Guest Posts

Things Are Not as They Seem: A Legacy of Immorality

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Guest post by Ian.

Since my wife and kids are still actively involved with this group, I am going to use pseudonyms instead of actual names. Other than name changes, this a true story, learned through observation and stories from the pulpit. I use terms like sin and immorality because I am holding this church up to the standards they claim to follow.

Once, there was a man named Charlie. From what I heard about him, Charlie was a good man, kind and hardworking. Charlie met a young girl named Beth sometime in the early 30’s. Charlie’s desire was to become a pastor and Beth seemed to be inclined to go along with this dream. Friendship blossomed, and at the ripe old age of 15, Beth became pregnant. Oops, Charlie and Beth weren’t married. This was easily fixable; so, off to the wedding altar they went. Charlie became a preacher who, from all accounts, was a well-loved and all around good guy. His grandkids, who I know well, loved going to see him. They never remember him being angry or saying a bad word against anyone. Charlie had several children, the oldest one named George.

George lived in Missouri most of his life. He grew up in church, learning all the things a pastor’s child should. As George grew older, he met a girl named Sue. As far as I know, George didn’t have any desire to become a pastor in his younger years. I do know that George attended a local college for some time. I also know that George and Sue fell in love, got married and had a son. Wait, actually, George and Sue had sex, Sue got pregnant and then George and Sue got married, because that will immediately fix the problem. George ended up joining the US Army and served a little over 20 years. He was awarded the Silver Star among other medals and retired a Sergeant Major.

George doesn’t talk much about his Army days. From the pulpit, he would tell us, as a cautionary tale,  that he did smoke and drink, though he doesn’t do these things now. He told how friends would try to get him to “commit sins”, but he was able to keep himself separate. Interestingly, George’s stories of personal commitment come from the time period when he had achieved rank, in the rowdy days of the 50’s and 60’s, I often question how an outspoken Christian was able to gain promotion. Back then, life in the military was much different from now.

While in the Army, George “surrendered” to the call to preach. Upon retirement, George returned to Alaska to pastor a church he had once attended. At this church, George raised his 4 children. By all accounts, the middle two did OK. The oldest got involved with drinking and partying and the youngest followed the same path. These children, along with other children that attended the church, became known throughout the community as partiers. At this time, although we weren’t attending the church, I was in a Christian school that had several of the church’s kids enrolled. My aunt hung out with one, in particular, who I personally knew as a party hound. This legacy of immorality seemed to flow through this church. Child abuse of all kinds happened there, many drunks were dealt with, as well as other stories best left for another day.

George’s oldest son eventually moved away. Stories of his problems floated around the community, continuing the legacy of immorality. George’s youngest daughter, Mary, continued the legacy close to home. Mary married a man who continually accused her of adultery. My feeling is that this is because Mary was quite promiscuous before marriage. Mary ended up getting a divorce from him. Mary spent time in at least one out-of- state alcohol rehab clinic and I think she went to a second one, but it was quietly dealt with; she was the pastor’s daughter after all.

Mary was caught red-handed, more than once, sleeping with a man she wasn’t married to. She was put out of the church several times for it, but was quickly restored to fellowship; mommy wasn’t about to be deprived of her daughter. These occurrences were quickly put to rest by sweeping them under the rug.

Finally, Mary got pregnant by Doug,who was another pastor’s son. Doug and Mary were married, which is a story unto itself. Doug and Mary finally divorced because Mary finally couldn’t keep up with Doug’s “worldly” lifestyle. Which is funny, because Mary did the same kinds of things Doug did, only now she couldn’t keep up with Doug’s worldly pace.

Mary finally married for a third time. After a time, Mary’s oldest daughter Paula married a guy and continued to go to church. During the church going, Paula and her husband started down their road into debauchery. I won’t name everything; suffice it to say drunkenness and sexual sins were part of their life. Paula and her husband split up, with the husband being the one who stayed in the good graces of their church.

The husband was welcomed into Paula’s mom’s house. He would stay the night so the kids could play with Grandpa and Grandma and the other kids. One night, Mary had a funny feeling something was wrong. Upon investigation, she discovered her second daughter, Julie was sleeping with Mary’s estranged husband and had been doing so for a while. ALL of the blame was put on the husband since Julie was just 18 and had obviously been seduced. Julie was quickly forgiven by the church and all was buried under the rug, once again. I don’t believe for one minute that the husband was innocent, but the pastor’s granddaughter was given a pass just like his children were.

So, this is the legacy of Charlie, a man of God. I have some suspicions that another of George’s daughters got caught up in the sex trap, but that story is never mentioned and questions are discouraged. At least two of George’s other grandchildren were sexually active before marriage and have had multiple marriages. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to one of George’s granddaughters. Before we were married, there was a lot of kissing and petting, but no intercourse. I will even admit to being the one who instigated things. I only say this to let everyone know that I am not perfect.

I write this because people speak of a spiritual legacy. This story tells of another kind of legacy. This is the legacy of problems being swept under the rug and never dealt with. This is 70+ years of the same kinds of problems in one family. And the reason nothing was done is because this was the pastor’s family. Both of the deacons in this church had similar things go on with their families.  Again, these “incidents” were quickly and discreetly dealt with. Criminal actions were quickly and quietly dealt with. One of these deacons was on the verge of going to jail for fraud and theft, but the charges disappeared and no mention was ever made of this again.

My father, along with several others, were marginalized and driven from this church because they dared to call these people to account for their actions. If people had been forced to confront their actions, maybe these problems would have been stopped in the first generation. Instead, multiple generations have been affected and the problems persist.

This is just one IFB/Sovereign Grace church. I’m not saying this is the only church that has had these problems. I know there are many others like this. This is just my experience with family and one church.

Evangelical Hypocrisy When it Comes to Science

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Guest post by Sarah.

Disclaimer: I can only speak of MY life experiences.

The fact that many Christians (& many other theists) are hypocrites is a well-known topic to people who have the left the faith. Maybe some still engrossed in the church feel twinges of hypocrisy mixed with guilt from time to time, but these are swept aside & buried to be dealt with another time (if at all; maybe I’m giving too much credit).

I was raised Baptist. Any of you who have read Bruce’s blog for any length of time can pretty much guess what the household was like: church services twice on Sunday & Wednesday night, revival/missionary meetings, vacation bible school <shudder>.  On top of God’s commandments: no cussing, premarital sex, drinking, drugs, no non-Christian friends, dresses only. Hellfire & brimstone. Oh…and no biology degree for you young lady!

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the following shows would be playing on TV: Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files, The First 48, DateLine Mystery. Any crime show was binge-watched until bed time. As long as there were no F words flying, it seemed to be perfectly suitable viewing. People being murdered isn’t entertainment in my book, but I lived there so I couldn’t say anything.

While many of these shows are interesting, I started noticing a pattern. My parents would say they liked seeing how they caught the bad guys. Guess how they did it? Three magic letters: DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

OK, I had and have a huge problem with this because of the underlying attitude of what I presume to be a largely Christian audience (according to ABC News, 83% of Americans are Christian).  Here’s what the underlying attitude is: science is only useful when it catches criminals or something else worthwhile. Generations of hard work by many different scientists have gone into the study of genetics. Entire textbooks have been written by biologists holding PhD’s in their respective fields. Researchers have found specific genes that cause certain diseases. Hell, there’s even a procedure called an amniocentesis that can help a pregnant woman find out if her baby will have Down Syndrome.

Great stuff right? Well, not really, as long as these wonderful geneticists/biologists keep their mouths shut about HOW MUCH they know. If they try to give a basic lesson on genetics & how entire genomes have been mapped, showing all life on Earth is connected….NO, STOP!! That’s not what God’s word says! MAYBE YOUR GREAT GRANDDADDY WAS AN APE BUT I WAS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GAWD

This has to be the biggest case of  hypocrisy/cognitive dissonance I know of. Remember that episode of the Simpsons where a supposed angel skeleton was found  and Lisa was the only skeptic? I haven’t watched that episode in a long time, but the bartender Moe was rioting with everyone else about how science sucks or whatever and a mammoth tusk falls on his back. He says “Oh! I’m paralyzed! I just hope medical science can cure me!”  Yes, that’s exactly what they think and feel but won’t admit it.

Here’s a thought experiment: Go to your refrigerator, open it and look for anything in the fridge that religion has given you. Nothing there right? Now look again in the fridge at what science has given you; for one, the fridge itself. Running water to the freezer for ice cubes, milk that has been pasteurized. Fruit & vegetables found in any grocery store when it’s not their growing season. Are you diabetic? Your insulin is there too.

Science has given humankind many thing,thinks like:

  • Air conditioning
  • Indoor plumbing
  •  Electricity
  • Cell phones/Computers
  • The internet
  • TV/Movies
  • Radio
  • Medicine of all kinds
  • Pain-free childbirth
  • Anesthesia/Surgery
  • Dentistry/Orthodontics
  • Cameras/Photography/Videography
  • Contact lenses/glasses/Laser Vision correction
  • Flea/Tick treatments for your dogs/cats.

Yes, it’s even benefited our pets. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now to be fair, it has been said that science has given us some bad things, like gas in both World Wars, the atomic bomb, etc. But was it science itself, or was its “use by humans” that was bad?

Where would we be without science? Still in the Dark Ages as peasants trying to scratch the lice off our heads while being told by the clergy we’re suffering and hungry because we’re sinners & God is angry with us

The IFB House on the Sand

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A guest post by Richard. He blogs at RichardMarlowe236.

In Matthew 7:23-27, Jesus compares a wise man to someone who builds his house on a rock.  Then he compares a foolish man to someone who builds his house upon the sand.  In the account he mentions the rain falling and wind blowing (a storm).  The wise man’s house survives while the foolish man’s did not.

It will probably not surprise anybody reading this blog that the leaders of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement fall into the foolish category!  As such they have built their house upon the sand. The storms have come and now the IFB house is crumbling. In this blog post I want to discuss some of the blocks that make up the IFB’s shaky foundation and the storms that are tearing the house down. The following may not be applicable to all IFB churches, but I think it represents the majority.

Fundamental Building Blocks

I. Saturday Soulwinning

Drive by most IFB churches on a Saturday morning and there will be cars in the driveway. Members pile in dressed semi-casual. Just dressy enough to be deemed professional, but not dressy enough to come off as “preachy”.

After a few refreshments and a short devotion, they hit the streets. They go two by two with pockets padded with gospel tracts and a pocket New Testament. Door by door they invite people to church and offer them eternal salvation. At 100 Anywhere St, they encounter John Doe (referred to as John hereafter). “Are you 100% sure you would go to heaven if you died?” is a question they inevitably ask. John says “No.”, but is willing to listen. They begin their one, two, three repeat after me routine. John says a prayer. The soulwinner declares John saved forever from the fiery torments of hell.

The soulwinner is happy! This is another number he or she can announce to the church. And numbers are what the IFB is all about!

II. Friendly Folks

After this prayer, the soulwinner convinces John that he needs to be baptized. The soulwinner suggests he come to church the next day to enjoy some promotion happening that Sunday. When he gets to church he is greeted by friendly smiling folks. They shake his hand, and offer to sit with him. The people seem genuinely happy to see him. The members make John feel really special. The church members introduce him to the pastor. While this is the first time they met, he knew already knew the pastor’s name because it was on the tract he received, the church sign, the church bus, and bulletin.

III. A Pure Passionate Pastor

The pastor is dressed in a dark suit with a nice white shirt, plain tie, and parted short hair. Let’s call him Pastor Joe. After the singing concludes, Pastor Joe goes to the pulpit to preach. He opens his Bible and reads one verse. Then he prays and tells everyone to close their Bibles and look at him. He never goes back to the Bible verse again. Pastor Joe preaches with intensity and conviction. The sermon is ended with an altar call. Then John gets baptized and joins the church.

IV. Bible Believers

John begins attending services regularly. Every service Pastor Joe puts a big emphasis on the Bible. He preaches what he does because that is what the Bible says not his opinion. The Bible he preaches from is not just any Bible, it is the King James Version. Pastor Joe makes a point to remind the congregation of the evils of all other translations. John feels as though he has found the truth. Who can argue with the Bible, right?

V. Strict Separation

John enquires from the other members as to why all the women wear skirts. John is given an Old Testament verse and then a New Testament verse about being separate from the world. Pastor Joe gives a long list of things that are not permitted. John gets a haircut and fresh shave. John begins to distance himself from family members that are deemed worldly by the church.

John is completely won over to the pastor, church, and it’s work. Everything is great. John works on a bus route, sings in the choir, and takes up the offering. He tells everyone he encounters about his church and pastor. This lasts for a while. It may even last years. Then things begin to change. The IFBer’s will say it is the work of the devil.

The truth of what’s happening is a storm is coming. The winds and rain begin to expose the cracks in the IFB’s weak foundation. Soon, John will realize that the truth of the IFB house.

The following are the storms that will knock the IFB house down.

1. Sales Strategies

John goes to Saturday Soulwinning. He even takes a class offered by the church to teach him how to “win a soul” to Christ. It does not take John long to realize that this “soulwinning” is nothing more than a sales pitch. Overcome objections as quickly as possible, give a few verses, and get down to the praying. The church needs numbers to post! It has nothing to do with conviction, repentance, or salvation. It’s about saying a prayer to be able to add a number to the chart. John sees the shallowness of the whole charade. They are no different from any other door to door salesman.

2. Fake Folks

As John gets closer and more acquainted with the members, he sees that they don’t live the way they portray. They say “Amen!” to preaching about wrong music. Then they listen to that music in their cars. The friendliness of the folks depends on his willingness to comply. There’s no room for individuality. The church demands John to give them all. Of course they disguise this as giving Jesus all. Family must be neglected for the ministry. John’s eyes are slowly starting to open.

3. Corruption and Cover Up

Another member of the church tells John that he suspects the pastor of embezzling money from the church funds. John rejects this out right. “My pastor could never do that.”, he thinks. This allegation does make John more inquisitive about the church finances. John notices inconsistencies in the financial spread sheets. John confronts the pastor. Pastor Joe is outraged at the mere mention of his immoral behavior. Joe throws John out of the office and claims the devil is just trying to hurt the ministry. “You cannot question the man of God!”, he shouts.

John convinces himself that the allegations are false even though more evidence of guilt is discovered. He observed the leaders of the church demonize the ones making the allegations and cover up the truth.

John searches the internet and finds that the IFB movement is known for the immorality of its leaders. He reads about Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Bob Gray from Jacksonville, FL.

John continues to attend the church although he has become more disillusioned with the IFB house he once loved.

4. Differing Doctrines

John believes that the IFB house has some problems. Even so, he feels they are the closest to the Bible. Then John runs into various people from many different denominations. Each one claims to follow the Bible exclusively. “How could this be so?” he wonders. He begins to study for himself.

John sees that even the IFB disagrees with itself. For instance…he studies the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. “Were the KJV translators inspired or just the original writers? Is the KJV the best translation or word for word perfect? What about other languages? Can a person be “saved” using another translation? If not, what about everyone before 1611?”. He is confronted with these issues and many more. He finds IFB pastors on both sides of the question.

John decides to ask Pastor Joe about some of the issues. Pastor Joe gives him his explanation. When John disagrees or asks more questions, he is met with resistance. John is called “divisive” and told just to believe Pastor Joe.

5. Silly Standards

Often John hears preaching about separation. As he starts to question more, he sees the hypocrisy of the standards and the logic used to support. Members tell him it is wrong to go to the movies. When asked, “Why?”. They respond, “God tells us to abstain from all appearance of evil. You go to the movies to see a family movie. Yet, there is an ‘R’ rated movie playing too. If someone sees you go in, they may assume you are going to the bad movie. As such you have not abstained from an appearance of evil.” John discovers that this same member has no problem going to a video store or owning a television. John thinks if the same logic is applied, these would also be an appearance of evil.

John encounters other IFB people who argue about whether men can have facial hair, the length of a man’s hair, whether preachers should wear colored dress shirts, and the list goes on. John realizes the silliness of all these debates. John wonders, “Doesn’t the world have bigger problems?”.

A short time later, the whole IFB house he was brought in to cane crashing down all around him. John survives, leaves the IFB, and lives happily ever after.

While this is just an example of one person and one church. I think it represents the IFB movement as a whole. The house is falling down and the IFB leadership can’t stand it. Let us all huff and puff until we blow the house all the way down!

Why Christianity Matters

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A guest post by Ian

Since telling everyone that I was no longer a Christian, I have been able to look at how Christianity affected my life; and, more importantly, why. Understanding why it was affecting me so drastically gives me a better understanding of how it was controlling me. In the end, Christianity is about control; control of our actions and our thoughts. This control is exerted by telling people that almost everything they do is a sin that keeps them from God. The good things that are done can only be done through the control of God, or they are selfish and, ultimately, a sin (the pride of life).

Christianity matters to people for many reasons. A few of the most prevalent reasons are fear of eternal torment, loss of community, and self-worth issues, in no particular order. There are countless other reasons and minor variations of these reasons. In the end, if a Christian is pressed hard enough, these are the three that will be the main reasons.

The first reason, fear of eternal torment, is a powerful motivator. People are told that, without the sacrifice of a murdered savior, they will die (like everyone else on earth) and will be tormented forever in a place of fire and brimstone. By looking at this idea honestly, you can see that this makes no sense. The basic premise for this idea is that an all-powerful God created the universe and perfect people to inhabit it. These mortal, insignificant people were able to do something so egregious that caused the all-powerful God to condemn them, and all of their offspring, to an eternity of torment, unless they believe in the aforementioned savior. Not just punishment for the two who broke the law, but a punishment, for all humans, that has spanned 6,000 years of Bible history and will continue on forever. Punishment that consists holding a dead person’s immortal soul into a place of fire and torment until a final judgment can be made. This judgment is a foregone conclusion, since a soul is unable to receive salvation or forgiveness from this all-powerful God. After the final judgment, everyone being held in this fiery place of torment will be cast into an eternal Lake of Fire. The fact that one person has suffered for 6,000 years and another person has suffered for a day before being thrown into this eternal fire has no bearing on anything. This is the work of a petty God, one who acts childish and holds a grudge.

This idea of eternal torment keeps people in church and pacified because it is such a fearful thing. The truth is that people don’t really want to do good to honor God, they want to do good to avoid eternal fire. This is not to say that some people don’t want to sometimes do good deeds for others, but the fear far outweighs the promise of a reward. Some people have called this fear irrational, since eternal fiery torment doesn’t exist; but if you are a Christian, this is a totally rational fear. (The eternal punishment idea never came from where Christianity claims its origins. The Christian idea of hell and eternal torment are easily traceable to Greek and Roman ideas of the afterlife, among other religions.) A rational person would be well advised to do everything they could to avoid such a punishment. The truth is that everyone dies and that is all there is. The fact that some evildoers in life get away with their crimes is remedied by having a place of eternal torment. The only way to escape this eternal torment is to be a Christian (of some sort).

Even Christians are affected by eternal torment. I have heard several people over the years say that they had doubts of their salvation. Usually this occurs late at night or when there is personal turmoil. Many people “get saved” more than once—I did this myself. In the back of our minds, there is no way to be 100% sure that you will miss out on eternal torment. We have been told that you can; but, until you die, there is no way to know for sure; so, people will cling to any chance they have of missing torment. And this is one of the reasons that it matters if you are a Christian.

The second reason Christianity matters to people is the community it forms. Many people are born into families that are Christian, or at least have roots in the church. Growing up in this environment means that most of the people you know are Christians and leaving Christianity means leaving family and friends behind.

Leaving behind everyone you love means two things. First, you separate yourself from them. You are no longer in close contact, or fellowship, with them. You miss out on many of the things you used to do together and you grow apart. Secondly, many types of Christians will shun you for leaving Christianity. In practice, this means you are worse than a regular unbeliever and deserve to be ignored by them. You are told, initially, that Christians are praying for you; but, when you are resistant to their prayers and pleadings, they treat you as though you are worse than a rapist or child molester. This is because you have once experienced the goodness of God but now trample it underfoot. They believe there is no redemption for you. They believe that for a person to renounce Christianity means you were never saved and you will be condemned to eternal torment.

Leaving behind all of you friends and being shunned is a strong motivation to keep people in Christianity. Being an ex-Christian opens a lot of doors and places you into unfamiliar territory. Leaving likeminded people and a pastor who tells you what to do and think means that you will have to make your own decisions, which is something many people don’t want to do. This community has been your stability, so leaving it is hard to do. You can feel as if your whole world is upside down. Many people stay, even when they aren’t particularly happy or satisfied with their situation, because they fear this shunning and loss of relationships.

Finally, self-worth issues keep people in Christianity. Christians are told that they are sinners and deserving of eternal torment. They are told that, without Jesus, all of their good deeds are nothing but filthy rags and there is “none righteous, no not one”. Being told these kinds of things for many years makes you believe that you have no self-worth outside of Christianity. No one wants to feel worthless, especially when eternity hangs in the balance.

Christians are told to be humble and to only “glory in the cross” of Jesus; the cross where a man was murdered because he was falsely accused of sedition, according to the New Testament. By keeping people enslaved to the idea of embracing low self-esteem, they feel that they are worthless. Their only value comes through Christianity and the affirmations of their pastor and church. When these affirmations are taken away, many Christians become depressed and feel that God has forsaken them. They then start a spiral into self-destruction, which they believe is because God is punishing them for not being true to Christianity. When these people “get right with God”, they were able to put away their “sins” because their self-worth was restored. This shows how insidious and powerful these self-worth ideas are.

Ultimately, these three reasons are intertwined. As I have shown, the overlap in these mindsets is a powerful tool for keeping people in bondage to Christianity. Understanding why Christianity matters to people is an important step in finally freeing yourself from its lingering grip. It will also help you understand why people are so upset when you finally announce your deconversion.

Right Wing Family Values and the World’s Greatest Freak Show

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Guest Post by Vyckie Garrison. You can find her blog at No Longer Quivering.

Do you remember when it first dawned on you that your relatives are all a bunch of crackpots and weirdos?  Seems like I was around 8 or 9 — my mother worked all night in the casinos and slept most of the day, leaving me alone to protect my naïve older sister from the depraved advances of Mom’s alcoholic boyfriends and worry about my big brother’s drug addiction. I couldn’t count on my grandparents to help — they were too preoccupied with their own divorce, dating, and remarriage dramas.

“Holy sugar,” I thought to myself, “these people are seriously messed up!”

That’s about the time the fantasies began.  My home, I imagined, was a three-ring circus — and my relatives were the freaks and the clowns.  In my daydreams, I was not really one of them.  No — surely, I was of aristocratic origin.  My REAL family were royalty in a faraway Kingdom and I was born a beloved Princess in a fancy castle with many servants and my own Fairy Godmother.  Somehow, I’d been separated from my blood kin as an infant — I was captured by gypsies and sold in a black market adoption — that’s how I ended up being raised by this group of crazies!

bates family

The Bates Family

ABC’s Primetime Nightline recently aired a segment featuring the Gil & Kelly Bates family — a conservative, Evangelical mega-family of twenty.  The Bates, who are close friends of JimBob & Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 and Counting” fame, hold to the extreme fundamentalist ideals of the growing “Quiverfull movement.”

During the one-hour special, Gil, Kelly, and their children explained the family’s lifestyle which, to all modern appearances, represents a throw back to the imaginary 60′s-style “Leave It to Beaver” family combined with strict, Victorian Era sexual mores and the atavistic gender roles of ancient goat-herders. The Bates eschew all forms of birth control and adhere to the marriage model of the biblical Patriarchs — with Gil as family leader and Kelly as submissive “help meet.”  Kelly and the girls adorn themselves in modest, hand-sewn dresses, while Gil and his clean-cut sons teach bible study and participate in local Tea Party politics. Aren’t they lovely?  Don’tcha wanna be just like them?

I sure did!  I left home at 15 and embarked on a quest to recreate my long-lost perfect, happy family — my REAL courtly family, where I truly belonged.  After a false start involving marriage at 16, a baby at 19, and divorce after seven years of abuse rivaling the most astonishing freak show acts Mom’s circus family had ever performed — I remarried, found a “bible-believing” church, and worked hard within the Quiverfull counterculture to implement the best of the best biblical family values into our home life.  I had six more children. I homebirthed, homeschooled, and home-churched. I submitted to my husband and joyfully sacrificed my time, energy and talents to build him up and help him to succeed.  I published a “pro-life, pro-family” Christian family newspaper to inform and encourage other Christians to defend “Traditional Family Values.”

In 2003, we were honored as Family of the Year at the Nebraska Family Council’s “Salt & Light” awards. I’d finally made it! I had built my own Magic Kingdom where my husband reigned as King and I was his Queen, the children were our loyal subjects and we could all live happily ever after …

Like the Bates family, we were the perfect picture of the “biblical family values” fantasy — an idealistic vision of big, happy families: devoted husband and wife surrounded by a passel of respectful, obedient children — we were all sweetness and smiles.  It is this mesmerizing dream world which energizes and motivates Tea Party Republicans like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann to work tirelessly to implement the “pro-family” theocratic agenda into every aspect of American society: not only in politics, but religion, family, media, education, business and entertainment.

Fundamentalist Christians are convinced that contemporary American society is the World’s Most Spectacular Display of hideously mutated, diseased and anomalous freaks.  ”Step right up folks!” the preacher yells, “and witness a grotesque parade of ho-mo-sex-uals, lesbians, Wiccans, radical feminists, godless liberals, secular humanists, and …” (congregation gasps!) “Muslim extremists!!”

Simultaneously fascinated and horrified, respectable religious parents scramble to shield their innocent children’s eyes and ears from the depravity and corruption of “The World.”  They homeschool and form special Chastity and Creation Science clubs designed to insulate and isolate their vulnerable young from the miscreants and most depraved elements of popular culture.

It’s completely understandable and normal for preteens to create imaginary worlds — their own private, safe hideout where they can dream of nobility, of rising above and doing so much better than the clowns running the Big Top’s Museum of Mutantstrosities.  The grown-ups watch in silent, knowing amusement as kids disavow their relatives as “psychos” and “bozos.”

But when otherwise responsible, Christian adults in recent years set out on a mission to create a radically distinct way of life based on “biblical family values,” the resultant countercultural movement known as “Quiverfull” has become an all-too-real Hall of Mirrors horror show.

In my own life, perpetual pregnancies destroyed my health, and my indiscriminate acquiescence to my husband’s every whim transformed him from a loving father into a tantrum-throwing tyrant. Burnout and disillusionment led to abuse, neglect, family disintegration and a particularly nasty divorce.

When the dust settled, I took a good look at myself in the mirror.  I could no longer deny the strong family resemblance — I saw my mother in my own face staring back at me.  After all those years of fighting and denial, I had to finally accept the fact that I really am one of them — I belong to these crazy people.  I, too, am a conspicuous oddity — a bizarre spectacle and an embarrassment to my own noble children.

Funny thing is … these days, I don’t mind so much being associated with my misfit clan of circus freaks.  Life experience has given me perspective and a deep appreciation for the inevitable realities and desperate circumstances which deformed and mutated Mom and the rest of us into shocking and extraordinary creatures worthy of society’s disquietude and awe.

Black market adoption fantasies and youthful idealism are important wayposts on the journey to adulthood.  Rebellion against blatant injustice, hypocrisy, moral compromise and the myriad of other common grown-up failure is a healthy manifestation of a kid’s personal power and strong moral agency.  Arrogant and annoying, yes — but in moments of truth we have to admit, the kid’s got a point.

Society sucks.  Bigotry, racism, inequity, corruption, greed, depravity, malevolence, and all manner of evil abound. Let’s just face the fact that in many ways, the contemporary American social and political scene has devolved to become the World’s Greatest Freak Show.

No wonder Tea Party Patriot families like the Bates and the Duggars escape into their own personal fantasy-land.

Ironically, with maturity comes humility — along with a profound sense of connection and belonging to that wacky bunch of buffoons who share our DNA.  We see our people with new eyes.  Sure, Grandma’s got a beard and Uncle Stan is a charlatan — Aunt Betty’s such a lunatic, she may as well have two heads.  But in the end, they’re all we’ve got.  That perfect, royal family whom we imagined searched frantically for us for years and never gave up hope that one day we would return to our true home?  They’re not real.  Cousin Roger is real — never mind that he doesn’t have a lick of sense and the only thing he’s good for is shoveling elephant shit — he’s the one who truly understands you, knows all about you, and loves you anyway.

Tea Party family values are the fundamentalists’ desperate attempt to deny their own imperfections, vulnerability, and their inescapable mortality.  Sure it hurts that they look down on us regular folk — those of us who make no pretense of actually having our acts together — they avoid being seen out in public with us, they disown us, and they shrink away in fear of catching our cooties.

But take heart — perhaps they’ll grow up.

I did.  Not saying I don’t still sometimes get all starry-eyed and visionary over the possibility of influencing our society for the better — I’ve got a bit of spunk left in me and I’m doing what I can to stick it to The Man.  But I no longer think of myself as qualitatively different or “other” than all the rest of my fellow human beings — my family.  My freakish, crazy, wonderfully imperfect people.

I don’t believe in God anymore, but I still have faith.  I have hope and I trust that collectively, we’re all gonna make it — we are learning from our mistakes and growing more compassionate.  Our shared experiences make us wiser and I have confidence that better times are just ahead.

My Life with Bill Gothard Part Three

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This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.

A guest post series written by Anonymous

Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.

Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.

It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.

But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.

Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.

Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.

It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need. Depression is not a sin and never was.

I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.

How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?

My Life with Bill Gothard Part Two

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This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.

A guest post series written by Anonymous

My parents really are nice people. After hearing some of the personal stories of some of my Gothard and Fundamentalist friends and watching families closely, all-in-all I feel pretty lucky. There was never any indication my parents were total mental nut cases, just two people trying way too hard. If their goal was to get a little further from the emotional and spiritual dysfunctions and effects of alcoholism or to give their children good memories, the ability to think reasonably and logically with compassionate hearts, they somehow succeeded in spite of Gothard’s dogma and the pressure placed on those who accept his self-proclaimed utopia. One interesting facet of this is they tried so hard and burdened us with so many rules and regulations and a mindset void of balanced thought, I think I could have easily become an alcoholic as I sorted through the pain and the brainwash. It’s been a long time coming, but I feel I’ve finally learned it’s okay to be a normal, run-of-the-mill person with hopes, dreams, strengths & weaknesses, failures, successes and a ‘sin nature’ who enjoys a balanced, pleasurable (gasp!) life. As I read the comments from my last post, I realized that only those who have experienced the effects of Gothard and Fundamentalism completely understand the difference between the issues we deal with that may have some similarity to common bumps in the road of life. Fundamentalists and Gothardites also deal with a huge GOD factor and resulting doctrines and beliefs which place fear at the forefront of every decision-fear of being wrong, of doing evil, of simply looking evil (which has numerous definitions in that world). If you think emotional blackmail in human relationships is cruel, try worshipping a god who utilizes it hypothetically himself and actually through your parents and environment.

I was in 2nd – grade when my parents decided to home educate us. My dad told me and my sister together and my sister or I asked if that meant our mom would buy red pencils. When I told my activity table in Sunday school one of my friends commented, “Cool! Does that mean you get to raise your hand and go to the bathroom anytime you want?” If only our experience were that simple. The thoughts of children- so guileless and unaffected; why would a parent ever accept the idea their child needs to be anything other? Life hits hard & head-on as it is and usually too early. Why not let kids be kids while adding layers of kindness, hope, courage, simplicity, strength, love, acceptance, logic and tolerance so that when the realities of life can no longer be ignored and tenacity must be forged in its fires, those nurtured qualities come alive & hold them even when mommy and daddy are no longer present? But allowing kids to be kids doesn’t work out well when you’re trying to raise an army. I must have been 7 or 8 when I told my aunt she would go to hell for wearing pants. If you think it’s evil the words ever left my lips, imagine being a child and already thinking those horrible thoughts about people you loved, triggered by a mere article of clothing. Yes, this was my mind, my world at a young age. My parents, prime candidates for Gothard’s inclusive teachings, started with his Basic Seminar (more later) and led to utilizing his home education program, Advanced Training Institute International.

Different than Bible-BASED home education curriculum, ATI is Bible-CENTERED (Bible being the textbook). If you understand the mindset of a family who would be attracted to ATI, this distinction is essential – Bible-based isn’t good enough if Bible-centered is available. Wisdom Booklets, based on a specific verse or passage of Scripture (Wisdom Booklet #1 beginning with The Sermon on the Mount), are provided linking Science, Math, Social Studies and Character Studies to the passage in some way. Fortunately, my parents supplemented the Wisdom Booklets with other curricula so that my siblings and I all graduated with the state required courses completed, therefore acquiring a better education than many die-hard ATI’ers. I have known personally some who brushed-off all other avenues of learning and education and focused only on their Biblically-based studies. I’ve overheard many ATI mothers and fathers voice their (non)education goals and dreams for their children. I know one girl whose father finally relented, allowing her to attend a local, forward-thinking, private, very high-quality institution with the understanding she attend classes without gaining credit. What a loss. This may not seem so strange if you realize the objective of ATI is to raise children who are virtually untouched by the ‘world’, its ideas, processes and practices. This mentality disparages traditional education of any kind. Liberal-arts, secular and even Fundamentalist Christian colleges (BJU, PCC, CCC, etc.) are not entertained as options for post-secondary education. Criticism from the outside and the ‘harsh’ expectations of existence (I say that tongue-in-cheek), led Gothard to establish Telos International which does provide some basic coursework for secondary education as prep for their Programs of Study. One glance at those websites will give you a good overview of the absurdity that is ATI. Fortunately or unfortunately (it could go either way), I convinced my parents God had called me to a Fundamentalist college, an experience I was mentally, socially, spiritually and emotionally unprepared for.

While in ATI, my family started every weekday morning with a Wisdom Search , a family Bible-study digging deeper into the ‘truths’ of the Wisdom Booklet we were studying. Most mornings Every morning, all I wanted to do was a grab a red pencil and commence voracious eye stabbing. My siblings probably would have too had they not been more lethargic than I some days. ATI parents believe they are doing ‘good’; they are giving their children a gift, a better way, a better life than the hopeless and meaningless existence they perceive surrounds them. I don’t know why neither one of my parents, both formally educated individuals, did not clue-in one of those sleepy mornings-my dad droning on while our heads bobbed listlessly, contributing occasionally to the conversation attempting to convince them we were awake and attentive during those few seconds we nodded off into leftover dreams-IT WASN’T WORKING. Those few seconds seemed like hours. Those days, years. Those years seem like centuries ago. And I’ve only just begun.

Read Part Three

My Life with Bill Gothard Part One

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This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.

A guest post series written by Anonymous

Awhile back, Bruce requested someone who had been reared in the Bill Gothard movement write a post concerning their experience. I volunteered. After many frustrating nights of re-typing, editing and scrapping most of my rough-drafts, I think I finally hit on a post I hope will work. I thought I had re-hashed, dealt with and de-programmed myself far enough away from that experience…

But here it is again, staring me in the face; reality hits and I find myself crying in the shower. I enjoy a beautiful life-a wonderful husband, three beautiful children and a place I love in the mountains. By the world’s standards, we don’t have much but, in my opinion we have everything. Our home is full of love and good times. I’m a lucky girl! Why is it then that some days I feel so screwed?

As a child, I possessed many interests and dreamed big; there were so many things I wanted for my life. Somewhere along the way, I was presented the lie and accepted the lie that I wasn’t good enough unless I was wearing someone else’s shoes, that I couldn’t just say “yes” to what I wanted because all I heard around me were “no’s.” My world was so small, created by a know it all, religious neurotic (IMO) with alarming stories, defining my childhood with fear, obligation and guilt and given the nod by my parents who lost any sense of judgment they may have possessed and, sadly, began closing themselves off from other persuasions. Confusion and dread permeated my young adult life as I contemplated where to go and what to be, the achievable dreams of a little girl lost in an environment too good for traditional education, occupations, livelihood and culture.

I don’t remember when exactly my parents became involved in Bill Gothard and The Institute in Basic Life Principles Seminar, but if memory serves me correctly, I was probably around five or six when they attended The Basic Seminar for the first time. My parents, both children of alcoholics (COA’s), were seemingly enraptured with Gothard’s teachings from the beginning. I’ll never forget the day my mother told me she and my father did not agree with ‘everything’ Gothard taught. At eighteen, this was debilitating news. I grew up observing my parent’s devotion to the seminar and their dedication to serve in various capacities – utilizing the home education curriculum (Advanced Training Institute International) and investing our precious time, energy and finances into practicing and infiltrating our lives with Gothard’s propaganda. Never once did we sit down and discuss the seminar, nor was I ever left with the impression that my parents questioned his teachings. Why? This question haunts me still. Both of my parents are educated people. In almost every other aspect of their lives they are deliberate. It took me years to realize the smidgen of truth and common sense in Gothard’s teachings hooked them – two harshly abused and rejected adults, now with four little children, looking for answers, just wanting to ‘get it right.’ My father was a meek, kind, passive, quiet man with little to no confidence who, in his desire to feel acceptance, was driven by the approval and acknowledgement of others, simultaneously building walls around himself and our family so that we were pulled into his everlasting eager to please, becoming as a family what he never saw in himself – something to be proud of and displayed. Then, there was my mother – a child inside who was forced by circumstance to be the adult most of her life, caring for her siblings at a young age, feeling overly responsible for everyone and everything and being caught in the middle of a fantastical life that would never be realized and the cold reality of independence. Both of them, so preoccupied with separating themselves from their own dysfunctional familial experiences and the assurance that perfection was attainable, seemingly didn’t stop to consider the cost; to realize the extremism of The Institute and the futility of embracing a life of mindless rules and regulations, walls, narrow-mindedness & pain.

Finished with my cry fest for the evening, here I sit – a computer on my lap and a college catalog lying next to me on the coffee table. Friday, I have an appointment with a career counselor. I’m desperate. I want her to tell me what ‘I want to do when I grow up’. I’m 36. I should have some idea of what makes me happy, what makes me tick, what I can do, where I can go…but I don’t. I thought I knew myself. The first 23-years of my life were spent listening to what I was ‘supposed’ to be, marry & love; what not to wear, to listen to, to dream or imagine and what not to believe or read or think. I lived in a surface level world where looking the part and acting the part was everything and allowing people close enough to see your warts non-acceptable. The false confidence I assumed as a result, not wanting my weaknesses to hang for the world to see, lost its grip on me four years ago when I became a mother – the one task, pleasure, challenge and gift that is unequivocally mine and I’m left wondering if anything else I’ve experienced thus far is completely genuine – some relationships, conversations, ideas & intentions. For 13-years I have been sorting through the good and bad of my childhood; the childhood of my parents and what triggered their seemingly unfeigned attentiveness to Gothard – an articulate, crafty peddler who insulted their intelligence with a product of unrealistic hopes and twisted truths he himself had never even sampled.

I think I’m beginning to understand why I’ve felt so screwed.

Read Part Two

My Son Thinks I’m Going to Hell by August Stine

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Guest post by August Stine

August Stine is the author of the book  The Modern Confessions of Saint August Stine

In spite of the fact I am a former fundamentalist Christian and ex-pastor, my minister son and his family think I am headed for Hell. This is my response to him. I use the pen name of August Stine to protect my son.

Different Family Beliefs

Your faith is important to you.

My beliefs are important to me.

We pray to the same God every day

For me, He is the Caring Creator;

Who cares about my well being

To you, He is the fearful God

Who demands obedience.

I believe Jesus was a spiritual man but not God.

I believe Jesus said some great words of wisdom

And I am sorry he had to die on the cross.

You believe Jesus died for the sins of man

And his salvation is a gift from God.

I do not believe this, but let’s suppose I did.

Didn’t you say salvation was a gift?

If it is a gift, why do I need to do anything?

You say I am going to hell unless . . .

You even give me the words I should say—

“Jesus, forgive my sins.”

Do people go to hell for not saying these words?

What if I wait until just before dying and then ask?

What if I meant to ask Him for years but didn’t?

You say “Too late—you missed your chance!”

This is God we are talking about isn’t it?

Is God limited by time or death?

On the other hand, if salvation is a “gift,”

Do I really need to ask Him for forgiveness?

The Bible says God freely gives this gift.

Where did all these attached strings come from?

Why conditions on God’s unconditional love?

New converts are told their Christian duties.

Tithing is one—not too bad—it is do-able

Unless you are unemployed or on minimum wage.

But the heaviest of all these burdens is . . .

People go to hell unless we show them Jesus.

So their salvation is in our hands . . .

I thought salvation was a gift.

Why is this huge ugly rope attached to this gift?

Am I responsible for my neighbor’s salvation?

Why am I involved with another man’s salvation?

Why does God need Me?

Suppose I want to play golf on a nice day,

But my neighbor dies and goes to hell . . .

And it is my fault . . .

Because I did not tell him about Jesus.

Please don’t tell me

God is so awful and demanding.

Why am I involved in someone’s eternal choice?

I thought God loved me and my neighbor.

Because of His heavy guilt trip,

I can’t even play golf without God on my back

I cannot believe God dearly loves me . . .

But loads me down with guilt trips

About darn near everything I do.

If I truly am a child of God,

Why do I have to be afraid of Him?

Why can’t I enjoy God

And let Him fix the world?

I thought that was His job.

Scripture says God is with us always;

If so, “Come on God, let’s go play some golf.”

Did I Hide the Buddha?

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A guest post by Peter Fischer.  Peter was a Lutheran Minister for over a decade before leaving ministry to become an Employment Counsellor.  He lives in Vancouver, Canada and is the writer/producer.

The Buddha in question is a statue that sits under our living room window.  It was a present from my wife—a welcomed gift.  It’s a symbol of serenity, mindfulness, and non-attachment—meaningful values for us and our boys.  For some in our extended family however, we fear our Buddha may signify a fall from grace with a not-so-soft landing in H. E. Double-Hockey-Stick.  As such, our seated Siddhartha has become a symbol, a test, of our own differentiation vis-à-vis our (mostly) conservative Christian family of origin.  How open and honest will we be about our progressive, inclusive, multi-faith-honouring views when they pay us a visit?

We have fun with this.  Depending on who happens to drop in, the other spouse watches with a keen eye to keep score.  We’re devils alright.  Not too long ago, it was my turn to play judge and jury.  “Should I get the Mr. Potato Head box?” I joked, as we chased dust balls out of corners and Windexed the mirrors before Linda’s sister’s arrival.  “No, I’m good,” she laughed.  “Really?  No hiding?”  “Yup,” she said with such a beatific smile, I’d swear she spent the day under the Bodhi tree.  Sure, we’ll see, I doubted.  I fully expected a last second avoidance of the third kind:

Buddha Differentiation Levels:

  • Level One: Buddha in plain view of visitors.  Full disclosure—“Buddha boom, Buddha bing!”
  • Level Two: Buddha under window but pushed back behind the Christmas cactus.  Moderate disclosure—“Yes we have a Buddha statue, but look at how much bigger our icon of Jesus is!”
  • Level Three: Buddha in Mr. Potato Head box.  Avoidance. No disclosure—“Buddha?  What Buddha?”

To my surprise, and Linda’s credit, the Buddha remained seated by the window.  It wasn’t pushed back at all, though I did note a couple of branches of the Christmas cactus draped over his shoulders.  Not bad.  Incredible actually.  I was jealous.  I recalled my parents visit a few years back when I surreptitiously put the Buddha to sleep in a box of arms, lips, and a naked spud.

I’m writing this because I’m making strides.  Two of my brothers are in town, and while they don’t carry the same psycho-social-religious weight as my parents, the thought “did I hide the Buddha?” hasn’t even cross my mind (until now).  It’s a small, but significant victory for me.  Introverted and reticent about my core beliefs that I am—even as I was paid to preach them for over a decade—it’s good to stretch my self-disclosure muscles; to say “this is the real me!”

Hey, I’ve even turned the spine of my copy of the Qur’an title-side out on our bookshelf.  Can’t say the same for my Dan Brown novels.  Some things, after all, just shouldn’t be revealed. ;)

From Christianity to Atheism by Canadian Atheist

 

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Guest post by Canadian Atheist

Thanks to Bruce for welcoming this guest post on his blog. I always enjoy reading Bruce’s blog, and I hope this guest post will fit. This post is a response to a request by Bruce for posts that address conversion from religion to atheism, in particular from those who may be a few years into the process, and how it feels to live without religion. I have written about my deconversion from Christianity elsewhere on my own blog,  so you can read the details there if you wish. I may repeat myself a bit here just to make this post complete, but the point here is to describe my perspective since becoming an atheist. I hope that this post may help anyone who is going through a similar process or who is questioning their faith but afraid to give up their religion.

I have been an atheist for about eight years now. At least, 2007 is when I technically stopped believing in God, though the process was a gradual one that probably progressed throughout my adult life. The actual time point at which I stopped believing in God was surprisingly sudden and distinct. I would say that in early 2007 (as late as March) I still believed that God existed and that I wanted to relate to him although my view of God had shifted significantly since my coming of age two decades earlier. But, by May of 2007 I no longer believed that God existed. The final step was that sudden for me. In late 2006 and early 2007 I read a few books that looked at the character of God in a new light, including If Grace is True and If God is Love both by Phillip Gulley and James Muholland. More importantly for my conversion process I also read a book called Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. The book basically follows two stories: a general history of Mormonism and a specific case of murder in the 1980s by two Mormons who believed they were instructed by God to perform the murders. I knew virtually nothing of Mormonism prior to reading the book, but it served as a striking example of how religion can cause people to believe the unbelievable. The religion is clearly a fabrication from 19th century America, with roots that are distinctly American in culture. Yet, there are millions of followers around the world, in what I can only understand as blind faith. The book illustrated the strength of religious influence, and how humans clearly yearn for some meaning to their life, which often seems to be filled by instructions and commands by a person in power – or a religion. I had met a few Mormons, and they seemed as convinced that their religion was true as any other religious person, including the Christians I had grown up with. Yet there was no doubt in my mind that the entire religion was a fabrication. If a religion could essentially be constructed by one man in the relatively modern times of the 19th Century to a point that millions of people worldwide were followers, how much more possible was it that a religion could have developed 2,000 years ago in a time when the availability of information was incomparably lower than in the modern era? (Literacy was lower, formal education was rare, books [at least as we know them now] and newspapers were non-existent).

I then came across a number of the so-called “new atheists” including the most famous, Richard Dawkins. I had previously read a few critiques of Dawkins by Christians, but never read any of his own books or articles. In early May 2007 I was watching TV late one evening and saw Dawkins interviewed on the Canadian television show The Hour:

Video Link

Contrary to the way he was viewed by Christian apologetics, he seemed down to earth, very rational and well-spoken, and what he said rang true. He was not the pompous arrogant and bull-headed demon that many Christian writers had made him out to be. I read his famous book The God Delusion. The house of cards came tumbling down.

Now, a few books and a television interview in early 2007 were not, of course, solely responsible for my loss of faith. I had occasionally asked myself the hypothetical question: “What if God doesn’t exist?” I sometimes wondered what kind of person I would be if I didn’t have God looking over my shoulder. But, up until that point it was simply a mental exercise I went through, I never for a moment actually doubted his existence. I had always known that God was there watching me, reading my thoughts. I find it hard to pinpoint why it was at this time that my doubts about God’s existence suddenly became more focused. Suddenly, instead of simply theorizing what it would be like if God didn’t exist, I started to realize that it is very likely that he does not exist. I think that Spring of 2007 was the culmination of a very slow march towards rationalism that had begun two decades earlier when I left home in my late teens. I had studied science extensively, and always accepted the science I learned, but also always somehow fit whatever I learned around the model of God that I had been steeped in while a child. This is an important point because I think it is very, very difficult for people who have been raised in religion to give it up. For me, there was always the nagging fear of my impending death and the threat of eternal punishment in hell if I doubted God’s existence.

In any case, at that time I finally realized that I no longer believed God exists. The final step was not really a conscious decision for me. It was more of a realization that the notion of a god was no longer a reasonable belief. It was as though I looked around and realized I still secretly believed in Santa Claus as an adult while everything I had experienced in the world around me screamed that he could not possibly exist.

So, like a child taking the butterfly wings off for the first time in the deep end of the swimming pool and realizing that it can indeed float without them, I considered that the world might work just fine without a god.Julia Sweeney has described a similar experience in her book Letting Go of God:

…as I was walking from my office in my backyard into my house, I realized there was this little teeny-weenie voice whispering in my head. I’m not sure how long it had been there, but it suddenly got just one decibel louder. It whispered, ‘There is no god.’

And I tried to ignore it. But it got a teeny bit louder. ‘There is no god. There is no god. Oh my god, there is no god.’…

And I shuddered. I felt I was slipping off the raft.

And then I thought, ‘But I can’t. I don’t know if I can not believe in God. I need God. I mean, we have a history’…

‘But I don’t know how to not believe in God. I don’t know how you do it. How do you get up, how do you get through the day?’ I felt unbalanced…

I thought, ‘Okay, calm down. Let’s just try on not-believing-in-God glasses for a moment, just for a second. Just put on the no-God glasses and take a quick look around and then immediately throw them off.’ And I put them on and looked around.
I’m embarrassed to report that I initially felt dizzy. I actually had the thought, ‘Well, how does the Earth stay up in the sky? You mean, we’re just hurtling through space? That’s so vulnerable!’ I wanted to run out and catch the Earth as it fell out of space into my hands.

And then I remembered, ‘Oh yeah, gravity and angular momentum is gonna keep us revolving around the sun for probably a long, long time.’

I can relate to some of this description quite well. In addition to what she describes, my situation was complicated by the fear that I might die while I had the not-believing-in-God glasses on and go to hell for eternity just because I happened to die while I was trying out atheism for 30 minutes. It was a bit like coming up to a train track and thinking, ‘I need to cross the tracks, but what if the train comes along out of nowhere and mows me down just at the moment that I step across?’ When I finally overcame my fear of being annihilated in a moment of fury like an Efrafan rabbit (from Richard Adams wonderful novel Watership Down), and stepped gingerly on the tracks, my whole perspective changed. Instead of looking up the track in fear of an oncoming train, I looked down at the tracks in detail for the first time and realized they were decrepit and could not possibly bear a train. No train would ever be coming along those tracks and I could linger as long as I like quite safely. Once that was established, the opportunity to really open up my mind to some serious questions availed itself and it was not long before the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Indeed, once I had my Julia Sweeney moment, the whole ordeal was over in a matter of minutes. I was through with God instantly as I realized that the whole game was a farce. There was no desire at all to cling to a false god for comfort. I simply set god aside and moved on.

Once I moved into atheism, there were of course many questions to tackle. I wondered about the afterlife. I accepted almost immediately that the whole thing was man-made and that when I die I will simply not exist anymore. For some time after my de-conversion, I felt quite sad that the prospect of an eternal heaven was gone, but my sadness was also tempered by the realization that I no longer had to fear hell. I realized that there was nothing to fear about being dead any more than there was to fear about before I was born. That thought was a reassuring one as I left behind the indoctrination of fear that Christianity brands its followers with, often without them realizing just how much fear is used to maintain the faith. Do I ever still fear death and hell? Yes, occasionally. Those fears instilled in childhood are difficult to overcome. Very occasionally I do have a very brief moment of panic as I ask myself that ridiculous question: “What if I’m wrong?” Then I always recognize that I’m about as likely to be wrong about the god of the Bible as I am likely to be wrong in believing that we are not all living in some computer matrix such as that in the popular Keanu Reeves movies. These days my biggest fears are something along the lines of Rene Descartes’ evil demon – occasionally I worry that there is in fact a deity, but one that is malicious and malevolent, waiting to torment us all for eternity regardless of our choices here on earth. But then I recognize the absurdity of such ideas and the complete lack of evidence to support them, and that such beliefs and fears and bordering on the schizophrenic.

As I recognized that my existence would end with my death (such an obvious concept now), I very quickly started to value my life much, much more deeply than when I had been a Christian. My view when I was a Christian was that this life was just the preamble to something much greater, that I had all eternity to look forward to. All of sudden I realized that was not the case, and I realized that I’d better make the most of every day that I have in this life.

Another issue that is perhaps of interest to those Christians who are doubting their faith, or those who are cynical about people such as me who have de-converted, is the question of morality. Where do your morals come from, if not from God? As a Christian I would have asked this very question myself, but as an atheist it seems patently absurd. I believe that morality is a human construct, and therefore it does not come through revelation with the divine. Humans created morality. Morality comes from human society. Some human behaviours are almost universally considered immoral, such as murder, rape, theft. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why these things are immoral. Human societies wouldn’t survive if they were all acceptable behaviours. But there are a lot of human behaviours that are only considered immoral from a religious point of view, for example blasphemy and a host of sexually acts such as pre-marital sexual intercourse. But, usually these types of “immoral” behaviours vary depending on the religion. In any case, I have not found that I’ve plunged into any sort of immoral abyss now that I’m an atheist. If anything, I am probably a more moral person now than when I was a Christian. Certainly I am a more responsible person in terms of contributing positively to society because I now realize that human society is not some temporary situation on the way to eternity in heaven. Rather, I now realize that human society is all we’ve got. It is precious. Things like protecting the environment for future generations have become much more important for me now that I realize the earth doesn’t have to end in an apocalyptic disaster as Jesus comes to establish his kingdom.

Another interesting phenomenon that I’ve recognized in my years since becoming an atheist, is a bit of a role reversal in my point of view on the world and society. When I was a Christian, I sort of looked down on non-Christians. I pitied them for not understanding the truth, for not being saved. Now I have to admit that I sort of look down on Christians. I pity them for not understanding the truth, for not living life to its fullest. I’m not proud of feeling this way, and it is probably just a natural pride in my personality that causes it, but I’m also trying to describe that there is an irony in the thought that I still find most Christians look down on me for not having the truth. But now the difference is that I feel sorry for them. It’s sort of like being looked down up on by a child. In fact,

The world seems much more fragile to me now that I am an atheist. When you believe that there is a God watching over the world, and that he has a long-term plan for humanity, you assume that things can’t go dramatically wrong. Sure, bad things like earthquakes and floods do happen, but the ultimate plan must remain intact. God isn’t about to let a large meteor collided with the earth tomorrow and end all human life because it doesn’t fit with his plan. (There is too much other destruction described in the book of Revelation that has to happen first!). But, now that I don’t believe in God, I realize that we are indeed alone on this rock floating through space. We have to be so careful to take care of both ourselves and nature because the whole thing could come crashing down and no God would be there to step in and keep us on course.

So, I had often wondered what kind of person I would be if I were no longer a Christian. I had wondered if I would be more selfish, I would lie more easily. The reality has been the exact opposite. I hope that I am a much more pleasant and selfless person now that I’m an atheist. The world no longer revolves around me. I am but a speck of dust in vast universe. While my life has great significance to those around me while I am alive, I am completely insignificant in terms of nature and the universe. It is not about me. I am just a cog in the great machinery of nature.

One thing that seems pervasive in relating to Christians since my de-conversion is a complete lack of understanding that I don’t actually believe in God anymore. Most Christians seem to think that atheists are rebelling against God, that we hate him for some reason. Perhaps we’ve been so hurt by religion when we were younger that now we feel hate for God and for Christianity and are like a rebellious teenager who goes off on his own in a huff. But I don’t hate God. I just don’t believe he exists. My position is exactly the same as the position a Christian is in when they consider the existence of something they don’t believe in, like unicorns or Santa Claus. I’m not trying to belittle Christians’ beliefs by making that comparison, it really is that way for me. I don’t hate unicorns, I just don’t think they exist.

In a situation I experienced in which a few atheists were discussing religion with a few Christians, a Christian friend of mine summed up the differences like this: “Either you believe in God or you don’t. That’s about all there is to it.” I very much agree with this statement, and I would take it further and say that you can’t really choose whether you believe in God or not. Either you do or you don’t. If you are a Christian who is finding that you doubt God’s existence, then you may already feel that you don’t believe he exists. You might pretend that you still believe he does exist, but deep inside only you know whether you believe it or not. If you don’t believe in God, there isn’t much you can do to choose to believe in him. I could pretend to believe in God, but at the end of the day I just don’t. It would be a dishonest act for me to pretend I believe in God. It’s not a choice I am capable of making any longer. Ultimately, we all owe it to ourselves to ask the really difficult questions about our beliefs and see where the chips fall. Ultimately the only person who suffers if you don’t is yourself.

What is Science and Why it is Important

guest-post

A guest post by Canadian Atheist.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Bruce Gerencser for giving me this opportunity to write a guest post on his blog, and to do so anonymously. The only reason I retain my anonymity is because there are family members who are not aware I am no longer religious and would probably be hurt by finding out on the internet if they stumbled across this post at some point in the future. Who am I? I am a Canadian scientist. I study human physiology. I was a Christian for roughly the first three decades of my life before finding my way to atheism. My path to atheism is not the topic of this post, as I have written about it elsewhere. If Bruce is willing, a link can be provided to my own blog writings. But I volunteered to write a guest post about what science is, why it is often misunderstood, and why it is so important. The value of science seems to be under deliberate attack in some Western nations (notably the United States and Canada), and scientific findings are often rejected or rebuked when they don’t fit with certain agendas. I’d like to write about why that is dangerous to society.

What is Science?

Science is a process that methodically gathers knowledge about the natural world. Science leads us to knowledge about the world around us, and how it works. We all make observations about the world around us all the time, but the scientific method is careful not to jump to conclusions based on those observations until they are testable repeatedly and independently. This means that, for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and consistently come out with the same results. Science, though it is conducted by biased and imperfect humans, must be conducted in an unbiased way. Scientists have to learn to put aside their biases and preconceived beliefs before they conduct their experiments. Bias can very easily cause someone to misinterpret the results. This is the fundamental difference between the scientific approach and the approach taken by most people in society. If you have a favorite political party or sports team, you are likely to cheer for them no matter how they perform. Even if your sports team never wins, you may still convince yourself they are the best team. The difference between the scientific method and what I would call the political or religious method is best explained by the following illustration:

In the scientific method, all the evidence on a particular topic is examined. Then the conclusions are drawn from the findings of the evidence regardless of whether you like the conclusions or not. Conversely, in the political or religious method, the conclusion is generally formed first and then evidence is gathered to support that conclusion or theory. When it seems like science has been wrong about something, usually it is because scientists have not properly taken their bias out of the methods and therefore have misinterpreted their findings. A very important part of science is also acknowledging when you don’t have enough data to form a conclusion. (More on that later in relation to scientists being wrong all the time).

Deliberate Discrediting of Science and Scientists

There are two classic examples in recent years of how good science has been rejected because it conflicts with an agenda: 1) evolution; and 2) climate change. Evolution is a process that explains how biological diversity arises by change in the inherited genotype (genetic make-up of the organism) and phenotype (the observable characteristics) through generations of offspring. The word “overwhelming” is often used to describe the amount of evidence supporting evolution. There is no doubt that evolution happens in biology, and that humans evolved from more primitive primate species (not monkeys!). Evolution is as established and verifiable as many other part of science, such as gravity, germ theory, etc. I don’t need to list through all the evidence in favor of evolution here, that information is available to anyone who honestly wants to know the truth. However, evolution goes directly against the concept that God created the species (including humans) as they are, and that humans are somehow special among the many species of animals. Therefore, those people who are unable to let go of their belief that God exists and that he created the species as they are, must reject evolution, try to discredit the science behind it, and even teach children known falsehoods in science classes, all because the truth of evolution challenges their pre-conceived conclusion that God created humans as we are. They are following the second method in the diagram above.

Another example is climate change. The global climate is a complex phenomenon. There have been large variations and cycles in the earth’s climate throughout its history. Cycling between ice ages and more warm periods seems to be a natural occurrence. However, in the past decades, the earth’s climate has been changing much more rapidly than ever before. This has been occurring in concert with an increase in carbon dioxide levels higher than they have been in roughly 100 million years. The rate of change is completely out of whack with the natural cycles that have happened in the past, and corresponds to the recent centuries of industrialization of our society and our massive increase in use of fossil fuels (which give off carbon dioxide). Again, there is no doubt in science about the facts of climate change. Though the process of climate change is not as established as evolution, there is no doubt that human activity is dramatically affecting the climate on our planet. But, to alter this process would take some very, very significant changes in all our lifestyles. (This is the part where climate change deniers roll their eyes and claim that environmentalists would have us all living in caves). One of the huge changes that would have to take place is a shift towards cleaner energy sources, and there are very, very wealthy and powerful people who make all their money by having you and I use up fossil fuels. They have an agenda, and they don’t care about the science. Therefore, the science of climate change has been very deliberately attacked by organized and well-funded groups with special interest.

Both of these (evolution and climate change) are great examples of the political and religious process of having an agenda or a conclusion, and then going out and looking for evidence to support your agenda, rather than forming your conclusions based on all the evidence. Sadly, many people have been led to believe exactly the opposite: that scientists have an agenda with evolution and climate change and that they are making it all up to support their agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Don’t Scientists Have an Agenda Too?

The short answer is no. Scientists are human of course, so they all have biases and are capable of making mistakes. But, the scientific method is specifically designed to remove human bias, errors, and agendas. The whole point of the scientific method is to discover without bias. Yes, some scientists have an agenda. Yes, some scientists do take money from a funding agency that wants to prove they are right more than they want to discover the real truth about something (think pharmaceutical companies). But, the vast majority of scientists deliberately try to remove bias from their work, look for the honest answer regardless of what they want the answer to be, and when they do have their findings, they present them publicly for others to review and criticize to ensure they are valid findings. That is the way good science is conducted in research institutions, and the vast majority of the time it works to uncover a lot of knowledge about the world around us.

If you get into a disagreement or argument with a scientist about his or her particular area of expertise, then one of two things is likely to happen. Firstly, and much more likely, you are wrong and are not accepting the evidence that the scientist is using to back up their position. (A simple example would be having an argument with a physicist about whether the earth is round or flat. You are wrong. They are right. They are right because they have based their position on the evidence). Or, secondly, you are right and the scientist is wrong because they have either left the scientific method of examining only the evidence, or they have over-extended themselves beyond what the evidence tells them. (An example of this would be if a physicist tells you that we know we are in the only universe in existence. We don’t have enough evidence to support that claim, and if a scientist claimed that fact, then they have forgotten not to extend their conclusions beyond the evidence).

Why Do Scientists Seem So Arrogant?

In short, because they are right! Remember, when they are doing their job properly, scientists only form their conclusions based on evidence and facts and limit their conclusions when they don’t have enough evidence. Therefore, when they do draw a conclusion about something, it is very, very likely to be correct. You’ll notice that it is very hard to win an argument with someone when they do this. Try to take the position in an argument that the sky is not blue, or that gravity does not exist and see how you do. If you knew nothing about gravity, you might think a physicist seemed arrogant for being so adamant that they are right about gravity. But, they are only adamant because the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position. If you base your arguments on evidence and are careful not to overextend your position beyond the evidence, then you will always be right, simple as that. Of course, most scientists have extensive knowledge on one specific topic that is far greater than the average person. Therefore, when you argue with them on that one topic, they are always right and you are always wrong (assuming they base their argument in evidence). This can seem like arrogance.

Of course, in reality many scientists do overextend themselves beyond the evidence and make claims that are not supported. Then they are just being arrogant.

Aren’t Scientists Wrong All the Time?

Scientific findings are often corrected as we learn more about the natural world. Sometimes scientists discover something and then realize down the road that their discovery was not quite right after all. But, that is not a good reason to reject science whenever it conflicts with your particular preferences, and to explain it away by saying that scientists are often wrong anyway. The scientific method gradually produces knowledge and facts about nature, but one experiment might not immediately provide all the answers. For example, if you want to know whether drinking aspartame has negative effects on pregnant women, you don’t want to draw your conclusions after one experiment. After many experiments by many different scientists, we may discover the truth about that question. But each experiment by itself tends to give an incomplete picture. The important thing in understanding science is to distinguish between the findings that are preliminary and those that are overwhelmingly supported. If you read in the news about a study that found that eating seven carrots a day will reduce your risk of cancer by 36%, then you can likely assume that it is a preliminary finding. Much more research needs to be done to establish the actual benefits of a certain number of carrots per day. But, if you read a textbook on evolution, you would be wrong to roll your eyes and think that this is a preliminary finding. Over 150 years of scientific research in many different fields (geology, biology, genetics, microbiology, etc.) all lead to the same conclusions about evolution.

It is easy and tempting to look back over time and claim that scientists have been wrong about so much. You could look back in history and claim that scientists first thought the earth was flat and the sun went around the earth and so on. But, most scientific claims have a degree of uncertainty to them. (Statistics dictates that certainty is not possible in any one scientific experiment. Most scientific experiments are set up statistically so that the likelihood of misinterpreting the results are roughly 1 in 20. But that does not mean that the chances of science being wrong on well established findings are 1 in 20. For example, any single experiment on tobacco smoking leading to cancer will have a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. But the chances that smoking does not cause cancer are much, much less than 1 in 20, almost infinitely smaller.) That is why scientists have to be careful to say that the evidence supports their findings, given what we know so far but that there may be a lot more to the whole story. Scientific findings have to be interpreted with a great deal of humility about what we still don’t know about nature. Anytime a scientist conducts one experiment and then claims to know the truth about that phenomenon, they are probably being hasty and arrogant. Only over time, with careful and unbiased repetition of results, can we state things to be true with a very high level of certainty.

Usually, when science has turned out to be “wrong”, it is in fact a case of a scientists having drawn a conclusion before there is enough evidence to support it, so that when enough evidence does come to light their conclusions don’t hold up. In ancient times, a true scientist would not have made assumptions about the earth being flat, but instead should have said: “We don’t have enough data yet to know what shape the earth is.” This is the approach modern scientists take on many unknown issues surrounding things like dark matter, and the exact origins of the universe. Since we don’t have enough data yet, we have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions. Sadly, this acknowledgement is often exploited by the religious with a statement that God must fill in the gaps in knowledge, or that since science can’t explain everything about the origin of the universe, God must have created it.

Can You Be A Scientist and A Christian at the Same Time?

It is possible, but very uncommon. In my time as a scientist, I’ve met a very few scientists who are religious. The vast majority of those have grown up in a culture and family of religion that they have just continued with in their life as an adult. When they go to work each day and conduct experiments in science, they almost always set aside their religion and just work as a scientist. To work as a scientist and keep your firmly entrenched Christian beliefs in the forefront of your mind would be in conflict because science requires that we set aside our personal biases. If your personal bias is that God created the world and is ultimately responsible for how everything works, then you’re unlikely to be very good at interpreting your scientific findings very objectively. In my experience, the vast majority of scientists are not religious. Most of them, if asked, would probably admit to agnosticism since there is no sure way of knowing whether a god exists or not. The best answer I’ve heard on this was from my high school chemistry teacher. When asked if he believes in God, he replied: “You define God for me, and then I’ll tell you whether I believe in your definition.”

Are Science and Religion in Opposition?

This is an age-old argument. Carl Sagan’s fictional book Contact has a great debate on this topic. Everyone seems to have a different point of view on whether science and religion can co-exist. My position (which I am not saying is the only correct one), is that the two are in conflict. The whole point of this post has been to show that the scientific method is one that forms a conclusion only after examining the evidence. The religious method is the opposite: you hold a belief (or have faith) and then look at the world and find things that support that belief in God. If you always stick to the scientific method, I am confident you’ll never find a reason to even bring religion into the conversation. In my mind, everything in the world is explained naturally with no need for the supernatural. It was science that ultimately helped relieve me of my religious beliefs. After a long time of studying science I finally realized that the level of scrutiny I demanded of myself for my religious beliefs were completely out of whack with the level of scrutiny for everything else in my life. I lived an evidence-based life, always being careful to critique what politicians and others claimed against what the evidence actually stated, but when it came to religion for some reason I just accepted what the Bible said about God without ever questioning it. Eventually I overcame that inconsistency in my life and left Christianity behind, so it is not surprising that my particular point of view is that science and religion are not just incompatible but are in direct opposition to one another.

I wrote at the beginning that: “for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and come out with the same results.” The beauty of science, therefore, is that it is freely available for anyone and everyone. No one can come along and claim to have knowledge that is not accessible to you. No one can claim that they know better than you, and you should just trust what they say without independently verifying that knowledge. You will notice that this is in direct opposition to the religious approach to knowledge by revelation. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross and came to life again a few days later. But this is not independently verifiable. You cannot test this claim. You must rely on someone else’s description of that event in order to believe it. This is exactly the opposite of the scientific approach. While you may have to rely on scientist’s description on things that are very complicated for you to understand, nothing is stopping you from going and getting trained in that field of science and then conducting your own experiments to find out for yourself it they are correct. If you do that, no honest scientist will ever tell you: “Yes, but I have superior knowledge and findings in my experiment, so I’m still right.”

Why Do We Need Science Anyway?

The way science is conducted is changing rapidly in universities and research institutions. Governments are focusing funding towards things that they think are important and ignoring or actively discrediting the science that they think it either unimportant or that goes against their political agenda. This is not the way science is supposed to work. Science is a process of discovery, but you often don’t know what you are going to discover. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries in history were made more or less by accident when a scientist was actually looking for something else. When Alexander Fleming stumbled upon penicillin in 1928, he did so by accident. He wasn’t even studying antibiotics at all. Yet, that accidental discovery changed all of our lives for the better, probably more than any other medical discovery in the 20th Century. Imagine if governments had shut down Fleming because they didn’t feel his relatively obscure scientific research was contributing to society. The point is, you never know where the most important scientific discoveries are going to come from. So, trying to focus on curing cancer while stopping the study of sea-slugs would be a big mistake because ultimately the cure for cancer could lie in knowledge gained by studying sea slugs. When you limit the process of discovery, you limit the discoveries you will make.

The other very important reason that science is important in society relates back to the image above of the scientific process. If everyone took an evidence-based approach to life’s decisions, we’d have a much better world. There would be far fewer (if any) wars and governments would be forced to serve the best interests of the population not of the party. The scientific method teaches us to take a humble and open-minded approach to life. Don’t go into things assuming you know the answer before you begin. Stick to your conclusions if the evidence supports it, even if everyone else says you are wrong. But, do admit when you are wrong. These are the hallmarks of a good scientist, but most of us don’t act this way when engaging in politics, marriages, friendships, conversations, and so on.

Summary: Why Is Science Relevant to a Discussion About Religion & Atheism?

What does science have to do with religion? Isn’t religion outside the realm of science? Doesn’t religion require faith, which doesn’t involve science? Well, science is all about basing conclusions on evidence. If there is no evidence for something, then it probably isn’t reality. Therefore science is very relevant to the discussion on religion because there is no objective evidence for God. If there was a God and if there was evidence for God, scientists would be the first people lining up to tell the world all about it. Discovering that God exists would be the single greatest scientific discovery in history, which any scientist would be glad to get credit for, if only it were true. The reason scientists do not generally agree that God exists is not because of some agenda or some grand anti-religious conspiracy. No, the reason science does not support the existence of God is simply because there is no evidence to support that claim. All the claims of the existence of God (or gods) are based entirely on personal experience. All the personal experiences that are recorded in the Bible are examples of exactly the opposite process of discovery in science: they are not reproducible, they are not supported by evidence that anyone can observe, and they are not carefully controlled observations by people trained to be unbiased in their interpretations. This is where the conversation between believers and scientists can start to go in circles with believers claiming that God is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore does not require evidence, and with scientists claiming that nothing is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore God must not exist since there is no evidence for God.

I’ll conclude with a statement and a challenge. My statement is this: “Everything that exists is explainable by science, given enough time and resources.” I state this because my position is that there is only the natural world. There is no supernatural. Since science provides answers to the natural world, science has the answer for everything. My challenge is this: “Come up with a question, for which there is a definite answer, that science is not capable of providing an answer with a reasonable level of certainty..”