Most of the time when I check my social media accounts, I can be sure to find at least one post by fundamentalist evangelical Christians that either elicits an eye roll or a chuckle from me. Here are some good ones from this week, along with my comments.
“To pray ‘Thy Will be done’ I must be willing, if the answer requires it, that my will be undone.” – Elisabeth Elliot
OC: Bruce has written quite a few posts concerning Christians’ interpretation of the answers to prayer. If one prays for something that doesn’t happen, then the Christian says, “It wasn’t God’s Will.” If one prays for direction between option A and option B, the Christian usually just chooses what he or she wants to do. If it works out, then Yay! the Christian successfully understood God’s Will. If it doesn’t work out, then it was a “lesson from God”.
“Don’t worry. God’s never blind to your tears, never deaf to your prayers, and never silent to your pain. He sees, he hears, and he will deliver.”
OC: Yeah, that’s what makes him such a jerk – he sees and hears but he doesn’t actually deliver . . . just ask all the victims of every natural disaster EVER. Oh, yeah, the “God’s Will” thing again . . . it’s a mystery, isn’t it?
“Christ offends men because his gospel is intolerant of sin.” – Charles Spurgeon
OC: Judgmental blowhards like Charles Spurgeon and name-your-favorite-evangelical-pastor offend me with their incessant talk of sin, hell, and damnation for everyone whose interpretation of the gospel doesn’t match theirs. They offend me with their assumption that everyone is filthy and pure evil until they say the magic words and *poof!* Jesus makes it all better. They offend me by offering me a “choice” between saying the magic words to become a slave to Jesus but escaping the eternal flames of hell, or not saying the magic words and facing an eternity of torture – just for existing. They offend me with their insistence that I must vote a certain way, dress a certain way, act a certain way, give money a certain way – THEIR way.
“We are sent to bless the world, but we are never told to compromise with it.” – A. W. Tozer
OC: Because Jesus needs SOMEBODY to be judgmental and to fight the culture wars. Omnipotence only goes so far with the Trinity . . .
“Drunk Lot impregnated his daughter, who bore Moab, whence came Ruth, the great-grandmother of David. Christ’s own bloodline preaches his will to save even the most messed up of families.” – Chad Bird
OC: I’ll let you guys comment on this one . . .
“Parents who know how to repent in front of their kids give them a greater gift than a Harvard education.” – Scotty Smith
OC: I’d rather have the Harvard education instead of watching my parents pray to Jesus and consider themselves (and me) worms all the time. But that’s just me, and education is what led me down the road to atheism, so there is that.
“When you realize God’s purpose for your life isn’t just about you, He will use you in a mighty way.” – Dr. Tony Evans
OC: I like to be able to make my own choices, to choose my own purpose, to have autonomy as much as possible in my life. It’s worked out pretty well so far. I guess I could just sit here and let God repurpose me. Nah . . .
“Pray, then let it go. Don’t try and manipulate or force the outcome. Just trust God to open the right doors at the right time. Amen.”
OC: The principal of our local high school tells the students every day to CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. The point is to teach students to assess which aspects of a situation are in their control and which aspects are out of their control. Then students are encouraged to act on the aspects that are in their control. Sitting around and waiting for an invisible and silent deity to manage a situation is poor advice.
What Christian messages have you seen on social media this week? Please share with us in the comments!
Here is a sampling of some of the posts I have seen this week from Christians on social media. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!
“If you neglect to instruct (your children) in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No; but if you will not teach them to pray, he will curse, swear, and lie; if ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.” John Flavel
(OC: While it is true that it is our parental duty to teach our children so that they can grow up to be self-sufficient law-abiding citizens, there isn’t a “devil” going around trying to teach our kids to be evil.)
“The gospel is simple to understand: 1) Jesus died on a cross 2) Jesus was buried 3) Jesus rose on the 3rd day 4) Jesus saves man from their sin 5) You must be born again That is a simple gospel, now let’s tell it to the world!”
(OC: This simplification of the gospel message still makes absolutely no sense. Honestly, what came to light for me was that without the fear of hell part, I read it and thought, um, OK, whatever. Just because you tell me I just be “born again” without any explanation of what that means or why, I just think you sound nutty.)
“Prayer is the most important conversation in your day. Talk to God before you talk to anyone else.”
(OC: Yeah, it’s totally more important for me to talk silently in my head at the ceiling before communicating with real live human beings who are important in my life. Now, if Christians are using this as their version of reminding themselves not to be assholes first thing in the morning, maybe that’s OK.)
“Beautiful Jesus, thank you for taking my place.”
(OC: Jesus, your Dad condemned all humanity to suffer eternity in hell because supposedly a couple of ancestors 500 generations ago ate a piece of fruit. So your Dad had to morph himself into you so you/he could be killed and fake-die because you/he can’t really die being immortal, and if I believe the right way about you/him I won’t spend eternity in hell because of mad Dad.)
“What God knows about us is more important than what others think.” Tim Tebow
(OC: So that’s why, Tim, you had to make a big freakin’ deal about kneeling at your NFL games? Because God was too dumb to know anything about you otherwise?)
“Do you know that nothing you do in this life will even matter unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made?” Francis Chan
(OC: I wish more Trump-loving evangelical Christians realized that they needed to love people – and to show their love for people through assisting the less fortunate – rather than trying to legislate their ideas of morality on the rest of the nation.)
“Faith is not about everything turning out okay. Faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.”
(OC: While there are times we need to accept what we cannot control, there are other times when we can control outcomes if we take certain actions. Just sitting around passively taking whatever happens in life is not a good way to live.)
Recently, I was back in the Bible Belt where I grew up, as I dropped my daughter off for her first year of college in Nashville. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and attended a Fundamentalist Christian school, but I started moving away from those doctrines at age eighteen when my church started teaching complementarianism (then called Biblical manhood and womanhood). Going to a secular university opened up other ideas to me to which I had not been exposed, and I was able to move away physically and literally from Christian Fundamentalism. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, and we attended progressive Christian church for a while before we both shifted into agnostic atheism. Our children have not been raised with any religious indoctrination, and when my daughter indicated that she wanted to attend university in the South, I thought it would be important to let her know what Evangelical Christians believe so that she wouldn’t be shocked when she found out that some of our family members still believe this way and that some people she encounters in Tennessee may hold these views.
My parents divorced when I was little, and my mom remarried and had another child. My brother is twelve years younger than I am, and his upbringing was quite different from mine. I lived with my grandparents — he lived with his mom and dad. I was sent to private Christian school — he attended public school after he was expelled from the private Christian school in third grade (yes, expelled in third grade; he mouthed off to the teacher and to the principal). My mom and stepdad moved to a different town after I graduated from college, and they left the Southern Baptist Church, eventually ending up at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. My brother and his wife and two sons do not attend church. Instead, my brother is part of a Skype men’s prayer and Bible study group, and he reads a lot of Christian books and watches live stream and YouTube sermons. Every night before bed, he teaches and prays with his sons, and he spends time on his own praying before bed. He also posts a lot of Bible verses and links to very conservative Christian articles and YouTube videos on social media; with that evidence, I am confident that he still believes many aspects of Fundamentalist Christianity. I am not sure what my sister-in-law believes, but I don’t get the impression she is as devout as my brother. My brother knows that we are not Bible literalists at all, and he knows that we expose our kids to a lot more of “the world” than he does, but I have not used the “A” word around him yet. He probably thinks we are apostates but still somehow under the umbrella of God. I think he doesn’t ask specifics because he doesn’t want to know, and I don’t bring it up because I don’t want him to excommunicate me from the family.
On our long drive from Tennessee back to New Jersey, my husband asked me if my brother believes that we are going to Hell. I told my husband that I am not sure what my brother knows or believes about our religiosity, but it’s certainly a possibility that he might think one or more of us is bound for Hell. According to the doctrines in which we were brought up, I am of the “once saved always saved” crowd, so he probably believes that I am apostate but not necessarily bound for the Lake of Fire. I’m not sure if my brother knows that my husband was Catholic, but he may believe that somehow through my influence my husband is “saved” and that I probably made sure the children “got saved” too. My brother made sure his children said the “Sinner’s Prayer” and he baptized the boys in the bathtub (because somehow that’s allowed, I guess). My husband asked what the “Sinner’s Prayer” is, and I told him it’s some version of admitting that one is a sinner, that one repents of his or her sin, accepts that Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. One must accept that humans are all bound for Hell unless they have accepted the saving grace of Jesus. My husband naively stated, “Oh, it’s like the Creed we stated at church every Sunday.” I said, “Ummmm…sort of — it’s more of a one-and-done statement that you really, really, really have to mean for it to take. And then you get baptized. If it all takes, then you’re ‘saved’ from Hell.”
My husband stated that if my brother and his wife thought there was a possibility that we were bound for Hell, he is hurt and offended that they have not once tried to proselytize to him to make sure. Honestly, I was surprised by his statement, but I can understand why he would feel that way. If you truly believe that someone you care about is in danger of spending eternity in the Lake of Fire – or even if you are an annihilationist and believe that anyone sentenced to Hell immediately ceases to exist — why would you not try to warn that person before it is too late?
I explained to my husband that in Evangelical Christianity, there is great emphasis placed on “witnessing” or proselytizing. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
Some Evangelical Christians actively proselytize, verbally witnessing to people they meet or know. Some take a more passive approach, either by wearing Christian-themed clothing, posting Christian-themed signs on their property or vehicles, or decorating their office space with Christian-themed items. Some people make it their life’s vocation, becoming pastors or missionaries. But many (perhaps most?) Evangelicals do not “witness” at all. When I was an Evangelical, I did not actively witness to people. Everyone I knew at school and at church was already “saved.” I worked in a university biochemistry laboratory as a teenager and college student, and I was too intimidated to try to initiate a religious discussion with my coworkers, as all of them had at least a bachelor’s degree, most had doctorates, and I was not as educated as they. Honestly, I felt that Fundamentalist Christianity was a sect for the uneducated, and I assumed my coworkers probably thought so as well.
In any case, I was glad to make it through a trip to Tennessee without people preaching to me about their brand of religion, though I did see my fair share of Christian-themed road signs, T-shirts, and home decor in stores. A lot of people in Tennessee love Jesus!
What are your thoughts on proselytizing? Are you glad when people do not proselytize you, or do you consider that they do not care about you enough to try to witness to you so you escape eternity in Hell or annihilation after death? Did you attempt to proselytize when you were an Evangelical Christian? Why or why not?
There is a popular song sung by Ariana Grande called God Is A Woman that has some Evangelical Christians up in arms. When it was released, my 18-year-old daughter and her friends were excited that this might be a song about female empowerment. They were hoping that Ariana Grande would sing about women pursuing their dreams, breaking through glass ceilings, being recognized as equals in the workplace and in politics, doing all the things that their grandmothers and great-grandmothers were prevented from doing as 18-year-olds. My daughter’s friend group were a bit disappointed that this was a song about sex with one’s lover. The song is empowering in that the woman is communicating to her lover what gives her pleasure, and she tells her lover what she will do to give her lover pleasure. Yet my daughter and her friends, all high-achieving young women who grew up in the shadow of New York City, wanted more:
You, you love it how I move you You love it how I touch you My one, when all is said and done You’ll believe God is a woman And I, I feel it after midnight A feeling that you can’t fight My one, it lingers when we’re done You’ll believe God is a woman
I don’t wanna waste no time, yeah You ain’t got a one-track mind, yeah Have it any way you like, yeah And I can tell that you know I know how I want it Ain’t nobody else can relate Boy, I like that you ain’t afraid Baby, lay me down and let’s pray I’m tellin’ you the way I like it, how I want it
(Yeah) And I can be all the things you told me not to be (Yeah) When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing (Yeah) And he see the universe when I’m in company It’s all in me
You, you love it how I move you You love it how I touch you My one, when all is said and done You’ll believe God is a woman And I, I feel it after midnight A feeling that you can’t fight My one, it lingers when we’re done You’ll believe God is a woman
I tell you all the things you should know So, baby, take my hand, save your soul We can make it last, take it slow, hmm And I can tell that you know I know how I want it, yeah That you different from the rest And boy, if you confess, you might get blessed See if you deserve what comes next I’m tellin’ you the way I like it, how I want it
(Yeah) And I can be all the things you told me not to be (Yeah) When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing (Yeah) And he see the universe when I’m in company It’s all in me
You, you love it how I move you You love it how I touch you My one, when all is said and done You’ll believe God is a woman And I, I feel it after midnight A feeling that you can’t fight My one, it lingers when we’re done You’ll believe God is a woman, yeah, yeah
(God is a woman) Yeah, yeah (God is a woman, yeah) My one (One) When all is said and done You’ll believe God is a woman You’ll believe God (God is a woman) Oh, yeah (God is a woman, yeah) (One) It lingers when we’re done You’ll believe God is a woman
As we drove from northeastern New Jersey through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky to my daughter’s university in middle Tennessee, we marveled at the bumper stickers and highway signs we saw along the way. Living in a diverse area where people of many faiths and no faith reside, we see religion represented by religious houses of worship and through religious dress. We are not accustomed to seeing signs with religious messages. Here is a small sample of the messages we saw during our road trip – I wish we had been able to photograph or write down each one, but this selection is representative of the messages we saw.
“Lust Will Drag You Down to Hell” (And there were flames in the bottom right-hand corner, because that’s where hell is, the bottom right-hand corner)
“Prepare To Meet Thy God” (Is that a threat or a promise? I can’t tell….)
“Todd’s Auto Body – Serving You AND The Lord” (Because if Todd is serving the Lord he TOTALLY won’t rip you off)
“God Loves You! Jesus Is Coming Soon!” (OK cool….does he want to text me to meet for coffee?)
“This Cross Is a Memorial to All the Aborted Babies” (Um….OK)
“HE > i” (and no, the lower-case “i” is not a typo)
“Jesus Forgives Our Sins” (Isn’t that special?)
Two separate billboards advertising the Planetarium and Creation Museum in Kentucky
A farm named “By Faith Farm”
A bumper sticker shaped like the Jesus fish, with American flag background, and prayer hands in the middle of the fish’s body with the text “For Freedom” superimposed over the flag (I suppose the meaning should be translated to “please pray for Christian religious freedom in America”)
T-shirt proclaiming that “Sundays are for Jesus, Family, and Football” (How about we skip the Jesus part and just go straight to Family and Football, OK?)
T-shirt proclaiming “Nope Satan, Not Today” (I found this particularly funny)
As we passed more and more of these types of signs, heard a political ad in West Virginia against a candidate who supported funding Planned Parenthood and appealing to the pro-life crowd, and saw Christian memorabilia for sale in the convenience stores, my daughter suddenly understood. She said that driving in a part of the country which was so overtly Christian made her aware that Ariana Grande’s song could only receive air time if her empowerment message was disguised as a love song rather than as an outright feminist anthem. While fundamentalist evangelical Christians are outraged over the notion that their God might be a woman (because, God forbid, complementarianism, y’all), they are focusing more on “God is a woman” than on a woman communicating her desires to her partner and promising to fulfill the partner’s desires in return. They are focusing on the outrage that their deity may be portrayed as a woman, someone who is commanded in the Pauline epistles to submit to the husband’s authority and to remain silent in church. They aren’t focusing on Ariana Grande’s encouragement of women to communicate with their partners as equals.
From my perspective, if some Evangelical teenagers listen to this song, I hope that the message of equality gets through to them. And yes, from my experience growing up as a Fundamentalist teenager, many teens do sneak and listen to “worldly” radio (or these days, streaming music) without their parents knowing. No matter how much youth pastors rant and rave against the influences of “the world,” the ranting and raving only make the appeal of “worldly” media that much more enticing. Who knows, maybe some of these Evangelical teens might embrace the concept that god could, indeed, be a woman!
Many of my relatives and friends from my Evangelical days are prolific in posting their religious views on social media. I’d love to ask them how many converts they think they’ve gotten from their posts. From what I can tell, they get “likes” from those who agree with them in their echo chamber while the rest of us just roll our eyes and scroll by.
Here are some highlights from this week.
Religion: If I obey, I’m accepted. If I’m good, God will love me. People: Good and bad Focus: What I do or don’t do Produces: Pride and despair Motivated by fear
Gospel: I’m accepted so I obey. I’m bad and Jesus loves bad people. People: Repentant or not Focus: What Jesus did Produces: Humility and confidence Motivated by love
“I don’t follow a ‘religion’, I follow something infinitely superior — the Gospel! I’m a bad bad person and Jesus loves me anyway because I was repentant and accepted the fact that I was so incredibly bad that Jesus/God had to become human, die, and be resurrected to prevent himself/God/Jesus/Holy Spirit from damning me to eternity in hell if I humble myself and admit how utterly bad I am. Now I’m confident I won’t go to hell. Because love. Because Jesus committed suicide for us, but not really because himself/his dad could raise people from the dead. So don’t call me religious.”
We must never rest until everything inside us worships God – A.W. Tozer
“We’ve gotta worship God all the time to make sure we keep him happy. Because if God ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Yay God!”
The modern world demands that we approve what it should not dare ask us to be tolerated – Nicolas Gomez Davila
“My inspiration of the Holy Spirit (aka, what my pastor tells me) from the Bible assures me that gay people should not have equal rights to straight people; that women should be submissive to their husbands, fathers, pastors, etc., and should stay home and take care of babies and homes whether they want to or not; that people who do not believe the way I do are apostates and going to burn in hell for eternity; that my religious freedom demands that I be allowed to discriminate against all these apostate sinners. Why? Because Jesus! And you shouldn’t ask me to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, because they’re wrong — Jesus/my pastor told me they are wrong.”
But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me – 2 Timothy 4:17
“I got scared and my mommy wasn’t there so I thought real real hard and remembered this Bible verse. And then I was able to go do adult stuff. Yay Lord!”
The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson, but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well. – A.W. Tozer
“My God is an abuser and I am his abused subject. He declares that I am weak and worthless without him. I believe that I am a worthless piece of garbage because he tells me so. But one of himself/his beings became human and committed fake suicide and rose from the dead because he can do stuff like that because he is omnimax so that he wouldn’t have to send me to eternity in hell just for existing if I repented hard enough, believed the right things, and said the right things. Yay God! Isn’t he awesome? Now I’m worth something because he said I am. And you’re a worthless piece of garbage if you don’t believe the right things.”
Satan tries to limit your praying because he knows your praying will limit him. – Toby Mac #SpeakLife
“I believe in a whole mess of supernatural beings that I can’t see. God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, angels, demons, Satan/Lucifer/Devil, Beast, Anti-Christ — they’re all totally real, y’all, and they are out there doing battle. It’s like Harry Potter (but not, because we all know Harry Potter is totally demonic because witchcraft) except you can’t see them and they’re totally all around us and all. And the Bad Guys try to control us and lead us astray and all, and the Good Guys just want us to follow them and do the right thing and not be led into temptation. Yay Good Guys! And I think that if I think hard enough in my head about the supernatural sphere or say words out loud to the supernatural sphere, that the Good Guys will hear me and will get their swords going even harder to defeat the evil old meanie Bad Guys!”
Feel free to craft your own creative responses or to share your own experiences from this week with Christians on Social Media!
As I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and attended an Evangelical Christian school (which was more or less IFB in doctrine), I have a lot of connections on social media who are still hardcore, committed fundamentalist evangelical Christians. Every time I check my news feed, I am sure to see at least one Christian-themed post or meme. Here are a few I have seen in the past three days, complete with my interpretation of what the poster is saying.
**(Insert “Seriously” meme here)**
“I’m being an annoying jerk and am going to make a snarky comment showing why I am right to continue to be an annoying jerk. Because I’m right. And you’re not. And it’s totally what Jesus would do.”
**(Insert “Invisible” meme here)**
“I can’t see, touch, or prove God exists, but I’m going to give you reasons why he totally does that can’t be disputed because there’s no evidence since none of these things actually occurred — God saved you from these awful things. Yay team God!”
**(Insert “Judgment” meme here)**
“In case your intention was not to accept my version of Jesus Christ and to continue to live in what my church, pastor, and almighty God and I consider to be sin, here is a subtle threat. Because fear and threats are so totally effective in winning over converts who are scrolling through social media.”
**(Insert “Can’t” meme here)**
“Evangelical Christianity tells me that I’m too weak and worthless to do things on my own but that Jesus is omnipotent, so I have to pray really hard so that Jesus can help me accomplish difficult tasks.”
**(Insert “Battle” meme here)**
“Because Evangelical Christianity never allowed me to grow up and become an adult or to gain confidence in my abilities, I have to repeat an arsenal of mantras to get me through the tough times. Because Jesus/God can beat up mean old Satan!”
**(Insert “Hospital” meme here)**
“Apostates, atheists, and other people who aren’t True Christians® call us Warriors for Jesus hypocrites so here is my snarky response. Take that, you meanie apostates, atheists, and non-True Christians®. Na-na-na-na boo-boo.”
Now it’s your turn! Let’s have a little fun and make some creative interpretations!
Some long time ago, I married my first wife mainly for her looks. However, I didn’t allow myself to think I was marrying her for her looks. Instead, I talked myself into the conviction I was marrying her out of love for her.
As near as I can figure out, I told myself I was marrying her for love because I didn’t want to face the reality I was shallow enough to marry someone mainly for her looks. Facing that reality would have required me to change how I thought of myself. And rather than do that — change how I thought of myself — I changed my life.
Now, I would like to say the experience taught me a lesson, and I would never again make the same mistake.
Unfortunately, I am 52 years old — which is old enough to know I have at times in life repeated a mistake, even a grievous one. There is no absolute guarantee, then, I would not do the same thing again.
It is not always easy to be mindful of how foolish one can be. But to think we cannot be fools is — in my experience at least — simply a delusion.
Of course, to be deluded is one of the few things in life nearly everyone can excel at, no matter how little talent they have for anything else. It seems delusions are not only easy to achieve, but that they are all but mandatory for our clever species of chimpanzee. In fact, I don’t think one needs to be a cynic to acknowledge that we as a species are typically delusional through-out our lives and to one extent or another.
Thus, I am not optimistic I can live my life free of delusions. I do believe, however, that I — or anyone else — can do somethings to improve the situation, and I’d like to talk about two of those things here.
The first thing we might do to improve the situation rests on the simple observation that everyone else’s delusions are typically more transparent to us than our own. For instance: It is quite easy for me to see how poorly reasoned are the various arguments against the Theory of Evolution because I myself don’t share in the delusion the Theory is false. But it is far and away more difficult for me to see how dangerous to political freedom and civil liberties in this country are some of the policies adopted by President Obama because I strongly wish to believe he will set right all that has been set wrong in the past. Of course, in this case I’m doing well to suspect I’m deluded about President Obama — for the most part, I have no inkling at all of my delusions. Yet, my delusions might be quite transparent to someone else.
Since everyone else’s delusions are typically more transparent to us than our own, it follows that other people might help us get a handle on our own delusions. The operative word there is “might”. It is not always true they can or will.
Let’s turn now to another thing we can do to help us deal with the challenge of being a species prone to delusions. Like the first thing I mentioned, this second thing also rests on a simple observation: That is, we are very much inclined to delude ourselves whenever we fail to accept ourselves as we are. Thus, to lessen our chances of self-delusion, it is ideal to as much as possible accept ourselves just as we are, without judgment — i.e. without condemnation or praise.
Perhaps it is intuitive that self-condemnation represents a rejection of ourselves — rather than an acceptance — but how does self-praise interfere with our accepting ourselves as we are? I know from experience that self-praise does in fact interfere with accepting ourselves, but I have only a theory as to how it does that. Praise, of course, is a form of judgment, and judgments are comparative. When you judge something, you are comparing it to something. So when we praise ourselves we are, on some level, comparing ourselves to something else and in effect saying that other thing is the more valuable. I don’t know whether or not that’s really how it works — I only know from observation that self-praise is not self-acceptance.
After pointing out a couple minor ways in which we might manage our delusions, it might be worthwhile to briefly mention that societies can be seen as vast conspiracies to prop up various delusions. I’m only half-joking here. Of course it is easier to see how a society might be thought of as a bunch of people engaged in a conspiracy to delude themselves when you are looking at someone else’s society besides your own. And it is easier to see how your own society might be thought of that way when you are not busy judging it. My purpose, though, in half-jokingly calling societies “vast conspiracies” is to point out that our species is not only prone to delusions, but that most of us are now and then engaged in helping each other maintain our delusions. At least some of our delusions.
Just consider for a moment the tremendous money, talent and energy that is each day put into perpetuating the Western myth that for each person in this world there is one — and only one — other person who is a perfect mate, a soul mate. So far as I can see, that notion is delusional. Yet, it’s among the most popular notions of our time and the resources spent on perpetuating it are nearly astronomical.
Now, against that backdrop, consider some of the challenges we face in trying to manage our delusions. I have pointed out two minor ways that might help manage them, but even if someone were to assiduously practice both of those ways, they would still be swimming in a social sea of delusions. So far as I can see, societies have always been, and always will be, something akin to vast conspiracies to prop up various delusions. Perhaps it is impossible, then, for an individual to live a relatively realistic life without to some extent being alienated from his or her society.
Human nature is prone to delusion. It seems almost all of us excel in the art of deluding ourselves. Perhaps most of our delusions are comparatively harmless. Now and then, though, some delusions might lead us to make unwise choices. It is probably for the best then that we are mindful of our capacity to be deluded and do what we can to be realistic.
Recently, I have read blog post comments by people who describe themselves as former atheists who later turned to religion. Their description of the term “atheist” differs from what I think of when I use the term. Dictionary.com describes an atheist as “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” So as to not employ the “No True Scotsman” fallacy with regard to people who purport to be atheists-turned-religionists, I thought it would be a good idea to research the similarities and differences among people who are “nones,” “dones,” and atheists. What I found helped me to understand these demographics a bit better.
“Nones” is the name given by pollsters to represent the growing number of people who report that they do not identify with any particular religion; people who are indifferent towards organized religion. This seems to be a broad category that consists of a variety of different groups. Some people identifying as “nones” were not raised in religion, or had limited exposure to religion, and thus do not identify strongly enough with any one religion to don a religious label. Other “nones” used to be active in a religion, but are no longer affiliated with any particular sect or congregation. Some of those who are no longer affiliated with a particular congregation consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious” while others say they do not believe in the supernatural. There are some “nones” like my brother, who refuses to be part of a church congregation but who is very devout, choosing to follow wherever he believes “the Holy Spirit” or some other deity leads him. (Honestly, I am not sure if my brother would identify as a “none.” It would depend on the wording of the question, as he refers to himself as “a follower of Christ.”) Agnostics and atheists are “nones” by nature, as they do not identify with a religion. While agnostics and atheists characterize themselves as “nones,” not all “nones” may be characterized as agnostics or atheists. As you can see, the moniker “nones” encompasses a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs regarding the supernatural or deities.
The “dones” are people who were once very involved in a religion but who have chosen to walk away. They are often referred to as being “unchurched” or “dechurched.” While many (like my brother) retain their faith, they no longer attend traditional religious services. Some “dones” are a subset of the “nones” to the degree that they do not consider themselves members of a congregation, but they may still identify with a religion to the extent that they did not lose their faith. As I am an atheist and my brother is a devout though unchurched Christian, I consider us to be polar opposites in the “done” category.
Not to be forgotten are agnostics and atheists. Agnostics and atheists would fall into the category of “nones” in that they do not express affiliation with a particular religion. Some agnostics and atheists may be atheists by default, having not been raised in a religious household — my kids fall into this category. My kids can offer reasons why they do not believe in a deity or deities, but they do not feel strongly either positively or negatively toward any religion. Some default agnostics and atheists may not possess strong reasons why they do not believe in deities other than the fact that they were not indoctrinated into believing in the supernatural; other agnostics and atheists not raised in a religion may have strong arguments as to why they are atheists. Some agnostics and atheists were raised in a religious household, and we became “dones” to the extent that we are finished with religion and then took it a step further by ceasing to believe in deities. Those of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists have often studies a great deal about our former religion’s claims as well as history, archaeology, biology, mythology, and so forth. We seek evidence that either supports or does not support religious claims, and we can generally give reasons to support our claims that deities do not or are likely not to exist. Some of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists feel strongly that certain sects of religion are harmful to members and to those that members themselves persecute outside their religion.
Do you consider yourself to be a “none”, a “done”, an agnostic or atheist, or perhaps some combination?
A Sunday morning in June in New Jersey can often be warm, sunny, and beautiful. Many people are outside biking, walking, running, gardening, walking their dog, or just sitting outside enjoying the day. I’m a runner, and in the running community, one typically plans one’s longest run of the week on Saturday or Sunday morning when one is most likely to have two to four hours to spend on a run. We even have a phrase for it for those who choose Sunday — the Church of the Sunday Long Run.
This past Sunday, I went out for a nice run and took a slightly different route that led me past a small Lutheran church. About thirty to forty people were outside in folding chairs listening to the minister conducting the service. It makes sense when you have a small congregation to take them outdoors on a nice day. But what struck me were the automatic split-second thoughts and reactions that entered my brain.
First, there was a sense of guilt and shame for not going to church on Sunday morning. I haven’t attended church services (outside the occasional funeral) in more than 10 years. I stopped believing in God and Christian doctrines several years ago as well. My husband is also an agnostic atheist, and we have raised our now-teenaged kids without religion. But somehow, that quick jolt of guilt and shame flooded my brain. This was followed by the second thought: “Oh, crap, I’m wearing a tank top and shorts and am running during church time in front of all these religious people.” I don’t believe there is anything bad about someone wearing a tank top and running shorts while they are running. It’s appropriate attire if the weather cooperates and the runner feels comfortable in that attire. But I recognized the deep-seated “indoctrination” surrounding appropriate attire for church and for “religious people” to see.
These thoughts were a bit of a shock for me, but they indicate just how thoroughly indoctrinated people can be, especially when they are brought up in a religious setting from childhood. From the time I was three years old, my family attended Southern Baptist church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesday evenings. If you didn’t go to church at one of these times, you’d better be throwing up or in a hospital. There were rules about appropriate attire for each type of service. Sunday morning attire was the most formal, as Sunday morning church service was the week’s first worship event, where we showed God our reverence for Him by donning our best clothing and (theoretically at least) donning our most submissive and humble spirits. Sunday and Wednesday evening services were more casual — I suppose one could say that “business casual” was the appropriate attire for those services. A tank top and shorts would not have been deemed acceptable for any of these services.
In the fields of education and psychology, it is well established that children develop abstract reasoning skills during the age range of 11-16, with most children developing abstract thinking around age 13-14. This is why children in seventh grade are often tested to find out if they are ready to take algebra in eighth grade (about 13-14 years old) or if they should wait. Abstract thinking involves the ability to think about objects, concepts, or ideas which are not physically present. Within abstract thinking is the ability to think critically, to use the scientific method, to use reasoning skills, to be able to conceptualize and manipulate objects in one’s mind, and to develop spatial skills. Most religious groups understand that it is vitally important to indoctrinate children in the 4-14 age group because once they reach the stage of abstract reasoning, many will reject religious indoctrination. As many of Bruce’s readers who were indoctrinated as children know, it is VERY difficult to undo doctrines that were taught to us during those critical years. Conversely, my nonreligious kids read all religious stories in the same vein that they read “Harry Potter” or any other literary works of fiction. Religious folks understand that if you don’t indoctrinate them when they are young, you have to wait until people are at their most vulnerable and then approach them with a “cure-all” salvation message.
In 1977, the song “Easy” by the Commodores (written by Lionel Richie) became popular. Before my mom became more religious, we used to listen to the easy listening radio station that played this song a lot. As a kid, I never understood the chorus. Sunday morning was never easy. How could the Commodores claim that Sunday morning was easy? We had to get up early – not as early as for work and school, but early still – eat breakfast and get dressed in our best for an hour of Sunday school and at least an hour of worship service. Afterward, we would go home and have pot roast or whatever else Grandma was able to put in the oven to cook slowly until we returned home for Sunday dinner. Sometimes, as a special treat, my Grandpa would go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and pick up a bucket of chicken and sides for us. We would be home for a few hours before having to go back to church for Sunday evening worship. For being a day of “rest,” Sunday was pretty busy. Only heathens, apostates, atheists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and backsliders did not go to church on Sunday, so I figured the Commodores must fall into one of those categories. That was too bad, because I kind of liked Lionel Richie.
As a deconvert, I learned that the Commodores were right – Sunday morning CAN be easy.
“Easy” by Commodores
Chorus: That’s why I’m easy I’m easy like Sunday morning That’s why I’m easy I’m easy like Sunday morning
How many of you who were raised in a very religious household still experience a sudden pang of guilt or shame in reaction to some religious stimulus? [I call these experiences Fundamentalist hangovers. Ten years after my divorce from Jesus, and I still occasionally have guilty feelings such as the ones mentioned in this post. – Bruce]
Great White Throne Pictures presents: “This Is Your Life, ObstacleChick” Presented in Technicolor
ObstacleChick’s Mom ObstacleChick’s Grandparents ObstacleChick’s Extended Family ObstacleChick’s Friends ObstacleChick’s Dog
ObstacleChick’s Schoolteachers and Administrators ObstacleChick’s Sunday School Teachers ObstacleChick’s Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Music Minister The Pious Girls from Church & School
Limited Engagement Showing ONLY at Great White Throne Cinema
When I was an adolescent and teen attending a Southern Baptist Church and Evangelical Christian school, my friends and I were taught as much fundamentalist evangelical doctrine as possible. Those who grew up in evangelical fundamentalist Christianity know that the number one priority of Christian parents is to make sure their children are saved; the sooner the better. Every teaching is geared toward indoctrinating children and making sure they know that they are sinners in need of salvation through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. There is no more important message that Christian parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian schoolteachers, and Christian staff can spread than this one. All children need to know that if they do not repent of their sins and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will spend eternity tormented in hell in the afterlife. And because you could be hit by a bus in the next few minutes, you’d better do it NOW. After death, there will be no do-overs. There will be no further opportunities. There will be no appeals granted. Nada. Zilch. End of the road.
As we teens grew older, our youth pastor made sure to impart to us as much information as possible about salvation, eschatology, and the afterlife to us so we would understand the urgency of making the right decision regarding salvation. He also made sure we understood that certain behaviors were unacceptable for young Christians growing in Christ and presenting a witness to the “world.” As the majority of students in the youth group attended public school, we heard less harping on “sins” of rock music, movies, magazines, etc., than those of us who attended Christian school heard, but it was clear that participating in many of these activities could hurt our “witness” to our peers, and they did harp on premarital sex and alcohol as mega-evils. At the Christian school, they didn’t hold back any punches preaching against the evils of rock music, the evils of dancing, the evils of alcohol, the evils of premarital sex, the evils of attending the roller-skating rink, the evils of movies, etc. There wasn’t really much left that wasn’t evil except for Classical music, the Beach Boys, Christian movies and books, church, and Christian school activities. (Yet two girls at my high school were still expelled for getting pregnant, and three boys were expelled for attending a party where alcohol was served.)
The eschatology is fuzzy to me now, with concepts of the rapture, pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, the mark of the beast, the anti-Christ, and so forth, but I did understand that at some point after death everyone would have to go to the Great White Throne Judgment where our fate would be determined. Would it be eternity in heaven, or would it be eternity in hell? (Cue music: DA DA DAAAAA!)
My teenage understanding of the Great White Throne Judgment was that that there would be God on a throne, Jesus on a throne, and somehow the Holy Spirit would be there too, though I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to see him as he was a spirit and whether a spirit could sit on a throne. Maybe we would get special afterlife vision that would allow us to see spirits. There would be angels and seraphim and cherubim and all people who had ever lived would be there, waiting to be judged, waiting to hear their fate.
At the Great White Throne Judgment, the way it was explained to us, each person’s life would be shown for all to see, and then the judgment would be handed out. As an avid reader, I was well-versed in visualizing scenes, and for the Great White Throne Judgment I envisioned a scene in which everything was white, the Trinity (were? was?) located on thrones on a raised platform, and masses of people stretched out before them. There was a very large movie screen near the Trinity, and when each person’s name was called that person would step forward so their life movie could be played on the movie screen. The Trinity would then render (their? his?) verdict, and the person would be escorted by seraphim, cherubim, or maybe St. Peter (I wasn’t clear on who the escorts were) to the proper exit to their eternal designation.
As we teens envisioned this Great White Throne Judgment, we were exhorted by youth ministry staff to make sure our movie was G-rated so we wouldn’t stand up there embarrassed before the masses of humanity. Who wants their sweet Grandma to see them participating in evils such as (gasp) dancing, or drinking alcohol, or — dare we even mention it — premarital sex? Surely not! Not only did we need to keep our actions G-rated, we must also keep our thoughts G-rated as somehow those would be shown on the Great White Throne Movie Screen.
As the whole sequence of events was still confusing to me, I believed somehow that when people died, they could see what was happening on earth. When my great-grandmother Granny died when I was twelve years old, I was upset for several reasons. First, I really liked hanging out with Granny. She lived down the street, and she was my nice great-grandmother, not mean like Grandma F who lived with us. Granny would make biscuits and ham for me, and we enjoyed cleaning and rearranging her numerous knick-knacks while she told stories. Second, the only time I ever saw my grandfather cry was when he came home to tell us his mother died. That tore me up, and I cried too. Third, because I thought Granny could then see me that she would be able to see me taking a shower and doing other embarrassing things. In addition to grieving for the loss of Granny, I was upset for a long time just knowing that Granny was watching me all the time.
Not understanding the whole timeline of when the Great White Throne Judgment was, I thought maybe there was some sort of neutral after-death holding place where Granny and everyone else could see what people on earth were doing. My mom said when you died you went to sleep and woke up in heaven, but I knew there was a Great White Throne Judgment in there somewhere. And there had to be some sort of holding place because thousands of years might pass before the END TIMES. Another issue was how long would this whole Great White Judgment Movie Festival take? I mean, I knew eternity had no limits, and that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day, but what were the logistics of this Great White Throne Judgment Movie Festival? It must take thousands of years, or days in deity terms. My mom said God wasn’t bound by time, so it didn’t matter, but I still couldn’t comprehend.
But what I did comprehend was how much I DREADED the Great White Throne Judgment. I was fearful of dying. I was afraid I would die and wake up in the Great White Throne Cinema with billions of other people, waiting in agony for my movie to be played and for everyone I knew to see all the naughty, mean, jealous, lustful thoughts I harbored. The Pious Girls at school and church would learn what I REALLY thought of them. My teachers would know that I sat in the back of class and talked and passed notes and then would be on the phone at night with my friends explaining what they’d all missed in class while I was bored and entertaining us all. My grandparents and mom would know that I had listened to rock music and watched MTV at my aunt & uncle’s house. It was going to be bad.
I dreaded death. The greatest relief of my existence would be if the Trinity told me I was destined for eternity in heaven. But getting through the movie viewing . . . I dreaded it beyond everything. Maybe I would get lucky and be last and everyone would have been sent to their fate, but I knew chances were slim to none.
What a damaging thing to teach impressionable youth, to manipulate their fear of hell and judgment to impress upon them the need to believe the right thing and to stay away from certain activities.
As an agnostic atheist, I don’t believe in any of that anymore. It took a long time to get over my fear of hell though. That was the last thing to leave me when I deconverted — even though I didn’t believe in god anymore, I was still afraid of hell. I had to literally reason with myself about my unrealistic fear of hell. But now, I no longer fear death. Do I want to die today? No, because there are still things I want to do in life. But I don’t fear the Great White Throne Movie experience.
What is religious fundamentalism? Typically, it is an unwavering and unapologetic belief in the absolute authority of a religious text or texts. Adherents believe their religion is the one true religion and that its precepts should govern all aspects of life. The ultimate goal is the governance of everyone’s lives under the rules and standards of the religion’s holy book(s). Rules are comprehensive, encompassing behavior, dress, gender roles, and access to information, media, and technology. Adherents believe that their religious beliefs and practices should be exempt from criticism, and any form of criticism is labeled as heresy or persecution. There are many types of religious fundamentalists throughout the world, but here in the United States we are most familiar with fundamentalist evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and Old Order Amish (which are fundamentalist in their adherence to their religious text, but not with regard to forcing their beliefs on those outside their community).
As disparate as these groups may seem on the surface, they have much in common. Each group believes that its holy text is an absolute, inerrant authority for all aspects of life. It is not uncommon for these groups to separate themselves from their surrounding communities, focusing almost exclusively on staying within their religious communities with regard to their worship activities, leisure activities, and even employment. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, for example, must be work for an employer that is flexible with regard to Jewish holy days and for leaving work early on Fridays for Shabbas. Not in all cases, but frequently children are sent to sect-approved/operated schools. In Amish communities, education is forbidden past 8th grade, and in communities that have their own schools, the teachers are young women within the community who have no education past 8th grade. For Hasidic Jews, girls and boys attend gender-segregated schools. Boys attend yeshivas where the focus of education is on studying the Talmud. Little attention is given to other subjects, and evolution is not taught. Among Evangelicals, it is popular to either home school one’s children or to send them to a fundamentalist Christian school, where, again, evolution is not taught to children. Fundamentalist Muslims often send their children to madrasas where the focus is on religious education. In some Muslim-controlled countries, girls are not educated.
Fundamentalists of all stripes give great authority to religious leaders who often dictate the rules of each separatist community. In Amish communities, there is a bishop, two or three ministers, and a deacon. Each must be nominated, but lots (similar to drawing straws) are drawn to determine which man receives which position. The leaders are responsible for the spiritual education of their congregation as well as making sure the Ordnung — the set of rules specific to each community — is followed. Each church district’s leaders set specific rules for its community, which is why there can be slight differences from one Amish community to another. In Evangelical sects and churches, great authority is given to pastors. Bruce has spoken about this a number of times, so there’s no need for me to expound on the matter here. In Orthodox or Hasidic communities, the rebbe is the authority, and he sets the rules specific to that local community. Rules may include color of stockings women are required to wear or what books are allowed in the Hasidic libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the imam is the ultimate authority, and he may issue fatwas or rules specific to his community. (Please note that all leaders are male.)
In each of these fundamentalist religions, gender roles are specifically defined in traditional ways. Men are considered to be the leaders of the family, the breadwinners, the final authorities in the household; the ones who commune most closely with their deity. Women are considered to be the nurturers, the caretakers of children, submissive to the authority of their husbands. Typically, women are not allowed to work outside the home in many fundamentalist sects/churches. Amish women are, however, permitted to sell their goods at markets or operate roadside stands for home-grown and home-baked goods. Women are not allowed any positions of leadership beyond teaching women or young children. Marriage is considered to be between one man and one woman, and these communities are not known for acceptance of LBGTQ people.
Dress codes are important among these communities. The Amish are easily identified as their clothing styles have not changed in centuries. They are referred to as “Plain People” because their styles are simple, solid colors typically limited to black, brown, burgundy, blue, purple or green (though some communities may allow other colors). Women wear dresses and aprons secured with straight pins (no buttons, which are considered vain), and they wear a white kappe (head covering) so they may pray at any time. Men wear dark suits with hook & eye closures (no buttons and no fancy belt buckles), suspenders, and a black or straw hat.
For fundamentalist Christians, there is often no exact standard of dress other than “modesty” for women, though many fundamentalist Baptist churches have complex, exacting dress codes. Many fundamentalist Christian women wear skirts or dresses at least knee length, no low-cut tops, and they typically wear sleeves. Women will be shamed for showing too much skin or wearing something too tight.
Hasidic communities have strict hair and clothing rules as well. Married women must keep their hair short and wear a sheitel wig; women wear dresses or skirts; their sleeves must be at least three-quarter length; they must wear thick, opaque stockings (often black, occasionally flesh colored though that is forbidden in some communities); and a lot of black, loose clothing, though blouses or sweaters may be colorful. Married men must sport a beard and side curls (payot) which they can never cut. Most men wear a white button-down shirt and black pants and jacket. A yarmulke must be worn at all times, and when praying, men wear a tallit, or prayer shawl, with tzitzit, or fringe, to remind them of God’s commandments.
Fundamentalist Muslim women must be covered in mixed company, and the culture determines how much covering is required. The most extreme version is the burqa with the niqab (face covering). Men may wear a taqiyah or cap when praying.
Each of these fundamentalist religions believes secularism is the greatest threat to their sect, churches, and beliefs. Access to secular libraries or media may be prohibited, restricted, or discouraged. Often, only books approved by church leaders are permitted to be read. The Amish prohibit technology altogether, though they are allowed to check out elder-approved books at public libraries. Fundamentalist Christians are generally admonished to limit their media access to “G-rated” or Christian-published format. Many Hasidic communities forbid access to secular libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim-controlled countries, all media are controlled by the religious leaders, thus preventing people from accessing any non-approved content. Each of these groups limits media access for “moral” reasons, but they also want to prevent community members from accessing any knowledge that may contradict their sect’s teachings.
While some of Amish people vote, they do not seek public office, and their pacifism prevents them from joining the military. They also are not visibly active in campaigning. Myriads of articles have been written — particularly before and after the 2016 presidential election — concerning the political activism of evangelical Christians. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are known for their political activism for candidates sympathetic to their communities, particularly as it is an “honor” for Jewish men to collect welfare and food stamps so they can exclusively focus their time on Talmudic studies. As far as fundamentalist Islam is concerned, there are many countries in which fundamentalist Islam controls government.
In Bruce’s recent post Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole he talks about restrictions that fundamentalist Christian authorities put on secular influences. Indeed, venturing beyond fundamentalist-bubble-approved media is considered a temptation by Satan and demonic forces, potentially leading someone to everlasting torment in hell. Pastors try to scare their flocks into not watching the latest season of “Cosmos” or “Game of Thrones”; that rock music leads to the “Highway to Hell”; that evolution is Satan’s greatest deception. Amish and Hasidic communities threaten members with excommunication if they do not adhere to community standards. For the skeptical or curious in these communities, fear of being cut off from family and friends is a real concern. In addition, many members (particularly women) are poorly educated and lack job skills, so escaping these communities is, at best, a risky venture. Mission to Amish People (MAP) and Charity Christian Fellowship are organizations that help Amish people leave their communities, and Footsteps is an organization that helps Hasidic Jews leave theirs. Organizations such as these offer practical and emotional support to deconverts. Those of us in the real world realize that knowledge is power, and fundamentalists do their best to limit knowledge, thus limiting the power of their flocks.
I look at all these groups and think, there’s no way I could live in one of those communities. After I graduated from high school, I did my best to escape the clutches of fundamentalist Christianity. Fortunately, I possessed a college degree from a highly ranked secular university and developed marketable skills, so I was able to support myself financially. Many in these communities, particularly women, are purposely raised without these skills, ensuring reliance on the community. It is my firm conviction that any group that purposefully restricts access to knowledge and education and discourages contact with outsiders is inherently harmful and potentially abusive. Those in power may thrive within these systems, but the systems themselves are designed to benefit those in power at the expense of the powerless.
(If you are interested in finding out more about the Old Order Amish, I recommend the book Amish Society by John A. Hostetler for a comprehensive examination. For those who have access to Netflix and are interested in deconverts from Hasidic Judaism, I recommend the documentary One of Us regarding the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, New York. Both are communities with which I am familiar as I live in proximity to both).
Now, for a bit of levity: Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic
The number one goal of Evangelical Christian churches is to save souls from eternal damnation in hell. Therefore, the general plan of salvation is taught to children from a very young age. Terms like “getting saved,” “making a profession of faith,” “getting your heart/life right with Jesus” are bandied about quite a bit, all with the intention of making sure children and teens publicly announce that they have accepted Jesus into their lives as their personal Lord and Savior. Children are taught that we are all sinners; that as sinners our punishment in the afterlife is eternity in hell — a place of torment and fire and demons; that God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to earth to die on a cross in our place — for our sins — and that he rose from the dead; that all we need to do to be saved from an eternity in hell is to pray to God/Jesus, confessing and repenting of our sins, and asking Jesus into our hearts. The “Sinner’s Prayer” is the typical vehicle to salvation, and there are many versions. Here are a few basic ones listed below:
Bill Graham Version
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.
In Your Name. Amen.
CRU Version — Formerly Campus Crusade for Christ
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
The Sinner’s Prayer for Children
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that you sent Jesus to be my Savior, and that He died on the cross to take the punishment for my sins. I know that Jesus rose from the dead and is coming back someday. Please forgive me of all of my sins, and come into my life and change me. Please guide me in my life and help me to follow you for the rest of my life. Thank you for saving me and taking me to heaven when I die.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Ministry-to-Children Sinner’s Prayer
Jesus – I know that you made me and want me to obey you with all my heart. I know I have disobeyed and wanted to be my own boss. I have thought and done things against your directions. I am sorry. I know that you gave up his life to save me from these sins and make me your child again. I accept your promises and ask you to please save me now and forever.
Children’s Version from SBC Voices
Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I know my sin deserves to be punished. I believe Christ died for me and rose from the grave. I trust Jesus alone as my Savior. Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Among Southern Baptists, that’s all you need to do – once you’re saved, you’re always saved. You aren’t always in good standing with the Man Upstairs, but you’ll be safe from eternal hellfire and damnation.
At some point, typically in childhood, people raised in Evangelical churches will pray the “Sinner’s Prayer.” What follow is my list of Top 5 Reasons People Pray the Sinner’s Prayer.
Fear of Hell
Who wants to spend eternity being tortured by fiery flames in a place where the “worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44)? Eternity is a long time, longer than most of our human brains can comprehend.
Pressure From Parents
Good Evangelical parents know that their number-one duty is to make sure their children are saved from eternal damnation in hell. Good parents CANNOT rest easy until they know that their child is safe from eternity in hell and that one day they will be reunited in the afterlife in heaven. My grandparents and my mom pestered me to death until I finally picked a day that I would go forward at the altar call and get it over and done with. (Note about myself: hell scared the hell out of me. But I do not like being told what to do, I like doing things in my own time and on my own terms, and if you pester me I will definitely not do whatever it is you pester me about. Also, at that age I did not like being the center of attention, and going forward to the altar in front of the entire church and having the whole congregation shake my hand was one of the least appealing things I could imagine doing.)
All Your Friends are Doing It/Emotional Appeal
If children have not made a public profession of faith in early childhood, they certainly will in adolescence or teenage years if their families consistently attend an Evangelical church. It isn’t uncommon for groups of adolescents or teens to make their profession of faith together at the end of a church retreat. Church retreats are designed to be fun but are also very emotionally oriented, as the youth pastor will talk about getting right with Jesus, living your life for Jesus, making sure you are following God’s will for your life early on so you don’t get into trouble and make a ton of mistakes in life. Youth pastors harp on the evils and dangers of rock music, alcohol, taking drugs, dancing, hanging with the “wrong crowd,” and having premarital sex.
Youth retreats would end each evening with an emotional altar call with many teenagers on their knees crying with the youth pastor and adult counselors chaperoning the retreat. It was common after a youth retreat for a long baptismal service to capture in baptism all those young, new converts for Jesus. The more teens who were baptized, the more successful the retreat.
Fear That You Didn’t Do it Right Before
I must have said the sinner’s prayer a dozen times during my teenage years, though I didn’t go to the altar again. The sinner’s prayer is so simple that sometimes I was afraid I didn’t do it right prior, or that it didn’t take, so just to be sure I would do it again just to reassure myself that I wouldn’t spend eternity in hell.
A Desire to Fit In
In the church where I grew up, only members – that is, those who had been baptized in that particular church or who had moved their letter from an approved church – could participate in communion and in voting. I didn’t care about voting, but I sure cared about being able to take communion while all my peers were taking communion – the last thing a teen wants is to have to pass the communion plate while his or her friends are able to partake in the grape juice and wafers (or broken Saltine crackers if the congregation couldn’t afford the wafer tablets).
Does anyone notice how often feelings and emotions are manipulated with the salvation message? Fear is the biggest motivator – fear of hell primarily, fear of being separated from loved ones after death, fear of dying in the next three seconds and never getting a second chance. Without the fear of hell, I probably would have just gone down for an altar call, gotten baptized, and then I would have fit into the congregation. I don’t think I would have actually prayed a sinner’s prayer and meant it. Sure, I wanted to be a good person, but the fear of hell led me to pray the sinner’s prayer in private over and over and over again. I knew I had to go down to the altar call once, because the Bible said that we must do so publicly in order to be saved. And why would I – what would have been the reward for praying such a prayer without fear of eternal damnation in hell?
What was your experience with “getting saved” and praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”? Did you have any other reasons for praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”? Please let us know with a comment!