Every once in a while, I read something that reminds me that there are Christians who believe things that in any other context would get them placed in a straight jacket and thrown into a padded room.
Jim Croft is a deliverance minister. According to Croft’s website (website no longer active):
Jim Croft’s ministry career spans four decades. The renowned Bible scholar, Derek Prince mentored Jim. Early on, it became apparent that Jim was an anointed Bible teacher and minister of physical healing and deliverance from evil spirits.
Croft is known worldwide for his unique ability to share profound biblical truths in a simple and interesting way that encourages people to incorporate the truths into their everyday lives. One of his primary delights is to train and liberate laymen into fulltime ministry. There are at least 40 ministries functioning globally that came up under his tutelage.
Jim has ministered in more than 40 nations. His books and articles have been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Farsi and Swahili. He has written 13 books. The most recent are: The Muslim Masquerade; Faith’s Decision For The Abundant Life; Heaven on the Links; Charismatic Superstitions and Misconceptions; Dysfunctional Doctrines of the Hyper-Religious; The Heritage Factor; Miracle of Miracles; Bless the Chosen; and Invisible Enemies: How to recognize and defeat demons.
Croft is considered by many to be a foremost authority on Islamic Issues. He ghostwrites books and newsletters for several international ministries specializing in ministry to Muslims. Each week Jim’s Bible studies are translated into the various languages of the Middle East for distribution among secret house churches in closed Islamic nations.
Jim founded Good News Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It was the home church of Derek Prince. Jim serves as a pastor of pastors and on a number of ministry boards including that of Derek Prince Ministries. He currently pastors a network of house churches and is the senior pastor of Gold Coast Christian Church of Boca Raton, FL.
I have authored 13 books. Invisible Enemies: How to recognize and defeat demons is the most recent . It’s a great read for those who have ongoing unresolved issues and those who have inlaws whom they suspect might be hosting uninvited passengers. I also ghostwirte books and articles for varius ministries. My emphasis of life is to be naturally supernatural. (spelling errors in the original)
According to the Gold Coast Christian Church website (link no longer active), the home church Croft pastors:
God is not boring! Christianity is not a religion designed to revolve around man-made rules. Redemption through faith in Christ paves the way for people to enjoy God; their relationships with His people; and to become the type of people whom God enjoys. Therefore, it is our conviction that all of life is spiritual. God enjoys His people when they are involved in their vocations, recreations and families as much as He does as when they are engaged in religious activities. Every aspect of life can be enhanced through one’s spirituality. Proof of one’s devotion to God is not determined by interjections of religious language into every conversation 24/7. We believe that God’s purposes are best served when people take the relaxed stand of becoming naturally supernatural. Our leaders teach our folks to minister salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the unconverted in an unobtrusive manner during the routine events of everyday life. By the leading of the Lord, hearing someone in a store checkout line saying they feel ill can turn into a spontaneous healing event. It can be accomplished without the fanfare of a revivalist’s campaign. If you are looking for biblical Christianity without the religious hype, we could be a safe haven for you.
With this biographical background information in mind, here’s an excerpt from an article Jim Croft wrote for CHARISMA. The title of the article is When Demons Attack Your Children With Sickness. Croft is an older man, so the story he tells about his daughters took place decades ago. Here’s what he had to say:
Our two oldest daughters, Kari and Sharon, were born with serious asthmatic conditions. Regular medical treatments kept them functional. Then, shortly after I became a Christian, Prudence and I prayed for the Lord to heal them. We thank God that He erased every symptom from their lives.
The situation with our third daughter, Holly, was quite different. She was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit at an early age. Nonetheless, her health history and certain aspects of her behavior puzzled us. None of the symptoms she exhibited was alleviated until she received deliverance ministry at the age of 5.
Holly had a stubborn streak that was uncharacteristic of her siblings. In the area of health, she did not respond to prayers for healing in the same way as her older sisters. For instance, all of the girls would catch the sniffles and we would pray for them simultaneously. Invariably, Kari and Sharon would be completely healed within several hours of our prayer—or they would recover fully within a day or two at most. But that was never the case with Holly. Her condition always seemed to worsen…
…Prudence and I grew weary from concern, sleepless nights and enormous medical bills. Above all, we were both disappointed by the fruitlessness of our prayers for her healing. And we were mystified that our every attempt to help her cultivate a more agreeable attitude failed.
One evening, Prudence came to me full of optimism. She told me that while she had been praying about Holly’s condition, the Lord had given her a spiritual revelation. He had reminded Prudence of several pertinent facts. Holly had been born under traumatic circumstances. First, she was more than a month premature. After her birth, she was hospitalized with a life-threatening respiratory ailment. In addition, after the delivery, Prudence had approached death’s door due to massive hemorrhaging.
As she shared all this with me, Prudence beamed with confidence. She was certain she had heard from the Lord.
“Jim, God gave me a vision of demons of infirmity and death entering Holly during her birth. The reason she doesn’t respond when we anoint her with oil and pray is because we are dealing with evil spirits, not routine sicknesses. We must take authority over them and cast them out in the name of Jesus.”
As Prudence spoke, something like inner agreement clicked within my spirit. I knew that what she was saying was absolutely on-target. We were very familiar with seeing people liberated from evil spirits, and I was filled with hope sensing that we were on the brink of a breakthrough for our child. Prudence and I both agreed that the best approach was immediate action. So we asked Holly to sit down with us in the living room for a talk.
As we all sat on the couch together, I explained to her as best I could what we were going to do. “Honey,” I said gently, “God has shown Mommy that there are some naughty spirits inside of you that make you sick all of the time. Daddy is going to tell them to come out of you in Jesus’ name.”
Holly looked a little unsure. Prudence slipped her arm around Holly’s waist, and I continued to explain.
“I’m going to speak very firmly to those nasty spirits while I’m looking at you, and I’m going to tell them to come out. It may sound as though I’m angry, but I’m not mad at you. We know you want to be a healthy and good girl. I am mad at the devil and the mean spirits that make you sick.”
Holly nodded at this point, seeming to understand, so I went on.
“I want you to look straight at me. When I tell the spirits to leave, you just open your mouth a little bit and breathe them out through your mouth.”
At that, Holly again looked puzzled. I thought to remind her of her experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. “Holly, do you remember how you breathed in the good Holy Spirit?” She nodded. “Well, after I tell the bad spirits to come out of you, I want you to huff and puff them out so the good Holy Spirit will have more room.”
What happened next was astonishing. As soon as I commanded the demons of death and infirmity to come out of my daughter, she gagged as though something were lodged in her throat.
Her tiny frame shook convulsively. Her face went ashen white, and her eyes rolled back into her head with only the whites showing. She then collapsed on the couch as though dead. In fact, she actually looked like a little corpse. But rather than panicking in concern at her appearance, I picked her up and began to laugh and sing and thank the Lord. I knew the troubling entities were gone.
Suddenly, Holly opened her eyes and smiled shyly up at me. She looked different. Her face was bright and her eyes were clear. Prudence and I knew in that moment that Holly was free from the chronic sicknesses and demonic forces that had attempted to snatch her life…
Alas! and did my Savior bleed And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For such a worm as I? Issac Watts, Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed
Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good-above all, that we are better than someone else-I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. Psalm 22:6
How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm? Job 25:6
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:24
Hater of God
Worthy of torture and death
According to the Bible, we are the lowest of low, little more than a dung beetle or a worm. Thanks to Adam and Eve eating fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden, every human being is born a sinner, a hater of God worthy of having the judgment and wrath of God poured out on their head. None of us can escape this condemnation. As soon as the egg unites with the sperm in the womb of a woman, a new vile and repulsive sinner is created. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Or so says Christianity.
What better way to attract and keep congregants than to convince them that they are broken, helpless, hopeless sinners who need glued back together with Jesus glue that can only be found at First Baptist Church on Main Street Anywhere, Ohio. And when the Jesus glue doesn’t last and bits and pieces of one’s life start breaking off, congregants are told to go to confession or walk the sawdust trail to an old-fashioned altar and get a resupply of Jesus glue.
And the cost for this wonderful, sin erasing Jesus glue? EVERYTHING. Your life, possessions, money, and family now belong to God. If it wasn’t for the Jesus glue, the Christian would still be like Humpty Dumpty, a pile of brokenness at the bottom of the wall. Since Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin, the least the groveling sinner can do is obediently follow him until they die. If they do this, then Jesus will give them a room in God’s Trump Hotel, a room they will rarely use since they will be spending most of their time praising and worshiping God. And even in heaven there will be a final judgement for every Christian, a time when God will comb through the events of the Christian’s life, reminding them of all the times they sinned and how lucky they are that God is allowing them to enter his heaven.
After several weeks of rain, we’ve finally gotten a break and are able to work in the yard and garden. Weeds are growing prolifically, and I am certain I heard them laughing at Polly and I as we, with aching muscles and bones, reached down to pull them up from the ground. I was so fatigued and in pain today that I laid on the ground and crawled along the flower beds pulling weeds. As I was doing this, I contemplated the wonders of Christianity. That was sarcasm, BTW. These Bible verses came to mind:
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:17-19
If you like to grow things, you know that weeds come with the territory. If you don’t pull them, they will take over and soon your yard looks like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller titled The Revenge of the Weeds. As you pull the weeds, just remember that weeds are a reminder from God that you are a vile worm, worthy of death. If you are a Christian, every weed you pull is a reminder of how vile you were before God saved you. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t apply salvation like Roundup? One application and the weeds are dead. One application of Jesus and all sin is eradicated. Why wouldn’t God do this? Wouldn’t it make life more enjoyable, not only for Christians, but God? Surely, God gets tired of Deacon Bob going to the altar every Sunday to confess his child porn habit?
Today, we celebrate Independence Day. Wouldn’t this be a good day to cast off the belief that we are broken sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness? Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for, scratch that, and then you’ll be dead. Enjoy life, living each moment to its fullest. As a man in his late fifties with declining health, I know that the ugly specter of death is stalking me. If I don’t enjoy life NOW…when will I do so? Since no life awaits me beyond the grave, shouldn’t I make the most of this life? Proverbs 27:1 says:
Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
Good advice, but not for the reasons Christians think. This verse stresses to the Christian the importance of being saved, of having sins forgiven, and preparing to meet God face to face. As an atheist, I read this verse and it says that life is short. There is no promise of tomorrow and no one knows what might happen. So, live! Live each moment of every day as if it is your last, because some day, sooner than you think, it will be.
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.
Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.
It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.
One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.
But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.
Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.
Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.
It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness.It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need.Depression is not a sin and never was.
I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.
How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
My parents really are nice people. After hearing some of the personal stories of some of my Gothard and Fundamentalist friends and watching families closely, all-in-all I feel pretty lucky. There was never any indication my parents were total mental nut cases, just two people trying way too hard. If their goal was to get a little further from the emotional and spiritual dysfunctions and effects of alcoholism or to give their children good memories, the ability to think reasonably and logically with compassionate hearts, they somehow succeeded in spite of Gothard’s dogma and the pressure placed on those who accept his self-proclaimed utopia. One interesting facet of this is they tried so hard and burdened us with so many rules and regulations and a mindset void of balanced thought, I think I could have easily become an alcoholic as I sorted through the pain and the brainwash. It’s been a long time coming, but I feel I’ve finally learned it’s okay to be a normal, run-of-the-mill person with hopes, dreams, strengths & weaknesses, failures, successes and a ‘sin nature’ who enjoys a balanced, pleasurable (gasp!) life. As I read the comments from my last post, I realized that only those who have experienced the effects of Gothard and Fundamentalism completely understand the difference between the issues we deal with that may have some similarity to common bumps in the road of life. Fundamentalists and Gothardites also deal with a huge GOD factor and resulting doctrines and beliefs which place fear at the forefront of every decision-fear of being wrong, of doing evil, of simply looking evil (which has numerous definitions in that world). If you think emotional blackmail in human relationships is cruel, try worshipping a god who utilizes it hypothetically himself and actually through your parents and environment.
I was in 2nd – grade when my parents decided to home educate us. My dad told me and my sister together and my sister or I asked if that meant our mom would buy red pencils. When I told my activity table in Sunday school one of my friends commented, “Cool! Does that mean you get to raise your hand and go to the bathroom anytime you want?” If only our experience were that simple. The thoughts of children- so guileless and unaffected; why would a parent ever accept the idea their child needs to be anything other? Life hits hard & head-on as it is and usually too early. Why not let kids be kids while adding layers of kindness, hope, courage, simplicity, strength, love, acceptance, logic and tolerance so that when the realities of life can no longer be ignored and tenacity must be forged in its fires, those nurtured qualities come alive & hold them even when mommy and daddy are no longer present? But allowing kids to be kids doesn’t work out well when you’re trying to raise an army. I must have been 7 or 8 when I told my aunt she would go to hell for wearing pants. If you think it’s evil the words ever left my lips, imagine being a child and already thinking those horrible thoughts about people you loved, triggered by a mere article of clothing. Yes, this was my mind, my world at a young age. My parents, prime candidates for Gothard’s inclusive teachings, started with his Basic Seminar (more later) and led to utilizing his home education program, Advanced Training Institute International.
Different than Bible-BASED home education curriculum, ATI is Bible-CENTERED (Bible being the textbook). If you understand the mindset of a family who would be attracted to ATI, this distinction is essential – Bible-based isn’t good enough if Bible-centered is available. Wisdom Booklets, based on a specific verse or passage of Scripture (Wisdom Booklet #1 beginning with The Sermon on the Mount), are provided linking Science, Math, Social Studies and Character Studies to the passage in some way. Fortunately, my parents supplemented the Wisdom Booklets with other curricula so that my siblings and I all graduated with the state required courses completed, therefore acquiring a better education than many die-hard ATI’ers. I have known personally some who brushed-off all other avenues of learning and education and focused only on their Biblically-based studies. I’ve overheard many ATI mothers and fathers voice their (non)education goals and dreams for their children. I know one girl whose father finally relented, allowing her to attend a local, forward-thinking, private, very high-quality institution with the understanding she attend classes without gaining credit. What a loss. This may not seem so strange if you realize the objective of ATI is to raise children who are virtually untouched by the ‘world’, its ideas, processes and practices. This mentality disparages traditional education of any kind. Liberal-arts, secular and even Fundamentalist Christian colleges (BJU, PCC, CCC, etc.) are not entertained as options for post-secondary education. Criticism from the outside and the ‘harsh’ expectations of existence (I say that tongue-in-cheek), led Gothard to establish Telos International which does provide some basic coursework for secondary education as prep for theirPrograms of Study. One glance at those websites will give you a good overview of the absurdity that is ATI. Fortunately or unfortunately (it could go either way), I convinced my parents God had called me to a Fundamentalist college, an experience I was mentally, socially, spiritually and emotionally unprepared for.
While in ATI, my family started every weekday morning with a Wisdom Search , a family Bible-study digging deeper into the ‘truths’ of the Wisdom Booklet we were studying. Most mornings Every morning, all I wanted to do was a grab a red pencil and commence voracious eye stabbing. My siblings probably would have too had they not been more lethargic than I some days. ATI parents believe they are doing ‘good’; they are giving their children a gift, a better way, a better life than the hopeless and meaningless existence they perceive surrounds them. I don’t know why neither one of my parents, both formally educated individuals, did not clue-in one of those sleepy mornings-my dad droning on while our heads bobbed listlessly, contributing occasionally to the conversation attempting to convince them we were awake and attentive during those few seconds we nodded off into leftover dreams-IT WASN’T WORKING. Those few seconds seemed like hours. Those days, years. Those years seem like centuries ago. And I’ve only just begun.
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
Awhile back, Bruce requested someone who had been reared in the Bill Gothard movement write a post concerning their experience. I volunteered. After many frustrating nights of re-typing, editing and scrapping most of my rough-drafts, I think I finally hit on a post I hope will work. I thought I had re-hashed, dealt with and de-programmed myself far enough away from that experience…
But here it is again, staring me in the face; reality hits and I find myself crying in the shower. I enjoy a beautiful life-a wonderful husband, three beautiful children and a place I love in the mountains. By the world’s standards, we don’t have much but, in my opinion we have everything. Our home is full of love and good times. I’m a lucky girl! Why is it then that some days I feel so screwed?
As a child, I possessed many interests and dreamed big; there were so many things I wanted for my life. Somewhere along the way, I was presented the lie and accepted the lie that I wasn’t good enough unless I was wearing someone else’s shoes, that I couldn’t just say “yes” to what I wanted because all I heard around me were “no’s.” My world was so small, created by a know it all, religious neurotic (IMO) with alarming stories, defining my childhood with fear, obligation and guilt and given the nod by my parents who lost any sense of judgment they may have possessed and, sadly, began closing themselves off from other persuasions. Confusion and dread permeated my young adult life as I contemplated where to go and what to be, the achievable dreams of a little girl lost in an environment too good for traditional education, occupations, livelihood and culture.
I don’t remember when exactly my parents became involved in Bill Gothard and The Institute in Basic Life Principles Seminar, but if memory serves me correctly, I was probably around five or six when they attended The Basic Seminar for the first time. My parents, both children of alcoholics (COA’s), were seemingly enraptured with Gothard’s teachings from the beginning. I’ll never forget the day my mother told me she and my father did not agree with ‘everything’ Gothard taught. At eighteen, this was debilitating news. I grew up observing my parent’s devotion to the seminar and their dedication to serve in various capacities – utilizing the home education curriculum (Advanced Training Institute International) and investing our precious time, energy and finances into practicing and infiltrating our lives with Gothard’s propaganda. Never once did we sit down and discuss the seminar, nor was I ever left with the impression that my parents questioned his teachings. Why? This question haunts me still. Both of my parents are educated people. In almost every other aspect of their lives they are deliberate. It took me years to realize the smidgen of truth and common sense in Gothard’s teachings hooked them – two harshly abused and rejected adults, now with four little children, looking for answers, just wanting to ‘get it right.’ My father was a meek, kind, passive, quiet man with little to no confidence who, in his desire to feel acceptance, was driven by the approval and acknowledgement of others, simultaneously building walls around himself and our family so that we were pulled into his everlasting eager to please, becoming as a family what he never saw in himself – something to be proud of and displayed. Then, there was my mother – a child inside who was forced by circumstance to be the adult most of her life, caring for her siblings at a young age, feeling overly responsible for everyone and everything and being caught in the middle of a fantastical life that would never be realized and the cold reality of independence. Both of them, so preoccupied with separating themselves from their own dysfunctional familial experiences and the assurance that perfection was attainable, seemingly didn’t stop to consider the cost; to realize the extremism of The Institute and the futility of embracing a life of mindless rules and regulations, walls, narrow-mindedness & pain.
Finished with my cry fest for the evening, here I sit – a computer on my lap and a college catalog lying next to me on the coffee table. Friday, I have an appointment with a career counselor. I’m desperate. I want her to tell me what ‘I want to do when I grow up’. I’m 36. I should have some idea of what makes me happy, what makes me tick, what I can do, where I can go…but I don’t. I thought I knew myself. The first 23-years of my life were spent listening to what I was ‘supposed’ to be, marry & love; what not to wear, to listen to, to dream or imagine and what not to believe or read or think. I lived in a surface level world where looking the part and acting the part was everything and allowing people close enough to see your warts non-acceptable. The false confidence I assumed as a result, not wanting my weaknesses to hang for the world to see, lost its grip on me four years ago when I became a mother – the one task, pleasure, challenge and gift that is unequivocally mine and I’m left wondering if anything else I’ve experienced thus far is completely genuine – some relationships, conversations, ideas & intentions. For 13-years I have been sorting through the good and bad of my childhood; the childhood of my parents and what triggered their seemingly unfeigned attentiveness to Gothard – an articulate, crafty peddler who insulted their intelligence with a product of unrealistic hopes and twisted truths he himself had never even sampled.
I think I’m beginning to understand why I’ve felt so screwed.
In spite of the fact I am a former fundamentalist Christian and ex-pastor, my minister son and his family think I am headed for Hell. This is my response to him. I use the pen name of August Stine to protect my son.
Different Family Beliefs
Your faith is important to you.
My beliefs are important to me.
We pray to the same God every day
For me, He is the Caring Creator;
Who cares about my well being
To you, He is the fearful God
Who demands obedience.
I believe Jesus was a spiritual man but not God.
I believe Jesus said some great words of wisdom
And I am sorry he had to die on the cross.
You believe Jesus died for the sins of man
And his salvation is a gift from God.
I do not believe this, but let’s suppose I did.
Didn’t you say salvation was a gift?
If it is a gift, why do I need to do anything?
You say I am going to hell unless . . .
You even give me the words I should say—
“Jesus, forgive my sins.”
Do people go to hell for not saying these words?
What if I wait until just before dying and then ask?
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty states, Evangelicals are trying to figure out how to explain marriage to their children. They dare not say that marriage is based on love, commitment, and sacrifice because that would be admitting that same-sex couples are legitimately married. Greg Gibson, the executive editor and communications director for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and family ministries pastor at Foothills Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, recently wrote an article titled Parenting in a Gay Marriage World: What Should Christian Parents Do? Gibson gives ten suggestions for talking to little Christian Johnny or Suzie about marriage, especially same-sex marriage:
Talk honestly and openly about sin, homosexuality, and gay marriage with your children.
Model to your children a marriage that is a picture of the gospel.
Teach your children the biblical foundations for marriage.
Teach your children the biblical foundations for sex.
Protect your children from the influences of pornography.
Pray fervently for and with your children.
Partner with a gospel-centered local church that will come alongside you and teach the truths of Scripture.
Teach your children biblical gender roles.
Train your children towards courageous biblical manhood and womanhood.
Don’t panic. Trust in God. He is still in control. His plan will still win.
In others words, cram the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the Bible down their throats, pray for them, take them to church, train them to be good little complementarians, and don’t let them anywhere near a computer where they can access porn sites. And if teenage Johnny or Suzie turn out gay anyway? Well, “Don’t panic, trust in God, he is still in control and his plan will still win.” Except it won’t. God is no match for genetics and sexual desire. Just ask Ted Haggard.
Foothills Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
I am at a loss to understand why government officials in North Carolina haven’t called me so I could tell them WHYsharks are attacking people along the North Carolina coast. Based on everything I’ve read on Evangelical and Catholic blogs and news sites, the reason for the shark attacks is because
THE SUPREME COURT LEGALIZED GAY MARRIAGE
This will be the reason given for every calamity from this point forward. And don’t think for a moment there’s not some Schlitz-drinking, AK-47 carrying, mud wrasslin loving, King James Bible toting, fundamentalist Christian who thinks this way. In their mind, once same-sex marriage was legalized, the foundation of Western civilization came tumbling to the ground.
Here’s what you’ll hear in the future after Sunday go-to-meeting at Thirteenth Baptist Church in Rednecknakedville, North Carolina:
You hear about that tsunami killing all those folks in Japan? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
You hear about those forest fires in Arizona? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
You hear about the water shortage in California? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
You hear about someone shooting up the Episcopal church? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
You hear about the KKK guy assassinating the President? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
You hear about ____________________? Yep, that’s God saying he’s upset over same-sex marriage.
Have you ever noticed that these prophets of doom, gloom, and anal sex, keep getting richer? Perhaps the culture war is really about money, about keeping this or that church and ministry afloat on prosperity sea. In other words, cultural change is good for business. According to Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association:
…This brings us to what the Supreme Court did to Muslims last Friday. The entire world knows exactly how the “religion of peace” deals with homosexuals: they tie them to chairs and throw them off eight story buildings, and then, if they survive the fall, stone them to death.
In fact, on Friday, the very day the Supreme Court handed down its abominable gay marriage ruling, ISIS threw four homosexuals off the roof of an apartment building, perhaps to stick a thumb in the eye of the United States.
The Muslim world justifies its attacks on the United States because they believe, not inaccurately, that we are the chief exporter of wickedness and decadence in the world. That’s why they call us the Great Satan. When we insult their god, their religion, their prophet, or their values they claim a divine sanction to punish us for our transgressions…
…But wait. The Supreme Court insulted and offended the entire Muslim world last Friday by celebrating and gushing over a sin that Muslims regard as so offensive to Allah that practitioners must be hurled to their death. (By the way, the great difference between Christians and Muslims with regard to homosexuals is that we want them healed while Muslims want them dead.)
The Supreme Court, perhaps unwittingly and carelessly, just gave the Muslim world another reason to attack us. And a terrorist attack appears imminent, perhaps even planned for this weekend. The FBI has set up command posts all over the country and is taking the threat so seriously that 4th of July leave has been canceled for every single agent.
If Muslims attack us, and refer in any way to our celebration of homosexuality as part of the reason, then according to liberals culpability must be laid at the feet of the Supreme Court.
So, the next time there is a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and there will be a next time, it’s all because of the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. No matter what ills befalls us, it will be blamed on, by Pastor Nutter, Sister Ignor and Brother Amus, the legalization of same-sex marriage.
This kind of thinking is the direct result of too much exposure to Fox News, Worldnet Daily, and the Sunday morning preaching of conspiracy nuts. Once entropy starts there is little that can be done to stop it. Brain cell after brain cell dies until all that is left is a mind unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. They become the Walking Dead.
Thanks to Bruce for welcoming this guest post on his blog. I always enjoy reading Bruce’s blog, and I hope this guest post will fit. This post is a response to a request by Bruce for posts that address conversion from religion to atheism, in particular from those who may be a few years into the process, and how it feels to live without religion. I have written about my deconversion from Christianity elsewhere on my own blog, so you can read the details there if you wish. I may repeat myself a bit here just to make this post complete, but the point here is to describe my perspective since becoming an atheist. I hope that this post may help anyone who is going through a similar process or who is questioning their faith but afraid to give up their religion.
I have been an atheist for about eight years now. At least, 2007 is when I technically stopped believing in God, though the process was a gradual one that probably progressed throughout my adult life. The actual time point at which I stopped believing in God was surprisingly sudden and distinct. I would say that in early 2007 (as late as March) I still believed that God existed and that I wanted to relate to him although my view of God had shifted significantly since my coming of age two decades earlier. But, by May of 2007 I no longer believed that God existed. The final step was that sudden for me. In late 2006 and early 2007 I read a few books that looked at the character of God in a new light, including If Grace is True and If God is Love both by Phillip Gulley and James Muholland. More importantly for my conversion process I also read a book called Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. The book basically follows two stories: a general history of Mormonism and a specific case of murder in the 1980s by two Mormons who believed they were instructed by God to perform the murders. I knew virtually nothing of Mormonism prior to reading the book, but it served as a striking example of how religion can cause people to believe the unbelievable. The religion is clearly a fabrication from 19th century America, with roots that are distinctly American in culture. Yet, there are millions of followers around the world, in what I can only understand as blind faith. The book illustrated the strength of religious influence, and how humans clearly yearn for some meaning to their life, which often seems to be filled by instructions and commands by a person in power – or a religion. I had met a few Mormons, and they seemed as convinced that their religion was true as any other religious person, including the Christians I had grown up with. Yet there was no doubt in my mind that the entire religion was a fabrication. If a religion could essentially be constructed by one man in the relatively modern times of the 19th Century to a point that millions of people worldwide were followers, how much more possible was it that a religion could have developed 2,000 years ago in a time when the availability of information was incomparably lower than in the modern era? (Literacy was lower, formal education was rare, books [at least as we know them now] and newspapers were non-existent).
I then came across a number of the so-called “new atheists” including the most famous, Richard Dawkins. I had previously read a few critiques of Dawkins by Christians, but never read any of his own books or articles. In early May 2007 I was watching TV late one evening and saw Dawkins interviewed on the Canadian television show The Hour:
Contrary to the way he was viewed by Christian apologetics, he seemed down to earth, very rational and well-spoken, and what he said rang true. He was not the pompous arrogant and bull-headed demon that many Christian writers had made him out to be. I read his famous book The God Delusion. The house of cards came tumbling down.
Now, a few books and a television interview in early 2007 were not, of course, solely responsible for my loss of faith. I had occasionally asked myself the hypothetical question: “What if God doesn’t exist?” I sometimes wondered what kind of person I would be if I didn’t have God looking over my shoulder. But, up until that point it was simply a mental exercise I went through, I never for a moment actually doubted his existence. I had always known that God was there watching me, reading my thoughts. I find it hard to pinpoint why it was at this time that my doubts about God’s existence suddenly became more focused. Suddenly, instead of simply theorizing what it would be like if God didn’t exist, I started to realize that it is very likely that he does not exist. I think that Spring of 2007 was the culmination of a very slow march towards rationalism that had begun two decades earlier when I left home in my late teens. I had studied science extensively, and always accepted the science I learned, but also always somehow fit whatever I learned around the model of God that I had been steeped in while a child. This is an important point because I think it is very, very difficult for people who have been raised in religion to give it up. For me, there was always the nagging fear of my impending death and the threat of eternal punishment in hell if I doubted God’s existence.
In any case, at that time I finally realized that I no longer believed God exists. The final step was not really a conscious decision for me. It was more of a realization that the notion of a god was no longer a reasonable belief. It was as though I looked around and realized I still secretly believed in Santa Claus as an adult while everything I had experienced in the world around me screamed that he could not possibly exist.
So, like a child taking the butterfly wings off for the first time in the deep end of the swimming pool and realizing that it can indeed float without them, I considered that the world might work just fine without a god.Julia Sweeney has described a similar experience in her book Letting Go of God:
…as I was walking from my office in my backyard into my house, I realized there was this little teeny-weenie voice whispering in my head. I’m not sure how long it had been there, but it suddenly got just one decibel louder. It whispered, ‘There is no god.’
And I tried to ignore it. But it got a teeny bit louder. ‘There is no god. There is no god. Oh my god, there is no god.’…
And I shuddered. I felt I was slipping off the raft.
And then I thought, ‘But I can’t. I don’t know if I can not believe in God. I need God. I mean, we have a history’…
‘But I don’t know how to not believe in God. I don’t know how you do it. How do you get up, how do you get through the day?’ I felt unbalanced…
I thought, ‘Okay, calm down. Let’s just try on not-believing-in-God glasses for a moment, just for a second. Just put on the no-God glasses and take a quick look around and then immediately throw them off.’ And I put them on and looked around. I’m embarrassed to report that I initially felt dizzy. I actually had the thought, ‘Well, how does the Earth stay up in the sky? You mean, we’re just hurtling through space? That’s so vulnerable!’ I wanted to run out and catch the Earth as it fell out of space into my hands.
And then I remembered, ‘Oh yeah, gravity and angular momentum is gonna keep us revolving around the sun for probably a long, long time.’
I can relate to some of this description quite well. In addition to what she describes, my situation was complicated by the fear that I might die while I had the not-believing-in-God glasses on and go to hell for eternity just because I happened to die while I was trying out atheism for 30 minutes. It was a bit like coming up to a train track and thinking, ‘I need to cross the tracks, but what if the train comes along out of nowhere and mows me down just at the moment that I step across?’ When I finally overcame my fear of being annihilated in a moment of fury like an Efrafan rabbit (from Richard Adams wonderful novel Watership Down), and stepped gingerly on the tracks, my whole perspective changed. Instead of looking up the track in fear of an oncoming train, I looked down at the tracks in detail for the first time and realized they were decrepit and could not possibly bear a train. No train would ever be coming along those tracks and I could linger as long as I like quite safely. Once that was established, the opportunity to really open up my mind to some serious questions availed itself and it was not long before the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Indeed, once I had my Julia Sweeney moment, the whole ordeal was over in a matter of minutes. I was through with God instantly as I realized that the whole game was a farce. There was no desire at all to cling to a false god for comfort. I simply set god aside and moved on.
Once I moved into atheism, there were of course many questions to tackle. I wondered about the afterlife. I accepted almost immediately that the whole thing was man-made and that when I die I will simply not exist anymore. For some time after my de-conversion, I felt quite sad that the prospect of an eternal heaven was gone, but my sadness was also tempered by the realization that I no longer had to fear hell. I realized that there was nothing to fear about being dead any more than there was to fear about before I was born. That thought was a reassuring one as I left behind the indoctrination of fear that Christianity brands its followers with, often without them realizing just how much fear is used to maintain the faith. Do I ever still fear death and hell? Yes, occasionally. Those fears instilled in childhood are difficult to overcome. Very occasionally I do have a very brief moment of panic as I ask myself that ridiculous question: “What if I’m wrong?” Then I always recognize that I’m about as likely to be wrong about the god of the Bible as I am likely to be wrong in believing that we are not all living in some computer matrix such as that in the popular Keanu Reeves movies. These days my biggest fears are something along the lines of Rene Descartes’ evil demon – occasionally I worry that there is in fact a deity, but one that is malicious and malevolent, waiting to torment us all for eternity regardless of our choices here on earth. But then I recognize the absurdity of such ideas and the complete lack of evidence to support them, and that such beliefs and fears and bordering on the schizophrenic.
As I recognized that my existence would end with my death (such an obvious concept now), I very quickly started to value my life much, much more deeply than when I had been a Christian. My view when I was a Christian was that this life was just the preamble to something much greater, that I had all eternity to look forward to. All of sudden I realized that was not the case, and I realized that I’d better make the most of every day that I have in this life.
Another issue that is perhaps of interest to those Christians who are doubting their faith, or those who are cynical about people such as me who have de-converted, is the question of morality. Where do your morals come from, if not from God? As a Christian I would have asked this very question myself, but as an atheist it seems patently absurd. I believe that morality is a human construct, and therefore it does not come through revelation with the divine. Humans created morality. Morality comes from human society. Some human behaviours are almost universally considered immoral, such as murder, rape, theft. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why these things are immoral. Human societies wouldn’t survive if they were all acceptable behaviours. But there are a lot of human behaviours that are only considered immoral from a religious point of view, for example blasphemy and a host of sexually acts such as pre-marital sexual intercourse. But, usually these types of “immoral” behaviours vary depending on the religion. In any case, I have not found that I’ve plunged into any sort of immoral abyss now that I’m an atheist. If anything, I am probably a more moral person now than when I was a Christian. Certainly I am a more responsible person in terms of contributing positively to society because I now realize that human society is not some temporary situation on the way to eternity in heaven. Rather, I now realize that human society is all we’ve got. It is precious. Things like protecting the environment for future generations have become much more important for me now that I realize the earth doesn’t have to end in an apocalyptic disaster as Jesus comes to establish his kingdom.
Another interesting phenomenon that I’ve recognized in my years since becoming an atheist, is a bit of a role reversal in my point of view on the world and society. When I was a Christian, I sort of looked down on non-Christians. I pitied them for not understanding the truth, for not being saved. Now I have to admit that I sort of look down on Christians. I pity them for not understanding the truth, for not living life to its fullest. I’m not proud of feeling this way, and it is probably just a natural pride in my personality that causes it, but I’m also trying to describe that there is an irony in the thought that I still find most Christians look down on me for not having the truth. But now the difference is that I feel sorry for them. It’s sort of like being looked down up on by a child. In fact,
The world seems much more fragile to me now that I am an atheist. When you believe that there is a God watching over the world, and that he has a long-term plan for humanity, you assume that things can’t go dramatically wrong. Sure, bad things like earthquakes and floods do happen, but the ultimate plan must remain intact. God isn’t about to let a large meteor collided with the earth tomorrow and end all human life because it doesn’t fit with his plan. (There is too much other destruction described in the book of Revelation that has to happen first!). But, now that I don’t believe in God, I realize that we are indeed alone on this rock floating through space. We have to be so careful to take care of both ourselves and nature because the whole thing could come crashing down and no God would be there to step in and keep us on course.
So, I had often wondered what kind of person I would be if I were no longer a Christian. I had wondered if I would be more selfish, I would lie more easily. The reality has been the exact opposite. I hope that I am a much more pleasant and selfless person now that I’m an atheist. The world no longer revolves around me. I am but a speck of dust in vast universe. While my life has great significance to those around me while I am alive, I am completely insignificant in terms of nature and the universe. It is not about me. I am just a cog in the great machinery of nature.
One thing that seems pervasive in relating to Christians since my de-conversion is a complete lack of understanding that I don’t actually believe in God anymore. Most Christians seem to think that atheists are rebelling against God, that we hate him for some reason. Perhaps we’ve been so hurt by religion when we were younger that now we feel hate for God and for Christianity and are like a rebellious teenager who goes off on his own in a huff. But I don’t hate God. I just don’t believe he exists. My position is exactly the same as the position a Christian is in when they consider the existence of something they don’t believe in, like unicorns or Santa Claus. I’m not trying to belittle Christians’ beliefs by making that comparison, it really is that way for me. I don’t hate unicorns, I just don’t think they exist.
In a situation I experienced in which a few atheists were discussing religion with a few Christians, a Christian friend of mine summed up the differences like this: “Either you believe in God or you don’t. That’s about all there is to it.” I very much agree with this statement, and I would take it further and say that you can’t really choose whether you believe in God or not. Either you do or you don’t. If you are a Christian who is finding that you doubt God’s existence, then you may already feel that you don’t believe he exists. You might pretend that you still believe he does exist, but deep inside only you know whether you believe it or not. If you don’t believe in God, there isn’t much you can do to choose to believe in him. I could pretend to believe in God, but at the end of the day I just don’t. It would be a dishonest act for me to pretend I believe in God. It’s not a choice I am capable of making any longer. Ultimately, we all owe it to ourselves to ask the really difficult questions about our beliefs and see where the chips fall. Ultimately the only person who suffers if you don’t is yourself.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Bruce Gerencser for giving me this opportunity to write a guest post on his blog, and to do so anonymously. The only reason I retain my anonymity is because there are family members who are not aware I am no longer religious and would probably be hurt by finding out on the internet if they stumbled across this post at some point in the future. Who am I? I am a Canadian scientist. I study human physiology. I was a Christian for roughly the first three decades of my life before finding my way to atheism. My path to atheism is not the topic of this post, as I have written about it elsewhere. If Bruce is willing, a link can be provided to my own blog writings. But I volunteered to write a guest post about what science is, why it is often misunderstood, and why it is so important. The value of science seems to be under deliberate attack in some Western nations (notably the United States and Canada), and scientific findings are often rejected or rebuked when they don’t fit with certain agendas. I’d like to write about why that is dangerous to society.
What is Science?
Science is a process that methodically gathers knowledge about the natural world. Science leads us to knowledge about the world around us, and how it works. We all make observations about the world around us all the time, but the scientific method is careful not to jump to conclusions based on those observations until they are testable repeatedly and independently. This means that, for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and consistently come out with the same results. Science, though it is conducted by biased and imperfect humans, must be conducted in an unbiased way. Scientists have to learn to put aside their biases and preconceived beliefs before they conduct their experiments. Bias can very easily cause someone to misinterpret the results. This is the fundamental difference between the scientific approach and the approach taken by most people in society. If you have a favorite political party or sports team, you are likely to cheer for them no matter how they perform. Even if your sports team never wins, you may still convince yourself they are the best team. The difference between the scientific method and what I would call the political or religious method is best explained by the following illustration:
In the scientific method, all the evidence on a particular topic is examined. Then the conclusions are drawn from the findings of the evidence regardless of whether you like the conclusions or not. Conversely, in the political or religious method, the conclusion is generally formed first and then evidence is gathered to support that conclusion or theory. When it seems like science has been wrong about something, usually it is because scientists have not properly taken their bias out of the methods and therefore have misinterpreted their findings. A very important part of science is also acknowledging when you don’t have enough data to form a conclusion. (More on that later in relation to scientists being wrong all the time).
Deliberate Discrediting of Science and Scientists
There are two classic examples in recent years of how good science has been rejected because it conflicts with an agenda: 1) evolution; and 2) climate change. Evolution is a process that explains how biological diversity arises by change in the inherited genotype (genetic make-up of the organism) and phenotype (the observable characteristics) through generations of offspring. The word “overwhelming” is often used to describe the amount of evidence supporting evolution. There is no doubt that evolution happens in biology, and that humans evolved from more primitive primate species (not monkeys!). Evolution is as established and verifiable as many other part of science, such as gravity, germ theory, etc. I don’t need to list through all the evidence in favor of evolution here, that information is available to anyone who honestly wants to know the truth. However, evolution goes directly against the concept that God created the species (including humans) as they are, and that humans are somehow special among the many species of animals. Therefore, those people who are unable to let go of their belief that God exists and that he created the species as they are, must reject evolution, try to discredit the science behind it, and even teach children known falsehoods in science classes, all because the truth of evolution challenges their pre-conceived conclusion that God created humans as we are. They are following the second method in the diagram above.
Another example is climate change. The global climate is a complex phenomenon. There have been large variations and cycles in the earth’s climate throughout its history. Cycling between ice ages and more warm periods seems to be a natural occurrence. However, in the past decades, the earth’s climate has been changing much more rapidly than ever before. This has been occurring in concert with an increase in carbon dioxide levels higher than they have been in roughly 100 million years. The rate of change is completely out of whack with the natural cycles that have happened in the past, and corresponds to the recent centuries of industrialization of our society and our massive increase in use of fossil fuels (which give off carbon dioxide). Again, there is no doubt in science about the facts of climate change. Though the process of climate change is not as established as evolution, there is no doubt that human activity is dramatically affecting the climate on our planet. But, to alter this process would take some very, very significant changes in all our lifestyles. (This is the part where climate change deniers roll their eyes and claim that environmentalists would have us all living in caves). One of the huge changes that would have to take place is a shift towards cleaner energy sources, and there are very, very wealthy and powerful people who make all their money by having you and I use up fossil fuels. They have an agenda, and they don’t care about the science. Therefore, the science of climate change has been very deliberately attacked by organized and well-funded groups with special interest.
Both of these (evolution and climate change) are great examples of the political and religious process of having an agenda or a conclusion, and then going out and looking for evidence to support your agenda, rather than forming your conclusions based on all the evidence. Sadly, many people have been led to believe exactly the opposite: that scientists have an agenda with evolution and climate change and that they are making it all up to support their agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Don’t Scientists Have an Agenda Too?
The short answer is no. Scientists are human of course, so they all have biases and are capable of making mistakes. But, the scientific method is specifically designed to remove human bias, errors, and agendas. The whole point of the scientific method is to discover without bias. Yes, some scientists have an agenda. Yes, some scientists do take money from a funding agency that wants to prove they are right more than they want to discover the real truth about something (think pharmaceutical companies). But, the vast majority of scientists deliberately try to remove bias from their work, look for the honest answer regardless of what they want the answer to be, and when they do have their findings, they present them publicly for others to review and criticize to ensure they are valid findings. That is the way good science is conducted in research institutions, and the vast majority of the time it works to uncover a lot of knowledge about the world around us.
If you get into a disagreement or argument with a scientist about his or her particular area of expertise, then one of two things is likely to happen. Firstly, and much more likely, you are wrong and are not accepting the evidence that the scientist is using to back up their position. (A simple example would be having an argument with a physicist about whether the earth is round or flat. You are wrong. They are right. They are right because they have based their position on the evidence). Or, secondly, you are right and the scientist is wrong because they have either left the scientific method of examining only the evidence, or they have over-extended themselves beyond what the evidence tells them. (An example of this would be if a physicist tells you that we know we are in the only universe in existence. We don’t have enough evidence to support that claim, and if a scientist claimed that fact, then they have forgotten not to extend their conclusions beyond the evidence).
Why Do Scientists Seem So Arrogant?
In short, because they are right! Remember, when they are doing their job properly, scientists only form their conclusions based on evidence and facts and limit their conclusions when they don’t have enough evidence. Therefore, when they do draw a conclusion about something, it is very, very likely to be correct. You’ll notice that it is very hard to win an argument with someone when they do this. Try to take the position in an argument that the sky is not blue, or that gravity does not exist and see how you do. If you knew nothing about gravity, you might think a physicist seemed arrogant for being so adamant that they are right about gravity. But, they are only adamant because the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position. If you base your arguments on evidence and are careful not to overextend your position beyond the evidence, then you will always be right, simple as that. Of course, most scientists have extensive knowledge on one specific topic that is far greater than the average person. Therefore, when you argue with them on that one topic, they are always right and you are always wrong (assuming they base their argument in evidence). This can seem like arrogance.
Of course, in reality many scientists do overextend themselves beyond the evidence and make claims that are not supported. Then they are just being arrogant.
Aren’t Scientists Wrong All the Time?
Scientific findings are often corrected as we learn more about the natural world. Sometimes scientists discover something and then realize down the road that their discovery was not quite right after all. But, that is not a good reason to reject science whenever it conflicts with your particular preferences, and to explain it away by saying that scientists are often wrong anyway. The scientific method gradually produces knowledge and facts about nature, but one experiment might not immediately provide all the answers. For example, if you want to know whether drinking aspartame has negative effects on pregnant women, you don’t want to draw your conclusions after one experiment. After many experiments by many different scientists, we may discover the truth about that question. But each experiment by itself tends to give an incomplete picture. The important thing in understanding science is to distinguish between the findings that are preliminary and those that are overwhelmingly supported. If you read in the news about a study that found that eating seven carrots a day will reduce your risk of cancer by 36%, then you can likely assume that it is a preliminary finding. Much more research needs to be done to establish the actual benefits of a certain number of carrots per day. But, if you read a textbook on evolution, you would be wrong to roll your eyes and think that this is a preliminary finding. Over 150 years of scientific research in many different fields (geology, biology, genetics, microbiology, etc.) all lead to the same conclusions about evolution.
It is easy and tempting to look back over time and claim that scientists have been wrong about so much. You could look back in history and claim that scientists first thought the earth was flat and the sun went around the earth and so on. But, most scientific claims have a degree of uncertainty to them. (Statistics dictates that certainty is not possible in any one scientific experiment. Most scientific experiments are set up statistically so that the likelihood of misinterpreting the results are roughly 1 in 20. But that does not mean that the chances of science being wrong on well established findings are 1 in 20. For example, any single experiment on tobacco smoking leading to cancer will have a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. But the chances that smoking does not cause cancer are much, much less than 1 in 20, almost infinitely smaller.) That is why scientists have to be careful to say that the evidence supports their findings, given what we know so far but that there may be a lot more to the whole story. Scientific findings have to be interpreted with a great deal of humility about what we still don’t know about nature. Anytime a scientist conducts one experiment and then claims to know the truth about that phenomenon, they are probably being hasty and arrogant. Only over time, with careful and unbiased repetition of results, can we state things to be true with a very high level of certainty.
Usually, when science has turned out to be “wrong”, it is in fact a case of a scientists having drawn a conclusion before there is enough evidence to support it, so that when enough evidence does come to light their conclusions don’t hold up. In ancient times, a true scientist would not have made assumptions about the earth being flat, but instead should have said: “We don’t have enough data yet to know what shape the earth is.” This is the approach modern scientists take on many unknown issues surrounding things like dark matter, and the exact origins of the universe. Since we don’t have enough data yet, we have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions. Sadly, this acknowledgement is often exploited by the religious with a statement that God must fill in the gaps in knowledge, or that since science can’t explain everything about the origin of the universe, God must have created it.
Can You Be A Scientist and A Christian at the Same Time?
It is possible, but very uncommon. In my time as a scientist, I’ve met a very few scientists who are religious. The vast majority of those have grown up in a culture and family of religion that they have just continued with in their life as an adult. When they go to work each day and conduct experiments in science, they almost always set aside their religion and just work as a scientist. To work as a scientist and keep your firmly entrenched Christian beliefs in the forefront of your mind would be in conflict because science requires that we set aside our personal biases. If your personal bias is that God created the world and is ultimately responsible for how everything works, then you’re unlikely to be very good at interpreting your scientific findings very objectively. In my experience, the vast majority of scientists are not religious. Most of them, if asked, would probably admit to agnosticism since there is no sure way of knowing whether a god exists or not. The best answer I’ve heard on this was from my high school chemistry teacher. When asked if he believes in God, he replied: “You define God for me, and then I’ll tell you whether I believe in your definition.”
Are Science and Religion in Opposition?
This is an age-old argument. Carl Sagan’s fictional book Contact has a great debate on this topic. Everyone seems to have a different point of view on whether science and religion can co-exist. My position (which I am not saying is the only correct one), is that the two are in conflict. The whole point of this post has been to show that the scientific method is one that forms a conclusion only after examining the evidence. The religious method is the opposite: you hold a belief (or have faith) and then look at the world and find things that support that belief in God. If you always stick to the scientific method, I am confident you’ll never find a reason to even bring religion into the conversation. In my mind, everything in the world is explained naturally with no need for the supernatural. It was science that ultimately helped relieve me of my religious beliefs. After a long time of studying science I finally realized that the level of scrutiny I demanded of myself for my religious beliefs were completely out of whack with the level of scrutiny for everything else in my life. I lived an evidence-based life, always being careful to critique what politicians and others claimed against what the evidence actually stated, but when it came to religion for some reason I just accepted what the Bible said about God without ever questioning it. Eventually I overcame that inconsistency in my life and left Christianity behind, so it is not surprising that my particular point of view is that science and religion are not just incompatible but are in direct opposition to one another.
I wrote at the beginning that: “for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and come out with the same results.” The beauty of science, therefore, is that it is freely available for anyone and everyone. No one can come along and claim to have knowledge that is not accessible to you. No one can claim that they know better than you, and you should just trust what they say without independently verifying that knowledge. You will notice that this is in direct opposition to the religious approach to knowledge by revelation. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross and came to life again a few days later. But this is not independently verifiable. You cannot test this claim. You must rely on someone else’s description of that event in order to believe it. This is exactly the opposite of the scientific approach. While you may have to rely on scientist’s description on things that are very complicated for you to understand, nothing is stopping you from going and getting trained in that field of science and then conducting your own experiments to find out for yourself it they are correct. If you do that, no honest scientist will ever tell you: “Yes, but I have superior knowledge and findings in my experiment, so I’m still right.”
Why Do We Need Science Anyway?
The way science is conducted is changing rapidly in universities and research institutions. Governments are focusing funding towards things that they think are important and ignoring or actively discrediting the science that they think it either unimportant or that goes against their political agenda. This is not the way science is supposed to work. Science is a process of discovery, but you often don’t know what you are going to discover. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries in history were made more or less by accident when a scientist was actually looking for something else. When Alexander Fleming stumbled upon penicillin in 1928, he did so by accident. He wasn’t even studying antibiotics at all. Yet, that accidental discovery changed all of our lives for the better, probably more than any other medical discovery in the 20th Century. Imagine if governments had shut down Fleming because they didn’t feel his relatively obscure scientific research was contributing to society. The point is, you never know where the most important scientific discoveries are going to come from. So, trying to focus on curing cancer while stopping the study of sea-slugs would be a big mistake because ultimately the cure for cancer could lie in knowledge gained by studying sea slugs. When you limit the process of discovery, you limit the discoveries you will make.
The other very important reason that science is important in society relates back to the image above of the scientific process. If everyone took an evidence-based approach to life’s decisions, we’d have a much better world. There would be far fewer (if any) wars and governments would be forced to serve the best interests of the population not of the party. The scientific method teaches us to take a humble and open-minded approach to life. Don’t go into things assuming you know the answer before you begin. Stick to your conclusions if the evidence supports it, even if everyone else says you are wrong. But, do admit when you are wrong. These are the hallmarks of a good scientist, but most of us don’t act this way when engaging in politics, marriages, friendships, conversations, and so on.
Summary: Why Is Science Relevant to a Discussion About Religion & Atheism?
What does science have to do with religion? Isn’t religion outside the realm of science? Doesn’t religion require faith, which doesn’t involve science? Well, science is all about basing conclusions on evidence. If there is no evidence for something, then it probably isn’t reality. Therefore science is very relevant to the discussion on religion because there is no objective evidence for God. If there was a God and if there was evidence for God, scientists would be the first people lining up to tell the world all about it. Discovering that God exists would be the single greatest scientific discovery in history, which any scientist would be glad to get credit for, if only it were true. The reason scientists do not generally agree that God exists is not because of some agenda or some grand anti-religious conspiracy. No, the reason science does not support the existence of God is simply because there is no evidence to support that claim. All the claims of the existence of God (or gods) are based entirely on personal experience. All the personal experiences that are recorded in the Bible are examples of exactly the opposite process of discovery in science: they are not reproducible, they are not supported by evidence that anyone can observe, and they are not carefully controlled observations by people trained to be unbiased in their interpretations. This is where the conversation between believers and scientists can start to go in circles with believers claiming that God is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore does not require evidence, and with scientists claiming that nothing is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore God must not exist since there is no evidence for God.
I’ll conclude with a statement and a challenge. My statement is this: “Everything that exists is explainable by science, given enough time and resources.” I state this because my position is that there is only the natural world. There is no supernatural. Since science provides answers to the natural world, science has the answer for everything. My challenge is this: “Come up with a question, for which there is a definite answer, that science is not capable of providing an answer with a reasonable level of certainty..”