Religion

Quote of the Day: What Do We Really Know About the Birth of Jesus?

bart ehrman

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.

Back to the sources.   Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament.  Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc.   These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all.  Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.

….

Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus.   As examples:

• We don’t know what year he was born.  If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)

• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)

• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know?  Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).

— Bart Ehrman, What Can We Know About the Birth of Jesus?, December 8, 2018

Why Am I Different From My College Classmates?

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

During the 1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was there that I met my wife, Polly. Started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, Midwestern was a school known for turning out preachers. Most women attending Midwestern were there to snag themselves a man. My wife was no exception. She believed she was called to be a pastor’s wife. I was studying to be a pastor, so I suppose you could say our divine callings matched and our marriage was made in Heaven — or something like that, anyway. (We celebrated 40 years of marriage last July.) All we knew for sure was that God called us to build churches and evangelize the lost. Everything we were taught at Midwestern had these two things as their goal. We left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Virtually everything we did was in fulfillment of God’s call upon our lives, yet, today, we are no longer Christians and it has been more than ten years since we darkened the doors of a church. What happened to us?

I cannot and will not speak for Polly, but I can say, for myself, that the Christian narrative no longer makes sense to me. I wrote about this in a post titled, The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense. Most readers know my story, so I won’t retell it here. New readers are encouraged to read the posts found on the WHY? page for more information about my life as a pastor and my subsequent deconversion. My story has been deconstructed by countless Evangelical zealots determined to invalidate my past. Try as they might, the fact remains that I once was a committed, devoted, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ; a man who hungered and thirsted after righteousness for his name’s sake; a man who believed every word of the Bible was true; a man who preached the Christian gospel to countless people. Them there are the facts, regardless of what apologists might say. I know what I know because I was there when it happened. Who better to know and tell my story than me? That said, I do have to ponder the question, Why am I Different From the My College Classmates? Some of them have moved beyond the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist training they received at Midwestern, yet they still believe. Sadly, for most of my college classmates, their beliefs have changed very little, if at all. Many of them still attend or pastor IFB churches. Oh, they might agree with me about the crazy rules at Midwestern, (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) but their core theological beliefs are decidedly Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Why do they still hang on to these beliefs and I don’t?

The easy answer would be to call all of them stupid hillbillies, but that would be a cop-out. Many of my former classmates has wonderful families and ministerial careers. According to the theological and social standards of IFB Christianity, they are, in every way, successful. I have no doubt that many or even most of them are true-blue believers, completely and totally committed to IFB doctrine, thinking, and way of life. Yes, some of them now consider themselves garden-variety Evangelicals, but most of my classmates still believe the fundamentals taught to them by their pastors and their professors at Midwestern.

If I had to pick one reason for why my former classmates still believe, it is because they were taught to never, ever doubt the Bible and its teachings. All of them believe in some form of Biblical inerrancy, so the foundation of their lives is THUS SAITH THE LORD. Insulated from contrary or challenging thought, they see no reason to question their beliefs. Souls are lost, Hell is hot, and Jesus is coming soon. They have no time for doubting or questioning their beliefs. When Jesus comes again, they want to be found faithfully serving him, not reading Bart Ehrman’s latest book. For me, however, I reached a place in the late 1980s where I seriously questioned the doctrines I had been taught at Midwestern. I ultimately abandoned them and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. Calvinism allowed me the freedom to study theology and read books outside of the Evangelical rut. While the Calvinists I associated with were still quite Fundamentalist theologically and socially, they valued education and intellectual pursuit. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the more I studied and read, the more questions and doubts I had. This is why people who knew me well told me that BOOKS were my problem, and what I needed to do is stop reading books and only read the Bible. Of course, saying this to a book lover is akin to telling a cocaine addict to stop using drugs. I was addicted to intellectual pursuit, and I doggedly followed the path until it led me out of Evangelicalism, out of the Emergent church, out of progressive Christianity, and right own down the slippery slope to agnosticism/atheism and humanism. I ended up where I am today because I couldn’t stop my doubts. I ended up where I am today because Christianity had no satisfactory answers for my questions. Oh, they had “answers” but I found them to be hollow, circular, and, at times, farcical; answers that might placate those within the Evangelical bubble, but unsatisfactory to anyone on the outside looking in.

There are days when I wish I could be like my former college classmates. I see much in their lives I admire. However, I am unwilling to forsake the meat and potatoes of intellectual and scientific inquiry for the pottage of Evangelical Christianity. I have read and studied too much to go back to the garlic and leeks of Egypt. I would rather be known as a Midwestern Baptist College-trained atheist than a coward who couldn’t face doubts and questions head-on. “One” may truly be the loneliest number, but I would rather stand alone for truth than embrace theological dogma. If Midwestern and Dr. Tom Malone taught me anything, it was the importance of standing for truth and principle and being willing to hold to your beliefs and convictions no matter what. So, in that regard, Midwestern played a crucial part in my deconversion from Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Modern Evangelical Thinking

guest post

Guest post by Paul McLaughlin

I’m reading a history book (Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History edited by Euan Cameron) in which there is a section by Robin Briggs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Briggs ) about religious thought in the 1600s. I have been struck by how much “modern” Evangelical thinking still reflects the same thought patterns.

The author talks about “the continuing domination of theory over facts; intellectuals used the latter [i.e. facts] to support preformed concepts rather than to test them, so that referential accuracy was still low on most people’s scale of values.”

Doesn’t this describe a lot of Evangelical blather? The pastor says the Bible says X, so anything that doesn’t fit the what the pastor says is distorted or ignored. The important thing is to preserve the myth.

Briggs continues, “For most thinkers of the time change for the better usually implied a return to an allegedly superior past, through the removal of corrupting elements.”

My comment in one word: MAGA.

To quote further:

Significant numbers of both clerics and laity, in all the major religious denominations [of Europe], were making a strenuous attempt to live out true Christianity as they understood it. In the process they rejected numerous traditional compromises, recognized only absolute moral standards, and tried to extend the sacred into all areas of life. These enthusiasts were always a minority, but more tolerant – or perhaps lukewarm – Christians often found it difficult to resist them openly. Scripture, the Church Fathers, and logic itself appeared to be on their side. Their ultimate aim was to turn passive Christians into active ones, who did not just participate in ritual activities stage-managed by others, but internalized the faith as a moral code and way of living. Conversion and a change of life were key concepts here, built around the inspirational power of the word. Preaching and religious writing were to carry the message around Europe, where missionaries were just as necessary as they were in heathen lands beyond the seas.

Remember, he’s talking about the 1600s, not the 2000s.

Ultimately, this type of reforming Christianity tended to fragment as much as it united. The closer the bonding between enthusiasts, the sharper the divisions between them and their opponents; the practice of defining oneself against the ‘other’ was much in evidence here. Internal splits could be ferocious …

On the international scale confessional tensions remained high, for despite the similarities between the creeds they continued to regard one another as mortal enemies, while as churches became more national this hostility might be reinforced by xenophobia [as in, evangelicals wearing MAGA hats]. Different countries vied for the position of the ‘elect nation’ favoured by God [as in, America as the new Jerusalem].

Finally,

There were some obvious motives for rulers to associate themselves with religious reform, which offered a boost to their power and prestige, and a means to trump [Trump?] potential critics.

So next time you are tempted to argue with an Evangelical, remember that you can’t take their arguments at face value. Their thought patterns are rigidly set in a deep layer of brittle concrete that has been curing for at least 400 years, and they can’t yield on anything because one crack can bring down the whole structure.

Purchase: Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History edited by Euan Cameron

Hearing the “Voice of God”

hearing the voice of god

Spend enough time around Evangelicals and you will learn that not only do they talk to God, they also hear God talk to them. In any other setting “hearing” voices will land you in the hospital on a 72-hour psych hold, but if the voice being heard is GOD, then hearers of this silent utterance are considered sane, rational beings. Evangelicals believe God not only speaks to them through the words in the Bible, he also audibly, yet silently, speaks to them during prayer and meditation and at random moments throughout the day. Evidently, the Christian God is able to carry on millions of silent conversations with his followers at the same time. Awesome, right? Too bad, this same God is not very good at making sure everyone he is talking to is hearing the same message.

Evangelicals say they hear the voice of God, but often different Christians hear different things, often wildly contrary to what God told someone else. I noticed this particularly during church business meetings. Members were expected to pray and seek the will of God on the matter of business before the church. After, “hearing” from God, members were expected to be of one mind — Greek for “agreeing with the pastor.” As anyone who has ever attended a Baptist business meeting will tell you, unity of mind is rarely on display. If everyone is supposedly “hearing” the voice of God, why are there so many competing viewpoints? What color should we paint the auditorium, the pastor asks? Let’s seek God’s mind on the matter! You would think that God would tell everyone BLUE. Nope. God, ever the jokester, whispers to various members different colors, sowing discord among the brethren.

Years ago, I started the Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in southeast Ohio. The congregation first met in an empty storefront. After a few months, we moved to what was then called the Landmark Building. We rented the entire second floor for $200 a month. One day, I was out and about and stumbled upon an old abandoned Methodist church building — five miles east of Somerset, on top of Sego Hill. I made some inquiries about the building, and found out that it was for sale. I told the congregation about my exciting find, asking that they would pray about us buying the building. After a week or so, I held a business meeting, thinking God had told congregants the same thing he told me: buy the building! Imagine my surprise when it became clear to me that the church was NOT in favor of buying the building. I was so depressed. How could they NOT hear God’s voice? I thought. Yes, the building was $20,000, a large sum for a fledgling church, but I believed God never ordered anything he didn’t pay for. Dejected, I called the Methodists and told them we wouldn’t be buying the building.

Several weeks later, the Methodists called me and asked me if the church had changed its mind about buying the building. Before I could respond, the man said, make us an offer, Bruce. I shot a quick prayer to Jesus, asking him what I should do. As sure as I am sitting here today, I heard him say, offer them $5,000. I thought, $5,000? The Methodists will never accept such a low offer. But, not wanting to disappoint Jesus, I made the $5,000 offer. The man said, we will talk it over. Sure enough, a few days later, the Methodists called to tell me that they accepted my offer! I thought, PRAISE JESUS, we are going to have our own building. All I had to do is convince the congregation that the voice they thought they heard at the business meeting was not God’s; either that, or in the intervening weeks God had changed his mind. Fortunately, the church heard MY voice, and we bought the building.

Silly story, I know, but I think it aptly illustrates the idea that God speaks to people. I wanted something — a church building — and I got my way. I heard the voice of God countless times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, and, without exception, what God was saying perfectly aligned with what I wanted, needed, or desired. God’s will be done, as Evangelicals are wont to say, was actually Bruce’s will be done. 

In late 1993, Pastor Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become their co-pastor. I prayed about the matter, deciding that God wanted me to stay as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. I “wanted” to move to Texas, but God said NO, or so I told myself anyway. Several weeks later, I was pondering the future of Somerset Baptist, and all of a sudden, I started crying. In that moment God spoke to me, telling me he wanted me to move my family to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. Wait a minute, didn’t God “tell” you several weeks before that he wanted me to stay in Ohio? Yes, he did, but evidently, he changed his mind. Never mind the fact that the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I changeth not and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I called Pat Horner and asked if the offer was still open. It was. You see, God had told them that I was going to be their co-pastor, so me — uh, I mean God — changing his mind was just confirmation to them of what he said to them. Two months later, I packed up family and worldly goods and moved to Texas. My tenure at Community lasted all of seven months — an unmitigated disaster.

Another silly story, I know, but it again illustrates how crazy it is to think God “speaks” to anyone. God didn’t tell me not to move, nor did he tell me to move. There is no God, so the only voice I was hearing was my own. The NO and YES were in my mind and reflected the struggle I was having about whether I wanted to continue pastoring Somerset Baptist Church. I spent eleven years at Somerset Baptist, living in poverty the whole time. For five years, my family and I — all eight of us — lived in a 12×60 mobile home fifty feet from the church building. I was worn out, burned out, and tired of being poor, yet I loved the congregation. What was it then that caused me to change my mind?

We heated our mobile home with coal and wood. We also heated the church and school building the same way.  We were running out of wood, so I asked a man in the church if he could get some wood for us to burn, He said, sure. Several days later, the man dumped a pickup load of wood in the parking lot and quickly left. I thought, it would have been nice if he had stacked it, but okay, he at least got the wood for us. I gathered up some of the wood, took it inside and put it in our Warm Morning stove. I quickly found out that wood was unusable — too wet and green to burn. At first, I was angry over the wet wood, but then I began to cry. This one event — not a big deal in and of itself — pushed me over the proverbial edge. I was done. Is it any surprise, then, that God changed his mind and told me he wanted me to move to Texas? A good salary and a new 14×70 mobile home awaited me. A congregation thrilled over the prospect of me being their co-pastor awaited me. A young, fast growing congregation awaited me. New challenges and opportunities awaited me. I said NO to all of this because I had a sense of loyalty to the people at Somerset Baptist. Most of them had been members for years and walked beside me as we built the church. I felt guilty over thinking about leaving them so I could have a better life; so my family would no longer have to live in poverty. But when the wet, green wood was dumped in the parking lot, my thinking changed. Enough, I thought, and God agreed with me.

Now, I am sure that my critics will pick these stories apart, suggesting that I was the problem, not God; that the voice I was hearing was self, and that if I had been more spiritual, I would have heard God’s voice and he was would have directed me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is no God, so I couldn’t have heard his voice. All my decisions reflected were the struggles I was having over life and the ministry. The voice I heard was my own, giving life to my wants, needs, and desires.

Bruce, I don’t care what happened in your life, I KNOW God speaks to me. How do you KNOW it is God’s voice you are hearing? What evidence can you give for such a claim? Why do God’s silent utterances to you almost always match your own wants, needs, and desires? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe the voice you are hearing is your own? Yes, the Bible contains stories about God speaking to people — from God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, to God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac, to God speaking to the crowd at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus told his disciples: my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. How can any of us know that it is God speaking? There’s absolutely zero evidence for God speaking to anyone. Evangelicals are free to believe that they have heard the voice of God, but they can’t expect non-believers to accept their stories as true without some sort of verifiable proof.

Believing God speaks to you is a matter of faith, a faith I do not have. Most often, hearing the voice of God is harmless, but there are times when hearing his voice leads to dangerous, harmful behavior — including murdering your children and taking a twelve-year-old girl as your virgin bride. Evangelical missionaries John Allen Chau and Charles Wesco lost their lives because they believed that they had heard the voice of God commanding them to go reach the lost for Jesus. Why would God tell these men to leave their houses and lands and go to the mission field only to kill them days later? What a cruel, schizophrenic God. Or, perhaps God has nothing to do with this; perhaps the only voices these men heard were their own; perhaps their deaths rest on the shoulders of the myriad of pastors, professors, and parents who whispered in their ears about the wonders of serving God in a foreign land and the rewards that would await them if they became missionaries.

Think I am wrong? Just ask God to tell me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Why Does Christianity Need So Many Apologists?

indoctrination

The probability that the Bible is God’s word is inversely proportional to the amount of work it takes Christian apologists to defend it from objections to the contrary (that is, the more work its defense requires, the less likely the Bible is God’s word), and it requires way too much work to suppose that it is.

Consider the sheer numbers of Christian apologists/scholars and books that have been published by the following author/editors: C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, Paul Copan, Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Chad Meister, J.P. Moreland, Gregory Boyd, Gary Habermas, Steven Cowan, Douglas Groothuis, Peter van Inwagen, Randal Rauser, Michael Murray, William Dembski, Richard J. Bauckham, Michael Brown, Dan Wallace, D.A. Carson, G.K. Beale, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Stephen Davis, Donald Guthrie, Ralph Martin, Richard Hess, Dinesh D’Souza, and Timothy Keller to name some of the more noteworthy ones. While some of these authors deal with the same issues most of their material is unique to them, for further defending their faith. If we add in their magazine and journal articles we already have a small library of works. If we were to get and read the references they quote from we have a whole library of works in defense of the Christian faith, a comprehensive case. That’s what a comprehensive apologetic requires. The important question left unaddressed by them, as always, is why a defense requires so many books? Why does Christianity need such a defense at all?

The fact that it takes so much work to defend Christianity is a strong indicator, all by itself, that the Christian God does not exist, or he doesn’t care if we believe.

If God had done a better job of revealing his will, there wouldn’t be much of anything for Christian defenders, or apologists, to do but share the gospel message like evangelists do. But since the God of the Bible was in fact incompetent, Christian apologists are forced to defend their faith against the multitude of objections raised against it. It’s as if God gave Christian defenders permanent job security, while forgetting that there are eternal destinies stake, people who, on some accounts, will suffer conscious torment forever because of it.

When dealing with the problem of divine miscommunication, Christian defense lawyers seek only to get their divine client acquitted no matter what the intellectual or moral cost. Rather than face this evidence that shows their God to be nothing more than the product of ancient people, who didn’t have a clue about civilized matters, these apologists use convoluted legalese to obfuscate and confuse the jury.

Typically they’ll say we couldn’t possibly know what an omniscient God is thinking, so we have no right to judge him and his ways. However, even if this is the case, it changes nothing. Millions of people died because God didn’t correctly reveal the truth. Christians will further object by saying we just don’t know if God did anything to help the people who died, to which the obvious answer is that this is my point. If God did something to help these people, then there is no evidence that he did? Think about it. There isn’t any. This objection is based on faith, not evidence, the very thing reasonable people should reject if they want to honestly know the truth. And if God really wants us to believe in him and believe that he loves us, this is a strange way of going about things. For an omniscient God would have known that later generations of intelligent people would find him to be guilty of not doing what decent people would do if they could, and as a result, disbelieve in him and his love.

The best Christian defense lawyers are liberals who admit there are texts in the Bible that, to a great degree, are reflective of an ancient outlook rather than the rigid literalism of conservative believers. In their view, God’s revelation is progressive, becoming better as humans grope to understand the divine. In other words, theology evolves. Liberals didn’t come by this conclusion easily though. Down through the centuries, they came to it as the realities of life and the results of science forced them to accept it. Yet this view is exactly what we would expect to find if there is no truth to their theology. It’s what we would expect if there is no divine mind behind the Bible or the church. If there is a God, then his so-called progressive revelation is indistinguishable from him not revealing anything at all, and, as such, progressive revelation should be rejected as an unnecessary theological hypothesis unworthy of thinking people.

Furthermore, such a view actually undermines their theology, for it leads to theological relativism, since there was no point in the history of the church when any theologian could say that a final, unchanging theology had been attained. So the theology of yesterday was true for Christians of the past, as the present-day theology is true for others, as the theology of tomorrow will be true for still others. So don’t talk to me about an unchanging theological truth. Don’t talk to me about an absolute standard for theological truth either. It doesn’t exist. Never has. Never will. Liberals therefore cannot state any theological truth that is true for all time. As far as they can know, the end result of revelation could be the death of God, the conclusion that we don’t need God, which would make him effectively dead. As far as liberals can know, atheism may be the future of their theology. The only reason they won’t accept the relativism of their theology is that they perceive a need to believe. They are playing a pretend game much like the people in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Village. In my opinion, liberals should just stop pretending.

The bottom line is that the whole notion of progressive revelation is a “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy. If their God had revealed the truth from the beginning, then these Christians would use that as evidence he exists. Because since he didn’t, they have introduced the concept of progressive revelation, which betrays their desire to believe no matter what the intellectual cost. What they’re doing is justifying their God “after the facts,” rather than asking “before the facts” what they would expect of their God if he lovingly communicated to human beings.

— John Lofus, Debunking Christianity, Excerpt from the book, How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist, November 27, 2018

Purchase How To Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist by John Loftus.

Who’s to Blame for the Brutal Death of Evangelical Missionary John Allen Chau?

john allen chau

Oral Roberts University graduate John Allen Chau was killed last week while attempting to evangelize an isolated tribe on North Sentinel Island — 700 miles off the coast of India. Chau, 26, did not have permission to ferry to, land on, or evangelize North Sentinel natives. He broke the law, choosing instead to “follow” the “leadership” of the Holy Ghost. His obedience to God and the teachings of his peculiar flavor of Evangelical Christianity cost him his life.

CBS News reports:

Officials typically don’t travel to the North Sentinel area, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The only contacts, occasional “gift giving” visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.

Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure that outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.

….

Scholars know almost nothing about the island, from how many people live there to what language they speak. The Andamans once had other similar groups, long-ago migrants from Africa and Southeast Asia who settled in the island chain, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.

Chau spent his young life immersed in Evangelical Christianity. He attended an Evangelical high school and college, and was trained for missionary service by Fundamentalist mission agency, All Nations in Kansas City, Missouri. Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, admitted to CBS News that Chau had discussed his mission trip with her and understood the danger and risk of landing on the island. Ho stated, “He [Chau] wanted to have a long-term relationship, and if possible, to be accepted by them and live amongst them.”

The first day Chau landed on the Sentinel Island, a young boy shot arrows at him, forcing his retreat to a boat waiting for him offshore. Chau wrote in his notes:

Why did a little kid have to shoot me today? I DON’T WANT TO DIE Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don’t think so.

Chau’s second return to the island was his last. He was killed by Sentinelese tribesmen — yet another well-intentioned zealot who wasted his life attempting to evangelize people who weren’t the least bit interested in what he was selling. This tribe is known for killing or attempting to kill outsiders who dare to trespass. Chau knew this, yet he believed God was leading him to take the gospel to them. I am sure he thought that God would protect him. In one comment, Chau said that “God sheltered me and camouflaged me against the coast guard and the navy.” In his mind, if God miraculously kept him from being found out by authorities, it is not a stretch to think that he believed that all would go well when he came ashore to preach the gospel. After all he brought gifts for them — fish and a football. What could go wrong, right?

As I ponder the wasted life of John Allen Chau, I ask, who’s to blame for his death? Not the tribesmen. They were protecting their land from an interloper. No, the blame rests on the Evangelical churches, school, and college Chau attended. These institutions filled his head with stories of grandeur, of missionaries God used to evangelize the “lost.”  The blame also rests on All Nations. They filled his head with nonsense about reaching “lost” Sentinelese tribesmen for Jesus, ignoring the fact that Chau’s interaction with them could have infected them with deadly Western diseases, diseases for which the Sentinelese had NO immunity. All Nations knew about Chau’s desire and encouraged him to be obedient to God. Everyone who filled Chau’s head with Evangelical beliefs about the exclusivity of Christianity and the need for people to get saved lest they spend eternity in Hell bears responsibility for the young man’s death.

Chau was a True Believer®. His heart and mind were set on being an obedient, zealous follower of Jesus. As missionaries and martyrs before him, Chau was willing to die for the cause. Is this not the true mark of zealot? I am sure he heard countless preachers talk about being willing to die for one’s faith. Jesus gave his life for us! Should we not be ready and willing to give our lives for him? countless preachers have said. Much like Islamic zealots, Evangelicals — in theory, anyway — believe that, if called upon to do so, they would die for Jesus. I say in theory, because I highly doubt, when push comes to shove, that most American Evangelicals would truly die for Jesus. It’s easy to say, “I will not deny Jesus, and I am willing to die for him,” when in fact few Evangelicals are willing to follow Chau to the grave.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionary Charles Wesco. Much like Chau, Wesco threw his life away thinking that he was called by his God to evangelize the lost in Cameroon. Within a week, Wesco was dead, caught in a gunfire battle between opposing forces. Both of these deaths are, on one hand, tragic, but on the other hand they are unnecessary. No one “needs” Jesus, and the world would be better off if Evangelicals minded their own fucking business. If asked about Jesus, share away, but if not, keep your cult’s dogma to yourself. Do I sound harsh? I intend to be. Both of these stories have all the markings of cultism, no different from the Manson or Jonestown cults. Oh, Evangelicalism might appear more respectable and be accepted as a “good” cult, but their teachings can and do cause psychological and physical harm, and, in some instances, death. Chau’s and Wesco’s deaths are perfect examples of what can happen when some really, really, really believes, drinking glass after glass of Jesus-inspired Kool-Aid. Their deaths left countless mourners who want to know WHY? One need not look far for the answer. The blame ultimately rests on Evangelicalism and its teachings about sin, salvation, the Great Commission, and the exclusivity of the Christian religion. These deaths should lead preachers and other church leaders to ponder and question their missionary rhetoric, but alas, men such as Chau and Wesco will, instead, be venerated and turned into martyrs, inspiring others to foolishly follow in their steps.

The next time someone tells you that religions is harmless, I hope you will think of John Allen Chau. His religion cost him his life.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

An Atheist Thanksgiving

atheist thanksgiving

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

This Thanksgiving, I will not be in any situation in which I will have to pray — or, at least, mouth words that sound sufficiently like prayers to please the people around me. The people with whom I will share dinner are not all atheists, but even the ones who still believe do not expect public expressions of faith from me, or anyone else.

I am thankful for that. I am thankful that the people with whom I will spend this holiday are in my life.

But I am also thankful that I don’t have to thank God for them. Instead, I can truly feel gratitude to them for being loving and kind people. Even if they give credit to the God they believe in, I am thankful that they share what is best about themselves — their pure and simple humanity — with me.

I will be thankful for the food we will share. Knowing the people who are cooking it, I am sure it will be good. It is a gift of their love and munificence; I am grateful that people can choose to share as they do.

I am most grateful, though, for what will make this year’s celebration truly special for me: During the past year, I’ve begun to move forward from the sexual abuse I suffered from a priest half a century ago. The essays I’ve written about it have, of course, been part of that process.

I am grateful to and for Bruce for publishing them. I am also grateful for the supportive, encouraging comments some of his readers left in response to my writings.

I am thankful that I don’t have to thank God for any of that. Why would I thank such a God for abating my suffering — after letting someone inflict it on me and letting that person go scot-free?

For that matter, why should any victim — whether of sexual abuse, war, poverty or other kinds of violence — thank God if and when things get better? Would we thank someone for putting out a fire after setting it?

I am so grateful to know that I don’t have to be thankful such things, for such people.

And I am thankful that I have met people who are better — than the priest, than those who inflict cruelty and destruction, than God.

All of the gratitude I will express will go to the ones who will share their holiday feast with me; and to the ones who helped me to get to where I am now, and who are helping me to understand where and how I might go next.

God is not among them.  I am grateful for that.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Yoga Will Open You Up to Demonic Power

yoga is satanic

Guest post by ObstacleChick

My brother recently posted on social media a link to an article in Charisma Magazine regarding a sermon by John Lindell, pastor of James River Church, a church with four campuses in Missouri (Ozark, Joplin, and two campuses in Springfield) along with live streaming option. The title of the sermon is “Haunted: Pursuing the Paranormal.” According to the church’s website, this James River promotes the Bible as “accurate, authoritative, and applicable”; a Triune God; symbolism of communion of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to empower us for life; that belief in Jesus along with baptism in water, setting our minds on God and His purposes, and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit will allow us to lead the power-filled lives that God intends for us; that Jesus is coming back again to rule and reign on this earth and that history will end as the wicked are judged and the righteous will inhabit a new heaven and earth.

If you have nearly an hour to spare and care to watch his message, please watch the following video. (I was cooking at the time, so at least I was productive while listening to this ridiculous message.) Otherwise, I have provided a very brief summary below.

Video Link

In the sermon, Lindell warns of Satanic and demonic influences of five major practices common in our “post-Christian” society. He opens the sermon describing Satan as a fallen angel created by God who convinced a third of the angels to rebel with him, thus becoming demons. He says that as a created being, Satan is not all-powerful or all-knowing, and that Satan is a murderer, a liar, and a destroyer. He will be defeated by God one day.

The first practice Lindell warns against is seeking information via the paranormal, such as reading horoscopes, consulting psychics, using an Ouija board or tarot cards. He says that these people are either charlatans trying to take your money or they are opening a door to Satanic and demonic influences. The second practice is attempting to connect to powers, energies, or forces by using physical objects such as crystals or amulets or dream-catchers which supposedly open a portal to demonic activity or influence. The third is practicing Wicca, and the fourth is the typical admonition not to watch movies or read books or participate in any other media not promoting Jesus/God/True Christianity. The fifth is the warning against practicing Yoga, and his description of yoga is one of a false demonic religion (Hinduism) that opens one up to demonic influences.

As an atheist who does not believe in deities or any other supernatural forces, beings, or auras, my reaction to his sermon is that this is all ridiculous fear-mongering in order to keep the congregation away from any outside influences that might run counter to the teachings of the fundamentalist religion. Indeed, Lindell says that opening one’s mind is dangerous. Of course it is dangerous to fundamentalism, as someone may learn concepts in biology, physics, sociology, psychology, archaeology, or any of a variety of other scholarly pursuits that contradict dogmatic religious teachings.

What fascinates me is that these Christians believe that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and all the angels are on Team Good and Satan/Beast/False Prophet/Anti-Christ and demons are all on Team Evil. It reminds me of comic books or novels, but these Christians believe that Real Live Spirits are duking it out for possession of our puny little human souls. Pastor Lindell believes that physical paraphernalia such as crystals, Ouija boards, and movie posters as well as the practice of chants, mantras, or poses (as in yoga) open up actual portals that allow these demonic spirits to affect us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (and frankly, I don’t know what spiritualism is so I use the term loosely). Pastor Lindell states that all religions other than Christianity are false religions and therefore demonic. Practicing these religions is tantamount to inviting demons into one’s home.

Yoga isn’t my favorite type of exercise, but I do it from time to time and find that it can be good for stretching and for improving my flexibility and balance. These aspects are important as we get older, particularly for those of us who do exercise in a single plane of motion such as running and weightlifting. Additionally, I like wearing yoga pants, as they are comfortable and encourage easy range of motion. Never have I experienced any demonic influence or activity while wearing yoga pants, though according to my husband and 16-year-old son, they may have had lustful thoughts – possibly demonically inspired – when seeing attractive women wearing yoga pants. That’s their problem, not mine.

Here’s what my fervently devout Christian brother commented on the article:

In its origin, design and intent, yoga is worship of Hindu deities. The word yoga means ‘to yoke’ and by extension ‘union’, as when two oxen are joined together under the same harness to plough a field. It refers to the yoking or union of the individual with the divine, and specifically, to Hindu deities. In India, hatha yoga is the physical path to the divine; the devotee dedicates his body to god through ritualistic exercise and hygiene practices. The centerpiece of yhoga is the sun salutation in which an invisible entity receives homage through a series of bowing, kneeling and prostration poses and is entreated through a series of supplicatory skyward reaching poses and prayer gestures. Aside from the salute, many yoga poses represent Hindu deities and/or are designed to direct or contain energy flow, like canals and locks that channel or dam water.

Yoga is idolatry and incompatible with Christianity. Despite the practitioner’s best intention, yoga cannot be divorced from its original purpose and redirected to some other use such as mere exercise or communion with the God of Abraham.” (Quoted from an article written by Corinna Craft)

It is no secret that meditation and prayer exert positive activities in the brain. Research shows through magnetic resonance imaging that the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex — the mid-front and back portions — are activated during prayer or meditation. These regions are responsible for self-reflection and self-soothing. Meditation and prayer can also trigger the release of oxytocin and other “feel-good” hormones in the brain, therefore positively reinforcing the behaviors. Stretching, on the other hand, promotes other types of benefits such as increased flexibility and range of motion, improving posture, and increasing blood flow to muscles. Paired with meditation, as in certain types of yoga, these activities can allow one to experience physical and mental benefits concurrently.

Of course, a fervent Christian who believes that yoga provides demonic pathways would say that demons are deceiving us by creating mental and physical rewards for allowing them into our plane of existence. Honestly, if someone believes that there are demons, that demons are actively seeking to influence us, and that certain objects or activities open portals allowing demons to enter our plane of existence, I really don’t know how to have a rational conversation to allay those fears. Extreme forms of fundamentalist religion do a fantastic job of labeling anything “other” as “demonic,” thus inducing fear in followers in order to dissuade them from seeking activities or knowledge deemed by the religious authorities to be inappropriate. My husband suggests that I continue to be a quiet contrarian, gently stating viewpoints explained through scientific and historical evidence. Perhaps one day a nugget or two of truth will get through to my brother. In the meantime, I will practice my downward dog while wearing my yoga pants.

Thanksgiving: Thank Those Who Deserve the Praise

without god I am nothingAs an Evangelical Christian, I was taught that I should thank God for everything in my life. It was God, after all, who gives people the ability and strength to do things, and without him doing so, mere mortals would be powerless and helpless. The Apostle Paul said, in ALL things give thanks, and he reminded readers that their ability to breathe and walk comes from God. Simply put, nothing in life happens without God.

I was also taught that I should always be humble and deflect any praise thrown my way. To fail to do so was a sign of pride — a human expression Evangelicals consider sinful. I am an avid sports fan. I have watched countless Christian athletes over the years give interviews in which they give God all the credit for their athletic prowess and success. To do otherwise is to say that their success came from, you know, things like diligence, hard work, and passion. These things must be deflected or diminished lest God be made to look bad. God is the ultimate narcissist — think Donald Trump. He not only deserves all praise and glory, he demands it, threatening judgment for anyone who dares to suggest otherwise.

As a pastor, I worked my ass off to become a good public speaker. I spent countless hours crafting my sermons, making sure that when I delivered them, I was giving congregants the best possible sermon. I knew far too many lazy pastors who, Sunday after Sunday, preached dreadful, forgettable sermons — and they didn’t care. Doing my best mattered to me, and my “idols” were men who were great pulpiteers, men to whom congregants loved to listen. Yet, no matter how good I became at preaching, my Evangelical theology demanded that I give God/Jesus/Holy Spirit total credit for all my hard work.

I am a photographer. While I have been taking pictures for over twenty years, it wasn’t until 2005 that I decided to work hard at becoming a better photographer. Since then, I have spent countless hours perfecting my craft, and the harder I work the more I realize how much I still have to learn. Today, my daughter and several of my granddaughters were talking about photography. I corrected their errant belief that it is equipment that makes for good photographs. It’s not. It is the photographer who makes the picture, not the equipment.  Buying the most expensive iPhone will not magically turn someone into a good photographer. Last year, I met a sincere person at a high school basketball game who wanted to know how to take pictures that turned out like mine did. Here was a person who owned $5,000 worth of Canon camera bodies, yet she hadn’t even learned the basics about how to operate her equipment. I encouraged her to learn how to use her equipment and to learn the basics of photography. The most expensive camera and lens won’t make for good photographs if the user hasn’t educated himself/herself on, at the very least, the fundamentals of photography.

As a photographer, I know that praising my equipment for a good photo is akin to thanking God. My cameras are inanimate objects that have no power to do anything unless I pick them up, turn them on, adjust the settings, and apply my expertise to the scene in front of me. Years ago, I saw an interview of Dave Matthews wherein he talked about picking up cheap guitars to use in his concerts. He talked about playing gigs with $50 acoustic guitars. Matthews was able to take yard sale castaways and make magnificent music. How is that possible? Because making music is all about the artist, not the instrument. And that’s the point I am making here. Want to be good at something? Work at it, I mean really work at it. Mastering any craft requires diligent, never-ending work and a willingness to never accept “good enough.”

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Today, Polly, my youngest daughter, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughters spent the day baking a dozen pies, peeling 15 pounds of potatoes, peeling sweet potatoes, preparing bread for stuffing, and any other day-before preparations they could do. Polly still has to make cranberry relish, brine the turkey, prepare the ham, and make sure everything is ready for Thanksgiving Day. She will arise early in the morning and begin cooking everything to perfection. She will spend long hours in the kitchen preparing a wonderful meal for the 21 people who will gathering around our table on Thursday. She will do these things because she loves her family and she absolutely loves to cook.  She has spent decades perfecting her cooking skills, and it shows. Forty years ago, Polly knew how to “cook” — as in opening a can or a box. Today? She is an accomplished cook. Does every scratch meal turn out to her exacting standard? No. And when one doesn’t, she finds out why so she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Her goal is to be a better cook today than she was yesterday. When her two favorite magazines, Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated, show up, she scours them for new recipes and tricks of the trade. I read these magazines too, but alas, all I am looking for are things that look scrumptious. I often say, hey Polly, how about this one? And this one? And this one? Well, you get the point. I applaud her willingness to push her skills and try new things.

Come tomorrow, I will not thank God for anything. As I eat way too many calories, I will not praise Jesus for turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. My thanks will go to the woman and her helpers who made the meal possible. The God at the Gerencser table will be Polly. I plan on giving credit to whom credit is due.

Let me leave you with my all-time favorite meal prayer. Take it away Jimmy Stewart.

Video Link

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Is My Life Noticeably Better or Worse Now That I’m Not a Christian?

guest post

Guest post by John

I don’t remember the exact date when I decided that I would not label myself as a Christian anymore. It’s probably been a couple of years — a gradual process, not a one-time event. Ironically, my deconversion was mainly due to a very in-depth, two-year study of the Bible and its history. Don’t get me wrong, I had studied the Bible for years previous to this. But it was always with the denominational glasses I had on at the time, and the theology books about the Bible that were written by authors within that same camp. Once I started studying with an open mind (at least as open as I could manage at the time) and read books by many different authors, wow! . . . I finally came to a place where I just couldn’t believe it anymore.

Recently, for some reason, I started thinking about my life when I was part of the Christian religion versus where I am now. Back then, I was happy where I was. I didn’t leave the church because of some hurt or disappointment, it was just what I thought I was supposed to do at the time. Once away from the influence of the church, I was able to study and ponder more freely, using my own mind to decide what I believed, and not what I was told to believe.

Now that I don’t hold to any of those beliefs, I’m also happy. It’s nothing that I can quantify, so it’s just my experience. I think I’m happier and better equipped to handle life now. I’ve learned a lot about the human brain and my own personality. Through that understanding and some meditation practice, I was able to come out of a four-year depression. I prayed and prayed for my depression to be lifted from me, but it wasn’t until I gained some understanding of how my brain works that I was able to take steps to head out of it.

I have some level of pain in my body most days. It’s from various things such as scoliosis, arthritis, years of running, karate, weight lifting, etc. I was very active in my youth and always just pushed through the pain. I eventually got to the point where I had to abandon most of my athletic activities. During this time, I prayed and prayed for healing. Nothing changed. I eventually found a tai chi instructor and started doing yoga. I was also able to find a good chiropractor. These helped me greatly! It could be argued that these were “answers” to my prayers. I guess that could be, right? But I did go looking for these tools hoping for some kind of relief. I am now relatively pain free compared to several years ago.

I am better off financially than I was when I was in church. I faithfully gave ten to twenty percent of my gross income to the church, trusting that God would take care of my needs. I didn’t go broke or anything like that. In fact, I had some pretty amazing things happen along the way to keep me going financially. But after I quit giving all that money to the church, I was able to come out of debt for the first time since graduating from college in 1991. I’m all for giving to charitable organizations. I still give to organizations that I believe in. But when I took some time and started saving and/or paying my debts with the money I gave to the church, I was able to pay off stuff and have the money to give without putting myself in a bad financial situation.

What about all those friends that I left behind? Good question. I enjoyed the fellowship that I had with lots of people in the church. But once I left, I realized that those were task-based relationships. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have them, whether at work, our kids’ activities, or people we meet while doing our hobbies, etc. When I left the church, I did not hear from one church member. Again, they were task-based relationships, and I get that.

I have fewer “friends” now than I used to, but the friendships that I have now are deeper and more real and they let me be myself, and vice versa.

That’s something I really don’t miss! Putting on the “church face,” especially if you are on staff. “How are you today, pastor?”  “Blessed and highly favored, brother. Ha ha ha haaaa.”  I rarely felt the freedom to be real with people. And I rarely felt that they were real with me.

Remember all those bad things that we thought would happen to us if we didn’t do what we were told to do? Well, guess what? I don’t attend church anymore, I don’t read the Bible anymore, I don’t pray anymore (I no longer believe that there is a god to pray to, at least not the Christian version of god), I don’t tithe anymore . . . and nothing tragic has befallen me because I don’t do any of these things. Oh sure, I have to deal with the occasional cold or unexpected expense or the death of a loved one. But that’s just life! I had all those things going on when I was a Christian. Now that I’m away from religion, I feel as if I can see a little clearer. I have non-religious friends and religious ones, and they all deal with life, just as I do. Sometimes tragedy befalls us. No one is exempt. But, oddly enough, I feel like I handle the difficulties of life better now than I did in my religious days. I’ve learned to flow with life better — the good and the bad. Instead of wondering why a prayer wasn’t answered or why God would let something happen, I just realize that everyone has ups and downs. Sometimes people make good decisions and sometimes they make bad ones. I’ve learned a lot from secular Buddhism and Taoism over the last few years, and that helps me. I’m not saying I never get down or frustrated or angry. But I much prefer my current mindset and outlook on life to the way I used to see things.

I rarely feel bad about myself. Depending on the flavor of Christianity people come from, they are constantly told that they are sinners; worthless crap that Jesus had to die for so they don’t go to hell. Man, that just sounds weird to me now! I’m not saying that I’m always what people would call a saint. But I try not to be a dick, choosing instead to treat people the way I would like to be treated. Oh, by the way, that’s in the Bible. LOL! And sometimes, I do act like a dick, but I do my best to treat people decently. I remind myself that life can be really hard and people are just trying to get through their day. so I try to be kind. Not for any future heavenly reward, and not for any medals, or a better life next time around. Just because . . . It feels good to be kind with no hook or ulterior motive. (Like, if I’m nice to this person, maybe they will come to church with me. Gag!!!)

Anyway . . .

Overall, my life is better now than when I was a Christian. At least my outlook on life and the way I handle things seem to be better. I wouldn’t go back to the religious days.

My Credo by Paul McLaughlin

creedoA guest post by Paul McLaughlin

I was not raised in a religious family, so my path to atheism was much smoother than the terrifying, rocky road traveled by so many others who comment and post on this site. My father was diddled by a camp counsellor and rejected religion for himself. My mother died when I was 17 after a long struggle with cancer, so I don’t know much about her religious beliefs, other than that she didn’t believe in heaven. They both thought it important to send (not take) their children to Sunday school. So, the message I got was that religion — meaning middle-of-the-road Protestant Christianity — was something I should be exposed to, but it wasn’t important enough to warrant providing me with any guidance. Thankfully, I was never inculcated with the belief that I was born sinful and depraved, and if I don’t accept the truth of the Bible, I would face eternal hell and damnation, though I was aware of Christian eschatology.

When I was nine-ish, I had a Catholic friend named Jimmie. Every Saturday morning, we would go up to the Catholic church and I would wait outside while he went in and said his confession, which, he said, was so he would be free of sin at mass the next morning. Then we would spend the rest of Saturday raising hell.

When I was 14, I took confirmation classes at the local Presbyterian church, not because we were Calvinists, but because it was the closest church to where we were living. It was a mainline church — no speaking in tongues, rapturous praise or healings, just intellectual Calvinism with a dour Scottish Canadian aftertaste. Even at that age, I could see that you can’t reconcile free will and predestination. If you’re predestined to go to heaven, why be good? And if you’re predestined to go to hell, why be good? The minister and I agreed that I wasn’t to be confirmed. I’m still not.

A couple of years later, after my mother died, I found myself sitting in a nearly empty church willing myself to believe in God, Jesus, anything. But I just couldn’t do it. So I said to myself, what will happen to me if I give up this effort to will belief? The answer, as I learned over the next 50+ years, was that good things happen and bad things happen, but believing or not believing in god has no impact on what actually happens.

Shortly after that, I went to university and studied history, comparative religion and especially existentialist philosophy. My religious beliefs crystallized into a credo that I have carried with me for the rest of my life.

  1. There is no god. That means, no Christian god, divine Jesus, Holy Spirit, archangels, angels, saints, virgin mothers, Satan, devils, demons or any other imaginary creatures in the mythical Christian heaven and hell. It also means no Jewish god, Muslim god, Hindu gods, Greek gods, Norse gods, native Great Spirits — no gods at all. None.
  2. There is no divine, spiritual or metaphysical force in the universe that is concerned about the fate of individual humans or humankind in general — no fate, karma, luck (good or bad), balance, horoscope, traditional sayings or anything else controlling or even influencing what happens to people. In other words (and this is not an original thought), the universe is completely indifferent to individual humans and the human species.
  3. Souls? Don’t believe in them. I believe people have personalities that emerge from our biology and our experiences and are remarkably persistent over time. However, when we die, we’re done. There is nothing that is me that lives on. Whatever me is beyond a bunch of organic chemicals, is no more. (Memories of me may live on in the memories of those who know me and in the records I leave, but when no one remembers me and all the records have been lost — which will be the fate of most of us — I will be nothing.)
  4. There being no afterlife, there is no need to fear death.
  5. Evolution is the best current explanation for millions upon millions of empirical observations.

Evolution is not progressive. Species do not evolve traits for a purpose, they evolve traits as a result of random mutations that fortuitously but unintentionally improve the species’ survival chances in the face of constant environmental pressure and change. Evolution does not work toward what lies ahead; it has no goals.

For example, our species didn’t develop eyes so we could see, we have eyes because billions of years ago some organisms randomly developed light sensitivity; that light sensitivity was positively associated with species survival; as time went by, organisms with light sensitivity developed more and more complex light-sensitive organs with positive survival implications. Our eyes are not the epitome of a progressive evolution toward human eyesight. They are just one of many diverse light-sensitive organs that emerged from the random mixing and mutation of DNA in the context of environmental change. We don’t even have the best eyes.

  1. Likewise, the human species is not the goal or end result or peak of evolution. The idea that humanity is the progressive end result of evolution is a theological, not a scientific position, though it has been held by many scientists. Humanity developed very recently (in geological time) and is in all likelihood a doomed branch of a branch of a branch of the evolutionary tree. It is just one species among millions, most of which are extinct, with no privileged status. The inevitable fate of humanity is extinction, though we may be one of the few species to actually bring about our own extinction. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent it. Bacteria have better odds of survival than humans.This one took me longer to wrap my head around.
  2. I believe that living my life according to humanistic values and principles provides a better life for me as an individual and improves the society I live in. Improving my society is positively associated with survival of my species, a social species. I believe that humanistic values and principles are better for individuals and society than religious values and principles, but not because of any supernatural warrant of their superiority. I believe this to be the case because I have empirically observed that it works.

Some humanists promote the belief that there is a universal moral law that humanistic values make the world a better place. By doing so, they make humanism into a religion, where, instead of a mythical deity or universal force at the centre, the focus is on a mythical entity called “humanity.” I find it ironic that one of the oft-repeated mantras of humanism, a nontheistic belief system, is that human life is sacred. Go figure.

  1. I believe that the following modern fallacies are highly dangerous to the survival of our species:
  • God would not allow the human species to extinguish itself through nuclear war.
  • Global warming and other forms of environmental degradation are not a real threat because God favors us.
  • War is okay if God is on your side.
  • Extreme nationalism is okay if it is cloaked in evangelical fervour.
  • Racism is okay if you can find justification for it in the bible.
  • The 2,000+-year-old collection of a stone-aged tribe’s myths, legends and laws is the inerrant word of god. Same thing for the 1,300-year-old Koran and the less-than-200-year-old Book of Mormon.
  1. So, how should a person who wants to be good act? This is what has worked for me:
  • Be kind.
  • Be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, as long as the people who hold them don’t try to harm you.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat well.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Create good memories.
  • Create a community around yourself consisting of people who want to help you when you need help by helping others when they need help.
  • Focus on the people close to you — in my case, family, friends, staff, clients — people for whom you can make a difference.
  • Don’t spend time and energy worrying about things you can’t do anything about, like earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes, etc. in places far from home, or the moronic president of another country.
  • Be wary of people who claim they have “the answer” to a problem because it is so easy for such people to slip over into proselytization, extremism and fanaticism. Answers that affect large swathes of people always have sweeping unintended consequences that, if predicted, are usually downplayed in their proponents’ zeal to change the world. Real change is usually a lot harder than it first appears.
  • Avoid psychopaths, sociopaths, adults who are still adolescents, narcissists, excessive neurotics, maladaptive perfectionists, and people whose minds are closed due to religious and political ideologies that promote divisiveness and intolerance.
  • Avoid people who don’t think for themselves, sponges and sharks, two-faced arseholes, power-hungry social climbers, people who lack a sense of humour, champions of big ideas, liars, thieves, con artists and mental and physical abusers.
  1. So, you might ask, am I not in despair about there being no deities, no heaven or hell, no afterlife? After all, what I describe is a bleak, cold, uncaring existentially absurd world in which I have no future after I die.

Well, no, I’m not in despair. To despair, I would have to believe that things could have been different — that is, the universe could have been designed to be more accommodating to human needs, and in particular, to my needs. To me, that would be the height of hubris – to believe that I and my species are so important that everything that has happened since the big bang was about creating a world for us.

So at 72, when I look back over my life, I realize it could have been better, but it could also have been worse — a lot worse. If I were religious, I would say I have been blessed, but since I’m not, all I can say is I have been fortunate. I hope that in the years I have left, I will be able to help a few people who are close to me to feel that they too have been fortunate.