Religion

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.

Songs of Sacrilege: TV Crimes by Black Sabbath

black sabbath

This is the one hundred ninety-seventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is TV Crimes by Black Sabbath.

Video Link

Lyrics

One day in the life of the lonely
Another day on the round about
What do they need
Somebody to love

One night in the life of the lonely
There’s a miracle on the screen
What did they see
Somebody to love

He guarantees you instant glory
Get your money on the line

Gotta send me a plastic Jesus
There’s a check in the mail today
That’s what I need
Somebody to love

We just won’t meet on Sunday
Gotta buy him a limousine
Somewhere to live
Somewhere to pray

Every penny from the people
Keeps the wolf outside the door
Shop around and find forgiveness for yourself
But he’ll give you more, yeah

Holy father, holy ghost
Who’s the one who pays the most
Rock the cradle don’t you cry
Buy another lullaby

Jack is nimble, Jack is quick
Pick your pocket, turn a trick
Slow and steady, he’s got time
To commit another TV crime
TV crime

One day in the life of the lonely
Back again on the round about
What do they need
Somebody to love

Yeah

One night in the life of the lonely
Another miracle on the screen
What did they see
Somebody to love again

A supermarket of salvation
Take a look inside the store
Shop around and find forgiveness for yourself
But he gives more

Holy father, holy ghost
Who’s the one who hurts you most
Rock the cradle when you cry
Scream another lullaby

Jack be nimble, Jack be slick
Take the money, get out quick
Slow and steady, so much time
To commit another
TV Crime, TV Crime

Songs of Sacrilege: Dear Father by Black Sabbath

black sabbath

This is the one hundred ninety-sixth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Dear Father by Black Sabbath.

Video Link

Lyrics

A childhood innocence was drowned in your tears.
The demons that you fought are feeding your fears.
The poisoned secrets of your life stand revealed.
The truth destroys you, its no longer concealed.

Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing.
In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.
Yeah, in ruin, yeah.

You preyed upon my flesh then prayed for my soul.
Belief betrayed by lust, the faith that you stole.
Indoctrination by a twisted desire,
The catechism of an evil messiah.

Dear father forgive me, I know just what I’m doing.
In silence this violence will leave your life in ruin.
Yeah, in ruin, yeah.

Preacher of theocracy hiding your hypocrisy.
Under false sanctity, holy phony empathy.
You have taken my life,
Now it’s your turn to die.

Can you sleep at night? When you close your eyes
Do you think of all the pain from your lies?
Or do you deny you’re responsible
For the victims of the sins you devised?

What you gonna tell them when they ask you? Well then
Is your conscience pure in your heart?
There is no exemption when you seek redemption
For all the lives that you’ve torn apart.

Your molestations of the cross you defiled,
A man once holy now despised and reviled.
You took possession while confessing my sins
And now you have to face whatever death brings, yeah.

Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing.
In silence your violence has left my life in ruin, yeah.
In ruin, yeah, yeah, yeah.
In ruin yeah.

Is Religion a Choice?

jesus kfc

Guest post by ObstacleChick

My daughter is a freshman at Vanderbilt University, and my husband and I joined a social media group specifically designed for parents of the class of 2022. Parents were invited by the university to join it as a way to introduce themselves to each other and to provide a forum for parents to post concerns, questions, and comments. For some parents, it has become a place to seek solace as they are missing their children. For others, it is a forum for complaining on behalf of their child (or perhaps not on behalf of the child but about something the parents are concerned about). Still others use it to share information about the best companies that deliver fresh cookies or birthday cakes to campus, or to compare notes on their child’s success using Uber vs. Lyft.

Recently, a parent posted an article from the student news publication regarding religious holidays. The article was written by a Jewish student who wanted to take some days off class for Jewish holidays and was told by her professor that he/she considered the absences unexcused. The student was furious as she canceled her flights home for the holidays. The student appealed to the Director of Religious Life, and he stated that professors have discretion in allowing absences for religious holidays. Unsatisfied with the answer, the student appealed to an Associate Dean, who stated that mature students know how to make the choice between education and religion. The Dean equated being religious to having a musical or athletic obligation – that religion is a choice in the same way that other activities are choices. The student maintains that one’s religion is not a choice and detailed that some of her family members had died in the Holocaust. The student also argued that as academic calendars are usually structured around Christian majority holidays, only those who practice minority religions are affected by the calendar structure and must seek accommodations to practice their religious faith.

The student then appealed to the Title IX Office, which developed a religious obligations form that students can submit requesting religious absences to the Title IX Office at the beginning of the semester. The Title IX Office will submit the form to the professors who then must grant students their requests for religious accommodations.

My first thought was that the university could provide a list of major religious holidays from a broad range of religions to professors at the beginning of each semester so that professors could anticipate conflicts that may occur. However, how extensively should the university go in researching major observances of religions? How many religions? Obviously, we all know the Big Three Abrahamic religions as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. Many have heard of Sikhism, Wicca, and Rastafarianism. But what about other religions that are not so well known, like Jainism, Bahai, Shintoism, Tenrikyo, Juche? I suppose the easiest logistical answer is for professors to excuse anyone for any religious request, but it may be that some professors were concerned with students taking advantage of religious liberty to rack up excessive absences. Perhaps the religious obligations form filed through the Title IX Office is the easiest way to accommodate students on a case by case basis.

Logistics aside, I did take issue with the student’s assertion that religion is not a choice. I think she is confusing the idea that many Jewish people consider themselves to be of Jewish heritage regardless of practice. People do not have a choice regarding their ethnicity, but they do have a choice whether they practice a religion, as many of us deconverts can attest. For example, I was raised in a household that practiced Southern Baptist Christianity, but I no longer consider myself to be a Christian of any sort. I made a choice to stop practicing Southern Baptist Christianity decades ago, switching to a more progressive Christianity for a while, and later to no religion at all, taking the label of agnostic atheist. Perhaps I could claim a Christian heritage, though I do not have a desire to do so at this time. I joke that my children’s last name confers upon them their Irish Catholic heritage, though neither has set foot in a Catholic church more than a handful of times and each takes the label of non-religious (and atheist in certain circles).

One may also make an argument that some people may feel that they have no choice but to practice a certain religion. Certainly in some countries where religious freedom does not exist, one may need to appear to practice a certain religion for one’s safety. In other cases, it may be difficult for one to break from one’s family’s religion, making relationships with family members difficult for the deconvert. Most of the time, children have little say in the matter and must follow whatever religious practices their parents require. But for an adult in a nation with religious freedom, whether one practices a religion or not is one’s choice. It may be inconvenient or place strain upon one’s familial or social relationships, but it is still a choice.

Do you think that practicing religion is a choice or not a choice? What are your thoughts on the way a university which strives to be diverse handled the situation?

Man’s Fall in the Garden of Eden: An Ancient Labor Relations Tale?

adam eve cast out of garden of eden

A guest post by Bob Felton. Bob blogs at Civil Commotion

Sometime around 1800 B.C., an Akkadian stoneworker chiseled into rock a remarkable story.

It seems there were two ranks of gods, important gods who made all the decisions, and lesser gods who did all the work. One day, assigned to dig some canals, the hot and dirty and tired worker-gods decided to go on strike; “You are killing us,” they complained.

The impasse was broken by this proposal: the important gods would create a new creature to do the hard labor, man, but the leader of the strike had to be sacrificed. It was so agreed, and man was created from the dust, the water, and the blood of the sacrificed god.

But, as so often is the case, there was a fly in the ointment — the men were noisy at night, and the gods weren’t getting proper rest. After several warnings, the gods decided to get rid of men and sent a flood to drown them all. Only one man and his family survived, Atrahasis.

It’s easy to see in this tale the roots of two of the Old Testament’s best-known stories, the Creation and Fall, and Noah’s flood.

Now skip forward almost 4000 years to a story that is true, to the copper mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There, the mines employ thousands of laborers imported from all over the world; newspapers are published daily in more than a dozen different languages.

In June of 1913 the miners — who live in company-owned housing on company-owned property, buy their food at company-owned stores, and earn less than $2/day — call a wildcat strike. At Christmas they are still out, and on Christmas Eve they gather on the second floor of Italian Hall for a meager Christmas party for their children.

Soon after things get going, a strikebreaker enters the hall and shouts “Fire!” There is a panic, the door at the bottom of the stairs doesn’t open and there is a crush; seventy-three people, mostly women and children, die. The most widely-read local newspaper is owned by a mining company, and it becomes a tale of unruly foreigners impinging upon the prerogatives of a benevolent company. Nobody is ever prosecuted for the shout of “Fire!”

The story of the Italian Hall disaster shares a lot with the story of Atrahasis and the Fall. Instead of gods, there are mining companies and bosses; the men are imported, not created, to labor; there is disobedience — striving to live and enjoy life; there is even a serpent, the strikebreaker who shouted “Fire!”

And in all three stories there is cruel punishment without appeal.

I estimate the odds of a Bronze Age storyteller making up something that has so much in common with a labor relations disaster four millennia later as … zero. Atrahasis, and the story of the Fall, are undoubtedly allegorical blame-the-victim accounts of prehistoric misfortunes similar to the real-life Italian Hall disaster. They should not be read as literally true, but they are true in the narrow sense that they are accounts of the ancient human conflict between the powerful and the powerless.

Notice this, too: In all three stories, men threaten the power of the gods/bosses. In Genesis, this is made explicit (Gen 3:22-23, KJV): “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”

“… the man is become as one of us …” He threatens us, challenges us, cannot be trusted to quietly and submissively do as he is told. He must go.

I’m sure it has an odd sound to many, but I read Genesis’ tale of the Fall as an ancient labor relations tale. And with Augustine’s invention of Original Sin, Christianity put itself on the side of the bosses, the Establishment’s demand for unconditional obedience — where it has been ever since.