Science

Where is the God Who Created the Brain-eating Amoeba?

lauren seitz

Lauren Seitz

Several weeks ago, Lauren Seitz, 18, traveled with her church youth group to North Carolina to sing at churches and nursing homes. Seitz, a member of Church of the Messiah United Methodist Church in Westerville, Ohio’s youth music ministry team, planned to attend nearby Denison University in the fall. Instead, thanks to Seitz contracting primary amoebic meningoencephalitis — an infection caused by a rare “brain-eating” amoeba, Seitz’s parents are forced to bury their daughter. (Channel 4 report)  I can only imagine the heartache such a loss must cause. No parents ever want to face the death of their child. My heart aches for Seitz’s parents, sister, and extended family.

When I read stories such as this one, I ask myself, where is God? In Lauren Seitz’s case, I ask, where is the Creator God who created the brain-eating amoeba that cost Seitz her life?  While I have no doubt that Seitz’s parents, family, and fellow church members will find great comfort from the countless religious platitudes that will be uttered, I hope they will dare to ask hard questions about God’s culpability in Seitz’s death. If the Christian God exists, he created the amoeba that caused the infection that killed Lauren Seitz. This same God is supposedly the supreme sovereign over everything, yet he allowed a rare “brain-eating” amoeba to enter Seitz’s brain and kill her. Surely, it is a fair question to ask WHY? What could possibly be gained from snuffing out the life of Lauren Seitz, or any other child for that matter.

All the standard answers will be given:

  • We must never question God.
  • God’s ways are not our ways.
  • God plans to use this death to test and try Seitz’s parents, family members, or fellow church members.
  • All things work together for good.

These and other shallow, meaningless answers will be brought forth, all meant to exonerate God from culpability in the death of Lauren Seitz.

If Christians dare to push beyond these empty answers, daring to shake an angry, questioning fist at God, perhaps the silence they hear will tell them all they need to know about their God. The Christian God, according to the Bible, does not owe anyone an answer. When the Apostle Paul dealt with this issue in the book of Romans, he stated, who are you to question God. He is the creator and he can do whatever the fuck he wants to do. Okay, Paul didn’t say fuck, but his message is clear, God is the Creator. He does not owe us an explanation for what he does. He is the Almighty and we are but cretins who will soon be turned into worm food or dust.

But perhaps God’s silence tells us something else. Perhaps this God is a figment of the imagination, a relic of days when humans had no explanations for what happened in their lives. We now know better. Scientists can tell us exactly what killed Lauren Seitz and why. What we are then left with is the fact that life can be cruel, causing untold suffering and death. For Seitz, she inhaled water that allowed an amoeba a quick pathway to her brain. Wrong place, wrong time — a wonderful, thoughtful young woman dies. Heartless, I know my words here are harsh, but they reflect life as it is, not as Christians, by faith, hope it will be.

Songs of Sacrilege: I Love Jesus by Tim Minchin

tim minchin

This is the one hundred and twentieth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song 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 send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is I Love Jesus by Tim Minchin.

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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.

Religion, Shame, and the Loss of Identity

guest-post

Guest post by Melody

Psychology has always interested me. What makes people tick? That particular question, I find very intriguing. Therefore, I sometimes like reading articles or books about psychology and human behavior. During my de-conversion journey, one book stood out, and it is that book, along with two others that I would like to discuss (only in part) as they relate to the theme of religion and shame. The book is called: Healing the Shame that Binds You, by John Bradshaw. The other two books are 1984 by George Orwell and The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. (That last one I saw mentioned on Bruce’s blog once in the comments. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, as it’s a great read!)

The interesting thing is that, although they’re totally different books, part of what each discusses does overlap — when it comes to religion (or ideology) and shame, that is. There can be thousands of reasons why people believe, but one of them can be to dispel shame. Or to put it another way, to not have to be a person yourself, but to lose yourself and your identity in/to a higher cause, a loftier goal or purpose. I first encountered this idea in Bradshaw’s book and found it very interesting. I felt as if I recognized myself, my father, and so many others in it:

“There is a religious script, which contains the standards of holiness and righteous behavior. These standards dictate how to talk, how to dress, walk and behave in almost every situation. (…) In such a script one is taught how to act loving and righteous. It’s actually more important to act loving and righteous than to be loving and righteous. The feeling of righteousness and acting sanctimoniously are wonderful ways to mood alter toxic shame. They are often ways to interpersonally transfer one’s shame to others.” (Bradshaw 66)

You don’t have to think for yourself because God and the Bible and the church will give you all the rules you need. You don’t have to be a genuine person that way, which means you also cannot fail or be rejected as an actual person. Rejection can be about your faith, for instance, which will only confirm that you walk the right and narrow path.

On the one hand, this script felt really good for me. Bradshaw even calls it religious addiction. It was a sort of guideline in knowing how to live and behave and a also way to be safe, but on the other hand, it felt like I couldn’t be a real person as there was not much space for individuality.

Although he himself is a believer, Bradshaw criticizes religion severely. According to him, original sin, hell and a punitive God are recipes for disaster. One can’t win with original sin, and man is seen as “totally flawed and defective. Of himself he can only sin. Man is shame-based to the core.” (Bradshaw 65) “There is nothing man can do that is of any value. Of himself, man is a worm. Only when God works through him does man become restored to dignity. But it’s never anything that man does of himself.” (Bradshaw 65)

The same idea becomes visible in 1984: “You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” (Orwell 269) In a true totalitarian system with God, or Big Brother, watching over you, you cannot be an individual. You have to be similar to everyone else, and in being so, you find that your identity merges with the ideas of religion or your environment or choice. In 1984 people dress the same, think the same, act the same. There is no shame because there is no individual identity. There is also no autonomy or responsibility because there is no individual identity. The Party carries all that for you.

Winston’s (the main character) shame is in having his own thoughts and feelings; he cannot adapt and follow the rules completely. He follows the rules but it ultimately proves to be impossible because even his thoughts are not his own. He cannot help but rebel and think logically from time to time. “That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better,” he realizes too late. (Orwell 275) Complete surrender is the ultimate goal of his torturer, who sees himself as a priest of sorts: “It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world.” (Orwell 267) Individual voices are not appreciated: God’s, or the Party’s, or the ideology’s voice has to be the one and only voice that is heard.

In The True Believer various religions and ideologies are discussed, such as Christianity, Islam, Communism and Nazism. The book is about the similarities between them, not in substance or teachings, but in the process/formation of the movements, in their recruitment and how/why they grow. Why do people join these mass movements? What kinds of people join? What does a true believer look like (psychologically)?

Some themes that I’ve already mentioned recur here, such as the loss of responsibilities.

Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. (…) Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden (…) We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or in the words of the ardent young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom.’ It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility? (Hoffer 31)

It is not hard to compare this line of thinking to Christians defending hell or their opposition to, say, same-sex-marriage. These are not their own opinions, after all — it is God’s will. They don’t choose these (harsh) positions themselves, they merely follow God’s lead. They are not responsible, God is.

Related to this, and to shame, is the following: “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” (Hoffer 14) ”The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.” (Hoffer 14) And this is exactly how the Party members in 1984 behave: they may be nothing (special) themselves but their country and Party are everything, are the Answer, much as Jesus or other religious leaders are the Answer.

Another interesting characteristic of true believers, according to Hoffer, is their hope. True bitter people don’t hope for a better world (any more) but believers do. They may not have necessarily have hope in themselves but they do believe in the hope that their belief, ideology or leader brings. “One of the most potent attractions of a mass movement is its offering of a substitute for individual hope.” (Hoffer 15)

“Mass movements are usually accused of doping their followers with hope of the future while cheating them of the enjoyment of the present. Yet to the frustrated the present is irremediably spoiled.” (Hoffer 15) Whether that hope is a heaven promised by priests and pastors or is an ideological utopia of sorts promised by politicians, it is still to come. It is about the future, not the present. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t here yet: that way the promises can remain promising.

I found it very interesting how three such different books still dealt with similar themes and ideas and how they complemented each other. There is so much to unpack when you leave a religion and begin to see the world and the people in it in a different light, that it is very helpful to encounter new ideas and ways of thinking.

I think my conclusion is that, although religion and ideology can play a huge role in one’s life, we are still people, first and foremost. We are unique human beings who may have ideas in common with lots of other people (and there is nothing wrong with that) but who don’t need to become the embodiment of those ideas. Or as Jesus would say: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Religion and ideology can serve us as ideas, as a way to talk about important issues, but that’s it. They are meant to serve us, not we to serve them. They can be tools or destinations, but when they become an identity, especially a core identity, they can hide and diminish our own unique voices.

It’s good to have glasses with which to view the world, but it is also advisable to change to a different pair every once in a while and see the world in a whole new light.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Bruce for posting this post!

Books mentioned in this post:

1984 by George Orwell

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw

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.

 

Questions From an Evangelical Pastor

i have a question

Recently, Joel Yoon, the Covenant Theological Seminary-trained pastor of Gospel City Church in Seoul, South Korea, sent me a thoughtful email containing several questions. Since Joel was polite, I thought I would take a stab at his questions. Joel wrote:

I find your blog fascinating! I am a pastor and I stumbled across your website through a random google search. I would like to ask you a question and I believe it doesn’t fall in the category of any questions you wouldn’t want to discuss.

I read that your walk away from Evangelical Christianity was largely based on you understanding of Scripture. In addition, it seems that not only did your faith unravel due to your view of Scripture, but your blog also seems to reveal that you now have resentment towards Christianity. My question to you is twofold:

Are there parts of Evangelical Christianity that you still appreciate? If so, could you share why?

As an agnostic and practical atheist, is there any part of life that makes you question your views or at least makes you curious about a deity? If so, what would that be?

In order to better understand where I’m coming from, let me share why I ask this: Granted, my theological beliefs give me a bias, I’ve always found it hard to believe the world we have now was created simply by chance. I’m not even arguing against The Big Bang theory or evolution. I’ve just saying that in some sense, I’ve found it harder to be an atheist when I see and experience this world. For example, learning more about the complexities and the beauties of this world, or thinking about and experiencing love, or just even the whole idea of pregnancy, birth and life, these areas of life have made me feel like one needs more faith to not believe in God than to believe in him. So I was wondering, with your journey from being so deeply embedded in a Judeo-Christian worldview — and now a staunch agnostic/atheist —  is there anything that makes you even a little bit curious?

My abandonment of Christianity primarily rests on my rejection of the Bible as an inspired, authoritative text. I think it is impossible to be a Christian and not, to some degree, believe the Bible is God’s Word. Since I came to understand that the Bible was an errant, fallible, contradictory text, there was no possible way I could continue to call myself a Christian. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically reject all the beliefs that are the foundation of Christian orthodoxy.  I realize that some people are able to reduce the Bible to God is love and Jesus love me too, but I was unable to do so. Christianity, along with its sister religions Islam and Judaism, are text-based religions. I can’t imagine a Christianity without some sort of fidelity to the written Biblical text.

That said, my deconversion certainly had an emotional component. This was not clear to me at first, but I now can see that my loss of faith started when I began looking for a Christianity that mattered. Over time, I became disaffected, realizing that regardless of what name might be over the door, churches are all pretty much the same — social clubs focused on meeting the needs of its members and improving club enrollment. Does this mean, as Joel suggests, that I have resentment towards Christianity? Not in the least.

Not all Christianities are created equal. I generally think that liberal and progressive Christianity is benign, doing little to no harm to unbelievers. While I have a different set of problems with liberal Christianity, I don’t think being part of such churches harms people. I cannot say the same for Evangelicalism. Evangelical Christianity is inherently Fundamentalist, and Fundamentalism is a cancer that must be eradicated wherever it is found. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)  I am well aware of the fact that Evangelicalism is a somewhat  broad tent, but I am of the opinion that Evangelical belief and practice can and does cause psychological damage and results in intellectual stagnation. Does this mean I am resentful? I don’t think so. It does mean, however, that I do have strong opinions about Evangelicalism. When doubting Evangelicals ask for my advice I usually encourage them to seek kinder, gentler forms of faith. There are sects and churches that promote diversity and tolerance. These sects often encourage unencumbered intellectual inquiry. Evangelical churches cannot do so because they are bound by their interpretations of the Bible. Since I place great value on reason and intellectual pursuit, I could never in good conscience recommend people attend Evangelical churches. Both McDonald’s and the local gastropub serve hamburgers, but that’s where the similarity ends. I view Evangelicalism as McDonald’s. If you have never eaten any other hamburger but a Big Mac, you will never know how good the burgers are down at the gastropub. Once people eat a real hamburger, they will never want to eat a Big Mac again. So it is for Evangelicals. Until they venture outside of the safe confines of their little box, they have no idea about the wonders (and dangers) that await them. (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.) Once free of the constraints of their Bible box, people rarely return. They don’t necessarily become atheists, but they also don’t return, to use a bit of Biblical imagery, to Egypt — the house of onions and bondage. Once freed Evangelicals realize that the potential paths to freedom, happiness, and fulfillment are many, they rarely return to their former beliefs.

Joel asks “Are there parts of Evangelical Christianity that you still appreciate?”  I think what he means to ask is, are there aspects of Christianity that I miss? Professionally, I miss preaching and teaching. Personally, I miss the communal aspects of being part of a church —  things such as dinners, banquets, and social activities. As atheists, my wife and I are, at times, lonely. We are two pebbles in the Evangelical Sea. While my wife is quiet about her lack of faith, I am not. I regularly write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, challenging Evangelicals who write letters about evolution and creationism, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Christian nationalism, or whatever “sin” is stuck in their craw. (Please see my two latest letters, Letter to the Editor: Is the Bible the Objective Standard of Morality?  and Letter to the Editor: Evangelical Hysteria Over Transgender Bathroom Use) I am a public figure who is widely known as THE atheist. Local Evangelical outrage over my letters has proved to be quite an eye-opener, a reminder of the fact that Christian food, fun, and fellowship is predicated on right belief. Because we are unwilling to bow to Jesus, my wife and I must live with the fact that we are not going to have very many local friends. We are, however, grateful for the countless people we have met and befriended through this blog and social media.

I will assume that Joel is using the word “God” to signify the Christian God or the Evangelical God. Do I have any doubts or questions about my rejection of THIS God? No, not in the least. I have weighed this God in the balances and found him/her/it wanting (Daniel 5:27). I have been an atheist for almost eight years. During this time, scores of Evangelicals have tried and failed to show me the error of my way. I think I can safely say that I have heard every Christian argument there is for the existence of God and the veracity of Christianity and its supposedly supernatural religious text. None of these arguments has proved to be compelling. I have concluded that the Christian God is a human fiction, brought to life centuries ago by men attempting to explain their understanding of the world. Science has reduced the Bible to a Cliff Notes-sized book of ancient interesting stories and spiritual sayings. It has very little to say regarding life in the 21st century. I certainly would not use the Bible as some sort of road map or blueprint. Does the Bible have value? Sure, but having spent most of my life reading and studying the Bible, I can’t imagine what more I could possibly glean from its pages. Unlike Evangelicals, I do not think the Bible is an inexhaustible well of wisdom and truth. Having read the Bible from cover to cover more times than I can count, I think I can safely move on to other books. Evangelical Rousas Rushdoony once said, most books aren’t worth reading once let alone twice. So it is with the Bible.

I have numerous friends who are liberal Christians, universalists, and deists. I readily admit that I think someone can look at the biological world and the wonders of the cosmos and conclude that some sort of deistic God set things into motion. However, I fail to see any possible way to get from there being A GOD to that deity being the God revealed in the Christian Bible. Any attempts made to bridge these two only raise more questions. Why the Christian God and not any of the other Gods humans worship?  Perhaps some unknown God created everything. Maybe, just maybe, earth is some sort of lab experiment for an unknown advanced alien race. Why do Evangelicals so quickly shut off their minds to any possible explanations but the ones they hear Sunday after Sunday at their houses of worship? (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) As atheists such as myself point out, Evangelicals are every bit as godless as atheists when it comes to other religions. I will assume that Joel thinks certain religious beliefs are false. If so, doesn’t this mean that he is atheistic towards these no-God religions? The only difference between the Joel and me is that I am atheistic towards one God more than he is.

Neither Christians or atheists can give a satisfactory answer to the various questions that have plagued man from the first moment he looked skyward and pondered the question, where did THAT come from? Evangelicals believe that their God is the first cause of everything. They can provide no empirical data for this claim. Either you believe it or you don’t. Evangelicals, by faith (Hebrews 11), believe their God is everything. Atheists look to science to give them answers about the universe and human existence. As the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate made clear, science is willing to say, we don’t know, but we keep looking for answers. Evangelicals, on the other hand, appeal to the Bible. God said _______________, end of discussion. Ham repeatedly appealed to the Bible, a book he believes teaches the universe was created in six 24-hour days, 6,021 years ago. Science says the universe is billions of years old and that it likely came into existence through what we call the Big Bang. This, of course, is not a definitive, final answer. That’s what is so great about science: questions continue to be asked and theories are constantly being rejected or modified. I know of no better way to understand our world. Saying, God says or the Bible says no longer works. We now know too much to return to the ignorance found within the pages of the Bible. That Evangelicals continue to reject what science tells us about our world is troublesome and a hindrance to human progress.

I have often wondered how differently things might have turned out for me had I been raised in another manner. Suppose I had been raised a Presbyterian and went to Harvard instead of an Evangelical Bible college? What if I had been taught to value the sciences and rigorous intellectual inquiry? Would I still have ended up where I am today? I don’t know. Alas, little is to be gained from pondering what might have been. I am where I am and I am comfortable with the path that has led me to this point in time. I have many fond memories from the 50 years I spent in the Christian church and the 25 years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to help other people. In many ways, I am still a pastor, doing what I can to help others. The difference of course, is that there are no threats of hell or promises of heaven. The humanist ideal now motivates me to help all living things. No longer concerned with what lies beyond the grave, my focus is on helping fellow travelers make the best of this life. As a father of six children and grandfather to eleven, I want to use the what time I have left to make this world a better place in which to live. Things such as global warming, climate change, war, and Donald Trump threaten my progeny’s future. I owe it to them to do what I can to leave to them a better world, one not ravaged by religious ignorance, hubris, and greed. I also want to leave for them a testimony of sorts; of a man who lived a good life without God; a man who was loving, respectful, and kind. If I accomplish these things, it will be said of me, he did what he could.

Intelligent Design’s Missing Link: The Naughty Little Secret of Creation Science

guest-post

Guest post by Dane Fletcher (pseudonym)

Christians play the theory of intelligent design like a philosophical checkmate. It’s chronic actually. Like chest-thumping silverbacks theistic ideologues in my corner of the cosmos swear that “design science” steals the origins debate.

I’ve been a committed, evangelical believer for over forty years. (I’m no outsider just hurling rhetorical stones.) The last ten years I’ve been a full-time pastor. And in that time I’ve found that us fundamentalist types worship our theological certainties nearly as much as we do our God.

And when we’re not worshiping them we’re wielding them like some kind of sacred bludgeon — but I digress.

I’ve seen it! (And done it.)

Christian Pep Rallies

On any given Sunday evangelical leaders will trot out their design science experts to cacophonous “Amen!” choruses. I’ve witnessed the committed masses nearly swoon over Ben Stein’s Expelled. Bring in apologist hero de jour, Michael Behe, and you’ll pack the place.

It’s preaching to the choir at best.

Believers already buy into the arguments; they’re sold. Further, in my experience these events have little to do with education or with understanding the relevant arguments.

They’re about confirmation. They’re about reinforcing what the conservative, evangelical faithful already believe.

They’re Christian pep rallies more than they are honest, scientific inquiries. I’m not mocking. I sympathize with the creationist mindset that undergirds the fundamentalist’s faith.

In fact, I know it very well.

Everywhere I Looked

As an evangelical believer I saw God — everywhere. (My version of God, of course.) Every time I felt small under a starry sky I just “knew” God was there. Every time I trembled at the majesty of a lightning flash; every time I stood silenced by a roaring ocean; every time I cradled an infant or marveled at a sunset—everywhere I looked — I saw convincing evidence for God…for my God.

I suspect I’m not alone.

Even the garden-variety Christian snobbishly contends that her 21st century, fundamentalist, evangelical, contemporary-pop, western, Judeo-Christian version of the creator is the only game in town.

Even more, she’s certain that just about everything she sees proves it. It’s a lesson in confirmation bias for sure. (But that’s a post for another day.)

Here’s the problem: every religion that boasts a creation story believes the same thing! Every sycophant that stumps for a creator — any creator — is certain the existence of the universe proves her highly specialized version of God.

Everyone observes the same universe, but…

Christians think, “Jesus did it!”

Jews believe, “Jehovah did it!”

Muslims insist, “It was Allah!”

And on, and on, and on…

Which Creator?

Same universe, same evidence — opposing creators. Every believer interprets the evidence through the tinged-with-bias lens of their peculiar religion. As such, we see what we want to see. We see what we expect to see.

We see our rendition of a creator.

And why not? I mean, what gives Christian fundies the keys to the kingdom? If Christians can claim the cosmos as proof — why can’t the competition? In the end, however, every religion has as much proof that their specific god(s) created everything as do aliens from another galaxy.

None.

The universe bears no particular authorial stamp. But that doesn’t stop the faithful. They’ll argue their pet theory as if the Almighty himself signed the cosmos like some celestial da Vinci signing the Mona Lisa.

For many of the faithful, this is a new thought. (And it’s a risky thought.) If the seeming design of the cosmos isn’t proof of any specific deity the entire Intelligent Design argument is moot…at least as it relates to validating any specific god(s).

The Missing Link

So, what’s the naughty little secret? What’s intelligent design’s missing link? It’s simply this: Whatever intelligent design may prove — it does not prove enough.

Believers image that it does — but it doesn’t.

It’s smoke and mirrors for sure. Maybe those in the know we’re hoping nobody would notice that their precious intelligent design argument is a few bricks shy of a full load.

Some Christians are so certain that the intricacy of the universe validates their version of God that even suggesting otherwise is like denying gravity.

But here’s the thing…even if it’s true, even if we concede that the existence of the universe sufficiently validates the notion of intelligent design, what does it prove? (It could be used to prove a lot, I suppose.) What it does not prove, however, is that the God of Christianity is the designer.

To get from proving intelligent design to proving the specific identity of the designer(s) the believer must supply several missing links. Proving intelligent design just does not prove evangelicalism’s (or any other isms for that matter) version of God.

When I first admitted this it was a game-changer.

I had to confess that many of the proofs I used to validate my faith were no proof at all. And as far as specific religions go… the design argument equally validates every one of them that claims a creator.
It devastated me when I realized that I could no longer count on the universe to validate my faith. With all of its intricacy, beauty and wonder, I had to admit that I could not consistently and honestly claim the cosmos as proof of my God.

I realized that I had one set of rules with which I judged my faith and a different, stricter set with which I judged all others. How could I consistently claim the cosmos as my God’s handiwork when I had no more evidence of the fact than anyone else?

I couldn’t.

These days, I’m learning to write my “beliefs” in pencil rather than etching them in stone. Have your own experience or opinion? — please, share it.  Give someone else the opportunity to think a new thought!

Thanks for reading!

Scott Gillis Plans to Show Local Evangelicals that Evolution is a Lie

creation ad

While there are certainly Evangelicals who are theistic evolutionists — a strange mix of theology and science — most Evangelicals are creationists. Despite a century and a half of scientific progress, most Evangelicals still believe that Genesis 1-3 accurately, literally, and absolutely describes how the universe came to be. While some Evangelicals are old earth creationists, subscribing to either the gap theory or the belief that God created an aged universe, most Evangelicals  believe that God created the universe in six 24 hour days, 6,021 years ago.  Here in rural Northwest Ohio, I suspect the majority of people believe in creationism.

On Sunday May 1st, Scott Gillis and  Creation Ministries International (CMI)  traveling carnival roadshow will be peddling ignorance at Solid Rock Community Church in West Unity, Ohio. According to a Bryan Times advertisement, Gillis will answer questions such as this:

  • Does God exist?
  • How can anyone believe in religion when science has neither a need nor a place for God?
  • Is evolution happening today?
  • If God is a God of love, why do we suffer and die?

According to the advertisement, Gillis will “expose the bankruptcy of the evolutionary myth.”  He also plans to explain how “the scientific evidence, when properly understood, confirms the details of the biblical account.”

In the end, as Ken Ham made clear in his debate with Bill Nye, for Evangelicals, the final answer to every question is THE BIBLE SAYS!

And Scott Gillis? Is he a scientist? Of course not. Gillis has a B.A. in Religious Studies from Oregon State University. According to CMI’s website:

His (Gillis) education still left him with doubts regarding the inconsistencies between evolution, science, world history, and a straight-forward reading of the Bible.

Years later, a friend who was a paleontologist demonstrated to him how scientific evidence actually makes more sense when interpreted within the clear context of the Bible’s account of history. This, along with Creation magazine, ignited a blaze in Scott to seek answers to the nagging doubts that plagued him. Once he realized that science and the Bible were not at odds with each other, he experienced a sustained joy, a renewed commitment to the Word of God, as well as a bold desire to share this life-changing message with others.

Scott now uses this conviction to impact our culture with easy-to-understand presentations that uphold the authority of God’s Word and is one of CMI–US’s most effective and popular speakers. Scott also desires to challenge others to equip themselves to be ready with answers (1 Peter 3:15) to impact their world.

Creationism has never been about science. It is a theological system of belief rooted in Biblical inerrancy and a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. According to creationists,  every question can be reduced to the printed words found in the Protestant Bible. God has spoken….end of discussion.

Notes

CMI doctrinal statement

cmi doctrinal beliefs

I thought this was a hoot.

cmi atheist