A couple of days ago, several of us were sitting around at work discussing religion. It was 4 am and all of our work was completed. In the group were Eric – an atheist , Nazzy – a nominal Christian (Church of the Nazarene) Chris – a Catholic of some sort, Ren – Filipino Catholic, and me – a deist.
We are all pretty close, so no subject is sacred. Any fault or mistake is picked apart and put on display for the entire world to see. Religious discussions aren’t given special treatment, so they can get pretty brutal. Usually they end up with Eric and me being told we are going to hell. No big threat for either of us.
That night, Chris was experiencing his first religious discussion. He is new, so none of us had any idea about his beliefs. Nazzy, the aforementioned nominal Christian, and Eric were trading jabs back and forth about souls, or the lack thereof, and how to tell if there is a god. Since I believe there is a god, just not the Christian one, I was sitting this discussion out. All of a sudden, Chris says, “I can prove there is a god! Why is water blue?” It got very quiet, since this was a new line of reasoning. Eric gave a scientific answer. Chris asked why then was water clear when you scooped up a handful. Again, much interest and another scientific answer. Finally, Nazzy asked what these questions had to do with why there is a god. Chris said he didn’t know, he just wanted to know if we knew why water was blue. WHAT?? Much derision and laughing was heaped on Nazzy and Chris.
A few minutes later, during a discussion where he was trying to prove that Jesus was the son of God, Chris said, “Did you know there are some who thought Mary Magdalene had a tryst?” Again, I was curious. This time, I asked Chris to explain, since I was genuinely curious. I told him I wasn’t being an ass, I truly wanted to know. Chris then told me that some people think Mary Magdalene had sex before she married Joseph and the immaculate conception story is a lie. I asked him where he heard this. He told me his dad was a Catholic preacher (not sure what type of preacher). I told him he needed to listen better. Mother Mary is a different person from Mary Magdalene.
About this time, Nazzy was telling Chris to shut up unless he knew what he was talking about. Then the conversation turned to the Holy Ghost. Eric and I both reiterated that there is no such thing as the Holy Ghost, Ren speaks up and says there is. He knows there is a Holy Ghost because there are real ghosts. Nazzy tells him to shut up. Ren keeps on talking, so Eric asks him how he knows ghosts are real. Ren says, “because I saw it on TV, Ghost Hunters.”
I looked at Nazzy and said, “These guys are on your side, buddy.”
I guess the moral of the story is not to debate people unless you have facts. Know what you are talking about and don’t assume everything on TV is real.
Debunking religion has been a theme in many of my Facebook posts. My opinion is best summed up by the expression “religion poisons everything” (Christopher Hitchens). I’m not just talking Christianity…but ALL RELIGIONS that are based on unprovable, improbable, mythological, invisible, supernatural, omniscient beings and their cryptically written laws on how to behave and how to worship. Everyone who has settled on one of the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Muslim) or on one of their off shoots (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) are all “atheists” to every other god except their own. The difference between them and people like me is I go one god further. They are atheistic against Ba’al, Zeus, Thor, Horace, and every other god that has come before. Why? It isn’t for lack of proof (even though there isn’t any). It is blind faith in a book, the Christian Bible. There is little proof that the things in that book happened. Science looks for clues for the worldwide flood, the Exodus, creation and other stories in the Bible, but they are nowhere to be found. The “evidence” that has been presented to the scientific community has been disproven or debunked. All the Ron Wyatt discoveries, the Ray Comfort theories, the “Ark has been found” stories, and Ken Ham “scientific proof” for 6 day creation a 6000 year old universe have been thoroughly debunked. The evidence does not support these accounts.
I don’t understand how a majority of people in the United States and others around the world still believe that Creation, Adam and Eve, the fall of man from a mythical garden (complete with talking snake), Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Exodus, the 10 Commandments, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, Sampson, Jonah and the whale, etc. are all stories that should be taken literally, from a book with a very sketchy history on how and why it was put together, and written by ignorant authors whose authenticity is in serious question. As a result of people taking the Bible literally, we have had wars, witch-hunts, mass killings, and terrible discrimination of all kinds. Not only that, but we have brain-dead adults with little knowledge about science, home-schooling another generation of young people in a “creation-based” curriculum laughably called “creation science.” We have kids in Sunday School classes being told that science is wrong and the Bible is the only source for knowledge and fact. This retards our growth as a nation and as a species. It has infected our politics to the degree that if you don’t claim to believe in God, in particular the Christian God, you are branded as evil and unelectable. Even someone like Donald Trump, who you know isn’t a “practicing” Christian, says he believes in God and will protect Christianity. Saying these things will gain him votes from Christians. It’ doesn’t matter that he’s a nutcase. He says he “believes” and that’s good enough for them.
But besides all this, there is a deeply personal reason why I hate religion (in particular Christianity). One that I recently became aware of and I would like to share it with you.
As a lot of you know, I was raised in a very religious home. I was part of three separate Christian denominations in my lifetime, as was the rest of my immediate family (with the exception of my brother who is 15 years younger than I am). From birth to the age of seven, I was raised Catholic. From ages seven to ten, our family was involved in a non-denominational “Evangelical Free” church with no alliances to any “parent” hierarchy of church governing, administrations or main offices. From ages ten to eighteen, my family went to an Assemblies of God (A/G) church. The rest of my immediate family still attends this church.
At the end of 2014, the A/G had 12,849 churches in the United States with over three million members. Worldwide there are 372,923 churches with close to 62 million members. They even have them broken down by age of child membership. In 2014, out of the three million members in the US, the child membership of the American A/G churches were:
This means that 1,005,440 of the 3 million members (one third) in the U.S. are children. Three million is almost 1% of the population in the US. This is just one denomination out of the 32,000 denominations of Christianity. I mention these statistics to let you know the scope of this one denomination and one interpretation of the Bible. Imagine 32,000 denominations.
My deconversion from Christianity started in Bible college (when I was 17) and ended when I was 21. At 21 years of age, I didn’t know what I believed, but I did know that based on its own doctrine, its own writings, and the lack of substance in its claims, the biblical God and Christianity WAS NOT what it claims to be.
Between the ages of 21 and 38, I put “seeking the truth” in the back of my mind. During this time, I was busy dating my future wife, getting married, having a daughter, getting divorced, changing career directions, getting reintroduced into the dating scene. At age 38, I met a woman named Melody, who totally changed everything in my life. She was a “spiritual” girl, but not a Christian. She was Wiccan. She died of cancer when I was 42.
About 6 months after Melody died, my sister and I were having a conversation in her dining room. We were talking about religion, Jesus, and the afterlife. My sister started crying, and said to me, “Michael, if you die, I am afraid I will never see you again.” I hugged her and started crying as well. I told her that she was right, that she would never “see me” again, but the reason wasn’t because of what she feared.
She obviously was referring to me going to Hell after I die because I don’t believe in Jesus, God, or the Bible. You see, I know this conversation. I know this line of thought and reasoning. I remember being indoctrinated into this belief at a young age with all the devil, and sinning, and the “Hell to fear and Heaven to gain” mentality that was drilled into my head with the expectation that I would accept it at face value. We were in church every time the doors were open. Sundays were damn near an all-day event. Two services and Sunday School on Sunday morning, Sunday evening service, Tuesday night Awana Club, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday Youth group, Choir practice, not to mention youth retreats, religious camping trips, and other youth group related activities. So I knew exactly where my sister’s fear and anguish was coming from.
At first I felt bad. Those of you who know me know that my family means the world to me. I blamed myself and felt bad for causing my sister harm. I know that it also pains my mother to see me rejecting her religious beliefs. I mean, how bad is that: knowing my sister, mother, and the rest of my siblings, nieces and nephews are all thinking that I will be tortured and tormented for all of eternity? I also know that nothing short of me rejecting my rational thoughts and going back to my blind faith, religious beliefs and roots will help the situation. There is no faking this in my family. Going to church will not rectify the situation. Only a total 180 degree turnaround from my present way of thinking will suffice.
After I thought about this for a bit, my feelings of guilt and anguish from that day turned to anger. I am angry at religion! I am angry at the stupidity of our species which has been led down this path many times before in the history of our existence. We got rid of all those gods that we believed in prior to the most current gods (yes…plural). We still believe in those myths: (virgin birth, blood sacrifice, resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven) that were attributed to the prior gods, We have just changed the names of the deities. I can’t believe people who, for the most part are rational and smart, suddenly are brain-dead when it comes to this particular area of their lives.
I’m also angry that these teachings are infecting children and teenagers. I am thankful to see that non-religious people: Nones/Atheists/Non-believers, are increasing in number. At the end of 2014, nearly 22% of the United States population identified themselves as not affiliated with any religion and 15% say they are agnostic or atheist. The 7% who are non-affiliated with any religion, but don’t self-identify as an atheist, basically think there might be some sort of universal force, or want to believe there is something else. They do not think the “bible” is true. In fact, they don’t know the nature of god and are just speculating.
One thing I was very adamant about was that I did not want my family to proselytize my daughter. What I mean to say is that, when we go to my family’s house for holidays and such, they don’t have to stop saying grace at meals or discussing the religious event that they happen to be celebrating (Christmas, Easter, etc.). I just don’t want them witnessing to her. I don’t want them to try to tell her what they think God thinks, or that she is a sinner worthy of being tossed into Hell unless she believes in God. When my daughter was younger, my mother tried that a couple of times. But I was in the room when that started and I stopped it. Now that she is 18 and knows better; she can defend and explain her stand on religion all by herself. She knows there is no possible way that Creationism or the Noah story is true. She received straight A’s in science and history. She understands evolution, the formation of the earth, moon, and solar system. I have taught her to look at everything logically and rationally. We frequently talk about science and religion, and how ridiculous it is that people believe something that has no proof at all, and take it as fact. She does not understand how I could have believed in that. By the time I was 18, I was just starting to deprogram myself from this part of my upbringing. She will never know that pain, or know the guilt trip that religion brings, or the rejection of well-established, scientific facts and good sense that blind faith requires. She will never have an identity crisis or a crisis of faith when it comes to this topic. She has been spared all that. It pleases me that I have broken that cycle with my daughter, and hopefully, if she has children, she will pass that on to them.
So that is why I hate religion. This is also why I wage war on religion. Until Christianity comes up with a provable story, I will not believe. I will not stop warring until I die. My daughter also might continue it, but since she didn’t experience the stuff I did, and it is not a fight she feels as passionately about as I do. If there was some credible evidence, the scientific community would be flabbergasted. But there isn’t any. Christians will say that the scientific community hides these claims so that they never see the light of day. That is not so, and those who say this show their ignorance concerning the scientific method, their own laziness in researching these issues, and their fear that everything they believe about God and religion is wrong.
A guest post by Neil Robinson, atheist apostate, whose blog is Rejecting Jesus.
Let’s, for the sake of argument, suppose that Christians could prove that the universe was created by a supernatural agent.
Let’s further suppose that they could demonstrate conclusively that this supernatural agent is none other than their very own God, as opposed to, say, Allah or Atum or Marduk.
And then let’s say they are able to show us, with sundry proofs, that an itinerant Jewish preacher, generally known by the Greek name, Jesus – though he was never called that by those who knew him – was somehow a manifestation of this God on Earth.
Then let’s say we grant them, although it doesn’t seem it from reading Jesus’ story in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke, all written between forty and sixty years after this man lived) that his death somehow or other bridged the gap between humanity and this very touchy deity.
And then let us suppose that, although he never met Jesus but only had some sort of hallucination about him, the man Paul was right to say that through magically invoking Jesus’ name, people could be reunited with God and completely remade.
Let’s further grant them that, although their book about Jesus and Paul doesn’t actually say so in so many words, they really are going to go and live in Heaven when they die.
Assuming all of this is true – even though Christians are unable to demonstrate even the first of these propositions (the one about the universe being made by a supernatural being) – why is it they disregard and otherwise ignore most of what their god-man, Jesus, tells them about how they should live their lives?
Why are they, for example, so cavalier about forgiving others when he says in order to be forgiven they must first forgive those who have offended them? (Matthew 6.14-15)
Why are they so harsh in their judgements of others when he tells them that how they judge others will be how they themselves will be judged? (Matthew 7.1-2 & Matthew 25.34-46)
Why are they so lacking in compassion, when he says the amount of compassion they’ll receive is directly related to the amount they show others? (Matthew 5.7 & Luke 6.38)
Why are they so vociferous in their condemnation of others when they should be dealing with their own ‘sins’ first? (Luke 6:42)
Why do so many of them fail to serve others sacrificially, without expectation of reward and with no ulterior motive? (Mark 9.35 & 10.43-44)
Why are they not known for selling their possessions, giving to all who ask and going the extra mile? (Luke 12.32, Matthew 19.21, Luke 6.38 & Matthew 5.41)
Why do they not turn the other cheek, bless and pray for those who abuse them, and treat others like they want to be treated themselves? (Luke 6.28-29 & Matthew 7.12)
Why do they not love their neighbor as themselves, and their enemies too? (Matthew 22.39 & Matthew 5.44)
Shouldn’t they be doing these things, and more, as if their eternal lives depended on it? Especially when Jesus says their eternal lives do depend on it! (Matthew 25.37-40) Shouldn’t they be just so much more radical than they actually are, changing the world by serving others? (Matthew 25.34-40)
Yes, they should, but they’re not, and they never have. Deep down, they know that Jesus is too extreme, too demanding. They make excuses for themselves; he doesn’t really mean the things he says; he speaks in metaphor and uses hyperbole (specially when he’s saying something they don’t like the sound of) and they invoke the bumper-sticker theology of ‘we’re not perfect, just forgiven’, even when ‘perfect’ is the very thing Jesus tells them they must be (Matthew 5.48).
The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from all of this is that Christians don’t really believe the man they call God and Savior. Their actions, or lack of them, speak far louder than their words. It’s so much easier to claim Paul’s magical incantation, looking heavenward and damning the rest of us, than it is to do what Jesus demands. Who cares what Jesus said anyway. What did he know?
What follows is a guest post by a regular reader of this blog. He is writing this anonymously, and after you read his post you will understand why. If you have a story you would like to share in a guest post, please let me know. It is important that Christians who are struggling with their faith or who have lost their faith know that they are not alone. Telling your story, like the one below, will encourage and help many people.
This is the story of my spiritual migration so far. Like my ancestors who immigrated from Europe to ________ a century and a half ago, I feel like I have crossed the ocean, and don’t know yet where I will settle on this vast continent.
I was raised Southern Baptist. Until about 15 months ago, I would have said we were pretty fundamentalist, but then I started reading The Way Forward (the previous name of this blog) and many other websites. Now I would call all the churches I have belonged to throughout my life as only moderately conservative. My time in the church has been a positive experience, and I’ve seen little of the pettiness, jealousy, domineering, and other bad traits so many others have experienced and written about. I’m not saying it does not exist, just that I have not observed it.
I have especially fond memories of the church I grew up in from the age of 5 until I left for the military at 22. This church wrapped its arms around me and my mother when she became a single mother after my father died when I was 9. Many of the men there filled a void and were positive role models to me. The church gave me my first job, as the church janitor, when I was 15. I made life-long friends there, and if I went back and visited there next Sunday I would still get hugs and handshakes even though I have been gone 30 years. Because of the positive influence the people in that church had on me as a child and young adult, I have always been drawn to working with children in the church. I have been a children’s Sunday school teacher, VBS worker, Awana leader, and led Royal Ambassadors (the Southern Baptists’ version of Boy Scouts).
At my first military assignment, on the west coast, I joined a church and made many friends. One was a girl who was on staff at the church part-time and going to seminary part-time. One of my roommates also went to seminary at this time. Our church called a brand new seminary graduate as pastor, although he was older and was starting a second career. I also read the Bible all the way through for the first time in my life. With many questions and access to those who were studying at seminary, we had many deep conversations as I asked my questions. Many of their answers weren’t particularly satisfying, but I suppressed the dissonance and soldiered on in the faith.
Fast forward 10 years and I was married and living on the other side of the country. After a severe accident, my father-in-law lingered comatose in intensive care for 24 days before finally dying in spite of a coast-to-coast prayer vigil. The fact that my wife never got to have a last conversation with her dad about his salvation motivated her to get intentional about spreading the gospel, so we took the Evangelism Explosion course and went out knocking on doors every week. At the next assignment and church, the evangelism program was called FAITH, and we did that. That church asked me to be a deacon. The ‘examination’ was an open book essay test of my personal beliefs. The military moved me a year later, so my active deacon service was short-lived.
About six years ago my wife amped up her passion and embarked on a master’s degree in Christian apologetics. I thought it was useless to spend money on an actual degree, although the subject interested me too.
In the spring of 2012 I was driving home one day when I heard the PBS segment on Teresa McBain’s coming out as an atheist. It sent chills down my spine. Here was a person raised like me, a Southern Baptist, who had gone on to become a minister, who was renouncing her faith. A few months later, by myself at home, I found a link to the broadcast and listened again. This time I caught the reference to the Clergy Project. I googled it, and found their website. There I found links to former ministers who had left their faith behind. That is where I went over the edge of the waterfall.
Over the next few weeks I read and listened to everything I could find from Dan Barker, John Compere, Ken Daniels, Bruce Gerencser, and Rich Lyons. Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Misquoted was one of the textbooks my wife read for her master’s degree, so I pulled it off the shelf and read it. One day, looking out the window at the sky it all came together and I told myself “it’s just not true.” I didn’t get mad at God. No one at church did me wrong. I just concluded there was not enough evidence for me to continue to believe.
I don’t know when or how I will ever come out to either my family or church. I don’t see bringing up the subject with my wife any time soon. I know she has noticed I don’t insist on saying a blessing before a meal anymore, and that I don’t pull out the checkbook to write a check every Sunday morning, and that I find reasons to not go to the adult Sunday School class (she still teaches a children’s class), and sometimes even admit to just skipping. If she ever directly challenges me I will probably come clean, since I am a terrible liar.
I have two sons who, for better or worse, think their dad can do no wrong, and I don’t want to damage my relationship with them. My teenage son made a profession of faith as a younger child. He enjoys going to the youth camps and retreats, but shows little inclination to be there every time the door is open. He is smarter than his engineer dad and accountant mother put together, so I am hopeful he will reason his way out of Christianity, perhaps with some subtle nudging from me, as he grows older. For now, whenever he says something outrageous I challenge him to examine the evidence and ensure his beliefs and opinions are well founded.
My younger son has been totally brainwashed by his mom, and made his profession of faith and was baptized last summer, about a month after my ah-ha moment. Interestingly, he still holds on to a belief in Santa Claus at an age when all the other kids have figured it out. In fact, we were so frustrated that he wasn’t figuring it out, Christmas before last we told him flat-out that mom and dad were Santa, not some guy who literally comes from the North Pole in a sleigh with reindeer. Nevertheless, a few days ago he asked me how Santa got around to all the houses he had to go to on Christmas Eve. I said “well, let’s do the math. How many houses does he have to go to? How long does it take to go to each house? How many hours are there in the night?” We did not do all the calculations, but hopefully I planted another seed to use reason and evidence. Maybe once he figures out Santa then he’ll apply the same logic to Christianity.
I’ve never talked about spiritual matters with my older siblings, but all the evidence points to me being the last one to get where they have been for about 40 years, so there is no issue there. Both our parents are gone now, so that is also not a problem. Most of our extended family is still Christian, but they live far enough away and we see them rarely enough that there is no need to come out to them.
At church, I had already started working to extract myself even before my epiphany. I had informed our Sunday School director a few months before that I would not continue as a teacher after the current Sunday School year ended in August 2012. My term on the one committee I am on will end this year, and I declined to be chairman of the committee this year. I guess I was too subtle however, since I was surprised to be pulled aside one Sunday morning this past spring and told I had been nominated to be a deacon again. I was given another examination questionnaire to fill out, and asked to pray about it. I thought about using the questionnaire to express my new beliefs as a way of coming out, but decided there was nothing to be gained by that approach. Instead, when they followed up a few weeks later I just said I didn’t think it would be appropriate to go through the process at this time.
I go to the adult Sunday School class about half the time now. Sometimes I find a good reason to not go; sometimes I just skip out. I can do this and admit it to my wife without fear of condemnation because she has always hated adult Sunday School for its lack of depth of discussion and study (remember she went and got a seminary degree just for her own edification), and teaching children is her escape. I agreed with her that there was little value in the Bible study, but always enjoyed the social aspect. When I go now I usually stay quiet unless someone says something so outrageous I can’t stand not to comment. One day the teacher opened the lesson by asking what would cause someone to doubt the existence of God. I suppressed a smile, but did say that when a child is born with massive birth defects I think that would cause someone to doubt God. Nobody else said anything, but heads nodded up and down. Another time the topic was love between husband and wife, and the supporting text came from Song of Solomon 6:3 (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.) Everyone oohed and aahed about how poetic that was and how wise Solomon was until I spoke up said to keep reading to verse 8 (There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number). Silence.
We sit together as a family in the service. Once the sermon starts and the scripture has been read and we sit back down, I use the time reading other parts of the Bible to research and document inconsistencies and fallacies I’ve heard. I do this to bolster my case for the day when I eventually do come out.
I’ll probably continue like this indefinitely, short of someone at the church making one of us mad enough to leave. That would actually be a good cover story to use. If I was still in the military it would be easy…we would eventually move and then just not make an effort to find another church. But for now I am unwilling to perturb the relationship with my wife and sons.
So here I am in _________. I’m standing firmly on dry land, but who knows where I will go from here, how I will get there, when I will go, or who might go with me.
There were several things that contributed to my deconversion, which was a several year process. Books were the first things that made me question my beliefs.
The first book than made me question was a reference to the worship of Mithras in a David Morrell book titled, The Covenant Of The Flame. I used to sneak read his books because I wasn’t allowed to read this type of fiction, only Christian fiction. In it, a character describes a method of worship similar to, but pre-dating, Catholicism. I told my pastor about this and how surprised I was. He kind of chuckled and printed me out some material about Mithraic worship. I was amazed; this was totally new to me. He told me what I had heard many times before: the Devil knew what Christians would do for worship, so he created many practices to replicate true worship; these false religions were created hundred or thousands of years before Jesus’ birth. I had always thought this was weird, but he was the pastor and knew better than me. I kept wondering about it, though, and this created a fine crack in my belief system.
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”.
As I thought about this idea, I wondered who actually put together the books of the Bible we use today. I posed this question to that same pastor. He told me that tradition passed down these books to us. That true Christians always knew what books were the real ones. Again, this was an answer that didn’t make any sense; I didn’t fall for a non answer this time, though. I kept this question in the back of my mind and chewed on it. This opened a crack in my belief system that was started way back in ’93 or ’94 by the Morrell book.
Growing up, I had been warned about the dangers of setting evil things before my eyes and the virtue of thinking on things that are pure and right. I was told that once a thing is seen, heard or read it can never be unseen, unheard or unread. This is true, and there are some things that little children should not be exposed to. As we mature, though, exposure to new things and ideas makes us smarter and better equipped to face the world. Christianity hopes to keep people from learning anything outside of itself because it might cause you to question, or even loose, your faith. Questioning your faith means questioning those in authority over you, who watch for your souls; and we can’t have that.
Keeping people in the dark and withholding knowledge of a larger world is a hallmark of the IFB movement. I’m sure it can be said of other fundamental religions, but I have firsthand knowledge of IFB teachings and traditions and I know free thought is discouraged.
The books had started me on a course of actually thinking about what I had been taught and whether it was right or wrong, truth or fiction. This free thinking was very slow at first. Looking into these radical ideas made me feel guilty at first, but they resounded with me and I could feel that there was something there. During this time, I also started throwing off the trappings of King James Onlyism. Throwing off the mantle of KJV only allowed me even more freedom in my thoughts. Of course, I had to keep these heresies to myself; there is no room for dissent in the church. Eventually, these heresies started permeating the things I did at church. A few people commented on some slight changes they noticed, but I was able to explain these things away. (Amazingly enough, AFTER I made my deconversion known, I heard that everyone could tell there was something different with me. How come no one cared enough to ask me about it then?)
I had always been told that the Bible was able to withstand any scrutiny. I proved that wrong, and I am no scholar. I just had a healthy curiosity and no fear of looking outside of the box for the truth. I had actually started studying these things to prove them false and bolster my faith. I wanted to patch the cracks in my beliefs and be stronger than ever. Unfortunately, to honestly study these things, I had to leave behind Spurgeon, Pink, et al, and go to the sources. Once I left the IFB reservation, I finally saw there was a whole world with different, if not new, ideas and knowledge. Once I started looking at this new information, Christianity started falling apart like rotten clothes. I didn’t know what to do with that information at that time, though. I stayed where I was, with a flawed belief, for a couple of years as I started to search for the truth. This was a long process. It is a rewarding process. It is an important process.
I would tell anyone what I tell my children (who are still Christians). I tell them that the truth needs no defense. If you look at the truth and it needs bolstering, it probably isn’t the truth. In addition, the truth may not be what you want it to be, but never be afraid of the truth. Truth will set your mind free; and with a free mind, you can work on freeing your body. Look at the Dark Ages. For several hundred years, the world was dominated by a religious system that kept the people in slavery by telling them what to think. Only when brave men began to throw off their chains did knowledge begin to increase and people become free.
So, yes, heresies are a bad thing. They are a bad thing to the church or group that is trying to control you. One of the definitions Merriam-Webster gives to heresy is “an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards”. If you look at a heresy with an honest search for the truth, you may be surprised at what you find. And this is why religions hate an honest search for the truth and the appearance of heresies. People may come to see that what they believe is a lie. This, in turn, will point the way to the truth. And the truth will set the people free.
Matthew 5:28 remains the primary endorsement among Christians for criminalizing sexual thoughts, with never a mention of its origins or historical context. Whilst we don’t wish to venture any farther into the subject of masturbation, a brief mention of it will be necessary. Nevertheless, the primary agenda here is to expose the truth about this passage in a contributory attempt to diffuse any further Christian abuse.
The Genocide Position
Matthew 5:28 is a damning verse incorporated within a statement allegedly made during the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with verse 27 and continuing through to verse 30. The entire passage with verse 28 underlined is:
“You have heard it said that it is a sin to commit adultery. But verily I say unto you, any man who looks upon a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and through it away, for it is better to lose one part of your body than to be thrown whole into Hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, hack it off and throw it away, for it is better to enter life maimed than be cast whole into Hell.”
This is arguably the most traumatizing and harmful quote in the history of literature, and one which has destroyed the peace of mind of so very many. Throughout Christian web forums, the most asked question by young believers is: “Is masturbation a sin?” In every instance, they are referred to this quote. Even the more liberal Christian advisors, who offer the view that masturbation, in itself, is not sinful, continue to condemn sexual lust. What they fail to acknowledge is that the same hormones that drive one towards masturbation are the same hormones that guide the mind towards sexual thoughts, imagery and erotic literature. For example, without testosterone, a male would not even know the desire to view pornography.
At face value, Matthew 5:27-30 is a statement that if any male has feelings of sexual desire towards a female, he should either commit self-mutilation, or be cast into eternal fire. Christians say that this is justified because sexual desire is for marriage only; a rather ludicrous position, for how might one be drawn to a future spouse without first feeling the fires of the passion within? For one to deny one’s own involuntary sexual instinct instigated by healthy hormones is not only a genocidal suggestion, but one which also presents an extreme danger in the immediacy. The Catholic Church demands that certain members of its clergy embrace a life of complete sexual abstinence, the torment of which drives them into a state of virtual insanity. This is shown by its position as the record holder for the highest number of incidents of child sexual abuse on earth.
But why should anybody take Matthew 5:28 seriously?
As with all the New Testament gospels, the Gospel of Matthew begins with a blatant lie – its title. Nobody knows who wrote any of the gospels other than that they were written decades after the events they claim to be describing. The earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, comes to us once again anonymously, only with an additional question. Not only did nobody named ‘Mark’ actually write it, but neither does anybody know who this ‘Mark’ was supposed to have been. He wasn’t named as one of the twelve disciples and wasn’t mentioned as character anywhere else in the New Testament.
‘Matthew’ clearly plagiarized ‘Mark’ in many places, and the majority of scholarly opinion places its (Matthew’s) origins between 80 and 85 C.E. (Duling, pp.298, 302.) Ergo, if Christians wish to assert that the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector, they must also explain why an eyewitness to the events would need to plagiarize the words of one who was not.
Another vital question to ask before examining the validity of Matthew 5:28 is – could the Sermon on the Mount have even taken place? It’s three chapters long, and is said to have occurred in a location where nobody beyond those on the front row would have been able to hear the sermon. Jesus would certainly have had no access to a P.A. system. The audience would have been largely illiterate and therefore even those who could hear him would have required photographic memories in order to relate it to others. Those others would, in turn, also have needed photographic memories in order to regurgitate three chapters worth, and continue to pass it down for fifty years until it reached our anonymous, falsely-ascribed author.
However, while 5:28 appears to demand that all people must despise their own natural sexual instinct and, subsequently, promote global genocide; does it actually call for anything of the kind?
The Bible does, indeed, promote complete sexual denial and genocidal doctrine. Matthew 19:12 states:
“There are those who were born eunuchs. There are those who became eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it let him receive it.”
Christian apologists argue that this is merely an invitation to embrace celibacy. However, given that there is nothing whatsoever to indicate celibacy in the quote (everybody knows what a eunuch is) it seems reasonable to assume that they are merely seeking to keep their own options open.
The other is Colossians 3:5 – “Deaden your bodily members to their passions.”
From an objective point of view, that would be considered self-explanatory.
However, these are very rarely used in the criminalization of sexual thoughts, fantasies, erotic novels, pornography or masturbation. Matthew 5:28 remains the favourite for instilling guilt and terror into the libidinous, the world over. Nevertheless, even from a biblical perspective, this translation is a mistake!
The Slavery Position
“If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Why not “If a woman looks at a man lustfully?” Or “…a man looks at a man lustfully?” Or “…a woman looks at a woman lustfully?” Notice also the use of the word ‘adultery’ and not fornication. A pre-existing marriage had to be a factor in order for this to apply. The word rendered ‘lustfully’ is taken from the Greek epithumia, meaning “desire to possess.”
With those particulars taken into account, the answer to the meaning of Matthew 5:28 can be found in Exodus 20:17 – the tenth Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s property; neither his land, nor his oxen, ass, slave, maidservant, wife, or any other chattel.
It is rather ironic that the Ten Commandments are considered to be the ultimate guidelines for morality when they conclude with an endorsement of slavery and the insistence that a man’s wife is his lawfully-owned chattel. It also introduces the world to the most totalitarian concept possible – thought crime. However, it clearly explains why there was no such concept as any other sexually-desiring concept other than a ‘man looking at a woman lustfully.’ This also elucidates why ‘adultery’ was the stated offence and not fornication. It is concerned purely with ancient Jewish ownership rights and the objectification of women – “Don’t desire your neighbour’s property.” It bears no relation to the prohibition of masturbation, pornography, or any other form of contemporary erotica.
Christians argue that the issue with lust is one of “betrayal and the heartbreak caused by marital infidelity.” This reasoning is what will happen when people attempt to superimpose contemporary western values upon writings from the middle-eastern Bronze Age. As with modern day Iraq, there was no such cultural concept as ‘romance’ during the time of Jesus. How we view love today in the West originated during the twelfth century. ‘Romantic love’ was literally an invention of the Troubadours. Marriage in first century Judea was an arrangement of owner and property; a man and his chattel-wife. Such unions usually resulted from a business arrangement between the father of the groom and the father of the bride, and where virginity was considered to have commercial value. Women were sold into marriage with no say in the matter. The most nauseating example of this can be found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 where, under the Law of God, it states that a rapist must pay his victim’s father 50 silver shekels for the loss of the father’s ‘property.’ He was then compelled to marry his victim.
When questioned about the morality of forcing a rape victim to marry her own rapist, Christians we have interviewed usually defer to the argument that: “It was a different time, and nobody else would have wanted to marry her following the rape. It then became the rapist’s responsibility to care for her.” This is a blanket statement that the women of the Bronze Age did not feel pain as the women of today do, neither did they feel violated, nor did they value their lives as we do today. This is despite the fact that their natural life-spans were far shorter than ours. It is also a blind assumption that a Bronze Age rapist would make a fine ‘carer.’ The majority of secular people in our civilization today would have no hesitation in declaring that there can be no context whatsoever that could ever possibly justify forcing a rape victim to marry her own rapist.
How ironic it is that Christians use Matthew 5:28 to assert their position that pornography objectifies women. Porn stars are paid well for their work, and they can leave the studio and return home whenever they choose. A first century Judean wife would never have been afforded such privileges.
More than 90% of Christians, including Christian counsellors, have never fully read the Bible, or have any understanding of its cultural origins. This demonstrates yet another ironic example of the blind leading the blind – into a ditch of utter misery.
Final thoughts and Conclusion
The modern use of Matthew 5:28 is to regard human beings as robots who are presumed to be able switch off certain aspects of their bodies and minds at will, and reactivate them at the moment they utter the words “I do.” Arguments that ‘lust’ objectifies women and treats them as sex objects abound in their condemnation of the most essential of all human instincts, leaving an endless trail of trauma, guilt and hadephobia in their wake.
In reality, they are using a passage which endorses the worst forms of female objectification, misogyny and loveless slavery; their erroneous arguments enabled through religion’s ultimate foundations: the lust for power and control – and the blatant refusal to think.
As Bible-believing Baptists who hold to reformed theology, X and I believe that God is sovereign in choosing who will or will not believe in him, having chosen his people before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1), and that his selection is unbreakable and irresistible. If marriage is to mirror this principle, we believe that a woman has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man and marriage is to be an unbreakable arrangement between the man and her father. Based on this reasoning, we have shunned a standard proposal and wedding ceremony, because if I had asked her to marry me (which I did not) then I would have given her the decision to marry me rather than selecting her and taking her myself. Furthermore, if we had exchanged conventional marriage vows, our union would have been based on X’s will and consent, which are not Biblical factors for marriage or salvation. Instead, I asked X’s father for his blessing in taking her hand in marriage. When he gave his blessing, X and I considered ourselves to be unbreakably betrothed in the sight of God. While we had initially intended to consummate our marriage after today’s symbolic ceremony, we instead did so secretly after private scripture reading, prayer, and mutual foot-washing.
As Quiverfull Believers dig ever-deeper into their Bibles in search of the truly “biblical model” for godly marriage, ideas about courtship and “betrothal” are becoming increasingly savage and brutish. It would seem unlikely that Courtship standards could get even more oppressive considering that Christian notions of “biblical match-making” have already been taken to outrageous extremes.
Joshua Harris started a back-to-bible-living revolution among Christian young people when he advocated the courtship model in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. What – no dating for teens? Now that’s a radical concept! As “bible believers” jumped on the bandwagon of father-led pairing of qualified young men and women in serious pursuit of marriage, popular Quiverfull patriarchs took biblical courtship to a new level of paternal domination as they pointed to Old Testament examples of “betrothal” as the very best way to ensure the future success of Christian marriage.
Jonathan Lindvall, teaching “God’s Design for Youthful Romance,” cited the betrothal of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman (link no longer active) as an ideal example of a “true romantic betrothal.” Lindvall describes the crazy-making process by which Maranatha’s father, Stan Owen, orchestrated a year-long betrothal which was to be a “demonstration of Christ’s coming for His bride” based on the parable of the Ten Virgins.
Mr. Owen still faithfully directed both Matthew and Maranatha to avoid physical affection until their wedding. He particularly cautioned them to guard against impatience. Especially since Maranatha was rather young, their wedding might be quite a long way off yet. Though they hoped that the time would be soon, they nevertheless resigned themselves to the real possibility that the wedding could be a matter of years down the road, much like Jacob’s seven year betrothal to Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Yet they were both naturally quite motivated and energetically prepared in every way they could, as quickly as they could, just in case the wedding should suddenly be announced.
None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts. The sooner there is such a movement, the sooner we will have a voice in government. Some of you attorneys and statesmen reading this should get together and come up with an approach that will have credibility and help to impact the political process.
Yeah … that’s “bible-believing” extremism for you – and it’s not enough to practice these ideals for themselves and their children, “biblical family values” must become the law of the land.
As a former Quiverfull believer, I used to get excited at the prospect of searching the Word and discovering greater “truths” and biblical principles – the implementation of which would bring my family increasingly closer to a truly God-honoring model of marriage and Christian home life. At the same time, I secretly dreaded what the Lord might reveal to me next through Lindvall’s Bold Christian Living, Pearl’s No Greater Joy, and other “biblical family living” ministries. Already I was obediently and faithfully having baby after baby to the obvious detriment of my health, submitting to my abusive husband, homeschooling, home birthing, home churching, foregoing all government assistance including potentially life-saving health insurance and food stamps, cutting off all outside relationships with family and friends who were not like-minded Quiverfull Believers …. honestly, the regimentation and isolation made for a harsh and demanding life.
“What’s next?” I frequently wondered to myself … ‘cuz my practice of Quiverfull was not “peculiar” enough already, I guess.
I am so grateful that I got out before I had a chance to discover the biblical principle of a man selecting and taking a wife for himself. I am afraid, since the idea comes straight from scripture, I very well may have gone along with my daughters’ father coming to an “unbreakable arrangement” for a “godly” young man to “take them” in marriage.
Ugh. It is a trap – a life-sucking quagmire – to attempt to order one’s family life according to a worldview which teaches that whatever is in the bible is necessarily “biblical” and normative for all times and all cultures. I dread the thought that today’s Quiverfull daughters are now being taught that a young Christian woman “has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man” and given no decision in the covenant agreement between her father and the man who will be taking her.
My mother, who was a Christian, intentionally raised my brothers and me as agnostics.
You see, mom had a theory: Questions such as whether God exists, whether Jesus is our lord and savior, whether there is a heaven and hell — all such questions were far too important to be decided by little boys according to her. Hence, she strictly forbid us reaching any conclusions about religious matters until we were able to reason as adults. As a consequence, I grew up resisting — for the most part — the temptation to arrive at any firm conclusions regarding religion.
Of course, it is almost impossible to grow up in a society that is 80% Christian without unconsciously adopting many of the views and assumptions of your Christian friends and neighbors. Looking back, I think I adopted so many Christian views and assumptions that I might have been fairly labeled a Christian in all but a handful of ways.
For instance: I neither believed in nor disbelieved in god, but — like any good Christian — I thought the question of god’s existence was crucially important. More over, the god I neither believed in nor disbelieved in was very much like the God of the Christians. In those and in a hundred other ways, I was more or less a Christian — without being aware of myself as such.
Consequently, I can look back now and see how I have spent a lot of my life freeing myself from Christianity. And one way I’ve freed myself from Christianity is by freeing myself from the Christian notion of self-sacrifice.
Growing up, I was taught that a good person was, among other things, self-sacrificing and even self-effacing; that he or she not only did what was beneficial to others, but did it for little or no reward of any kind. Unfortunately, that was one of the things about Christianity that I took to heart. And for so long as I took it to heart, I could not understand what it meant to be true to myself.
The notion of being true to myself sounded suspicious to me. If you were busy being true to yourself, weren’t you by necessity neglecting other people? The people you should be sacrificing yourself for? Being true to yourself just didn’t make much sense to me, so I never really investigated it.
When I finally did get around to examining the idea — which was not until mid-life — I discovered that it had a lot more going for it than I had imagined. As I learned how to apply it, I found it gave me a richer sense of purpose and meaning than I had suspected it would.
I think an important key to understanding what it means to be true to yourself is to grasp that our beliefs are not what we most need to be true to. Of course, beliefs are of crucial importance in Christianity. After all, whether you spend eternity in heaven or hell largely seems to depend on your beliefs. But that prejudice can be misleading for beliefs are of much less importance to being true to oneself. Beliefs come and go. If we make a reasonable effort to have true beliefs, then we are almost certainly required to change and update our beliefs as we gather new information. For that and other reasons, it is risky to make them paramount.
I am of the opinion that, instead of focusing on what we believe — and then trying to be true to those beliefs — we should focus more on our talents. And then try to turn those talents into socially responsible skills. In my experience, that brings the richest and most lasting sense of meaning and purpose.
There’s a saying (often mistakenly attributed to Aristotle) that goes something like this: “At the crossroads where your talents and skills meet the needs of the world, there lies your well-being or happiness”. To illustrate, imagine someone with a talent or gift for music. By turning that talent into musical skills, he or she is being true to themselves. Then, by using their skills to meet the needs of the world for music, they increase their chances of finding some measure of happiness. Yet, in my experience, even if they do not meet the needs of the world, even if they keep their music to themselves, they are likely to find happiness and a sense of well-being simply in turning their talent into skills.
I do not hold Christianity entirely responsible for my not having discovered the rewards of being true to myself until mid-life. I think there were other factors involved as well. But I believe Christianity — at least to the extent it made me suspicious of being true to myself — impeded my progress in that direction.
There have been several other ways in which I believe my life has improved as I’ve freed myself from the Christian ideas and assumptions I unwittingly adopted while growing up. But that is by no means to say I think of Christianity as an evil that must be abolished. Rather, it’s just that in my own case I have discovered — time and again — that it is a poor fit for me.
This guest post was written by Sheldon Cooper. He is a former fundamentalist, and works in the warehouse industry in the St. Louis area. He talks about his past life, and current beliefs at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon.
I think any former fundamentalist out there that is reading this post will know what I am talking about when I say that there’s usually regrets that you have when you give up your former beliefs. You wonder sometimes why you didn’t give it up sooner than you did (or how you could have possibly believed it in the first place).
I have my moments like this sometimes, and recently I’ve been having my regrets about introducing myself to the teachings of John Piper. It was in the last years of my time in fundamentalism, and John Piper was rather popular in the Southern Baptist circles I was in (and is still popular there).
I was a confused, doubting young fundamentalist, who had a lot of questions, and started talking about those questions to a man that I considered my spiritual mentor (I’ll call him Mike). He was a big John Piper fan, very obsessed with his teachings (and also a big fan of John MacArthur and Paul Washer as well), and he had been getting his Sunday School class, which I was a part of at the time into Piper’s teachings.
Piper’s teachings sounded great to someone in my position, and since I have had depression for most of my life, his concept of “Christian hedonism” (odd name, I know) sounded great. It’s an old concept, but the way he presents it, that we can know the greatest heights of joy if we do everything that pleases god, sounds appealing. It sounds so positive and life affirming to someone who is used to living in fundamentalism all their life.
I did have my questions about him, and some disagreements, his extreme Calvinism troubled me, and I had a lot of questions (and long discussion with Mike, the spiritual mentor) about Piper’s accompanying views on god’s sovereignty All in all, though, I found his views interesting, and even read some of his books.
The doubts about Christianity itself didn’t go away though, and in time, I would end becoming an agnostic, albeit an undercover agnostic (check out the Undercover Agnostic series on my blog to see more of what I mean by this), and I would end up distancing myself somewhat from Mike after a bizarre incident where his wife said to their Sunday School class, (and told the class that he wanted her to tell them this), that he had cheated on her. When I mentioned this to him later, and asked him about it, they both denied it, and complained about people “spreading rumors” about them (yes, this actually happened, I wish I was making it up, I had a lot of respect for him).
Life went on, we parted ways for the most part, and I ended up becoming an agnostic. It turns out that my doubts weren’t just a passing phase, it’s been five years since I quit believing in Christianity. It had been a while since I had even heard of John Piper again, but when an old blog post of his, talking about his views on women in the military started resurfacing on various atheist blogs, I was surprised at what I didn’t know about John Piper.
He’s even more into the idea of complementarianism than I would have ever thought he was, and this would have repulsed me, even as a fundamentalist. Even then, I believed in gender equality (supporting equality in other areas, such as gay rights, well, I didn’t get around that until after leaving Christianity). Here’s what John Piper says about women in the military:
If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed.
For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.
Well, I guess according to John Piper, I’m a “wimp” then…….
I’ve never had a problem, even during my fundamentalist days of believing that women were just as capable as men. Perhaps that came from being raised by a stay at home mom that was also very (how should I put this?) strong willed.
His post gets even more ludicrous:
Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could.
Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.
This statement defies common sense in so many different ways. Instead of letting Sarah step forward, because she knows hand to hand combat, and could disarm the attacker more easily than Jason, who has no such experience, he would rather Jason go ahead and try to fight him.
Most people would say that Sarah should go after the attacker, because if she does there is a greater possibility that both of their lives will be saved. He would much rather let his outdated views on gender and chivalry cost both the students in this example their lives than to let Sarah use her wealth of experience and training in this area.
I love what blogger Joe Sands of Incongruous Circumspection said in the title to his response to John Piper: John Piper Wants to be Murdered . I think what is very telling about the example with the students is that he said “irrespective of competency”. He’s saying that even when a woman has the training and skills, she shouldn’t be allowed to use them. That’s the problem with this kind of thinking, people who ascribe to complementarian ideas think that they are showing respect for women, by putting them on a pedestal like this, but I see this kind of view as degrading to women.
In his example of the two young lovers being confronted by someone with a knife, he is saying that even though the woman has proven herself capable of doing something (in this case hand to hand combat), by what she has learned through training, and proven by experience, she should still not be allowed to put those skills into practice. It’s saying that even though you have proven yourself capable, we won’t allow you to act as though you are equal.
If I had known what I know about John Piper now, I wouldn’t have considered his views so appealing. I feel foolish now for not fully knowing what he believed, and not digging deeper. Even as a fundamentalist, I would have disagreed with him on gender issues. I guess it’s one of those regrets I’ll learn from and move on.
There’s much I have learned from that time in my life, and I think sometimes I’ve learned some valuable lessons from it. In some ways, it’s helped me now that I am an agnostic. I can understand the beliefs, the mentality, the culture more than most of the population can. It’s because I’ve believed the same beliefs, repeated the same lines and arguments, and lived a life similar to them.
I understand that world and it’s culture in ways that someone without experience can never fully understand (I’m sure many former fundamentalists know that feeling). It’s given me more understanding, and patience, because I remember who I once was, and what I sounded like. That doesn’t mean I still don’t get frustrated with fundamentalists, but I know where they are coming from in life, and that helps in trying to have discussions and debates with them. It’s one thing that I don’t regret about my past experiences, but there’s still much more that I will have to learn to move on from.
The subject of Biblical literalism is a hot topic at the moment thanks to the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I am a former creationist, now an atheist. The creationist argument is not scientific and, despite what some creationists would claim, there is no conspiracy to promote evolution or an old universe the science behind them is solid. There is obviously no room in this post to address every creationist argument, what I will do below is address what made me a creationist and some of the reasons for my eventual rejection of it and why I became an atheist.
Get Them Young
Life for me started in the missionary world of Zambia, Central Africa. School was a boarding school deep in the bush close to the Zaire (as it was then) border. The school was founded by missionaries and populated mostly by missionary children. All the teachers were from Christian stock (they still are today) and saw their work as Christian mission. As children we never seriously questioned the existence of the Christian God. The whole ethos of the school was (still is) God centered so it wasn’t just an education I received, it was also an indoctrination. I still have in my childhood memorabilia a New Testament that I was given for memorizing and reciting a chapter from the Bible. Christianity was far more than an Religious Education lesson, it was a lifestyle and ethos from which everything else flowed.
The whole of my early life was steeped in this lifestyle that assumed God. There was very little opportunity for questioning God because everyone believed. There were times when we were warned that the world outside hated God and we would be persecuted for being Christians. We were told we should stand strong in the face of that because when our education stopped and we entered the world, the challenges would come. Now that I think about it more, as young children, we were taught to fear those who were not Christians.
I recall there were several stories we were told about missionaries who had lost their lives in the service of God. These people were held up as heroes and martyrs, people who were selfless and did not fear death and counted their lives as less important than the mission of spreading God’s word.
This view of the righteous Christian missionary, fighting for God in a world full of evil atheists who hated us, framed my outlook for a long time.
On Science and God
All Bible teaching, that I can remember, was literal, which meant creation, the flood, the tower of babel, the exodus from Egypt, the sun and moon being commanded to stand still, the testing of God with a fleece and so on; all the stories were told as historical events. Interest in science and nature was also encouraged, though the school library had copies of National Geographic and in science lessons we were always told that exploring the world through science was a good way of seeing how beautiful the world is that God made for us.
The only conflict that I remember is the day when new biology books arrived and we were instructed to open the books to a specific page and cross out a paragraph that referred to evolution. The reference was to fish flapping between drying pools of water and eventually learning to use their fins to walk, which over generations turned into legs. We laughed at the description and took great pleasure in crossing out the words.
Becoming an Adult
At 18, I left Zambia at the insistence of my father, to start my life in England and my eventual career in IT. I found a local Methodist church and got involved. It was a major culture shock for me. I was very naive and struggled with fitting in with the other young adults at church. English attitudes were much more liberal than the missionary culture I was used to. At work, it was even harder, Christians were not the majority and atheists were happy to be vocal about it. The words of warning from my youth came back to haunt me.
It was about this time that I had my first shock from within the Christian community. The Bishop David Jenkins made front page news by claiming that the resurrection of Jesus was not literal and that he lives only in our words and thoughts as we talk about and remember him. Worse was to come at house group the next week, the minister confirmed that this was indeed the truth and he believed it too. I was stunned and speechless; I literally didn’t know what to do with my thoughts. It was the first time I had been exposed to different people within the Christian church having different ideas of key elements of the bible.
A chance conversation at work revealed that one of my co-workers had an uncle who was a minister in the USA and had written a book on origins. I duly borrowed the book, it was a creationist book, and with the foundation of my early education, my journey into creationism became complete. I would hold and argue creationism for the next 20 years.
A couple of years later, I was living in a different part of town and going to a different church, this time Anglican, as it was closer to where I lived. It would be here that I would meet and marry my wife. The church itself was liberal, like most Anglican churches in England. There was a strong evangelical element though and it was through this section of the congregation that I would get very involved in what is known as spiritual gifts. Praying in tongues and for the healing of others and demonstrations of being filled by the Holy Spirit were regular occurrences during these services. These more evangelical elements served to strengthen my literal view of the bible, even though not everyone shared my origins view. For me, it had to be true because it didn’t make sense for it not to be.
One of the most common accusations that creationists make against those that accept evolution is that evolutionists start from the position of millions of years and look for the evidence to back it up and will always interpret the evidence as validation of that. This is nonsense of course, and the irony is that it is the creationist that starts from the position that their god exists and that everything we see confirms that.
Evolutionary science does not actually do that of course, it starts from a null hypothesis scenario, that is, nothing is assumed to be true and the conclusion that is drawn is guided by the results. The greatest thing that could happen in science would be for evolution to be overturned and that the existence of a god proven. To argue otherwise is to completely misunderstand how the scientific community operates.
It was when I eventually managed to understand the above that I started to lose my grip on creationism. It was a long and slow journey and there is no specific point I can indicate and say “that’s when it happened”. Instead there are markers along the way where I can see that a little grain of wider understanding crept in. Eventually, all those little grains became a pile that was too large to ignore.
I credit this journey to my appreciation of things scientific and natural. This love eventually led me to reading blogs and listening to podcasts. It was this new digital medium that enabled me to directly compare and contrast the creationist argument with the science argument. Increasingly, I found the creationist argument lacking in substance, while the science argument talked about observation followed by study and process and examination and conclusion and challenge and testing. Creationists object to scientific processes that go against the literal bible interpretation, but they do very little to offer any viable mechanism as an alternative. The requirement to have God do a miracle is relied upon too much.
Increasingly, I found the science of evolution and an old universe cohesive and logical until it was simply no longer possible for me to accept creationism. From that moment on, I was on the slippery slope out of Christianity. It would take a further 3 years, while I questioned to myself all aspects of the Bible that I knew and various experiences that I had previously attributed to God. There is just one event I can’t fully explain away, that is when I went through what is called a deliverance experience. I accept that I may never know fully understand what actually happened that evening; however, one ripple does not a foundation break.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 6: Faith Academy and the Culture Bubble
Living in the Philippines as an MK set me apart from the national culture. I looked different to the people and talked different. I also was there for a finite time – my parents were not immigrating so I was not encouraged to assimilate. In the early days, though, most of my friends were Filipinos in my neighborhood. There were a couple of expat families and Missionary families in each town we lived in that I had friends among but the majority were not.
That all changed when my family lived in Manila and I went to Faith Academy. Suddenly I was in a school filled with people like me. In New Zealand none of my classmates had gone overseas unless it was for a family holiday and, in those days, it was the UK, North America or Australia – countries with similar cultural backgrounds of British colonization and all speaking the same language. They could not relate to my childhood experiences. My Filipino friends always saw me as the outsider of the group so, again, it was hard to relate.
Going to FA meant I would be with people who, at least in theory, would be able to relate. After all we were all MKs, all transported from our passport countries and living in a country that was not our own. While it didn’t prove to be some MK utopia it was still refreshing to be around people like me.
When I tell people I went to a school for missionary kids the question I tend to get asked, if I get asked question at all, is a variant of: How well did you really know the Philippines then?
I used to find this type of question a tad insulting. Obviously I knew the Philippines; I lived there for 11 years, I went to a local Filipino church, I hung out at the same malls, ate out at the same places, traveled on public transport and traveled around the country.What more could I have done?
My perspective on this has changed over time. I now understand why I would be asked that question and, more importantly, wonder about it myself. How well did I really appreciate and understand the Filipino culture while I lived there?
It should be apparent to those who have read my posts so far why that is a fair question. Not just one that applies only to me either. I would guess that most MKs attending FA had more of a cursory knowledge of the surrounding culture than a deep understanding. That is because we were part of, what was known as, the “Faith Academy Bubble”.
The term “Faith Academy Bubble” is not a term I invented. I heard it used in the negative by Missionaries who disparaged my parent’s choice in education. I heard it used matter-of-factly by teachers and parents talking about the school to others. Even the students occasionally used it but mostly ironically.
So was it even real and, if so, what was it?
Yes it was real (although I didn’t see it at the time) and, while I think the term is quite self-explanatory, I will do my best to orientate everyone.
When immigrants come to a new country they are at a disadvantage. They don’t understand a lot of the culture they are joining and may have to learn a new language. It is quite common for them to make friends with any people from their homeland they might encounter. And it makes sense. They are likely to share the same values, have similar points of reference, and, due to a shared language, find it easy to communicate. If they are large enough number they often live nearby or even create enclaves within the wider culture they have immigrated to.
Please note that I don’t want to discuss ideas about whether they should try harder to integrate or if enclaves are harmful or anything like that. Instead I want to note that there is a strong parallel to MKs. When we get together we often experience a similar phenomenon. The shared points of reference, similar values, and, yes, ease of communication. We like hanging out together.
FA was a school for MKs. Presumably that meant we should all be comfortable with each other while holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Well not quite. There were still the groups, the cliques, the in-groups, the group, but mostly different friend groups with shared interests or similar personalities. It was still a school after all. But all these things occurred within a shared cultural perspective. We were all MKs and FA was our enclave.
If I am truly honest (and I will try to be) I had no problem with this at the time. It was where my friends were, which meant that, in an age when mobile phones and internet usage wasn’t widespread, it was where a lot my social life was organized. It felt comfortable; we had our own slang, followed our own internal cultural cues and, it could be argued, spoke with our own accent*. With the daily bible class, weekly chapel and regular special speakers and spiritual emphasis weeks the school was also my church and my youth group.
I even had a set of rules to follow—a code of conduct I had to sign before attending (although I believe this is no longer the case). I can’t remember the exact wording but it involved a list of things we promised not to do. Smoking, drinking alcohol and taking illegal drugs were all part of it but so was dancing (my parents found that a bit odd), watching “inappropriate” movies (a vague enough term that could exclude whatever you watched) and several other, seemingly innocuous, activities. I was well into High School before I realized that some of these stranger rules were made to appeal to the most conservative missionary families.
Now it makes sense that the school would want to enforce behavior around on-campus or school-related activity behavior. However these rules applied to off-campus socializing, home life, private time over the weekends—all of it. As a result a lot of my behavior was dictated not by the country I lived in and its cultural values but by the school I went to (and, to be fair, my parents also had a say). Kids definitely rebelled but that just reinforced the fact they were also part of this bubble—they weren’t rebelling against mainstream Filipino society but the rules and culture of the school they went to. In the end, whether it was met with compliance or disobedience, the students of FA had the school’s rules of behavior whether they were at school or not.
This FA culture bubble became a self-reinforcing system. For example: I didn’t need to speak Tagalog (the main Filipino language in Manila) at school, but by not speaking it my comprehension dwindled and, with it, my connection to the wider Philippine culture. Yet my friends were all foreigners like me so it didn’t matter that I only spoke English. Of course this ensured that making friends who weren’t at my school would be near impossible. This just further enforced our sense of being separate from the country we lived in.
This separation from our host nation combined with the separation from our various passport countries often led so a feeling of cultural superiority. We would often look down on the aspects of Filipino culture that annoyed us or we found ignorant. Embarrassingly, I remember mocking or judging any trend, activity or attitude that, in my mind, was inferior to the “proper” way of doing things. At the same time we were more than happy to judge those back in our home countries as ignorant and backwards for, once again, not doing things in the “proper” way.
Of course we learned to keep these views to ourselves—it turns out people don’t like hearing why their culture isn’t all it can be from whiny kids. My parents, like most missionaries, certainly didn’t encourage these attitudes either. Also, who were we to judge what the proper and right ways of doing things were? In most instances they were just the things that bothered or annoyed us.
In reality the only difference between us and any other kid is that we genuinely believed we had a superior perspective. After all we weren’t mono-cultured, untraveled, narrow-minded people. We were in a unique position to see further and discern better. We weren’t shackled to a single culture. We had special insight. Our hubris prevented us from realizing that, like all outsider groups, we had merely joined another mono-culture albeit a smaller one.
Before I conclude I should stress that section 4 represents a huge generalization and is based on my perception of situation at the time. If you happen to be a former (or current) FA student and feel that you are unfairly labelled as being part of this enclave that is totally fine. Some kids were very in touch with the people and culture of the Philippines and you might have been one of them. Some kids had almost no contact with anything Filipino, where even a lot of the food they ate was sourced from their home country. My take on all of this is based on how different my MK experience became once I started attending FA.
While there were positives of being with others like us we were also prone to hold an “us vs them” mentality when it came to the other cultures we interacted with. For some kids this caused problems when they tried to fit in back in their home countries since they never felt as connected with people as they had back in school. I know some of them personally. Others were never satisfied where they lived. While they were in the Philippines they couldn’t wait to leave and once they had left they couldn’t wait to return. It is this sense of not being at ease that encouraged the FA culture and the FA culture, in turn, exacerbated the feelings of unease.
*A non-distinct American accent that could not be attributed to any region or state. Some former students might disagree with me on this point but I doubt they are reading this post, so feel free to assume my assertion is 100% correct.
A few years ago, a childhood friend died. Her name is unimportant, so I’ll refer to her as Sally. Sally was 35, so the death was quite unexpected. She had gone into the hospital for a medical procedure relating to her diabetes and died there. Just a routine medical procedure, and the result was the loss of a good person.
Sally and I lived across the street from each other and our families had attended the same church when we were little, as in 5 or 6 years old. Sally’s family moved to another part of the city when she was 8 or 9 and we had infrequent contact which each other; our mothers were the ones who kept in touch.
The church we both attended was a GARB church. When Sally moved, her family attended a sister GARB church and that is where she kept her membership until she died. From all accounts, Sally was semi-active in her church and brought people to services on many occasions.
My family left the first church after my dad realized that the people weren’t truly wanting to live separated lives. We then attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for 5 or 6 years. After a falling out with this church over the same thing, we moved to another IFB church that had Missionary Baptist roots. Over time, this church fell into the Sovereign Grace/Calvinistic line of belief.
While attending IFB and Calvinistic churches, I learned of a God who hates sinners. I also learned that I was pretty lucky to have either a) accepted Jesus, or b) been chosen by God. Either way, I was part of a select few who were truly saved. Everyone else worshiped false gods and didn’t truly understand salvation.
Fast forward to Sally’s death. I was in the middle of my deconversion when Sally died. I knew I wasn’t a Christian anymore; I was still learning why and figuring out how to put it into words. A family friend called me one day and said that Sally had died. Even though I hadn’t seen her in years, I was heartbroken; she had been my best friend at one time. I called her mom and found out when the funeral was.
The funeral was held at Sally’s church. This was a church I had been to a few times when Sally and I were kids. Walking into the church was like being brought back in time. It was pretty unreal. When the service started, the singing was uplifting and the people were as happy as they could be. This was in stark contrast to the Calvinistic and IFB funerals I was used to attending. The people spoke about Sally and how she loved her church, lived her faith, and showed it by being a good person. Again, quite a contrast to my people who showed their faith by looking down on sinners and calling everyone else evil.
When the pastor spoke, he told the story of an unfamiliar person. He spoke of a God who actually cared about people, this being the reason he sent his son to die. He was concerned for the entire world, not just a select few. He also spoke of a Savior who actually cared about us and was understanding when we failed. Overall, it was a positive sermon. I could actually see why Sally stayed with that church and that message.
I know that you can get almost any belief out of the Bible and then use select verses to support that belief. My people found verses about anger and hatred and used them to beat me up. Sally’s people found verses about love and compassion and kept people that way. (I’m guessing they didn’t teach too much from the Old Testament.)
My point is this, that day I was exposed to a different Savior. The same Jesus, but presented so differently as to be two separate people. I wonder if I had been exposed to the kinder, gentler Savior, would I have still deconverted?