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?
I was born in a liberal yet religious Hindu family. I am a ritualistic person and I believe in idol- worship, going to temples and in holy chants. Thankfully, I have always been open to embrace the goodness of other religions and since my elder sister studied in a convent, Jesus Christ made an early entry into my life.
Christians were probably the most forward people in our society when I was growing up. Ladies wore skirts, went to church during menstruation, something which is not allowed both in Hinduism as well as Islam. I chose to read Bible, only because of this reason as I could read it all 30 days of the month, without the fear and the guilt of being unholy during some days. I was impressed by New Testament but wondered why do Protestants not worship Mother Mary? The mother has to be divine to produce a divine offspring and thus with times got attracted more towards Catholicism. I was impressed by their idea of service, saw the great work missionaries were doing and marveled that why were other religions not doing so much?
Much later in my life, I was exposed to the conversions of tribal and poor in remote parts of my country. I saw the speeches of great orators who performed miracles and the crowd that gathered. This time I was not impressed as I could see through the façade. I read more literature and realized that sex is considered to be a sin and that is the main reason humans are considered to be sinners. Gosh, the religion was turning out to be regressive. I read stories on how women were burnt alive as they were considered to be having sex with the devil, an allegation they could not counter
Today if someone asks me about my faith in Christ, I would accept, more than that I believe in Mother Mary coz being a Hindu I believe in the divine power of mother and I realize that Christ has nothing to do with the services and conversions that take place in his name. He would listen to my prayer and answer even if I am a Hindu, I need not convert to attract him more.
I have a firm faith and belief that God exists whether he is Christ or Allah or Lord Ganesha, I don’t know but who so ever he is, he is above all these petty differences.
Warning: a good deal of my thoughts and feelings on all this are quite raw. If I come across that way, I’m not meaning to demean or offend. I do my best to be polite. I can’t help but feel I am taking an awful risk. It’s with a great deal of trepidation that I get into this more than on a surface level. The images of children stumbling and millstones have a permanent imprint on my mind. But, I think everyone here can handle it. Besides that, I’m not encouraging anyone to follow my ways or path–you are responsible for yourself, your faith, your life with or without god. But I do–and you should–proceed with caution.
I am a product, not of IFB/Evangelical fundamentalism, but of Campbellite/Church of Christ fundamentalism. I left that for liberal Evangelicalism, only to find the grass wasn’t greener. I am currently in the long, drawn-out process of leaving the Faith altogether. But, I will admit “faith” is something I’m not so sure I am leaving. I don’t know, anymore.
I admit right off the bat that I am not an atheist. I am agnostic, but lean toward some kind of Jesus pursuit. I no longer believe in any inerrant bible or literal “word of God”, but I still think the Bible is a valuable document to carefully read and consider, in the same way the Tao Te Ching or Das Kapital are valuable to read and consider. I doubt I would be considered “Christian” in most senses, anymore.
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, the firstborn to parents who were at least third-generation Campbellites. As such I grew up in the non-institutional, non-instrumental churches of Christ. If you know the history of that “movement”, you will know that says enough about the theological baggage I carry around.
Campbellite baptism is how I was taught to approach “getting saved”, which was always separated from believing. I had always believed, always knew Jesus, even from childhood; until now I never knew a time of “unbelief.” That did not mean I was saved, however. “Faith and works” were always held in tension, and neither were sufficient to get me into Heaven. My baptism sprang from a fear of Hell, but it also developed from teenage angst about growing up in the church. I relented under the typical church pressures, but my conversion was sincere even if less than fully “educated.” An argument can be made that no discernible change in life resulted. Looking back, that is a significant note to keep in my back pocket.
I met my wife in high school. She was a profoundly unhappy girl and I vowed to be the one person in town who would not add to her sadness, if not be the one to make her happy. There was just one problem: she was a Catholic. Again, if you know anything about the Churches of Christ, me even dating her was a mighty scandal.
That is what marrying my wife made us. After we both graduated from college, we moved to the Detroit area, far away from our Colorado home. Incidentally, we lost two children, and I nearly lost my wife. What I also lost was my armored perspective on good and evil, right and wrong. We moved back home soon after and had our first [living] child. We then, almost immediately, lost my mother-in-law. Our firstborn was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age 5, as was I one year later–as an adult. Gain and loss have became prominent themes in our life together. These events solidified our existence as misfits, and life soon became an exercise in dealing with the unmet expectations of others; not least of which were the expectations of other Christians.
What I was learning was that my family were–and are–the greatest gifts I have been given. I discovered they are more valuable than even my “salvation.” My family, and not the church, taught me about love. Everyone else taught me about expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them.
I am an engineer. For a time, I worked construction, which was not the industry for which I was educated. Once again I was a misfit, a fish out of water. Years of this lead to a restlessness and anxiety, feelings of being trapped with no other options. The funny thing was that my time in that job was a sort of parable of my wider life. At the time I mistakenly thought it was a “faith-lesson” strengthening my Christianity. Big mistake. I did learn what faith truly was, and it was not what the church told me it was.
The Hebrew Bible talks of the refiner’s fire. My branch of engineering deals with steel-making, so blacksmithing has deep root in my consciousness. There are no miracles in the blacksmith’s world, only long, arduous work. The blacksmith doesn’t “believe” or “pray” for a result, he takes his hammer, anvil, and a very hot fire and beats on a piece of steel until it is a useful tool. It takes hours, days, or weeks to create something of use. Only after hard work does his effort bear any fruit.
Similarly, Jesus talked of moving mountains with only a little faith. Christianity has left us with the mistaken notion that the right faith would allow us to instantly throw that trillion-ton pile of rocks and trees into the ocean with a wave of our hands. Or, that the right faith would bring us untold riches and health. Life has taught me otherwise. Moving mountains takes faith, alright, but the kind of faith that picks up the shovel and scoops the dirt day after day, week after week, year after year. A mountain is moved one rock at a time. I know this because I watched it happen on a job site: one shovel, one bucket, one dump truck, one day at a time. It was boring and monotonous. And it surely was not instant.
Finally, Jesus talked about building on rock and not sand. This was the easy one to learn. Any house or other structure worth its money is built on a solid foundation. What is the foundation of fundamentalism? What is it but the sand of inerrancy, or the shakiness of one literal, modern interpretation of a collection of ancient texts. Even the “eyewitness” accounts of Jesus of Nazareth are rife with corrupted and uncorroborated evidence. Christianity, as it stands now, is built on a surprisingly shifty foundation. Not a good start to building a life.
Learning these lessons has shown me, in the here and now, that I generally live life in tension; I am holding contradictory positions. It is not a good situation for an engineer to hold to an existence of cognitive dissonance. So, now I’m wavering.
Where I’m At
In a manner of speaking, I have no issue with the people of the church, although I haven’t been to meetings in many months. I am happy with most of the people, however the church is, and all churches are, bound by a system and spends too much energy and treasure to feed itself. Having so much stock invested leads to rules and expectations on people that aren’t really justified. From what I read and understand in the Bible, the church was meant to be about a community in relationship. But, so much of the activity and program of church makes authentic relationships nearly impossible.
But none of that is the driving issue with me. I might be able to live and cope with those idiosyncrasies. Coming face to face with some of the things happening in my life–random, causeless things–has caused doubts to take center stage, doubts I’ve always harbored and tried to work out on the back burner. As it is now, I’m skeptical of nearly everything–church, theology, family priority, god itself. I feel like I’m watching the deconstruction of everything I’ve ever believed, hoping to be left with enough to rebuild, or to be convinced rebuilding is worth the energy, or even necessary.
[Warning: severe understatement ahead.] Generally speaking, the church doesn’t deal with doubt very well. Just try to question a pastor’s decision, debate the elders’ authority, resist any authority, doubt the Bible, or doubt an agenda or program. Try questioning the small group ministry and see where it gets you. Simply asking the question, any question, gets you branded. This doesn’t even consider questions about the arguably more important topics of doctrines and practice. Individual friends, even while uncomfortable, will help you entertain doubts, to a point. But when the corporate body is involved, doubt is quashed, because it can’t be managed or controlled.
I doubt. I question. I doubt well-established, deeply held, fundamental things. From the time I was a boy, as far back as I can remember, I have never really doubted god. For the years that I’ve known and learned about god, I had never doubted who he was or that he somehow loved me. That is, not until now.
I suppose the spiritual growth process requires doubt at some time. It seems that in doubt, faith and perseverance must grow to overcome it. Still, when these doubts came, it brought a tremor deep within that I did not expect. It has brought fits of very intense emotion. It has been difficult to keep my composure when confronted with my doubts.
Over the past few years, I have been exposed to new–at least new to me–theological hypotheses. What they are is not the point, and I don’t wish to argue their merits or faults here. Their effects on me, however, I need to work out. Having believed a certain thing about god for so long, I have agonized over having that foundation cracked, even if just a little or just in perception. After half a lifetime of being quite sure of what I believed, that assurance has been shattered, and worse, may yet be proven to be based on something completely false. To someone like me, who is comfortable with facts laid out in an orderly, black and white fashion, this is the height of uncomfortable.
While I don’t like to call it “panic”, a sort of core panic has set in. Admittedly, my first reaction was one of anger. I felt lied to and duped. To some extent, I still do. I re-read scripture passages, along with a few new sources of information and I begin to see all sides as having some merit in their positions. A deeper depression sets in, and then harder questions rise up. “Which is it?”, I ask myself. “Both?” “Neither?” “Does it matter?” In my black and white mind, there must be an answer. What is truth?
I think of Job… what an awful thing to happen to one person. Not only did he lose almost everything, his wife and three friends were of no comfort. Nevertheless, god steps in to end the argument. God, interestingly enough, lectures Job on speaking where he has no knowledge. Funny—the whole time Job is crying out to god as his final arbiter, calling for vindication—he receives a stern reprimand. All the while, Job gets no answers to who was right in the final theological analysis. None. Job and his friends are left wondering. And so am I. It seems everything was set aright, for the most part, for Job after all. But what was the point of having to suffer so overwhelmingly? Was it just so god could prove a debate point?
If the experiences of Job teach me anything (assuming that god is indeed benevolent), it is that god doesn’t call us to nail down our theology to be acceptable to it. He calls us to trust it. All of our understandings are feeble. This isn’t to say truth is not important. It is to say that god holds truth, not us, and not me. Therefore, we need to trust him and not scholars, theologians, preachers, or ourselves.
Such is wholly unacceptable to some people. I get that. And, it is all predicated on a god who is there to trust in the first place. What if it isn’t? Can “God” be reasonably presupposed, even with the claims of the Cloud of Witnesses?
I can’t really nail down a single event which has brought all of this to the forefront. I could name several candidates, but how exactly they fit in would take volumes to describe and tie together. The nearer ones would be easier than those far off, but only relatively. Whether it was a grandfather’s declaration that I wouldn’t amount to much, or a pastor’s desertion of the flock in his charge—or any of a thousand more incidents and accidents—all had their part to play in my derailed faith.
Even so, if I had to venture a guess at a common thread it would be this: cognitive dissonance. That is, that which I believed or wanted to believe was not what I saw or thought I saw. The truths I held were not what in reality was or is. Mutually exclusive ideas cannot be true at the same time.
Over the past few years I have been dealing, in my mind, with the dichotomy of how life should be versus how life is. I am unable to confirm the quote, but Mel Blanc is purported to have said, when comparing his characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “Bugs is the ideal we all try measure up to, but Daffy is who we see in the mirror every morning.” That seems to fit it into the nutshell I’m talking about. Similarly, the “Christian life” is such a lofty ideal, but when compared to reality, it looks like a sham.
Is there any hope? Society surrounding me leads me to believe not. Depending on which preacher you sit in front of on Sunday mornings, no matter the platitudes and “gracious” language (if you’re fortunate enough to get even that), the answer is still no. For every fellow addict who understands and knows the struggle, there are 99 “good” citizens who deny any issues of their own and stand in judgment of your law-breaking.
So, I’m left with a choice. I can be honest with myself and everyone, taking the barbs and arrows from a society and a religion who don’t understand and don’t really care to understand, or I don the mantra of the Wizard, hoping to distract all Oz from the reality of who I am. It feels like the only way is the wrong way.
I really don’t know what to do with this. I haven’t been taught to deal with it. It has always been that I don’t measure up, and I have to measure up before god will love me, but it’s impossible for me to measure up. To a certain extent, I have been convinced there is no hope. Go to any church, and likely you will find there are rules and expectations before you are accepted as “one of us.” Churches are not the only culprit, society at large has the same expectation—do what we say or else.
But, if you boil down the story of the Bible, that is not what god seems to be saying, at least that isn’t how I read it. No matter what I think of god and his interaction (or lack thereof) in this screwed up world, the book says that through Jesus somehow things are different. The man behind the curtain can be exposed for who and what he is, and god accepts him… accepts me. He will deal with me kindly and fairly.
I don’t know about you, but I never hear that in the churches I’ve been associated with to this point. Spend a single day in the secular world and you will find this, too, is an anathema. I’m only now getting the whole thing through my own thick, judgmental skull. The thing is, I still don’t know what to do with it.
There is no point in running down the list of things I still believe or things I don’t believe anymore. The details of the jots and tittles have caused enough madness. The best I can give you at this point is that I am agnostic about the whole thing. I simply don’t know. Further, I’m skeptical of anyone who claims they do know. I’m skeptical that some things are even knowable.
If you want to know what I believe, watch me. See what I do and how I act. That will tell you all you need to know. Maybe the reason there was no change in my life at my conversion was that I didn’t really believe it in the first place.
I was and continue to be skeptical of any Sunday School teacher or pastor from my past. I know they don’t know. And here I am: a walking contradiction. For all my years, this is what I have heard: Sure, god loves me and sent Jesus to save me, but… BUT… if I don’t ________, then [insert any one of the typical religious threats here]. For all my years, I have tried to conform and do as I was told. It has gotten me nowhere. I’m still the same person, with the same personality issues, the same social ills, the same faults, and the same sins.
I can’t continue down the same path. I’m not sure I even want to, anymore. I can’t keep the inevitable at bay.
My conclusion is that I’m done. I can’t do it. I have never been able to do it. All I hear is, “You need to do more… do better… don’t do that… do this… change… pull your weight… contribute… make a difference… obey…”
So, I’m not going to try, anymore.
A well-written deconvert to atheism explained his experience in this way:
“These are the three things that changed my thinking: a major crisis, plus new information that caused me to see things differently, minus a sense of a loving, caring Christian community.” –From John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, Prometheus, 2008.
I mention this quote not to say that all of this must turn out, in the end, as me turning to atheism. It is more of a warning to myself that I am three-thirds of the way down that path Loftus describes.
To this point I have found only one fact I can rely on: love. While that fact carries a lot of weight in and of itself, it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions I’m haunted by. It is a hopeful start, even so. I consider love to be the chief end of life; love of others, primarily. Life is too difficult to go through without a friend to help along the way. Jesus supposedly spoke of love, but his followers show an appalling lack of it. This is the chief reason I have left the church and Christian religion: so few of Jesus’ so-called “disciples” actually love anyone. I don’t blame Jesus, I blame those who do what they do in his name. I still believe in love, even if I don’t know if I believe in god.
That, of course, could all change. In all of this, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve told you the story, for the most part. From as early as I can remember I have felt like a misfit, not meeting family, friends’, and others’ expectations. Well, my response to it all has always been, “I’ll show them.” I was driven to prove myself to any- and everyone. High school valedictorian, smallest defensive end in the league, if not the State (All-Conference). Graduate from the best engineering school in the country in 4 years. Aced the class the prof said I had no business taking. Save the company I work for millions per year. Professional Engineer Certification in a 3rd discipline I was not educated in. Prove my boss wrong. Defy church leadership because–damn it–they’re wrong. Etcetera, and etcetera, blah, blah and blah. Then all of it came crashing down.
No matter how good, right, or correct any of that stuff is, I only did it to justify myself. My complaints toward anyone who opposed me, criticized me or didn’t “like” me was not one of rightness, but of not validating me, my ego. Like many before, I didn’t like myself, so I sought to force everyone else to do so as compensation. “I’m the smartest guy in the room; I’m right and you can’t deny it.”
I am who I am. That is enough. Jesus told his followers, “Love your enemies.” Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
I figure, now, I just need to let it all go. I don’t need to show anything to anyone. I just need to love and forgive, and not grasp at those I find around me. Then I can let the rest of it fall where it does. That doesn’t answer any questions, but maybe in the end that is the beginning.
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).
(Please note that this post will provide some hand-holding for those with little to no understanding of Christianity)
Part 5: The Missionary Calling
Stories usually require introductions and this one begins with two things; the first is attraction. Two teenagers going to the same youth-group decide get together for the reasons most teenagers do; they liked each other. Being good Christian types they had vowed to stay “pure” which, in their church, meant no sex; hand-holding, hugging and kissing were all acceptable activities just as long as they didn’t take it too far. After they both finished high-school they got engaged and a wedding soon followed.
So far this is a pretty stock-standard stuff however there was one thing about these two that made them a bit, well, different. They both felt called by God to be missionaries. Separately they had decided that any person they would marry had to also feel the same “calling” so, after going out for a few months, they were both delighted to discover that they shared the same viewpoint. At the time this served to validate the idea that they were meant for each other; as if God himself had ordained their union. Whether God really did bring them together or not I am grateful for one of its by-products – my own birth.
Yes my parents each had “want to be a missionary” as criteria for a spouse. It may not be the weirdest thing someone looks for in a partner but it isn’t normal either. They also both felt called to be missionaries and that is the part I want to examine here. I am cognizant that some readers know what is meant my “missions” – especially if you have read earlier posts. For those familiar with the concept please proceed onto the next section
I will now take the time to give a short bible lesson from Matthew 28:18-20. Known as the Great Commission, this passage is said to record one of the few teachings of Jesus after he has been resurrected from death:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If it isn’t already obvious this is a key teaching, not just for evangelicals, but Christianity in general. Not only is it (allegedly) one of the final things Jesus directly imparted to his first followers but it is also one the clearest and least ambiguous commands Jesus gives in the gospels. If anyone has ever wondered why Christians are so big on proselytizing– well it’s because Jesus told them to. And Jesus is kind of a big deal for them.
My parents took this verse very seriously indeed. So once they completed high-school they started university. Marriage followed during which time I was born. Understand that this was 1970s New Zealand so education was free and students received a weekly allowance from the government. Juggling study and having a family, while certainly not easy, wasn’t the big struggle it might have been in other countries. Throughout all of this their ultimate desire to become missionaries remained.
In 1983, with the financial backing of their Open Brethren Assembly, they decided to transplant their family from the socialist-democracy of New Zealand and into the right-wing dictatorship of the Philippines to become missionaries. They had no problem moving two young boys, I was now almost three years old and my brother almost one, from a relatively safe and clean environment into one where hygiene standards and disease control was not as high on the government’s agenda. Placing their family in a dangerous environment and moving them away from doting grandparents, who had no other grandchildren at the time, was a secondary consideration to the glory of the gospel.
If this sounds a bit dismissive of their choices be assured my intention is not to denigrate them but to explain what they did from my current perspective. When I grew up as a child of missionaries their decisions seemed normal and, because it was for God’s glory, righteous. It is only all these years later that I see how crazy their life-choices can seem to others – particularly those who don’t think in a religious frame-work. To my parents, however, there was no real choice being made – Jesus gave the command and the Holy Spirit convicted them, specifically, to help carry it out. Their only decision was whether to follow the calling or ignore it.
Anyone who is or has been a devout member of any faith will realize that is no real choice at all. To do anything less than comply would be disobedience. The flip-side is that, because these feelings of conviction are strong desires, this conviction is actually what the faithful follower really wants to do. At a mundane level it is simply people pursuing their goals only with the added belief that these goals are given to them by God. In other words my parent’s got to do what they wanted while also being able to feel like they were sacrificing for the greater good; the epitome of having your cake and eating it too.
So that relates to my parents specifically and it might leave you wondering: What about all the other missionaries? Do they have similar stories and reasons for doing what they do?
Well that is a good point and I don’t have a definitive answer as I haven’t found data on the main reasons missionaries go and do what they do. However I have heard many a missionary give a testimony and preach a sermon where they do reveal their reasons. Add the fact that I knew many missionaries and listened in on their conversations with my parents – I have a pretty good idea why they tend to do what they do.
In most cases it is the same reason I outlined above. They feel the conviction and off they go. Now the reasons they go where they go and do their specific missionary work can differ quite a bit. But the belief that this is what God wants them to do is pretty consistent throughout the missionaries I knew. Obviously, as with my parents, I can’t say if they really felt God convicting them. Perhaps they were zealous and idealistic young people who thought being a missionary sounded important or fun or, even, exciting. I will never know.
Of course there were a few missionaries that were there for the “easy ride”. This may sound strange when you consider that the Philippines was not a safe place to live compared to most first world countries – but there were some big advantages living there. Exchange rates mean that the money sent to support missionaries can often go a long way; especially if the church or mission agency sends a lot over. Coupled with the fact that, at least in those days, there was little oversight (Often sending a newsletter home every quarter was sufficient) and it ended up being a sweet deal for some.
These were the people who I, and others, always wondered what they actually did. They ate at nice places, bought the latest gadgets and were often taking vacations to interesting places around the country. I remember when I finally worked out why they continued to “work” over in the Philippines when I read a newsletter from one of them. It made it sound like they were single-handedly converting the entire country. I was amazed at how well they could spin a story. While nothing in this newsletter was an outright lie it was certainly embellished.
Most Missionaries are workaholics, if anything, so don’t get the impression they are all freeloaders. Nor am I saying that missionaries with excellent communication skills are all liars. I also am curious as to how easy it is for today’s missionaries to get away with this. The internet has made communication very easy and also increased the expectation of regular contact and reporting. The slackers might be easier to spot – but only if people are actually motivated to check on them.
The final point I want to make about the missionary calling is that there is another step beyond feeling led by God. In the Brethren churches all missionaries must gain commendation from the church elders (the leaders of Brethren assemblies). If this is given they then need to raise the required levels of support. This is important if the local assembly can’t provide 100% of the money needed. In the case of my parents they were supported primarily by their church but also had another, smaller, Brethren group make up the rest. This covered our living expenses. On top of that certain one-off expenses (like our school fees) were provided by generous donors.
While other missionaries follow similar models there are a lot who don’t. Some of the larger organizations have application processes and training that are provided for all prospective missionaries. Support is given, not through individual fund-raising, but by pooled donations that are distributed evenly among their missionaries and programs. They may own property and equipment for their missionaries to use (houses, vehicles, furniture). Still others use a mixed model where accommodation might be supplied by the agency but everything else is self-funded (just as one possible option).
One thing about all these models is that the more a missionary has to self-fund the more autonomy they tend to have. However they tend to have less training and cultural orientation. So there are always trade-offs. Some people will opt to go with a mission agency for other reasons: such as the types of ministry opportunities they want to be involved in. If someone wants to work on bible translation with isolated tribal groups, for example, it would pay to join New Tribes Mission who specialize in these activities.
Feeling called to the mission field (as it is commonly known) is no guarantee someone will be a missionary. Whether sent by their church or joining a mission organization there is still a lot of work ahead of them. Of course I am not convinced the “calling” is anything more than a reflection of their own desires and I believe that some missionaries feel the same way deep down.
The one thing you can never say, regardless of how you end up being sent, is that it’s your own idea. If you think mission works sounds like something you would like to try (and who doesn’t like to travel?) you must convince people that the whole idea was God’s and that you must follow the path he set for you. You don’t have to believe it but it would be a lot easier to convince others if you do.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
Manna Baptist Academy was a ministry of Manna Baptist Church, one of the IFB churches we associated with. The Pastor and Principal was Mr. Watson, whom I had originally met at Wildwood Christian Academy. Pastor and Mrs. Watson had three children who attended the school during the time I was there. The oldest one, during my first year, was in her senior year and she acted as a Monitor They also used their other two children as monitors during my second year. There was a lot of favoritism shown to their children. Any time their children had problems with other children, their parents jumped right in and took care of the problem. There was no teasing them or pulling pranks, unless you wanted to be talked to by the Principal. This would be followed by a call to your parents. Not a good system.
My first day there, I instantly knew things would be different and better for me. The Supervisors and Monitors were more relaxed. The whole atmosphere was more relaxed. Most of the kids who attended the school went to church either at Manna or the one I attended. It felt a lot more like a large family than a school. The Watsons would give longer breaks and allowed a little more freedom than in the other schools I attended. For example, sometimes they would make an announcement that everyone would be free to score their work as needed until the next break. In my second year, myself and two other boys were allowed to take the dividers out of our offices. Supposedly it was to help the boy who transferred in during the middle of the year. We helped the new kid and had a good time whispering and goofing off, we just never got too loud. This never happened in my other ACE schools
Since I had matured a bit, I took my schooling more serious and actually tried to succeed. I didn’t have homework very often; and, when I did, it was usually just a page or two. In my second year, I kept E level privileges most of the time. I actually found that I enjoyed school and used the system to my advantage. Because I was doing so well, the Supervisors left me alone. I was also the second oldest person in the school, so I was an older kid, which gave me a little bit of status, too.
It was here that I saw one of the huge shortfalls in the ACE system. One of the kids who was my age was taking college prep studies in 9th grade. He was doing Algebra 1 and 2, as well as taking French. No one at the school was able to help him with the Algebra PACEs. What they did was give him the score keys and let him figure out he answers, almost like reverse engineering. Fortunately, he was an honest kid who really wants to study for college, so he stuck with it and learned Algebra. For French, he listened to cassette tapes and copied phrases into his PACE. There was no way of truly checking to see if he was actually learning the language or just memorizing phrases. This is a bad way to learn a language.
When I was in 9th grade, I showed a lot of initiative, so I was given some responsibility every now and again. I was allowed to be a monitor several times and I got to help the kids in the Lower Learning Center. Because I kept the E level privileges, I was free to do what I wanted most of the time. There were a couple of other kids who did the same, so we would do our school work together or play basketball when it was nice outside.
My parents didn’t want me to graduate early, so I was only allow allowed to complete one year’s worth of work each school year. This kept me from getting E level a couple of times. In the two years there, I got a total of three detentions. No scoring violations or incomplete goals this time, though. I was older and smarter. I knew how to do things and not get caught. I didn’t do too much cheating, though. Mostly it was in Math. Any ACE student can relate to the dread of completing pages and pages of division and multiplication. Some days you would want to cry. Five pages of it can seem like an eternity. (As an adult, I discovered I have dyslexia, which didn’t help with my math. We had one of our children diagnosed, and I had almost all the same symptoms. Large groups of numbers are my kryptonite, just like my child.)
Two of the detentions were for talking at the scoring station and goofing around. The last detention I got was because I didn’t get a homework slip at the end of the day. I completed my last page of work just as school ended, but I didn’t score the work. The next day, when goals were checked, Mrs. Watson gave me a detention for incomplete goals. She said it was because I should have gotten a homework slip, even though all that needed to be done was to score. What a crock of crap. I was scared to death to bring that detention slip home; I had visions of the spankings I got while I was at Grace Baptist Academy. Fortunately, my parents realized what a B.S. move that was, so I wasn’t in any trouble.
Sometime during the second year, my parents started butting heads with the Watsons. I’m not quite sure what started it, but the friction was very obvious. The above mentioned detention was one manifestation of the feud. Mr. Watson began to, not so subtly, try to undermine my parents beliefs. Part of the problem was that my dad had begun to truly follow Jesus. This meant forsaking the world and all of its trappings. No TV, no secular magazines, no sports, no frivolities, and things like that. Maybe my parents brought up things that angered the Watsons, I don’t know. All I know is that I started to be picked at, ever so slightly. They even began using their son to spy on me.
As a boy, I had an interest in regular boy things. One thing I liked was secular music. Some of the other kid’s parents had no problem with the kinds of music they listened to, so I would talk about popular music with them. One day, we were in the weight room and we talked about music for over an hour, all of us older boys, including the Watson’s son. Just three days later, my mom and I got called into the office for a meeting. The subject was how I spent an hour talking about rock and roll music. This was a big no-no, both at school and at home. They told us that Mrs. Watson overheard us talking from the other side of the wall, I know that their boy told on me. He pretty much admitted it. Interestingly enough, none of the other boys’ parents were brought in for this. This was only one example of the stuff that began to go on.
For some reason, their daughter (who was the same age as me) had access to the test scores. She helped score the final tests of even her peers. Many times she would come to us the next day and talk about how easy the tests were and how she would have gotten a better grade. One time, she told me that her parents couldn’t believe what a dummy I was for flunking a certain test. Nepotism was alive and well in that school.
It was here that I remember learning about the great defenders of the Christian faith. Men like Dr. Lee Robertson, Dr. John R. Rice and Lester Roloff. We were taught about the great things these men had done and how Lester Roloff was being persecuted for Jesus. There were actually sections in the PACEs about these, and other, great men of the faith.
It was also during my time here that I realized that the IFB movement and ACE were linked together. Since I was a little older, I started paying attention to the things being said. I also saw that many of the authors we were required to read for literature were the leaders of the IFB movement, and/or their children. It is almost like an inbred family. No new ideas or thoughts could come in because all that we needed to know had already been written by The IFB leadership. Even the dictionaries we used were purchased from ACE, so they were heavily expurgated and edited.
In my first year, we had two girls that had attended the Rebekah Home for Girls, the “school” Lester Roloff started. They were sent back to their parents when the school was closed down. I became good friends with both and was labeled a rebel because of it. When one of these girls ran away from home towards the end of the year, I was grilled about it three different times. I told them I didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe me.
By the end of my second year, my parents decided that they were going to homeschool my brother and I. My brother has dyslexia and did best with one on one teaching. Additionally, my parents were trying to keep even more separate from the world, as they began to develop different beliefs, especially when my dad began to have Calvinistic beliefs. The IFB churches with their outer holiness and inner worldliness, their pastor worship, and other shenanigans finally began to burn my dad out. He started trying to find a better place.
So, this was my third ACE school experience. It was my best experience. A lot of it had to do with my attitude. I also believe much of it had to do with the way the school was run. The atmosphere was more pleasant and not as rigid. In fact, the regional ACE inspector came with his son one day to observe the school. Myself and another boy were done with our goals for the day, so we went outside to play basketball, at 11:30. We invited the inspector’s son to play, but his dad wouldn’t let him. I heard that he wasn’t too impressed with how the children were allowed to work at their own speed and do what they wanted. I think the Watsons had the right idea about teaching and had some non traditional ideas towards learning, they could only do so much in that system.