Tag Archives: Death

Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

In a recent Gospel Coalition article, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie, the good Calvinist she is, wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead person of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works and good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour, Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not, her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friends life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration of life, Philistines when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased, that is if they were a Christian, my main focus was preaching the gospel. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no consequence. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

Published: April 15, 2014 | Comments: 6

It Can’t Be For Nothing

mind games

The other night I was watching the TV show Mind Games and Clark, played by Steve Zahn, had a discussion with a client that was emotionally distraught over his culpability in the death of his brother.

The young man said to Clark:

Why did Michael die? It can’t be for nothing!

We all want to think our life matters. We all want to think that when someone dies tragically or unexpectedly that their death had some sort of meaning. (see God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?) It is hard for us to embrace the reality that our life, outside of those we love, doesn’t matter much. We like to think that our death will have some meaning or that in dying a greater good is accomplished, but the truth is most of us will live, die, and in a generation or two be little more than a faint memory or an entry in genealogy chart.

Only a handful of people ever make it to the pages of the history books, and those who do will likely have their life covered in a couple of paragraphs. The rest of us will live, hopefully enjoy a good, peaceable, long life, and then we will die. If we are buried in a cemetery there will be a marker memorializing our life, but, in time, the marker will fade and will one day become unreadable. For those who us who will be cremated when we die, there will be no marker, our ashes will be scattered, and outside of the memories our children and grandchildren have and the little trinkets of our life we leave them in our will,  our life will fade away.

We spend a lot of time talking about making our mark in life, about making a difference, about making the world a better place. These are wonderful ideas, but I fear that we easily are deceived about our status and importance. People tell us how vital and important we are; why life couldn’t go on without us.  If we are lucky, the local newspaper will write a glowing obituary about our life. Those who know us will read it and think what a great person we were. But quicker than the newspaper is placed in the bottom of the birdcage, they will move on with their lives, and decades later we will be but a faint memory, a story told at Christmas and on Mother’s/Father’s Day.

Smart is the person who sees themselves as they are. Pride, arrogance, and an inflated view of self and our value to the human race deludes us into thinking that we are something we are not. Humility and realism keep such thoughts of grandeur in check.

Bruce, man you are a real bummer today! No, just a realist. Yes, I want my life to matter, yes I want to make a difference, yes I want to be remembered generations from now, but I know better, and unless I become president or a serial killer, I know that a few decades from now I will be forgotten. My children may swear to me as I am dying that they will never forget me, but I know that they will, in time, move on with their life, making new memories with the living.

My Dad’s parents died 50 years ago. My Mom’s Mom died 20 years ago. Dad died 27 years ago and Mom died 23 years ago. While I miss them dearly, the only time I remember them is when I look at a picture or I am talking with a family member about the past. They are all dead, never to walk again on this earth. I am still alive and my life continues to move forward until it too will be no more.

Clark reassured the young man that his brother’s death wasn’t for nothing, and as he said this I smiled and shook my head. I know better and so does Clark.

Notes

And the power of religion lies in the fact that it gives people meaning and purpose and a promise that they will live on after death. It doesn’t matter whether life after death is true. All that matters is that people think it is. A topic of discussion for another day is whether thoughts of the afterlife keeps people from living the only life they will ever have. Instead of enjoying this life they offload enjoying it in hope of  a future  divine payoff.

Published: March 20, 2014 | Comments: 7

Abortion, Euthanasia, Hell, Marriage, and the Problem of Evil

question

A regular commenter by the name of Scott asked me to comment on:

  • Abortion
  • Euthanasia
  • Hell
  • Marriage
  • The Problem of Evil

Scott describes himself as:

Spoken by a closet unchristianising (??) Reformed doubter (sorry believer) of 40+yrs, who still gets something out of Christianity although I never tell those around me where I’m really at….

Those of us who have deconverted from Christianity can readily understand where Scott is right now. It’s like standing in the middle of a busy highway with traffic coming at you from both directions. Do I go this way, that way…if I go the wrong way I am sure to be hit by the traffic. The good news is Scott understands where he is and he continues to read, ask questions, and consider carefully what direction he should go.

While I will certainly not be able to give each of these subjects the time they deserve, I do want to take a stab at them. If I have written on the subject before, I will link to the appropriate post.

Abortion

I have written on abortion previously, Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions.  At one time, I was an ardent life begins at conception, abortion is murder, pro-lifer.  As my politics became more liberal so did my view on abortion. While I agree with the pro-lifer that we should protect human life, I disagree with them on when that life begins. Does life begin at fertilization? The pro-lifer says yes and I say no. At the moment of fertilization potential life is created and if left undisturbed it may grow into a human that can exist outside of the womb of its mother.

The line for me is viability. Once a fetus reaches the point that it can live outside of the mother’s womb, then government should regulate when an abortion is permissible. This would mean that 1.5-5% of abortions would be regulated by federal/state government.

The bigger issue is making sure that there is no need for abortion, and here the United States we must put an end to the Christian/Political right’s incessant war on abortion. They want to prohibit all abortion, yet they are also against woman/teens having free access to birth control. Their religious beliefs get in the way of what should be sound government policy; free birth control, including morning after drugs, for all.

Euthanasia

My position on euthanasia (physician assisted suicide) is quite simple. I think a person who is mentally competent should be able to determine how and when they die. I do think the government should regulate the who, what, and why of the discussion, but every person should have the right to say, I don’t want to live anymore.

This subject became a real topic of discussion recently when we had to have our cat euthanized. I decided to let Polly and our youngest daughter handle Salazar and his declining health. For several weeks, I reminded them that he was suffering, that it was “time.” They just couldn’t bring themselves to make to the call. Finally, I realized they never were going to make the call so I said, call the vet, it is time. Once I made the decision, they were relieved and quickly acted upon my decision.

This taught me an important lesson and it caused me to rethink my end-of-life plans. If Polly can’t make the hard decision to euthanize a cat, how can I expect Polly to make the right call when it comes my time to die? (and I am not criticizing her here. I am simply being a realist)  While I have an advance directive, I have decided to add my two oldest sons to the list of those to be involved in my end-of-life decisions. Polly knows what I want, she knows at what point I no longer want to suffer with pain, but I don’t know if she can or will do what I want her to do. So, I think having my two oldest sons as part of the process will be a great help for Polly when the end of life comes for me.

I see no value, in fact I think it is cruel and inhumane, to require someone to suffer until the bitter end. I think Christian teaching on suffering, which permeates our society,  promotes needless pain and suffering, and vilifies those who want to end their own life. It is my life not God’s or the church’s, and, as a free moral agent, I should have the right to determine when, where and how I die. Because I write about chronic illness and chronic pain from time to time, there are a lot of sickies who read this blog. I suspect most of them want when, where, and how they die to be in their hands. They don’t want the government or religious do-gooders to get in the way of them negotiating their own death.

Hell

I have written several posts on the subject of hell, Do You Still Fear Going to Hell?, Dear Christian, If You Believe There is a Hell, Learning to Face Death.

The only hell is the hell that human beings and nature causes. Since I don’t think there is an afterlife, I have no thoughts of eternal life in hell or heaven. We live, we die, end of story.  The only hell and heaven we have is in this life, so my goal is to lessen the hell and expand the heaven.

I know that shaking thoughts of hell can be very hard for someone who no longer believes. Remember, these thoughts are just vestiges from your religious past. I call them a fundamentalist hangover. Over time, as our minds are cleared of mythical and harmful religious beliefs, thoughts of hell, heaven, and the afterlife fade away. What matters is now, this life, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Of course, you need to decide this for yourself. I don’t want to be in hell someday and have a reader of this blog come up to me and say, So much for listening to you, Bruce!

Marriage

Polly and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary in July. I am a happily married man 99% of the time and I think Polly and I are a great match for each other. I love her dearly and I don’t regret for one moment asking her to marry me. Our marriage is quite traditional, not much different from the marriages of our parent’s generation.

That said, what I may like about marriage or what I think is a good marriage might be different for someone else. So, from a legal and social perspective, I think marriage is a legal contract between two people. The government regulates the legal parameters of marriage. Culture, religion, and personal beliefs regulate the moral and practical structure of a marriage. I don’t think the government has any business, outside of setting the age for marriage and determining whether a person can marry someone they have a familial connection with, determining who can and can not marry.

35 years ago, Polly and I stood before our family and friends and said our vows. We made a commitment to each other and we expect each other to keep the terms of our commitment (contract). (though how we define these commitments has changed over the years) But, our commitment should not be the standard for anyone else. Each couple must decide what the terms of their contract is. Polly and I committed ourselves to a monogamous relationship, as I suspect most Americans do. But, different strokes for different folks. Some couples have an open marriage or their marriage is bound by economic, social, or political terms rather than physical/sexual terms.

The Problem of Evil

I think Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, is an excellent read on this subject.

The problem of evil (theodicy) is one of the primary reasons I deconverted. I came to the conclusion that, according to the Bible, God  created/allowed evil and that he capriciously holds humans accountable for what he alone is responsible. He could have created humans so they couldn’t sin. He could step into human history and stop evil from happening. If God is all that Christianity says he is, then he is quite the monster if he refuses to stop evil. Everywhere I look I see evil. I see sickness, disease, suffering, violence, starvation, and war. And what does God do? Nothing.

Of course, the reason God does nothing is because he does not exist. It is up to humans to stop evil and to help those who are afflicted. God is not coming to rescue us. There is no miracle fixing to happen if we just believe. It is up to us, as thousands of years of human history clearly show us.

Does evil exist? Sure, evil exists in the bad actions of humans, whether they act alone or as a political, social, or corporate body.  For our own sake and the sake of our species future, we must stand against evil.

Scott asks whether we should kill people who are mad or bad?  It depends. We must first decide what is mad or bad. All of us agree that getting drunk and then driving an automobile is a bad thing to do. Sometimes, people die because inebriated people cause an accident. Should we be proactive and kill every person that is inebriated? After all, if we did this we would put an end to people being killed by drunk drivers. I doubt many people would advocate preemptive strikes against people who drink too much.

But, what about the drone strikes that are now routinely carried out by the Obama administration? We know that terrorists can and do commit evil acts, but should we preemptively kill all suspected terrorists? Some might say yes, but I say no. Why? Because I think drone strikes are too subjective and they lead to innocent people being killed. (and I think they do little to decrease the threat of terrorism)

I strenuously oppose both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, but I would have supported the government hunting down and killing the men responsible for 9-11.  Punish those who are responsible for the evil, thus eliminating their ability to commit evil acts again.

I realize this is a complex issue and there are many nuances and shades of gray to consider.  While I am a pacifist, I am not so naïve to think that the US government can/should sit by when evil men do whatever they want. Unfortunately, the US government has often perpetrated their own evil, like the nuclear bombing of Japan, the fire bombing on Dresden, and the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Like an evil Dr. Jekyll, the US government has conducted evil experiments on blacks and the mentally handicapped. They have rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps. They supported and profited from the subjugation of an entire race when they supported or turned a blind-eye to slavery.

I think the US government is quite hypocritical when it decides what evil it goes after. Evil terrorists, yes. Genocide in Sudan and Rwanda, no. As an aging man, I have come to realize that the US government can be evil and it can be good and often it can be evil and good at the same time.

Here’s what I know. Few people would object if we could go back to 1933 and put a bullet in the head of Adolph Hitler. In fact, I would abandon my pacifistic principles to do so myself.  Every one of us have the obligation to root out evil and promote good. Unfortunately, most people don’t give a shit, think they are powerless, or have a warped, shallow understanding of evil and good. (i.e. the people on Faux News who think Christians being persecuted in America, you know the “war’ on Christians, is evil. Their ideology keeps them from understanding what evil really is. We all need to be aware of this.)

Have I said enough in this post to piss everyone off? :) Hopefully, I adequately answered Scott’s questions. I am sure he will let me know if I didn’t.
 

Published: March 14, 2014 | Comments: 15

Fear

fear of hell

Fear…an emotion experienced in anticipation of pain or danger.  An anxious feeling. Uneasy. Apprehensive.

We all have experienced fear before. Sometimes our fear is rational and other times it is not. I fear flying on an airplane. I know that my fear is irrational. I have read all the statistics and I know other modes of transportation are safer, but I am still not going to get on an airplane.  I have other fears that are quite rational, like fear of falling.

Yesterday, a Christian commenter had to this to say about their grandfather:

My grandfather was an atheist for many years. He was a professional writer (along with being a carpenter-irony unintended) and wrote a number of published articles for Atheist-centered magazines in the 60′s, 70′s & 80′s. I believe he was exposed to the Southern Baptist church as a child, but it did not take as he developed severe alcoholism.

In his early 70′s he had a massive heart attack that left him in very poor health. At this point he converted to Christianity. He himself admitted it was prompted by a fear of Hell, but his conversion seemed truly genuine. He prayed, read his Bible, and spoke to other believers regularly. He seldom went to church as he was so frail, but a pastor and church members would come to his home. His final words were a soft prayer.

As a believer I am glad that my grandfather came to Christ. I know others could point out that he himself confessed a fear bias to his conversion. All I know is he died a happier man than he had been during most of his life.

When I read this comment I said to myself, I hope no one jumps on this commenter over her grandfather’s conversion to Christianity. The hardcore atheist might look at this and jeer, wondering what kind of atheist the grandfather really was. Christian and atheist alike might question whether fear should be a motivator for believing anything. What I want to do in this post is take a look at fear in general and explain why I fully understand the grandfather’s fear and conversion.

Few humans live life without caring what others think. Humans are communal creatures. Most of us desire connection with others of our species. We divide ourselves up into countries, states, villages, tribes, and families. We further divide ourselves by race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, education, and hobbies. Every group we are a part of has certain requirements and expectations. No one wants to be an outlier or considered a group member in poor standing, but there are times when we have wants, needs, or desires that are not accepted by the group. So, we either act on these wants, needs, or desires and are kicked out of the group, or we secretly act on these wants, needs, or desires so we can stay in the group, or out of fear, we conform to the group’s requirements and expectations.

Every week I get emails from closet atheists who are married to a Christian spouse or who are part of a devoutly Christian family. Often these people write of great mental and emotional anguish as a result of not being able to authentically and openly declare their atheism. ( many in the LGBTI community understand this feeling) They fear losing their spouse, children, or family, so they hide their atheism from others. While some self-righteous atheists will tell the closeted atheist that they need to be true to self and come out of the closet, I disagree with such an approach.  Every closeted atheist must weigh carefully the consequences of saying, I am an atheist. As I have told countless closeted atheists, once you open your mouth and say, I am an atheist, you no longer are in control of what happens next. (I dealt with this more fully in Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.)

So, I completely understand the fear many closeted atheists, or closeted anything have. I do not judge them for staying in closet, even if I would not do the same. Their fear is, to them, real and I respect that.

There is one thing certain about this life, we are all going to die some day. Years ago, when I was the pastor of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I had a church member who would disagree with me every time I said in my sermon that we are all going to die some day. She believes the rapture is going to happen at any moment, so, in her mind, it is more likely that Jesus is going to sweep her up and carry her away than it is that she will die.  Yet, here we are twenty years later, no Jesus, and she is now in her late 60′s. My money is still on we are all going to die some day.

Every human that lived before those who are now living died. No exceptions. No matter what religious myths tell us, there is no evidence of anyone dying and coming back from the dead. One life, one death, end of story. (and please, no stories of out-of-body experiences or going to heaven/hell and coming back) Since no one knows, not even the Christian, if there is life after death, it is not surprising that many humans fear death. We fear the unknown, we fear the nothingness that death will bring.  For those who believe humans have a soul, they wonder what will happen to their soul after death.

The power of the Christian religion rests in resurrection of Jesus from the dead. No other human has done what Jesus did.  Jesus, the virgin born son of God came to earth and died on the cross for humanity’s sin. Three days later he resurrected from the dead. If a person will put their faith and trust in Jesus they will receive forgiveness of sin and will be given a home in heaven when they die. What a great message, right? Believe in Jesus and after death you will have an eternal home in the Ritz of Heaven. No more pain, suffering or, death. Perfect peace and harmony for ever and ever.  Atheism is no match for the hope and promise of eternal life offered by Christianity. All atheism offers is the cold truth, we all die, end of story.

Yet, for all its appeal, the Christian message of salvation and eternal life is rejected by most humans. Even in countries where Christianity is the dominant religion, getting a person to believe this message requires fear and threats of judgment. Pastors and priests remind people of the coming judgment of God and that those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ will be tortured by God in the Lake of Fire for all eternity. They even have a book, the Bible, where all these threats are written down.  They also remind people that a life worth living has Jesus in the center of it. Having troubles in your life? Addicted to drugs or alcohol? Marriage on the rocks? Are you racked with guilt? Believing in Jesus brings peace, comfort, joy, and deliverance. Again, atheism has nothing to offer here. The atheist says shit happens. Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happens to bad people. No one is promised a skate through life.

So, I can easily understand the commenter’s grandfather becoming a Christian. Death was looming, he had health problems, and he feared going to hell. These are genuine motivators for a person to decide to become a follower of Jesus. If what the Bible says about hell is real, then every one of us should immediately become a Christian. In fact, we would be a fool not to. Why then, do most people not become a Christian?

death

As a pastor, I saw countless people on their deathbed bow their head and pray and ask Jesus to save them from their sin. Their conversion was sincere and I had no doubt that they genuinely became a follower of Jesus. In a matter of days, weeks, or months, they died, but the good news is that on resurrection day they will be given a glorified, resurrected body and will live for eternity in the Kingdom of God. All’s well that end’s well, right?

The problem is, when people are young and full of life, they rarely think about death. They think that death is a half century or more away, so a pastor or priest using fear of death or hell to motivate them to believe in Jesus does not work. This is why many sects zealously work to inoculate people with the salvation vaccine when they are children. It is much easier to scare a 6 year old with threats of hell than it is a 16 year old. Some sects use infant baptism to seal a child’s eternal fate. Whether through making a decision to believe as a child or being baptized as an infant, Christian sects hope that these acts will carry the person all the way through life to the grave.

When these youthful Christians get older, they will either continue in the religion of their tribe or they will abandon it and choose a different religion or no religion at all. For those who choose a different religion or become an atheist/agnostic/humanist, threats of judgment and hell no longer deliver the desired result. Perhaps they doubt that the Christian God their pastor or priest talks of exists. Perhaps they wonder if there really is a heaven, a purgatory, or a hell. Perhaps they wonder what kind of God would allow the suffering, disease, pain and death that can be seen everywhere they look. For these people, the Bible and the proclamations of their pastor or priest no longer satisfy them intellectually.

But Bruce, shouldn’t a person, just to be safe, believe in Jesus? That way, when they die they will go to heaven. Let me ask you Christian friend, do you really want to cheapen your faith this way? Do you really want to reduce it to fire insurance and a time share in heaven? Shouldn’t it mean something when a person says I am a Christian? Can one really be considered a Christian if they are not a follower of Jesus?

While I completely understand the fear of death, having, at one time or another feared death myself, I can not bring myself to the place where I am willing to ignore, reject, or repudiate what I know to be true in order to placate this fear.  I may fear death because I know that I will soon die, but I do not fear God and his judgment or hell, because I do not believe this God or hell exists. I have weighed the Christian God and the Christian Bible  in the balances and found them wanting.  Believing to the contrary requires faith, a faith I do not have.

The Christian commenter hopes to go to heaven some day and hopes to see their grandfather walking the streets of pure gold. I wish I could have such hope, but I don’t.  My parents and grandparents and others that I love are dead, and I have no hope of seeing them again. I accept that his is part of living, of knowing, of feeling. Instead of wistful thoughts of what “might” be, I am far more concerned with enjoying the life I have and trying to end the real hell many people live in every day of their life. (and for some people, it is religion that has brought a real hell to their life and community)

 

Published: February 26, 2014 | Comments: 18

Learning to Face Death

facing death

Byroniac asked:

Bruce, do you plan to talk about how you have learned to face death without the comfort or aid of Christianity? I am no longer a Christian, though I hope against hope (and against evidence, I suppose, too) that there is an afterlife. I am 40 years old, and I hope to live another 30 or 40 years, but what does it matter? Eventually I will certainly die. Before that happens, though, I want to live the best life I can. I would especially appreciate any thoughts on life being richer and more meaningful due to the *absence* of Christian promises and afterlife myopia which causes them to focus less on this life and more on the “next”, if that is true for you (and I hope it is).

Byroniac asks a great question and I hope to thoughtfully answer it in this post.  Let me first get out-of-the-way the things that all humans know:

  • All of us will some day die.
  • The Christian Bible is right in one regard when it says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1) None of us know what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow could be our last day of life.
  • That every day we live we are one day closer to dying.
  • When we die none of us will come back to life again. Every human that has died has stayed dead.
  • No one has ever come back from the dead and told us if there is life after death.

I know that Christians may strenuously object to what I have written here. They will likely say, Jesus came back from the dead, Lazarus came back from the dead. And the proof for these claims is found where? The Bible. Is there any way to verify that these claims are true?  Of course not, so I hope that Christians will forgive me for sticking to what all humans can see and know just by opening  their eyes and accepting the reality that is staring them in the face.

None of us can be certain that there is or isn’t life after death. Many religious people, by faith, believe there is. I completely understand why they want to believe that there is life after death. Byroniac’s desire of eternal life is a normal human feeling. Few of us want to think that this life is it. Even atheists like myself will from time to time wish that there was a heaven where everyone lives in love, joy, peace, and harmony. But wishing or feeling doesn’t change what we know, and what we know is that every human will some day, beyond the next breath, die.

After six years of battling Evangelicals (fundamentalists) on this blog, I have long since concluded that if there is a heaven and a hell I would rather go to hell than spend eternity with the hateful, nasty, arrogant, self-righteous Christians I have come in contact with on this blog. Eternity is a long time and I would want to spend it in the company of my friends.

One thing that being chronically ill and having to struggle with chronic, unrelenting pain has taught me is that I need to treat every day as if it  might be my last. There have been many a night when I have fitfully drifted off to sleep that my last thought was, will this be it for me?

Embracing atheism means accepting that the only life I have is this one. Christianity taught me and encouraged me to put off my wants, needs, and desires in the hope that God will grant me a place in heaven on resurrection day. Christianity taught me that the sufferings of this life and living a life of self-denial were the price of admission into God’s eternal kingdom. After all, the Bible says, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Life, according to Christianity, is something to be endured. Satan as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may destroy. The prince of darkness rules over his earthly kingdom and Christians are the light the shines in the darkness of this present evil world. This world, according to Christianity, is transitory, and those who will enter the kingdom of God must not love the world and the things that are in it.

This kind of thinking convinces people to off load living their life to another day so they can gain a divine pay off in the sweet by and by. Christians are putting all their eggs in one basket, believing that what the Bible says about the afterlife is true.  And sadly, they will never know that they wasted their life in the pursuit of eternal life, because once they draw their last breath they will never know that they had believed a lie.

So as a sick, dying man, I embrace the only life I have. When I first deconverted I struggled with finding meaning and purpose in my life. I had spent fifty years thinking JESUS was the meaning and purpose of my life and now, as an atheist, I had to determine what really mattered to me.

Here are the five things that matter to me, that give my life purpose and meaning. I am listing them according to importance:

  • Polly
  • My six children and their spouses
  • My nine grandchildren
  • My brother and sister
  • The health and vitality of the community I live in

Did you notice that these five things are not things at all, but are people? Things don’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have things. I enjoy the toys I have. I love  the hobbies I have. I enjoy baseball, basketball, and football. I love writing for this blog. All of these things and more are the substance of what helps to make my life enjoyable. But, on my last day on earth, the purpose and meaning of my life will be gathered around me as I draw my last breath. All my material goods will be parceled out or sold and all that will remain are those who have loved me no matter what.

Christians have a hard time understanding this because Jesus told them to be willing to forsake their houses, lands, and family for his sake. They have bought into the pernicious lie that their Christian brothers and sisters are their “real” family. Some say that blood is thicker than water, but I have found that for many Christians the water of Christian baptism is far more important to them than their flesh and blood family.  This reality is proved by watching how they treat their atheist, non-Christian, or gay family members. They push to the margins of their life those who share the same blood with them and instead embrace those who will abandon them the first time they embrace a wrong belief. Yet, when it comes their time to die, who will be beside their bed holding their hand? It will be those they pushed away with their self-righteousness and bullied with the Bible.

If given a choice of eternal life or my family, I will gladly choose my family. In a sense, this is exactly what I have done. The Christian thinks I am mad. Surely, no one in their right mind would trade the promise of eternal life for what little this life can offer, they think to themselves. But, they don’t understand. This life has given me everything. A woman to love, children to nurture, and grandchildren to love and spoil. I have what matters, and that is enough for me.

When I first deconverted, I had thoughts now and again of what nothingness is like, being alive one moment and dead the next. It is hard to comprehend non-existence because we have no frame of reference. Over time, such thoughts have pretty much faded into the shadowy memories of my Christian past. It does me no good to dwell on dying. After all, I spent most of my life dwelling on death, whether it was my own or the death of those poor souls that did not know Jesus.

As an atheist, my focus is on living not dying. There is little I can do about death. Eat better, exercise more, and I will still die. In a few months I will be fifty-seven years old. I have what I call a high mileage body and the mileage is not interstate miles. My miles have been driven down unpaved, pothole filled dirt and gravel roads. I know that it is likely that my car is headed for the junk yard sooner rather than later.

Atheism allows me to be a realist. Prayers aren’t going to make any difference. It is unlikely that a great scientific discovery will result in a cure for me. Eating more veggies or taking this or that supplement will not do me any good. My life is what it is.

Atheism can be quite cold and sterile. It forces me to meet reality in the middle of the road. I can’t go around it or back up. This is my life and the only control I have over it is how I live each and every day. I can’t control what others may do and people with power make all kinds of decisions that affect me. All I can do is embrace each moment of each day and live in such a way that it brings me and those I love peace and happiness.

Every day I fail miserably, but rather than praying to a mythical deity to forgive me and not hold my transgressions against me, I seek the forgiveness of the people who matter to me. When they gather on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to scatter my ashes, at the spot where my wife and I had what I call our perfect day, I hope they have good things to say about me. I am sure they will weep as will I if any of them die before me, but I hope they will remember me as a man, husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest, a man who, most of all, loved them.

Christians often like to quote the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:

 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

I reject that the purpose for my life is to fear God and keep his commandments. Christians think I am putting myself in harm’s way, inviting the wrath, judgment, and hell of their God.  They fail to understand that threats from a mythical being no longer have a hold on me.

Let me conclude with a passage from Bruce’s Book of Wisdom:

Live life to its fullest. Love those that matter. Fuck the rest of them.

Published: February 24, 2014 | Comments: 17

Billy Graham Answers the Question, Why am I an Optimist?

go team jesus

This is a question and answer I see often on Christian blogs, Twitter, and Facebook:

“Why am I an optimist? Because I have read the last book of the bible, and we win.” —Billy Graham

Simply put, Billy Graham and a number of Christians think, in the end, their team wins! Yea, Team Jesus, way to go. We’re #1. Rarely do they consider HOW their team wins. You see, I read the last book of the Bible too ,and here is what it has to say about the methods used by God and Team Jesus to win the eternal game of life:

  • Kill 1/4 of the inhabitants of earth by the sword, hunger, and mauling by animals (Rev. 6:8)
  • Sun turns black and the stars fall from the sky (Rev. 6:12.13)
  • Earthquakes happen and every mountain and island is moved out of their place (Rev. 6:12,14)
  • Fire mingled with blood burns up 1/3 of the trees, and burns up all the green grass (Rev. 8:7)
  • A great burning mountain is cast unto the sea and 1/3  of the sea turns to blood (Rev. 8:8)
  • 1/3 of the creatures in the sea are killed and 1/3 of the ships are destroyed (Rev. 8:9)
  • A star falls from heaven and makes 1/3 of the water undrinkable (Rev. 8:10,11)
  • 1/3 of stars, moon, and sun are smitten and darkened (Rev. 8:12)
  • Locusts with scorpion stingers are loosed on those who do not  have the seal of God on their foreheads…these locusts will torment humans for five months (Rev. 9:1-12)
  • 1/3 of humans are killed by fire, smoke, and brimstone (Revelation 9:14-21)
  • The two witnesses cause droughts, turn the waters to blood, and afflict humans with plagues (Rev. 11)
  • The wrath of God falls on the earth and blood flows horse bridle deep in the streets of Babylon (Rev. 14)
  • Angel pours out his vial and afflicts humans with grievous sores (Rev. 16:2)
  • Angel pours out his vial and kills all living things in the sea (Rev. 16:3)
  • Angel  pours out his vial and turns all the waters to blood (Rev. 16:4)
  • Angel pours out his vial on the sun and scorches humans with fire (Rev. 16:8,9)
  • Angel pours out his vial on the seat of the beast and humans gnaw the tongue because of pain (Rev. 16:10-11)
  • Angel pours out his vial and dries up the River Euphrates (Rev. 16:12)
  • Angel pours out his vial into the air and there are thunders, lightnings, earthquakes, every island and mountain disappears, and 50 pound balls of hail fall on the earth (Rev. 16:17-21)
  • Jesus comes back to earth, slaughters everyone, and the birds eat the flesh of the dead (Rev. 19)

Cue music, everyone sing, Our God is an Awesome God.

Millions of Christians believe that the book of Revelation is literally true. They believe all of the above will happen sometime in the near future. Never mind the glaring scientific and statistical problems Revelation presents, millions of Christians think God is going to open up one big can of whoop-ass and Team Jesus is going to finally win over Team Satan. As Evangelist Dave Young is fond of saying, Some day you will be glad you are a Christian! The end of time, as believed by many Christians, is that some day.

Just remember this the next time an Evangelical sidles up to you and wants to be your friend. If you don’t join Team Jesus, they will be on the sidelines of heaven some day cheering as God does his imitation of a torturing serial killer.

 

 

Published: February 17, 2014 | Comments: 31

God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?

its all good

Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their life is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, Evangelicals turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelical’s life is for their good and God will not let anything happen in their life that he will not make a way for them to bear it.

the Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:

…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

and in  Matthew 28:20:

…lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.

and in Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God  will always be there for them.

It is important to understand what I have written here in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (church’s blog) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.

A year ago, Williams and his wife, lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the lost of his child. He wrote:

How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…

…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…

…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!

Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…

Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for he and his wife, that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is!

Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s  life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.

Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and the Evangelical must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them.

Over and over the Evangelical is told this…so when bad things happen in their life, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.

Eight years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved them. Polly’s family thought, if one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it.

At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them , If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.

Look, I understand why people like the Williams’s, Polly’s family, and many Evangelical,s think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right?

Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the, you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.

I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?)  people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath that derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in afflicting and killing people. If such a person was my neighbor, I would quickly decide to mover somewhere else.

Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light, of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson, then YES I hate my tormentor. No decent human being would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.

Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and a life free of the debilitating pain I am in? I would gladly not write another word.

The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williams’s shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the lady in front of them made a quick u-turn there was no way to avoid hitting her…and just like that Kathy’s was thrown from the motorcycle, her head hit the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-laws cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day.  Just like that…everything changed.

This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I can not do so.  Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact.

How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen?  If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Published: December 30, 2013 | Comments: 14

It Doesn’t Last Long. You Gotta Enjoy This Game.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14

Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Psalm 39:4

Awhile back, I was watching a show on the MLB Network about the life of Torii Hunter, outfielder for the Detroit Tigers.

Speaking of playing the game of baseball, Hunter said:

It Doesn’t Last Long. You Gotta Enjoy This Game.

As an avid sports fan, I know Hunter is correct. I am old enough now to have seen thousands of players come and go. They enter the league with great fanfare and the talking heads on ESPN breathlessly talk about what we can hope to see from the latest and greatest five-tool player.

And just like that they are gone. Some play a few years, only to have their career ended by injury or the inability to a curve ball. Others go on to have long careers, and a few of them end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of us will never play baseball at the Major League level. We will likely never see our names in lights or have a moment of fame. It is doubtful that we will be considered a“five-tool” player in our chosen profession. Most of us will live our lives in relative obscurity and then die. In a generation or two we will be forgotten, and the only time our name will be mentioned is when a descendent is working on their genealogy.

In the grand scheme of things we are but a speck of sand on an endless beach. Yet, while we are alive, while we are living in community with our family, friends, and neighbors, our inconsequential lives matter. What we do while we are living matters to the people we call family and friends. And sometimes we are given a grater sphere of influence and what we do matters to people far beyond our family and friends.

While Torii Hunter’s words were about baseball, I think they speak directly to human life in general.

The life we have doesn’t last long, and since this is the only life we will ever have, we better enjoy it. As a humanist, I do not look for new life beyond the grave, be it through Christian salvation or reincarnation. I am firmly convinced that the Apostle Paul was wrong when he said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

Christianity taught me that life was meant to be endured. Life would have moments of blessing and joy, but, due to the sinfulness of humanity and the corruption of the world, generally life would be hard, full of pain and suffering. (which make us stronger and more fit for the afterlife.) If we endure this life and stay true to Jesus heaven awaits us. The Apostle Paul said, he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

The Christian claim of a pain-free, suffering-free, eternal afterlife has great appeal. Most of us do not relish the fact that we are going to die some day. There is a drive within us that says, like the Petra song If I Had to Die for Someone:

I keep away from falling rocks and I don’t play with matches
I lock the door I don’t know why
It seems to me I’m much too old to wear a scarf out in the cold but
I want to live until I die
I guess I love my life a little more than I should love it
And if I had to I don’t know if I could
Lay it down

I want to live until I die.  Even the Christian, for all their talk of the afterlife and heaven, wants to live as long of a life as possible. This is a poignant reminder that, Christian or not, we all are pretty much the same. We crave life. We struggle and fight until we can do so no longer. Simply put, we want to live.

As much as I wish there was a room waiting for me in God’s Mansion in the Sky, I know there is not. As much as I wish that Jesus has returned to Heaven to prepare a place for me, I know his bones are buried in a Judean grave. As much as I want to see my family and friends who have already died, I know that the only place I will ever see them is in my memories of them and the life we shared together.

Wanting something to be true, like life beyond the grave and blissful, eternal life in the Sweet By and By , does not make it so. While I readily admit that the power of religion lies in its promise of eternal life in heaven, as an earthy-humanist, I know, based on the evidence at my disposal, that such claims are not likely true.  The power of religion lies not in the truth of its claims but in the hope it gives to its followers. Humanism offers no such hope. We live, we die, end of story.

Instead of a hope of heaven, humanism forces me to embrace life as it is rather than what I hope it will or might be. Instead of waiting for a big payout at the betting window in the sky I am confronted with the reality the bets I make in this life are paid out in this life. This is it.And it is for this reason that Hunter’s  words ring true.

Before I know it, this life will be over. I am fifty-six years old. I am the proud owner of a broken-down body that is ever-so-slowly  dying. I have no illusions of living to one-hundred. If I live until I am seventy-five I will consider myself blessed.

Seventy-five is nineteen years away. When I was a twenty-one year old man, a recently married  man and a soon-to-be father, twenty years seemed like an eternity. Yet, here I am thirty-five years later, still married to the beautiful woman of my youth, father to six children, and grandfather to eight. In but a blink of an eye…

Neil Armstrong died last year. I vividly remember watching on TV Armstrong’s walk on the Moon. What a thrilling, captivating moment, one I have never forgotten. I was twelve when Armstrong’s feat captivated the world. Forty-forty years ago.

Awhile back, my dear friend Dave Echler stopped by to see me. As I sit here typing this my mind wanders back to Dave and I walking up Mulberry Street to school. We were nine. Forty-seven years ago. Lifetime friends, we are, and one of us, and I hope it is Dave, will one day stand over the casket of the other, and weep tears of goodbye.

Since each of us only get one life we might as well try to enjoy it.  Far too often we allow ourselves to get caught up in things that don’t matter. Like all aging people, I spend significant time contemplating not only the past but my present life and what I want the future to be. What do I want to do with the remaining moments of my life? Since we are usually known for what we did last, what do I want people’s last impression of me to be? When the epitaph of my life is written what will be said?

Above anything that might be said about my life, I want it to be said that I loved my wife, my family, my friends, my neighbors, and the world I lived in. I want to be remembered as a man who loved life regardless of the pain and suffering life brought his way. I want to be remembered as a person who was always there when those who mattered to him needed him.

I want my grandkids to remember the fun times we had. As my one granddaughter said, when asking if she could spend the night, Grandpa always says yes, I want to be remembered as that kind of Grandfather. I want my grandchildren to remember me always being willing to listen to the non-stop questions they asked about this or that.

The other day, one of my granddaughters asked, what did your Dad look like Grandpa? I took her to the picture of my Dad that hangs on the bedroom wall. She looked at it, said thanks, and back she went to playing Barbies.

My Dad died twenty-six years ago. My Mom died twenty-two years ago. My Dad’s parents died almost fifty years ago. My Mom’s parents died eighteen years ago and thirteen years ago. My grandkids and many of my children never got to know their great grandparents and great-great grandparents. All they have are the memories I pass on to them.

When my children sit around the table someday with their own grown children and their own grandchildren, what stories will they share of their Dad whose ashes they scattered on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan?

I hope, in the mix of the crazy stories they will surely tell, they will remind their children and children’s children that Dad believed life was worth living and that he loved them until the end.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

reposted, revised, updated

Published: October 10, 2013 | Comments: 6