Atheism

Bruce, You Are Leading People People to HELL!

lucinda palestrantA Fundamentalist Christian woman by the name of Lucinda Palestrant sent me the above email earlier today. Palestrant came to this site via a Google search for Darwin Fish. Eighteen months ago I wrote a post about Fish titled, Darwin Fish, A True Prophet of God.  In this post I described Fish this way: Darwin Fish, the truest Christian on earth, a fundamentalist on steroids. Evidently, Palestrant is also a member of that elite, super-sanctified, elect remnant of Christians who supposedly will someday be rewarded by Jesus for their mind-numbing devotion to what they believe are the TRUE teachings of the Bible. Heaven awaits them, their reward for stoutly standing for true Christianity®, while the illimitable sea of humans past, present, and future will be cast into outer darkness, facing eternal torture and suffering because they were born in the wrong country, raised in the wrong home, or had the wrong beliefs. (See Why Most Americans are Christian ) And for people such as myself, those who have full knowledge of the truth, yet reject it and lead others astray? Hell, fueled by God’s hatred of sin, awaits.

Palestrant warns me: The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. (Psalm 94:11) Evidently, this verse is supposed to scare me. God knows what you are thinking, Bruce, Palestrant admonishes, thinking that I will quake in my Sketchers over the very thought of her God reading my mind. Here’s what Palestrant fails to understand: I think her God is fiction, no more able to read my mind than Leonard Nimoy — of Star Trek fame — is able to do a mind meld and read my innermost thoughts.

As a writer, public figure, and a well-known atheist, I understand that my written and spoken words matter. Virtually every day that I am physically able, I send out my words to be read by thousands of people. For almost a year now, my editor — Grammar Gramma — has edited my writing, helping me to hone my writing skills, saving me from countless careless, imprecise errors. My goal has always the same: to passionately and effectively tell my story in such a way that it infuriates Fundamentalists, helps those who have been harmed by Fundamentalism, and provide a voice for those who have been psychologically savaged by Evangelical Christianity. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? )

I consider it a great honor to have the Lucinda Palestrants of the world tell me that I am leading people to hell. Since the Biblical hell is about as real as Donald Trump’s Christianity, the only “hell” I am leading readers to is the one filled with reason and freedom. It is in this “hell” people find that they are free to follow the path of life wherever it leads. No longer shackled by Fundamentalist dogma, former Evangelicals are free to embrace the wild, wonderful (and dangerous) world on their own terms. I can only hope that Lucinda Palestrant will someday experience the wonders of an intellect liberated from the bondage of the Christian Bible.

One Year Later: How Many Pastors Have Been Forced to Marry Same-Sex Couples?

jerry falwell jr and donald trump

Fundamentalist Baptist Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Christian Donald Trump

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, invalidating federal and state laws that defined marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman. Evangelical, Catholic, and Mormon culture warriors warned that the Supreme Court’s ruling would pave the way for forcing pastors, priests and elders to marry same-sex couples. Warning that pastors would soon be jailed for refusing to perform such marriages, these defenders of heterosexual marriage began working at the state level to pass laws that would exempt pastors, priests, and elders from marrying gay couples. These hysterical laws were/are little more than lame attempts by conservative (Republican) legislators to show Evangelical voters that they are still battling the secularists and atheists who want to outlaw Christianity.

Remember Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, saying:

That [refusing to perform same-sex marriages] may mean we experience jail time, loss of tax exempt status, but as the scripture says, we ought to obey God rather than man, and that’s our choice.

Or Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough telling a radio audience:

…[the clergy must] resist all government efforts to require them to accept gay marriage, and they will accept any fine and jail time to protect their religious freedom and the freedom of others.

And former Presidential candidate and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee warning pastors:

If the courts rule that people have a civil right – not only to be a homosexual but a civil right to have a homosexual marriage – then a homosexual couple coming to a pastor, who believes in Biblical marriage, who says, ‘I can’t perform that wedding,’ will now be breaking the law.

Ominous, indeed. Surely, a year later scores of pastors have been arrested and jailed for refusing to perform same-sex marriages, right?

Just today, Americans United For Separation of Church and State — a group I proudly support — posted a list of those pastors arrested and jailed for refusing to marry same-sex couples. Are you ready to see the list? Here it is:

number of pastors arrested

That’s right, not one pastor has been arrested or jailed for refusing to marry a same-sex couple. Why? Because it has NEVER been against the law to do so. Pastors, priests, and elders have always been free to refuse to perform the marriage ceremonies of couples who do not meet their personal or ecclesiastical marriage standards. Sects, churches, and pastors are free to marry whomever they wish. As long as the U.S. Constitution remains in its current form, conservative Christian churches will have the legal right to not only refuse to marry same-sex couples, but also to bar gays from being members of their congregations. Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons — along with every other religious sect — are free to discriminate at will.

Evangelical blowhards such as Robert Jeffress, Rick Scarborough, and Mike Huckabee are shameless liars for Jesus. These culture warriors only care about one thing, political power. This is why these very same men spent yesterday on their knees — not praying — but performing fellatio on Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. These warriors are so shameless that they have convinced themselves that Trump is a Christian. Several months ago, Jerry Falwell, Jr. stated unequivocally  that Trump is a member of Team Jesus®:

I’ve seen his generosity to strangers, to his employees, his warm relationship with his children. I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve had conversations with him just within the past few weeks about his faith, and I have no doubts he is a man of faith and he’s a Christian.

Evangelicals are busy now with plans to put “Christian” Trump in the Oval Office. Once their candidate is thoroughly trounced by Hillary Clinton, these liars for Jesus will return to the culture battlefield, once again trying to capitalize on the fears of their constituents. War on Christmas! Transgender Bathroom Use! Homosexuals Preying on Children! Prayer in the Public Schools! Creationism! President Clinton Taking Away Religious Freedom!

As in past years, pastors and church leaders will indeed be arrested, but not for marrying same-sex couples. These men of God will make the front pages of their local newspapers, arrested for crimes such as child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, sexual misconduct, and sundry other crimes. These issues will be shoved under the rug, replaced by fake outrages and boycotts. These liars for Jesus will continue to reveal that at the heart of conservative Christianity lies hatred, bigotry, homophobia, and racism.

Sacrilegious Humor: Homer Simpson Gets Baptized

homer simpson

This is the thirty-second installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is a clip from The Simpsons.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

Video Link

The Long and the Short of Not Coming Out

atheist closet

A guest post by Grammar Gramma

The long

Recently my husband and I attended his high school reunion. It was held at a ranch in central Texas and was a weekend-long event. My husband and I were raised in small west Texas towns which are heavily protestant and quite conservative.

There were some 30 attendees, about half of whom were the original classmates. We began to get the idea that we were in a strongly Christian home when we noted several bibles, many more Christian-oriented books, and numerous placards with biblical sayings. When it was time for dinner, the host called us all in to pray before dinner. I lingered out on the porch, hoping to sit it out, but beckoned me, repeating “come on in – we’re going to pray.” He read a bible verse from his mobile phone, then offered up a prayer. This occurred before every meal. For the other meals, I “disappeared” at prayer time.

Our hosts are Church of Christ, and probably some of the others are as well. Some, at least, are Baptist (probably Southern Baptist). Evangelical? I don’t know, but likely. I also do not know what affiliation the others are. One woman told my husband and me that her life is much better now that she has discovered there is no hell, but we were interrupted before we could get any further in that conversation. Later, I heard her professing something about being a Christian. I wanted to get back to her about how not believing in hell is the beginning of a slippery slope at the bottom of which is non-belief in a god, but the opportunity never arose again. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted it to.

During our discussions with several people, they talked mentioned how blessed they are, and I am under the impression we were the only non-believers there. We did not spill the beans, but just listened.

There was no alcohol served at the house – no beer, no wine, no hard liquor. There was no cursing. I suspect that some of the people live that way. There are others who, although they probably are Christians, engage in at least a bit of cursing. One of them is a Vietnam vet who has various ailments which he attributes to his service, but he cannot get the VA to agree with him. I imagine he knows how to cuss up a blue streak. Others probably live the way they did this weekend.

There was a huge amount of white privilege at the reunion, although I suspect at least some of them were not conscious of it. We didn’t comment on it. There was a bumper sticker on a side table which said “Guns Kill People like Spoons Made Rosie O’Donnell Fat.” It took me several readings of that to realize that is it NOT an anti-gun sentiment!

The last morning, the hostess and I were talking about Facebook and she tried to friend me, but on her little phone I couldn’t determine which icon was mine – I change my photo often and couldn’t find mine among the choices. So she told me her FB name and suggested I friend her – hers is unique. After we got home, I pondered long and hard about whether to let her see my FB page, which is full of pro-choice and atheist posts. I wasn’t sure I wanted to let her know that we (my husband is strongly skeptical about the existence of any gods) have “strayed from the fold.” I am quite sure that if these people knew of our lack of faith, they would have spent the entire weekend trying to save us. We left with our secret intact, unwilling to come out to those people with whom my husband had grown up.

The Short

Today, I decided not to come out to a young lady today, a lady whom I will never see again. A kid was standing alongside the road today in front of a church waving a sign that said “Free Car Wash.” I opted in. After I surrendered my car for a brief, exterior-only cleaning, I was approached by a college student. I started to give her some money, but she declined. She said they are washing cars for Jesus, and will not accept a tip or donation. She asked if I go to church around here and I told her “no” and left it at that. She did not probe further. We chit-chatted about her small home town in Arkansas, her mission trip here, and her college experience. Then my car was clean. We shook hands and I left.

I wonder why I was unwilling to even mention that I am an atheist, let alone challenge her lightly on her beliefs. After all, I will never see this woman again, nor she me. I wish now that I had risked asking her why her god doesn’t heal amputees. I’m trying, more and more, to come out as an atheist, but it is hard to do in person. I have been out on Facebook for seven or eight years, and to my family for longer than that. I don’t know why I find it so difficult to come out to strangers.

Help! I am a Believer, but my Husband is Not

good question

Recently, a new reader sent me several questions she would like me to answer. Her questions and my answers follow.

How do you help a loved one even if you still believe? I am okay with my husband not believing in Christianity, and I want to be supportive, even though I remain a believer. I still love him and don’t want anyone shoving religion down his throat.

This is an interesting question. I think this is the first time a believer has written me to ask how best to help his or her unbelieving spouse, Usually I get emails from unbelievers who need help as they try to live with spouses who are still believers.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are really are okay with your husband’s unbelief. You say that you love him, and I am sure that you do, But, do you love him enough to grant him intellectual and psychological freedom? You don’t mention the sect that you are a part of, but if you are part of a Christian group that believes in eternal punishment and hell, you must be honest with yourself about whether you are really okay with your husband dying without becoming a Christian and going to hell.

Each of us should grant our significant other, along with family and friends, the freedom to walk their own path, even if doing so results in those we love end up far from where we are, Sadly, many unbelievers aren’t granted this freedom, and their spouses subtly attempt to evangelize them or coerce them into attending church. I know countless unbelievers who attend church every Sunday because it keeps peace in their families. These unbelievers suffer silently because of the love they have for their spouses, children, and extended family, While doing this is laudable, it does force them to surrender their intellectual integrity for the sake of others. Many unbelievers can’t do this, and often their marriages do not survive.

I encourage you to let your husband know that you really do want him to be happy. Make sure he understands that you want him to be intellectually honest and true to self. Of course, your husband should desire the same for you.

How do I deal with uber-religious family members and friends? How do I protect him from those who will try to force him to reconvert against his wishes?

First, your husband must be willing to stand his own  ground. You mentioned in your email that your husband is “a real people pleaser.”  Predatory Christians love to target people who are not assertive. These evangelizers will likely view your husband’s easy demeanor and politeness as openness to their preaching. Either your husband must avoid those who see him as a prospect for heaven or he must develop the necessary intellectual skills that can be used to combat their evangelizing efforts.

Second, You could tell family members that you don’t want them trying to convert your husband, that you are fine with his unbelief. Those who refuse to do as you ask are bullies. Personally, I would cut such bullies out of my life. Life is too short to allow religious zealots to treat family members as people in need of fixing. Those who value their beliefs more than having a personal, loving relationship with you and your husband are people not worth having in your life. Religion is by design divisive. All religious sects believe they have the truth. When a group believes they are the depository of truth, this necessarily means that they view others as inferior or in need of “correction.”

It is crucial that you and your husband have an open, no-subjects-off-limits discussion about his lack of belief, your belief, how best to live life in a way that grants both of you intellectual and emotional integrity, and how best to deal with evangelizing family members who don’t respect either you or your husband. Remember, if they respected you they wouldn’t continue to preach, witness, and evangelize. Sadly, many Christians believe that obeying what the Bible says or what they think God has told them is more important than respecting the personal space of others.

How can I get some good information about the truth behind Christianity from the atheist perspective?

Here are a few books that I would recommend for you to read:

In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan

Atheism For Dummies by Dale McGowan

The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True by John W. Loftus

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

I encourage you and your husband to read these books together and then discuss them. And when I say “discuss” I mean have open, thoughtful, calm discussions. The goal is not winning an intellectual battle or converting the each other to a different viewpoint. Both of you must  come to terms with what you have learned. When confronted with new facts/data/evidence/information, it is important to honestly and openly wrestle with what you have learned. Sadly, many people, when confronted with new knowledge, try to make it fit previously held beliefs or they ignore it hoping that the problem is just a lack of understanding. Many religious people are taught to never question or doubt. When confronted with contradictory or conflicting facts, such people dismiss them and run to the house of faith. DON’T do this. Be intellectually open and honest, doing business with each new bit of knowledge as it is presented.

Doing what I have prescribed here can be dangerous and disconcerting for believers. In your case, as the believer, you have a lot more to lose than does your husband. What will you do if, after reading these books, you conclude that your religious beliefs are false? Are you willing to join hands with your husband in unbelief? Perhaps your beliefs will survive. I know a few believers who have read some of the books mentioned above, yet they still believe. All of them would say that reading these books radically changed how they view Christianity and unbelievers. All of them left Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative sects, seeking out inclusive sects that don’t neatly divide the world into two groups: saved and lost. Are you willing, based on what you have learned, to seek out a more friendly, inclusive expression of faith? Unitarian Universalists, for example, would gladly welcome both you and your husband into their churches.

I hope my answers to your questions are helpful. If I can be of further help, please let me know. I hope you will continue to read my blog. I think you will find that many of the readers of this blog understand your struggles, having once walked similar paths.

Tim Minchin Addresses 2013 University of Western Australia Graduating Class

tim minchinIn 2013, atheist Tim Minchin received an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Australia (UWA). The video that follows is Minchin’s address to UWA’s 2013 graduating class. I hope readers will take the time to listen to Minchin’s address. In fact, if you have friends or family members who are graduating from high school or university, I encourage you to make them aware of this video. Minchin imparts nine simple, yet profound thoughts about life. Minchin, ever the comedian, challenges young adults to live life with passion, knowing that day will come when they will be dead.

Video Link

Transcript

In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational – it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cos he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cos… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now – at the ripe old age of 38 – bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense.

So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

Here we go:

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream.

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness

Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck

You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise

I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher

Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love

I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You

I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.

Dr. Patrick Johnston and His Dangerous Advice to Depressives

sin can make you sick

Dr. Patrick Johnston is an Ohio family practice physician, founder of the Association of Pro-life Physicians, and the director of Personhood Ohio. He and his wife have nine children, all of whom are homeschooled. Several years ago, Johnston wrote a rebuttal to a post that I published about my views on abortion and personhood laws. Johnston believes there are no justifiable reasons for women to have abortions. Rape? Nope. Incest? Nope. Life of the mother? Nope or maybe. Severe physical malformation? Nope. Ectopic(tubal) pregnancy? Nope Huh? That’s right, Johnston does not think women should have access to abortion services if they have an ectopic pregnancy. In a December 2015 Personhood Ohio article, Johnston stated:

Many sincere advocates of life fall prey to the argument that abortion is occasionally necessary to save the life of the mother. An example of an ectopic pregnancy is often given. However, a cursory investigation of the evidence reveals that many babies have survived ectopic pregnancies. There are life-saving alternatives to treat the mother and her ectopically-implanted baby. Successful transplantation of the embryo from the Fallopian tube to the uterus has been reported in the medical literature as far back as 1917. We do not have to kill these babies to save the mother. Their cases is not hopeless.

Johnston also wrote an article for his blog titled Saving Ectopically Implanted Boys and Girls. You can read it here.

Johnston and Personhood Ohio have tried for several years to amend Ohio’s Constitution. If successful, Article 1, Section 16 will be amended to say:

(A) The words “person” in Article 1, Section 16, and “men” in Article 1, Section 1, apply to every human being at every stage of the biological development of that human being or human organism, including fertilization.

(B) Nothing in this Section shall affect genuine contraception that acts solely by preventing the creation of a new human being; or human “eggs” or oocytes prior to the beginning of the life of a new human being; or reproductive technology or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedures that respect the right to life of newly created human beings.

So far, right-thinking citizens and politicians have kept the amendment initiative from being enacted. (For an in-depth look at how Johnston views government, please see the slides for his seminar titled How Christians Should Resist Tyranny.) If you want to plumb the depths of Johnston’s right-wing, Fundamentalist extremism, I encourage you to read his blog.

In an undated article titled Curing the Miseries of the Mind: Anxiety and Depression, Johnston and his wife Elizabeth offer up advice to those who suffering from mental problems. According to the Johnstons, the cure for depression and anxiety is found in the Bible:

If you are suffering from severe depression or anxiety, I want to let you know that there is light at the end of your dark tunnel – and it’s not found in a pill! The God who created you loves you, and does not want you to be miserable. I believe that God’s Word – the Holy Bible – holds the key that, if not cures, greatly alleviates psychological symptoms.

Ah yes, the time-tested Fundamentalist maxim: the B-i-b-l-e is the cure for everything. Johnston admits that he does “prescribe a lot of medication for anxiety and depression because they help alleviate symptoms,” but he wants people to know that many physical and mental ailments have “spiritual roots.”  The Johnstons list seven reasons people suffer with anxiety and depression:

  • Genetic and social influences (Yea! Dr. Johnston makes an appeal to science.)
  • So that the sufferers faith will be strengthened
  • Punishment for sin
  • Unforgiveness
  • Ingratitude
  • Unbelief
  • Excessive worry
bible the cure for depression

This graphic is not Dr. Johnston’s, but it does how similar “Biblical” cures for depression.

The Johnstons then gives their Jesus-infused prescription for overcoming depression. Are you ready to be delivered, fellow depressives? All right, let’s all get h-a-p-p-y! The Johnstons believe that the following tips will help people “overcome the daily onslaught of anxiety and depression”:

  • Write out encouraging Bible verses, quotes, or thoughts, and tape them up at your house or work, or carry them in your purse or wallet. Refer to them and memorize them whenever you are struggling with unhealthy thoughts.
  • Turn on uplifting Christian music. Sing and meditate on the principles of God’s Word. Praise and worship the Lord. Try dancing to praise music! By all means, turn OFF any music or television that saddens you or causes you to focus on your troubles.
  • Make a list of ten things to think about when you are tempted to think things you shouldn’t. Make your list very practical. For instance: “What will I buy at the store?”, “Where will we go on our next vacation?”, “What will I say to my friend/neighbor/family member next time we speak?”, etc. Always have this list on hand to refer to when tempted to be anxious, depressed, or angry.
  • Occupy yourself with a big project or many projects that direct your mind off of yourself and onto others. There is no end to the number of nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, struggling families, volunteer organizations, and ministries who need a letter or a helping hand. Do not sit around and wait for your problems to disappear. Busy yourself with projects and invest your time in caring for others.
  • Always fight the tendency to pity yourself. You will find one hundred reasons to believe that self-pity will make you feel better but it never solves anything. When tempted to pity yourself, think of others you know who are in much worse circumstances (i.e. the paralyzed teenager, the young husband who just lost his wife, Christians who are persecuted for their faith in China, Cuba, or Indonesia, etc.). Make a list of such people and remind yourself of how blessed you are. Stop and take a moment to pray for those who are less fortunate than yourself.
  • Journal!! Write out your thoughts, regardless of how troubling or embarrassing they may be. Often, when you see on paper what is going on in your head, you will be surprised by how manageable your problem is through changing your way of thinking!
  • A few good Scriptures on topics of importance are listed below for your edification. Suffering: 1 Pet. 4:12-16, Rom. 8:17-18, 2 Cor. 4:17, James 1:2-4  Forgiveness/Mercy: Matt. 6:14-15, Matt. 18:21-22, Heb. 8:12, Prov. 11:19, James 5:9 Thankfulness: Phil. 4:11, Heb. 13:5, Rom. 1:21 Fear/Worry/Doubt: Matt. 6:25-34, Phil. 4:6-7, 2 Tim. 1:7, I Cor. 10:13

Certainly some of the advice offered by the Johnstons can often help alleviate the effects (not the case) of anxiety and depression. However, make no mistake about it, the Johnstons believe that the Christian God and the Bible is the CURE for those suffering from mental difficulties. I suspect that Dr.Johnston tells depressives who are not Christians that Jesus can and will cure what ails them. For those who are Christians, Johnston tells them to put mind over matter and remember that there are always people worse off than you. Trust Jesus and all will be well.

If Johnston is prescribing God and the Bible as a cure for anxiety and depression then he is committing medical malpractice. His patients should expect treatment by a doctor thoroughly grounded in the scientific method. Using the tips mentioned above to “cure” depression might work for a time, but true healing comes through counseling, behavior, modification, and, if warranted, psychotropic drugs. As someone who has suffered with depression for most of my adult life — both as a Christian pastor and as an atheist — I know that the sort of Christian voodoo offered by Johnston does not cure depression. If Johnston objects to what I have said here, he is free to present empirical data that suggests otherwise. Until then, Dr. Johnston’s tips for curing anxiety and depression should be viewed in the same light as the chants and gimmickry of witch doctors.

Note

Totally unrelated to the subject of this post, while perusing Johnston’s blog I came across a post he wrote titled Proofs for the Existence of God — Even Atheists Presuppose God’s Existence (*sigh*). If you have a few minutes to waste and need a hearty laugh, please read Johnston’s post. He concludes the post with this:

In response to this tract, many-an-atheist will doubtlessly conjure up another logical argument to refute mine. A very logical argument indeed. And what will be assumed in their counter-argument? The firm foundation of logic. What is assumed in this assumption? The Christian God, without which logic cannot be universal and unchanging, and the free will of man to reject or accept your persuasion. Objective truth will be assumed in the atheist’s rebuttal.

Your naturalism, Mr. Atheist, cannot account for the laws of logic any more than it can account for objective truth, and your empiricism could never know of the laws of logic even if they were real in spite of naturalism’s failure to account for them. In effect, your very counter-argument to rebut me assumes the Christian God against whom you so diligently and foolishly fight!

You’re too shallow, Mr. Atheist. That’s why you can’t see the truth of God in what you so hastily, and without basis, assume in your very own argument against the Christian God! You’re like the fellow tormented by thirst who sees his reflection in the pool and admires his cosmetic veneer rather than looks beyond the mirror to the life-giving liquid. Jesus is the living water which if who man who thirsts will drink freely as he may, he shall have rivers of living water flow from his own bosom! Be silent, parched mouth, long enough to see the ripples in the water from the pounding of the arguments you breathe forth. Hear what you are saying, then hear what He says, for without Him your argument is impossible. Then drink and never thirst again!

Be converted, oh atheist reader, to ALL the truth, beyond that which you arbitrarily assume, to all the truth of God. You are a fallen man with a depraved intellect whom Christ shed His blood on the cross to redeem, both spiritually and intellectually. Believe in Him, and be forgiven. Forsake Him to persist in your stubbornness and sin, and you will be damned.

 

I Need Your Help: Dear Preacher, HELP! I Think I am Losing my Faith!

help

I am thinking about writing a book that will be marketed to people who have questions and doubts about their faith. I don’t want the book to be polemical. I am more interested in writing a book that has a pastoral tone, one that gently helps people on their journey from Evangelicalism to unbelief (and all the stopping points in between).  My head is filled with ideas about what I should cover in this book, but I thought I would ask the readers of this blog to offer suggestions about what they think should be covered in the book.

While I think that books written by authors such as Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens can be helpful, I want to write a book that allows me to be  a pastor of sorts. I have a working title for the book: Dear Preacher, HELP! I Think I am Losing my Faith! Since many of the readers of this blog — a cast of thousands— are former Evangelicals, I am  soliciting your help with this project. What questions or subjects do you think I should address in this book? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. If you do not comment on this blog but would still like to make a suggestion, please use the comment form to send me an email.

Thank you for your help. I will make this post a sticky for a few weeks so every reader has an opportunity to make a suggestion if they so desire.