Tag Archive: Prayer

Evangelicals and Their Public Displays of Religion


My maternal grandfather, John, was a big believer in public praying. Every time we went out to eat with him, everyone within earshot knew we were Christians. John meant for his prayers to some sort of public masturbation — visible to all. I still remember how embarrassed I was when John went about establishing his Christian testimony. Once John was finished praying, permission was granted for us to begin eating. At least once during the meal, John would force our waitress to listen to his testimony and presentation of the Evangelical gospel. John was well-known for these verbal assaults — a man who loved Jesus so much that he just had to share him with everyone. (Please see Dear Ann.)

Tim Tebow, a former NFL player, is known for kneeling and praying during games. His behavior is popularly called tebowing. Evangelicals love the fact that Tebow would, on national TV before millions of people, pray to their God. Evidently, God wasn’t listening. Tebow washed out of the NFL and is now trying to continue his narcissistic dream as a baseball player. Other sports figures imitate Tebow on the field, giving the impression that their God is a former jock himself and a big sports fan.

Republicans are another group who is fond of public praying. Holding prayer rallies and offering up prayers at their convention, these members of the GOP — God’s Only Party — send their prayers to Jesus, asking for the destruction of Hillary Clinton, socialists, atheists, and any other group deemed to be unpatriotic, anti-American, and anti-God. Yet, despite all their prayers, it looks like Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. Millions of prayers uttered, and the best that God could do is Donald Trump?

Evangelical churches and parachurch groups — who overwhelmingly support the Republican Party — are also fond of public displays of prayer. It is Evangelicals who are behind the National Day of Prayer and See You at Pole, annual events meant to show the numerical significance of conservative Christianity. Many government meetings are opened with prayers to the Christian God, a reminder to everyone that America is a Christian nation.

Untold millions of Evangelical prayers have been uttered to God, asking him to put a Republican in the Oval Office.  Most Evangelicals wanted Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, or Mike Huckabee. These men proudly exposed their Jesus-approved genitals for all to see. Yet, when the primary dust settled, Donald Trump was the winner. Perhaps the Evangelical God has a wicked sense of humor, giving Evangelicals one of most unqualified candidates in American election history. Dear Lord, please help us elect a Christian president, Evangelicals prayed. What God gave them was a narcissistic psychopath who brags about sexually assaulting women and grabbing them by their pussies. Is Trump some sort of sick joke by God?

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to actually practice what Jesus said about public praying:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. (Matthew 6:1-8)

Instead of focusing on the external forms of religion, Evangelicalism would be better served if its followers focused on good works. Thanks to Evangelical support of Donald Trump and thirty-five years of warring against American culture, Evangelicals are widely known for vitriol and hate. They love to say, we hate the sin but love the sinner, but it is now abundantly clear for all to see that Evangelicals hate sinners too. Drunk with political power, Evangelicals arrogantly think that their religion and divine text should be enshrined as the one, true American religion. Their arrogance has put them at odds with Christians and non-Christians alike, 

In many ways, my grandfather John was a precursor of what Evangelicalism would one day become — in-your-face, my-God is-the-one-true-God, you-are-going-to-hell, I-have-a-right-to-harass-you-in-Jesus’-name Christianity. To those who only knew John as a devout, aggressive evangelizer, he was the epitome of what every Christian should be. However, many of his family members knew the other John — an angry, violent man who took out his aggression on his children and grandchildren, a man who lived a sordid violent life before Jesus, including sexually assaulting his young daughter (my mother). When confronted about his vile past, John pleaded the miracle sin-washed-away blood of Christ. Any sin before Jesus is forgotten by God, John said, expecting everyone else to forget too.

Most Evangelicals will ignore what I have written here, choosing instead to attack the messenger. In doing so, they show the world that their religion has little to do with the teachings of Jesus and everything to do with political power and cultural control. The moment Evangelicals said they planned to support Donald Trump regardless of his behavior, any hope of saving themselves was lost. Post-election, Evangelicals will lick their wounds, vowing to work harder to put God’s man in the White House in 2020. If Democrats regain control of the Senate and pick up seats in the House, Evangelicals will pray and preach harder, certain that God will hear them and grant their petitions. He won’t, of course, because the Evangelical God is a figment of Christian imaginations. The Evangelical God, as with all Gods, is of human origin. As is often (always?) the case, people craft God in their own images. Evangelicals have crafted a God that bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible. Does anyone seriously think Jesus, if he were alive today, would support the Republican Party and the orange-hair vagina grabber? Does anyone think Jesus would support Republican attacks on immigrants and the poor? Of course not.

It’s time for Evangelicals to reacquaint themselves with the Jesus they say they worship. Until they are willing to apologize for past sins and make restitution by concertedly helping those they previously marginalized, Republican Evangelicals can expect to continue losing elections and their grip on American culture.

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here….five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems, oh so often, that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament Cook-off.  Verses 20-24 states:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up the sacrifice, he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story; Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seems that he is nowhere to be found?  This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the giver of life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — ” talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations makes one thing clear — there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings”  will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war,  and made sure all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s  ESPY speech:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, where is God?

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the  bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic illness and disease. My health problems started 15 years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body, take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

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There is no God that coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in heaven to motivate us to help others.

Facebook Prayer Requests

praying for you

Every day on Facebook the following takes place:

Some Evangelical posts a status update that says: Please pray for me. I need ___________ or I am going through __________ or I have an unspoken request.

And like clockwork, the prayer comments quickly collect below the status update.


Praying for you.

You are in my prayers.

Thinking of you and praying God will meet your need.

And on and one they go.

No one ever bothers to check the efficacy of the prayers. That’s not the point. Saying I am praying is a way for Evangelicals to think they are doing SOMETHING while not actually doing anything.  Even worse, some Evangelicals are so busy doing “important” stuff on Facebook that they have no time to even type the word praying. These devoted followers of Jesus click LIKE, expecting that their meaningless action will somehow tilt heaven’s prayer scale in the favor of the petitioner.

Look, I get it…saying “I’m praying for you” can often be a way of showing support for people going through trials and adversities. Knowing people are praying for you can be comforting, a sort of long distance hug. But far too often, real needs go unmet because people are busy praying instead of helping. The Bible says, whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might. While this verse can be applied to masturbation — come on you were thinking it — I have always taken it to mean that if I have the power to help someone I should do so. I have sat through countless prayer meetings where well-intentioned Christians were praying over needs that they themselves could have met. I have always been of the opinion — even when I was a pastor — that Evangelicals spend way too much time praying and not enough time doing. Stop praying for the sick, hungry, and hurting and help them!

Sadly, many of the people who say “I will pray for you” don’t even do that.

Arizona Republican House Legislators Offended over Juan Mendez’s Secular Prayer

juan mendez

Arizona House Democrat Juan Mendez.  Representative Mendez is an atheist.

What follows is a video of Arizona House Democrat Representative Juan Mendez offering a secular prayer at the start of the legislative session. The video also shows the reaction of Christian Republican legislators to Representative Mendez’s prayer. Only one legislator defended Mendez’s prayer — assistant Democratic leader Representative Bruce Wheeler. I was astounded to hear Wheeler — a Roman Catholic — state that Catholic legislators are not permitted to attend the weekly Arizona House Bible study. Let this video be a reminder of what happens when Evangelicals ignore the law and carve out special rights for their religion.

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Thanks to my heathen buddy Jim Schoch — a resident of Arizona — for making me aware of this video.

Here is what Arizona Capital Time writer Howard Fischer had to say about the matter:

A top House leader slapped down a Democratic lawmaker today for using the time set aside for prayer to instead give thanks for diverse beliefs — including the belief there is no higher power.

Majority Leader Steve Montenegro declared that Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, had violated House rules that require that each day’s session begin with a “prayer.” That’s because Mendez, an atheist, used the time to talk about the “pluralistic society.”

And he made a point of saying that, from his perspective seeking divine intervention or hoping for a place in the afterlife is unnecessary.

“We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today,” Mendez said. “For some may seek the assistance of a higher power with hands in their air, there are those of us that are prepared to assist directly, with our hands to the earth.”

That invocation, Montenegro complained, left the House without the required prayer. So House Speaker David Gowan, who clearly was prepared for the dust-up, called the Rev. Mark Mucklow — who conveniently was on the House floor — to fulfill the obligation.

Mucklow obliged, with a lengthy prayer asking God to direct and lead lawmakers. And to put a point on what was missing before, he asked that “at least one voice today say, ‘Thank you, God bless you and bless your families.’ “

Then other lawmakers began piling on Mendez.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the time at the beginning of the session is set aside for prayer. He said lawmakers have a right to say anything else they want — but only after the prayer.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” he said. Finchem said there needs to be a time for prayer, “lifting this body up to the God that we speak of when we say our Pledge of Allegiance.”

“We are ‘One nation under God,’ “ Finchem said. “This republican form of government came out of the Book of Exodus,” he continued, saying “it is a matter of fact.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she believes the First Amendment is important.

“Not everybody in this room is Christian or Mormon or Jewish,” she continued. “I think it’s important we respect each other.”

But she said Mendez was wrong in using the time for the prayer for his invocation.

“It’s not time to be proselytizing even if you’re proselytizing something that’s not a religion,” Townsend said.

“I personally took offense at some of the words that were said,” she continued.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he was upset about Mendez saying that while some look to a higher power that others help directly. He said Mendez was “impugning not me, but in a small way millions of people, women and men that are part of our pluralistic society that use their faith and their belief in a God … they allow to guide them in serving directly, every day and all day.”

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said he doesn’t personally believe as does Mendez.

“But he has every right to say and voice what he said on the floor today,” he said.

Montenegro pointed out that he put out a memo earlier in the session spelling out what is acceptable as a prayer under House rules. And he said what Mendez said does not comply.

“Prayer, as commonly understood and in the long-honored tradition of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a solemn request for guidance and help from God,” Montenegro wrote in that memo. He said anything else — including a moment of silence — does not meet that requirement.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he doesn’t need a memo to know that what Mendez said is not a prayer.

“We know what it looks like, we know what it is,” he said.

“We also know what it looks like when someone is desecrating or mocking someone else’s beliefs,” Petersen said. And he said those who want to do that using his or her freedom of speech, they can — but not during the time reserve for prayer.


Evangelicals and Their Hocus Pocus Magic Book

bible magic book

Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is, in every way, a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Its pages purportedly contain words that have magic power. While Evangelicals deny that the Bible is in any way a magical book, their recommendation of it belies their denial.

Evangelicalism is a text-based religion. The 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the foundation of every Evangelical belief. Remove the Bible, and Evangelicalism crumbles and falls to the ground. This is why scholars such as Bart Ehrman are so deadly to evangelical faith. What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not what their Christian forefathers, parents, teachers, and pastors claim it is? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not inspired, nor is it inerrant nor infallible? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible has internal contradictions and is riddled with mistakes and errors? What happens when Evangelicals learn that virtually all of their cherished beliefs are subject to debate and question? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the history found in the Bible is suspect and the creation story is a lie? What happens when Evangelicals, troubled by doubts and fearful of losing their faith, ask pastors, church leaders, and Christian friends for help?

Doubting Evangelicals naturally turn to people of faith to help them with their fears and doubts. Who better to help allay their troubles than those who have walked the Christian path before them. Surely they have struggled, having questions and doubts about the veracity of the Bible and its teachings, the doubters think. So they naïvely seek out the counsel of those they have entrusted with their spiritual welfare. Sadly, they quickly learn that questions and doubts are not welcome, and that toeing the theological line is more important than finding honest answers to sincere questions. These doubters immediately find out that fidelity to orthodoxy and resolute commitment to what is perceived to be the faith once delivered to the saints is all that matters. For all their talk about having freedom in Jesus, Evangelical pastors and church leaders demand cult-like sameness from those who are church members. People who refuse to blindly submit are most often marginalized or excommunicated. These supposed men of God, fearing that doubts and questions could wreak havoc to their churches, do all they can to make sure that dissidents have no opportunity to spread their “lies” among congregants.

A pastor friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is going through a crisis of faith. Several years ago, he and I briefly crossed swords over the Bible and its teachings. Our discussions ended with us each going in separate directions. Several months ago, out of the blue, he contacted me about the struggle he was having with certain Evangelical theological beliefs. While some atheists might see this as an opportunity to make a convert for godlessness, I am more concerned with helping my friend continue his journey, wherever it might lead. My goal has never been to make converts. Having been exactly where my friend now is, I have first-hand knowledge of the gut-wrenching struggle he is going through. To be confronted with the notion that everything you once believed might be a lie can, and does, cause great emotional and mental distress.

My friend has shared with me some of the discussions he has had with pastors and fellow Christians. I am astounded by how often he has been told to set reason and intellect aside and just have faith. Just believe Brother Horatio — not his real name — and all will be well! But try as he might, Horatio has found it impossible to turn off his brain and just faith-it.

Recently, one man asked him if he would be willing to commit to just reading the Bible for the next 90 days. No other books, no blogs, no discussions with outside sources, just read the Bible. The thinking behind this request is that the Bible has some sort of magical power, and that if my friend will just immerse himself in its pages his doubts, fears, and questions will dissipate and he will find himself once again following after Jesus.

I walked away from Christianity in November 2008. In the initial months after my deconversion, I was inundated with emails from pastor friends and former parishioners pleading with me not to give into this temptation from Satan. Recognizing that secular books were a big part of my deconversion, my pastor friends and former parishioners asked me to stop reading these books and to commit myself to only reading the Bible. They were certain that if I just stopped reading Bart Ehrman and other non-Christian authors and start reading the book-above-all-books — the Bible — that I would soon see that Satan was using these other writers to lead me astray. Little did they know that it was the Bible itself that played a big part in my deconversion. Taking a fresh look at beliefs that I had held for five decades forced me to conclude that the Bible was not what Evangelicals say it is. While I certainly think that the Bible has some moral and ethical value, it is now very clear to me that it is in no way an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God.

Evangelical zealots need to understand that telling people who have spent their lifetime studying and reading the Bible to just “read the Bible” is patently offensive. Having preached through most of the books of the Bible, I think it is safe for me to say that I have a thorough understanding of the Biblical text. Unlike most Evangelicals, who never seem to have the time to read God’s love letter to humanity, I devoted myself to reading every book, every chapter, and every word of the Bible. I did this numerous times over the course of my 50 years in the Christian church — especially as a pastor. I am not ignorant of the Bible’s teachings and neither is my pastor friend. The Bible is the problem, not the solution.

Suggesting that the Bible is some sort of magic book is ludicrous. It would be quite easy for me to prove the falsity of such claim. All I would have to do is devote myself to reading the Bible every day for 90 days, or whatever faith-renewing time frame is appropriate. And when no change takes place, where will Evangelicals place the blame? On God and his magic book? Of course not. The blame will rest on me. God is above and beyond culpability. If the magic words found in the Bible fail to restore me to faith it is because of some defect in me, not in God and his supernatural book.

Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have written to tell me that I just needed to — in faith — ask God to reveal himself to me. If I would do this, they were certain that Jehovah would, in no uncertain terms, make himself known. Humoring such people, I often pray their suggested prayers. Despite praying, the heavens remain silent. God is to blame, right? Maybe I am not one of the elect or perhaps I have committed the unpardonable sin. Whatever the reason might be, the blame never rests with God. It is always my fault. I did not have enough faith when I prayed, because if I had had enough faith then God would have revealed himself to me. That he did not shows that the fault lies with me, not God.

While I certainly think that most of the people asking me to read the Bible or to pray the prayer of faith sincerely want to be a help to me, they should understand that I cannot be swayed by metaphysical claims requiring faith. Either one believes or one doesn’t. It is not that I do not want to believe as much as it is I cannot believe. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to set aside reason and rational thought and believe ancient religious stories written thousands of years ago. Since it is unlikely that any new evidentiary argument for the existence of the Christian God and the veracity of the Bible is forthcoming, I hope that Evangelicals will understand when I reject requests to read their magic book or incant magical prayers. I am no longer willing to accept such childish requests that require me to shut off my mind and just believe.

How to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Last Saturday, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for 14 hours. Today, I finally felt well enough to exit my cave and attend my granddaughter’s basketball game.

Polly’s father had his hip replaced last November. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad is now in the nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this is it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have the surgery. Hopefully he will be able to come home in a few weeks, though it is doubtful that he will ever be able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayer are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad, but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly and their daughter. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked to Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, 58 years old, having spent 50 years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon we will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us.

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been seven and a half years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s parents. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of gods.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s preacher uncle or any of the other preachers in her family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, and Christianity. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers.

Polly and I have known each other for almost 40 years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a Wednesday night church service. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. A day or so later, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. 40 years have come and gone. Polly and I are now nearing 60, our children have greying hair, and their 12 children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.


IFB Pastor B.J. VanAman Has Prayer Cut Off By Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger

pastor bj van aman prayer

Pastor B.J. VanAman

B.J. VanAman is the pastor of the Pickerington Baptist Temple in Pickerington, Ohio. He is a graduate of Crown College of the Bible, an unaccredited, King James Only,  Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college in Powell, Tennessee. As is the custom in Christian Ohio, legislators can have religious dignitaries from their districts come and give an invocation. Last Tuesday, Tim Schaffer (R), representative from the 77th district (Lancaster) invited Pastor VanAman to open the session with prayer.

Van Aman proceeds to pray a five-minute “sermon” (a common ploy by Christian Fundamentalists), complete with King James English. At the five-minute mark House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger cuts VanAman off by saying AMEN and quickly beginning the Pledge of Allegiance. What follows is a video of the VanAman’s introduction and prayer (first eight minutes).

The Columbus Dispatch had this to say about Van Aman’s prayer:


Lawmakers are welcome to invite religious leaders from their district to deliver an opening prayer to the House, as Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, did on Tuesday. Most prayers don’t go longer than 60 or 90 seconds, often delivering messages of inspiration and asking for wisdom and guidance.

House guidelines are largely based on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring opening prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.

The prayer on Tuesday mentioned “Though the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and went on to describe Jesus, whose “name is above every name,” and at his name “every knee shall bow.” It also described Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith.”

Rosenberger first peeked an eye open about three minutes in. At nearly four minutes, he opened his eyes and began looking around, clearly growing anxious about the length and trying to decide the right way to end it.

After just over five minutes, with no clear conclusion on the horizon, Rosenberger blurted out an “amen,” thanked Van Aman for being here and then motioned toward the flag to start the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I am speaker, so whether it’s floor action or the pastor giving the prayer, I feel I make the determination when we need to move it on,” Rosenberger said.

He was not the only one who felt that way. After the Pledge of Allegiance, a hot mic picked up a female voice on the floor: “That was a sermon.”

Rosenberger’s action earned praise from Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, who called it “entirely appropriate.” Curtin covered the legislature for The Dispatch in the 1980s and did a story on the then-House chaplain, the Rev. Kenneth Grimes, a Catholic who was admired for his counsel and prayers that mixed inspiration and humor.

“He was very careful to acknowledge that the General Assembly is a diverse body,” Curtin said. “The opening prayer should reflect that diversity. It should reflect the Constitutional acknowledgement of there not being a state religion.”

That, Curtin said, means not infusing the name of Jesus Christ into many lines of the prayer.

“I don’t think any members take objection to a Christian clergyman or woman making reference to Jesus Christ. But what we’ve had lately in this chamber for a period of years now is a heavy, almost Christian proselytizing as the opening prayer, which in my view is inappropriate,” Curtin said.

The House has not had a designated chaplain for more than 20 years.

Members, Curtin said, need to school visiting clergy on the protocol. Rosenberger agreed that members may need to do a better job briefing their guests on expectations prior to the prayer.

Over-the-top sermonizing, Curtin said, “doesn’t have a place in the public body.”


HT: The Friendly Atheist

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

unaswered prayer

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I prayed many prayers — tens of thousands of prayers, to be exact. I publicly testified before fellow Christians that God had answered my prayers.  I had experiences that, at the time, defied explanation. Everywhere I looked, I saw God. When I deconverted, one of the first things I did was give a careful accounting of the prayers I uttered and what God’s response to them. (Please see  A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) I concluded:

  • The overwhelming majority of my prayers went unanswered.
  • Those few prayers that I considered answered by God were, in fact, answered, not by God, but by and through human instrumentation.

I was left with a few experiences that I couldn’t rationally explain. One story comes to mind and I will share it here. One night, Harold Miller, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time, and I were driving down Route 22 east of Sego, Ohio on our way to touch base with a family who recently visited the church. As we neared Fultonham, a small community which sat on a ridge above Route 22, I noticed a car barreling down the hill towards the highway. Having no time to stop or change direction, I screamed at Harold, warning him of the impending crash, and prepared to be broadsided. Yet, at the moment the crash should have occurred nothing happened. Both of us thought God had lifted the car above ours, safely protecting us from serious injury or death.

Did God actually pick the car up so it would avoid hitting us? Of course not. Is this really a beyond rational explanation event? Not really. Perhaps my perception was wrong. Perhaps the car wasn’t traveling as fast as I thought it was. While this story is difficult to explain, like some of the contradictions in the Bible, there are reasonable explanations for what happened.

As a Christian, I was taught that God answering prayer was a simple matter of me praying and God hearing and answering my petition. I believed that God answered every prayer one of three ways. God said:

  • Yes, and what I was praying for came to pass
  • No, and what I was praying for did not come to pass
  • Not now, and what I was praying for was added to my long-term begging God list

But Bruce, the Evangelical says, I have prayed prayers that I KNOW God answered! How do you KNOW God answered your prayers? Just because Christians utter petitions that subsequently come to pass doesn’t mean that it is God answering prayers. If Christians could ever divorce themselves from faith and look at things from a skeptical and rational perspective, I think they would find out that most God-answered prayers are anything but.

Virtually every answered prayer can be attributed to human instrumentality or luck (right place, right time). Year ago, I often prayed for God to bless me financially. As a young father with two children, money was always tight. One night, my father-in-law and I  were traveling on a rural Licking County road on our way to visit a church member. While driving down the road we came upon a box. I immediately stopped and got out of the car to investigate. In the box were numerous recently skinned fur pelts. I quickly scooped up the box and we took the pelts to a nearby taxidermist. While I do not remember the exact amount of money we received, it was substantial. See? God answered my prayer!

Polly is a shift coördinator for a local manufacturing concern. She has worked there for 17 years.  During her tenure, she has never missed a day of work. Not one. Polly is a diligent worker, a great example of the Puritan work ethic.  Her work reviews are always at the top of the scale, reflecting Polly’s value to the company. In the years that the company has given raises, Polly has always received the maximum allowable raise.

When we were Christians, we both would pray that she would receive a good raise, and sure enough “God” answered our prayers. But, was it really God who answered our prayers and orchestrated Polly’s raises? Or are her raises attributable to Polly’s perfect attendance and work ethic? Shouldn’t credit be given to whom credit is due? It is Polly, not God, who did the work necessary to warrant a raise. How about now? Neither of us prays, and even if we did it is likely that God’s prayer hot line to our house has been disconnected. Since Polly’s deconversion in 2008, the monetary amount of her raises have increased significantly. Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that becoming a nonbeliever and not praying resulted in these raises?

Christians will often point to the testimonies of those who were saved as proof for God answering prayer. You know the drill. Sister Lena is a member of First Baptist Church in Godland, Ohio. She’s been a member of the church for 50 years. Lena’s husband Bob is not a Christian. Every week, Lena and the church pray for Bob’s salvation. Week in, week out, the church prays that the bloodhound of heaven, the Holy Spirit, will track down Bob and save his soul. And sure enough, one day, after 40 years of praying, Bob is saved.  God answered Lena’s prayer, right? (Lost in the discussion will be the question of WHY God waited so long to save Bob.)

Years ago (everything is years ago now), when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, the church took to praying for the father of one of the church members. This man was a violent, oft-cursing heathen. We prayed, prayed, and prayed for this man, to no avail. Several times I went to his home and shared the gospel with him. Every time, he said, no thanks preacher, I have no need of God.

The man eventually came down with throat cancer. Surgeons removed parts of his esophagus, mouth glands, and vocal cords. He was unable to speak. A short time later he had a small stroke. The church continued to pray for this man, and one night I decided to share the gospel with him one more time. And this time, the man started crying, and when I asked him if he would like to be saved, he gutterally said YES! I led him to Jesus, and from the time forward he would occasionally attend church with his wife and grown children.  I vividly remember him crying every time he heard me preach (no jokes about my preaching bringing people to tears). I attributed his tears to his thankfulness for God saving him. Was his glorious conversion the answer to our prayers?

Not likely. I am more inclined to think that his conversion was the result of him facing, for the first time, his mortality. Having been raised in a culture where God is frequently called on in times of trouble, this man, having had radical cancer surgery and a stroke, likely wanted to make sure his house was in order before he died. But, what about the tears? Perhaps they were tears of regret. There’s nothing like a brush with death to focus our attention on how we have lived our lives. Perhaps he regretted his meanness. Perhaps he regretted treating his wife and children like slaves. Who hasn’t shed tears over past regrets, right?

After his “glorious” new birth, this man began displaying bizarre behavior. He began spending exorbitant amounts of money at auctions and yard sales, often bringing home junk of little value. When I couple this behavior with his getting saved, I am more inclined to think that his stroke altered his mind. Anyone who has been around stroke patients knows that behavioral changes are not uncommon.

A changed life is not proof for the existence of God or God answering prayer. A careful examination of salvation testimonies always reveal some sort of human influence. Transformed lives can always be traced back, to some degree or the other, to the work of the individual or others. While these transformations make for great stories of the supernatural power of God, they are, in every way, quite earthy.

I readily admit that there are mysteries which are, at this present moment, beyond explanation.  However, is God the answer for every unexplained mystery? Or is it better for us to admit that we don’t know and to continue probing, prodding, and asking questions until we do? Regardless, these mysteries are so few that suggesting that they are evidence for the Christian God is laughable. From my perspective, there is no evidence for the existence of personal, hands-on God of the Christian Bible.