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If Atheism Leads to Hedonism, So Does Calvinism


Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused of deconverting because of a secret desire to sin, to live wickedly. I have had countless Evangelical apologists accuse me of hiding the real reason I left Christianity: some sort of “secret” sin. Supposedly, atheists are hedonists — pagan pleasure seekers. While it is certainly true that my sin list got a lot smaller post-Jesus, I suspect my life measures up quite well against the lives of Christians who ignorantly believe that atheists are morally inferior to followers of Jesus. Sure, atheism freed me from guilt over many of the behaviors I at one time considered “sin.” I no longer feign holy outrage when I see naked women or gay romance on TV.  I no longer have to beat myself up when I’m less of a man than I could be. I am quite self-aware, and usually don’t have a problem recognizing when I have been an ass or caused harm to someone else. When I understand that I have failed in some way, I don’t pray, seeking a mythical God’s forgiveness. Instead, I do what I can to apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. I then do my best to not repeat said behavior. As all humans do, I fail every day. That said, knowing what I know about Christians, I am confident that my way of life and morals compare favorably to that of saved, sanctified, bought-by-the blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals. And I can say the same about most of the atheists I know. We are not hedonists, nor do we lurk in the shadows waiting for opportunities to rape, murder, molest children, or root for the New York Yankees. Quite frankly, most atheists — myself included — live uninteresting lives. I may joke about being a stripper named Santa, but my real life is quite banal.

If atheism leads to hedonism, then Christianity — especially Calvinism — does too.  Recently, I published a guest post titled The Cruel Message of Calvinism. Jean left the following comment:

I have often wondered–if you actually believe in predestination, what is keeping you from unbridled hedonism, if that appeals to you? After all, if you’re saved, you’re saved; and if you’re damned, there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. Nothing you can do will help anyone else, in the long run, either. Why live a life of rugged virtue, if it isn’t going to gain you anything at all?

The doctrine of predestination (and election) teaches that God, before the world began, chose who would and wouldn’t be saved. The only people who will be saved are those chosen, drawn, and called by God.  Even Arminians, to some degree or the other, believe human salvation is predetermined by God. It is God alone who saves. In other words, the salvation game is rigged. Since salvation can never rest on human merit and good works, it is up to the Christian God, through the merit and work of Jesus, the son of God, on Calvary’s cross, to save sinners from their sins. Further, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is the sovereign of the universe, and everything that happens is according to his purpose, plan, and decrees. Nothing happens unless God wills it or allows it to happen.

hedonism 2

As you can see, both Christianity and atheism can lead to hedonism. Evangelicals will argue that the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, and is their teacher and guide. Supposedly, having God living inside of you inoculates you from “sin.”  However, as causal observation of Evangelicals and stories such as those found in the Black Collar Crime Series tell us, the Holy Spirit is really bad at his job. Go read comments by Jim on the post Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says Women Who Dress Immodestly Risk Rape by Lustful Men. (Also see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Al Shannon Says Modern Women Wear the Attire of Harlots) Jim says he is a Bible-believing Christian. Ask yourself, does his behavior reflect the belief that God, the Holy Spirit is his teacher and guide? Supposedly, the Holy Spirit gives believers the words to say when witnessing. If that’s true, based on Jim’s comments, the Holy Spirit is an arrogant bully and troll. (And if Jimbo dares to object to my characterization of his boorish behavior, I can quote a dozen Bible verses that condemn his behavior.)

The only difference between atheists and Christians is that Christians wallow in helplessness before their imaginary deity, seeking his/her forgiveness. Atheists cut out the middleman — God — and seek the forgiveness of those they have hurt, promising to do better the next time.

Are you an atheist? Do you desire to live a hedonistic life? How is your life different post-Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar
    Melissa A Montana

    The best thing about leaving religion is not feeling guilty for the crime of being human. I got sick of trying to be perfect all of the time, and driving others crazy in the process.

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    Hello, my name is Sally and I am an atheist. I am also a Recovering Catholic. Both of my parents were Roman Catholic, my Dad’s family genuinely and earnestly while my Mom’s family was toxically more about keeping up appearances and all that. I feel that I have been a lifelong atheist, as both of my parents encouraged my sister and I to read and explore and did not restrict our scope of experiences intellectually. Both of my parents were Good People and raised us with strong morals based more on generally not being bad than Making Jesus Sad.
    I specifically am a lower-case “a” atheist because although I am a-theistic, without a theological philosophy, I do identify as a Humanist. In my journey from Raised Catholic to here, like many others I sampled other religions and philosophies, and the thing that resonated most with me is the Witch’s Rede – “As it harms none, do as you will”. As it harms NONE – nobody, no thing, NOTHING – you may do what you want. Who else remembers that movie Seven Years in Tibet, when the monks make whats-his-face stop construction on his theatre or whatever because they found worms and did not want to hurt the worms, so they went slowly and picked all the worms out as they went. As it harms none. That includes the people you like in this world, and the people you do not like and disagree with. The people on the other side of the world that you don’t even know. The animals, including the ones we eat for food and the ones that live in the park by me. How can we live as comfortably and as happily as possible while minimizing the negative impact we/I as an individual have on the things around us/me?
    I fail miserably every day, but that’s a pretty high bar. Since the motivation is internal, I have only myself and those i have harmed today to face when I lie down to rest. As long as I have tried, and recognize where harm has been done and learn from it, it is probably okay. I will try to do better tomorrow.

    Bruce! Did you just make me Testify? You sure did! LOLOL! My atheist manifesto in words for the first time. Thanks! You sneaky little teacher, you! Can we put it in the Blues Brothers church scene with some good music and all? You really would be an excellent teacher, one of the few who could even do a good online course.

    This series has been super interesting, especially after your 7-part series on your journey to-through-and-beyond Calvinism which was interesting but kinda deep. Jean’s comment was exactly what I’ve been thinking – if it’s all already decided, why not PAR-TAY while we can since we’re likely going to burn for eternity anyway? Which amusingly is also the theme of a lot of heavy-metal music, especially 70’s-80’s era.

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    Carol Dworkowski

    I couldn’t agree with you more!
    Before my adult “conversion” (progressive christians prefer the term “transformation” because it is an ongoing process, not a one-time event) I was a secular humanist. Now I am christian (also a buddhist) humanist. It is the human quality in others, not their religious posturing, that attracts me to others. I suppose that is because I never developed the cultural religious identity that cradle christians begin acquiring from birth, through childhood and into adulthood.

    It has been said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience. I agree. In fact I usually develop a deep spiritual bond with my companion animals, My children, now grown, are my skin-kids, my companion animals are my fur-kids.

    My mother had an intuitive, not a formal theological faith. She always said that she “believed in God”, but she never told us what she believed about God. I doubt that she believed anything about God, she simply experienced a consistently benevolent Presence whatever her circumstances in life happened to be. I do remember that whenever she was told of the faults and failings of others, her response was always, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Sort of put an end to any gossip session, though.

    My father was an agnostic, a scientist/chemist with a law degree who practiced patent law. He always said that he wanted a fair deal, not a good deal because if he got a “good deal” he would be cheating someone. One of my brother’s friends was a boat mechanic who would never let Dear ol’ Dad pay for his work. After Mother passed, I had to help him choose a Christmas gift for his mechanic that Dad felt equaled “just payment” for his labor. My brother and his wife owned the Liquor Mart and Deli and DoD also insisted on paying full price for his liquor. Like Mother, my Father was non-judgmental. Whenever my father heard anyone being criticized, he would respond, “Yes, but s/he has redeeming qualities” and then he would begin to list them.

    Life bestows advantages and disadvantages on all of us. My measure of an ethical person is someone who, when circumstances give him or her an unjust advantage over another person, does not pursue it. My parents were the most ethical people I have ever known. Of course, Daddy was an upper middle class professional who provided us with complete financial security. The poor often have to choose between their integrity and their survival. That is why the moral injury caused by poverty is often worse than the material consequences. Many “unethical” people would be more ethical if they received adequate financial compensation for their labor and/ or the social resources to maintain an adequate level of human dignity.

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      Carol, I think there is a whole measure of wisdom contained in this last paragraph you write. Yes, it’s easy to be good, honest, and ethical when you have money, not so easy when you have none and you have kids to feed etc.

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    Brunetto Latini

    If pursued ethically and un-self-destructively, using the Golden Rule as a guide for living, I see nothing wrong with living for pleasures. In fact, one of my favorite songs is “Pleasure, Little Treasure” by Depeche Mode. I didn’t think this way until the past several years. I see no reason to pay lip service to Christian piety anymore. But Christians think if you’re living for pleasure, you’re destroying yourself and others. That’s not what I’m talking about.

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      Hugh D. Young

      ……RIGHTO….While their mean-spirited judgements, condemning others they no NOTHING about to an eternity in hell, all the while living out their lives play acting, with a complete lack of transparency isn’t harming/ destroying anybody? Hey, they’re just ‘Standing upon their ‘rock’, God’s Word, with ZERO compromise’……or so they tell us all, anyway!

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    Steve Ruis

    Re ” I am quite self-aware, and usually don’t have a problem recognizing when I have been an ass or caused harm to someone else. When I understand that I have failed in some way, I don’t pray, seeking a mythical God’s forgiveness. Instead, I do what I can to apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. I then do my best to not repeat said behavior. As all humans do, I fail every day.” I am, apparently, just like you.

    I do note however that our practice of evaluating our own behavior against social norms and admitting that we fail quite often has been hijacked by religion with the insertion of their god. By having us seek forgiveness of their god for our failing behaviors we accumulate a great deal of “restitution responsibility” toward that god, instead of toward those we have failed. The same process occurs when we thank god for all of the “physical and mental gifts we have received.” We get our genetics from of parents and ancestors and much of our initial training from our parents and our siblings. How we turn out as an adult has to do with them and with our own personal effort in becoming a “good person.” But we are told that we have to thank god for our “gifts” which sets up an obligation to reciprocate and do something in return for god … and his church.

    This is high level manipulation that would make the mafia proud. (“This is a nice business you got goin’ here, be a shame if something were to happen to it. But we can protect you and in appreciation, all we ask is a small payment.”) I believe it is called a protection racket. The perpetrator sets up a consequence for inaction and then promises to ameliorate your inaction. Both the disease and the cure have the same source,

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    Carol Dworkowski

    There is a light and a dark side to everything. the problem is that we cannot destroy the dark side without also destroying the light side. Like so many illnesses that are not immanently fatal when properly managed, the human narcissistic condition and our institutions that reflect its require constant reformation and transformation.

    I wish more people would realize that the opposite of “bad government” is “good government”, not “no government”. Anarchy is the only thing that is worse than despotism. At least with a despot we know where the threat lies. With anarchy it could come from anyone.

    “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.” – Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées. 1670 – French scientist, mathematician, physicist,

    Anyone who seeks to destroy the passions instead of controlling them is trying to play the angel. ~Voltaire

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? –Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern Era…No one on earth has any other way left but up-wards. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart, Source: commencement address at Har-vard University, June 1978 (Note: Solzhenitsyn calls for a “spiritual blaze”, not a religious revival. Spirituality is an inside-out experience. Religion is an outside-in experience. Subtle, but big, difference!

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    I atheist. My hedonism is confined to rooting for the NY Yankees and doing stuff like Calvin’s dad in the cartoon you posted. I am not even sure what a life of hedonism would look like as much of my day is taken up with work. But I don’t have a desire to murder, pillage, become a sex worker, or wreak havoc on unsuspecting innocents. I try to live by the Golden Rule, otherwise practiced as “don’t be an a$$hole”.

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    I saw a documentary on Kevyn Aucoin. When he came out as gay, his adoptive parents changed their religious affiliation to an inclusive one. That stemmed from real love, not a secret desire to sin. Imagine if more Christians loved like that.

    I had to leave the church to learn how to truly care for people, animals, and the environment. Letting go of false guilt has vastly improved my mental health. I’m a better, healthier person now.

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    Brunetto Latini

    I know this sounds harsh, but if more Christians were accepting of homosexuals, it would just give better cover to Christianity, where no gay people belong. Liberals give cover to fundamentalists. The reality is that religions are most faithfully represented by their fundamentalist believers.

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      Carol Dworkowski

      The church where I currently hang out as a welcomed non-member welcomes EVERYONE, including the entire spectrum of gender identities.

      The problem is that the non-heterosexual persons among us have been so traumatized that they are afraid to reveal their affection for one another within any general congregational gathering. Their reticence is certainly understandable, even though a more visible presence would go a long way toward making everyone more comfortable with gender diversity.

      The non-heterosexual members of our faith community meet regularly in the home of a heterosexual elder and his wife where they can share an experience of intimate christian fellowship without self-conscious anxiety. That seems to be the best we can do for now.

      My own personal expectation is that time will solve the unnecessary divisions over this issue. It is already a non-issue for most millennials.

      There is a difference between rigid gender identity and its sexual expression. In many primitive cultures non-heterodox people were called “two-spirit” people and were given greater, not less, respect because they experienced a greater integration of maleness and femaleness than the solely heterosexual-practicing majority in their community ).

      Sexual union between persons has two functions, procreative and unitive. Until relatively recent medical technology lowered the infant mortality rates and increased human longevity, the procreative function was the most important function which made heterosexuality almost a necessary obligation for survival of our species. Now, with overpopulation becoming a problem in many places, the unitive function of human sexuality is being recognized as an expression of enduring loving commitment between two persons, and not necessarily solely between two persons of opposite genders.

      I can remember when it was “scandalous” for a woman to go to church without wearing a hat because St. Paul said that a woman’s head must be covered as a sign of submission to male authority. Then it was women’s ordination that split church communities. Some churches have still not evolved beyond this issue, but they are in the minority and definitely on the wrong side of history. Now its the “gay thing.” After a generation or two has passed into the fullness of Eternity it will probably be something else. To the extent that we as individual persons and groups fail to grow beyond our narcissistic egoism, we will always have an intolerance for the otherness of others. Many people believe that our species is on the verge of a quantum leap forward in human consciousness that will take us beyond our dualistic, us-vs-them mentality. It is called a paradigm shift or simply “The Shift.” I see hopeful signs of it, not from the news media, of course, but I think at this point that our fate as a species could go either way–extinction or a greatly enhanced quality of life, both materially and psychospiritually.

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    leaving the judgement and anger behind has been such a relief. my kids are being raised totally different from how dh and I were raised. dh still a nominal Christian, me on the way out of Christianity. kids were relieved when we quit church more than 12 yrs ago. our family is happier and stronger. kids better adjusted. these evangelicals cannot seem to accept that society is progressing and moving on w/o them. I watch my own parents rail and judge and say awful things because they want to go back to women being subjugated and white men having all the say over everything. they gave up what could have been a great life for ministry. I believe they do realize that it was all for nothing but won’t admit it.

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      Hugh D. Young

      Evan G. Ellikal and his band of demented cronies seem to have 2 methodologies for trying to maintain/ re-gain relevance in today’s culture in the midst of all of this, (We’re, by and large, simply NOT BUYING WHAT THEY’RE PEDDLING ANYMORE)….1) Double down on the ‘Gawwd has his rightful place to make The Rules by which thy shall live! Gawwwwwwwwwwdd doesn’t change, and he surely doesn’t give 2 shits about ‘opinion polls’! Submit to that reality, or BURN,BURN, BURRRRRRRRRRN FOR-EVUHH!! 2) Make ‘compromises’ to adjust the ‘gospel’ to suit those of us who are ‘different’, however that ‘difference’ manifests itself in our person/ life-‘God loves you soooooo much, he’ll accept you just how you are’! etc etc. blah-zay, boo-lah-zay. Of course, to the first group, the 2nd group are conveying no ‘gospel’ at all; All we really need to do to witness that in action is think back a few months to when Rachel Held Evans passed away so quickly & unexpectedly, and how joyously they threw her under the bus, and straight into hell!

      Is it just me, or do I rightly recall that ‘The Gospel’ loosely translated is THE GOOD NEWS? REALLY? LIKE…STARTING WHEN?

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    Brunetto Latini

    Carol, the OT says homosexuals should be killed. The NT says God has completely given up on us (Romans 1, I think), and being Christian requires repentance from homosexual behavior (1 Cor 7, I think). Clearly, the Christian God has no place for us, and while it’s nice that your church accepts gay people, it doesn’t change the fact the “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. Your church is just part of the problem holding back gay people from liberation from religion.

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      Carol Dworkowski

      The OT also says that adulterers should be killed. I’m not for that either.

      Here’s an idea–if you have an ethical problem with a human behavior that is not being criminalized by the State, then choose for yourself not to do it. That would be witnessing by example without committing the sin of judgmentalism which has been explicitly condemned by Jesus.

      An Adequate Faith

      “If I, as a Christian, believe that my first duty is to love and respect my fellow in his personal frailty and perplexity, in his own unique hazard and need for trust, then I think that the refusal to let him alone, to entrust him to God and his conscience, and the insistence on rejecting them as persons until they agree with me, is simply a sign that my own faith is inadequate.

      My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the division between believer and unbeliever ceases to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others are all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an unbeliever more or less.” ~ From “Apologies to an Unbeliever” by Thomas Merton

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      Carol Dworkowski

      Brunetto, a question just popped up in my mind. Why are you trying to “liberate” gay people from religion? What about the gay people who want to be welcomed into, not “liberated” from, a healthy faith community?

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    Brunetto Latini

    Being out is about being honest. There is NOTHING honest about gay-inclusive Christianity. The scriptural interpretations are contrived and not widely believed or taken seriously. If you want to build a gay-inclusive religion, stop calling it Christian. It isn’t. Christianity is historically and authentically homophobic.

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      Carol Dworkowski

      Brunetto, there is cultural syncretism in every religious movement. Sometimes this syncretism is good, it adds “flesh” to the bare bones of belief. Other times it is harmful, it diminishes the power of Love, which is at the heart of all authentic spiritual/religious traditions.

      Part of my “religion” is Native American spirituality. It is creation-centered, not sin-centered.

      As I previously shared, I believe that the opposite (and correct response) to bad government is good government, not no government. I believe the same about “religion”–the proper response to bad religion is good religion, not no religion.

      There are a lot of agnostics that have anti-gay prejudices. There may even be a few atheists who have reservations about the majority cultural change to an acceptance that goes beyond mere tolerance, also.

      My daughter is gay, autistic, suffers from chronic clinical depression and spectrum of other mental disorders. My son won in the genetic lottery, she lost. Trumpism precipitated a complete psychological meltdown–“I’m female, gay, disabled and poor, the government is trying to kill me,” she said. I told her, “No, ‘the government’ is not trying to kill you, it just wants you to die.” My daughter “fired” me as her primary care giver because I had her involuntarily committed to the psych ward. Involuntary commitment was always her greatest fear, so I knew our relationship would be over. She probably never will realize how sick she was. Magistrates do not sign commitment papers without credible evidence of danger to self or others now that adult mental patients have equal legal rights to self-determination. My daughter had a history of suicidal ideation and an opioid prescription. My action ended our relationship on her side and any attempt to contact her that would force a response would be a boundary invasion, I send her birthday, Halloween and Samhain cards (not Christmas cards because she feels as you do about the Church and church and christianity are joined in her mind). I also google her name, city and the word obit every couple of months. Painful as our estrangement is, I am at peace with my decision to commit my daughter. Our relationship may be dead, but she is still alive as far as I know. I learned a lot from my daughter. I learned that the danger from suicide is not when the depression is at its deepest, deep depression robs the person of all initiative, it is that window where there has been enough recovery that initiative has begun to return, but the despair has not receded.

      I doubt that Trump supporters, many of whom are Evangelicals, have no concept of the affect his mean-spirited, disfunctional presidency is having on people who struggle with the effects of clinical mental illness and their families and friends who care for them. This is not a good time to be sick, disabled, old and/or poor in America!

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    Brian Vanderlip

    There are people who have been cared for, are lucky enough and have chosen to try to avoid being jerks and twits in life. This is perhaps simply an evolutionary choice that goes beyond the individual and into the mob of us. One chooses to assist a drowning other in a river because one values life and knows intrinsically, biologically, that this is the correct action, just in a sense as a parent stands close to a child in danger. The parent does not even have to be that child’s own parent, you see? To suggest there is some magic gawd principle here is easy and the tool of religion co-opts simple realities like this and claims them as their own. Not.

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      Carol Dworkowski

      The ongoing conflict over whether it is nature or nurture that shapes our development is another reductionistic dualism that limits our understanding. It is both/and, not either/or that influences our development as human persons.

      Suffering the same consequences makes some people bitter and cynical, while others become more empathetic and less judgmental. This seems to be true of both religious and a-religious people.

      You are correct the “mob” or “herd” mentality has a strong effect on the moral choices of individual persons.

      We are an excessively individualistic society, but our individualism does not seem to protect us from the effects of our “herd” instincts. We need to become what Jung termed individuation or self-differentiated as family systems counselors call it:

      It is true that institutions, including religious institutions discourage the self-differentiation necessary to become healthy, mature adults:

      In a rare interview in 1967 with Thomas McDonnell, [Thomas] Merton pronounced that the great crisis in the church is a crisis of authority precipitated because the church, as institution and organization, has overshadowed the reality of the church as a community of persons united in love and in Christ. He now charged that obedience and conformity with the impersonal corporation-church are a fact in the life of Christians. “The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity.
      ~ George Kilcourse, ACE OF FREEDOMS: Thomas Merton’s Christ

      But so do dystunctional families. Leaving an abusive church environment is only the first step toward psychosocial/spiritual healing for many and even those of us fortunate enough to have been raised in a relatively healthy family environment like Sally (see second comment) still have a life time of inner work to do to realize our full human potential.

      Unlike many of my co-religionists, I no not see “religion” as the answer to all of humanity’s ills. Too often, and especially now, it is obviously a part of the problem. I do see our greatest hope in humanism. Whether it is secular humanism, christian humanism, buddhist humanism, etc. does not concern me. Humanism’s common thread is that it calls us to strive for responsible adulthood. Since we are social, not solitary, animals, this is a calling that none of us can sustainably pursue alone, which is an unacceptable belief to the human ego. In fact, by claiming grace alone, many people justify their refusal to cooperate with others with whom they don’t agree, especially when their self-interest conflicts with the demands of justice.

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    dave folgers

    Calvinists aren’t Christians; they’re just atheists pretending to be Christians. Anyone who denies freewill is an atheist because it amounts to a denial of the soul.

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