It’s late. I can’t sleep, so I’m laying in bed reading the latest issue of Astronomy Magazine. I need a drink of water, so I lean over to grab the water glass on the nightstand, and there, swimming in the water of my glass, is an Asian Beetle. (Harmonia axyridis) Those of us who live in the Midwest know all about Asian beetles. We have a contract out on the biologist who introduced this non-native invasive insect to our land. Every winter they do their best to survive until spring so they can reproduce. They hide in the nooks and crannies of, well, everything. Some people have such an infestation in their homes that they spend all winter killing them. Anyone who has ever done this knows the wonderful smell Asian beetles give off when flicked, smacked, or sucked up with a vacuum. They are very hard to kill, and even insecticides are often no match for their determination to live.
So when I found this Asian Beetle swimming for its dear life in my water glass my first thought was, Good riddance. Die! I even tried to help the beetle die. Next to the water glass was a cardboard box which I recently emptied of its contents, a new prescription of Flonase. I took the rectangular box and pushed down on top of the Asian Beetle, hoping it would drown. I did this several times, but the beetle refused to die. And then I stopped…
I began to admire the Asian Beetle’s fight to survive; its desire to make it to spring so it could procreate. For a moment I pondered the wonders of Evolution and Darwin’s theories, all in full display in the water glass on my nightstand. Then in a moment of irrationality, I put the Flonase box back in the water in such a way that the Asian Beetle could climb out of the water. In a few moments he did. I continued to watch him as he climbed higher and higher to get away from the water. The struggle to survive was evident.
Come tomorrow, I suspect I will continue my murderous rampage against Asian beetles. But, for a moment, in the stillness of the night, a water glass and an Asian Beetle spoke deeply to me and reminded me of the common existence I have with all living things.
A good friend of mine, and a former parishioner, wrote on Facebook an update that asked: can anyone be good without God? He then answered his own question with a No and quoted some Bible verses.
Am I good? I am your friend. Does that make me a good person?
Evidently, my words cut to the heart of the matter because the update and my comment were deleted.
Christians are really good at spouting what they believe, what the Bible says, blah, blah, blah. On Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and in the safety of their houses of worship, the rhetoric and judgment flows, but when confronted with the reality of their words Christians often backtrack, reverse course, apologize, or say they didn’t mean what they said.
Why is this? The short answer is that they realize their words are hateful, bigoted, arrogant, or judgmental, and since they care about what others think of them, Christians are quick to distance themselves from what they previously said. Perhaps they realize that words posted to Twitter, Facebook, on a blog, or in an email are not likely to convert a person to Christianity, especially when the words are hateful, bigoted, arrogant, or judgmental.
Of course, there are other people who say, I just let the chips fall where they may. It is GOD you have a problem with. I am just speaking God’s words. They are so blind that they don’t see how arrogant and filled with self they have become. My friend knows, despite what his Bible and theology tell him, that I am a good person. He knows how good I was to him when I was his pastor. And he knows how well I treat him now, even when his theological pronouncements irritate the heaven out of me.
Reality almost always trumps theology, and this why only a rocks-in-their-head Bible thumping, Bible-verse-regurgitating, robot of a Christian will say that someone like me is not a good person. Unable to see beyond their theology, they are forced to judge and condemn good people who haven’t joined their Christian club. In their mind, all the good works in the world can’t erase the stain of sin, and the non-Christians’ unwillingness to confess Jesus as Lord makes them the enemy of God, headed for hell unless they repent of their sin.
Back in the real world, good is defined by what you do. If Christians like my friends would look a little closer at their Bibles they would find that this is how God defines good as well. Salvation by right belief has turned millions of Christians into hateful, bigoted, arrogant, and judgmental people. There is no hope for them until they come to see that their theology doesn’t match reality.
Don’t tell me what you believe. Don’t quote the Bible to me. Show me what you believe by doing disinterested, no-strings-attached good works. Works like homeschooling, pastoring, teaching Sunday school, inviting people to church, reading the Bible, praying, evangelizing, reading theology books, and tithing don’t count. These works are the price of admission to your Christian club, feel good stuff that benefits the member and does little or nothing for anyone else. I’m interested in how you treat those the Bible calls, the least of these. I’m interested in how you treat and help your atheist, Muslim, or Buddhist neighbor. I’m interested in how you treat and help those who have a skin color or sexual orientation different from your own,
Evangelicals are so obsessed with right beliefs, building big churches, and laying up treasures in heaven, that they wall themselves off from the rest of the human race. Evangelicals make periodic forays into the land of the Philistines and Canaanites, hoping to gain members for their club, but then return to the safety of the clubhouse in time to hear the church band riff on the latest praise and worship song. Most of their time is focused on self-improvement and building the most awesome church in town. Lost on them is the fact that most of the new people joining their club are just transfers from other clubs.
If Evangelical Christians truly want to make a mark in this world, they must leave the safe confines of the clubhouse and join hands with those whom their theology says are broken, wicked, vile sinners. Let’s leave matters of salvation and heaven and hell to another day. War, violence, starvation, poverty, and global climate change threaten our collective future. Are not these matters more important than winning the village atheist to Jesus?
When I see Evangelicals knee-deep in the refuse of this world helping others with NO expectation of return, I might, at the very least, believe Christianity has something to offer to the world. While it is unlikely that I would ever return to Christianity, I could be persuaded to admire a religion that values others and invests their believers’ time and money in helping the least of these. (Matthew 25)
This is the sixty-second 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 The Preacher and the Slave (Pie in the Sky), written by Joe Hill and sung by Pete Seeger.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 3: My Early Education
I don’t have many early memories of my first couple of years in the Philippines (let alone my life prior to being there). Even those that I do have are vague and, possibly, based more on stories told to me by my parents and their friends than they are genuine recollections of my past. This is nothing unique to me but rather a way of explaining why I won’t even try to tackle the topic of my “first impressions” when I arrived in the Philippines. Instead I want to talk about something I do remember; my first years of schooling.
I won’t just talk about myself but also the range of options missionaries have (or don’t have) when it come to educating their kids and, where possible, the rationales they use. I also want to emphasize this point from the outset; a lot of missionary kids (and I am one of them) return to their passport country once they have finished high school even though their parents may be staying on. It not only marks the end of our schooling but also the end of our life as an MK. Whether we care to admit it or not our education is a big deal to a lot of us because it tracks the time from our most vivid MK memories to the end of the road.
I hope that last part didn’t come across as too melodramatic or get anyone worried that it foreshadows some overly nostalgic writing. I promise this will not be case so feel safe to proceed.
The education options for MKs are contingent on location. Families in remote locations tend to rely of home-schooling or distant learning (often via ham radio) unless they send their kids to a boarding school. If the family is in a city there are far more options of local, international and, in some cases, missionary schools. My parents began their work in a town of around 80 thousand people where I could either go to a local school or be home schooled. They opted for the latter.
Now the term “home schooled” conjures up very specific ideas in people’s minds so I need to specify exactly what I’m talking about here. While I was taught at home my education materials, lesson plans and marking were all handled by with the official New Zealand Ministry of Education Correspondence School. At regular intervals we would bundle up my completed assignments and post them off to New Zealand for grading. Technically I can say I was home-schooled but I tend not because correspondence school is more analogous to modern internet based distance learning.
It is easy to see why my parents took this route. My mother was in charge of our education and this meant she only had to teach the lessons and provide help when I didn’t understand something. The time spent marking and creating lessons was all handled by others. Also it meant that I should be keeping up with the current education back in my passport country. When we returned for a one-year break I would, at least in theory, be able to easily fit into the public school system.
That’s the other reason I don’t call myself truly home-schooled; my parents were happy for me to be educated by the state – in fact my years of correspondence school show just how much they valued New Zealand’s education system. There were enough home-schooled MKs in the truer sense, their parents chose the education materials and planned their lessons, for me to know the difference.
As with a lot people, Missionaries are not immune from holding snobbish views about the “best” way to educate their children. Most, but by no means all, of the Missionaries my parents worked with and befriended were primarily concerned about getting their kids the best education they could practically provide. There were some who seemed to be just as concerned over how their choices compared to others.
I want to be clear that, in all the examples I will provide the majority of missionaries who opted for these methods were simply exercising their choices and didn’t pass judgment on others for not doing the same. It also seemed that, for every possible educational option a missionary family could exercise, there was at least one person willing to criticize all the missionaries who failed to follow their perfect example. There were two categories, at least in the Philippines, which were easily the most common:
There were the true” homeschoolers who wouldn’t expose their children to state-approved materials. They were all about sheltering their kids from the world and the evils of secularism. At the other end of the spectrum were the missionaries who could not understand why the kids weren’t being sent to a good missionary school. They would extol all the benefits of the education such schools provided when compared to any home-schooling options. Often the missionaries they criticized might not be able to afford the fees (not all missionaries are supported equally) or live too far away to send their kids to such schools. It was a type of insensitivity that still seems baffling to me.
Then there were all the other ways missionaries were doing education “wrong”:
Don’t send your kids to a local school? You are a cultural imperialist. Sending your kids to boarding school? Maybe you don’t love them that much. Homeschool them the whole time? You are depriving them of a social life. Send them to public schools when you return to your passport country? They are going to be contaminated and “worldly”. You really can’t win.
It should not be a surprise that these types of busy-bodies exist in the missionary community. Missionaries can often be very opinionated and are not worried about expressing their views – particularly those who are in the direct evangelism side of things. After all they are people who believe that the best thing to do with their lives is to tell other people to join their religion. Part of that process involves convincing those same people that their way of thinking, acting and, ultimately, living are all wrong and the only solution is to follow Jesus (specifically in the way they prescribe). Offering opinions and being absolutely certain of oneself becomes second nature.
To finish off, I will briefly go through those early days systematically:
I was schooled in this way from 1985 to 1986 after which time we went back to NZ (our first four-year term was completed). During our year back in NZ I went to public school and had little trouble making friends or keeping up with other students academically. In that regard I can say my parents were correct in choosing correspondence.
We returned to the Philippines in 1988 where the plan was to begin a church plant in another, bigger town (this time the population was around 180 thousand) and I resumed my correspondence study which was supposed to take me through to 1991. “Supposed” is the key word; after just a year and a half the whole family returned to NZ due to both my parents experiencing health difficulties. That was the end of my experience with correspondence of which I only had 3 and a half years. It would be another 2 and a half years before we returned to the Philippines.
Over-all it is hard to say what impact the mixed up primary education gave me. Certainly I was both “home-schooled” and sent to public school but the curriculum was consistent with NZ educational guidelines all throughout. I can’t even say what I preferred. The correspondence schooling gave me a lot more free time but public schooling provided me with friends to play and socialize with during school hours. The key thing is I got taught the basics that I needed to continue and didn’t lag behind my peers.
In retrospect I was fortunate that my parents were more concerned that their kids had a good education than following a particular ideology. There were some MKs who weren’t as lucky. Their parents, well-intentioned people to be sure, followed the advice of various Christian “educational” gurus selling them the promise of well-behaved godly children. The results for those kids were varied with some lacking the knowledge and social skills expected of people their age. I am grateful I managed to avoid those problems because, as child, I had no ultimate say in my education.
Usually, this line is used by a Christian trying to get me to see that they understand where I am on the God issue. However, when pressed, they usually reveal that they were not as atheistic as they claimed to be or they wrongly believed that not being a Christian means you are an atheist. Each of us were born into this world without any religious belief or moral framework. No one is born a Christian. This is the clear teaching of the Bible and every Christian denomination. To become a Christian, a person must commit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. One must embrace the Christian gospel and profess a desire to follow Jesus. This profession of faith is different from sect to sect. Some require a person to be baptized, while others require the person be confirmed or make a public profession of faith.
These rituals do not take place in a religious vacuüm. The United States is predominantly Christian, so it should come as no surprise that most Americans embrace the Christianity of their family and culture. Religion is inherently tribal, as can clearly be shown by looking at what the dominant religion is in a particular place. There are historical, geographical, and sociological reasons why in a certain locale most people are a certain flavor of Christianity. For example, most of the Christians in the South are Evangelical and Baptist, while here in the North Methodists and mainline sects have a greater foothold. Even at the local level we see dominate sects, such as in nearby Archbold, Ohio where the Mennonite sect has numerous churches or parts of rural NW Ohio where Lutheran churches dominate the religious landscape.
The atheist-turned-Evangelical-Christian and I began life the same way, but our stories are very different from there. Like the Christian, I too became a follower of Jesus Christ. For almost 50 years I was a devoted follower of the Jesus, but at the age of 51, I left Christianity and embraced agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. This was an open, honest, and sincere intellectual choice of mine, unlike many people who are Christians because they grew up in the Christian faith, and not because of any intellectual choice of theirs.
Most of the Evangelicals who say they once were an atheist never made an open, honest and sincere intellectual choice to become an atheist. They were atheist by default, and at some point in their life they decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ, or their parents decided for them. They took off their atheist clothes and put on the robes of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. One day they were an atheist, the next day they were a Christian. This is not how the process worked for most of the atheists I know.
Many atheists were at one time like me, devoted followers of Jesus. Our deconversion wasn’t a matter of taking off the righteousness of Christ and putting on shirt with a scarlet A. Most of us spent months and years reading and studying before we concluded that the claims of Christianity are not true and that the Christian God is a fiction. For some atheists, due to family and social pressure, they spent decades in the atheist closet, unwilling or unable to declare their godlessness.
While I can point to a definite place and time on the last Sunday of November in 2008 when I dared to say out loud I no longer believe, I spent years getting to this point. My journey took me from the strict fundamentalism of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement through Calvinism and generic Evangelicalism to emergent Christianity and liberalism, and on to univeralism, agnosticism, and atheism. Every step along this path was laden with emotional and mental anguish. The hardest decision I’ve ever made came at the moment when I was willing to say that no longer believed. Making this decision meant I was saying that my previous life as a Christian was based on a lie.
So, I say this to Evangelicals who say they once were atheist. Yes, you may have been an atheist, but you were not an atheist like me. Until you can show me that you have done your homework, then I am going to assume that you were what I call a default atheist. If you are going to comment on my blog and claim you were an atheist before you became a Christian then it is fair for me to ask you to demonstrate how and why you became an atheist. It is not enough for you to say that you didn’t believe in God and then you became a Christian. ALL of us didn’t believe in God at one time. That’s the normal human condition, according to the Bible.
Michael Pearl, author of To Train Up a Child, continues to advocate the ritualistic beating of children in the name of God. In the November-December 2015 of No Greater Joy Magazine, Pearl called on his fellow child beaters to withstand the onslaught of liberals who want to take away their right to spank their children. Here’s an excerpt from an article titled The Rod and Reproof:
The progressive secularists intimidate parents with assertions that spanking children causes them to use violence to solve problems.
It is stated so many times and with such conviction that parents who should know better have suffered an erosion of their confidence. The conclusion of these “researchers” is based on the reported experience of professionals who work with juvenile delinquents and violent criminals. A large number of those who have committed violent crimes will confess, among other things, that they were spanked, beaten, or in some way physically violated when they were children. Thus the statistician concludes that these offenders’ violent history is a result of the violence done to them. All forms of physical discipline are thrown into the mix, including criminal acts of violence and abuse. There is no attempt to separate spanking administered in moderation by loving parents from criminal beating. The progressive views all forms of corporal chastisement as “hitting.”
…There is absolutely no correlation between corporal chastisement and violent tendencies in the chastened child. All social science reporting is controlled by special interests and is skewed to accommodate some social or political agenda. See my recently expanded book, To Train Up a Child. There is a lengthy section in defense of corporal chastisement, quoting a number of studies that clarify the issue.
I have probably had more experience with families and children than any ten “researchers.” They research by interviewing troubled children or by reading the publications of others. My “research” comes from thousands of homes I have visited and parents and youth I have counseled. I spent hundreds of hours over the course of 15 years ministering in a boys’ home, becoming well acquainted with the youth. I became close friends with some of them after they were grown and had children of their own. I have spent over 2,000 hours in prisons speaking with the inmates and hearing their stories.
I have found that children possess an intuitive understanding of the motives behind parental discipline. You cannot fool them. They know the difference between discipline they deserve and unjustified violence or anger. When a child has willfully broken the rules or expressed a will to defy authority, he is not shocked or offended when his parents are angry and resort to physical chastisement. The kid knows he is “getting what he deserves.” He may holler and squirm, but he walks away knowing there is a just authority to which he is subject, that there is a law of cause and effect he must observe, and that all wrongdoing meets with an unhappy end. The properly chastened child is more emotionally stable than the child left to his own devices, as studies confirm…
…Many Christian homeschool parents are being swept up in the Left’s propaganda. Don’t become subject to the vain imaginations of unregenerate professionals who deny the Word of God and despise Christianity. Stand on the old tried and proved principles that worked in former generations. Stand on the words of God where he clearly addressed child-rearing principles. Times are changing for the worse. Don’t change with them…
This is the sixty-first 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.
Oh well it’s our Father who art in heaven The preacher owed me ten dollars, he paid me seven Thy kingdom come, thy will be done If I hadn’t took the seven Lord, I wouldn’t have got none
Had to fight about it What he owed me My money, you shall
Oh well some folks said that a preacher wouldn’t steal I caught about eleven in the watermelon field Just a-cuttin’ and a-slicin’ got to tearing up the vine They’s eatin’ and talkin’ most all the time
They was hungry Leave the rind, brother, you shall Save my vines Don’ rob me, you shall My melons, you shall
Oh well you see that preacher layin’ behind the log A hand on the trigger got his eye on the hog The hog said mmm, the gun said biff Jumped on the hog with all his grip
He had pork chops, you shall Had backbone Had spare ribs, you shall Now and the good Lord set me free
Now when I first moved to Memphis, Tennessee I was crazy about the preachers as I could be I went out on my front porch a-walking about Invite the preacher over to my house He washed his face, he combed his head Next thing he want to do was slip in my bed I caught him by the head, man kicked him out the door Don’t allow my preacher at my house no more
I don’t like ‘em They will rob you Steal your daughter Take your wife from you, you shall Eat your chicken Spend your money, you shall They will rob you Plantation, you shall
Pray mourner, in the morning, you shall Feel the spirit Help me tell it, you shall Now and the good Lord set me free
Warning! This song will get stuck in your head and you might want to dance.
This is the sixtieth 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 Getting Ready to Get Down by Josh Ritter.
Mama got a look at you and got a little worried Papa got a look at you and got a little worried The pastor got a look and said ‘Y’all had better hurry, Send her off to a little bible college in Missouri’
And now you come back sayin’ you know a little bit about Every little thing they ever hoped you’d never figure out Eve ate the apple ’cause the apple was sweet, What kinda god would ever keep a girl from getting what she needs
And I gettin’ ready to get down. gettin’ ready to get down, gettin’ ready to get down.
Now people cross the street when you walk in their direction Talk between the teeth and throwin’ epithets The doctor thinks the devil musta gotcha by his senses But to live the way you please doesn’t sound like possession
It’s four long years studyin’ the bible, Infidels, jezebels, Salomes and Delilahs Back off the bus in your own hometown Say you didn’t like me then, you probably won’t like me now
But I I’m gettin’ ready to get down. I’m gettin’ ready to get down, gettin’ ready to get down.
All the men of the country club, the ladies’ auxiliary, talk about love like it’s apple pie and liberty to really be a saint you gotta really be a virgin Dry as a page in the King James Version
No ‘Oh la las’ No ‘Oh hell yeses’ No, ‘I can’t waits, gotta see you againses’ Turn the other cheek, take no chances Jesus hates your high school dances
Said your soul needed saving so they sent you off to bible school You learned a little more than they had heard was in the golden rule Be good to everybody, be a strength to the weak, Be a joy to the joyful, be the laughter in the grief And give your love freely to whoever that you please Don’t let nobody tell you about the who you oughta be And when you get damned in the popular opinion It’s just another damn of the damns you’re not givin’
And I I’m gettin’ ready to get down. I’m gettin’ ready to get down, gettin’ ready to get down.
Mama got a look at you and got a little worried Papa got a look at you and got a little worried The pastor got a look and said ‘Y’all had better hurry, Send her off to a little bible college in Missouri’
And now you come back sayin’ you know a little bit about Every little thing they ever hoped you’d never figure out The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sermon on the Mount If you want to see a miracle, watch me get down!
And I I’m gettin’ ready to get down. I’m gettin’ ready to get down, gettin’ ready to get down.
And I I’m gettin’ ready to get down. I’m gettin’ ready to get down, gettin’ ready to get down.
I was asked by a Christian school student to answer four questions for an assignment they are working on. What follows is my answers.
What is your background, education, etc?
I am a 58-year-old man who attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970’s. I was a part of the Christian church for 50 years. 25 of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.
During my time in the ministry I preached expostionally through many books of the Bible. I preached thousands of sermons at the churches I pastored, Bible conferences, pastor’s fellowships, youth camps, and revival meetings. I made it my life’s ambition to know the Bible well.
I live in the rural NW Ohio community of Ney with my wife of 37 years, our adult daughter with Down Syndrome, one cat, and one dog. I have five adult children who live nearby. I am blessed to have ten grandchildren, nine girls and one boy.
I will assume that the questioner is asking, Does the CHRISTIAN God exist and what is God like?
Before a person can determine if a particular God exists they must first answer the question, does ANY God exist. Many Christians never ask themselves this question. They operate under the presupposition there is only one God and that that God is the Christian God. How can they know this until they have thoroughly investigated all the other Gods humans at one time or another worshiped?
Christians are quite atheistic themselves. They deny any other God exists but theirs. As an atheist, I only believe in one less God than the Christian does. Of course this could be said of all believers, regardless of their religion. As an atheist, I am agnostic about the question of whether or not a God exists. Is it possible that a God of some sort exists? Certainly. However, the question I ask myself is this: is it probable a God exists and my answer to that question is NO.
Based on the evidence at hand, it is improbable that God exists. This is my answer to the question, “does A God exist?” Your question though is not about A God. Instead, the question is about THE God, the Christian God. On this question I am much more certain. After carefully weighing the evidence for the existence of the Christian God, I have concluded that the Christian God does not exist. After spending decades studying the Christian Bible, I have concluded that the God revealed in the Bible is the creation of the human mind and is no God at all. The Bible is an errant book filled with contradictions. It is not something that we can rely on to give us proof that God exists.
What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?
The world is filled with people who do good and bad things. Every human being does good and bad things.
One of the problems with the world stems from Christianity and its view of sin and the depravity of humanity. Humans are told that, from birth, they are vile, evil sinners in need of redemption. Deliverance from sin, according to the Christian, is through Jesus Christ. Unless a person becomes a follower of Jesus they are the enemy of God, a child of Satan, and will never have meaning or purpose in their life. I consider the notion of sin and its need of expiation as a great evil that has caused much harm.
Humanity would be better served if it cast off these teachings and adopted a humanistic view of life; a view where humanity and the natural world take center stage and not the Christian God and his son Jesus. As long humans seek to serve God above humanity and seek God’s forgiveness and not the forgiveness of those actually offended, we will never address the wrongs in the world.
Humans must be held accountable for the bad they do. Humans should also be praised for the good they do. There is no need to interject the Christian God into the middle of this. As an atheist, I do not believe God exists so God cannot be the solution. As a humanist, I think that humans are the solution to the problems our world faces. No God is going to show up and fix things for us. Simply put, we broke it and it is up to us to fix it.
How can a person become right with God?
As an atheist, I do not think there is a God I need to be right with. As a humanist, I think I have a duty and obligation to be right with my fellow human beings. As much as lies within me, I should strive to be a peaceable, loving, compassionate, and kind person. I do not need a God to be able to be this kind of person.
What happens to a person at death?
What does the evidence tell us? People die. Cemeteries are everywhere. No one comes back from the dead. There is no empirical evidence for heaven, hell, or any sort of afterlife. As a finite being, I wish the notion of heaven and the afterlife were true, but they are not. When our heart stops beating and our lungs stop breathing we are dead. That’s it. Our body ceases to live and we live on only in the memories that our friends and loved ones have of us.
Christianity teaches that the present life is one that must be endured. Successfully enduring this life results in a home in Heaven with God after death. Happiness is offloaded to a future life, a life that may or may not exist. In the Christian view of eternity people like me will spend our afterlife in Hell/Lake of Fire. We will be punished and tortured by God for all eternity because we refused to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
As an atheist and a humanist, my focus is on the present. I only have one life to live. I only have this one opportunity to make a mark on the world I live in. I have no time for thoughts about God, heaven, or hell. I have chosen to focus on being the best husband, father, and grandfather I can be. I fail many times in this endeavor, but every day I get up and try to do better. As even the Bible says (Matthew 25), I hope that my life will be judged according to my works. I hope that my good works outweigh my bad works.
Keith Green, the deceased Christian artist, sang a song about Matthew 25. Matthew 25 teaches that our judgment by God will be determined, not by what we say we believe, but by how we live our lives. The text speaks of sheep and goats, of the righteous and unrighteous. Green said this:
What is the difference between the two? What they did and did not do.
While I do not believe in Green’s God, I do believe the sentiment he expressed. I want my life to be judged according to my deeds. If there is a God, and I don’t think there is, surely how I lived my life is far more important than whether I believed the right things or said the right words.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended my first ACE school in the second grade, way back in 1979-1980. The pastor of our church had sent his children to this school the year before, so my dad thought it was a good idea to send me there. As he later said, “I thought you would come home every day singing psalms and speaking Bible verses”.
Wildwood Christian Academy was a part/ministry of The Church in the Wildwood. The principal was Mr. Barker. Mrs. Barker was the teacher in the Lower Learning Center, which I was in. The Upper Learning Center had mostly male Supervisors with only a few monitors. The Barkers were a very conservative couple. They were death on any music with a beat; there were even hymns that they considered too up beat. I came from a Baptist church that was pretty stiff, so I had no experience with up beat Christian music. They were also very strict on the dress code. One time, they made my mom get back into her car because she wore pants to pick me up.
It was here that I had my first remembered experience of religion mixed with politics. I remember hearing a recording of a person talking about the circumstances surrounding the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. The narrator made this a religious struggle; Americans had the might of right since the country was founded in the Word of God. Patriotism was very high in this school, we learned how to properly fold flags and how to properly stand at attention while reciting.
While here, I made a lifelong friend, Tyson. I also made some acquaintances that I have bumped into or heard about over the years.
I remember getting my first detention. When I was handed the Detention Slip, I was scared and hid it in my boot at home. After a few days, the school called my parents and got it straightened out. This was one of the few times I got detention that I didn’t get a spanking.
I also began to memorize large passages of scripture during this time. Every month, all of us had to learn a portion of scripture, in addition to the scripture verse in each PACE. This was quite a step up from learning a verse a week in Sunday school. The Lower Learning Center was usually given fewer verses to learn, usually 8 or 9 verses, while the Upper Learning Center had to learn around 15 verses. If you didn’t memorize the verses by the end of the month, you were given detention and not allowed to participate in any extra activities. One month, I remember the horror of having to learn all 21 verses of Romans 12. Both Learning Centers had to learn it, with a genuine imitation leather-covered King James Bible going to the first person in each Learning Center to learn it. No, it wasn’t me; I believe I memorized it just before the end of the month. I still remember one of the teachers, Mr. Watson, saying (with a Southern drawl), “…Thou shalt heap coals of fahr upon his head.”
During this year, I learned another ACE peculiarity. When setting goals for the day, we always set Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Word Building, in that order. This way, the Supervisors could easily see what goals we had completed for the day. Every subject was color coded, too: Math-yellow, English-red, Social Studies-green, Science-blue, word Building-purple. These are very strong order and color associations that I have to this day. I’ll write more about this in my next post.
This was also where I learned to cheat when scoring my work. We took our PACEs to a scoring station and scored the work ourselves. Just imagine, getting the same problem wrong several times and the answer is right in front of you. I did what almost any kid would do, I memorized the answer and wrote it down when I got back to my seat. People would put pieces of pencil lead under their fingernails or hide short pencils in their pockets to write down answers at the scoring station. There were all kinds of ingenious ways to copy the answers, one of which I’ll share in the next post. My cheating here was pretty low-level, since the work was easy.
Chapel was held each Wednesday afternoon. After lunch, we would go upstairs into the auditorium and participate in a mini church service. This was always a bad day for me, since I was losing 45 minutes of school time. I worried more about getting my goals completed than hearing about Jesus again; I was going to church that night, anyway. Occasionally a missionary would come and tell cool stories or there would be a Christian film during chapel, those were good days. The day before, the Supervisors would tell us to set less goals in our PACEs, so we would have plenty of time for the missionary or film.
I also remember a few random funny things. One day, someone told us that fluorescent colors were also called day glow. Two or three of us spent hours trying to get a fluorescent colored hard hat to glow. We held it up to a light bulb, turned the light off and were sure it glowed for a second. Another time, we had a fire drill. I had never participated in one before, so the alarm bell scared the crap out of me. Just a day or two earlier, we had been told what to do in case of a fire. We had been told to bust a window and get out that way if the door was blocked. For some reason, the door to our room was locked, so I was sure we were blocked in. I picked up my chair and was swinging it at a window when an adult stopped me. A second later, and I would have crawled out of the window. One boy sang a line to “Victory In Jesus” funny. Instead of saying, “…He plunged me to victory…”, he would say, “…He punched me to victory…”.
Overall, I remember having a pretty good time in this school. Of course, this was over 30 years ago, so some memories fade.
Every Evangelical-turned-atheist has had a Christian zealot pose to them the question, what if you are wrong? Over the past seven years I’ve been asked this question numerous times. Devoted followers of Jesus genuinely fear for my soul and don’t want me to be tortured by their God in hell for eternity, so they hope by asking this question they can get me to reconsider my decision to give God, Jesus, and Christianity the heave-ho.
This question is often followed by some form of Pascal’s Wager. Of course, those asking the question don’t realize the hypocrisy of their question. As a practicing Christian, shouldn’t they be joining the Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, and every other religion that says there is some sort of life after death? Shouldn’t they make sure all their bases are covered? Christians wants to hold me to a different standard from the one to which they hold themselves. They are certain the Christian God is the one and only true God, so they see no reason to ask of themselves, what if I am wrong? Even among Christians, there are uncounted Christianities, with differing beliefs and practices. Which Christianity is the true Christianity? Is recent commenter Susan-Anne White’s Christianity true Christianity? Is Bible Believer’s (blogger at the Galatians 4 website, who just so happened to have mentioned me again on his blog) Christianity true Christianity? The Baptists think their version of Christianity is true Christianity, and the Church of Christ, Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy do too. Two thousand years in the making and Christians can’t even agree on basic beliefs like salvation, baptism, and communion. Yet, rarely do any of them contemplate that they could be wrong.
Could I be wrong about God, Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, and the plethora of other Gods humans have created since they were able to walk upright and reason? Sure, and I could say the same about many of the things I consider factual or true. As one who values science and the scientific methods, my belief in God or lack thereof is based on evidence and probabilities. While I self-identify as an atheist, I am agnostic on the God question. It is possible that a God of some sort could reveal itself to one or more humans at some future point in history. Possible, but not likely. As things now stand, I see no evidence that would lead me to conclude that a God of some sort exists. While science has not answered the first-cause question and may never do so, it has built an intellectually satisfactory explanation of the world we live in. While this explanation frequently changes thanks to new evidence, I see no reason to retreat into the pages of an outdated, contradictory book written by unknown authors thousands of years ago. Just because science doesn’t have the answer to every question doesn’t mean that God is the answer. Scientists are willing to say, I don’t know, and then they go about trying to find out what they don’t know. When’s the last time a Christian theologian, Catholic Pope, Muslim cleric, or Evangelical preacher has done the same? Certainty breeds infallibility and ignorance, both of which lead to people accepting as fact the most outlandish of ideas. (i.e. virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, hell in the center of the earth, heaven in the sky, creationism, miracles, perfect religious texts)
When it comes to the Christian God, the Muslim God, the Jewish God, or any of the other Gods that humans currently worship, I am quite confident that these Gods are no Gods at all. Is it possible that these gods exist? I suppose there is a minuscule chance, but the odds are so infinitesimal that it would be a waste of my time to even consider it. Life is too short to spend one moment of time considering the existence of Odin, Zeus, Lugh, Dagda, Haniyasu-hiko, Jesus, Kane, Pundjel, El Elyon, Shamayim, Guamansuri, Wakan-Tanka, Bochica, Lao-Tien-Yeh, Altjira, Loki, Atlas, Coyote, or any of the thousands of other Gods humans have at one time or another conjured up. (see God Checker: Your Guide to the Gods)
I live without fear of hell or fear of being judged by a God. The hell and judgment that I see on this earth comes from the hands of humans, not a God. If there is a God, he is definitely AWOL. Someday, I will die and I think that will be the end of it for me. What if I am wrong? What if there is a God waiting to settle the score with me after I draw my last breath? I guess I will say, oops, my bad, and I hope she will look at my life and judge me accordingly. I hope she will judge me not by the things that I did or did not believe, but by how I lived my life.
Many Christians, especially those of the Evangelical persuasion, believe that salvation is secured by believing the right things. While they love to talk about love and grace, the true foundation of their faith is a commitment to certain beliefs and propositions derived from their understanding of the “infallible” Bible. Believe the wrong things and hell will be your eternal resting place. Virtually every Evangelical who stops at my blog to spar with me tries to get me to believe the “right” beliefs. Rarely, does any one of them say anything about how I live my life. BELIEVE THIS AND THOU SHALT LIVE, is their gospel.
If not believing Jesus is the virgin born, second person in the Trinity, who came to earth, lived a perfect life, worked miracles, died on the cross and resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to heaven, ends with my rendition to the Lake of Fire to be tortured day and night by the God who created me, so be it. I have no interest in such a religion, and I have no interest in such a God who is only interested in what I believed and not how I lived.
If, somewhere beyond my next breath, I keel over and die and I find myself in the presence of the Big Man of Upstairs, I hope he will judge my life by how I lived, and if he does so I am confident that everything will be just fine. And if not, if what I believed is what really mattered, then I guess I will burn in hell with a lot of other good people. Coming soon to a corner of hell near you, The Hitch and Bruce Almighty Show.
These and other verses were the guiding principles of my life for many years:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:24-34
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10
I was a Baptist. Not just any old generic, run-of-the-mill Baptist either. I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, the-Bible-is-the- inerrant-inspired-Word-of-God Baptist. There were five things that every good Baptist church member was expected to do:
Read the Bible every day
Pray every day
Attend church every time the doors of the church were open
Tithe and give offerings above the tithe
I will come back to the last of these, tithe and give offerings above the tithe, in just a moment, but before I do I need to write a bit about how I looked at life in general.
I was a committed follower of Jesus. I believed God spoke to me individually through the Bible, prayer, and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. I believed that God led me or directed me to do certain things. It was important to “wait on the Lord.”and NOT trust my own understanding. My life verse was Proverbs 3:5.6:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
I knew God had saved me and called me to the ministry. For every church I ever pastored I believed God led me to that specific church. It is important to understand this point because this line of thinking permeated my entire thought process.
When a small church came calling and wanted me to be their pastor, I never concerned myself with how much they could pay me. I thought, “If God wants me to pastor this church he will make a way for me to do it.” As a result, I developed a willingness to live in poverty if it meant doing what God had called me to do. No matter how much suffering and difficulty it caused my family, the only thing that was important was being in the center of the will of God. I now see that God’s will was actually my own will and that the passivity that led me to “wait on God” wreaked financial havoc in our lives, a havoc from which we have not recovered to this day.
The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000 a year. Most years my pay was more in the $10-12,000 range. I never had health insurance or any of the work related benefits that almost every church member had. I am not complaining as much as I am explaining. I sincerely thought this is how God wanted me to live. I gladly sacrificed my financial well-being for the sake of THE CALL.
I did work secular jobs on and off over the years. Pumped gas. Sold insurance. Delivered newspapers. Managed restaurants. I always made significantly more money in the world. I viewed these jobs as a means to an end. Out of the 25 years I was in the ministry, I worked secular jobs for about 7 years.
Even when I worked a secular job, I still worked full-time at whatever church I was pastoring. I was of the opinion that every pastor should be full-time regardless of whether he had a secular job. I was taught this way of thinking in Bible college and it was a drove me to burn the candle at both ends for most of the time I spent in the ministry. When I was wasn’t working a secular job, I would take the extra time I had and devote it to the church. Either way, I was a consummate workaholic, rarely taking a day off or taking a vacation.
My view of life, God, and my call to the ministry deeply affected how I viewed money and material things. God was first in my life, the church second, the souls of others third, and my family came in a distant fourth. As a sold-out lover of Jesus I knew I was expected to die to self and live only for the glory of God.
Keeping the church going so it could be a light on a hill in the community was very important. My personal finances and well-being didn’t matter. All to Jesus, All to Jesus, All to Him I freely give...the song went and I was quite willing to give everything to make sure the work of God continued on (and I taught my children to do the same). We tithed. We gave love offerings. We supported missionaries. We gave money to people who were poorer than we were. We gave cars, appliances, computers, and clothing to people in the church. We sold household goods so we could give the money to missionaries, evangelists, or help with some need in the church. We were givers…and we shouldn’t have been.
About year 20 in the ministry I began to see how foolish this kind of thinking was. I started looking around and I noticed that while I was busy sacrificing and giving most other Christians were busy building their kingdom on earth. They were buying houses, land, and cars, contributing to their child’s college fund, and preparing for retirement. I was living in the here-and-now; with no thought of tomorrow, no thought of retirement. I had planned to die with my boots on. I realized I had been a fool. I came to see that neither God, Jesus, nor the church was going to take care of me or my family. (I was still a Christian and a pastor when I came to this conclusion.) If the church didn’t care about my financial well-being while I was their pastor, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about it when I retired. (I could tell numerous stories of pastors and their families who were left destitute by churches who promised to care for them when they were old)
After realizing the error of our ways, the first thing we did was stop tithing. If the church couldn’t pay me a living wage it made no sense to give money to the church so I could have less of an unlivable wage. The second thing we did was that Polly went to work so we could have a better income and health/dental/life insurance. By the time we made this decision I was already starting to have health problems.
These two decisions dramatically improved our lifestyle. For the first time in our marriage we were able to enjoy life a bit. It was refreshing not to have to sacrifice our financial well-being for the sake of the church. Either the church stood on its own two feet or it didn’t. We still gave money to the church, but not like we used to. No more Sundays when the offering was bad…telling the treasurer…don’t pay me this week…I’ll be fine. I expected the church to pay me. After all, a laborer is worthy of his hire.
Decades of living at the bottom of the economic ladder have hurt my wife and I greatly. Low or no wages means a lower social security check when we retire. I never had a retirement program so there is no extra money come retirement. We will have to adjust and try to make it on social security. Hopefully, Polly will be able to work for another 10-12 years and perhaps my in-my-head-book will become a reality and make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. All we know to do is move forward and do what we can. We have no choice but to play the cards we’ve been dealt. Hindsight is a great teacher, but it can’t undo a lifetime of ignorance and stupidity in the name of God.
As an atheist, I have no God that is coming to rescue me or see me through to the end. I know that financial security comes through hard work and making a good, livable wage.(and a good bit of luck) I know planning for the future is important. While there is not a lot we can do about our own affairs, Polly and I have tried to teach and show our children a better way. We are quite happy about how they have taken to this better way. All of them are light years ahead of where we were when we were their age.
I am sure some well-meaning Christian is going to say, it seems Bruce that becoming an atheist has made you selfish and more focused on your family and not others. Yep, and I make no apology for it. I am still a giving person. I go out of my way to help others, BUT I am not going to sacrifice my financial well-being for the sake of a deity that doesn’t exist or to meet a need in the life of people I do not know. I do what I can, but I now realize that my wife, children, grandchildren, and yes. myself, come first.
A family we know very well is an excellent case study. They are lifelong Christians with 40 years in the ministry. They are retired now, and their health is declining. Their house is falling in around them and it is in a neighborhood that is now all rental properties. Their house has lost 50% of its value. Month to month, they barely make it. Yet, no matter how tough things are they tithe, give offerings, and contribute to every cockamamie financial appeal their pastor comes up with. What do they need to do? Stop giving to the church. They have sacrificed enough. They have given enough. Let others pay the freight now. Take that tithe and offering money and fix the house or buy medicine. But, I know they won’t. Jesus and the church come first. After all, the Bible says:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8-10)
For many years, I shuddered at the thought of robbing God. These days I think…God deserves to be robbed. He has all he needs. He has become a robber-baron who cares not for the suffering of his peasants. If he did care he would pass a note along to all those preachers who say God talks to them and tell them to STOP fleecing the flock. Maybe they could tell their congregations that God doesn’t need any money in 2015. Maybe they could tell their congregation God doesn’t need a new building, gymnasium, the latest AV equipment, or the latest, greatest sure-to-make-the church-grow magic trick. How about emptying the church’s bank accounts and giving a rebate to every person who has sacrificially given their money so the pastor could have the best of everything.
I feel Polly shaking me…Bruce, Bruce wake up…you’re dreaming.