Tag Archive: Agnosticism

“What’s the Point of Jesus Anyway?” by ObstacleChick

all about jesus

A guest post by ObstacleChick

A recent research survey from Barna Group shows that more members of Generation Z — people born 1999-2015 — than any other generation consider themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. Fully thirty-five percent of Generation Z members self-identify as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. By comparison, thirty percent of millennials, thirty percent of Generation X, and twenty-six percent of Baby Boomers self-report within this group. Additionally, thirteen-percent of Generation Z respondents identify as atheist as opposed to seven percent of millennials.

Many have speculated as to why so many within the younger generations are abandoning identification with or the practice of religion, and there are many factors at play. With the widespread availability of internet access, media access, and social media, people are able to connect with others from a variety of backgrounds from around the world. Anyone with a smartphone can look up any information on demand. And interestingly, Generation Z are more savvy when it comes to understanding that much of what they see on social media is fantasy – there are filter apps, apps for changing one’s appearance, lighting, etc. As my eighteen-year-old daughter says, there is absolutely no reason anyone would post an unflattering picture of themselves on social media – you can make any photo, any selfie, look the way you want it to look. Many in this generation understand that nothing is as it seems and everything is about marketing.

I asked my kids what they and their friends think about religion. As background, I grew up in Tennessee in a Southern Baptist family and attended a fundamentalist evangelical Christian school from grades five through twelve. I was taught young earth creationism and was thoroughly indoctrinated with the fundamentalist evangelical doctrines of salvation (virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for our sins), inerrancy of the scriptures and literal truth of the Bible, original sin, and so forth. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, which means he was baptized as an infant, received first communion at age seven or eight, attended church sporadically (mostly on Christmas and Easter), sometimes gave up something for Lent, didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, and didn’t know what kind of Christian he was when I asked him early in our relationship. His family members were raised Catholic, but many barely attend mass, and the millennial cousins don’t practice the religion at all. My husband and I attended a progressive Christian church until our kids were about seven and five years old, and other than the occasional funeral or friend’s bar or bat mitzvah, the kids haven’t attended a religious service since.

For geographical reference, we live in Bergen County, New Jersey, minutes from Manhattan. The school district that my kids attend is comprised of families from middle-class to wealthy socio-economic status. About thirty-five percent of the students are Asian (primarily Korean but also Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indian). Most students identify as Caucasian, and there are a handful of Latino and African American students. There are enough Jewish families in our district that the schools close on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My kids have a few classmates who are observant Muslim girls, choosing to wear the hijab. My kids know classmates who label themselves as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Jains, Hindu, Sikh, Protestant Christians (primarily progressive), and non-religious.

My son was born in 2002 and is sixteen years old. I asked him what his thoughts were about religion. His response: “Honestly, I don’t think about it much. I don’t need religion or want it, I don’t have an interest in finding out more about it, and I can’t see how my life would be improved by it. I don’t believe in any gods. I don’t remember attending church when I was little, and I remember we attended some funerals and my friend’s bar mitzvah service. If you want to be a Muslim, or a Christian, or a Catholic, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, you go for it and do you. Do it on your own terms, but I don’t need to be involved in it.” I asked him if people have asked him what his religion was, and he said yes. His response is, “We aren’t doing religion right now,” and he said they don’t ask him more about it. I asked him if he thought people tried to force their religion into politics, or if he thought they should or shouldn’t. He said, “I think some people try to force their religion on others because they can’t help it. They believe a certain way and they think other people should follow their ideas. They don’t understand what separation of church and state means even though we learn it in history class. They are so wrapped up in what they think is right and wrong that they try to get others to do things their way too.” I asked him if his friends practice religion regularly, and he said it varies. One friend’s family is devoutly Catholic and won’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that doesn’t stop my son from ordering the most meat-laden meal at Taco Bell in front of his friend. As my son said, “His religious food rules are his issue, not mine.”

My eighteen-year-old daughter is taking an English course called World Mythology and Archetypes in Literature. I didn’t realize how little my kids knew about religious stories until one night my daughter said, “I just don’t get the point of Jesus. I mean, he’s dead, so what’s the big deal about him? I said so in class today, and several people agreed with me.” (I nearly fell out of my chair). I informed her that many Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives in heaven. She said, “Seriously? People actually believe that? I thought they knew that was just a story. So for the sake of argument, what does Jesus do now?” I told her that people pray to him for things – healing, to find a close parking spot, to get an A on a test. She said, “So if they’re praying to Jesus what is God doing? I thought people prayed to God.” I told her that some Christian sects believe in the trinity, that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all God but separate too. She said, “That makes no sense. Is that like the three branches of government?” Another day she said, “Who is the dude who made everything bleed and then the frogs and flies came?” I almost choked on my tea at this description of Moses.

Bible stories do sound so ridiculous when explained from scratch to an unfamiliar audience. This is why religions work hard to indoctrinate and capture the four- to fourteen-year-old demographic. It is well known within the educational community that children’s critical analytical thinking skills and ability to understand abstract concepts are not developed until they reach their early teen years. That is why algebra is typically not taught before that age range, as children’s thought processes aren’t adequately developed. Therefore, it makes complete sense to indoctrinate children with religious concepts before they can analyze the concepts and make well-thought-out decisions.

But as Millennials, who are dropping out of religion, age and have children and do not introduce their children to religion, it is unlikely that those children will participate in religion. Proselytizing is not the most effective way to gain new religious members. Sure, religious groups may pick up a few new members in times of disaster (remember the increase in religious participation after 9/11) or through help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but by and large people aren’t knocking on church doors asking to be let in. And I doubt that all those Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who go around knocking on doors pick up very many members either.

Historically, people would remain throughout their lifetimes in the religion in which they were indoctrinated. I always thought that Catholicism was particularly brilliant with their concept of sacraments. The Church basically “owned” a person from cradle to grave. For centuries, the Catholic Church was the center of all village life, and it even controlled government. For one to be in good standing with the church, and thus in good standing with government, one needed to complete one’s sacraments and give money to the church. Whether one believed or not — and who knows, as most peasants were illiterate and masses were conducted in Latin — one was tied in to the community. But as things changed with the Reformation, with colonization of The New World, with the expansion of travel and technology, the church’s central role is rapidly diminishing in first world areas. The world in which my Generation Z children live is vastly different from the one my Baby Boomer parents inhabited. Very few of my Millennial family members and coworkers are raising their children in religion. Does that mean that religion is dying? One can hope . . .

On a side note, my kids don’t identify themselves as atheists. They just say they aren’t religious, or that they don’t practice a religion. My husband and I identify as agnostic atheists. While my children are atheists, they do not feel the need to label themselves as such. I don’t know if the difference is that my husband and I had a religious label at one point and feel the need to definitively differentiate ourselves from religion whereas our kids do not feel that need. What are your thoughts?

Losing My Religion by ObstacleChick

guest post

Guest Post  by ObstacleChick

Growing up in a small town on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, I knew that the vast majority of people belonged to some sort of evangelical Christian church. Those who did not were considered the worst type of heathens, ready targets for “witnessing” about the “Good News” of the Gospel. As Southern Baptists, we attended Sunday School and church services on Sunday morning, Training Union and prayer service on Sunday evening, and prayer service (and youth group for teens) on Wednesday evening.

After my parents separated when I was 3 years old, my mom and I moved in with my maternal grandparents and my great-grandmother. My grandparents were extremely active in the church — Grandpa was a deacon and Grandma taught women’s Sunday school and Women’s Missionary Union classes during the week. Grandma spent a couple of hours each day studying the Bible, referring to her small library of Bible concordances, Bible history books, and books by prominent Christian writers. My mother, a rarity as a divorced single woman in the early 1970s in our community, had a hard time fitting in at church, but work and church were her only places to make friends.

As a small child, I was taught all the Bible stories in Sunday school. I always had a lot of questions. When I was 5 years old my mom said I pestered her with so many skeptical questions about Santa Claus that she finally admitted Santa was a made-up story for children but not to tell the other kids who still believed. I was very pleased with myself. The same thing happened with the Bible stories — I asked lots of questions: how was it possible for Jonah to breathe while he was in the belly of the whale? What did the animals eat when they were on the ark during the flood, especially the meat-eating animals, if there were only a pair of each animal? How could plants grow so fast after the flood for the bird to bring back an entire branch? How come there were giants like Goliath but there aren’t giants anymore? Why would God, who is supposed to be loving, ask Abraham to kill his son Isaac just to test his obedience? And why in the world would Isaac just lie down and allow himself to be killed? Why didn’t God like Cain’s offering of produce as a farmer but he liked Abel’s offering of animals as a shepherd – how is that fair? How could Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego possibly survive a fiery furnace? Finally, my mom admitted that some of those stories might just be allegories in order to teach lessons, but that I shouldn’t go around saying that at church. Again, I was pleased with myself.

Things may have turned out differently for me if I had not been sent to a fundamentalist evangelical Christian school. There was a rumor that students from our part of the town would be bused to a “bad” section of Nashville, so my grandparents and mom sent me to the Christian school for admission testing. I passed and was enrolled in 5th grade. I hated the dress code — girls had to wear skirts all the time, and skirts must be a certain length or one would be sent home to change. In the handbook, it stated that girls should dress as God made them — “feminine.” I despised that. My mom let me wear shorts under my skirt so I could hang upside down from the monkey bars at recess until a teacher told me that was inappropriate and I was no longer allowed to hang upside down from monkey bars. Boys could but apparently that behavior was unacceptable for girls. We were taught young earth creationism and required to take Bible class with a Bob Jones University curriculum. In middle school and high school, we had Bible class 3 days a week and chapel service 2 days a week. Sometimes it was possible to sneak notes into the Bible to study during chapel if the teachers didn’t see it. There was an annual week-long Bible Conference where guest preachers were brought in for an intensive “soulwinning” week. I’m pretty sure I was “saved” every year at Bible Conference for fear of hell.

There were a lot of rules at the school, some applicable outside school as well. Any student caught with tobacco or alcohol on or off school property would be expelled; pregnant girls were immediately expelled; being caught attending the local rollerskating rink would result in suspension. There were also the prejudices we learned from school — that certain Christian sects such as Catholics were not “real Christians”; that people who were not part of fundamentalist Christianity were apostates and in need of salvation; and of course, homosexuals were sinful and misguided people whom we must “turn” back to heterosexuality and to salvation.

I hated this school so much, but I didn’t feel I could tell my family because they were paying for it, and they were so convinced that it offered a superior education, taught values, and would provide an environment away from “bad influences” at public school. But teachers were underpaid and overworked, so the faculty had either been teaching there forever or left within a year or two. New teachers were required to have graduated from Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or some other fundamentalist-approved school. Students were urged to attend those schools too (though they left me alone when I stated my goal to attend Vanderbilt University and had the test scores necessary to gain admission). To their credit, they did everything to help me with my application, and they never treated me differently intellectually for being female. I know, shouldn’t that be normal in the “real world”? Of course — but for fundamentalist Christians that was a big step.

Finally in college, I had my freedom. While I did join the Baptist Student Union and went to First Baptist Church Nashville the first 2 years, my church attendance waned. My first big shakeup was when I took a History of Christian Thought class. There I learned that the books of the Apocrypha were canonized scriptures. Canonized! How could Protestants have it both ways, stating that canonized Scriptures were inerrant and inspired by God, yet rejecting certain canonized Scriptures? I had always felt that fundamentalist Christianity was anti-intellectual and was embarrassed around my educated peers to admit that I was part of this branch of religion, but this information about the Apocrypha being canonized scriptures proved that the concept of inerrancy of Scripture was a lie.

After college I married a man who was raised nominally Catholic, and we attended progressive Christian churches. Even when he declared his agnosticism, he still liked the people at the church and continued attending. Then Chichen Itza happened.

Our kids were 7 and 5 when we went on a trip to Mexico and visited the ruins at Chichen Itza. We learned about the Mayan culture and about a special ball game in which the winner would be sacrificed to the gods to ensure good crops next season. There were other times when people were sacrificed to the gods, either to appease the gods or to ensure good weather/crops/etc. For some reason, this information hit me like a thunderbolt with the realization that the ancient Mayan religion and Christianity (and ancient Judaism) were no different with regard to blood sacrifice. The god(s) get angry, thus something has to die. This thought made me sick to my stomach. We were taught that somehow Christianity was different, that God is good and love, but no – God was no different from any other gods requiring a blood sacrifice for appeasement. I told my husband that I couldn’t go back to church, even though our progressive church focused primarily on teaching members to be good people and serving the community. I could not support any religion based on primitive blood sacrifice. For a decade I declared I was “taking a break from religion.” In reality, I wasn’t ready to admit that I might be an atheist, because I still felt strong aversion to the word. Atheists, I had been taught, had no values, had no moral compass, had no compassion, had nothing to live for … yet my husband eventually became an admitted atheist and he has some of the best values I have ever encountered. He cares about other people, he has purpose in life, and I am fortunate that he has shown me that an atheist can be an exemplary member of the human race without needing any “gods” in his life.

Inside, I was tormented with the concept of hell though. What if I was wrong? What if I had removed my children from church and any opportunity to be “saved”? What if I was single-handedly responsible for my children spending an eternity in hell? That thought nagged at me for years. I would push it away, but it came back again and again to haunt me. Yes, an educated, rational person who no longer believed the tenets of evangelical Christianity still had this fear. I started reading books by Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, and other authors. My husband implored me to speak with a pastor friend whom we knew before I turned toward atheism. This puzzled me, but he said he wanted me to have a forum to speak with an educated Christian about my questions before walking away from the teachings of my upbringing. But for me, the door was closed. No amount of Christian apologetics could turn me around. I no longer feared hell, I no longer believed it existed, and I believed that the probability of a god or gods — especially the one depicted by Christians evangelical or otherwise – was near nil.

I haven’t “come out” to my Nashville family members or to my Catholic in-laws. I told one close friend from childhood who is a progressive Christian, and she didn’t seem surprised. Apparently, only about a quarter of our Christian school classmates remained in fundamentalism and most became progressive Christians. Any atheists have kept that information confidential.

My teen children are well-adjusted individuals with good values. I have asked them whether they are interested in pursuing any religions, and while they have friends from a variety of backgrounds – protestant Christian, Catholic Christian, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, no religion — they say they aren’t interested. They don’t even label themselves with regard to religion — my daughter was filling out the common application for college and asked me what she should put with regard to religion, and we settled on “none.” My kids aren’t afraid of hell, they don’t feel that they have to serve an invisible deity, yet they are kind humans who try to do the right thing and help others. Before my mom died a few years ago, she expressed that she hoped that all of her children and grandchildren would be “saved” before she died. I told her that we would all be fine. And they are saved — from the shame and fear inherent in fundamentalist Christianity.

Quote of the Day: Usefulness by Robert G. Ingersoll

robert g ingersollLet us be honest. Let us preserve the veracity of our souls. Let education commence in the cradle—in the lap of the loving mother. This is the first school. The teacher, the mother, should be absolutely honest.

The nursery should not be an asylum for lies.

Parents should be modest enough to be truthful, honest enough to admit their ignorance. Nothing should be taught as true that cannot be demonstrated.

Every child should be taught to doubt, to inquire, to demand reasons. Every soul should defend itself—should be on its guard against falsehood, deceit, and mistake, and should beware of all kinds of confidence men, including those in the pulpit.

Children should be taught to express their doubts—to demand reasons. The object of education should be to develop the brain, to quicken the senses. Every school should be a mental gymnasium. The child should be equipped for the battle of life.

Credulity, implicit obedience, are the virtues of slaves and the enslavers of the free. All should be taught that there is nothing too sacred to be investigated—too holy to be understood.

Each mind has the right to lift all curtains, withdraw all veils, scale all walls, explore all recesses, all heights, all depths for itself, in spite of church or priest, or creed or book.

The great volume of Nature should be open to all. None but the intelligent and honest can really read this book. Prejudice clouds and darkens every page. Hypocrisy reads and misquotes, and credulity accepts the quotation. Superstition cannot read a line or spell the shortest word. And yet this volume holds all knowledge, all truth, and is the only source of thought. Mental liberty means the right of all to read this book. Here the Pope and Peasant are equal. Each must read for himself—and each ought honestly and fearlessly to give to his fellow-men what he learns.

There is no authority in churches or priests—no authority in numbers or majorities. The only authority is Nature—the facts we know. Facts are the masters, the enemies of the ignorant, the servants and friends of the intelligent.

Ignorance is the mother of mystery and misery, of superstition and sorrow, of waste and want.

Intelligence is the only light. It enables us to keep the highway, to avoid the obstructions, and to take advantage of the forces of nature. It is the only lever capable of raising mankind. To develop the brain is to civilize the world. Intelligence reaves the heavens of winged and frightful monsters—drives ghosts and leering fiends from the darkness, and floods with light the dungeons of fear.

All should be taught that there is no evidence of the existence of the supernatural—that the man who bows before an idol of wood or stone is just as foolish as the one who prays to an imagined God,—that all worship has for its foundation the same mistake—the same ignorance, the same fear—that it is just as foolish to believe in a personal god as in a personal devil—just as foolish to believe in great ghosts as little ones.

So, all should be taught that the forces, the facts in Nature, cannot be controlled or changed by prayer or praise, by supplication, ceremony, or sacrifice; that there is no magic, no miracle; that force can be overcome only by force, and that the whole world is natural.

All should be taught that man must protect himself—that there is no power superior to Nature that cares for man—that Nature has neither pity nor hatred—that her forces act without the slightest regard for man—that she produces without intention and destroys without regret.

All should be taught that usefulness is the bud and flower and fruit of real religion. The popes and cardinals, the bishops, priests and parsons are all useless. They produce nothing. They live on the labor of others. They are parasites that feed on the frightened. They are vampires that suck the blood of honest toil. Every church is an organized beggar. Every one lives on alms—on alms collected by force and fear. Every orthodox church promises heaven and threatens hell, and these promises and threats are made for the sake of alms, for revenue. Every church cries: “Believe and give.”

A new era is dawning on the world. We are beginning to believe in the religion of usefulness.

The men who felled the forests, cultivated the earth, spanned the rivers with bridges of steel, built the railways and canals, the great ships, invented the locomotives and engines, supplying the countless wants of man; the men who invented the telegraphs and cables, and freighted the electric spark with thought and love; the men who invented the looms and spindles that clothe the world, the inventors of printing and the great presses that fill the earth with poetry, fiction and fact, that save and keep all knowledge for the children yet to be; the inventors of all the wonderful machines that deftly mould from wood and steel the things we use; the men who have explored the heavens and traced the orbits of the stars—who have read the story of the world in mountain range and billowed sea; the men who have lengthened life and conquered pain; the great philosophers and naturalists who have filled the world with light; the great poets whose thoughts have charmed the souls, the great painters and sculptors who have made the canvas speak, the marble live; the great orators who have swayed the world, the composers who have given their souls to sound, the captains of industry, the producers, the soldiers who have battled for the right, the vast host of useful men—these are our Christs, our apostles and our saints. The triumphs of science are our miracles. The books filled with the facts of Nature are our sacred scriptures, and the force that is in every atom and in every star—in everything that lives and grows and thinks, that hopes and suffers, is the only possible god.

The absolute we cannot know—beyond the horizon of the Natural we cannot go. All our duties are within our reach—all our obligations must be discharged here, in this world. Let us love and labor. Let us wait and work. Let us cultivate courage and cheerfulness—open our hearts to the good—our minds to the true. Let us live free lives. Let us hope that the future will bring peace and joy to all the children of men, and above all, let us preserve the veracity of our souls.

— Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899),  Why I am an Agnostic, Page 106, 107

HT: The Mendocino Humanist

Bruce, You Are NOT an Atheist

bruce gerencser 2015

Bruce Gerencser, still a Christian!!

Evidently, because I use the word “God” in my writing, this is proof that I am r-e-a-l-l-y  some sort of secret Christian. Years ago, an Evangelical man said something similar, suggesting that because I capitalize the word God, that means I really, really, really, deep down in the depths of my nonexistent soul believe in God. Unable to wrap their minds around my story, some Evangelicals think that I am still a Christian; that I will yet return to the fold, all glory and praise to Jesus!

In recent days, several piss-ant Evangelicals have been attempting on Facebook to help me see the error of my way. I banned them, but one of them continues to send me his “thoughts” about my life and my current standing before the Big Kahuna. Here’s the latest:

my friend let me leave you with some things to think about.

especially with your heath issues. I know that you hate my guts and will mock this email to the other lost souls to whom you are advocating atheism/anti-theism.

I have studied your blog.

and you say that no “card carrying atheist you know has ever became a Christian”

well listen to yourself and read your posts.

you are not an atheist.

I have talked to very few people that label themselves that who are “ATHEISTS”

you even admitted to being an agnostic.

and used phrases like “my divorce from God”

you know the truth because you preached it for 25 plus years.

but did you ever REALLY Believe it?

NOTE: I’m not saying you were never saved.

but asking.   did you truly trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation?

….

Mr Bruce,

Jesus loves you he died for you and wants you to place your faith in him or come back to him.

truly acknowledge your sin problem

Be willing to turn from it and trust Jesus Christ sincerely with all your heart.

I hope you have a blessed day.

T Baker

Here’s my take on this email:

  • Tom, we are not friends.
  • Tom, I don’t hate you. I don’t know you, so I can’t hate you. And I certainly haven’t seen your guts, so I definitely don’t hate them.
  • Tom, nice, subtle threat of hell — using my health problems as a tool to get me to see the light.
  • Tom, if you have really studied my blog you wouldn’t have written this email.
  • Tom, you are clueless about my motivations for writing and the purpose of this blog.
  • Tom, I am an atheist. I actually do have an atheist card somewhere. I am a member in good standing of American Atheists. You need, for some reason, to believe that I am not what I claim I am. Why is that? What is so threatening about my story that you will go to great lengths to deny what can clearly be seen: Bruce Gerencser, who was once a devoted follower of Jesus, is now an atheist?
  • Tom, most atheists are agnostics. You need to do some study on atheism and agnosticism. Your ignorance is showing.
  • Tom, the phrase “divorced from God” is a rhetorical tool. I intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally divorced myself from God.
  • Tom, are you saved? Sure you are, right? And so was I. I spent 50 years in the Christian church. I was saved (the last time) at the age of fifteen. I preached the gospel for over 30 years, including pastoring Evangelical churches for 25 years. I was in every way a true-blue, committed Christian. That you can’t wrap your mind around this is YOUR problem, not mine.
  • Tom, I hope you know that hundreds of your fellow Christians have used the same tactics as you have as they attempted to win me back to Jesus — all to no avail. By all means, keep trying. I am always in need of new material for this blog.

Quote of the Day: The Myth of Immortality

clarence-darrow

There is, perhaps, no more striking example of the credulity of man than the widespread belief in immortality. This idea includes not only the belief that death is not the end of what we call life, but that personal identity involving memory persists beyond the grave. So determined is the ordinary individual to hold fast to this belief that, as a rule, he refuses to read or to think upon the subject lest it cast doubt upon his cherished dream. Of those who may chance to look at this contribution, many will do so with the determination not to be convinced, and will refuse even to consider the manifold reasons that might weaken their faith. I know that this is true, for I know the reluctance with which I long approach the subject in my firm determination not to give up my hope. Thus the myth will stand in the way of a sensible adjustment to facts.

Even many of those who claim to believe in immortality still tell themselves and others that neither side of the question is susceptible of proof. Just what can these hopeful ones believe that the word “proof” involves? The evidence against the persistence of personal consciousness is as strong as the evidence of gravitation, and much more obvious. It is as convincing and unassailable as the proof of the destruction of wood or coal by fire. If it is not certain that death ends personal identity and memory, then almost nothing that man accepts as true is susceptible of proof.

The beliefs of the race and as individuals are relics of the past. Without careful examination no one can begin to understand how many of man’s cherished opinions have no foundation in fact. The common experience of all men should teach them how easy it is to believe, what they wish to accept. Experienced psychologists know perfectly well that if they desire to convince a man of some idea, they must first make him want to believe it. There are so many hopes, so many strong yearnings and desires attached to the doctrine of immortality that it is practically impossible to create in any mind the wish to be mortal. Still, in spite of strong desires, millions of people are filled with doubts and fears that will not down. After all, is it not better to look to the question squarely in the face and find out whether we are harboring a delusion?

It is customary to speak of a “belief in immortality.” First, then let us see what is meant by the word “belief.” If I take a train in Chicago at noon, bound for New York, I believe I will reach that city the next morning. I believe it because I have been to New York, I have read about the city, I have known many other people who have been there, and their stories are not inconsistent with any known facts in my own experience. I have even examined the timetables and I know just how I will go and how long the trip will take. In other words when I board the train for New York, I believe I will reach that city because I have reason to believe it.

If, instead, I want to see Timbuktu or some other point on the globe where I have never been, or of which I had only heard, I still know something about geography, and if I did not I could find out about the place I wish to visit. Through the encyclopedia and other means of information, I could get a fair idea of the location and character of the country or city, the kind of people who live there and almost anything I wish to know, including the means of transportation and the time it would take to go and return. I already am satisfied that the earth is round, I know about it size. I know the extent of its land and water. I know the names of its countries; I know perfectly well that there are many places on its surface that I have never seen. I can easily satisfy myself as to whether there is any such place and how to get there, and what I shall do when I arrive.

But if I am told that next week I shall start on a trip to Goofville; that I shall not take my body with me; that I shall stay for all eternity: can I find a single fact connected with my journey — the way I shall go, the time of the journey, the country I shall reach, its location in space, the way I shall live there — or anything that would lead to irrational belief that I shall really make the trip? Have I ever known anyone who has made the journey and returned? If I am really to believe, I must try to get some information about all these important facts.

But people hesitate to ask questions about life after death. They do not for they know that only silence comes out of the eternal darkness of endless space. If people really believed in a beautiful, happy, glorious land waiting to receive them when they died; if they believed that their friends would be waiting to meet them; if they believed that all pain-and-suffering would be left behind: why should they live through weeks, months, and even years of pain and torture while I cancer eats its way through vital parts of the body? Why should one fight off death? Because he does not believe in any real sense; he only hopes. Everyone knows that there is no real evidence of any such state of bliss; so we are told not to search for proof. We are to accept through faith alone. But every thinking person knows that faith can only come through belief. Belief implies a condition of mind that accepts a certain idea. This condition can be brought about only by evidence. True, the evidence may be simply the unsupported statement of your grandmother, it may be wholly insufficient for reasoning men; but, good or bad, it must be enough for the believer or he could not believe.

Upon what evidence, then, are we asked to believe in immortality? There is no evidence. One is told to rely on faith, and no doubt this serves the purpose so long as one can believe blindly whatever he is told. But if there is no evidence upon which to build a positive belief in immortality, let us examine the other side of the question. Perhaps evidence can be found to support a positive conviction that immortality is a delusion.

….

All men recognize the hopelessness of finding any evidence that the individual will persist beyond the grave. As a last resort, we are told that it is better that the doctrine be believed even if it is not true. We are assured that without this faith, life is only desolation and despair. However that may be, it remains that many of the conclusions of logic are not pleasant to contemplate; so long as men think and feel, at least some of them will use their faculties as best they can. For if we are to believe things that are not true, who is to write our creed? Is it safe to leave it to any man or organization to pick out the errors that we must accept? The whole history of the world has answered this question in a way that cannot be mistaken.

And after all, is the belief in immortality necessary or even desirable for man? Millions of men and women have no such faith; they go on with their daily tasks and feel joy and sorrow without the lure of immortal life. The things that really affect the happiness of the individual are the matters of daily living. They are the companionship of friends, the games and contemplations. They are misunderstandings and cruel judgments, false friends and debts, poverty and disease. They are our joys in our living companions and our sorrows over those who die. Whatever our faith, we mainly live in the present — in the here and now. Those who hold the view that man is mortal are never troubled by metaphysical problems. At the end of the day’s labor we are glad to lose our consciousness and sleep; and intellectually, at least, we look forward to the long rest from the stresses and storms that are always incidental to existence.

When we fully understand the brevity of life, it’s fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring us a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.

Clarence Darrow, Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays, The Myth of the Soul

You can purchase Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays here.

No Matter How You “Spin” the Numbers, American Christian Church in Trouble

rise of the nones

The Pew Research Center released a report today that shows that American Christian churches continue to face member indifference and attendance loss:

Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.

As part of a new survey connected to our broader Religious Landscape Study, we asked these people to explain, in their own words, why they no longer identify with a religious group. This resulted in hundreds of different responses (after all, everyone’s religious experience is a bit different), but many of them shared one of a few common themes.

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

But there are other reasons people give for leaving behind their childhood religion. One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.

One-in-ten religious “nones” who say they were raised with a religious affiliation are now classified as “inactive” religiously. These people may hold certain religious beliefs, but they are not currently taking part in religious practices. And most of them simply say they don’t go to church or engage in other religious rituals, while others say they are too busy for religion.

Religious “nones” are by no means monolithic. They can be broken down into three broad subgroups: self-identified atheists, those who call themselves agnostic and people who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Given these different outlooks, it is not surprising that there are major gaps among these three groups when it comes to why they left their childhood religion behind. An overwhelming majority of atheists who were raised in a religion (82%) say they simply do not believe, but this is true of a smaller share of agnostics (63%) and only 37% of those in the “nothing in particular” category.

What do you think American Christianity will look like in 2030? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

why people stop believing

reasons why people are unaffiliated

 

Book Review: The Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi

divinity of doubt

The publisher Vanguard Press sent me a review copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s latest book, Divinity of Doubt, The God Question. Divinity of Doubt is 272 pages long (338 pages with chapter notes and index) and is Bugliosi’s attempt to establish agnosticism as the only valid choice in the God debate. Bugliosi neatly divides views about God into three categories: organized religion, agnosticism, and atheism.

Bugliosi spends significant time — in fact the entire book save 3 chapters  — dismantling and shredding Christianity. He makes it clear that he does not believe the Christian God exists. He dismisses the rest of the major religions of the world in a chapter titled “Hey, Look at Us. We are Just as Silly as They Are.” Bugliosi makes it known that the world would be far better off if organized religion died a quick death.

Bugliosi’s critique of Christianity is standard atheistic fare. Long time atheists and agnostics will bore quickly when reading Divinity of Doubt. I found myself saying yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree. Ok, next. That said, Bugliosi’s book is a great primer on the theological and textual issues the Christian church faces. This would be a great book for someone who is considering leaving Christianity.

Bugliosi is rightly critical of those who believe in certainty but he often appeals to theological certainty when he writes about what bible scholars believe concerning this or that theological or historical issue. He often makes it sound as if bible scholars are unified when it comes to the textual and historical problems of the Christian bible, when, in fact, unity is a word rarely used to describe bible scholarship. Proof? Consult the true God of this world  — Google  — and you will quickly discover that practically every aspect of the Christian religion is endlessly debated. Christians can’t even agree on basic things such as God, communion, baptism, or how a person becomes a Christian.

I was astounded that Bugliosi did not mention Bart Ehrman even once. (I did not read the chapter notes so there is a small possibility Ehrman makes an honorary appearance there.) Ehrman is clearly the most popular and most widely read theologian of the 21st century. His books are a devastating critique of Christianity and Bugliosi’s failure to mention Ehrman’s books is troubling. (Not that Ehrman would have necessarily added anything to the book. Bugliosi comes to many of the same conclusions as Ehrman.) In passing I should note that Bugliosi incorrectly states that William Lane Craig is a Catholic apologist. Craig is actually an Evangelical Christian apologist.

Bugliosi spends several chapters on the subject of evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. He admits he is not a scientist but this does not keep him from diving right in anyway. Bugliosi writes:

But apart from science, I have problems with the Big Bang theory. For one thing, I simply cannot even begin to imagine how at some tiny point in time and space, some microorganism, or what have you, self exploded and created the universe, though I obviously am in no position to challenge this theory…But I do know that whatever they are, they are something, and that is the big problem. It would seem that no one can actually believe that the Big Bang exploded out of nothing, completely empty space, which would be an impossibility. It had to have exploded out of something. And no matter how small or subatomic that something is, the question is who put that something there? If it wasn’t the creator, and how did it come into existence? Remember, nothing can create itself because if it did, it would proceed itself, an impossibility.

Unlike Bugliosi, I confess not only am I quite deficient when it comes to matters of science, I also have no intentions of exposing my ignorance to those who are experts in science. I will leave it to my readers who are well-schooled in science to deal with Bugliosi’s claims. I will stick to the Bible and theology.

In a chapter titled “Atheism and Its Current Leading Prolocutors,” Bugliosi deals with the subject of atheism. Bugliosi focuses only on the writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. For some unexplainable reason Bugliosi assumes that if he reads the books written by the Big Three of the Atheist movement (he ignores Daniel Dennett) he has adequately surveyed the necessary material to make a proper judgment about atheism. As a result, Bugliosi paints a truncated, incomplete picture of atheism. His book would carry far more weight with atheists IF he had broadened his horizons and referenced books written by atheists, agnostics, humanists, and skeptics who offer a different viewpoint from those of Harris/Hitchens/Dawkins.

Bugliosi hates the certainty he sees in the writings of Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens. Bugliosi wrongly assumes that these three authors are the face of atheism and that their beliefs are the beliefs of all atheists. Bugliosi rightly contends that no one can know for certain whether or not there is a God yet he discounts atheists who say just that. Dawkins admits that a person cannot, with certainty, know whether or not a God exists. Dawkins states “God almost certainly does not exist” and Bugliosi takes this to be a disingenuous statement. Why?

Atheism is all about probabilities. Does God exist? I don’t know. Is it probable God exists? No. Is it likely God exists? No. Does the Christian God, as taught in the Bible, exist? No. Rare is the atheist who says with certainty that no God exists. In fact Bugliosi proves in his book that he is every bit as much an atheist as most of the atheists I know. Bugliosi would have been better informed about atheism if he had, at a bare minimum, read the WIKI on atheism.

In the future, I hope Bugliosi will broaden his horizons when it comes to atheism. I have profited greatly from the books of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. That said, there are many other authors, such as Michael Shermer, Richard Carrier, Hector Avalos, David Eller, S.T. Joshi, A.C. Grayling, Paul Kurtz, Bart Ehrman, and Scott Aiken/Robert Talisse, all of whom have written significant books about atheism and humanism that I have found quite helpful; books, it seems, that Bugliosi paid no attention to. Bugliosi also fails to mention the books by John Loftus  — Why I Became an Atheist and The Christian Delusion  — two books which are very helpful in laying the foundation of modern atheism.

If you are a confirmed atheist or agnostic, Divinity of Doubt will not plow any new ground for you, and it certainly does a poor job of surveying the current popular atheist scene. The book is bombastic at times and its biggest defect is how Vincent Bugliosi portrays himself. To-wit:

I seem to naturally—and not as a result, I can assure you , of any special intelligence at all—see what’s in front of me completely uninfluenced by the trappings of reputation, hoopla, conventional wisdom, and so on, put on it by others.

I suspect some readers of Divinity of Doubt will be unable to get beyond Bugliosi’s naïve view of himself. As I read what Bugliosi said about himself I found myself wanting to toss the book in the corner where I store all the books I have read by authors filled with self-importance. (Granted my sensitivity to this stems from a lifetime in a religious movement dominated by arrogant, self-important preachers.) I didn’t toss the book, and I am glad I didn’t. I had to remind myself that sometimes I have to get beyond the messenger and listen to the message. Forget Bugliosi’s character flaws; is what he preaches the truth? The answer is Yes, especially when dealing with Christianity.

I heartily recommend Divinity of Doubt, especially for people who considering leaving the Christian faith. The book will be a help to Christians who are questioning the tenets of the Christian faith. Divinity of Doubt answers many of the questions pastors hope their members never ask.

I close this review with Bugliosi’s own words concerning religion:

I can say with relative confidence (because what I’m saying, at least it would seem, has to be true) that there is only one necessary religion that has any merit to the people who inhabit this earth, and that’s the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you” (from the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 7:12]). To treat others as you would want them to treat you is the highest, most noble form of human behavior and the basis of all morality. No matter what some papal encyclical says; no matter what some bishops’ conference says; no matter how many sacraments of the Catholic church there are, or chapters and verses in the bible, or thick and complex books by theologians, or Sunday school classes and sermons by pastors; no matter how many heated arguments there are about God, Jesus, and religion; no matter how many pilgrimages there are to Mecca, Jerusalem, and other holy places; no matter how many thousands of hours Jewish scholars struggle over the meaning of the Torah; no matter how many multimillion-dollar churches and synagogues and grand cathedrals to Christ are constructed, nothing can ever change that simple reality…..

If we must have religion, the seminal test as to the value and merit of any religion worth its salt has to be not what you believe, but what you do—that is, how you treat your fellow man. Yet in the thousands upon thousands of books, and billions upon billions of words that have been written, particularly about Christianity and the bible, what percentage of these books do you think are devoted to the only thing that counts—the Golden Rule?

To these words this atheist says Amen.

You can purchase Divinity of Doubt here.

Pastor Jack Wellman Says Atheists Secretly Know God Exists

atheism

According to Jack Wellman, pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane, Kansas, atheists “secretly” know God exists. Wellman writes:

They might not publically acknowledge their fear of God’s judgment because of their pride and their love of sin but deep down inside, they know God exists. They are simply suppressing that knowledge (Rom 1:18). I remember an unbeliever sitting next to me on a jet and we were circling the airport and waiting to land because there were tornadoes nearby and the storms had large hail as well as severe wind shear. As the jet kept circling, other planes began to circle around the airport too, waiting for the tornado warnings to expire. The longer we were in flight, the more other jets were in the area and the lighter our jet became (using up fuel), the more it was tossed right and left and up and down. After this experience, the man next to me asked me about God. I sensed his fear of dying made him fear God’s judgment, knowing that he was living a sinful life (as he acknowledge to me). Unbelievers can only have “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:27) in near-death experiences and that’s the only fear of God they will ever know unless they repent. In the back of their minds they know that “our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Heb 12:29) and that after death, they will be judged (Heb 9:27).

Imagine, for a moment, if atheists told Christians that believers know deep down that there is no God. Why, there would be outrage. How dare atheists invalidate their personal experiences! How dare atheists suggest that Christians do not know what they believe! Yet, Evangelicals routinely tell atheists that their unbelief is a charade; that atheists deep down (deep down where?) know that God exists. Atheists are rightly offended over such dismissals of their beliefs and personal experiences. If Christians can know in whom they have believed (2 Timothy 1:12), then atheists can certainly know in whom they have NOT believed.

I am an atheist because I do not think there is sufficient evidence for the existence of gods. I am not suppressing knowledge that tells me Jack Wellman’s version of God exists. How can Wellman possibly know that the creator God is Jehovah/Jesus — his preferred deity? What in the natural world screams to all who dare to listen that the Evangelical God created the universe 6,020 years ago? Evangelicals such as Wellman believe the Evangelical God exists because the Bible says he exists. Based on this presupposition, Evangelicals then interpret scientific data so it lines up with what God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible word says. Wellman, typical of most Evangelicals, closes his mind to anything that contradicts his Fundamentalist worldview. Such people are not seekers of truth. They think they have found the truth and have no need to consider any data that contradicts their version of truth. I can tell Wellman this much: provide evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible and I will believe. It really is that simple.

Will such evidence be forthcoming? Of course not. Wellman knows that most Christians-turned-atheists have already critically examined the evidence for the Christian God and found it wanting. What new evidence could possibly be forthcoming? In Luke 16 — the story of the rich man and Lazarus — Abraham tells the rich man — who is in hell — that unless his topside brothers listen to Moses and the prophets, they too will end up in hell. In other words, unless unbelievers heed what the Bible says they will go to hell when they die (technically they will go to the grave, not hell, and await Judgment Day). According to the Bible, God is not planning on sending a sign so people will believe (which is interesting since many Evangelicals keep saying God is giving America signs concerning his disfavor and coming judgment). God gave the world the Bible, end of story. Believe what it says or go to hell. That is, IF you can believe it, since salvation requires God giving the sinner the power to believe. No one, according to Arminians and Calvinists, believes unto salvation until God gives them eyes to see and ears to hear.

Wellman and his fellow Evangelicals refuse to accept that many atheists are quite knowledgeable about the Bible. After all, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years. Raised in an Evangelical home and trained at an Evangelical college, I know the Bible inside and out. I carefully weighed the Evangelical God and his errant, internally contradictory Bible on the scale of reason and found them wanting. If Wellman wants to bring atheists to the light then I suggest he do something other than quote Bible verses and make false assertions about unbelievers.

Speaking of false assertions, Wellman states that atheists do not “publically acknowledge their fear of God’s judgment because of their pride and their love of sin.” Pride? Really? What does pride have to do with atheism? Does Wellman really think atheists refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Christian God because they are too proud to do so? I assume he thinks atheists are too proud to admit they are wrong. Here’s the problem with such an argument: for atheists who were once Evangelicals, pride would have kept us in the fold. However, putting great value on truth, Evangelicals-turned-atheists refused to let cultural or family pride get in the way of their examination of Christianity. If anything, it is Evangelicals who have a pride problem. Tens of millions of Evangelical are little more than cultural Christians. It is pride (and fear) that keeps cultural Christians in the fold. If they were honest, cultural Christians would admit that they too see little evidence for the existence of the Christian God. Their lives are living proof that many Evangelicals are, in fact, atheists or agnostics. The Jack Wellmans of the church are the minority.

Wellman also states that atheists refuse to acknowledge the Evangelical God because of their “love of sin.” Countless Evangelical preachers — regurgitators of unverifiable nonsense — make the claim that atheists have secrets; that atheists are actually licentious, vile sinners. Can atheists behave badly? Absolutely. But, based on daily news headlines, it seems that it is Evangelicals that have a sin problem. Atheists, refusing to be bound by an irrelevant ancient religious text, are often quite open about their “sins.” Evangelicals, on the other hand, are taught to hide their sins under the mythical blood of Jesus. Just pray and ask for forgiveness, Evangelicals are told by preachers, and your sin debt will be wiped clean. What a way to avoid accountability for bad behavior. No need to air one’s dirty laundry. Just pray and move on to the next sin-filled night. Who is being more honest? Atheists who say, this is how we live our lives or Evangelicals who hide and obfuscate who they really are, pretending to be some sort of saints? Give me honest atheists every time.

Nothing I write in this post will crack Wellman’s cement-filled head. Now in the sunset years of life, Wellman has too much invested to walk away. In the not-too-distant future, the Evangelical God will either rapture Wellman away or call him home to be with Jesus. Or so Wellman thinks. Oh how I wish that Christians, immediately after death, could come back to life long enough to tell us that there is NOTHING that lies beyond the grave. Or at the very least, tell us that it was Wakan Tanka and not the Evangelical God who met them when they crossed to the other side. Since no one, including Jesus, comes back to life after dying, Evangelicals will continue to believe that a sweet payoff awaits them after death.

[signoff]

 

What Part Did the Internet Play in Your Loss of Faith?

porn leads to loss of faithI am of the opinion that the advent of the internet is hastening America’s march towards secularism and unbelief. Prior to Al Gore inventing the internet, knowledge was controlled by academic institutions, libraries, churches, and mainstream media outlets. Today, Americans are exposed to dizzying amount of data. Thanks to Google, known as GOD at our house, the answers to every question are but a search away.

Before the internet, Evangelicals relied on their pastors and Sunday school teachers to tell them the “truth” about God, Jesus, church history, and the Bible. Questions and doubts were taken to pastors for resolution. These men of God were expected to speak authoritatively and put church members’ doubts to rest. Doubt is a tool used by Satan to rob Christians of their joy, peace, and happiness, countless Evangelical pastors told their congregations. If in doubt, just BELIEVE! The problem, of course, is that most people, Christians included, do have doubts and questions. Now that three-fourths of American homes have broadband internet access, doubting and questioning Evangelicals no longer have to rely on their pastors for answers.

I started blogging in 2007. At the time, I was still a Christian. On the last Sunday of 2008, I attended church for the last time. Filled with questions and doubts that had been percolating for years, I came to the realization that I was no longer a Christian. The internet played a crucial part in my deconversion. It connected me with like-minded people, those with similar doubts, questions, and fears. Thanks to internet (and search engines), hundreds of thousands of people have come to this blog (or one of its previous iterations) seeking answers to their questions and interaction with like-minded people. I have been blessed to meet countless people from the vast corners of the world. I have hundreds of what I call digital friends, people I likely will never meet, but who play an important and helpful part in my life. And I hope that in some small way, telling my story and critiquing Evangelical Christianity has been a help to those who visit this site.

Recently, I stumbled upon a post by Joel Miller. Miller’s blog is hosted by Patheos on the Evangelical channel. In April of 2014, Miller wrote a post titled, Is Internet Porn to Blame for the Rise of the Nones? He later changed the title to How Internet Porn Explains the Decline of American Faith. Miller, who is vice president of acquisitions for Nelson Books at Thomas Nelson, doesn’t think the internet plays an instrumental part in the rapid rise of the NONES, those who self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards religion. Instead, Miller blames porn. That’s right. It is not doubts and questions that have caused a loss of faith; it is easy access to internet pornography.

Miller writes:

Since the early 1990s, there has been a significant uptick in Americans abandoning their faith. After crunching the numbers, one researcher says contributing factors such as upbringing and education only explain part of the increase. What about the rest?

After controlling for variables like income, environment, and so on, computer scientist Allen Downey of Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts found 25 percent of the decline can be correlated with Internet access. More Web, less faith.

Why? Here’s Downey’s stab at an answer: “For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally.” So increased exposure leads to doubt, disagreement, disenchantment, and ultimately to discarding your faith.

….

Disaffiliation should come as no surprise. We’ve already seen that porn makes prayer and beneficial contemplation impossible. Given the Christian understanding of the spiritual life, we’re not capable of simultaneously pursuing our lusts and sanctification. Such a pursuit causes internal dissonance, and the only resolution involves eventually conceding to the pull of one or the other.

….

If the rise of the internet has anything to do with a loss of faith — and it’s an interesting thought — the role of ideas is likely minimal. Arguments don’t cool many hearts, but sin surely does.

While I certainly agree that the internet gives us ready access to a wide array of eroticism and pornography, I seriously doubt that the road out of Christianity is paved with YouPorn videos and JPEGs of naked men and women. Miller, a committed purveyor of endless books that are meant to answer Christian doubts and questions, dares not admit that the real problem is one of knowledge. Doing so would put the blame for the NONES squarely back on Christian sects, churches, and pastors. Doing so would open pastors up to charges of deceit and promoting ignorance. We can’t have that, so those who have exited the Evangelical church stage left and found purpose and meaning elsewhere, are doing so because they are lustful.

Is this your experience too? Are you an unbeliever today due to your insatiable desire for porn? Or did the internet and sites like this one play an instrumental part in your deconversion? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am certain that Miller is far afield in his assertion about the NONES, and I ask that readers educate him about the real reasons people leave Christianity.

I plan to pin this post to the top of the front page for a few weeks, giving infrequent readers a chance to share their stories.

Robert Ingersoll’s Vow

ingersoll-vow

Printed Text of Ingersoll’s Vow:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world–not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live to my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my faculties, all my senses–free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests–free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies–free from the fear of eternal pain–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

Who is Robert Ingersoll?

Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was an American lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of United States during the Golden Age of Free Thought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”.

Many of Ingersoll’s speeches advocated freethought and humanism, and often poked fun at religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his views nor the negative press could stop his rising popularity. At the height of Ingersoll’s fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day.

In a lecture entitled “The Great Infidels”, he attacked the Christian doctrine of Hell: “All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew blossomed, and bore fruit in this one word—Hell.” (Wikipedia)

Interested in reading Robert Ingersoll’s writings?

Ingersoll’s writings are available for FREE in the Kindle Format on Amazon.

Bruce, Do You Believe in God?

atheist and deist having sex

Written in 2010 Edited for clarity and grammar

I still get asked fairly often, Bruce, do you believe in God? Even though I self-identify as an atheist, some people doubt that I really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y believe that there is no God.

When it comes to the God question, I am agnostic. I can say with great confidence that I don’t believe any of the current deities in the human panoply of Gods is God at all. Could some sort of deity show up on the scene in the future? Sure, it is possible. Is it probable? No.

So why then do I self-identify as an atheist and not an agnostic?

First, I got tired of having to explain what I meant by the word agnostic. Saying, I am an atheist is pretty straightforward and less likely to misinterpreted.

Second, I live from day to day with no thought of whether a deity exists. I don’t do anything in my life that remotely says to someone else, Bruce believes in God (and I have met a lot of Christians who are just as atheistic as I am). Morally and ethically I do my best to live according to humanistic principles. (See The Humanist Manifesto III.)  My concern is with how I live in the here and now. I have no thoughts of Heaven (or hell), no thoughts of eternal life, and no thoughts at all about anything beyond the grave.

That said, when I look at the natural world I can certainly see how someone might adopt some form of deism. While I do not find deistic arguments intellectually satisfying, I do understand how someone might come to such a conclusion. Most of the deists I know are every bit as atheistic as I am. The difference between us is that they hope that there is some sort life beyond the grave.

Even if I grant the premise that it is possible/likely that a God of some sort created the universe, there is no plausible way for me to make the jump from this nonspecific, ambiguous God to the Christian God of the Bible. Believing that a God of some sort created everything is one thing, but believing that the Christian God of the Bible is that creator is a leap of faith I cannot take (and I wish Christians would admit that when they use the word God, it is not a generic God they are talking about).

At the end of the day, atheism and evolution offer the best explanations for what I observe in the natural world. Do they provide ALL the answers?  Of course not, but I no longer need certainty. I am quite content to live with ambiguity, and not knowing everything is a humble reminder that I am human. While I still thirst for knowledge and understanding, I know that my quest will never reach a place of certainty or infallibility.

As Long as You Believe in God, That’s All That Matters

i am an atheist

I have heard this line many times over the past several years “as long as you believe in God, that’s all that matters.” Implied in this statement is the notion that belief in the CHRISTIAN God is all that matters. No matter what denominational flavor a person might be, as long as he or she believes in the Christian God then everything is OK. What are we to make of this generic statement of belief in God? Isn’t there more to Christianity than just saying, “I believe in God”? What about specific beliefs. Do they matter? Does it matter if I believe anything specific, about the Christian God? Or is it OK if I just have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Christian God?

Every organized religion has a formulated belief system. To be a ___________________you must believe ___________. Can one be a Christian and not believe in Jesus?  Of course not.

It seems that many Christians are uncomfortable with what they believe, especially when it comes to judgment and hell. Christians hem and haw about the future state of those who do not believe in Jesus. That’s why they like the “as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters” line of thinking. It lets them and their God off the hook.

What if I said I believe in Allah or Zeus?  Would that satisfy the “as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters” crowd? Is there any God that is not an acceptable God?

Inherent in this line of thinking is the notion that humans MUST believe in a being bigger than themselves.  Why? Why must I have any God at all? Is it not enough to live, embrace life, and die? Is it not enough to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow I die? Is it not enough to love the wife of my youth, my children, and my grandchildren? Is it not enough to love my neighbor as myself?

I find no need for a God. Perhaps on my deathbed I will think differently, but, for now, God seems of little importance in the day to day machinations of my life.

Most Americans have a difficult time understanding atheists and agnostics, or for that matter anyone different from themselves. They are quite certain that godlessness means that a person is a Satanist, child molester, or a deviant of some kind. Never mind the fact  that most child molesters and deviants have a religious background and atheists don’t believe in Satan.

How can one live without God?, they ask themselves.

I find little difference between myself and most Christians I know. I say there is no God and live accordingly, and they say there is a God and live, for the most part, as if God doesn’t exist. It seems the only difference is what we “say” we are and where we spend Sunday  morning. Such a religion does not interest me. I much prefer the Church of the NFL or the Church of College Football (and it seems a lot of my Christians acquaintances and neighbors do too).

So, my Christian friend,let’s play a game. Let’s compare lives. After all, the only way we can know what people believe is to watch how they live their lives. We LIVE what we think is important. How is my life any different from yours?

Surely, since I don’t believe in God, don’t have the Holy Spirit in me, and don’t follow the Bible, my life should be a blazing example of what most Christians think nontheists are. Shall we compare morals? Ethics? Shall we compare our love for our respective families? Or does it really all come down to whether I “believe”, lifestyle be damned?

I see no compelling reason for embracing Christianity or any other form of theism. It seems all quite meaningless to me, though I recognize it isn’t meaningless for millions of Christians. I have Christian friends, most of whom are liberals or universalists.  They quietly live according to the teachings of Jesus. I admire them. That they are still friends with me means a lot to me. But, even their devotion to God is not enough to persuade me of the existence of the Christian God.

Anne Rice had this to say (link no longer active) about “leaving” Christianity:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else…

…As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

I doubt the cohesiveness of Rice’s beliefs, but I do understand and appreciate her sentiments.

I have often been told that I am looking for God in all the wrong places. Perhaps, but at this point in life, I am going to leave it to God to find me. I am no longer interested in looking for him/her/it. There is too much life to be lived to spend it looking for God. Most days, I can’t even find the TV remote.