Humanism

Do We Need to Believe in the Christian God to Have a Meaningful Life?

jesus all about life

Do we need to believe in the Christian (Evangelical) God for our lives to have meaning? Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina thinks so. In a post titled Man’s Significance, Dixon stated:

Why does man consider himself such a “big screaming deal”? Is there no basis for our thinking we are unique in the universe, that there is something about man that shouts “You have value! You have worth!”

Evolutionary theory essentially argues that man makes up his own significance. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image and likeness of GOD — and we, therefore, have meaning.

How sad to miss that fundamental truth of our creation, and to simply sit back in despair and entertain ourselves to death with our machines!

Listen carefully to what Dixon is saying: Those who deny that meaning is derived from belief in God, live lives of despair, spending their brief sojourn on this earth entertaining themselves. Dixon, an Evangelical, shows that he is clueless about how secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Christians find meaning and purpose. One can reject a created by God anthropocentric view of life and still find great satisfaction in living life to its fullest. In fact, it is unbelievers who often value and cherish life the most because they only get one opportunity to walk the path of life. If you have taken the time to read my ABOUT page, you likely read my answer to the question If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?  Here is what I said:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Another explanation of how non-believers view life can be found in the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That Evangelicals can’t wrap their minds around this fact is their problem, not ours. Perhaps Evangelicals are unable to comprehend a meaningful, purposeful life without God is because life before death is viewed — in theory — as little more than:

I say in theory because — as observers of Evangelicalism know — God’s chosen ones love THIS life as much as atheists do. Christians profess to be ready to go home (Heaven), but few of them are lining up to board the next bus to the pearly gates. Blissful, pain-free eternal life might await Christians once they cross to the other side, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to experience the pleasures of Club Heaven®.  Simply put, Evangelicals say one thing and do another.

life all about jesusBelievers and unbelievers should alike admit that this life matters, and how each of us finds meaning and purpose is no one’s business but ours. My wife’s parents are 80 years old. Their world revolves around Jesus, the Bible, and their church — the Newark Baptist Temple. Nine months ago, Polly’s father had his hip replaced. The surgery proved to be a disaster and he is now in a nursing home. My in-laws were forced to sell their home — a place they have lived for 38 years. Knowing that they had to move, Polly suggested to her Mom that they move near our home so we could take care of them (We live 3 hours Northwest of their home in Newark, Ohio). Polly’s Mom replied, I can’t. My church is here. I have known Polly Shope Gerencser for 40 years and I have NEVER seen her so devastated as she was by her Mom’s words.

Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It is Worth it All)  Polly is her parents’ only living child. Both Polly and I thought that they would not only want to be closer to their daughter (we see them 5-6 times a year), but also near our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Polly’s Mom said I can’t. My Church is here, Polly heard, My Church is more important than you! My “real” family is my church.

And Polly’s parents have the right to choose what matters most to them. When Polly and I returned to rural NW Ohio, we did so because we made a conscious choice to be near our children and grandchildren — all of whom live less than 20 minutes from our home. Family matters to us. For me personally, I know that chronic illness and pain have likely shortened my life expectancy. Knowing this, I want to spend as much time as I can going to races with my sons, watching my grandchildren’s school and sporting events, and doing all I can to leave those I love with a lasting memory of a husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest. Some days, all I can do is sit quietly by and watch my grandchildren play. Other days, infused with a false sense of energy and vitality, I play hard, laugh, argue and debate, and remind my children that I am still the intellectual king of the hill (I can hear them snickering). Regardless of how I feel, it is my family that gives my life meaning and purpose. It saddens me that my in-laws have chosen a contrived family — one that will dump them if they ever fail to bow in obeisance to Jesus — over a flesh-and-blood family that loves them. It is, however, their choice, so I must live with it. Their decision is yet another reminder of the fact that Christians often forsake the earthly for what they think will improve their room size in God’s mansion in the sky.

Now, let me get back to aimlessly living a life of despair.

Nancy Campbell’s “Vision” for Her Children and Grandchildren

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According to the Above Rubies website, Nancy Campbell is an “internationally known author, speaker, and authority on Biblical Motherhood and Family.” Campbell preaches the old-time Fundamentalist  gospel of patriarchy — a world in which women marry, obey their husbands, bear lots of children, and keep the home. Recently, in a post titled A Higher Vision, Campbell detailed her vision for her children and grandchildren. Here’s what Campbell had to say:

I want children who love God above all else.
I want children who are growing into the likeness of Christ.
I want children who love righteousness and abhor evil.
I want children who have a biblical mindset and stand for God’s truth.
I want children who will not compromise godly standards.
I want children who will not be tainted by the spirit of this world.
I want children who will not give in to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, but who will pursue the will of God.
I want children who love God’s Word and love to pray.
I want children who will blaze across this world with the gospel and message of truth.

Amen.

As you can see, Campbell’s vision for her progeny focuses on the Evangelical God and the Bible. Like many Evangelicals, her vision is singular and blinkered, making Campbell blind to the wonders of the world outside the narrow confines of the Christian box. All that matters to Campbell is that her children and grandchildren turn out to be good little Christians who follow the approved way of life.

I too have children and grandchildren, and like Campbell I have a vision for them. However, my vision is far different from that of Campbell’s:

I want children who think for themselves.
I want children who enjoy life.
I want children who treat others with respect.
I want children who love their families.
I want children who value hard work and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
I want children who aren’t afraid to stand against bigotry and racism.
I want children who will live every moment to its fullest, realizing that life is short.
I want children who value fun, pleasure, and relaxation.
I want children who will travel far and wide, enjoying the wonders of earth.
And most of all, I want children who are happy.

Amen.

Campbell’s vision is one of exclusion, whereas my vision is one of inclusion. Campbell’s vision focuses on right beliefs and obedience, whereas my vision focuses on embracing and enjoying life. Campbell’s vision sees the goal as a room in God’s celestial kingdom, where my vision sees the goal as a life well lived. Campbell envisions life as that of Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s ProgressTrudge on dear Pilgrim, remembering that Heaven awaits you IF you make it to the end. What a sad way to live life, squandering the too-short time we have on earth.

I have more of a Dixie Chicks way of looking at life. In 1998, the Chicks released the single Wide Open Places. I think the song aptly describes how those of us who are rooted in there here and now view life:

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed

[Chorus]
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

She traveled this road as a child
Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired
But now she won’t be coming back with the rest
If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test

[Repeat Chorus]
She knows the high stakes

As her folks drive away, her dad yells, “Check the oil!”
Mom stares out the window and says, “I’m leaving my girl”
She said, “It didn’t seem like that long ago”
When she stood there and let her own folks know

[Repeat Chorus]
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes

Video Link

Wide open spaces, that’s what I hope my children and grandchildren find as the meander their ways through this life. Who knows what might lie ahead. Campbell wants to keep her children and grandchildren safe within the confines of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box) While there is great comfort and security that comes from knowing everyone is safely in the box, this is no way to live and enjoy life. That’s what Evangelicalism does. It confines people for life in Bible Prison, safe from the evil, sinful world. Humanism, however, opens wide the gate and says, You are FREE! Enjoy life. Embrace all that it has to offer, knowing that we don’t know what tomorrow might bring. Life is like the steam rising from a radiator on a cold winter’s day. It quickly dissipates into the air and then it is gone (James 4:14).  Solomon was surely right when he said:

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour
….
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?
….
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
….
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on the ABOUT page of this blog:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

 

Tim Wildmon Shows He is Clueless About Secularism

tim wildmon

What follows is a video produced by Tim Wildmon and the American Family Association. This video purports to “explain” to Fundamentalist zealots the true nature and ideology of secular progressivism. What the video really does is show that Wildmon and his costars either know very little about secularism and progressivism or they are deliberately lying in hopes of providing yet another red meat meal for culture warriors. My money is on the latter.  This video is 3 minutes long. Enjoy!

Video Link

Should Atheists Disabuse Christians of Their Beliefs?

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Everywhere one looks, Christians can be found. All sorts of Christians — Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Progressive, Liberal — with countless shades and nuances. The majority of Americans profess to believe in the Christian God. Most Americans believe that the Bible is in one way or another the word of God. Most Americans believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died on the cross for human sin and resurrected from the dead three days later. Most Americans believe that the Christian God created the universe. It is safe to say that the United States is a Christian nation; not in the sense that people such as David Barton use the phrase “Christian nation,” but in the sense that Christianity permeates every aspect of American life. That some Christians are now saying that they are persecuted is laughable.

Expressions of Christianity can be found everywhere one looks. Christian churches are found in every American community. Christian churches and pastors are subsidized by taxpayer money. Christian churches are exempt from paying real estate and sales tax, and their ministers’ housing is tax-exempt. Ministers are even permitted to opt out of paying Social Security tax. Donations to churches are tax exempt. No matter how opulent church facilities might be or how rich ministers might become, every dollar of church income is tax-exempt. Not only are financial and in-kind gifts tax-exempt, but donors receive a tax deduction for church donations. Government agencies steer a wide berth around religion, rarely sticking their nose in its business. The Internal Revenue Service is so scared of intruding upon churches that it goes out of its way to NOT investigate clear and egregious violations of the separation of church and state.

In recent years, atheism, agnosticism, secularism, and religious indifference have increased in numbers as young Americans in particular look at the religious scene and say no thanks. Christian sects are hemorrhaging members, as church leaders scramble to plug the increasingly larger hole in the membership dike. They rightly understand that if they are unable to keep young adults in the church, they are but a generation or two away from extinction. This is particularly true for smaller churches who have lost millions of members to megachurches and larger churches. Unable to compete, smaller churches are slowly dying, the result of the corporate, entertainment mindset that now dominates the Christian landscape. That and an unwillingness to adapt to cultural change.  Those of us who are not Christians observe this decline from the outside, cheering on those who cannibalize their own. Surely we would all be better off without Christianity, atheists say. While it can certainly be debated whether we would actually be better off without Christianity, it is certainly clear that religious belief has caused untold damage.

I spent 50 years of my life in the Evangelical church. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I have come in contact with thousands of people who self-identified as Christians. I have intimately known countless people who believe the Bible is the word of God, and that it is a guidebook for living life. These Christians believe that the Bible tells us all we need to know about life — both now and after death. How should atheists respond to Christians who believe their particular flavor of Christianity is the truth? How should atheists respond to those who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God? What is our duty — if any — to those who are committed followers of Jesus? Should atheists, when presented with an opportunity to do so, disabuse Christians of their beliefs? Does it really matter what people believe?

The atheist community is certainly not of one mind on these issues. Some atheists think that religious belief should be challenged at every opportunity. Some atheists think that religious belief deserves mockery and ridicule.  Other atheists take a live-and-let-live attitude. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you, these atheists say.

The question raised in this post, should atheists disabuse Christians of their beliefs? comes from an atheist who recently engaged in a discussion with a Christian minister about religious faith and atheism. She wondered if atheists should bother trying to engage people who are resolutely committed to Christianity, its God, and its religious text – the Bible. What follows is my answer.

I tend to take an incremental approach to engaging people of faith. This has led some atheists to label me as an accommodationist. I have often been accused of being too soft or nice to Christians, which is ironic, because many Christians think I am hostile towards Christianity. I suppose that atheists and Christians alike are right. I can be hostile towards any form of Christianity that psychologically and physically harms people. I am certainly hostile towards any religious system that impedes progress and the betterment of the human race. That said, when dealing with people I think have doubts and questions about Christianity, I tend to be patient and long-suffering, hoping that I can, through reason and kindness, help them move away from the suffocating constraints of Christianity — particularly Evangelicalism. I play the game, realizing — as it did for me — that it might take years for someone to come to the conclusion that what they have believed for years is a lie. Assaulting such people with every possible atheistic weapon rarely results in deconversion.  Unlike Evangelicals with their born-again experiences, the path to atheism is often a long and winding road, with many starts and stops along the way.

How should atheists respond when Christian zealots make a deliberate attempt to evangelize them or deliver them from what Christians believe are satanic, immoral beliefs? How should atheists respond when Christians make a concerted effort to challenge their beliefs — or lack thereof? Social media is often a prime hunting ground for Christians looking to assert their beliefs and sense of rightness. I’m sure most atheists at one time or another have had to interact with preachy, evangelizing Christian friends and family members on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. While most of my Facebook friends are atheists or non-Christians, I am friends with several Evangelicals. I post very little atheism-related material on my Facebook wall. I usually post these kind of things on my page. I tell my Facebook friends that they want to read my writing about religion that they should check out my page. On my personal Facebook account, I tend to post cat videos, cartoons, and things that reflect my liberal, socialistic political beliefs. The same cannot be said for my Christian Facebook friends. Virtually every day they post Christian related stories and memes, and one friend — an out-of-work preacher — has taken to posting what I call paragraph sermons. These sermonettes are often directed towards those who are not Christian, which is strange, because the overwhelming majority of his Facebook friends are Evangelical Christians. I think I can safely say that this man’s preaching is directed towards me and my family and other people he has deemed unsaved. This Baptist preacher’s wife tends to post similar material.

One day this preacher’s wife posted something that mentioned atheism. After reading it, I pondered whether I should bother to respond. I did, resulting in a family squabble of sorts. By the next day, her post was removed. I have no idea why. It certainly couldn’t had been due to anything I had written. I was polite, but forceful. This couple, while certainly Fundamentalist, likes to think that they are somehow “different” from hard-core Fundamentalists. I attempted to show that they weren’t, using a tactic I use whenever someone tries to paint themselves as a kinder, gentler, more accepting Christian. I asked if they believed non-Christians would go to hell when they die. Their answer was emphatically YES!. I told them that the rest of their beliefs really didn’t matter. Anyone who believes that their God will not only fit unbelievers with a fireproof body but also torture them night and day is every bit as hateful and judgmental as the worst of Fundamentalists. These kind, nice, smiling Fundamentalists want to believe that they are different from their Fundamentalist forefathers, but their abhorrent belief in hell and the eternal torture of unbelievers makes them every bit as bad.

Why did I bother to engage these Fundamentalists? Surely I knew that nothing would be gained by writing a dissenting comment on the wife’s post. The only reason I did so is because she directly mentioned atheism. I thought, this is my opportunity to put in a word for atheism. While I had hoped my comment might spark honest, thoughtful discussion about Christianity, atheism, and how the family in general has treated non-Christians, I also knew that it could turn out like it did. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

It up to individual atheists to determine when and where they engage the beliefs of Christians. Sometimes, there is no value in attempting to challenge those whose heads are in a bucket of cement. They are deaf and blind, unable to see and hear any other belief but their own. When dealing with such people I take the advice of the Bible — don’t cast your pearls before swine. Atheists can waste tremendous amounts of time talking to people who really have no interest in what they have the say. When I first started blogging nine years ago I thought that if I just explained myself to people that they would appreciate and understand where I am coming from. I know, quite naïve. A few years back, this issue came up in counseling. I told my counselor that it bothered me that many Christian critics have no interest in hearing my story or allowing me to explain myself. He chuckled and then told me, Bruce, you wrongly think these people give a shit about you. They don’t. And all these years later, I know my counselor is right. Most Christians who engage me are not interested in me as a person. Their goal is to put in a good word for Jesus or to bolster their apologetical skills. Perhaps, deep down they have doubts about their beliefs, and attacking an Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist helps shout down their doubts and fears.

I think atheists should weigh carefully what might happen if they engage Christians in some sort of dialogue. Sometimes, such engagement can have catastrophic consequences. (Please See Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) Atheism is still considered by many to be satanic and immoral. When someone declares their allegiance to atheism, this can and does cause conflict. I have corresponded with atheists who have lost jobs and their marriages over their atheistic beliefs. Try as atheists might to explain that atheism is not a belief system, Christians often already have their minds made up. No amount of discussion about humanism — the moral and ethical framework for most atheists — will suffice. For these Christians, atheists are bad people. I generally don’t bother with such people, again saving my pearls for those who can appreciate them.

The atheist woman who asked the question that has been the subject of this post recently had a lengthy email discussion with her former Evangelical pastor. This man of God found that she was quite willing and capable to defend atheism and her lack of belief in the Christian God. She told me in an email that she wondered if anyone had ever challenged this pastor concerning his beliefs. Likely not, since most pastors are insulated from any outside challenges to their beliefs. Safe within the confines of their church and study, pastors rarely have to defend what they believe. And when they do, they often turn to books that purport to answer EVERY question posed by unbelievers. As most atheists who have spent significant time engaging Christians know, these books are filled with worn-out clichés, shallow defenses of Christianity, and poor arguments against atheism, secularism, and humanism — arguments that are often easily defeated. When pushed into the corner, pastors will always hold on to three things: personal experience, faith, and the Bible. Of course, such metaphysical claims rest beyond rational investigation. Once faith is invoked, discussion ceases.

Over the past nine years I have corresponded with countless pastors. Currently, I am corresponding with a handful of pastors whose have serious doubts about their faith. I do my best to thoughtfully and honestly engage them. If they sincerely want my help or just want somebody to talk to, I am more than happy to oblige. When I began walking down the path of unbelief, I was glad I had someone to talk to, someone who was willing to patiently listen and gently challenge my beliefs. The goal in such discussions is not conversion as much as it is to help people move beyond where they are. All atheists agree that religious Fundamentalism is harmful, and that helping people see this is vitally important. While it’s great if people embrace unbelief, many won’t. Many times, all atheists can do is become facilitators of sorts, helping people see that there are better ways to live their lives (even if that means they hang on to some sort of religious belief). I am content to leave discussions unfinished, knowing that some people will return a few years later, now ready to finish the discussions begun years before.

In some instances, there is no value in challenging religious beliefs. My wife’s parents are in their 80s. They have been fundamentalist Christians their entire lives. They currently attend a hard-core Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. They have been members of this church for almost 40 years. My wife’s father is a retired Baptist preacher. While it would be easy for me to challenge their beliefs, I refrain from doing so. What would I gain from challenging their lifelong beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, salvation, and life after death? There’s nothing I could say that could ever cause them to not believe. Ten years ago their youngest daughter was killed in a tragic automobile accident. If anything could challenge their faith it would have been this. Recently, my wife’s father had his hip replaced, resulting in what can be best described as a medical clusterfuck. Six months later, he is still in the nursing home, can hardly walk, and it is possible that he may never return home. Countless prayers have been uttered on their behalf, yet God — at least from my perspective — has stood by and done nothing. Despite great pain, suffering, debility, and economic loss, my wife’s parents hang on to their faith. Again, I can’t think of anything that would cause them to lose their faith. Because I know this, I have resigned myself to the fact that nothing I say to them about their beliefs will make a difference. As long as they don’t try to evangelize me or interject their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices into my life, I am content to let them believe whatever they want.

How do you interact with Christians? Do you aggressively challenge Christian belief on social media or in family gatherings? Are you an evangelist of sorts for atheism? Or do you take the live-and-let-live approach, ignoring the religious beliefs of others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. I am sure there are many and varied ways that atheists interact with Christians, so I hope you will share your approach in the comments. As I have made clear in the past, I don’t want anyone to follow after me. Each of us must chart his or her own course. As unbelievers, we must determine how best to engage a culture that is overwhelmingly controlled and dominated by Christianity.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.

Why Can’t I be Like Everyone Else?

normal

I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist home. I spent the first 50 years of my life regularly attending Christian churches. Deeply immersed in the Christian life and way of thinking, I never doubted that I would become anything but a Baptist preacher. I was five years old when I first told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a fireman, not a police officer, not a baseball player — a preacher. Unlike most people, I never went through the angst of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. From the time of my conversion at age 15 to the moment I walked away from the ministry, I never doubted that God had called me to be a preacher of the gospel. As I mentioned yesterday, I was what people would call a true believer®. My life oozed Jesus, the Bible, and my visible, dedicated commitment to the Baptist church. While many people today question whether I was a “real” Christian, no one during my time in the ministry ever questioned that I was anything but a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. Anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately ignoring the facts.

Yet, here I am at age 58, no longer in the ministry, no longer Christian, and now an outspoken atheist and critic of Evangelical Christianity. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. During its 60-plus-year history, thousands of students attended classes at Midwestern. Hundreds of men went on to pastor churches or work in some other capacity at churches or Christian educational institutions. Some men went on to be missionaries or evangelists. Women married preachers, went to the mission field, or became Christian school teachers. While Midwestern never had a large student body, its students and graduates can be found serving Jesus all across the globe. Yet, out of all these students, as far as I know, my wife and I are the only two who have publicly renounced Christianity. While I am certain other former Midwestern students are atheists or agnostics, I am unaware of their existence. Perhaps they do not want the notoriety and hassle that comes from publicly renouncing Midwestern’s God. I know well the price one must pay when rejecting the tribal God. Polly and I lost dozens of friends and colleagues as a result of our public declaration of unbelief. We are estranged from family, have few friends, and are forced to live with the whispers and gossip of local Christian residents who treat us as some sort of exotic zoo animals. We willingly endure these things because we value honesty and intellectual integrity above cultural or social acceptance.

There are times when I find myself wondering why I cannot be like everyone else. I loved preaching and teaching. I loved helping others. I loved rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the work of the ministry. Yet, despite loving these things, they were not enough to keep me in the fold. Why is it my former colleagues and the students I attended college with are able to continue believing and I am not? While it would be tempting to say that I am intellectually superior to them, I know this is not the case. It would be easy to dismiss everyone with a wave of the hand and a snide — bunch of illiterate hillbillies — but I know that in doing so I would be painting with too broad a brush (a brush I wish atheists would quit using).

Perhaps there was something wrong with my faith. I have often asked myself this question. Was there something about my Christian experience that was in some way defective? I do not think so. While I certainly can see how someone might — by taking a short sample size of my life — conclude that the blame for my faithlessness rests solely on my shoulders; but my life, when taken as a whole, reflects that I was one who truly believed in God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible. Yet, I am an atheist. While I doubt I will ever fully understand why I cannot be like others, I have come to a few conclusions about the trajectory of my life and how I arrived at where I am today.

I have always valued intellectual pursuit. While I spent many years bouncing from wall to wall within the Evangelical box, even within these constraints I diligently sought to know the truth. This is why I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980s. It is also why I became a Calvinist and then later abandoned Calvinism as I embraced more of a works-oriented social gospel. While many of my former colleagues in the ministry have never deviated from the theology they were taught at Midwestern Baptist College and other evangelical institutions, I was unwilling to accept certain beliefs as “truth” just because it was the official doctrine of Midwestern or whatever group I was a part of. Years ago, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. It was a well-attended meeting, and every preacher had on the uniform — suit and tie. Not I. I wore an ivory-colored sweater. The reason I remember this is because the host of the meeting pointed out the fact that I was wearing a sweater. He found my attire amusing, yet he thought that it was wonderful that I was unwilling to follow the herd’s dress code. Of course, I spent the remainder of the day having corncob in their ass preachers look at me as some sort of liberal compromiser. Closer friends in attendance ribbed me over dressing so casually. I think this story accurately reflects how I viewed life then and still view it today. Unwilling to acquiesce to tribal demands, I forged my own path. Friends and colleagues viewed me as double minded, whereas all I was trying to do is be honest and follow the path wherever it leads. I am, today, still on this path. Who knows where I might yet end up.

I have never been a go-along-with-the-crowd type of person. Even though I was a committed Fundamentalist, I didn’t do something just because big-name preacher so and so did. As any observer of Evangelical Christianity can tell you, there has been a tremendous amount of upheaval over the past 40 years. Up until the 1970s, the 1950s style of doing church was considered the Evangelical way of doing things. Today? It is hard to find a church that still does things — as IFB preachers call it — the “old-fashioned” way — old-fashioned meaning “the way things were done in the days of Ozzie and Harriet.” While my style of ministry and preaching changed somewhat over the years, I made these changes, most often, for pragmatic reasons. I firmly believed that churches and preachers must adapt their methodologies to the times. While bus ministries and door-to-door evangelism once yielded great numerical growth, these methods no longer work — regardless of what head-in-the-sand IFB preachers might tell you. Churches unwilling to adapt only hurt themselves, leading to attendance decline and closures.

Even as an atheist, I am resistant to following the herd. The atheist movement and Evangelicalism have more than a few things in common. In Evangelicalism, certain preachers are revered and considered mountaintop dispensers of wisdom and knowledge. So it is with atheists. All one has to do is look at the speaker lineup for atheist and humanist conferences or the upcoming Reason Rally. Instead of embracing the diversity of the atheist community, these conferences often become little more than the atheist version of star powered award shows. And I get it. People are not going to fly or drive hundreds of miles to hear atheist nobodies. As with Evangelicals, many atheists seem to value the pronouncements of big-name speakers and writers over those of everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety atheists. As with Evangelicals, the only way to get in the game is to play by the rules. If you are unwilling to play by the rules, you can expect to not be invited to play the game. I have accepted that this is the way things are. This is the price I pay for maintaining freedom and autonomy. A price, by the way, I am more than happy to pay.

As many of you know, I am working ever-so-slowly on an autobiography of my life. I think the book will be something that doubting Evangelicals and Evangelicals-turned-atheists will find helpful. As with all writers, I hope that my book will become a New York Times bestseller. One way to sell a lot of books is to get well-known atheists to write endorsements. I decided not to do this. While I know a handful of well-known atheists, most of my involvement with atheists comes through this blog and social media. I remain, to this day, a blue-collar laborer, unknown, but happy to have an opportunity to lend my small voice to the collective objection to evangelical Christianity. Knowing that I will never be asked to join the A-Team, I content myself with helping people break free of Evangelicalism’s pernicious grasp. While it would be fun and somewhat rewarding to speak to thousands of like-minded atheists, such an experience pales in comparison to helping people find their way out of the Fundamentalist maze.

I have said all of the above to provide some context for my answer to the question, why can’t I be like everyone else? I can’t be like everyone else because I am me. That is the simplest explanation. I am who I am and my life is what it is. I value honesty over conformity and independence over sameness. These values have only gotten stronger now that I am an atheist. No longer burdened by Evangelicalism’s written and unwritten code of acceptable belief and practice, I am free to be whomever and whatever I want to be. I recognize that living my life this way might result in me not being accepted by the larger atheist community. I know there are pro-life atheists and Republican atheists who understand what I am talking about. Conformity — even among atheists — is often demanded if one wants to join a particular club. This is why atheism is so fractured. Proponents of various atheistic groups — atheism+, mythicism, social justice, feminism, and the destruction of all religion — demand fidelity to that group’s doctrines. They are, in many ways, not much different from Fundamentalists with their rigid codes of belief and conduct. Many atheists have a need to be part of something larger, so they are willing to surrender their intellectual autonomy to be a part of a group. I am unwilling to do so, and this is why, in the end, I cannot be like everyone else.

I am more than willing to work with atheist groups and individual atheists when their causes align with mine. However, as I learned from my battles with the proponents of atheism+, it is all or nothing for many atheists. Either you accept the 10 Commandments of that group’s dogma or they will have nothing to do with you. This is why more than a few atheists have questioned my atheism. If I dare write something that runs afoul of the received atheist faith, as with Evangelicals, my commitment to atheism and humanism is questioned. If I suggest something that gives the hint of accommodationism, I am accused of promoting religion. I have received countless emails from atheists over the years who object to something I have written. If I say I am agnostic on the God question, the defenders of true atheism® are sure to let me know that they think I am a hypocrite and have some sort of religious hangover. While these letters used to bother me, I now understand that Fundamentalist thinking can be found in every group. There is nothing I can do about this. I am committed to being open and honest about my life and I am committed to passionately writing about my beliefs and worldview. If these things do not meet the criteria for acceptance into the atheist college of cardinals, so be it. I value personal freedom and intellectual integrity far more than I do membership in any group. If this limits me in some way, I am willing to accept that this is the price I must pay for being true to self. These traits will be valued by many, and that is enough satisfaction for me to continue preaching the gospel of godlessness.

Bruce, Do You Believe in God?

atheist and deist having sex

Written in 2010 Edited for clarity and grammar

I still get asked fairly often, Bruce, do you believe in God? Even though I self-identify as an atheist, some people doubt that I really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y believe that there is no God.

When it comes to the God question, I am agnostic. I can say with great confidence that I don’t believe any of the current deities in the human panoply of Gods is God at all. Could some sort of deity show up on the scene in the future? Sure, it is possible. Is it probable? No.

So why then do I self-identify as an atheist and not an agnostic?

First, I got tired of having to explain what I meant by the word agnostic. Saying, I am an atheist is pretty straightforward and less likely to misinterpreted.

Second, I live from day to day with no thought of whether a deity exists. I don’t do anything in my life that remotely says to someone else, Bruce believes in God (and I have met a lot of Christians who are just as atheistic as I am). Morally and ethically I do my best to live according to humanistic principles. (See The Humanist Manifesto III.)  My concern is with how I live in the here and now. I have no thoughts of Heaven (or hell), no thoughts of eternal life, and no thoughts at all about anything beyond the grave.

That said, when I look at the natural world I can certainly see how someone might adopt some form of deism. While I do not find deistic arguments intellectually satisfying, I do understand how someone might come to such a conclusion. Most of the deists I know are every bit as atheistic as I am. The difference between us is that they hope that there is some sort life beyond the grave.

Even if I grant the premise that it is possible/likely that a God of some sort created the universe, there is no plausible way for me to make the jump from this nonspecific, ambiguous God to the Christian God of the Bible. Believing that a God of some sort created everything is one thing, but believing that the Christian God of the Bible is that creator is a leap of faith I cannot take (and I wish Christians would admit that when they use the word God, it is not a generic God they are talking about).

At the end of the day, atheism and evolution offer the best explanations for what I observe in the natural world. Do they provide ALL the answers?  Of course not, but I no longer need certainty. I am quite content to live with ambiguity, and not knowing everything is a humble reminder that I am human. While I still thirst for knowledge and understanding, I know that my quest will never reach a place of certainty or infallibility.

2016 Reason Rally

reason rally 2016

In 2012, tens of thousands of skeptics, secularists, atheists, agnostics, and humanists gathered in Washington DC to give testimony to the rise of American secularism. This was, for many secularists, a coming-out party. This was godless Americans telling Christians that they were no longer willing to stand idly by while the religious right trampled on the US Constitution and the separation of church and state. Most of all, it was a public statement of solidarity, a reminder that secularists can be found in virtually every walk of life.

Four years later, American atheist and humanist groups are gearing up to host another Reason Rally. The Rally will be a multi-day event, Thursday, June 2nd through Sunday, June 5th, culminating with a huge gathering at the Lincoln Memorial from 8 am to 5 pm on June 4th. You can find out more about the 2016 Reason Rally here.

Several readers have asked if I plan to attend the Rally. They  would like for me to be considered for one of the speaking slots during the four-day event. While I would never recommend myself to be a speaker, It certainly would be an honor if I was asked to do so.

Roy Madewell, a long-time friend and reader of this blog, asked if I would please encourage readers to suggest to Rally planners that I be considered for one of the speaking slots. Fearing the wrath of Roy and his merry band of atheists, I have acquiesced to his request. If you would like to suggest to planners that I speak at the Rally, please contact them here.

Is God Punishing Me for My Sin?

god of loveOne of the saddest questions I see in the search logs is this: I have ____________________. Is God punishing me for my sin?

If a person believes the Bible, then the answer to this question is Yes.  God does afflict people because of their sin. God maims, sickens, and kills people, all because they violated one or more of his laws. No disobedience is too trivial for the thrice-holy God to punish. Remember Uzzah, the man who broke God’s law by touching the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-clad chest containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna ? David  commanded the Ark be moved by cart from one place to another. As it was being moved, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Fearing that the Ark would topple over, Uzzah, a Levite, reached out to steady the Ark. God rewarded Uzzah for his saintly effort by striking him dead.

In the Old Testament,  God is shown using affliction and destruction to either make a point or to get someone to do what he wants them to do. God is definitely a hands-on kind of deity, punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. In the New Testament, we are told God often afflicts Christians to test or make them stronger. Sometimes, God uses heartache and tragedy to get Christians’ attention. I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his warnings.

Then there are the times that God maims, afflicts, or kills people because he wants them to give praise and glory to his name. God, ever the adoration-seeking narcissist, will go to great lengths to get people to worship him. In the still of the night, God comes into the bedroom of the infant daughter of Christians Bobby and Isabelle. Is God there to admire the beautiful little girl? Perhaps he wants to tell her that she will some day grow up and be a woman greatly used by God. Sadly, on this night God had a more sinister plan in mind. He reaches into the crib and puts his nail-pierced hand over the baby’s mouth and quietly suffocates the child to death. Why would a supposedly loving, caring, and kind God do such a thing? For no other reason than come morning he wants the dead child’s parents to give praise and glory to his name. No explanation will be forthcoming. Bobby and Isabelle will be expected to act as if their daughter’s death is all part of God’s wonderful plan for their life.

Christians believe God is the creator of the universe, and as the Sovereign ruler he has complete and absolute control over everything. When Christians face sickness, disaster, or the loss of a loved one, they are reminded by their pastor and friends that God is bigger than their circumstances. Just trust God, they are told. Surely, he is using your troubles to make you stronger and draw you closer to him.  Suffering Christians might even be asked to search their hearts for some sort of secret sin that lies buried deep within. Perhaps God is trying to get them to acknowledge and forsake this secret sin.

The things I have mentioned above are some of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. What kind of God operates in this manner? Of course, I am sure someone will tell me: Bruce, how dare you question God! For many Christians, God is above reproach. Even when he acts like a psychopath, God is given a free pass. After all, the Christian says, his ways are not our ways. We must trust and believe that God knows best.

Sadly, many Christians are so disconnected from reality that they cannot or will not see things as they are.  If a mere human did what the Bible says God did, he  would be tried before a world tribunal for crimes against humanity. And I have no doubt that he  would be convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. Perhaps God deserves the same judgment and punishment.

It’s better to believe that shit happens in life, no God necessary. People get sick, face untold suffering, and die. Through genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, people are afflicted with all kinds of diseases. In many cases, these diseases are what will eventually kill them. It’s far better to believe that this is how life is than   to think that there is a God in Heaven set on afflicting us for our sin or because he needs his ego stroked.

The liberal Christian is likely to scream foul and say, God is love.  Yes, according to the Bible, God is love,  but he is also everything else I have mentioned in this post. To liberal Christians I say, please take off your blinders and read ALL of the Bible. Ignoring the portions of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or make God look like a mean, vindictive, son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t change the fact that those passages ARE in the Bible. If these accounts are not to be accepted as an accurate description of God and how he operates, why should we then be expected to believe that God is love or that Jesus is who and what Christians claim he is? Where’s the instruction manual for playing the pick-and-choose Bible Game®? From my seat in the atheist pew, it looks like Christians are just making up the rules as they go.

If God is unchanging and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then Christians have no other option but to accept God as he is described in the Bible. If Christians are unwilling to do so, then they need to be honest and admit that they have fashioned a God in their own image. Either that or Christians must admit that the Bible is not a divine book; that it is just a work of fiction written by men thousands of years ago.

For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way I believed God was either punishing me for sin, making me stronger, or teaching me a lesson. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, no matter what came my way I continued to endure and run the race set before me.

My wife and I are quite matter of fact about life. This drives some people crazy, but we have been deeply influenced by Christianity and its belief that we are to bear whatever adversity comes our way. We believed for most of our adult lives  that God was faithful and would never give us more than we could bear. This kind of thinking can make someone quite passive about life. Since God is behind everything, the Christian is expected to keep trusting and believing right up to the moment they draw their last breath. No kicking, no screaming, no defiance. Just a sweet, thank you Jesus smile as they are carried away by angels to Heaven.

This kind of thinking makes people less human. It often robs them of their will, their desire to live. Many Christians are like the Apostle Paul who wished he could die and go to a better place. After all, according to the Bible, this world is such a sinful, wicked place that death becomes the sweet release.  But what if Christians are wrong about life, suffering, and death?  Let me use here what I call reverse Pascal’s Wager. What IF this life is all the Christian has? What if death really is the end? Shouldn’t  Christians want to enjoy THIS life to its fullest? Wouldn’t they want to live every moment of every day in such a way that reflects the brevity and finality of their life? Instead of living according to the notion that they are most miserable if this is all there is, how about seeing that life is a great a blessing even if there is no afterlife.

Despite the physical struggles, pain, and debility that dominate my life, I am grateful to be counted among the living. I’m not ready to become worm food, nor am I ready for people to say lies about me at my funeral. I refuse to go “gentle” into the night (Dylan Thomas, Do Not God Gentle Into that Good Night). I will not stand like a lemming in line waiting for the Wraith to come and turn me into food. Life is worth living and I don’t need the promise of eternal life to make it so. And I sure as hell don’t need to concern myself with thoughts of a mythical, sin-punishing God who finds some sort of perverse pleasure in pulling the wings off his creation.

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