From the Archives

I Did it All for Jesus, My Life of Self-Denial

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. Baptized a Lutheran and later making a public profession of faith in a Baptist church at the age of fifteen, I had been a part of the Christian church most of my life. I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college as a young man, and pastored churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

I never went through the angst many people go through when determining what to do with their lives. At the age of five, I told my mother I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty, I was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no doubt that God had called me to preach to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I am an all in kind of guy. I have little tolerance for doing things halfway. When Jesus called to me and told me to leave my proverbial nets, I did so immediately. I was a devoted, committed, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. My passion was for God, his church, and the Word of God. For twenty-five years, my life was consumed by the ministry and the work I believed God had called me to do.

Up until I started blogging in 2007, no one had ever doubted that I was saved, that I was a devoted, committed follower of Jesus. A person who years ago knew me quite well, was shocked when she heard that I was no longer a pastor and that I was now an atheist. She said, Butch (my family nickname) was the real deal. It is important to understand this point. NO ONE…out of the thousands of people I came in contact with, ever expressed doubt about my salvation. Not one teacher, not one deacon, not one evangelist, not one church member, not one fellow pastor, ever expressed doubt that I was a Christian or that I was a God-called preacher.

Those who now contend I was never a Christian or that I was a false teacher make their judgment based not on the evidence of the life I lived, but their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. For the Baptists, Calvinists, and many Evangelicals, the only way to square my life with their theology is for them to say I never was a Christian or that I still am a Christian Arminians have less of a problem explaining my life. While they are “troubled” by my apostasy, they recognize that I was a Christian. In their eyes, I fell from grace, and I am now no longer a Christian.

I realize that I am a rare bird. While there are many men who leave the ministry, few leave it as I did so late in life. Many of the notable preacher-turned-atheists, apostatized and left the ministry in their twenties and thirties. I left at the age of fifty. This does not make me special in any way, but it does make me an exception to the rule. And this is why Christian people have a hard time understanding how it is possible for a man to be a Christian for most of his life and to pastor churches for twenty-five years, to then just walk away from it all and renounce Jesus.

Those who know me personally have a difficult time wrapping their mind around Pastor Bruce being an atheist. To quote Nicodemus in John 3, how can these things be? But, whether they can understand it or not, here I am. I once was a Christian, I once was a man of God, and now I am not.

My life was motivated by the following verses:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)

These verses, along with my commitment to follow every command in the Bible, led me to a life of self-denial and economic simplicity. While most people around me were focused on earning a living, providing for their family, and accumulating material goods, I was focused on making just enough money to keep a roof over my family’s head. I took seriously the command to “learn in whatever state I am to be content.” I practiced a Baptist version of voluntary poverty, and as the head of the home, I led my family to do the same. I figured that whatever money and material goods we had was what God wanted us to have. To desire, require, or want more was a sure sign that I was in love with the things of the world.

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio 1983-1994

Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, my family and I were economically at or below the poverty line. For many years we drove junk cars and for five years our family of eight lived in a three bedroom 12’x60’ mobile home. I paid $2,800 for the mobile home and parked it next to the church. It was a ratty old mobile home to which I had to do extensive work so we could live in it. As I look back on it now, I see this mobile home as a snapshot of my/our life of self-denial.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, I woke up one day, looked around, and realized that our family was the only one living this way. Everyone else, pastor friends included, were busy building their kingdom on this earth. Their focus was on their job, career, home, land, education, and retirement. My focus was on living a voluntary life of self-denial so that I might preach the gospel. I saw myself as following in the steps of Jesus and Paul. Why wasn’t anyone else living this way?

I still think my interpretation of the Bible was essentially correct. It wasn’t that I took Christianity too seriously, it was that most everyone else didn’t take it seriously enough. After all, did Jesus not say:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24, 25)

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19,20)

My heart was squarely focused on Jesus. I treasured the Word of God and preaching the gospel. I saw the world neatly divided into saved and lost. As a saved man, one who believed in a literal hell, how could I idly sit by while knowing that most people did not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I spent most of my married life hustling for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, witnessing, preaching on the street, preaching at nursing homes, visiting prison inmates, knocking on doors, visiting bus routes, handing out tracts, and starting churches.  Like the Apostle Paul, I believed, woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!

somerset baptist church 1983-1994

Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

I took seriously Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

I believed that God would hold me accountable for every soul that went to hell because I did not witness to them. I felt I was duty bound to warn sinners of their wicked ways and of the judgment to come. My preaching, methodology, and lifestyle reflected this. Even though I was more committed than anyone else I knew, I also knew I was far from perfect, that I was far from being as committed as I could be. I pleaded with God to give me more of his power, more of his Spirit, just like he gave to great preachers like DL MoodyHudson TaylorDavid BrainerdJohn WesleyCharles FinneyAdoniram Judson,  and Charles Spurgeon.

I left the ministry in 2005 and I left Christianity in 2008. It is hard for me not to look back on my/our life of self-denial with bitter regret. Yes, I helped a lot of people and yes, in spite of our poverty, we had a good life. But, a lifetime of self-denial has put my wife and me in an economically difficult place. We are by no means poor. We have more than enough money to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. We still live simply, and outside of a 2015 Ford Escape sitting in the driveway, our home and its furnishings are modest. When we bought our home in 2007, we bought a fixer-upper and we have been fixing it up ever since. Our life is comfortable, dare I say blessed. But, I can’t help thinking about where we might now be if I had not been so focused on living a life of self-denial? In about three years, I will officially “retire.” I will draw a minimal social security check because I didn’t pay social security tax for most of the years I was in the ministry. I have no other retirement plan. Polly will likely have to work after she reaches retirement age. I deeply regret this, but decisions have consequences, and because I made a decision years ago to not pay social security tax and because I thought Jesus and the church would take care of me when I was old, I made no other plans for the future.  After all, I planned on dying with my boots on.

Life is one long lesson learned. How about you? Were you a devoted follower of Jesus? Did you take seriously the verses I mentioned in this post? If so, what did your life of self-denial look like? Did you do without for the sake of Jesus and the church? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

082216

Creationist Ken Ham and the Boiled Frog Story

ken ham and origen

Snark ahead. You’ve been warned!

Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creationism Museum and a defender of young earth creationism, stated in a recent radio interview that the state of Kentucky is treating him like a second class citizen. According to Ham, by refusing to give him $18 million worth of tax incentives for his latest project, the Ark Encounter theme park, state officials are attacking his right to speak and worship freely.

Ham’s legal battle with the state of Kentucky over tax incentives is just the latest in a long string of controversies swirling around Ham’s creationism empire. Ham has spent most of his life being “persecuted” by scientists, secularists, humanists, atheists, liberal Christians…well by anyone who doesn’t think and believe just like he does. Ham gins up controversy so those who support him will be “righteously angry” and continue to support his moneymaking enterprises.

Last Monday, Ham was a guest on Janet Parshall’s radio program. (Parshall, a fundamentalist Christian, “is the host of the Christian talk show In the Market with Janet Parshall, which is broadcast on the Moody Radio network.”) During the program, Ham  stated:

“If we don’t do something about this it’s like the old idea of the frog in the water that you can boil it up and boil it to death and it doesn’t you’re doing it because it keeps accommodating to the temperature around it. If Christians just keep accommodating and allowing this to happen more and more, we will lose that free exercise of religion.”

I wonder if Ham, Parshall, or those who listened to the program on Moody Radio, know that the boiled frog story is bad science. Probably not. Since creationists jettison any science that doesn’t fit within the framework of a literalist interpretation of the Bible, I guess it would be too much to ask them to research the story before using it as a metaphor for Christian inaction and acclimation to culture.

In a 2011 article titled Frog Fable Brought to BoilDr. Karl S. Kruszelnicki wrote:

If you plunge a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But if you place the frog into cool water and slowly heat it to boiling, the frog won’t notice and will slowly cook to death. So claims the myth. Indeed, everyone—from corporate consultants to politicians to environmental activists—cites the frog fable as proof that people often don’t see change happening and cannot deal with it in the aftermath.

So how did this myth begin? Maybe it arose because frogs are cold-blooded. We humans are warm-blooded: our internal thermometers measure the local temperature, and then we shiver or sweat to maintain a body temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius. But a cold-blooded frog maintains the temperature of its immediate environment. Perhaps somebody once wrongly thought that this meant frogs had an inferior or inadequate thermometer…

Dr. George R. Zug, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Professor Doug Melton of Harvard University both agree on this point.

Second, a frog would notice the water getting hot. Dr. Victor Hutchison, a herpetologist at the University of Oklahoma, has dealt with frogs throughout his professional life. Indeed, one of his current research interests is “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles.” Professor Hutchison states, “The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ [the maximum temperature an animal can bear] of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water.”

So real-life experiments show that the frog-in-boiling-water story is wrong. If only this fact could make it into real life, too.

The aforementioned article was adapted from Kruszelnicki’s book, It Ain’t Necessarily So…Bro.

After doing some reading on the boiled frog myth, I found a study that best describes Ham’s use of the myth:

As part of advancing science, several experiments observing the reaction of frogs to slowly heated water took place in the 19th century. In 1869, while doing experiments searching for the location of the soul, German physiologist Friedrich Goltz demonstrated that a frog that has had its brain removed will remain in slowly heated water, but an intact frog attempted to escape the water when it reached 25 °C.

Frog…brain removed…Ken Ham…young earth creationism…

Hey, I’ve come up with a new metaphor for creationism.

Any day now, I expect Ham to come out with an Answers in Genesis defense of the boiled frog story. Like the voice of God speaking to Moses on the Mount, the utterances of Ken Ham are treated as infallible by his cult followers. Ken Ham, like the Bible and God, is never, ever wrong.

The easiest way for Ham to prove the boiled frog story is to conduct a frog boiling study. Oh wait, Ham doesn’t do research. He’s too busy preaching the Gospel of Genesis 1-3, also known as The Bible According to Hammy®, to take any time to conduct a study. With millions of dollars at stake, there is no time for bothering to speak scientifically when pretending to be a scientist on the radio. Souls are at stake. The future of America and Western Civilization depends on the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. If these beacons of ignorance are closed, what would Christian schools and homeschoolers do for science class field trips?

Perhaps one of Ham’s followers might say, yes, the science of the story is wrong, but the moral story behind the metaphor is correct. Oh, you mean like the B-I-B-L-E? Let the stammering begin…

Note

The boiled frog story has been used by people of every political, social, and religious persuasion. I even know one redheaded preacher who used it years ago in his sermons.

082216

Global Warming and the Fatalism of Creationist Alan White

global warming

Warning! Risqué cartoon below.

Recently, Answers in Genesis published an article by Dr. Alan White about global warming. The article, The Globe is Warming, But It’s Not Your Fault, is chock-full of statistics and charts. Like every defender of a 6,000 year old earth, White spends a lot of time talking about science. I am not sure why he bothers to do so. After all, according to White:

The Globe Is Warming, But It’s Not Your Fault!…

…Christians are less likely to be concerned about the climate going out of control since they believe the earth and its climate were designed and created by an all-knowing and all-powerful God. Those who believe that the heavens and the earth are the result of a random, accidental process naturally will be concerned about what may happen next…

…What is your worldview? Do you trust that God brilliantly designed and created everything and trust that He has your best interests at heart, or will you always be worried that the planet is on the verge of going out of control?…

Let me sum up White’s viewpoint: The Christian God of the Bible is in control of everything, so if the earth is warming it is because God wants it this way.

At the heart of Evangelicalism is fatalism. Since God is sovereign and in control of his creation, if the overall temperature of the earth rises and the seas someday engulf Pacific islands, it’s because God wants it this way.  Evangelicals believe God has the whole world in his hands. He is working out his purpose and plan, and there is nothing humans can do to thwart him.

Usually, people who think like this also believe that Jesus will soon return to earth to judge the living and the dead, destroy the heavens and earth, and make a new heaven and a new earth. Since God is in control of everything and he is fixing the burn the house down, there’s no need to call the fire department.

Why is then that Evangelicals like White are content to appeal to the sovereignty of God when it comes to climate change, but when it comes to the culture war, they fight and work as if their God doesn’t exist or is on vacation? If God has everything under control, wouldn’t that include abortion and same-sex marriage?  Since God, the biggest abortionist of all, could stop women from having an abortion and could cause the courts to rule that marriage is between one man and one woman, that he doesn’t must mean that God ordained abortion and same-sex marriage.

I am simply taking White’s argument to its logical conclusion. God’s in control, don’t sweat it. Since God holds the world and the itty bitty baby in his hands, there’s no need for Christians to concern themselves with the future. Dr. White needs to explain why fatalism is the proper response to global warming but not abortion and same-sex marriage. The same God who controls the global thermostat is the same God who controls the life and death of every human being. Theological consistency demands Christians let go and let God. Even if they don’t let go, God is still going to work out his purpose and plan.

Those of us who spent a lot of time in Sunday school remember the story recorded in Daniel 4 about God teaching King Nebuchadnezzar about who is really in charge. One day, while walking in his palace, prideful Nebuchadnezzar had this to say:

Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

God, busy helping the Israelites find the keys to their chariot, stopped what he was doing and focused his attention on punishing Nebuchadnezzar for his insolence. How dare the King think that Babylon is his kingdom! I’ll show him:

While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

As Daniel 4 makes clear, Nebuchadnezzar got the message:

And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?…Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

The theology of this story is embedded in the DNA of Evangelicals. The Bible is clear, God is God and all power, authority, and control belongs to him. No need to fret, fuss, or worry about global warming and climate change. Yet, when it comes to social issues, Evangelicals act as if God doesn’t exist. Why the hypocrisy?

Fatalism, also known as the sovereignty of God, is nothing more than a tool used by Evangelicals to avoid or do away with data that conflicts with their literalist interpretation of the Bible. Since White believes his God created the earth 6,020 years ago, he dismisses any science that doesn’t fit in the creationist box.

White could have saved Answers in Genesis readers a lot of time if he had just stated his belief about God’s sovereignty and left it at that. In White’s worldview, God is the end all, he’s the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The answer to every question is GOD, and not just any God, the CHRISTIAN GOD!

teaching creationism

082216

How I Answer Theistic Arguments For the Existence of a God

monotheism

Many atheists are anti-theists — those who actively oppose theism. I have friends who are anti-theists. I fully understand why they are, and as long as they are civil in their in public interactions with theists, I have no objection. Sadly, way too many anti-theists spend their waking hours on social media engaging in shit-throwing contests with Fundamentalists affiliated with the Abrahamic religions. I do understand why atheists get into such contests. Tired of being pushed and battered by religious zealots, these angry atheists push back, if for no other reason than the good feeling they get from doing so. Religious zealots do the same, thinking that their petty, shallow attacks will put godless heathens in their place.

I walked away from Christianity in November of 2008. Since that time, I have spent a considerable amount of time telling my story and critiquing Evangelical Christianity. As long-time readers know, I have been repeatedly savaged by zealots who object to my writing. One Christian man even went so far as to threaten to slit my throat. Other “loving” Christians have called on God to judge me swiftly, hoping that I die a painful death. Some Evangelicals have even attacked my wife, children, grandchildren, and daughter with Down Syndrome. I have had enemies who, using my name, set up fake social media accounts, hoping to screw with me and my friends. It is for this reason that I am very particular about who I friend on Facebook. If I don’t know the person or they aren’t already friends with someone I know, I automatically decline their request.

As a public figure —  who just so happens to be a former Evangelical pastor and an atheist — I know that public (and private) attacks come with the territory. I am willing to bear the brunt of these attacks because of the good accomplished through my writing.

One of the troubling aspects of the past eight years is having to deal with atheists who don’t think I am the right kind of atheist. I have had atheists — who are anti-theists — demand that I stop “coddling” Christians. They don’t like the fact that I tend to be an accommodationist when it comes to religion. I firmly believe that not all religions are the same; that there are some expressions of religion and spirituality that are harmless and might even be helpful to the people who practice them. Here in America, we have so many virulent forms of religion that I think my time is best spent trying to combat the belief systems that do the most harm. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a nominal Episcopalian and a hardcore Baptist has no  business saying anything about religion. Such people should at least educate themselves about the various religions of the world so they can understand their differences.

When I am asked about the God question, I give the following answer:

I am agnostic on the God question. It is statistically possible that a God, a creator, a divine engineer, or a higher power exists and has not yet revealed itself to us. It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Perhaps, in the future, some sort of deity will make a grand entrance into our time/space continuum.

Having sufficiently studied the various major world religions, I have concluded that the Gods these religions worship are the mythical creations of human imagination. I can say, with great confidence, that Christian narrative is a work of fiction; that Jesus, if he existed at all, was a man (not God) who lived and died, end of story. I don’t expect any new evidence to be forthcoming that will change my mind.

Practically, I live my day to day life as an atheist. I see no evidence for the existence of any of the Gods humans currently worship.

Recently, someone asked me how I answered those who remained theistic because of what they perceive to be order and design in universe. I am not a scientist, so I am unable to adequately answer such questions from a scientific perspective. I choose, instead, to answer these questions from a philosophical and theological viewpoint. I acknowledge that atheism has no answer for questions concerning how everything came into existence. In his debate with young earth creationist Ken Ham, Bill Nye readily admitted that this is a question science has yet to answer. The difference between science and Christianity, however, is that science says, I don’t know, whereas Christianity, built on two presuppositions — God exists and the Bible is true — says, the Christian God of the Bible created everything. Of course, Christianity has no answer for the question, where did God come from? The fact is, no one knows for certain how everything came to be. I think, thanks to science, we know more now than we ever have. This knowledge has forced the Abrahamic religions to redefine their understanding of the universe. Those who refuse to do so are rightly labeled closed-minded, ignorant Fundamentalists.

But what about deistic arguments for the existence of some sort of creator God; a deity that created the universe and then went on a long, long, long vacation; a God who is not the slight bit interested in what is happening on planet earth? I readily understand how people can look at the night sky and the wonders of our planet and conclude that some sort of deity created everything. I know that most people want to believe that their lives matter — having purpose and significance. I understand why most people hope that there is life beyond the grave. We humans have a tenacious desire to live, so it is no surprise that many of us hope that after death we will go over the rainbow with Dorothy and Toto. While I have no need for such beliefs, I do understand why others might feel differently.

When I engage in discussions with Evangelicals about the existence of God, they will often point to the universe as “proof” for the existence a God. In a move that often surprises them, I grant their premise. Okay, a God of some sort created everything. How can we know that that God was the Christian God of the Bible? Perhaps one of the other Gods humans worship created everything? Perhaps it was a team effort, with numerous Gods overseeing the work of creation. The point is, no one can conclusively prove that their God, or any God, created the universe.

Once backed into the corner, Evangelicals will always run to the Bible and faith. THE BIBLE SAYS and I BELIEVE are often the refrain of those who desperately want to believe that their version of the Christian God is the right God; that their God and only their God is the creator. Sadly, Evangelicals who appeal to faith — either in the Bible or its God — fail to realize that metaphysical claims have no objective basis and are impossible to refute. When someone invokes faith — a subjective, unverifiable experience — discussion, debate, and argument come to an end. I have yet to have a protracted discussion with an Evangelical that didn’t end with the believer backing his arguments into the garage of faith. This is why I try to attack the theological and historical foundations of their beliefs. Arguing about faith is a waste of time.

While I reject the deistic notion of a creator, I am not the least bit concerned about those who hold such beliefs. They are not the people clamoring for a theocracy or demanding that their beliefs be enshrined into law. Fundamentalism is the problem, not religious belief in general. Perhaps after Fundamentalism is destroyed and its monuments to ignorance (the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are two) are weed-covered parking lots, there will be time to critique private, pietistic religious beliefs. For me personally, I have little interest in doing so, choosing to live and let live.

Besides, for all any of us knows, our so-called universe and existence might be some sort of alien race’s game simulation. I find arguments for this to be every bit as persuasive as those that are made for the any of deities humans currently worship. Silly? No sillier than Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Mormonism.

Why it is Impossible to Talk to Pro-Life Zealots About Abortion

right to life

In the post, Why I Hate Jesus, I wrote four sentences about abortion. Here’s what I said:

This Jesus, no matter the circumstance, demands that a woman carry her fetus to term. Child of a rapist, afflicted with a serious birth defect, the product of incest or a one night stand? It matters not. This Jesus is pro-life.

That’s it.

Yesterday, a man who I assume is a Christian left the following comment (which he later deleted) about these four sentences:

I would argue with you on only one point. You say this “Jesus” is pro-life and demands that a child be carried to full-term, regardless of handicap or disability of the child. Another man argued for only perfect babies being born. His name was Adolf Hitler. If you weren’t a “perfect” child, you were put in a hospital by your very own parents, and “caring” doctors would look over you, until it was time for you to get clean. They brought you to a shower room where you undressed, were hurded [sic] into a room full of shower heads and…. given the Nazi history…. You know the rest. “Loving” parents? “Caring” doctors? Throw away babies that are “damaged” goods, and what? Throw away children who are? Throw away teens who are? Throw away adults who are? After all, it’s for the “greater good” of society.

I’m sorry, but as an autistic child whose mother was told, “put him in the loony bin”, I take offense at that. My mother refused, and she raised me, gave me the best care, put me in the best special ed program she could find. Today I am a college graduate with a computer science degree, a successful career, a wife and two children who are honor students. “Damaged” goods? Some people would challenge you on that.

If you can argue for abortion on the argument that the child is “defective”, then who is safe? Are you? Could you crash your car tomorrow, put your head through the windshield and be brain dead for the rest of your life? (a la Terri Scheivo [sic]?) Should they kill you then? What if you “recover” to the point where you have the mind of a 3rd grader, but still have all of your feelings, emotions, likes, tastes and hurts? Should they still kill you because you’re not “perfect”? Should they kill people over 70 because they’re not “productive” members of society anymore? Where does it end? How “perfect” does society have to be? Where does the quest for a perfect society’s interference with the individual right to life, liberty and persuit [sic] of happiness end?

You can like or hate Jesus given the hypocrisy of modern Christianity, which is a stench! But please dispense with your utopian, perfect society model of Karl Marx or Lenin or Hitler or whoever your favorite “wordly” philosopher is. While I may agree with you about the “modern” Jesus, I acknowledge that there is a Devil, and this philosophy comes straight from him out of the pits of Hell.

All I could do is *sigh* and shake my head.

Is the Bible the Most Powerful Book on Earth?

power of the bible

Never underestimate the power of God’s word! It is far more powerful than any of us could ever imagine. Consider the spoken word of God. It is so powerful that God spoke the world into existence.
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Consider also the written word of God. The written Old Testament was available in Jesus’ day. It was so powerful that by quoting the written word Jesus resisted the devil.
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Let’s now look at the spoken word of Jesus. It is powerful enough to sustain the universe and keep it operating. He is upholding all things by the word of his power.
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The written word of Jesus is just as powerful as his spoken word. The Scriptures make no distinction in the power of either. The written record of Jesus’ works was so powerful that John said one could have life by believing the written record of it.
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Yes, the Word of God has the power to save! Trust it, believe it, obey it!

— Al Shannon, Church of Christ Preacher, excerpted from The Power of God’s Word

The words written by Al Shannon are a common refrain within the Evangelical church. According to Evangelicals, the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, and infallible book written by men as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:212 Timothy 3:16). While Evangelicals often debate how God inspired the Bible, all agree that the Bible is a supernatural book; that its words have the power to change lives and restore the broken relationship all people have with the Christian God. While the words of the Bible are just ink on paper, Evangelicals say that, if believed, those words can and will transform people, changing them from enemies of God into lovers of Jesus. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, people who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ become new creations. Old things pass away and ALL things become new.

Evangelicals assert, without any evidence, that the Bible is different from any other book ever written — a supernatural book penned or spoken into existence by God himself. Consider all the books ever written, from the great library in Egypt to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. None of them is like the Bible. Simply put, the difference is, humans write books, whereas God, through human instrumentation, wrote the Bible. This book that God wrote is inerrant — without mistake — and infallible — incapable of failure or error.

It is for these reasons that millions of American Evangelicals read the Bible, seeking spiritual power, insight, and direction. For them, the Bible is a Christian Ouija board. Just read the words and let God move and work in your life, Evangelicals are told. God can and will speak through the Bible IF you carefully listen for his voice!  For many Evangelicals, the Bible is THE road map for life, a blueprint by which God’s people build their temporal, spiritual, and eternal homes. According to 2 Peter 1:3, God has given Evangelicals everything necessary for life and godliness. Of course, none of this would be possible if not for the Holy Spirit. It is the third part of the Trinity — who lives inside every Christian — that empowers the words of the Bible and makes it possible for Evangelicals to “hear” and “understand” what God is saying. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, But the natural man [unsaved, unregenerate, non-Christian] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Evangelicals are fond of telling non-Christians that the reason they don’t “understand” the Bible is because its truths must be “spiritually” discerned. Since unbelievers are at variance with God, his enemies (James 4:4, Colossians 1:21), and the children of Satan (John 8:44), they can’t understand the true meanings of the Bible. Why then are unsaved people told to read the Bible? Good question. Evidently, the Holy Spirit opens the door of the Bible just enough for unbelievers to hear the gospel and be saved — that is if they are one of elect. This is why most Evangelicals reject much of what biology, archeology, physics, and cosmology tells us about the universe. Armed with inside knowledge given to them by God, Genesis 1-3 becomes not bronze age men trying to make sense of the world, but an exact blueprint for how God “spoke” the universe and life into existence. It is for this reason Ken Ham can build a $100 million replica of Noah’s Ark. Using Genesis 6-9 as the master template, Ham built a replica of the Ark, thereby reminding skeptics and rationalists that believing that the Bible is a supernatural book is a cancer that destroys the ability think and reason. Ham built the Ark Encounter because he thinks God told him to do so and that, thanks to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God he can know exactly what happened in an unknown Middle Eastern desert 4,000 or so years ago.

Sure sounds like Gnosticism, doesn’t it? The Gnostics believed that they had spiritual discernment that other Christians and nonbelievers did not have. The last part of 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the things of God are spiritually discerned. Only those who have a special decoder ring given to them by God can understand the teachings of the Bible. Many Evangelical sects and churches divide Christians into two categories: immature and mature. This is why James Dobson was able to recently say — with a straight face —  that Donald Trump was a “baby” Christian. Hebrews 5:12-14 states:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The reason that most Evangelicals are just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world is because they are immature —on the bottle — baby Christians. These Christians are saved, but barely so. They have had their tickets to heaven punched, but they struggle with the basics of what it means to be a Christian — often unable to discern good from evil. Other Christians are, however, mature, able to discern good and evil because they eat the strong meat of the Word of God. While some Evangelical sects and churches debate whether “true” Christians can be weak or immature, most believe that churches have an admixture of people who are spiritually immature and mature. While every Christian should desire to run the race set before them (Hebrews 12:1) and move on to maturity, many (most?) don’t.  Their loss, mature Christians say, but at least they will get to go to heaven when they die!

Ask Evangelicals what it means to be a true Christian, an immature Christian, and a mature Christian, and well, you will get all sorts of answers. Many Evangelicals believe that a true Christian grows in knowledge and grace (2 Peter 3:18). This growth can be charted and observed, with true Christians maturing in their understanding of the Bible and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some Evangelicals believe that Christians can fall away, losing their salvation. Others believe that Christians can fall away, remain saved, but bring upon themselves the chastisement of God. And yet others believe that Christians must persevere (remain true) until they die. A failure to persevere until the end means the person never was a true Christian.

For those who have never been Christians or members of Evangelical churches, what I have written above sounds like nonsense, the ranting of Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For those of us who were once considered mature Christians and devoted servants of the one true God, these words remind of us of the days when our minds and lives were saturated with the words of the Bible — along with sermon tapes and Christian books about the Bible. As mature Christians we so immersed ourselves in the “things” of God (1 Corinthians 2:10) that we thought or talked of little else but God, the Bible, and the works God called us to do on earth. It is for this reason many of us were willing to devote much of our time and talent and give our money for the proclamation and advancement of the Kingdom of God. (Though in retrospect, much of what we did now looks like building man’s kingdom, not God’s.) Believing that the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth, we sacrificially gave ourselves to evangelizing the lost and building up Christians in the most holy faith.

For those of us who are Evangelicals-turned-atheists, it is hard for us to look at our past lives and not be filled with a sense of regret, shame, and loss. Despite what our detractors tell us about our true spiritual condition, we fully committed ourselves intellectually and emotionally to believing that the Bible was some sort of divine magic book; that it alone had the power to guide us and transform both the saved and the lost. Now, if and when we read the Bible, we find ourselves saying, how could I ever have believed this nonsense? And therein lies what I believe is the crucial point: for someone to believe the nonsense found within the Bible, one must first believe the Christian God exists and that the Bible is the very words of God. Unless one believes these presuppositions, the teachings of the Bible will never make sense. Unless people believe that God lives inside of them, they will never believe that there is some sort of divine entity tasked with teaching them Biblical truth.

The reason millions of people no longer believe that the Bible is a supernatural, God-inspired book is because they do not have the requisite faith necessary to suspend rationality and just believe. I am currently corresponding with an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher who has lost his faith. While he is not an atheist, he no longer believes the “truths” that guided him throughout his life, including a decade and a half in the ministry. When this man’s mentor found out about his wavering faith, he encouraged him to stop reading other books besides the Bible and to just, by faith, believe. I have had similar responses from former church members and pastoral colleagues. My problem, they said, was the fact that I read too many books besides the Bible. Just read the Bible, let God speak, and all will be well! In essence, they wanted me to just faith it until belief returned.

According to some of my former Evangelical acquaintances, once I said, I no longer believe and I am now an atheist, all the knowledge and understanding I accrued through fifty years in the Christian church and twenty five years in the ministry dematerialized and wafted out into the ether. Remember the Men in Black movies? You know, where they would take a neuralyzer and wipe someone’s memory clean? Evidently, when I deconverted, God used some sort of supernatural neuralyzer on me and wiped clean from my mind everything I once knew about the Bible. While fair-minded Evangelicals realize that such claims are absurd, others frequently remind me that until I repent and either get saved or come back to Jesus, I will never comprehend the wisdom and riches of the only supernatural book ever written — the Protestant Bible. Until I am born from above (John 3), I will remain an ignorant atheist who knows nothing. I could spend the reminder of my life studying the Bible, yet without having the special God-given seer stone, I will never be able to understand the Bible. It is for this reason that sold-out, bought-by-the-blood, super-sanctified, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals can so easily dismiss people such as myself. If I was truly once a Christian, I would still be a Christian. If I was truly once a man of God, I would still be a man of God. And since I am not, many Evangelicals say, with a wave of the hand, Bruce, you don’t know Jack crap (or shit). (1 John 2:19)

Once people come to understand that the Bible is NOT a supernatural book, nor are its words able to magically change or transform lives, they are then able to see that the Bible is just one of many ancient religious texts. By all means, if people are so inclined, they should read the Bible and plumb the depths of its wisdom. Personally, I still value some of the teachings of Jesus, along with some of the Psalms and the book of Ecclesiastes. The rest of it? Fiction of the best/worst kind. Since I have read the Bible from cover to cover dozens of times and have spent over 25,000 hours studying the Biblical text, I am at a place in life where I can safely and authoritatively say: I know what the Bible says.

As Buzz Lightyear would say, to infinity and beyond! There are way too many unexplored books to read for me to spend my time pouring over a book that I have already read and studied more thoroughly than have ninety-nine percent of the people who claim to be followers of Jesus. Outside of checking verses for blog posts, I am content to let my leather-bound Oxford King James Bible gather dust on my bookshelves. Having exhausted its content, it is time for me to move on to new intellectual pursuits. As bibliophiles are fond of saying, so many books, so little time.

Does what I have written in this post sound like your former life as an Evangelical Christian? Do your one-time Evangelical friends now consider you ignorant of the Bible and its teachings? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Let the ignorance flow, comrades!

Looking at the Bible — Storywise

bible storiesGuest post by Melody

One way of looking at the Bible is to determine who wrote what, when, and where. This way one can place Bible books into historical context and/or genre. When the topic is the origins of the Bible, this is often what is done. In this post, I want to look at the Bible in a different way. One man’s religion is another man’s myth, and so it is with the Bible. In the end, these are stories. That’s what can be compelling and what reels you in, in the first place.

People make stories. When written stories aren’t part of a culture (yet), poems, tales and songs are. Storytelling is part of being human and like fairy tales, myths and religions do just that: tell us stories with usually some sort of moral to them. Many stories have similarities. It is as if humankind enjoys and likes the same kind of themes: stories of chosen people, redemption-stories, stories of unlikely heroes. They all exist in great measure. We remember our own lives in a narrative, and history becomes much more interesting when told in a narrative as well. The same goes for the Bible.

When you think about interesting characters and what makes them compelling, they can be eerily similar to one another. Orphans are a big theme in storytelling — think of Annie, Oliver Twist, or Harry Potter — but Moses is also portrayed as an orphan. Miraculous births did not just happen to Jesus, Isaac or Samuel, but also to Horus and Mars. Both Norse and Navajo mythology have stories about women becoming pregnant by water or rivers.

One of the things I like most about Jesus is that he was the underdog — not of high birth, just a simple carpenter’s son; although, of course, he wasn’t simply the carpenter’s son. The same goes for King David or Jesus’ disciples — ordinary, normal people becoming great over the course of their lives. This is called the Hero’s Journey and is an often used in narratives. It’s easy to identify with the underdog and root for him. If a character is already rich and powerful, what would be the aims?*

Overcoming great adversity is another important aspect of many stories. I’ve recently started watching Game of Thrones (I’m very late to the party) and without spoiling too much, at one point a character can walk into a fire and come out unscathed. Sounds like Daniel’s three friends, doesn’t it? Stories of winning battles with far fewer soldiers make for great tales too, and it doesn’t matter if the character is Gideon or someone else.

We all know that history is written by the victors. So it is with the Bible. Is it any wonder the people of Israel are the good guys in their own story? Or that the Christians are the underdog, and the good guys, in the New Testament? Of course it isn’t. It is written for them and by them. When you look at the Bible in that way, it makes much more sense. God stands on the side of his people and we’re not supposed to care about the deaths He causes. They’re the bad guys! We don’t root for them anyway.

This brings me to my final point. Whenever a disaster occurs, the Fundamentalist Evangelical leaders are quick to blame gay people and/or abortion for it. Surely God must be angry about something and therefore punish us. Because of this explanation the world (and God) can still remain just. If bad things happen to good people and the other way around, then our sense of justice screams out. I believe this is why and how disasters are described in the Bible. A disaster does not begin with an angry God who is punishing people. It is about bad things happening to people out of the blue, leaving the survivors grasping at explanations. How could so and so have drowned? How could this family have died and the other one stayed alive? There must be some sort of reason for all of this…. Cue God and his punishments.

It’s about making sense of things and about building a story where the world is and remains an understandable and just place. If we lose a war, it must be that God is angry at us, or that the other gods are somehow stronger. If God sends a storm, someone on board must be evil. Let’s see who it is…. Ah, Jonah! This is also why Satan sometimes seems very strong and sometimes not. Jesus has won, yet at the same time the Devil does do loads of evil things. It depends on the story. If something bad happens and has to be explained: Satan and his demons. If the good guys win: Jesus has made it so.

It is interesting that the Bible itself does not entirely support this view though. Jesus himself says about the blind man that it wasn’t his fault nor his parents.’ The OT states that God does give good and bad things to good and bad people. So even the people who wrote the Bible occasionally acknowledged that life isn’t that black and white nor that easily explained, nor very fair. Because if disasters are God’s punishments, why do they happen to good people sometimes? And why don’t they happen to people who are clearly bad and continue to have happy lives? Here’s where the afterlife can come in and fix everything. As in the story of Lazarus and the rich man — if justice isn’t done in this life, it will happen in the next.

Stories are a way to escape the dreariness of life. Stories may tell about history or give examples of good and bad behavior in a playful way. They can also be a means to explaining the world. Religions do precisely the same. They attempt to explain the world and in doing so, they can give us a sense that the world should be just, or is just. This is where gods, angels and demons as well as the afterlife come into play. It is about attempting to explain an unjust world, the cruelties of life, and giving some hope in hinting to a better afterlife, as well as a hell for your enemies.

When I look at the Bible as a collection of history, songs, and stories, I can enjoy it the way I can Greek or Roman mythology — stories about great heroes or traitors mixed with ideas about the afterlife and advice about the current one. It’s about people recording their history and embellishing it with their thoughts about their life, their God, and their enemies. I no longer have to see it as the one and only truth, as a guide for my own life; I can simply see it as an interesting read instead.

* Though there are plenty of opportunities there as well: Moses disregarded his wealthy and powerful Egyptian heritage in favor of his true one, which made him the underdog once more.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Christian ‘Truth’ Will Set Us Free

truth set you free

This is the one hundred and sixth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video of rapping puppets telling children that Christian ‘truth’ will set them free.

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Were You There?

evolutionists go to hell

This is the one hundred and fifth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is an X-Files-like video about creationism, Noah’s flood, and dinosaurs. Please have a bag nearby. You will definitely need it.

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Better Not Trust in Rock Music Idols

jesus and the beatles

This is the one hundred and fourth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a music video warning children not to trust in rock music idols

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Make Jesus Your Best Friend

jesus best friend

This is the one hundred and third installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video featuring puppets singing about making Jesus your best friend.

Video Link