Tag Archive: Sin

Humans Are But a Speck of Worthless Dirt in the Eyes of God

without god

Many of the beliefs Evangelicals hold dear are of little or no consequence. Believing them or not has little effect on Evangelicals. Two beliefs, however, fundamentally affect how believers view themselves. The doctrines of original sin and human depravity are key tenets that provide the foundation for other doctrines such as atonement and redemption (salvation). If humans, thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, are not, by nature, sinners, then there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross, nor is there a need for humans to be saved. Is it any wonder, then, that Evangelical preachers emphasize the doctrines of original sin and human depravity? For those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, hearing preaching on sin was quite common. Sunday after Sunday, preachers spit, scream, and pound the pulpit as they decry humanity’s sinfulness. Often, these sermons focus on specific sins, particularly sexual sins. The goal of such preaching is to make congregants feel guilty over their sins. Once congregants are thoroughly stripped naked before God, then they are ready to seek forgiveness of sin from and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Preaching against sin, calling out sins by name, becomes a weapon in the hands of preachers, used to attack human self-worth and self-esteem. The goal is to reduce congregants to worms and specks of dust — insignificant in God’s sight. Imagine hearing such preaching week after week, year after year. Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals think that they are little more than pieces of shit in the eyes of their God? Any good they do is not because of them, but because of Jesus. Congregants are reminded that the Bible says that it is impossible to do ANYTHING without God. He gives people the very breath in their lungs. He gives their legs the power to move. Everything humans do is because of and through the power of the Christian God.

 

Imagine every good thing ever done by you being credited to another person. I suspect most of us would not be happy about other people getting credit for our good works. We did the work, so we should receive the credit. But for Evangelicals, they do all the work and God gets all the credit. Why? Because they are worthless, hopeless, helpless sinners whom Jesus, through his blood and mighty power, saved from their sins. After being graciously saved by God, Evangelicals are expected, out of a heart of gratitude, to spend the rest of their lives giving God credit for everything they do. And I mean EVERYTHING!

It is hard not to see the Christian God as the religious equivalent of Donald Trump.  Trump craves the praises of others. Recently, several UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting in China. President Trump was supposedly instrumental in securing their release. After the players arrived home, Trump tweeted out:

donald trump ucla players 2

It is the duty of the U.S. government and its president to assist citizens in trouble in other countries — no praise or thanks needed. Trump, however, has a pathological need for people to grovel before his greatness, thanking him for what he did on their behalf. At least with Trump, we can see that perhaps the president played a part in the release of the UCLA prayers. With the Christian God, however, there is no evidence that he has done anything for anyone, yet his earthly spokesmen, using verses from an ancient book purportedly written by God, demand that all of humanity bow before God’s greatness and give him praise, honor, and glory. This is especially true for Christians, those who have been delivered from their depravity by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. God relenting to their pleas for forgiveness and salvation comes with one non-negotiable demand — you will humble yourself before me all the days of your life, praising me for every good thing you do and every good thing that comes your way. Not only do Evangelicals get to grovel at the feet of Jesus and praise him in THIS life, they will continue their masturbatory praising in the life to come. Does this sound like something you would like to do for life without end? Of course not. But when you have been repeatedly told you are a worm, a speck of dust in the eyes of God, deserving of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, an eternity of massaging the Big Kahuna’s ego sounds like a great idea.

without god you are nothing

Of course, there is God, no heaven, and no hell. Knowing this is makes Evangelical preaching against sinners and their sins so cruel. Many of the behaviors deemed sins because an ancient religious text says so, are normal, healthy human practices. And those that aren’t can be addressed in ways that don’t require assaulting the psychological well-being of offenders.

People who spent much of their lives in Evangelicalism before deconverting know all about the psychological damage caused by repeatedly being told you are worthless without Jesus, and the only reason you do good in your life is because of what God does in and through you. Over time, believers develop long lists of prohibited behaviors (sins). Sinning — even the slightest of sins — requires believers to prostrate themselves before God, telling him they are sorry, and begging for forgiveness. Since, according to Evangelical preachers, Christians sin daily in thought, word, and deed, believers are expected to spend significant time daily getting “right” with God (at least Catholics let their sins accumulate before going to confession and getting absolution). Imagine the emotional toll a lifetime of this extracts from sincere, devoted people who just want to make a demanding God happy.

Many ex-Christians require professional counseling to undo the damage done by such thinking. Some of us, myself included, were so deeply scarred by constantly feeling guilty over behaviors deemed sinful and never seeming to be able to find victory over sin, that it is likely we will live out the rest of our lives trying to find peace, happiness, and contentment. Life after Jesus requires through deconstruction. Only then can a new life rise from the ashes of our Evangelical pasts. I’ve had to learn anew what good and bad behaviors are. I also have had to learn to stop judging people over perceived violations of my personal code of conduct. Over the past decade, what I call my “sin list” continues to shrink. What once required sixty-six books and 783,137 words to divine, now fits on a 3×5 card. As my dear friend Ami is fond of saying, the one rule we all should live by is this: don’t be an asshole.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Quote of the Day: How Evangelicals Justify Past Sexual Sin — Jesus Forgives, So Should We

josh duggar

Often this narrative [sin and redemption] is particularly prevalent among evangelicals who have been accused of sexual misconduct. After evangelical television personality Josh Duggar confessed to molesting his sisters as a teenage boy, he and his family used the salvation playbook. Michael Seewald, whose son is married to one of Duggar’s sisters, spoke out against the media condemnation of Duggar, who was never charged with a crime: “The ultimate answer … is what Josh found and millions like him. He found forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus Christ. There are many of you that are reading these words right now having had thoughts and deeds no better than what Josh had and did.”

Disgraced megachurch founder Ted Haggard resigned his post in 2006, after admitting to drug abuse and a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He returned to public church life with similar rhetoric: “I am a sinner and [my wife] is a saint. … I feel we have moved past the scandal. We have forgiveness. It is a second chance.”

In other words, there’s a tendency among evangelicals to see sexual (or other) sins that have happened long ago (or even not that long ago), either prior to conversion itself or prior to a “re-conversion” or renewal of faith, as, well, natural. Of course people commit sinful acts, because sin is part of the human condition, and of course people are victims of sin without God’s grace to help free them of it.

There are a few problems with how this manifests in practice. It can absolve “saved” individuals of too much responsibility for past misdeeds, since they’re considered the deeds of a past, different self. It encourages a culture of silence among evangelicals about their struggles, since salvation is “supposed” to mean that temptation goes away, and any “backsliding” is the result of insufficient faith. Finally, this theological approach also means that “sins” tend to be conflated, especially sexual sins: consensual premarital sex and sexual abuse are often seen on the same spectrum, both the result of a temptation too great to bear.

Without God, the implication goes, people have almost no agency. In Moore’s case, the fact that his alleged sins happened so long ago — and that the intervening years have seen him become more and more committed to the idea of a theocratic Christian state— only intensify some evangelicals’ sense that Moore’s actions then (even if true) don’t necessarily have a bearing on who he is now. It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign, evangelicals have done an extraordinary about-face when it comes to their view on the importance of politicians’ personal morality.

Many, many Christian scholars and thinkers have been intensely critical of this “get out of jail free” approach to sin and grace, as I noted earlier this month. Among the most prominent in the past century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in a concentration camp for his activism. Bonhoeffer distinguished between “cheap grace” — easy forgiveness that allowed individual perpetrators and oppressive societies to get away, unchallenged, with their actions — and “costly grace,” or forgiveness that also asks hard questions, and demands social change.

It’s worth noting, however, that several prominent evangelicals — including the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, Russell Moore (no relation) — have spoken out criticizing Moore’s evangelical supporters. “Christians, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” Russell Moore tweeted.

Despite this, “cheap grace” has become seemingly common in some evangelical communities, especially when there are practical political or pragmatic reasons (i.e., a Republican in power) to overlook a sin and preserve the social status quo.

— Tara Isabella Burton, VOX, For Evangelicals, Sin is Redeemable — But can That Allow Sex offenders to Dodge their Actions? November 29, 2017

Charles Manson — Has Justice Been Served?

charles manson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

As many have heard, the famous 1960s cult leader Charles Manson died while serving a life sentence in prison. By all accounts, he was a charismatic, dictatorial cult leader whose followers murdered several people and created false “evidence” that the murders were perpetrated by African Americans in order to try to start a race war, after which (somehow) Charles Manson would rise victorious and lead after the chaos. While Charles Manson did not physically commit the murders – his followers did – he was deemed to have been the mastermind behind the crimes and was sentenced to death. When the state of California abolished the death penalty, Charles Manson’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Manson died at age 83 of natural causes.

I first heard of Manson’s death while checking my social media. One of my Christian friends posted a link to the story with her personal comment:

At long last, justice may be served to him, in death. I’m glad some of the victims’ loved ones are alive to know he no longer breathes, but will become dust, in a state of death, like his long-ago prey. I have a particular disgust for Manson, and the gruesome acts of his followers. He stole so many lives, including those of promising young people who joined his cult, and had their minds and souls hijacked. They are responsible, in the end, for their decisions, but, to an extent, were also victims. America lost part of its innocence in the Manson years, so I consider us all his victims. It may not be charitable to say so, but I am nearly always happy to hear when any despot or cult leader is dead.

Someone commented:

I believe he is now in hell and finally getting what he deserves.

Another commented:

He was Satan’s own. Now may he go back to where he belongs.

My first thought was, here we go with talk of heaven, hell, and divine justice again. My second thought was, wasn’t Charles Manson arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned for life? Is that not what our society deems as justice?

As one who does not believe in supernatural beings nor in an afterlife, I look to my society’s law enforcement and justice systems to resolve issues involving crime. While no system is perfect, our society’s system works in many cases, and, because it is an evolving society, it is possible for changes to occur within our systems so that they function more efficiently and fairly. However, I realize now that while religious people also are provided the protections of society’s law enforcement and judicial systems, they are also looking to their deity to mete out further justice in an afterlife. Therefore, Charles Manson, for example, has served life in prison for his crimes, and now after his death the Christian God will cast him into eternity in hell where he will burn or rot, depending on one’s definition of hell.

My friend is a Christian, and presumably many commenting on her post are Christians too. I saw many comments corroborating the concept that “now Charles Manson is receiving justice in hell.” These comments caused me to consider the concept of justice. Do these nice Christian men and women really not consider earthly justice “real justice”? Is God’s eternal justice the only true justice? What if Charles Manson had “gotten saved” before his death? According to these Christians’ religion, Charles Manson would be afforded the same afterlife of eternity in heaven as all these nice Christian people who have not persuaded others to commit multiple acts of murder. If one were to ask these nice Christian people if that is “real justice,” what would their answer be? I daresay many would find themselves in quite the conundrum when pressed for an honest answer.

Let us consider a few aspects of Christian justice. My friend and presumably many of her friends believe in the concept of original sin and salvation. Each person by birth is a sinner; the wages of sin are death – eternal death in hell; the only way to escape eternal death in hell is to repent of one’s sin, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, and to be baptized into a new life of service to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Anyone may be saved – anyone – including Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and yes, Charles Manson – and anyone who is saved is granted the golden ticket to eternity in heaven. However, anyone who does NOT accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior will be condemned to eternity in hell. This includes Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Charles Manson, the young man in India who grew up Hindu, the old woman in Kuwait who grew up Muslim, the old man in China who grew up Buddhist, the middle-aged American woman who is an agnostic atheist. Each one deserves and is subject to the same fate: eternity in hell. Does that sound like justice? Adolf Hitler, who orchestrated a massive extermination enterprise, inhabits the same hell as the nice Muslim lady who was unfortunate enough to believe in the wrong type of deity and who never had the chance to hear about or accept the “correct” one?

It is also interesting to ponder the way Christians learn to overlay their beliefs about supernatural forces onto the natural world. They live in the world, but the world is also inhabited by angels and demons. A person who is “saved” is said to have Jesus living in his “heart.” An unsaved person may be possessed by demons or guided by demonic forces. A guardian angel may save someone from harm. Satan may tempt or guide someone to commit some horrific act. God may intervene to prevent a catastrophe. Christians live in a world where humans commit acts which may or may not be influenced by supernatural forces, where nature may or may not be changed by supernatural forces. There is a constant struggle going on around Christians at all times between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Many Christians believe that if they live a life in favor with God that He will save them from catastrophe, from the forces of evil, from evil acts perpetrated by humans (possibly under the influence of demons), unless He doesn’t physically save them from harm. When He doesn’t, then one must not question His Will, for we humans cannot fathom God’s divine plan.

I remember living in the world inhabited by angels and demons, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the Devil. As a child, I was terrified of the dark. No, not the dark, but by the monsters and demons that inhabit the dark. I was taught that monsters were not real, but that demons and the Devil were real and were eager to prey on the unsuspecting unsaved and ready to tempt the staunchest of believers. As a child I couldn’t discern the difference between fictitious monsters and real demons. We were living in a world surrounded by the forces of Good and Evil locked in a battle for our immortal souls. Then in the 1980s (my teenage years) came the whole Satanic scare in which everyone (Christians, that is) talked about Satanic rituals and kidnappings and sacrifices and pentagrams. All of us Christians were afraid, on alert to battle the forces of evil, while at the same time we were told that all we had to do to overcome demons and Satan was to demand in Jesus’ name that they leave, and that they must obey. Whenever I was scared of the dark, I used to pray that the demons and Devil leave in Jesus’ name. Then I felt better.

But we have adult Christians who weave their belief of supernatural forces into the acts of human beings. Believing that Charles Manson is under Satan’s control or perpetrating acts that are pleasing to Satan brings the concept of justice to a different level. While non-believers see Charles Manson as someone who chose to lead others to commit horrific murders, Christians see Charles Manson as a tool of Satan, perhaps inhabited by demons or at least under Satan’s control either through Manson’s free will or lack of free will. Non-believers see that Charles Manson was arrested by law enforcement officers, tried by a group of peers, sentenced by a judge, and served life in prison. Christians see this too, but they also anticipate judgment by God and eternity in hell as additional justice later, as if life in prison were not enough. And there is rejoicing among believers that finally Charles Manson will receive the justice he deserves.

I wanted to ask my friend’s commenters “what if Charles Manson had been saved before his death?” (It’s unlikely, as that turn of events would be too much for a pastor or chaplain to leave unannounced, either so he/she could receive credit or so that other unbelievers could be influenced to turn to the “truth” before it is too late, because, see, God is so great He can even forgive Charles Manson.) But I did not ask, mainly because this friend is one of the few from my evangelical past who knows that I am now an agnostic atheist, and I do not want to cause trouble for her amongst her crowd. But if Charles Manson had been saved before his death, should not good Christians rejoice in his repentance and his eternal glory in heaven with his Lord and Savior?

I imagine that by the convoluted system of Christian justice, those good Christians would say that yes, they rejoice in the power and mercy of God that he can even forgive the likes of Charles Manson. Conversely, they are glad to see that God, in all his glory as the almighty righteous judge, meted out eternal justice to Charles Manson as he never repented of his sins and accepted the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. It just seems somehow inconsistent with the concept of goodness one associates with religion the glee that Christians were exhibiting over the death – no, the everlasting damnation in hell – of another human being.

I desperately wanted to engage in conversation on social media, but I refrained and wrote this post instead. In any case, Charles Manson served his life sentence and will never harm another person again, and for that we should be glad.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Franklin Graham Thinks Unbelievers Hate the Religious Right. He’s Right, We Do!

As always, Fundamentalist Franklin Graham is clueless as to WHY unbelievers hate and despise the religious right. Look in the mirror Franklin. YOU are to blame.

America has flaunted its sexual immorality to the world. We’ve neglected many of the poor and suffering and are guilty of much injustice, pride and self-indulgence. We are broken spiritually, adrift morally and divided politically and racially—following whichever direction the bankrupt culture seems to drive us.

Sadly, the voices of hate have grown increasingly loud and insulting, and it was my prayer then and now that God would silence these voices like he shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was hurled into the den.

While those hateful voices have been raised on both sides of the political aisle, we must realize that ultimately what is transpiring in our nation is an increasing hatred of God, His Word and His ways.

In my lifetime, I have never seen such blatant and incessant animosity toward Christ and His followers. We should not be surprised, because the Scripture tells us that if they hated the Lord Jesus Christ, they surely would despise those who worship and serve Him.

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So let’s be clear. While believers should never raise voices of hate against anyone, the real object of hate in our nation (that has been so blessed by God) is none other than God Himself. What has been historically called good and righteous is now called evil, and what was evil is now called good. The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).

In what I can only describe as unbelievable, the Southern Poverty Law Center in Mongtomery, Ala., has labeled a number of Christian organizations—such as the Family Research Council led by my friend Tony Perkins, and D. James Kennedy Ministries-—hate organizations simply because they hold to the teachings of the Bible on key social issues like same-sex marriage. Powerful contributors to the SPLC include Apple President Tim Cook and financial services giant J.P. Morgan. The leftist-progressive media frequently reference the SPLC in their reporting.

….

We need to pray for those who hate the Gospel, those who hate the Name of Jesus, those who hate His followers—that they will come out of their self-imposed darkness and into the light of God’s forgiveness through faith and repentance in Christ, who gave Himself for our sins.

The love of Jesus is the supreme antidote against the hate of our culture. It is the love that saved us from our iniquities and will save whomever will call on His Name.

— Franklin Graham, Decision Magazine, From Franklin Graham: Hate What God Hates, October 3, 2017

The Bible Says No One Does Good — No Not One

no one is good

I recently posted an excerpt from an article written by Michelle Lesley detailing her view of the human condition. According to Lesley, humans — Christian and unbeliever alike — are:

You’re a dirty, stinking, rotten, rebellious sinner. You yell at your kids. You don’t submit to your husband. You act out of selfishness. You lie. You gossip. You covet. You bow down to your idols instead of to Christ. You sin against a holy and righteous God in a thousand ways every day in thought, word, and deed. Just like I do. Let’s put on our big girl panties and just admit it. (1 John 1:8,10)

Commenters rightly objected to Lesley’s trashing of human self-esteem and her debasement of human goodness. The question I want to answer today is whether Lesley’s theological beliefs have a Biblical basis. Liberal and Progressive Christians are angered and offended by Lesley’s words — and rightly so. That said, Liberals and Progressives have developed unique and, at times, intellectually incomprehensible ways to hold on to what the Bible says about the love, kindness, and mercy of God while, at the same time, pretending all the verses that support Lesley’s beliefs either don’t exist or mean something other than Evangelicals say they mean.

Both sides of the theological divide make things up as they go, shaping God and Jesus into a deity in their own image. No two Christians worship the same God. Personal beliefs and experiences shape and mold God into a being acceptable to each Christian. This is especially true in Evangelicalism where the priesthood of the believer — every Christian has direct access to God — turns each Christian into his own final authority. As a pastor, I had countless Christians take issue with something I said during one of my sermons. Sometimes, people would get so angry with me over what they believed was heresy that they would leave the church. More than a few congregants told me after confronting me and hearing my response, “well, pastor, we are just going to have to agree to disagree.” And so it goes, with every Evangelical thinking he or she is infallibly right. Armed with an inerrant, infallible Bible, written and given to them by a supernatural, infallible God, Evangelicals, with great certitude, believe they are absolutely R-I-G-H-T. When challenged to “prove” their contentions, they say, the Bible says _________________.

Lesley, if required, can easily find Biblical justification for her abhorrent, anti-human beliefs. The Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Asking ten Christians a theological question will elicit twelve opinions. The Bible says that there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE baptism, yet, as any unbiased observer of Christianity can attest, modern Christianity has MANY Lords, MANY faiths, and MANY baptisms. The Bible says that Jesus’ followers will be known by their unity and love for each other. Yet, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, bitter debates, and sectarian division.

Lesley believes, as do most Evangelicals, that Jesus, the virgin-born, sinless son of God, died on the cross for human sin. Jesus took upon himself our sin and suffered indignation, torture, and death that should have been ours. As our substitute, Jesus suffered the wrath of God that we deserved. His blood atonement on the cross appeased God, the father, and satisfied our sin debt. Through the death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead three days later, humans can find redemption/salvation/deliverance. The only way anyone makes it to Heaven after death is by and through Jesus Christ. (I speak broadly here, knowing that there is broad diversity within Christianity concerning Christ’s atonement. Arminians will view matters differently from Calvinists and Pelagians.)

Why do humans need salvation? Why was it necessary for Jesus to die on the cross? One word: SIN. According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law of God. Evangelicals believe the Bible is God’s standard of objective morality. The definition of “sin” is determined not by human opinion, but by the Bible. God said__________, end of story. Evangelicals trace the human sin nature all the way back to Adam and Eve and the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve were created by God without sin, yet thanks to a talking, upright-walking snake (Satan) tempting them, Adam and Eve sinned against God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. From that moment forward — five to six thousand years ago — all humans are born sinners.

It is from this understanding of the Bible that Lesley wrote what she did about her fellow humans. The Bible says that babies come forth from the womb speaking lies, that none of us has the capacity to do good, no not one. We are sheep who have gone astray. We, by nature, hate God and are at variance with him. These things, according to Lesley, can be said of atheist and Christian alike. The only difference is that the Christian has prostrated himself before God, confessed his sins, and asked Jesus to save and forgive him. Because the Christian has done so, Jesus stands between the sinner and God — who still hates sin and those who do it. When God looks at the saved sinner, all he sees is Jesus. Praise the Lord, right?

When the Michelle Lesleys of the world denigrate people, emphatically saying that humans are vile, awful people, they do so because that is how the Bible describes the human race. This provides yet another reminder that the Bible is an anti-human text best suited for the dustbin of human history. Perhaps it is time for Christians to band together and write a new Bible, one that better reflects our 21st century understanding of the world. Doing so would be an admission that the Bible is a human, not divine book, but everyone except Evangelicals and other conservative Christians already know this. The Bible, in its present form, represents the thinking of Bronze-age and first-century people. Despite what Evangelicals say, the Bible is not an unchangeable, timeless book. The Bible is not an inexhaustible text that gives readers something new every time they read it. Imagine how much better our world would be if a new Bible was written, especially if the text was based on modern sensibilities and knowledge.

Bruce, the Bible says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. How dare you suggest a new Bible be written! What’s next, a new Jesus? Well, now that you mention it…No need. Christians have been manufacturing new Jesuses for two thousand years. Lesley and her Evangelical friends think their version of Jesus is identical to First-Century Jesus/Bible Jesus, but an honest reading of the Bible reveals that whatever Christianity is today, it has very little, if anything, to do with an itinerant Jewish carpenter who walked the land of Palestine 2,000 years ago. That Jesus was swallowed up by the Apostle Paul’s Jesus, never to be seen again.

Lesley’s view of humanity has real world implications. Such thinking destroys self-esteem, often leading to psychological trauma. Countless former Evangelicals are in therapy due to the teachings mentioned in this post. This is why such beliefs must be exposed and repudiated. For people who still believe in God, there are better expressions of faith than that which is peddled by Lesley and her fellow Evangelicals. You don’t need to spend one more moment in a church where your sense of self-worth is pummeled with a Bible club, with the goal being the destruction of who you really are.

Did you grow up in a family/church that believed as Lesley does? How did these beliefs affect you psychologically? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: You Are NOT a Good Person says Michelle Lesley

michelle lesley

I am absolutely weary of some of the memes aimed at Christian women these days. You know the ones I mean, ladies- the ones with lovely pictures of flowers or an ocean or a meadow with a superimposed flowing script practically BEGGING us to believe how much worth we have to God, how awesome we are, how we need to discover the greatness within, how God gives us limitless potential and a superfantastic divine purpose, blah, blah, blah.

You know why they have to take that begging tone to try to get us to believe those things? Because they’re not true. You know it, and I know it.

You’re not awesome or great or imbued with some radical purpose or potential that will magically make your life phenomenal and give you oodles of self esteem once you discover it.

You’re a dirty, stinking, rotten, rebellious sinner. You yell at your kids. You don’t submit to your husband. You act out of selfishness. You lie. You gossip. You covet. You bow down to your idols instead of to Christ. You sin against a holy and righteous God in a thousand ways every day in thought, word, and deed. Just like I do. Let’s put on our big girl panties and just admit it. (1 John 1:8,10)

That’s why these memes and false teachers have to try so hard to convince us of how terrific we are- deep down we know we’re not. It’s a lie. And putting all our eggs in the basket of that lie of greatness sets us up for disappointment and self-loathing every time we sin.

Ladies, stop listening to this hearts and flowers, cotton candy, pump up your ego so you’ll feel better about yourself dreck, and put your faith and hope in the One who will never let you down. The One who looked at all your nasty thoughts and evil deeds and said, “I’m going to the cross for her anyway.” The One who sees all your daily faults and failures and is still willing to forgive when you repent. The One who’s faithful to you even when you’re not faithful to Him.

Stop focusing on how great you are – because you’re not – and put your focus on Christ and how great, and awesome, and superfantastic, and terrific He is. Because if you’re feeling bad about yourself, it’s not because you don’t have a high enough self esteem. It’s because you don’t have a high enough Christ esteem.

We’re not worthy. He is. Let’s get over ourselves and give Him the glory, and honor, and attention, and focus, and praise He so richly deserves.

….

— Michelle Lesley, Michelle Lesley: Give me church ladies, or I die, You’re Not Awesome…and You Know it, September 19,2017

Karen’s Story: Growing Up Catholic

guest post

Guest post by Karen (Karen the Rock Whisperer)

When my mother and father stood in front of the Catholic priest that cold, wet day in February, 1944, at the Army base in Medford, Oregon, they made the usual promises. Implicit in those promises, and in the willingness of the priest to marry them, was that they would raise any offspring as Catholic. For my father was a non-churched Lutheran, and my mother was a devout Catholic.

My father shipped out to the Pacific Theater two days later, and my mother went back to Oakland, California, to continue waiting tables and praying for her beloved’s safe return. Daddy spent time in the Philippines at an army hospital as a med tech. He’d studied hard for the position, knowing he didn’t want to be a regular soldier and kill anyone. He spent his nights stitching up damaged soldiers, giving his meals away to starving Philippine children, and doing midnight  requisitions of foodstuffs to feed himself and his fellow medics who were doing the same thing. But at last, he was discharged and came home to his wife.

Before the war, Daddy had been a manager for a string of grocery stores in the Midwest, where my parents grew up. His role was in starting new stores, and overseeing their management until they got on their feet. It was a job that demanded a lot of traveling. After the war, he decided to become an accountant. He went to college thanks to support from the US government, and Mama continued to wait tables to feed them. He finished a four-year degree in three years, and went to work as a junior accountant in a small firm. Eventually he would get his Public Accountant certification (which doesn’t exist any more, it’s been replaced by the more stringent Certified Public Accountant certification).

With a steady income, it was time to have a family. My parents tried, and tried, and tried. Years later, when my mother had a hysterectomy, it was revealed that her ovaries had never developed normally. But meanwhile, eventually, my parents came to the conclusion that it was time to consider adoption. They got on a waiting list with a local Catholic adoption agency. And waited. And waited. And then, one day in 1959, the call came. A baby was due to be born, and its parents were putting it up for adoption. Would my parents take it? They were overjoyed.

So, I arrived on the scene, a most beloved addition to the family. My mother spent the first six months of my life in utter agony, sure that she was not an adequate mother, and that the agency would take me away. But the agency decided I was in a very good home indeed, and gave my parents their blessing. I was permanently their child. There was much celebration over that decision.

Now it was time to raise the perfect Catholic daughter.

My parents, as parents, lucked out, though they didn’t realize it. They got a smart but uber-compliant child. They didn’t question this luck, they figured they were simply doing everything right. The truth was, the little girl that was me suffered from depression. It would be a condition that would dog me my entire life, and still does, though now psychotropic drugs help greatly. But meanwhile, they had the perfect daughter, though she tended to put on too many pounds for her age. Other than that, she was smart, learned quickly to be polite, to generally shut up until spoken to, and tended to play alone and quietly. What could be better?

Also, that daughter was becoming a Good Catholic. I went to Catholic schools starting in first grade, and continued through high school. They were excellent schools for the most part, especially in Oakland, which had at the time a dismal public school system. So I learned about God, Jesus, Mary, the Holy Spirit, math, English, science, and many other subjects. It helped that the schools I attended were run by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, an uber-liberal band of nuns who were focused on good education and social justice. I have no memories of authoritarian nuns wielding rulers. Instead, I remember warm, engaging women who encouraged all their charges to love one another and love those who especially needed love in their lives. Their goal was to create what are now (in a good sense) known as Social Justice Warriors. They wanted their students to make a difference in the lives of people who needed it. This ethos has stuck with me over the years, even as my beliefs have changed radically.

My conservative parents had no idea my nuns were so liberal. I didn’t enlighten them.

I faithfully went to Confession weekly. This is where you go confess your sins to a priest. He gives you a penance of prayers to say or things to do, and absolves you of your sins. The prayers are for thought-sins or small misbehaviors that can’t be righted. But a priest will counsel a penitent to make right a sin against someone else, such as stealing. I remember as a child, trying to figure out what sins I’d committed that week. I really was a good kid, well-behaved, loved to live in books, and didn’t sin a whole lot. But I must have done something wrong. It was difficult and troubling.

I don’t remember my First Communion, which is a big deal for Catholics and occurs around second grade, I think. This is when children are considered old enough to understand that they are actually partaking of Jesus’ real body. The belief is that though the bread or wafers and wine still appear to be conventional foodstuffs, they are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. In most Catholic churches, wine is seldom passed, and most attendees at Mass only partake of the bread/wafers.

I do remember bits of my Confirmation. This happens in late elementary school or middle school, when children are considered to be old enough and educated enough in their religion to be considered full Catholics in good standing. Like First Communion, it involves a church ceremony. I think the girls wore white dresses. I don’t remember what the boys wore. We each had to choose a Confirmation Name, preferably the name of a saint, who would inspire us. I wanted to choose Deborah, who in the Old Testament was a Judge. My mother insisted I choose Anne, who in Catholic mythology is the mother of the Blessed Mother Mary. (You can see, from that interaction, that my mother and I had different ideas about my path in life.) I was horribly embarrassed to be addressed in the ceremony as Anne.

The problems started happening in high school. I started to doubt. I started to read bits of the Bible, which is normally not a thing that Catholics do. Catholics are not discouraged from reading the Bible, and in fact there are always Bible readings as part of a Catholic Mass (church service). But it isn’t encouraged, the way that it is in Evangelical churches. There are seldom Catholic Bible studies. But I read stuff… and it bothered me. I had been raised by my parents and my nuns to believe that a person who seeks to do right, who confesses her sins, whose heart was focused on a loving father God, would eventually go to heaven. But the Bible revealed another side of God. A non-loving side. I was disturbed.

Part of the problem was that I had been praying earnestly my entire life, but had never felt the presence of God. It was like talking to a brick wall. That gets old after a while. I had never had a spiritual experience that might convince me that God was real. My spiritual life had gotten very difficult. I remember a high school religion class assignment to write a poem about the presence of God in my life. I simply couldn’t do it. I handed in something about nature, and it came back with my teacher demanding, “Where is God in this?”

Off to college. My teenage rebellion was not actually intentional, but I’d chosen engineering as a major. My dad, who was paying for college, was cool with it.  My mother was mortified. Engineering was a man’s job! My first three years, I was still a Sunday churchgoer at the Catholic Student Community church (Newman Center). I wasn’t sure what I believed, but this was a crowd of liberal, service-focused people and I enjoyed their company. A student music group led the hymns, and sometimes played for us rather than having us sing. Fantastic musicians. There’s a lot to be said for churchgoing; it fulfills a need for social connection with like-minded people. Hymns you’ve sung since childhood resonate. Catholic Masses are pretty tightly scripted with a specific liturgy. There are Bible readings, with the last being from the Gospels, and a sermon. Then there are familiar prayers, blessing of bread and wine, and Communion. In that church, rather than the traditional wafers, communion bread was Portuguese Sweet Bread baked by community members. (I took my turn at baking it.) We passed around baskets of bread and cups of wine. It felt like we were all family.

But I was drifting away. The theology made less and less sense to me. I had no sense of God in my life. The church’s position on things like abortion and birth control were evil. I’d acquired a boyfriend, later a fiancé, who was raised in an Evangelical tradition and thought poorly of everything having to do with Catholicism. He was on his own path toward becoming an atheist, but he wasn’t there yet. But under his influence, I stopped going to church. It let me sleep in on Sunday mornings, which to a college student is a real blessing itself.

Then came the issue of marriage. My mother was adamant. If I didn’t get married in a Catholic church, she wouldn’t consider me to be married. I was too young then to call her bluff, so we made arrangements to be married at the same Newman Center where I’d attended services. We would marry after my fiancé’s graduation, though I still had a couple of quarters of schooling left. At the time, the Catholic Church required that we get premarital counseling from our priest, and a dispensation from the local Bishop so that I could marry a non-Catholic. The counseling session went well, and the dispensation was treated as a bit of routine paperwork.

On the sunny morning of June 21, 1980, we were married in the small Newman Center church in Davis, California. Including ourselves, the priest, and the harpsichordist who played our music, there were 17 people total… plus the neighborhood cat who wandered into the church in the middle of the ceremony. The ceremony was merely a wedding, without an optional full Mass. The reception was cake and punch on the church lawn; I was juggling Evangelical, alcohol-hating in-laws with parents who believed you couldn’t properly have an afternoon or evening reception without it. So we had cake and punch at 11 am.

It was the last time I willingly attended a Catholic service, except for other people’s weddings and funerals. I didn’t realize it yet, but I was on the fast track to becoming an atheist. I would take a short side trip into Evangelicalism, though I never bought into most of it; I simply liked the idea of a church community that my husband would accept. But the Catholic Church and I were done. I’d had it with any theology that treated good people badly because they didn’t believe the right things, or engaged in consensual sex outside of marriage, or accepted the need for abortion sometimes, or embraced birth control. I’d had it with any theology that treated women as somehow being less than men. A few years later, after my depression finally was diagnosed and treated, I would realize I’d had it with theology in general. But leaving the Catholic Church was a huge first step.

Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat: What Happens When Jesus Doesn’t Fix What Ails You

blood of jesusJesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God —  are violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins. Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of a spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”

Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors of about the importance of studying the Bible, praying, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. Just last week, two Toledo area Evangelical pastors were arrested for grooming and trafficking a teenage girl. One pastor would frequently have sex with the girl in his church office, giving her $100-$300 to keep her mouth shut. According to WTOL-11, the thing that likely did the good pastors in was the one pastor’s request that the girl bring a friend so they could have a threesome. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside believers, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime?  And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!

Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sin. I John 1:8-10 states:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan, Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep your sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.

Recently, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, this man likely will be homeless when he is released from jail. His life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.

This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best describe as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.

The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.

This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.

Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later, and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, he is the problem. As long of Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.

Then and Now: The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

kate upton 2017 swimsuit issue cover

Kate Upton, 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Cover Model. (See Upton interview here)

Warning! PG-13, slightly adult conversation ahead!

I have on and off over the years subscribed to Sports Illustrated (SI). Published weekly, SI features stories about athletes and sports leagues. One issue every year is devoted, not to sports, but to the wonder of the female body. The Swimsuit Issue, as it is called, is chocked full of photographs of bathing suit-wearing models. SI chooses exotic locations for the photo shoots. The photographer part of me lusts over what can only be described as a dream gig — splendid locations and beautiful women, what’s not to like, right?

Over time, the bathing suits have become skimpier; a reflection of our society’s increasing comfortableness with nudity. Every year, Evangelical groups express their outrage over the Swimsuit Issue, and every year countless Baptist preachers rush to the mail box so they can preserve their SI copy before their wives get a hold of it. Evangelical morality police are not the only people who get a self-righteous hard-on over the Swimsuit Issue. So do Catholic groups such as Catholic Youth Apostolate:

That takes us to the other half of your question, one of swimsuit models on magazines. Again, the real question here is one of intent. Swimsuit catalogs exist to sell swimwear for women. One could safely say that these kinds of images should be harmless to someone striving to live chastity [sic]. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (we use this example because the SI Swimsuit Issue is the highest grossing, most widely distributed issue of their magazine every year… interesting, for a magazine that is supposed to be supporting a culture of sports fandom) exists to sell supermodels to men. No one purchases that particular issue of SI in order to buy a new swimsuit for his wife. The women in those magazines are styled and posed in such a way that could easily lead anyone viewing them to lust – they’re often topless, sometimes naked; posed not to show off the swimwear, but their bodies.

One might say, ‘But I’m just admiring their beauty, what’s wrong with that?’ The problem lies in JPII’s quote above – you can’t admire their full beauty as a human person, because you don’t know them. All you have to admire is their physical form, separate from their heart, mind, and soul, so it’s impossible not to objectify them. Furthermore, the women in those magazines don’t express the wide variety of God’s beauty in all men and women – all the women in those magazines are roughly the same size and shape, a cultural standard of ‘beauty’ that simply means ‘sexy’ and is impossible for the average woman to achieve. Beauty is much broader than the images displayed in magazines. It’s not that these images show too much, but too little.

Does this mean that if you happen to catch a glimpse of the cover of the SI Swimsuit Issue in the check-out line at the grocery store, you have sinned? Probably not. But in order to grow in the virtue of chastity, it would be wise to not pick it up and flip through the pages. In as little as two-tenths of a second, an image can be emblazoned in one’s memory for years. And Jesus would rather you not risk it, since he said that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:28). Again, make no provisions for the flesh…

This could just as easily of been written by an Evangelical preacher.

Back in my Evangelical preacher days, I would watch for the Swimsuit Issue to be delivered so I could throw it in the trash before I or one of my teenage sons was led into horrible sexual sin. One particular year, the magazine never arrived. Hmm, I thought at the time. I wonder what happened to it? Months later, while working on a vanity light in our master bathroom, I found the missing issue hidden above the cabinet. How did this magazine get here? I wondered. Come to find out, one of my sons had intercepted the magazine and hidden it. I made sure my mag-stealing son knew that he had sinned against God, and then I tore the magazine up and threw it away. Today, we heartily laugh about this story, but at the time, absconding with the magazine was viewed as a serious act of disobedience to God. I felt it my duty to make sure that my sons were not exposed to pornography, be it Playboy, Hustler, or the SI Swimsuit Issue.

Fast forward to today. Last Saturday, the 2017 SI Swimsuit Issue arrived in our mailbox. I spent 20 minutes or so looking at the magazine while we were driving to Defiance for our granddaughter’s basketball game. I didn’t have lustful thoughts or feel the need to masturbate or engage in sexual intercourse. Shouldn’t I have been filled with lasciviousness as I dared to gaze upon the exquisite bodies of the fairer sex?  What’s changed between now and twenty years ago? Gone is the fear and guilt caused by the teachings of Evangelical Christianity about sin — especially sexual sin. As many former Evangelicals will attest, once the fear and guilt are no longer a part of the equation, things once considered “sin” can be enjoyed (or not, depending on one’s tastes and desires) without feeling like the reader just committed a heinous crime. Now that God, the Bible, and Evangelical moralizers no longer have my attention, I am free to be a normal, healthy heterosexual man. What is most interesting is that, once something is no longer taboo, it often loses its power and draw.

I will leave it to Evangelical men to guiltily shuffle into the darkness with a flashlight to look at their copy of the Swimsuit Issue. I no longer need to deny myself pleasures, wants, and desires. I know that the Swimsuit Issue is not everyone’s cup of tea. Each to his own, right? No one is forced to look at the magazine. People are free to subscribe, not subscribe, or cancel their subscription over what they believe is Sports Illustrated’s promotion of “soft-porn.”

Did you, or your father, back in your Evangelical days, subscribe to Sports Illustrated?  How was the Swimsuit Issue “problem” handled? Did your pastors preach sermons about the Swimsuit Issue? Do you know of anyone who committed adultery or fornication after perusing its pages? Do you know of anyone who, after viewing the scantily clad models, turned to pornography? (You know, the Swimsuit Issue acting as a gateway drug of sorts.) Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

From Evangelical Bruce, the Teetotaler to Atheist Bruce, the Wino

devil and alcohol

These days, I enjoy drinking an occasional glass of wine, shot of whisky, or a variety of other concoctions containing alcohol. However, enjoying the fruits and grains of God’s Creation® has not always been my habit. Being raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church meant that I heard countless sermons on the evils of alcohol. My parents didn’t drink and neither did I. I was almost forty-five years old before I drank alcohol, and then I only did it because I thought it might help with my pain. (It didn’t. I quickly learned that I have to drink a lot of alcohol before I feel its effects.) It has only been since I left Christianity that I have felt the freedom to drink alcohol at home and socially.

As a youth, the frequent sermons I heard about the dangers of drinking alcohol made a deep psychological impression on me. How could it not? Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastors and youth directors of the churches I attended made sure that congregants knew that drinking alcohol would lead a person straight to hell. As with many forbidden behaviors, preachers used violent, bloody, extreme stories to illustrate their anti-booze sermons, not-so-subtly reminding us that if we touched one drop of the Devil’s brew, we too could face such calamities and even death.

How did these men of God justify their anti-alcohol crusading on a Biblical basis?

  • Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1)
  • Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! (Isaiah 5:11)
  • Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
  • Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again. (Proverbs 23:29-35)
  • It is not for kings [Donald Trump], O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. (Proverbs 31:4,5)
  • But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. (Isaiah 28:7)

For much of my life, these verses were sufficient to keep me from drinking alcohol. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I took another look at what the Bible actually said about alcohol. What I found was that the preachers of my youth, though well-intentioned, were misusing what the Bible said to advance a moralistic code of conduct. To do so, they only focused on Bible verses that propped up their teetotaling views. I never heard sermons quoting these verses:

  • Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
  • The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured:But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness. (Isaiah 62:8,9)
  •  He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14,15)
  • Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)
  • And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. (Deuteronomy 14:26)
  • Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Proverbs 31:6,7)

As I delved into the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words used for wine and strong drink, I concluded that it was impossible to support abstinence from alcohol from the Bible. While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, it does not forbid drinking alcohol in moderation; moderation being a word rarely used in IFB circles.

The text that finally convinced me that it was okay for people to drink alcohol in moderation was John 2:1-11 — the story where Jesus turned water into wine:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

In John 2, we have Jesus attending a wedding at Cana — likely the wedding of someone he knew or a family member. Fermented wine drinking was a normal, everyday part of Jewish life in first century Palestine. It is not unreasonable to think that Jesus regularly drank wine. Attempts by Evangelicals to turn Jesus into a Welch’s-grape-juice-drinking temperance crusader are ludicrous and not supported by the Biblical text. No one who has studied this issues thinks that the wine served at this wedding was non-alcoholic. What sealed the deal for me the people at the wedding called Jesus’ wine creation good wine. Would first century Jews consider non-alcoholic wine “good” wine? Of course not. There is only one conclusion that an honest seeker of truth can come to: Jesus drank alcoholic wine and turned water into alcoholic wine so others could drink it.

Some Evangelical teetotalers, knowing that the Biblical text does NOT condemn moderate alcohol drinking, turn to other arguments in their attempts to keep people from enjoying beer, wine, and spirits.  Here are a few of the arguments I have heard over the years:

  1. The wine and strong drink in Bible times had less alcohol content. One notable preacher said that the alcohol content was likely one percent! Imagine how much one-percent wine someone would have to drink to, according to Solomon in Ecclesiastes, feel merry in heart.
  2. Drinking alcohol could cause us to make poor decisions or sin against God, thus it is better to abstain than to put ourselves in danger of sinning. Neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27)
  3. Being seen in public buying or drinking alcohol could cause people to think poorly of us, even causing sinners to reject Christianity. Since having a good testimony is paramount, the best thing to do is to never buy or drink beer, wine, or spirits. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

The most common argument used to justify abstinence was the stumbling brother argument. The thinking goes something like this: Christians should never do anything that could cause a fellow believer to stumble and fall into sin. Better to refrain from doing something than to be the reason a weak Christian ends up at the bar on Friday night downing shots of whisky. The Biblical justification for this line of thinking is found in Romans 14:17-21:

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.1 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

Evangelical churches often have numerous members who were alcoholics before Jesus (or AA) “saved” them. According to the stumbling brother argument, because some church members were alcoholics before they were saved, fellow Christians should go out of their way to not do anything that would cause them to go back to their former way of life. This line of thinking suggests that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not enough to keep some Christians from returning to a life of sin, so everyone else must be punished for their weakness. Of course, this line of thinking is absurd. Christians, along with the rest of humanity, can be addicted to all sorts of behaviors. Ever notice how fat many Evangelical — especially Baptist — preachers there are? I often kidded church members that gluttony is the only sin permitted in the Baptist church. If helping fellow Christians to avoid stumbling into sin is the goal, shouldn’t churches stop having fellowship dinners? Shouldn’t church women wear burqas so former porn addicts, adulterers, and fornicators aren’t tempted to return to their former ways of life? Shouldn’t Christians voluntarily get rid of their televisions, lest those who can’t control their viewing of “sinful” things on the Hellivsion® are tempted to watch HBO?

See how silly this kind of thinking is? Besides, it robs people of being responsible for their own behavior. This is little more than what I call Flip Wilson thinking — the DEVIL made me do it. Evangelicalism turns people into hapless, pathetic creatures who go through life fearing that sin and destruction are only a decision away. As a result, Evangelicals miss out on much of what non-Evangelicals and unbelievers consider a normal part of life. We only have one life and it will soon be past. Shouldn’t we enjoy it while we can? Instead of condemning the drinking of alcohol, perhaps Evangelicals should practice moderation and teach their children how to drink in a responsible way. Much like with sex, Evangelicals turn alcohol drinking into a larger-than-life demon that will destroy lives unless it is avoided at all costs. Yes, for some drinking alcohol can and does cause harm, but then virtually anything can cause harm when in used in excess. Evangelical parents are so obsessed with their children avoiding the world and its supposedly negative influences that they fail to train them how to make thoughtful, responsible decisions. Just Say NO becomes the mantra to live by, but as most worldlings know, such a black-and-white view of the world rarely works. in fact, such thinking actually makes it more likely for Christian teens and young adults to get caught up in “sinful” behaviors when they are away from the ever-watchful eyes of their preachers and parents or out on their own at college. Instead of prohibition, perhaps teaching responsible drinking is the right path to maturity. Doing this, of course, means ignoring the Bible — or at least certain verses anyway.

Today, our home sports a well-stocked liquor cabinet. Polly and I are free to drink whenever we want, even to excess. Channeling the ghosts of hippies past, we subscribe to the notion, if it feels good, do it (with the caveat that our behavior does not harm anyone). We seldom drink in public, and when we do it is rarely more than a drink or two. Our children are lustful imbibers of the fruit of the vines and grains of the field, but like their parents, they never drive an automobile after drinking alcohol (unless the requisite time necessary for the physical influence of the alcohol has passed). Most often, Polly and I drink at home, content to drink a few glasses of wine on the weekend. Neither of us is a beer drinker, thought Polly has of late, thanks to our oldest sons, found a few beers she likes. I tend to like hard liquor, Polly doesn’t. Neither of us has been drunk, though I have seen Polly quite happy a time or to. While our drinking of alcohol saddens Polly’s IFB parents, we no longer hide the bottles when they are around. Drinking alcohol is a part of our lives now, and we see no reason to hide our “sin” from anyone. When our family gathers together for special events, beer and/or wine are part of the festivities. On those occasions when attendees drink more than they should, they always leave our home driven by someone not under the influence of Satan’s deadly elixir.

The overarching rule of our lives is that we only get one opportunity to live, so we might as well enjoy our short time on earth.  For many people, drinking alcohol is a part of them enjoying life. For others, it is not.  Live and let liveeach to his own — clichés to be sure, but they do reflect how Polly and I view the behavior of others. As long as someone’s behavior is not causing harm to himself or others, it is none of our business. This rule applies to virtually every aspect of human behavior. My fellow humans do things that I would NEVER do, but as long as they aren’t harming themselves or others, who am I to object? And I, at times, take this even further. If people are doing something that might potentially cause physical harm to themselves, I see no reason to object to their behavior. People are going to do what people do. Can premarital sex cause harm? Sure, but then so can marital sex. Eating too much of certain foods or skydiving can cause personal harm, but so can being a vegetarian and driving rather than flying on airplanes. Life is filled with risk and danger. The best any of us can do is to weigh the risks and act accordingly. No one gets out of this life without making a few errant risk calculations. That we lived to tell about them is all the reason more to embrace life and live with it gusto!

Did you grow up in a religion and/or a home that forbade the drinking of alcohol? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

[signoff]

Sin and the Hostile World: Changing One’s Worldview

Guest post by Melody

There are roughly three ways of looking at the world, the universe, and nature: it is inherently hostile, it is indifferent, or it is loving  – three very different positions with quite huge consequences for one’s worldview. This past week, I realized that while I rationally see nature as basically indifferent—it simply is, it exists for its own sake; we are the ones that add the value, for better or for worse—I emotionally still see the world as hostile sometimes.

I was raised in a typical Evangelical fashion. Everyone is a sinner. The ‘world’ is hostile towards us—no one ever focused on our own hostility towards this so-called evil world—but God is on our side, so we will win eventually. The indoctrination, combined with my own personal negative experiences, led me to believe that yes, people were all bad at their core and so was the world, and so was I. It’s no surprise that such a belief does not help with feeling comfortable either on this earth or within one’s own skin.

Beliefs can be very harmful and divisive. In this scenario, there is always an enemy. There is always some sort of (spiritual) war going on. This war rhetoric also creates an intensity to one’s normal everyday life that may not be meant for anything else except real threatening situations. If there are demons and spiritual attacks everywhere, normal life will never be boring. This sounds a lot better than it is though, because a little boring is good. It is peaceful and restful. This state of calm hardly exists in people who see a spiritual threat on every corner, in every book they read, in every person they meet. They get worn out fighting imaginary threats.

To them, the world is hostile. Jesus was persecuted and we will be too. Jesus suffered at the hands of unbelievers and we will too: just look at all the signs! In order to hold onto this view, negative experiences get magnified and all good ones get disregarded, creating a huge negative spiral. Because I personally felt that some people were not trustworthy, I could myself easily believe that we were all sinful at heart; that no one but God could be trusted. I have believed this for the longest time. There were pastors who were untrustworthy in our church, family members who were untrustworthy… I could go on. It was far too easy to believe that sin was winning in this world, that the dark was winning and we absolutely, definitely needed God. All of us.

Now, I’m trying to change my worldview; to no longer see myself as a bad sinful person who has to do good things to make up for that, but who will always fail, because, doesn’t the Bible, in Romans 3:10, say that: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’”? Seeing myself as bad, as well as everyone else, does nobody any good. That is not to say that bad people do not exist: clearly some people are rapists, murderers etc. But the concept of us all being sinful beings and everyone as inherently bad does so much harm. Most people are neither entirely good nor entirely bad—nor do they have to be—there are shades of grey everywhere, possibly even more than fifty…

At the moment, I see the world as indifferent. There’s too much darkness in this world for me to see it as loving, but I also no longer want to see it as hostile either. Besides, for it to be either one of those, there would have to be someone or something that made the world so; and that is precisely the belief I have given up — the belief that everything and everyone is a helpless pawn in a huge fight between invisible beings. There is no God with a good plan for the world as there is no Devil with a bad one. The earth simply is and we are on it  as long as we manage not to destroy it, which we unfortunately might.

I want to see myself — and others — as a good person who may sometimes make mistakes, instead of as someone who has to do good to redeem herself without there ever even being a real possibility that she can succeed in doing so. Evangelical Christianity has the power to break people like that, because there is never even any point in trying. Everyone is sinful and will remain so; all good things one does are by God’s power and strength anyway. This view of humanity and life is pitch-black. It’s not easy to preserve one’s mental health in such a setting; it might even be impossible.

Mostly I want to find rest and peace within myself, to accept myself and others, to accept the indifference of nature and people alike; to move from a worldview where there’s a constant spiritual war to one where there is just as much uncertainty, but where there are no evil intentions behind that uncertainty — a life where good and bad exist but where they are not handed out on purpose.

(1) http://newlife.com/emb/bounce-your-eyes/ is a clear example of this state of mind. It’s about men staying pure of thought: they might need to avoid billboards—change their route to work if necessary—or the beach. It’s easy to laugh at but it is also heartbreaking because that is not an easy way to live, or a way to live at all. It is choking all joy out of life.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Watching “Sin” on the TV by Jeff Maples

tv-is-evil

The biblical principle is simple. If it’s sinful to perform and produce, it’s sinful to watch. But the American church is so morally degenerate that she will not accept this. I understand that this is a very unpopular position to take. Some of the greatest Christian minds will disagree with me on this. Why? Because, for some reason, we have conditioned ourselves to accept “artistic” representations of sin as acceptable. “A swear word here or there won’t cause me to stumble.” But that’s just the thing, you’ve already stumbled. Immersing yourself into something sinful is sinful.

It does us no good to turn from our sin if we have no desire to completely separate from sin. How can we say that we’ve repented–that we hate sin–if we still desire to watch it? Will God allow this kind of entertainment in Heaven? Have the desires of your heart really changed if you’re a believer? If not, perhaps you should seriously examine yourself. Living out your depravity through television shows, movies, and entertainment is no different than living it out in real life. It merely assuages your conscience, leading you to believe that you don’t desire to sin, while the truth is, you very well may still be a twisted, barbaric fornicating pornographer and blasphemer at heart.

What a tool Satan has in leading the world away from God.

— Jeff Maples, Pulpit & Pen, How Entertainment Has the Church in Bondage to Sin, November 28, 2016