suspect it sounds just about right. Donald Trump’s Christianity is normal, you’ll probably recognize it in this post.

You might be thinking, “what gives you the right to address The Donald’s faith, or that of anyone else and determine whether or not it’s right or wrong?” – and I think that’s a reasonable question. Far be it from me to proclaim that there is a right way to believe in Christianity and a wrong way to believe in Christianity, as best I can tell any recipe for Christianity is ultimately a falsehood because the story that is foundational to the faith is a falsehood, but there are recipes for this faith that use a central ingredient of grace – and others which use a brew of xenophobia, self-righteousness, and a persecuted Americanism. On the spectrum of recipes for salvation, I’ll let you guess which of these Donald Trump ascribes to. Furthermore, I’ll leave it up to you which I find to be more palatable myself and more in line with my own philosophy of Humanism.

Nominal Christian

I am personally in no position to proclaim that Donald Trump isn’t a Christian. I honestly don’t know that anyone could qualify themselves for such a role. We all have to take him at his word – if he says he believes the message of Christianity and Jesus (and whatever he believes that message is) he is some form of Christian.

If I were to classify Donald Trump’s Christianity from what we know of him through his life and the way he’s talked about his faith, I’d call him a nominal Christian, at best. Nominal Christianity is best defined as a person who professes Christianity, but neither understands the faith nor makes any effort to live according to it’s tenets.  The nominal Christian is simply a Christian “by name”.

Many evangelical organizations (this link is a really good read from a Christian perspective on this same subject) consider the nominal Christian to be the greatest target for evangelism in the world, in fact the Bible addresses these very Christians and I’ve talked about what it has to say about them a great deal on this blog in the past.  Matthew 7:21-23 is alleged to be Jesus addressing those who carry on the facade of faith but fail to do the will of god. John 5:39-40 addresses Christians who fail to study the scripture to find out who Jesus is beyond just a name.

Jesus is just a name to many though. When I was a believer I felt burdened by my peers who professed faith but who failed to show any fruit of it and who didn’t do what I called “seek god” in order to know him better. That may sound odd coming from an atheist, but think about all the Christians you know – think about whether or not their life is a testament to a life of faith or a life where their faith is a tertiary afterthought they rarely give any real consideration to.

There are some easy to spot signs of a Nominal Christian, here they are – along with links to examples of how Trump is a shining example of each of them.

  • They have a favorite Bible verse, but they don’t know anything about the Bible – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll quickly take a stand for their faith when their isn’t any reason to, because of a need to appear persecuted and genuine – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll take up the cross on issues they are convinced are important to their god, but because they don’t understand their faith, are concerned with the wrong issues – just like The Donald.
  • Conversely, they won’t take up the plight of those their scriptures do actually tell them to be concerned about (see James 1:27) – just like The Donald, and again, and again.

Donald Trump, like your average nominal Christian – believes everything he reads but doesn’t read anything he believes. He’s used the Bible as a prop in his pony show, but he doesn’t know it or study it. He doesn’t love the scriptures or seek god in them. It’s more like a key that unlocks the door to Christian voters than anything – I would hope that American Christians would see through all that, the reason they don’t is because his faith is so similar to theirs.

Trump on Abortion vs The Bible on Abortion

Evangelical Christians are known for their fervor on the issue of abortion rights, that being the case – it has been the policy of the Republican Party to use it as well as homosexual marriage and being “tough on crime” (better read as “jailing blacks”) as part of their Southern Strategy to polarize Southern Dixiecrats against their former Democratic party in the wake of the Civil Rights Era.  The abortion issue is one that didn’t exist until it was made to exist and the Bible was used to fool nominal Christians into believing that their god had a problem with it. My friend Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie wrote an incredible article on the transition from non-issue to the one issue that evangelicals vote on now – I highly recommend it for further reading.

Suffice it to say, Trump and every other neo-conservative before him bear witness to one thing: The Bible is, on a scale of pro-life to pro-abortion (not even pro-choice) – very much pro-abortion, but that doesn’t matter if you can convince people that don’t read or understand the Bible that this is the hill worth dying on.

Trump and Grace

If I read the Bible in the way that my most educated, thoughtful, loving, and respected Christian friends read it – I read a story of grace. A story about mercy given to those who don’t deserve it with no strings attached. If I read the Bible in the way that the most hateful, xenophobic, and ignorant people I know read it – grace is still a central part of the theme there just happen to be more rules and rigamarole attached to receiving that grace.

Donald Trump’s Christianity seems to be a faith that lacks any semblance of grace. I say that because I see no evidence of it in his life or in the way he carries himself, even when he’s talking about his faith. The central theme of his faith is, “I have faith and here’s my favorite book of the Bible, Thessalonians!” as opposed to, “I’ve been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus, and that has humbled me to be more graceful and forgiving to other people.”

Trump sues indiscriminately, assaults women, discriminates against the poor and minorities, fails to pay his bills or keep his contracts, lies about his net worth (most of the property with his name on it is owned by other parties, he is paid a royalty for his name, for now), seeks for the death of the innocent and acquitted, cheats on his wives, among many others. He’s one of the least graceful men on the planet.  He’s just like every other nominal Christian I know, in other words.

Trump and You

3f2d57b701faea69dd204e9c0d476a8e“He tell’s it like it is,” or “he’s someone who’s finally saying what we’ve all been thinking,” are common reasons followers give for loving Donald Trump.  It’s true too, he’s telling you what you think the world is like – he’s confirming your biases. He’s telling you it’s just fine to be the sort of white evangelical Christian he is too – it’s fine to wave the Bible around like a prop, it’s fine to share that meme on Facebook with Jesus on it about not denying him in front of the world or he’ll deny you so you’ll feel comfortable about your salvation for the week, it’s fine to pretend like you are being persecuted because your kid’s teacher can’t lead him in prayer every day, and it’s even fine to build a big wall to keep undesirables out – because Jesus never said anything about sheltering those with heavy burdens.

If Donald Trump’s Christianity is a reflection of you and your Christianity I’m perfectly fine with that. The writing has been on the wall for a long time regarding the fortitude of America’s church, and you – dear Christian in your red “Make America Great Again” hat – are the reason.

You can be just like Trump if you want to.

Christian. By name only.

The Pastors on Ashley Madison

If you’ve been living under a rock then you may not know that the popular infidelity site known as Ashley Madison was recently hacked by a group of moralist hackers with the intention of exposing those who were using the site to find people to have affairs with.   So far over 400 of the exposed have been Christian pastors on Ashley Madison – many with paid accounts (paid accounts allow a person to send messages to others).

This news comes as no surprise to any of us, Christian and unbeliever alike – we all expect hypocrisy from the Christian elite. Josh Duggar – stanchion of fundamentalist morality, vitriolic anti-lgbt hate, and former spokesman for the Family Research Council had multiple accounts, affairs, and participated in both prostitution and had a past littered with child molestation cover-ups is a shining example of what that hypocrisy looks like in one of it’s most dangerous and vile forms. This post isn’t about Josh Duggar though, it’s about better people.

We know that Christianity is full of hypocrites. Christians know it. I know it. This is reality.

 

How then should we respond?

 

I, obviously, am not in the position to prescribe to my atheist friends the best approach for this but I do think I have a Humanist approach and I think that’s how we should look at this whole thing. I know many of you are reveling in this revelation as if it’s some beautiful day, “we’ve finally exposed the Christians!”  But I don’t think that’s a fair assessment, I don’t think that Christianity needed any more exposure than it already had and I don’t revel in the fact that hundreds of men were deceptive to their wives and congregations. I can’t find joy in that, I can’t find joy in seeing people who want to be one thing fail at that thing and be altogether another. I think that’s what these pastors represent in large part is a desire to earn god’s favor and an utter inability to do so. They represent the futility of Christianity, and the pain of it’s failure.

This is not a good time for these men, many of whom have spit fire from their pulpits about what marriage is and isn’t. I’m saddened for the pain they and their families will endure because it isn’t so unlike the pain they’ve been in large part responsible for among the LGBT community for decades and it is grievous. They will be judged, hated, mocked, and invalidated – and that’s not good for anyone.

On August 24th, 2015, John Gibson, a 56-year-old pastor who taught at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was found dead by his own hand. He was exposed in the Ashley Madison hack and his suicide note contained a great deal of shame and remorse.

I don’t know if Gibson was a bigot, I don’t know if he was the sort of man to preach hate and condemnation or if he truly believed in grace and lived his life in a way that made that evident. I cannot know and I don’t care – but I do know that he was a human being with a life and a family and that he experienced the depths of depression to the point that he was willing to take his own life.  As one who has been there, as one who has held a gun in his mouth pleading for the end – I don’t think anyone deserves that. I’m therefore, saddened, deeply.

We cannot be happy that these men have been exposed. That mankind is likely to pursue sexual urges is no surprise, that pastors are humans is no surprise.

We cannot be happy that Josh Duggar has a trail of victims in his wake, including his poor brainwashed wife Anna and 3 of his sisters.

We cannot be happy that a man killed himself and left his family to pick up the pieces, either because he didn’t know how to handle the pressure of guilt and exposure or because he didn’t feel like he would receive love and grace from the church.

This is a time for Christianity to come to terms with the reality that it is not the shining white tower it so often portrays itself as; in the wake of the exposure of these pastors on Ashley Madison and of bigots like Kim Davis the church has an opportunity to self examine and to recognize that the perfection  is a guise for inadequate people who are failing to reach the standards they use their pulpits to preach about. This is an opportunity for the Church to show grace to those inside it’s walls, and maybe apply that lesson to those outside – where it has so often failed.

So, I’m asking for us not to revel in the pain of others – simply. Let’s be better than that.

 

 

 

Franklin Graham asks us Where Would Jesus Bank?

Where Would Jesus Bank | Why Franklin Graham doesn’t understand Jesus

The Story

Franklin Graham – who rode the coat tails of his famous preacher daddy Billy Graham into Christian fame as the head of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ever since the elder fell ill, recently announced that the ministry and churches associated with BGM would be pulling all accounts from Wells Fargo (and boycotting Tiffany & Co.) .  Why?

This ad:

(Warning, grab a tissue)

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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.

 

Is Christianity Dying?

Why this generation is really leaving Christianity

Christians on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been sharing a deluge of recent articles from “hip pastors” about how young people are leaving the church and leaving Christianity. Each of these articles posit a number of reasons why they think this diaspora is occurring, and I’m sure there’s a nugget of truth in each of them – but the one thing I’ve noticed among the articles I’ve read is that they lack any real experience in the matter, and none of them seem to be asking the people who are leaving Christianity why it is that they are doing so.

I’m a real life apostate who left the church and eventually the faith and some might say I know more about why people actually do leave as opposed to some pastor who’s trying to sell a book, but no one is knocking on my door to ask me or any of my apostate cohorts – and nearly every time I try to inject some experience into the conversation these believers are having about us I’m met with negative remarks and accusations about the likelihood that I’m possibly attempting to quell some hidden belief in god with a rage against him.

So, I’ll do what others on the inside have failed to do – I’ll give the outsiders view of why we are becoming outsiders of the church and Christianity, I’ll try to give my own reasons for leaving the church and leaving the faith (two separate things), and I’ll try to do my best not to pigeonhole those that have left by assuming the reasons I’m listing here are theirs – but I’m hoping I’m going to be in the ball park for a lot of you based on my own experiences and my interactions with the ex-christian community.

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The Three Great Dangers of Religion

I’m the type of person that can sit across the table from a person of any religious background, no matter how fundamentalist they may be, and find a common humanity to build a relationship from – that’s a personal trait I’ve worked hard to hone and that I’m actually quite proud of. Often in doing so I’m asked the question, “so what if it’s not true, what’s the harm in believing?” While the answer to this question can’t be summarily truncated into a single list, I thought it might be a good idea to present the 3 greatest dangers of religion in the more generic sense for the purpose of quick reference and in a way that can be applied to most situations and conversations – so that if you are asked this question in your conversations with the religious you’ll have something to refer back to.  These three examples of the dangers of religion aren’t examples of fundamentalism in and of themselves – but they are fundamental tenets of every major religion alive in the world today, and so they are a constant part of the way the world is viewed by the religious.

1. Religion teaches us to be satisfied with easy answers

How often have you been told that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” in your life?

Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno – Burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proposing a heliocentric model of the universe and claiming that stars were actually distant “suns” in 1600 .

Giordano Bruno – Burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proposing a heliocentric model of the universe and claiming that stars were actually distant “suns” in 1600 – Source

 

This principle is fairly common among most of the major religions in the world in that they all, generally, require us to have faith rather than to seek out evidence for that which we believe.  This is dangerous to humanity on a number of levels, in the largest part because it generates a complacency for our curiosity and our yearning to know more.  The religious often confuse their faith with knowledge and believe that their faith satisfies the human need for real understanding of the world and universe around us – but without curious minds, unhindered by this complacency, asking the questions of “what, when, where, and why” modern science wouldn’t exist as we know it today and we’d still be plagued by diseases that have long been cured, we’d still believe that Earth was the center of The Universe, and we’d have never made it to the Moon.

While some of the most brilliant scientific minds of the last 500 years may have indeed been people with faith, they didn’t allow their faith to keep them from asking uncomfortable questions – and letting the answers speak for themselves when the answers were contrary to their faith. They were, ultimately, not satisfied with easy answers.

2. Religion teaches us that we are evil

The fulcrum of nearly every religion that has survived to this day has been that humanity is irrevocably flawed (evil, fallen, or

Albrecht Durer's Fall of Man

Fall of Man by Albrecht Durer, Engraving 1504. Shared among a number of ancient mythologies, man fell after eating a forbidden fruit – the female is depicted giving the fruit to the male figure. This has long solidified the woman’s place in religion as the lesser.

sinful ) and that religion X, Y, or Z has the cure.

A modern equivalent to this is having a vacuum cleaner salesman come to your door, show you how dirty your carpet is, and then explain to you how their vacuum (and only their vacuum) can clean it properly with a demonstration of it’s amazing sucking power!  Had you never met this salesman you would have kept using your old vacuum cleaner, never knowing that it was inadequate or that your carpet was a breeding ground for dust mites – and so you would have been happy, but ignorant.  While this technique of identifying a problem you didn’t know you had and selling you the solution works great for vacuums and other demonstrable devices – it’s absolutely terrible for religion, wherein there are no adequate demonstrations as to the veracity of the claims being made.

The sales aspect aside, how terrible is it that we allow men from stages to tell us that we are vile creatures – destined for one form of punishment or another if we don’t abide by a given set of principles? What terror could this perform on our individual and collective psyche as we, generation after generation, continue to believe that we have something wrong with us that needs to be fixed by god?

“If all this isn’t true, what harm is there?” – well, you should be overjoyed if it isn’t true and you aren’t the scum of the Earth!

3. Religion promises us eternity

Scarcity increases value – we all remember that from our high school economics class right? If you don’t, it’s one of the driving factors behind capitalism and it’s the basic premise that the less of something you have the more valuable that something is. Markets  and commodity prices are driven on the premise of scarcity and demand.

The one thing we all know is that we have a limited number of is days to live, however, nearly every religion in the world promises some extension of life into eternity.  When life is no longer 70-100 years long and is instead infinity long days are no longer scarce – this translates into a lack of value for your own life, the lives of others, and the future of the planet.

Those convinced that they are going to live for eternity or that a great apocalypse is soon to come are far less likely to believe that it’s important to preserve the planet, seek out cures for disease, or spend their limited time on earth doing good for people that don’t believe like they do – instead, they’ll spend their time trying to convince others that they must believe like they do, or else.

 

The Dangers of Religion – Fundamentalism

When we take these three things and combine them into a single person – a person who believes he’s been given all the answers to life’s difficult questions , who believes that although he may be a sinner he’s been saved and sanctified – maybe even chosen by god, and who believes that he’s been promised eternity in exchange for a life devoted to his religion’s message – we get a person who is more than likely to be detached from reality.  The mere existence of religion and the fact that these fundamental elements are necessary in order for religion to exist and to spread make fundamentalism a trait that is frighteningly common in our modern world.

While many good, reasonable, intelligent, and loving Christians and Muslims may exist who are moderates in our society, and while they may even be in the majority of their respective faiths – their respect of these basic fundamentals gives credence to them, which paves the way for more dangerous and more viral forms.

A better society, a truly secular society, must be compelled by evidence to believe, must embrace it’s goodness, and must act today to save tomorrow.

The dangers of religion are many and I’ve only scratched the surface here – what would you say are the most poignant dangers of religion as you’ve experienced them?

Grief and the loss of your faith

Moving Mountains

A poem written while reflecting on the loss of faith and the beginnings of my own personal grief.

This particular post is being written with the ex-christian and ex-believer who has embraced atheism or agnosticism in lieu of their former faith. This is done because this is where my best experience lies, however – for those that leave their faith for another many of these same words will ring true, and so I hope you will still read and take from it what you can – and share with me your own experiences if you are so willing.  I don’t write in this way to alienate anyone and I hope my words don’t do so – my goal is to provide those experiencing these emotions with some feeling of normalcy over what is happening and an understanding that they are not alone.
 
 

A couple days ago Neil Carter over at Patheos’ Godless in Dixie (Which is currently my favorite atheist blog btw) was gracious enough to use one of my posts from 2011 as a guest post on his very popular blog. That post, entitled “It Get’s Better: A Letter to Doubters” has made the round a number of times since I originally published it 4 years ago now and I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to follow up on it in some fashion, if you haven’t read it – I recommend you do. The emails and comments I’ve received since it’s appearance on Godless in Dixie have confirmed that need more than ever – and so today I want to discuss the process of grief and the loss of your faith.

The Death of Faith

Traditionally grief is a process that occurs after the death of a loved one and for many in the ex-christian and ex-believer communities the loss of their faith is very similar to the death of a loved one. I personally believe that just how death-like this process might be depends on how sincere and life consuming one’s faith has been – but even the nominal believer will experience the symptoms of loss when recognizing that he or she no longer holds the same beliefs that once rang true.  In other words – the devotion you have to your god or faith will be directly proportional to the pain you will feel as that faith dies.

This faith death is often spurred by a series of realizations, often the embracing of doubts that have long been quieted by the desire to leave well enough alone. Whether it be a recognition that  your particular holy book doesn’t meet the criteria for evidence and truth that you once thought it did, or  the epiphany that your own cognitive biases have held you in a belief system that new information simply can no longer reconcile. Whatever the reason and however abruptly or agonizingly long this death takes to occur the end result will seem very confusing and difficult to explain – most people say that they feel alone in the world and, despite a sense of data overload that accompanies all the new information coming to you about the faith you no longer hold, a sense of quietness that seems unlike any other that you may have experienced before.

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Mailbag – Why Did You Leave the Church?

mailbag

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, that’s largely because I’ve been preparing for a live debate coming up on September 17th between myself and Rip Snow in Waycross, GA. Go to www.GodorNoGoddebate.com for more information on that.

 

I thought I should probably try to push out a little bit of interesting content none-the-less since all of the stuff I’m currently working on is into the 3000+ word area and nowhere near complete (Running a growing business and having a full-time job leaves me with very little time for writing). That said, I thought I’d open up a new section called The Mailbag – where you can submit questions or comments and I’ll respond.

 

To submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.


 

Today’s mailbag comes from a Facebook message from Clint W.

Clint W. writes:

 

My question was why did you leave the church, because of who Jesus is or because of who the church is? I can see someone being disillusioned with the church because of people in the church but I have never seen anything Jesus does in scripture to make me even considering leaving the faith. Matter of fact with the words of Christ I have such an understanding of how much we as the church miss the mark. But it also makes me strive to be able to serve him the best I can.

 

Thanks for writing Clint. I get that more often than you might think – and the honest answer to the question is that I left the faith because of who Jesus wasn’t. Or, better yet – because I simply couldn’t believe in who the Bible claimed he was. Don’t get me wrong, I had suffered a great deal of disappointment at the hands of Christians – but I always tried my best not to judge the faith by the faithful. I still do. As I studied and got deeper into an understanding of the Bible I realized that so many of the claims around Jesus were simply unsubstantiated, and I was unable to maintain any faith in him or in God at all.

 
I simply don’t believe that there are any credible accounts for Jesus’ life. So, none of the written accounts are credible enough to believe – and because of that I find it impossible to hold Jesus in the position that I once did. Whether or not the authors of the synoptic gospels believed that Jesus was Lord is irrelevant, because their accounts aren’t trustworthy since they weren’t written down until at least 30 years after his alleged death, so I don’t have a reason to believe the story they tell.

 

Whether or not Jesus was even a real person is a better starting point than whether or not the accepted Christology of Jesus is true today, but we are expected to take the word of scribes who probably never met the man and who had their own agendas to push about who he was.  I also find that the Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about is generally different than the Jesus talked about in John and that Paul believed in – the latter being the focal point of Catholic Christology at the Nicene Council and still largely accepted to this day.

 

The fact of the matter is that I truly wanted to believe in Christ more than anything on the planet, most notably while I was losing my faith, but after enough time I just couldn’t and nothing I did – no amount of prayer or study could fix it. I had to eventually become OK with that fact, and I am.

Thanks again, and remember that you can submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.  While you’re at it subscribe to my new YouTube channel – I’m working on lots of new content right now.

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?

Defending God and Genocide

I don’t spend the time on Facebook and Twitter making trouble (read: attempting to dialogue with Christians) that I once did . I do, on occasion, find reason enough to interject my opinions into discussions with believers and one such instance occurred rather recently.

Morality is a subject many Christians feel they have the upper hand over the atheist on, it would seem that having a single and all powerful moral lawgiver gives one the ability to diminish the moral grounds upon which others stand – especially those whom don’t claim to abide by the rules given them by a supreme being.

Below is a screenshot of a conversation I got involved with that turned into a morality debate – as I expected.  I often feel the need to discuss morality when it comes up because I’ve seen morality expressed in what I would call a more superior form thru atheists and Humanists than thru Christians since leaving the faith – not as an overlapping general statement about Christians, but as an observation about mature atheists and humanists. All communities, of course, contain within them examples of abhorrent behavior and so it is never my prerogative to hold those things against the members of their respective communities, unfortunately the same cannot always be said about my faithful counterparts.

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