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nashville-statement

The Nashville Statement – revealing the chaff among you

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, then you know that I’ve long believed that the Christian church in it’s many forms was on the way out. It’s death throws being sung by the disgruntled generations which cannot stomach theological ideas that are misaligned with their Jerry Falwell inspired version of the American Christian Gospel.  If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you are the subject of this post. The Nashville Statement, which you can read here is a cementing of the trend toward obscurity. Perhaps, and I hope this is true, it will be replaced with a better church.

The Nashville Statement is in no way new. We’ve been watching mainline protestant denominations vote on and endorse similar statements and doctrines for ages. Somehow, this statement feels different because it crosses the borders of denominations – it’s original signers include pastors and ministers from across the board. It sends what seems to be a unified message to the world and to those who are LGBT and specifically calls out Transgender people with the notion that, “you are wrong about what you think you are, and we have all the answers.” It manages to say, to the most marginalized and endangered people in our country and our world that they don’t have a safe haven, even with Jesus.

The Nashville Statement says to the LGBT community that, while the church in all it’s denominational strife and confusion – in all that disagreement, the one thing they can agree on is you. That you are a problem.

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losing my religion

Losing at Losing my Religion – a 10 year perspective

For just over 10 years now I’ve been an atheist, an ex-Christian. After losing my religion I starting sharing the story of that journey, my difficulties with the church, and many of your stories as well. I’ve been talking privately with dozens of people ever since the first time I wrote down my story, and I’ve been touched by what it’s meant to you – and what your stories have meant to me.

During the first few years after I left the faith, I found myself driven toward kicking against the church with as much vigor as I could. I needed to see it’s defeat and I needed it to be done at my hands. I felt like everything leading up to my awakening had been a giant deception, and that was true – people, adult people – had lied to me in order to control me. They used their influence to teach me that my beliefs about god were determining factors in my eternity. I eventually modeled their behavior. I did the same thing to others. I also became as self deprecating as they were, as I learned to hate all the parts of myself that couldn’t meet the standards set forth by my benevolent but jealous god.

Eventually my vigor waned. I became more concerned about social justice; LGBT rights, the lives of black and brown people, the treachery of warmongering and death in countries inhabited by people poorer than anyone reading this can fathom, and the importance of separating church from state. It became clear to me that what was important was not my insistence on godlessness and controversy, but instead on humanity and the philosophical ideology of humanism and what reaching it’s ends would look like for underprivileged people. I thought – and maintain, that the church will destroy itself with no help from me. It will implode by the force of the immense anger and hate machine that churns inside it.

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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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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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Tragedy sans God

Prior to last week I had never been to a funeral for a friend.

I’ve been to funerals of course;  when the parents of one of my friends died and they needed my support, or when an inlaw died in support of my wife.  This was the first time since I was probably 8 years old that someone that I called a friend, or someone I cared about directly died.

It feels different, emptier, and it makes me think about the brevity of my own life.

I’ve been mulling this over a great deal since it happened.

Then, today – December 14, 2012 – something like 20 elementary school kids get killed in a school shooting in Connecticut.

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Bad Reasons for Rejecting Christianity

I make it a habit to read any book that a Christian is willing to purchase and send to me, or at least to give it a shot. A few months ago a local Christian youth pastor gave me a copy of the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller, I began reading it a couple weeks ago.

I’m only about six chapters into it so far but the first few chapters have left me with a certain notion that perhaps many Christians don’t quite understand why it is that people find themselves capable of rejecting their particular brand of god. These first few chapters contain rebuttals by Mr. Keller to common objections to the faith that he hears at his church in NYC and so far all of these objections have been superficial at best.

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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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Book Review: God No! by Penn Jillette

 Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, recently release his new book entitled God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales that I believe to be a great addition to the atheists library.

I purchased this book because I’ve been a big fan of Penn Jillette, Teller, their show Bullshit!, their magic acts, and Penn Says. Naturally I’m going to be drawn to his writing.  On top of all that, Penn Jillette is my unmistakeable doppelganger. Multiple times every week I get someone coming up to me and saying, “You know you who look like?” and I always say “Yea” – they proceed to tell me that I look like that Penn guy, you know, that Magician from Las Vegas. We’ve got the same hair, same build, similar facial structure, same glasses, same goatee…I swear it was never intentional, it just happened. Honest. We are both very, very sexy men.

God No! initially caught me off guard a bit. I expected philosophical and scientific musings explaining why Penn didn’t believe in a god and why belief in god was outdated and outmoded as a way of life for the human race in the style of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.  What I got instead was a collection of very personal stories about family, friends, sexual exploits, and freedom all of which conveniently tied into an atheistic interpretation of one or more of the 10 Commandments. Though it wasn’t what I expected, I’m glad that this is how the book was presented and in the end I wouldn’t change anything about it.

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The New Charismatics: Debunking Experiences with God

People "Slain in the Spirit" at a Pentecostal church service

People “Slain in the Spirit” at a Pentecostal church service

There seems to be a modern resurgence of the Christian charismatic movement that is focused largely on evangelizing young people, hyper-emotional worship services, and “experiences” with the “Holy Spirit”. The kids these new ministries are reaching out for are largely between the ages of 10 and 18 and tend to take on a very “Jesus Camp” like atmosphere.  Some of the trends I’ve seen in these groups I find rather disturbing because of my own past experience with similar groups.

When I was little (between 6 and 10 if my memory serves correctly),  I attended a Charismatic Pentecostal church – of the  Church of God denomination. There was always the typical fire-breathing and fear mongering but with that was coupled this amazing experience….what I was told to believe was the result of God’s “Holy Spirit”, the third person of the Hypostatic Union – or Trinity that identifies the currently “orthodox” Christian deity.  The experience was amazing, for lack of a better word. I remember this feeling of euphoria as I begged God to bless me with his physical presence – a heat would overwhelm my body,  I shook uncontrollably, cried tears of joy, and sometimes when the pastor or evangelist would pray with me directly lost the ability to stay on my two feet – a phenomena called being “Slain in the Spirit“.  These experiences were magnified when I would attend a yearly summer camp – it was like a week long charismatic church service – kinda like the one in this video except with mostly kids under the age of 12 and in a dark room with a full light show like at a rock concert:

 

*Watch this whole video, an excerpt from Jesus camp – it’s something important for people to see.

These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience.  I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.

Today I’m not really writing to tell my story – I’m writing to try to explain the dangers of experiences like these pose to young people and how some of these youth will ultimately be let down by these experiences and why they, as great as they may seem, are the result of psychosomatic responses to emotional over-stimulation.

 

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Proof and Evidence

I recently witnessed an assertion about proving god’s existence to atheists by a Christian that made the following claim:

Ask 1000 people what proof/demonstration by God it would take to belief in Him and you may get 1000 different responses. At the end of the day each person has different doubts and needs, and their proof of God’s existence will be different to meet their needs.  ~Anonymous

I think statements like these highlight the fundamental difference between a person that talks about evidence and proof, and a person that actually knows what evidence and proof actually are.

Proof and evidence aren’t words that can simply be exchanged for each persons perspective. Something either proves a hypothesis or it doesn’t so if the data analysis from two different people determines that the evidence either proves or doesn’t prove something one or both are incorrectly analyzing the data.

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