Regarding dinosaurs and humans coexisting, we know that to be true already. So it seems plausible that the dragon myths point back to what we would now call dinosaurs. As far as the anatomical details, some of it was probably embellished and exaggerated over time, while other details come from witnessing different strains of dinosaurs.
Citation needed. Before the Paluxy River tracks, I’d like to point out those were faked. Also, to add to my post about the origin of dragon myths, early European paintings showed them to be about the size of large monitor lizards (St. George, most notably). Over time, their size was exaggerated.
Ancient literature documents dinosaur siting’s. Citation: Job 40 (thought to be the oldest book in the Hebrew Bible)
15 “Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you; He eats grass like an ox.16 “Behold now, his strength in his loins And his power in the muscles of his belly. 17 “He bends his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are knit together. 18 “His bones are tubes of bronze; His limbs are like bars of iron. 19 “He is the first of the ways of God; Let his maker bring near his sword. 20 “Surely the mountains bring him food, And all the beasts of the field play there. 21 “Under the lotus plants he lies down, In the covert of the reeds and the marsh. 22 “The lotus plants cover him with shade; The willows of the brook surround him. 23 “If a river rages, he is not alarmed; He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth. 24 “Can anyone capture him when he is on watch, With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?
The behemoth in Hebrew mythology was the beast embodying the land, with the Leviathan representing the sea. Occasionally, the ziz, representing the sky, would be mentioned.* You must realize that the Book of Job was written well before any of the other books of the Old Testament, and contained some references to older myths.
As for the “tail like a cedar”, that was most likely a euphemism for it’s reproductive organs, a reference to the beast’s virility. Creationists have tried to insist that the Behemoth was a sauropod (to explain the size) despite the fact that sauropods had teeth unsuited to the eating of grass, and instead ate the leaves at the tops of trees. Sauropods also, contrary to early beliefs about them, were not partially amphibious creatures.
Funny how you abandon literalism when it is convenient. Where does this text use the word dinosaur. This is a behemoth not a dinosaur. Isn’t that what the TEXT says? At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. Apply the Evangelical hermeneutic that Scripture interprets Scripture. Where does the Bible say that the behemoth is a dinosaur?
You want people to literally accept the Genesis 1-3 creation account, yet you are free to read your own interpretation into Job 40. Is this not hypocritical?
Further, even if this is a dinosaur, shouldn’t Evangelicals call the dinosaur a behemoth? After all, that is what God called it. Dare you replace the Word of God with your own word?
Someone is sure in a bad mood! I don’t think I’m reading anything into the text when I conclude based on the textual description that it is what we would call today a “dinosaur.” What else has a tail like a cedar that swings? The word Behemoth was taken straight from the Hebrew by English translators because they didn’t know how to translate the word. But I think the context points to it being a dinosaur. I have no problem if you prefer to call it a “Behemoth”, but most people won’t know what you mean.
How could you possibly know what my mood is? Don’t confuse my directness with anger or being in a bad mood.
Why is it that no modern translation translates the word dinosaur? Even the CEV translates it hippopotamus. What in the Hebrew text warrants translating the word dinosaur? In fact, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word behemoth( H930 if you want to look it up) is the plural of the word behemah (H929) which is translated everywhere else in the Bible as cattle or beast. Even in your beloved Gen 1-3, it is translated cattle.
You have no textual warrant for translating the word dinosaur, other than your presupposition about dinosaurs. This isn’t about creation or science. It is about being honest with what the text says.
At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. But, based on the singular use of the word, it is likely some sort of cow. The translating of the word as dinosaur is not not found until modern creationists needed “prove” their theology.
All I am asking is that you be honest with the text.
I am doing my best to be honest with the text, friend. From the immediate context I think signs point to it being a dinosaur. I never said it should be translated, “dinosaur.” I think given the uncertainty the traditional rendering, “Behemoth” is preferable to speculative renderings of hippopotamus and whatever else some modern versions have.
And so would small lizards now extinct not qualify as dinosaurs in your book?
I didn’t say I “believed” the explanation for the appearance of lizards breathing fire, at least not in the same sense that I believe what is in God’s word. But any intelligent person can discuss possibilities without making it a matter of faith.
Don’t get hung up on the word, “Behemoth”, considering it just means a large beast and is not more descriptive than that, based on the linguistic data we have. Examine carefully the rest of the description in the passage. What do you think it could be?
You’re ignoring the obvious rebuttal you must already know if you wish to argue your perspective. When it says a tail like cedar it is not saying it is large and thick. The text does not specify the trunk. It is assumed by this line to be much more reasonably than a dinosaur, a hippo, elephant, maybe giraffe? As their tails are whippy and light as a ceder switch.
If there is no reason to believe something is real why try to argue for it. Goodness. Just cause you don’t believe it to your very core doesn’t mean you aren’t horribly muddying the waters.
Then Riley goes where all Evangelicals go when backed into a corner:
To me it makes very little difference whether the “Behemoth” in Job 40 is dinosaur or not. It’s not really worth arguing over, since it’s not an important matter of faith what kind of animal it was. The point of the passage is that God must be very powerful if he can create a large powerful animal which is far beyond human control. I just tend to think that it is a dinosaur when I read the description. This question might perhaps merit a more detailed exegesis, but this is not the forum for that. I have not studied this passage in depth in the original Hebrew (though I have read it through once or twice in Hebrew.) I could be wrong, but I am taking “like a cedar” to be like the tree, i. e. the cedar beam. I already know that dinosaurs and humans coexisted from the Genesis 1 account.
end of discussion
Riley wants to do some “detailed” exegesis of the Hebrew. I think I gave him all he needs to know. He has no warrant for saying behemoth actually means dinosaur. The only reason he does so, and the only reason any creationist does so, is because they need to fit dinosaurs into the young earth creation timeline. They KNOW they existed because the fossil record tells them they did, so the behemoth in Job 40 and leviathan in Job 41 become dinosaurs. This is a classic example of having a presupposition and making the Bible fit that presupposition.
As I have stated many times before, I think it is wrongheaded to argue science with creationists. The better line of argument is the Bible text itself. Their faith lies not in science, but in the Bible. Cause them to doubt the Bible and they are more likely to consider that they just might be wrong about creationism. Once their god, the inspired, inerrant Bible, is crushed, then those educated in the sciences can help lead them into the light.
If you have a creationist friend or family member, I encourage you to try to get them to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Ehrman destroys the notion that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. It’s impossible for a creationist to honestly read Ehrman and come away still believing the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily abandon Christianity, but it does mean, if they are honest, that they will recognize that the religious authority figures in their life have misled them. They might even conclude that their pastor, Sunday school teacher, and every other Evangelical Bible expert has lied to them. As Ehrman makes clear in several of his books, many Evangelical pastors know the truth about the nature of the Bible, but they refuse to share what they know with congregants. Telling the truth could result in conflict and loss of employment, so they stand week after week before their fellow Christians and lie about the history and reliability of the book they call the Word of God.
As a child growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s, I frequently watched the daytime TV show, Art Linkletter’s House Party. One feature of House Party was a segment called Kids Say the Darnedest Things. Linkletter would interview children between the ages of five and ten, and their responses were quite funny and entertaining. According to Wikipedia, Linkletter interviewed an estimated 23,000 children.
Yesterday, Erin Davis, a writer for the Lies Women Believe website, wrote a post titled, When it is Hard to be a Christian at School. According to Davis, Evangelical students who attend public schools are facing challenges to their Christian faith and practice. It’s not easy to be a Christian, Davis says, and she is quite proud of the fact that there are Christian students who are willing to stand up for their faith. Davis, and Lies Women Believe, are starting a new website feature to help students boldly stand up for Jesus and Christianity. Called Stand for Truth Thursdays, Davis and her fellow Evangelical truth-tellers hope to “each Thursday…feature a post on how you can stand firm in your faith no matter where you go to school.”
In her article, Davis made an astounding statement that got me thinking about Art Linkletter and Kids Say the Darnedest Things. As I read Davis’s statement, I thought, I should start a TV show called, Evangelicals Says the Darnedest Things. Here’s what she had to say:
Being a Christian has always been a risky choice.
Really? In what way, in America, is being a Christian a risky choice?
Let’s see. The United States has a constitution and bill of rights that expressly grant every citizen the freedom of speech and religion. The establishment clause forbids the government from meddling in the affairs of religious organizations. There’s a wall of separation between church and state that’s meant to protect religious institutions from government encroachment and any attempt to limit the free exercise of religion. Churches are tax exempt and members of the clergy have special tax breaks that allow them to pay very little income tax. Ministers are even permitted to opt out of social security if they so desire.
Any group of U.S. citizens can start their own religion or start a church, and any individual can decide he or she wants to be a minister. I could decide today to start a new church, say First Church of Bruce Almighty, and by Sunday I could have a congregation gathered up and be holding services. Donations to my new church would be, by default, tax exempt, and here in Ohio my new church would be exempt from sales and real estate tax. There’s no government oversight about what is considered a real church, and the IRS goes out of its way to be vague about the definition of a church.
Every community in America has one or more Christian churches. There are six churches within 5 miles of the town I live in and almost 200 Christian churches within a 30 mile radius. Whatever flavor of Christian that people want to be, there’s a church for them. Groups like Youth for Christ, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes have ready access to public school students. Churches are free to start private religious schools, often with little or no government oversight. Evangelical parents are permitted to pull their children out of the public school and educate them at home. If parents wants to teach their child the earth is 6,020 years old and evolution is a lie, they are free to do so. Pastors routinely open or close government meetings with a prayer. Everywhere I look, Christianity is on display. Where’s this risky Christianity Davis talks about?
Almost eight out of ten Americans profess to be Christian. Most Evangelical children have Evangelical parents who, from their earliest years forward, take them to a nearby Evangelical church. Evangelical children are encouraged to make a public profession of faith in Jesus as soon as they can understand the notion of sin and their need of forgiveness and salvation. Evangelical children make this profession of faith surrounded by other Evangelical children. From walking the aisle and getting saved to getting baptized by immersion, the new Christian is surrounded by like-minded Evangelicals. Many Evangelicals call getting baptized a public profession of faith, yet the crowd watching the baptism are those who have already gone through the baptism ritual themselves. Getting saved and baptized in an Evangelical church is one of the safest, most non-stressful things a person can do. Risky? Not a chance.
Evangelicalism has its own subculture with Christianized music, entertainment, clothing, toys, books, and food. Evangelicals start businesses and local Christians are encouraged to support their fellow Christian’s business endeavor. The ichthys symbol is prominently displayed on business signs and advertisements, reminding Christians that a fellow club member runs the business. If Evangelicals are so inclined, they could wall themselves completely off from the wicked world of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines and Canaanites and only breathe in the pure, righteous, holy air of Evangelical Christianity.
So, when someone like Erin Davis says that being a Christian is a risky choice, I ask, how so? I can’t think of one way that being a Christian in the United States is risky. Evangelicals pay no price for their faith. They are free to live, work, and play without being molested by the government or those opposed to Christianity. Evangelicals are as free as a nudist running down a beach on a warm summer day. Unencumbered by law or opinion, Evangelicals are free to be whatever it is they want to be. If this is so, and certainly Davis should know it is, why would an Evangelical like Davis say being a Christian is risky?
Thanks to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, atheism and unbelief have been part of American life since the 1960’s. Numerous groups like American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Clergy Project, and Center for Inquiry now promote atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. Authors like Bart Ehrman, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens write bestselling books that critique and attack Christian belief. Numerous blogs and websites are now devoted to atheism and critiquing Christian belief. Recent polls show that young adults are abandoning religion at a record pace, and there is an increasing number of disaffected Evangelicals leaving Christianity. Some leave Evangelicalism and join up with liberal or progressive Christian sects; others seek out eastern religions or abandon Christianity altogether.
It is the rise of secularism and atheism, along with the indifference of younger adults towards religion, that leads people like Erin Davis to conclude that Christianity is under attack and that it is now risky to be a Christian. Some Evangelical talking heads even say that American Christians are now be persecuted for their faith. Why, just a few months ago poor Kim Davis was thrown in jail for her faith, right? No, actually she wasn’t. She was jailed because she refused to obey the law and fulfill her duty an elected government official. While there are certainly individual cases where one could conclude that a Christian is being persecuted, most claims of persecution are really just examples of childish Christians throwing a temper tantrum over not being allowed to violate the law or get their way. They rightly recognize that they are losing their preferred seat tat the head of the cultural table, and this frightens and upsets them. It also causes them to see persecution and hardship where there is none.
Let me end this post with Erin Davis’s own words and the words of several commenters about what they consider the risk of being a Christian. I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether they have a point. Davis wrote:
A college freshman at Duke University made national headlines for refusing to participate in a class assignment that required him to read a sexually-explicit graphic novel.
The fictional plot for the blockbuster hit movie God’s Not Dead was ripped from actual First Amendment court cases. The makers of the movie cite forty real-life court battles in which “university students, campus ministries, and clubs [were] attacked for their biblical faith.”
Being a Christian has always been a risky choice. That’s as true today as it was way back when Eve decided to fall for Satan’s lie instead of standing on God’s truth.
A group of Christian students in Pennsylvania organized a “flannel day” to show unity against increased LGBT activity at their school. Their peaceful protest involved putting Bible verses on plain pieces of paper underneath LGBT Awareness Day posters around their school. Similarly in my own home state of Missouri, more than 150 students walked out of their high school in protest of a transgender male being allowed to use the girls’ locker room.
…My afternoon at school today consisted to yoga in phys ed followed by a less on eveloutuon (sic) and why they bible is wrong in biology. It was horrible and I have just been praying for guidance because apparently I’m getting yoga and eveloution (sic) every Thursday for a month but I really truly need a way to stand firm…
…I mean this same day in my Christian school I was mocked for doing the right thing and I felt sad but this encouraged me so much…
…I’m in college and we’re working on a group project, which needs a song. With regards to choosing the song, I don’t want to do something of pop culture or past pop culture because it troubles my spirit. At the same time, there’s just about no songs out there that have to do with our topic that’s not influenced by single-person center stage stars unless we do a hymn or a Christian song, which I am not sure that they will approve of. It has to do about not being good enough…
I feel very conflicted when it comes to the topic of lgbtq. I am a Christian yet I was raised in a public school system where it’s very politically correct and relativism and all that. I am confused as to how I should stand up for God in this matter especially as I am aspiring to be a nurse. Right now I believe that I cannot judge the LGBTQ community. That I should love them as myself. That if they ask if gay people can go to heaven, I don’t know. It’s a matter of your relationship with God and that relationship with cost you to surrender your life to Him. Would you be willing to surrender all to Him? Even if you find out that He does not want men to have sexual relations with men and vice versa. So reading this post I am just confused and conflicted with the protest against the transgendered male. I am not against posting verses under the posters but yeah. I just have a lot of mixed opinions about this issue and especially as I need to give equal care to those who don’t know God. I don’t know how I can evangelize in that profession and stand up for my faith properly…
The subject of Biblical literalism is a hot topic at the moment thanks to the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I am a former creationist, now an atheist. The creationist argument is not scientific and, despite what some creationists would claim, there is no conspiracy to promote evolution or an old universe the science behind them is solid. There is obviously no room in this post to address every creationist argument, what I will do below is address what made me a creationist and some of the reasons for my eventual rejection of it and why I became an atheist.
Get Them Young
Life for me started in the missionary world of Zambia, Central Africa. School was a boarding school deep in the bush close to the Zaire (as it was then) border. The school was founded by missionaries and populated mostly by missionary children. All the teachers were from Christian stock (they still are today) and saw their work as Christian mission. As children we never seriously questioned the existence of the Christian God. The whole ethos of the school was (still is) God centered so it wasn’t just an education I received, it was also an indoctrination. I still have in my childhood memorabilia a New Testament that I was given for memorizing and reciting a chapter from the Bible. Christianity was far more than an Religious Education lesson, it was a lifestyle and ethos from which everything else flowed.
The whole of my early life was steeped in this lifestyle that assumed God. There was very little opportunity for questioning God because everyone believed. There were times when we were warned that the world outside hated God and we would be persecuted for being Christians. We were told we should stand strong in the face of that because when our education stopped and we entered the world, the challenges would come. Now that I think about it more, as young children, we were taught to fear those who were not Christians.
I recall there were several stories we were told about missionaries who had lost their lives in the service of God. These people were held up as heroes and martyrs, people who were selfless and did not fear death and counted their lives as less important than the mission of spreading God’s word.
This view of the righteous Christian missionary, fighting for God in a world full of evil atheists who hated us, framed my outlook for a long time.
On Science and God
All Bible teaching, that I can remember, was literal, which meant creation, the flood, the tower of babel, the exodus from Egypt, the sun and moon being commanded to stand still, the testing of God with a fleece and so on; all the stories were told as historical events. Interest in science and nature was also encouraged, though the school library had copies of National Geographic and in science lessons we were always told that exploring the world through science was a good way of seeing how beautiful the world is that God made for us.
The only conflict that I remember is the day when new biology books arrived and we were instructed to open the books to a specific page and cross out a paragraph that referred to evolution. The reference was to fish flapping between drying pools of water and eventually learning to use their fins to walk, which over generations turned into legs. We laughed at the description and took great pleasure in crossing out the words.
Becoming an Adult
At 18, I left Zambia at the insistence of my father, to start my life in England and my eventual career in IT. I found a local Methodist church and got involved. It was a major culture shock for me. I was very naive and struggled with fitting in with the other young adults at church. English attitudes were much more liberal than the missionary culture I was used to. At work, it was even harder, Christians were not the majority and atheists were happy to be vocal about it. The words of warning from my youth came back to haunt me.
It was about this time that I had my first shock from within the Christian community. The Bishop David Jenkins made front page news by claiming that the resurrection of Jesus was not literal and that he lives only in our words and thoughts as we talk about and remember him. Worse was to come at house group the next week, the minister confirmed that this was indeed the truth and he believed it too. I was stunned and speechless; I literally didn’t know what to do with my thoughts. It was the first time I had been exposed to different people within the Christian church having different ideas of key elements of the bible.
A chance conversation at work revealed that one of my co-workers had an uncle who was a minister in the USA and had written a book on origins. I duly borrowed the book, it was a creationist book, and with the foundation of my early education, my journey into creationism became complete. I would hold and argue creationism for the next 20 years.
A couple of years later, I was living in a different part of town and going to a different church, this time Anglican, as it was closer to where I lived. It would be here that I would meet and marry my wife. The church itself was liberal, like most Anglican churches in England. There was a strong evangelical element though and it was through this section of the congregation that I would get very involved in what is known as spiritual gifts. Praying in tongues and for the healing of others and demonstrations of being filled by the Holy Spirit were regular occurrences during these services. These more evangelical elements served to strengthen my literal view of the bible, even though not everyone shared my origins view. For me, it had to be true because it didn’t make sense for it not to be.
One of the most common accusations that creationists make against those that accept evolution is that evolutionists start from the position of millions of years and look for the evidence to back it up and will always interpret the evidence as validation of that. This is nonsense of course, and the irony is that it is the creationist that starts from the position that their god exists and that everything we see confirms that.
Evolutionary science does not actually do that of course, it starts from a null hypothesis scenario, that is, nothing is assumed to be true and the conclusion that is drawn is guided by the results. The greatest thing that could happen in science would be for evolution to be overturned and that the existence of a god proven. To argue otherwise is to completely misunderstand how the scientific community operates.
It was when I eventually managed to understand the above that I started to lose my grip on creationism. It was a long and slow journey and there is no specific point I can indicate and say “that’s when it happened”. Instead there are markers along the way where I can see that a little grain of wider understanding crept in. Eventually, all those little grains became a pile that was too large to ignore.
I credit this journey to my appreciation of things scientific and natural. This love eventually led me to reading blogs and listening to podcasts. It was this new digital medium that enabled me to directly compare and contrast the creationist argument with the science argument. Increasingly, I found the creationist argument lacking in substance, while the science argument talked about observation followed by study and process and examination and conclusion and challenge and testing. Creationists object to scientific processes that go against the literal bible interpretation, but they do very little to offer any viable mechanism as an alternative. The requirement to have God do a miracle is relied upon too much.
Increasingly, I found the science of evolution and an old universe cohesive and logical until it was simply no longer possible for me to accept creationism. From that moment on, I was on the slippery slope out of Christianity. It would take a further 3 years, while I questioned to myself all aspects of the Bible that I knew and various experiences that I had previously attributed to God. There is just one event I can’t fully explain away, that is when I went through what is called a deliverance experience. I accept that I may never know fully understand what actually happened that evening; however, one ripple does not a foundation break.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 6: Faith Academy and the Culture Bubble
Living in the Philippines as an MK set me apart from the national culture. I looked different to the people and talked different. I also was there for a finite time – my parents were not immigrating so I was not encouraged to assimilate. In the early days, though, most of my friends were Filipinos in my neighborhood. There were a couple of expat families and Missionary families in each town we lived in that I had friends among but the majority were not.
That all changed when my family lived in Manila and I went to Faith Academy. Suddenly I was in a school filled with people like me. In New Zealand none of my classmates had gone overseas unless it was for a family holiday and, in those days, it was the UK, North America or Australia – countries with similar cultural backgrounds of British colonization and all speaking the same language. They could not relate to my childhood experiences. My Filipino friends always saw me as the outsider of the group so, again, it was hard to relate.
Going to FA meant I would be with people who, at least in theory, would be able to relate. After all we were all MKs, all transported from our passport countries and living in a country that was not our own. While it didn’t prove to be some MK utopia it was still refreshing to be around people like me.
When I tell people I went to a school for missionary kids the question I tend to get asked, if I get asked question at all, is a variant of: How well did you really know the Philippines then?
I used to find this type of question a tad insulting. Obviously I knew the Philippines; I lived there for 11 years, I went to a local Filipino church, I hung out at the same malls, ate out at the same places, traveled on public transport and traveled around the country.What more could I have done?
My perspective on this has changed over time. I now understand why I would be asked that question and, more importantly, wonder about it myself. How well did I really appreciate and understand the Filipino culture while I lived there?
It should be apparent to those who have read my posts so far why that is a fair question. Not just one that applies only to me either. I would guess that most MKs attending FA had more of a cursory knowledge of the surrounding culture than a deep understanding. That is because we were part of, what was known as, the “Faith Academy Bubble”.
The term “Faith Academy Bubble” is not a term I invented. I heard it used in the negative by Missionaries who disparaged my parent’s choice in education. I heard it used matter-of-factly by teachers and parents talking about the school to others. Even the students occasionally used it but mostly ironically.
So was it even real and, if so, what was it?
Yes it was real (although I didn’t see it at the time) and, while I think the term is quite self-explanatory, I will do my best to orientate everyone.
When immigrants come to a new country they are at a disadvantage. They don’t understand a lot of the culture they are joining and may have to learn a new language. It is quite common for them to make friends with any people from their homeland they might encounter. And it makes sense. They are likely to share the same values, have similar points of reference, and, due to a shared language, find it easy to communicate. If they are large enough number they often live nearby or even create enclaves within the wider culture they have immigrated to.
Please note that I don’t want to discuss ideas about whether they should try harder to integrate or if enclaves are harmful or anything like that. Instead I want to note that there is a strong parallel to MKs. When we get together we often experience a similar phenomenon. The shared points of reference, similar values, and, yes, ease of communication. We like hanging out together.
FA was a school for MKs. Presumably that meant we should all be comfortable with each other while holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Well not quite. There were still the groups, the cliques, the in-groups, the group, but mostly different friend groups with shared interests or similar personalities. It was still a school after all. But all these things occurred within a shared cultural perspective. We were all MKs and FA was our enclave.
If I am truly honest (and I will try to be) I had no problem with this at the time. It was where my friends were, which meant that, in an age when mobile phones and internet usage wasn’t widespread, it was where a lot my social life was organized. It felt comfortable; we had our own slang, followed our own internal cultural cues and, it could be argued, spoke with our own accent*. With the daily bible class, weekly chapel and regular special speakers and spiritual emphasis weeks the school was also my church and my youth group.
I even had a set of rules to follow—a code of conduct I had to sign before attending (although I believe this is no longer the case). I can’t remember the exact wording but it involved a list of things we promised not to do. Smoking, drinking alcohol and taking illegal drugs were all part of it but so was dancing (my parents found that a bit odd), watching “inappropriate” movies (a vague enough term that could exclude whatever you watched) and several other, seemingly innocuous, activities. I was well into High School before I realized that some of these stranger rules were made to appeal to the most conservative missionary families.
Now it makes sense that the school would want to enforce behavior around on-campus or school-related activity behavior. However these rules applied to off-campus socializing, home life, private time over the weekends—all of it. As a result a lot of my behavior was dictated not by the country I lived in and its cultural values but by the school I went to (and, to be fair, my parents also had a say). Kids definitely rebelled but that just reinforced the fact they were also part of this bubble—they weren’t rebelling against mainstream Filipino society but the rules and culture of the school they went to. In the end, whether it was met with compliance or disobedience, the students of FA had the school’s rules of behavior whether they were at school or not.
This FA culture bubble became a self-reinforcing system. For example: I didn’t need to speak Tagalog (the main Filipino language in Manila) at school, but by not speaking it my comprehension dwindled and, with it, my connection to the wider Philippine culture. Yet my friends were all foreigners like me so it didn’t matter that I only spoke English. Of course this ensured that making friends who weren’t at my school would be near impossible. This just further enforced our sense of being separate from the country we lived in.
This separation from our host nation combined with the separation from our various passport countries often led so a feeling of cultural superiority. We would often look down on the aspects of Filipino culture that annoyed us or we found ignorant. Embarrassingly, I remember mocking or judging any trend, activity or attitude that, in my mind, was inferior to the “proper” way of doing things. At the same time we were more than happy to judge those back in our home countries as ignorant and backwards for, once again, not doing things in the “proper” way.
Of course we learned to keep these views to ourselves—it turns out people don’t like hearing why their culture isn’t all it can be from whiny kids. My parents, like most missionaries, certainly didn’t encourage these attitudes either. Also, who were we to judge what the proper and right ways of doing things were? In most instances they were just the things that bothered or annoyed us.
In reality the only difference between us and any other kid is that we genuinely believed we had a superior perspective. After all we weren’t mono-cultured, untraveled, narrow-minded people. We were in a unique position to see further and discern better. We weren’t shackled to a single culture. We had special insight. Our hubris prevented us from realizing that, like all outsider groups, we had merely joined another mono-culture albeit a smaller one.
Before I conclude I should stress that section 4 represents a huge generalization and is based on my perception of situation at the time. If you happen to be a former (or current) FA student and feel that you are unfairly labelled as being part of this enclave that is totally fine. Some kids were very in touch with the people and culture of the Philippines and you might have been one of them. Some kids had almost no contact with anything Filipino, where even a lot of the food they ate was sourced from their home country. My take on all of this is based on how different my MK experience became once I started attending FA.
While there were positives of being with others like us we were also prone to hold an “us vs them” mentality when it came to the other cultures we interacted with. For some kids this caused problems when they tried to fit in back in their home countries since they never felt as connected with people as they had back in school. I know some of them personally. Others were never satisfied where they lived. While they were in the Philippines they couldn’t wait to leave and once they had left they couldn’t wait to return. It is this sense of not being at ease that encouraged the FA culture and the FA culture, in turn, exacerbated the feelings of unease.
*A non-distinct American accent that could not be attributed to any region or state. Some former students might disagree with me on this point but I doubt they are reading this post, so feel free to assume my assertion is 100% correct.
A few years ago, a childhood friend died. Her name is unimportant, so I’ll refer to her as Sally. Sally was 35, so the death was quite unexpected. She had gone into the hospital for a medical procedure relating to her diabetes and died there. Just a routine medical procedure, and the result was the loss of a good person.
Sally and I lived across the street from each other and our families had attended the same church when we were little, as in 5 or 6 years old. Sally’s family moved to another part of the city when she was 8 or 9 and we had infrequent contact which each other; our mothers were the ones who kept in touch.
The church we both attended was a GARB church. When Sally moved, her family attended a sister GARB church and that is where she kept her membership until she died. From all accounts, Sally was semi-active in her church and brought people to services on many occasions.
My family left the first church after my dad realized that the people weren’t truly wanting to live separated lives. We then attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for 5 or 6 years. After a falling out with this church over the same thing, we moved to another IFB church that had Missionary Baptist roots. Over time, this church fell into the Sovereign Grace/Calvinistic line of belief.
While attending IFB and Calvinistic churches, I learned of a God who hates sinners. I also learned that I was pretty lucky to have either a) accepted Jesus, or b) been chosen by God. Either way, I was part of a select few who were truly saved. Everyone else worshiped false gods and didn’t truly understand salvation.
Fast forward to Sally’s death. I was in the middle of my deconversion when Sally died. I knew I wasn’t a Christian anymore; I was still learning why and figuring out how to put it into words. A family friend called me one day and said that Sally had died. Even though I hadn’t seen her in years, I was heartbroken; she had been my best friend at one time. I called her mom and found out when the funeral was.
The funeral was held at Sally’s church. This was a church I had been to a few times when Sally and I were kids. Walking into the church was like being brought back in time. It was pretty unreal. When the service started, the singing was uplifting and the people were as happy as they could be. This was in stark contrast to the Calvinistic and IFB funerals I was used to attending. The people spoke about Sally and how she loved her church, lived her faith, and showed it by being a good person. Again, quite a contrast to my people who showed their faith by looking down on sinners and calling everyone else evil.
When the pastor spoke, he told the story of an unfamiliar person. He spoke of a God who actually cared about people, this being the reason he sent his son to die. He was concerned for the entire world, not just a select few. He also spoke of a Savior who actually cared about us and was understanding when we failed. Overall, it was a positive sermon. I could actually see why Sally stayed with that church and that message.
I know that you can get almost any belief out of the Bible and then use select verses to support that belief. My people found verses about anger and hatred and used them to beat me up. Sally’s people found verses about love and compassion and kept people that way. (I’m guessing they didn’t teach too much from the Old Testament.)
My point is this, that day I was exposed to a different Savior. The same Jesus, but presented so differently as to be two separate people. I wonder if I had been exposed to the kinder, gentler Savior, would I have still deconverted?
I was born in a liberal yet religious Hindu family. I am a ritualistic person and I believe in idol- worship, going to temples and in holy chants. Thankfully, I have always been open to embrace the goodness of other religions and since my elder sister studied in a convent, Jesus Christ made an early entry into my life.
Christians were probably the most forward people in our society when I was growing up. Ladies wore skirts, went to church during menstruation, something which is not allowed both in Hinduism as well as Islam. I chose to read Bible, only because of this reason as I could read it all 30 days of the month, without the fear and the guilt of being unholy during some days. I was impressed by New Testament but wondered why do Protestants not worship Mother Mary? The mother has to be divine to produce a divine offspring and thus with times got attracted more towards Catholicism. I was impressed by their idea of service, saw the great work missionaries were doing and marveled that why were other religions not doing so much?
Much later in my life, I was exposed to the conversions of tribal and poor in remote parts of my country. I saw the speeches of great orators who performed miracles and the crowd that gathered. This time I was not impressed as I could see through the façade. I read more literature and realized that sex is considered to be a sin and that is the main reason humans are considered to be sinners. Gosh, the religion was turning out to be regressive. I read stories on how women were burnt alive as they were considered to be having sex with the devil, an allegation they could not counter
Today if someone asks me about my faith in Christ, I would accept, more than that I believe in Mother Mary coz being a Hindu I believe in the divine power of mother and I realize that Christ has nothing to do with the services and conversions that take place in his name. He would listen to my prayer and answer even if I am a Hindu, I need not convert to attract him more.
I have a firm faith and belief that God exists whether he is Christ or Allah or Lord Ganesha, I don’t know but who so ever he is, he is above all these petty differences.
This is the sixty-fourth 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.
Gaze at the night sky See the blanket of stars Expanding through space and time Suddenly you can’t breathe And you wonder why you’re alive And who you were created by The answer stares back at you Though you don’t realize
We are all stardust We are all stardust Science has shown us We are all stardust
Mysterious and beautiful Violent and cruel It’s amazing how the universe Is so much like you When it’s time for stars to die They explode across the sky And you would not exist If it was not for this
We are all stardust We are all stardust Truth is within us We are all stardust
Warning: a good deal of my thoughts and feelings on all this are quite raw. If I come across that way, I’m not meaning to demean or offend. I do my best to be polite. I can’t help but feel I am taking an awful risk. It’s with a great deal of trepidation that I get into this more than on a surface level. The images of children stumbling and millstones have a permanent imprint on my mind. But, I think everyone here can handle it. Besides that, I’m not encouraging anyone to follow my ways or path–you are responsible for yourself, your faith, your life with or without god. But I do–and you should–proceed with caution.
I am a product, not of IFB/Evangelical fundamentalism, but of Campbellite/Church of Christ fundamentalism. I left that for liberal Evangelicalism, only to find the grass wasn’t greener. I am currently in the long, drawn-out process of leaving the Faith altogether. But, I will admit “faith” is something I’m not so sure I am leaving. I don’t know, anymore.
I admit right off the bat that I am not an atheist. I am agnostic, but lean toward some kind of Jesus pursuit. I no longer believe in any inerrant bible or literal “word of God”, but I still think the Bible is a valuable document to carefully read and consider, in the same way the Tao Te Ching or Das Kapital are valuable to read and consider. I doubt I would be considered “Christian” in most senses, anymore.
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, the firstborn to parents who were at least third-generation Campbellites. As such I grew up in the non-institutional, non-instrumental churches of Christ. If you know the history of that “movement”, you will know that says enough about the theological baggage I carry around.
Campbellite baptism is how I was taught to approach “getting saved”, which was always separated from believing. I had always believed, always knew Jesus, even from childhood; until now I never knew a time of “unbelief.” That did not mean I was saved, however. “Faith and works” were always held in tension, and neither were sufficient to get me into Heaven. My baptism sprang from a fear of Hell, but it also developed from teenage angst about growing up in the church. I relented under the typical church pressures, but my conversion was sincere even if less than fully “educated.” An argument can be made that no discernible change in life resulted. Looking back, that is a significant note to keep in my back pocket.
I met my wife in high school. She was a profoundly unhappy girl and I vowed to be the one person in town who would not add to her sadness, if not be the one to make her happy. There was just one problem: she was a Catholic. Again, if you know anything about the Churches of Christ, me even dating her was a mighty scandal.
That is what marrying my wife made us. After we both graduated from college, we moved to the Detroit area, far away from our Colorado home. Incidentally, we lost two children, and I nearly lost my wife. What I also lost was my armored perspective on good and evil, right and wrong. We moved back home soon after and had our first [living] child. We then, almost immediately, lost my mother-in-law. Our firstborn was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age 5, as was I one year later–as an adult. Gain and loss have became prominent themes in our life together. These events solidified our existence as misfits, and life soon became an exercise in dealing with the unmet expectations of others; not least of which were the expectations of other Christians.
What I was learning was that my family were–and are–the greatest gifts I have been given. I discovered they are more valuable than even my “salvation.” My family, and not the church, taught me about love. Everyone else taught me about expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them.
I am an engineer. For a time, I worked construction, which was not the industry for which I was educated. Once again I was a misfit, a fish out of water. Years of this lead to a restlessness and anxiety, feelings of being trapped with no other options. The funny thing was that my time in that job was a sort of parable of my wider life. At the time I mistakenly thought it was a “faith-lesson” strengthening my Christianity. Big mistake. I did learn what faith truly was, and it was not what the church told me it was.
The Hebrew Bible talks of the refiner’s fire. My branch of engineering deals with steel-making, so blacksmithing has deep root in my consciousness. There are no miracles in the blacksmith’s world, only long, arduous work. The blacksmith doesn’t “believe” or “pray” for a result, he takes his hammer, anvil, and a very hot fire and beats on a piece of steel until it is a useful tool. It takes hours, days, or weeks to create something of use. Only after hard work does his effort bear any fruit.
Similarly, Jesus talked of moving mountains with only a little faith. Christianity has left us with the mistaken notion that the right faith would allow us to instantly throw that trillion-ton pile of rocks and trees into the ocean with a wave of our hands. Or, that the right faith would bring us untold riches and health. Life has taught me otherwise. Moving mountains takes faith, alright, but the kind of faith that picks up the shovel and scoops the dirt day after day, week after week, year after year. A mountain is moved one rock at a time. I know this because I watched it happen on a job site: one shovel, one bucket, one dump truck, one day at a time. It was boring and monotonous. And it surely was not instant.
Finally, Jesus talked about building on rock and not sand. This was the easy one to learn. Any house or other structure worth its money is built on a solid foundation. What is the foundation of fundamentalism? What is it but the sand of inerrancy, or the shakiness of one literal, modern interpretation of a collection of ancient texts. Even the “eyewitness” accounts of Jesus of Nazareth are rife with corrupted and uncorroborated evidence. Christianity, as it stands now, is built on a surprisingly shifty foundation. Not a good start to building a life.
Learning these lessons has shown me, in the here and now, that I generally live life in tension; I am holding contradictory positions. It is not a good situation for an engineer to hold to an existence of cognitive dissonance. So, now I’m wavering.
Where I’m At
In a manner of speaking, I have no issue with the people of the church, although I haven’t been to meetings in many months. I am happy with most of the people, however the church is, and all churches are, bound by a system and spends too much energy and treasure to feed itself. Having so much stock invested leads to rules and expectations on people that aren’t really justified. From what I read and understand in the Bible, the church was meant to be about a community in relationship. But, so much of the activity and program of church makes authentic relationships nearly impossible.
But none of that is the driving issue with me. I might be able to live and cope with those idiosyncrasies. Coming face to face with some of the things happening in my life–random, causeless things–has caused doubts to take center stage, doubts I’ve always harbored and tried to work out on the back burner. As it is now, I’m skeptical of nearly everything–church, theology, family priority, god itself. I feel like I’m watching the deconstruction of everything I’ve ever believed, hoping to be left with enough to rebuild, or to be convinced rebuilding is worth the energy, or even necessary.
[Warning: severe understatement ahead.] Generally speaking, the church doesn’t deal with doubt very well. Just try to question a pastor’s decision, debate the elders’ authority, resist any authority, doubt the Bible, or doubt an agenda or program. Try questioning the small group ministry and see where it gets you. Simply asking the question, any question, gets you branded. This doesn’t even consider questions about the arguably more important topics of doctrines and practice. Individual friends, even while uncomfortable, will help you entertain doubts, to a point. But when the corporate body is involved, doubt is quashed, because it can’t be managed or controlled.
I doubt. I question. I doubt well-established, deeply held, fundamental things. From the time I was a boy, as far back as I can remember, I have never really doubted god. For the years that I’ve known and learned about god, I had never doubted who he was or that he somehow loved me. That is, not until now.
I suppose the spiritual growth process requires doubt at some time. It seems that in doubt, faith and perseverance must grow to overcome it. Still, when these doubts came, it brought a tremor deep within that I did not expect. It has brought fits of very intense emotion. It has been difficult to keep my composure when confronted with my doubts.
Over the past few years, I have been exposed to new–at least new to me–theological hypotheses. What they are is not the point, and I don’t wish to argue their merits or faults here. Their effects on me, however, I need to work out. Having believed a certain thing about god for so long, I have agonized over having that foundation cracked, even if just a little or just in perception. After half a lifetime of being quite sure of what I believed, that assurance has been shattered, and worse, may yet be proven to be based on something completely false. To someone like me, who is comfortable with facts laid out in an orderly, black and white fashion, this is the height of uncomfortable.
While I don’t like to call it “panic”, a sort of core panic has set in. Admittedly, my first reaction was one of anger. I felt lied to and duped. To some extent, I still do. I re-read scripture passages, along with a few new sources of information and I begin to see all sides as having some merit in their positions. A deeper depression sets in, and then harder questions rise up. “Which is it?”, I ask myself. “Both?” “Neither?” “Does it matter?” In my black and white mind, there must be an answer. What is truth?
I think of Job… what an awful thing to happen to one person. Not only did he lose almost everything, his wife and three friends were of no comfort. Nevertheless, god steps in to end the argument. God, interestingly enough, lectures Job on speaking where he has no knowledge. Funny—the whole time Job is crying out to god as his final arbiter, calling for vindication—he receives a stern reprimand. All the while, Job gets no answers to who was right in the final theological analysis. None. Job and his friends are left wondering. And so am I. It seems everything was set aright, for the most part, for Job after all. But what was the point of having to suffer so overwhelmingly? Was it just so god could prove a debate point?
If the experiences of Job teach me anything (assuming that god is indeed benevolent), it is that god doesn’t call us to nail down our theology to be acceptable to it. He calls us to trust it. All of our understandings are feeble. This isn’t to say truth is not important. It is to say that god holds truth, not us, and not me. Therefore, we need to trust him and not scholars, theologians, preachers, or ourselves.
Such is wholly unacceptable to some people. I get that. And, it is all predicated on a god who is there to trust in the first place. What if it isn’t? Can “God” be reasonably presupposed, even with the claims of the Cloud of Witnesses?
I can’t really nail down a single event which has brought all of this to the forefront. I could name several candidates, but how exactly they fit in would take volumes to describe and tie together. The nearer ones would be easier than those far off, but only relatively. Whether it was a grandfather’s declaration that I wouldn’t amount to much, or a pastor’s desertion of the flock in his charge—or any of a thousand more incidents and accidents—all had their part to play in my derailed faith.
Even so, if I had to venture a guess at a common thread it would be this: cognitive dissonance. That is, that which I believed or wanted to believe was not what I saw or thought I saw. The truths I held were not what in reality was or is. Mutually exclusive ideas cannot be true at the same time.
Over the past few years I have been dealing, in my mind, with the dichotomy of how life should be versus how life is. I am unable to confirm the quote, but Mel Blanc is purported to have said, when comparing his characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “Bugs is the ideal we all try measure up to, but Daffy is who we see in the mirror every morning.” That seems to fit it into the nutshell I’m talking about. Similarly, the “Christian life” is such a lofty ideal, but when compared to reality, it looks like a sham.
Is there any hope? Society surrounding me leads me to believe not. Depending on which preacher you sit in front of on Sunday mornings, no matter the platitudes and “gracious” language (if you’re fortunate enough to get even that), the answer is still no. For every fellow addict who understands and knows the struggle, there are 99 “good” citizens who deny any issues of their own and stand in judgment of your law-breaking.
So, I’m left with a choice. I can be honest with myself and everyone, taking the barbs and arrows from a society and a religion who don’t understand and don’t really care to understand, or I don the mantra of the Wizard, hoping to distract all Oz from the reality of who I am. It feels like the only way is the wrong way.
I really don’t know what to do with this. I haven’t been taught to deal with it. It has always been that I don’t measure up, and I have to measure up before god will love me, but it’s impossible for me to measure up. To a certain extent, I have been convinced there is no hope. Go to any church, and likely you will find there are rules and expectations before you are accepted as “one of us.” Churches are not the only culprit, society at large has the same expectation—do what we say or else.
But, if you boil down the story of the Bible, that is not what god seems to be saying, at least that isn’t how I read it. No matter what I think of god and his interaction (or lack thereof) in this screwed up world, the book says that through Jesus somehow things are different. The man behind the curtain can be exposed for who and what he is, and god accepts him… accepts me. He will deal with me kindly and fairly.
I don’t know about you, but I never hear that in the churches I’ve been associated with to this point. Spend a single day in the secular world and you will find this, too, is an anathema. I’m only now getting the whole thing through my own thick, judgmental skull. The thing is, I still don’t know what to do with it.
There is no point in running down the list of things I still believe or things I don’t believe anymore. The details of the jots and tittles have caused enough madness. The best I can give you at this point is that I am agnostic about the whole thing. I simply don’t know. Further, I’m skeptical of anyone who claims they do know. I’m skeptical that some things are even knowable.
If you want to know what I believe, watch me. See what I do and how I act. That will tell you all you need to know. Maybe the reason there was no change in my life at my conversion was that I didn’t really believe it in the first place.
I was and continue to be skeptical of any Sunday School teacher or pastor from my past. I know they don’t know. And here I am: a walking contradiction. For all my years, this is what I have heard: Sure, god loves me and sent Jesus to save me, but… BUT… if I don’t ________, then [insert any one of the typical religious threats here]. For all my years, I have tried to conform and do as I was told. It has gotten me nowhere. I’m still the same person, with the same personality issues, the same social ills, the same faults, and the same sins.
I can’t continue down the same path. I’m not sure I even want to, anymore. I can’t keep the inevitable at bay.
My conclusion is that I’m done. I can’t do it. I have never been able to do it. All I hear is, “You need to do more… do better… don’t do that… do this… change… pull your weight… contribute… make a difference… obey…”
So, I’m not going to try, anymore.
A well-written deconvert to atheism explained his experience in this way:
“These are the three things that changed my thinking: a major crisis, plus new information that caused me to see things differently, minus a sense of a loving, caring Christian community.” –From John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, Prometheus, 2008.
I mention this quote not to say that all of this must turn out, in the end, as me turning to atheism. It is more of a warning to myself that I am three-thirds of the way down that path Loftus describes.
To this point I have found only one fact I can rely on: love. While that fact carries a lot of weight in and of itself, it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions I’m haunted by. It is a hopeful start, even so. I consider love to be the chief end of life; love of others, primarily. Life is too difficult to go through without a friend to help along the way. Jesus supposedly spoke of love, but his followers show an appalling lack of it. This is the chief reason I have left the church and Christian religion: so few of Jesus’ so-called “disciples” actually love anyone. I don’t blame Jesus, I blame those who do what they do in his name. I still believe in love, even if I don’t know if I believe in god.
That, of course, could all change. In all of this, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve told you the story, for the most part. From as early as I can remember I have felt like a misfit, not meeting family, friends’, and others’ expectations. Well, my response to it all has always been, “I’ll show them.” I was driven to prove myself to any- and everyone. High school valedictorian, smallest defensive end in the league, if not the State (All-Conference). Graduate from the best engineering school in the country in 4 years. Aced the class the prof said I had no business taking. Save the company I work for millions per year. Professional Engineer Certification in a 3rd discipline I was not educated in. Prove my boss wrong. Defy church leadership because–damn it–they’re wrong. Etcetera, and etcetera, blah, blah and blah. Then all of it came crashing down.
No matter how good, right, or correct any of that stuff is, I only did it to justify myself. My complaints toward anyone who opposed me, criticized me or didn’t “like” me was not one of rightness, but of not validating me, my ego. Like many before, I didn’t like myself, so I sought to force everyone else to do so as compensation. “I’m the smartest guy in the room; I’m right and you can’t deny it.”
I am who I am. That is enough. Jesus told his followers, “Love your enemies.” Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
I figure, now, I just need to let it all go. I don’t need to show anything to anyone. I just need to love and forgive, and not grasp at those I find around me. Then I can let the rest of it fall where it does. That doesn’t answer any questions, but maybe in the end that is the beginning.
A local Evangelical Christian recently put signs along the highway that said, Want the Truth? Read the Bible.
Evidently, he didn’t think an atheist photographer might be driving by and take a picture. Funny how other signs come into the picture that perhaps change the intended meaning of the sign. WRONG WAY.
Wrong way, indeed. Too bad I didn’t have a felt marker with me. I would have marked out THE BIBLE. Want the truth? READ. By all means, read the Bible. It is the best tool for turning a Christian into an atheist. But don’t stop there. Keep reading.
Regular readers know that I battle chronic illness and unrelenting pain from the moment I get up until the time I fitfully fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. For those of you who are new readers, let me give you the short version of my medical resume:
I have Fibromyalgia, which causes pervasive fatigue and muscle pain. I also have nerve pain in my face, hands, and thighs, loss of motor function and strength, osteoarthritis in every joint, including my back, frequent loss of bladder control, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Since late last year I’ve gone through numerous tests in an attempt to figure out why I am losing weight and frequently don’t feel like eating. An endoscopic ultrasound found a lesion on my pancreas and enlarged lymph glands. So far, they have not turned cancerous. I’ve been treated twice this year for squamous cell carcinoma (hip and lip) and several years ago I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I have a labrum tear in my right shoulder and joint damage in my left shoulder, feet, and knees. I require the use of a wheelchair and/or a cane to get around.
This is my life. There’s little I can do to change it. I hunker down and try to live the best way I know how. It’s been a decade since I’ve had what I call a good day. These days, a good day is one where the pain is manageable and I can work in the office for a few hours and maybe go to a football game with my sons. A bad day is one where narcotic pain medications do little to ameliorate my pain and I am left curled up in bed wishing I were dead. Depression is the dark passenger in my life, and there are times when I fight the desire to end the suffering and pain.
I know there is no cure on the horizon, no magical drug that will make everything better. I’ve been tested, retested, and tested again, so much so that I glow in the dark. I have blood work at least six times a year. My last blood draw required seven vials of blood, and that was after the phlebotomist stuck me three times trying to find one of my deep veins that would give enough flow to fill seven tubes. Despite all these tests, I remain, to some degree, an enigma to doctors, a patient with symptoms that don’t neatly fit into a specific diagnosis box.
As a skeptic, atheist, and humanist, I accept that life is what it is. I know that a deity isn’t going to magically heal me, and I’ve concluded neither are doctors. I have two choices in life; either endure whatever life bring my way or roll over and die. So far, I’ve chosen to endure, Yes, I hope for better days and I certainly desire for the good days to outnumber the bad days. But, regardless of my thoughts and desires, the die of my life is cast. In eighteen months I’ll be 60 years old. I’ve lived a decade longer than my father, who died of a stroke at age 49, and five years longer than my mother, who killed herself 23 years ago. I’ve watched death rob me of those I love, and I have little doubt that death is lurking in the shadow of my life, ready to claim me for its own. Death, like life, is certain, and as anyone who is chronically ill can tell you, the prospect of death is an ever-present reality.
Yet, I can have delusional moments where I pretend I’m not sick. There are times I become quite depressed as Polly goes off to work each day. As a man who was taught that the husband is supposed to be the breadwinner, I find it emotionally and mentally painful to watch the most important person in my life go to work every day so we can have a roof over our head, food to eat, and all the trappings of a typical Midwestern lifestyle. I tell myself that Polly was a stay-at-home mom for many years and now our roles are reversed, but I still wish I could be the one kissing my spouse goodbye and saying I love you as I walk out the door for work. I know this will never be the case, but I can, at times, trick myself into believing that I can once again be Bruce Before Illness and Pain.
The chronically ill are known for convincing themselves that things are not as they seem. Put mind over matter, well-wishers tell the sick person. I’ve tried just such an approach many times over the years. Sickness be gone, pain depart, I say to myself. I can do anything I want to do. The only thing standing my way is me! Try as I might to convince myself that a wonderful new day has dawned, it’s not long before reality slaps me up the side of the head and asserts its rule over my life.
I continue to scan the help wanted ads, looking for the perfect job for a broken down, incapacitated old man. Every once in awhile, I’ll apply for this or that job, thinking that the prospective employer will be sure to call. Rarely does the phone ring. Recently, I applied for a job that required 2-5 hours every other week stocking display counters at the local Meijer. I sent the company my resume, and a week or so later they contacted me for an interview. On the day of my interview, I made sure I looked my best, donning a crisply pressed shirt and dockers. Not wanting to give off the cripple vibe, I left my cane at home and uprightly walked into Meijer for the interview. I was sure that this was the perfect job for me. Just enough work to restore a bit of my self-esteem and provide added income for our household budget.
The interview went well. I generally interview well. Having hired hundreds of people in my day, I know what an interviewer is looking for. I was pleasant, made eye contact, and asked the interviewer questions about herself, the company, and the job. She seemed to be excited about the prospect of hiring someone like me. Or perhaps, I just thought she was excited. Regardless, I left the interview thinking I would soon be stocking batteries at the local Meijer. A few days later I learned the company chose someone else for the job.
Not being chosen for an inconsequential, low paying job resulted in a weeks of depression and thoughts of suicide. Try as she might, Polly couldn’t rescue me and all my counselor could do was keep me holding on to the proverbial knot at the end of life’s rope. In time, the dark clouds lifted and I was able to put the rejection behind me.
I can convince myself that I can still work like I did before 1997, the year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I’ll convince myself that I can stand on my feet for hours at a time, even though I can rarely stand for more than an hour. Just shopping for groceries requires me leaning on a shopping cart, and by the time I leave the store my body is screaming in pain.
My body never lies, but I do. I lie to myself, and I often lie to Polly. I’ll tell Polly that I want to apply for a job at this or that store and she’ll give that look I’ve see uncounted times before. But I can do it, I tell her. I won’t know until I try, right? The love of my life lets me drift on the sea of my delusion, knowing that I will sooner or later realize I can’t do what the job requires me to do. She never looks down on me or chides me for trying the impossible. She knows, based on almost 40 years of loving me, that I am a proud man, a man who has a hard time embracing his life as it now is.
Sometimes, I will inflict greater pain on myself, refusing to give in to what my body demands of me. Last Friday, my sons and I attended a local high school football game. The night before I got about 4 hours of sleep, and wisdom dictated that I cancel my plans to go to the game. So much for wisdom. I went to the game and endured three hours of being battered by people walking up and down the aisle. A man in back of me, thinking he still was in high school, spent the night cheering loudly and stomping his feet. Every time he stomped his feet my body rippled with painful shock waves. By the time the last touchdown was scored, I was ready to murder the man where he stood.
After the game was over, I haltingly made my way down to the ground. This particular school decided to build its football stadium a long distance from the parking lot, and I wondered if I was going to be able to make it back to the car. With head down, teeth gritted, I walked toward the car. My sons, still in their prime, quickly, even with grandchildren in tow, outdistanced me, and soon they were yards ahead of me. They stopped, allowing me to catch up, only to find me straggling behind a few minutes later.
During the game, we had been talking about Polly’s parents, her Dad’s upcoming hip replacement, and their unwillingness to change their way of life. Pride was their problem, we decided. As I walked towards the car, a woman in a golf cart stopped and asked if I would like a ride to the car. Everything in my being said YES, but pride turned her offer of help away with a, no, I’m fine. Thank you. A few minutes later another woman in a golf cart stopped and again asked if I needed a ride. I gave her the same answer I gave the first good Samaritan. My oldest son, watching my obstinate denial of reality, laughed and reminded me of my own pride. I chuckled, and then continued on my way to the car.
My son,of course, was right. It’s pride, the desire to rise above my illness and pain, that often brings more pain and debility. Try as I might to see my life as it is and embrace my new reality, I continue to have times when I attempt to conjure up the Bruce that existed before illness and pain took from me much of what made me a man. I look at old photographs and weep, lamenting a life that once was. And then I dry my eyes and remind myself that nothing I do can bring back that which is lost. The best I can do is embrace life as it is. I have a beautiful wife, six wonderful children, and ten awesome grandchildren. Surely, I’m blessed with that which many people would give anything for, I remind myself. I can choose to lament what’s been lost or rejoice over what I still have.
Today, I rejoice. Now, where’s the employment section of the paper?
When I tell people about the death of my infant daughter, they often respond that she is in heaven. They tell me that she is an angel now. They tell me that she’s with God. But as an atheist, these words have never brought me any comfort.
My daughter was born three years ago. I went into pre-term labor at 22 weeks gestation, and try as they might, the doctors could not keep her here with us. Her short life, just eight hours long, has marked my life and my husband’s life deeply. Margaret Hope (or Maggie, as we refer to her) continues to exist with us in her own way, but this persistence has absolutely nothing to do with god or Jesus or angels or any other specific afterworld. This is what works for us as parents. It’s what works for about two percent of the U.S. population who currently identify as atheists, and for about 20 percent who are agnostic or unaffiliated with any particular set of beliefs.
Being an atheist in a believer’s world can be difficult at times, especially when some of the more fervently religious are close family or friends. It’s even more daunting when faced with grief and death. Christians believe that when we die, we either go to heaven or hell. Many, of course, believe babies go to heaven because they are, well, babies. When our daughter died, my husband requested to have our baby baptized, fearing in some way for her soul, a remnant of his Catholic upbringing. There was no time for a traditional baptism while she was alive but her NICU doctor performed the rite for her while we held her in our arms for the first time, our tiny, frail, lifeless daughter whose eyes never even got a chance to see. It felt bizarre to me, but I allowed it because my husband was suffering and it seemed to bring him some comfort. Later, as reality hit harder, he would lose all faith as I had done…
…Those around us did their best to offer words of comfort, but after a while, I became tired and even resentful of the comments about my daughter needing to go be with Jesus. Worse still, I isolated myself so I wouldn’t need to hear their “comforting” words because all they did was make me feel worse. Like so many other non-believers, I cannot wrap my head around the idea that there is some supreme being that allows these sorts of things to happen, commands them to happen. Being a bereaved parent is hard enough, but being one when you don’t believe in god is something else altogether…
…Agnostics and atheists understand why people have faith. We understand it brings them comfort. At times, I wish I could believe that my daughter is watching over me right now while enjoying a beautiful and eternal afterlife. But that’s just not what I believe. Instead, I imagine her in all sorts of places. Maybe her energy shot out into the stars. Perhaps some molecule of her is dancing around on Jupiter. Other times, I think about much of her remaining in my heart, as science tells us part of every child’s DNA remains forever with her mother, a fact that does bring me great peace.
Maggie’s physical remains are in a plastic, white box, swaddled in her hospital baby blanket, and placed inside my bedroom closet, still waiting for the day I am willing to part with them. I really don’t know what happened to her soul, if such things even exist. And while it may comfort you to say to me that my daughter is in heaven, it does absolutely nothing for me or for the countless others who don’t subscribe to your brand of faith — and that is okay.
You can read the entire article here. Priscilla Blossom’s blog can be found here.
This is the sixty-third 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.
This is my open letter, this is something to remember, I won’t be buried before my time, I’m not searching for forever. I’ve got my eyes opened wide.
I’ve been searching under rubble from the past, just looking for a reason to make your life last, No need to look skyward for you to find hope, no need for redemption to be saved from the rope, fuck no.
I’m not searching the sky for a reason to live ’cause I found beauty right here and found the passion to give, so let me give you my heart, let me give you my tears, let me give you my life, let me give you my fears.
Just so you can hold on and sing while I do, sing these words out so loud, like I sing them for you.
This is your open letter, something to remember, we can still keep on fighting even though life is not forever.
This is my open letter, this is something to remember, this is my open letter, I’m not searching for forever.