I wrote something to an acquittance of mine, Anna L Davis, in response to a post she wrote and it got me thinking. I thought about the degree to which being part of a church is not about Jesus. Anna spoke of a group of former prostitutes who know try to lead other prostitutes to Jesus. For whatever reason (My morals, of course, intrinsically compromised by my atheism) I don’t like prostitution and I think it is good for women to be lead out of it by people who have been there, regardless of motivation. She mentioned how she would like to see more of this sort of thing.
I don’t think she will. Christianity is dying in the west, at rate of about 1% per year. Do you know what the fastest growing religion is? Wicca. The number of people who identify as Wiccans is doubling every 30 months. (Ref) So, I offer to concerned Christians everywhere my little guide book to how to keep your church from going the way of the brontosaurus. You can get Wiccans and other Neopagans (people who believe a fairly arbitrary re-imagining of neolithic and bronze age paganism, only without the blood sacrifice.) to go your church and stay there.
Its profoundly simple, actually. White suburban does not equal Christian. Tell me which picture is a group of Christians….
I like how the photo of the Christian teens (it’s taken from the Youth for Christ web page) uses careful lens flash to make the token black guy the whitest one there. So tell, me what exactly have the goths done wrong here? They are dressed as modestly as the Christians. There is no more hair dye, and no more make up on the right then on the left. You can’t see any skin really, no naughty words, no pentagrams.
But you know, don’t you? You know instantly they aren’t Christians because they don’t look white bread enough. Wicca takes these people with open arms. Wicca says “Your uniqueness is blessed”. The Christians say, through a tyranny of frowns and subtle digs, that these people aren’t right, no matter how much they love Jesus. I know someone is reading this and saying “Oh NO! Not I! I would love these people into Christianity. How long could person come to your church dressed like this before someone felt the need to say something to them? If Christianity wants to exist in another 50 years, then it needs to stop acting like being a Christian means having a Christian image, and needs to start acting like the inside is more important then the image….
Or be content with young people leaving droves from the hypocrisy.
P.S. If you got this far without ever realizing that only God can see the heart and the group on the left could be Satan worshipers and the group on the right could be local Baptist teen group then you don’t need me to tell you what the problem is.
I will write my paradigm paper, really. I’m just busy.
A specialist will always beat a generalist in a specialized challenge. The only time a specialist losses to a generalist is in general challenge.
Specialized challenge: going really fast in a vehicle around a highly embanked well paved track. Winner: race car. Loser: tractor.
Specialized challenge: pulling 40 tons of grain over wet sod for 2 hours on 3 gallons of diesel. Winner: tractor. Loser: race car.
The only time a generalist has chance is when the challenge is general. This is why we use main battle tanks and not light, medium, and heavy battle tanks. Battle is a general challenge so a force of all general tanks beats a force of an equal number of special tanks, unless there are special circumstances. Same goes for airplanes. We are increasingly moving away from force of fighters, attack planes, ground support planes, and light bombers to a single multirole plane which isn’t quite as good of a specialist as any of those, but over all wins the general challenge.
A human, verses any animal specialist will always lose. Apes are better weight lifters, dolphins better swimmers, cheetahs better runners, fleas better jumpers. We don’t haves as good as hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or seeing as a veritable zoo of various species. We have one specialty:
We make tools to make tools to make tools. Everything we make is a tool. No other species specializes does creation like us. This is one of the most important ideas in the world. This means we are at our most human when we are creating. The “best” human is not the one who knows the most facts, or has the most stuff, or can influence the most people. The most human human is the one that is the most creative. This is the human most useful to any society when the game changes, though also the most likely to change the game.
What does this mean? My thanks to Xenophanes for expounding on this back in 500 BC:
The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own
And so the Gods of people are…always…creators.
Who is more audacious, the man who believes there is no God, or the man believes his god must be just like him?
Every year after my birthday, I try to reassess my life. I write down this reassessment so I can read it. I’ve found my memory slants things in my favor and only by writing down my thoughts can I later be sure of exactly what I was thinking at the time. So this post is primarily for me, put out publicly for anyone who might be interested. In essence, I’m reintroducing myself to myself. If you want to get to know me again, this would be a good thing for you to read, if you don’t there won’t be much you haven’t heard already.
I spent most of my life with what you might call a divided self. To some people, I was a good and serious Christian, to others I was a very liberal Christian, to myself I could be either of those two, but there was also a private life hidden from both my serious Christian friends and my nominally Christian friends. There were two parts to this private life as well: there was young man that desired nothing but the satiation of the flesh, and finally caught in the tension of all of this and man who truly hated his very life, and struggled constantly to avoid physical self harm and deep feelings of worthlessness. I was deeply ashamed that I, a Christian felt that way and struggled as much to keep people from finding out how I felt like trash as I did to overcome those feelings.
It made for a complicated life. I thought my parents were the greatest parents on earth and I loved them. At the same time, sometimes I hated them so much it was purely my fear of the punishment of God for disobeying them that kept me at home much past my 16th birthday. If I was going to choose one word to describe my young adult and adult years it would “confused”. I was never sure who was the real me: the serious Christian, the liberal Christian, the sex freak, or person who was prevented from suicide purely because whenever he put a gun to his head he saw his family around his hospital bed as he was in a vegetative state, clucking their tongues and saying “Couldn’t even get that right, could you?”
I was always on the look out for someone who had the answer of how to live the Christian life. I wanted to truly be a Christian more than anything on earth. Adolescent angst turned into adult depression. Frequently, I would wake up before my alarm went off and stare at the ceiling trying to will myself into facing another day of failing to be the man I was supposed to be. Usually I could. Sometimes I could not, and it cost me more then one job.
This would lead me to join a radical Pentecostal group who claimed to have a corner on knowing God. Some would call the group cult-like, and perhaps it was but, in the end it was good for me. For the first time in my life I was honest with people about the feelings I had about myself and others. There was an enormous rush to being that intimate with people emotionally. The feeling, though sexless, is not entirely unlike the feeling of being courted. (I’ve talked to a few cult survivors who say this remains a feature of their live that they now miss.) When the novelty of those wonderful feeling wore off however, I was largely the same person. This became an increasing source of frustration. Further, the church talked a very radical, revolutionary game, but when I started to ask hard questions about when this so called revolution would start, I was ostracized.
A pivotal moment in all of this, was falling in love with my wife’s best friend. Of course, being 24 and her being 22, part of these love feelings including an intense and acute desire to make love to her. Which at first, made me hate myself more then I knew was possible. It would hardly seem that this could work for good? But it did. Through long conversations with my wife about my feelings, we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t feelings that were wrong but the actions you took with them. That being the case, I just ignored the sex drive and enjoyed loving someone. Always I had seen my desire for sex with a woman I was not married to as sick and twisted, and myself as perverse for having such feelings. Now, I accepted those feelings and enjoyed them but chose not to act on them. This was the beginning of a life of much less self hatred.
This new life of believing that I was worthy of love changed what I expected from a church. I now wanted to be treated as a peer. This didn’t sit well with the somewhat cult-like church we went to. The last straw was when I quit my job (to avoid temptation, long story) and no one would help us. Further, I was reading the Bible as a whole document looking for the whole story rather then reading individual passages to see what I could make it say. Our church wasn’t even close.
We had moved to the inner city to be closer to the people we were supposed to be saving. I sat on the stoop listening to the gun fire and the sirens. I realized that every stupid thing I had ever done was because I thought someone besides me would take care of me, yet here I was unemployed in the projects of Kansas City. I had a high enough ACT score to get into MIT and I was waiting tables and living three doors down from a crack house.
I decided I would start taking care of myself, and that such a thing would glorify God. I also still wanted to help people in the inner city, and it looked to me (after 2 years of hearing about transformation that I never saw) that hard working people getting money into the crappy schools would go a lot farther then prayer meetings.
I joined the Air Force (same pay as the other branches but least chance of getting shot and most time at home). I joined a very sincere Christian who had reached one simple conclusion: If one was going to consistent with ALL of scripture instead of just the parts they liked, then God was a radically different person then most people thought.
It’s unfortunate in many ways that I deconverted after joining, because I think a lot of people have the idea the military experience is what made me an atheist. Not at all. I joined, as I said, primarily to make enough money to make a difference. I came into the military a Christian. It was not the Air Force life that deconverted me but careful study of Scripture and the history of the early church.
That study lead me to believe that one of three things must be true (1.) There is no God. (2.) There is a God but he actively hides from those who seek him (3.) There is a God and I personally can see no evidence because he doesn’t want me to. In any of those three cases, this life on earth is the highpoint of my existence as I am either bound toward nothing or hell.
Logic says to believe the idea which requires the least invention to work. I could invent a God that cannot be found with the scientific method, or say there is no God. I chose no God. I prayed a final prayer, “Lord if you are real, I came to this conclusion with the brain you gave me and the best facts I could get. If you are real and I am wrong, then please keep my daughter and don’t hold my sin against her. I’m going to be true to myself and admit I don’t see you.”
After this, everything got better. (A subject I have blogged on extensively.) I didn’t ache inside because I wasn’t failing anymore. I stopped pretending I was a Christian, so now I had one kind of friends: the kind that liked me for me. Three months later, I woke up and was getting ready for work. I felt strange and it took me some reflection to realize why: I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up so depressed that I couldn’t go to work.
I didn’t immediately “come out” as an atheist. In my life I have been many things and what I am really excited about today is not something that will necessarily have great meaning to me in 6 months or a year or 5 years. I quietly worked out things. One of the things I really struggled with was the meaning of life in the absence of God. Christianity is a pre-packaged world view, the paradigm equivalent of a Lunchable. Atheism is merely a theology. Eventually, two things would move me. The first was existentialism. Sadly, since most existentialists are big philosophy geeks, existentialism has a huge image problem. Existentialism does not say that life is meaningless (that would be nihilism), on the contrary existentialism says life can have great purpose: the purpose you give to it.
This helped me understand some of the great confusions of my life. What meaning did my relationships have? The meaning I chose to give them. Guilt I had carried over an ex-fiance for years melted away. But what of the indifferent universe that I now believed I lived in? Well, when I spoke of this to the very wise Doctor Karen Stollznow, she said, Israel, rocks and trees may be indifferent, but we as humans are generally surrounded by human beings who are as authentic parts of this universe as the sun or the earth. Because people can make the choice to care, the universe is not indifferent.
During this period (around this time last year) I began to really hate my parents. I was profoundly bitter with Christianity and I blamed my parents for raising me in it. That was stupid. We’ve talked since and worked it out largely. Though not bitter, I remain slightly miffed at Christianity. I’m 29 years old and it has only been the last few years that I have had a normal sexual relationship. I’ve been in a sexual relationship since I was 22, however it wasn’t normal or healthy until fairly recently as atheism and existentialism helped me come to healthy view about myself. Sex is not very important to some people and incredibly important to others. I am the latter, and it irritates me that I spent the first 25 years of my life when unhealthy, ineffective thoughts and actions regarding sex because of Christianity.
A note here, when I say “Christianity” I am not referring to a code of ethics based on the Gospels, but the unique expression of American, politically conservative protestantism as I understood it. I have talked to many people since deconverting that managed to believe psychologically healthy things as well as Christianity. They managed to believe everything I do, yet do so with a paradoxical belief largely at odds with scripture. More power to them, I’m not mad at them anymore either. (For awhile I was jealous of their ability to keep all the pleasant trapping of Christianity without the madness, but I’ve come to accept that they can do it and I can’t)
This is largely the complete story of how I got to where I am. Next post I will tell you myself (and you all) where here is.
Ok, so I am almost done with my Health Care V post. It’s a honking 2k words and I need to edit the crap out of it. I’ve actually found some false conclusions and mis-facts that I hadn’t caught the first time, but I will probably leave those in because the concepts are right, and the type of polishing I need to do will probably be part of larger project where I rewrite the whole US system. It probably doesn’t have a chance of getting published but I would like to do the kind of editing that published work gets, so you all get the 2nd draft instead, in a couple more days.
Being a full time student has changed the way I view the passage of time. My life is broken down into 8 week blocks, and I can keep alot better track of when I feel good and when I feel like crap. I am nearing the end of pretty pleasant 3 weeks. This Monday I just couldn’t get excited about going to work. The day drags on, I seem to get head aches easier, and I am tired all day, but then can’t sleep when I get to bed. The petty irritations of social interaction with strangers weighs on me.
Times like this…
are when porn seems like a great idea. Porn is a substitute but not a very good one. The way I feel after hitting up porn because I am sad is the same I way I feel when I haven’t eaten all day and late in the night eat a bag of Dorittos. Satiated, but still empty.
are when I wish I could go home. I’m not sure why, but I checked out when I was around 15. My parents did their best to make a home, but from about 15 all I could think about was leaving. I’ve been on the run from myself every since. It’s only been very recently I decided that when my enlistment is up I am going back to Iowa and I am going to build a real life there.
are when I wish I could still pour my soul into a six string the way I used to.
are when I wish I could be as broken on the outside as I feel on the inside and be taken home by a well meaning woman to sleep pathetically beside her. Me feeling blessed by her presence, and her by my tears. It’s a primal feeling that I can never entirely shake. It’s not about sex, just acceptance. (The strength of that feeling is why I don’t get drunk, and why I don’t frequent bars, btw.)
are when I wish I could still go the community art class I took in highschool, and turn out delightful abstract nonsense on the potters wheel.
are when I wish the claims of religion had evidence, so I could believe them.
Some of these things have consequences I will not risk. Once upon a time, these feelings made it hard for me to hold down a job, but I’ve learned to live with them. It is rare, this early in my blue swing that I will wake up tomorrow and feel better. Once this starts it takes about two weeks to work out. But, it will get better. There will be moments of dark clarity, moments of where melancholy poetry is possible, moments where, because of frailness a single kind word will carry me up to the sky.
It’s not bad to be me. Sometimes it’s just harder than others. I will not say there is something wrong with me because this happens to me. I’m not damaged, just different. Sometimes I look at sunrise and I see the glory of a new day. Sometimes I look at sunrise and I try and find those happy hopeful thoughts, but all I can feel is the pressing blackness of another day of struggle. Regardless of whether I see darkness or light, I’d rather be the me I am then try to be someone else.
Maybe that someone else, that perfect Christian self who didn’t feel those ways was the person I was running away from for all those years, and “home” was wherever I didn’t think I had to keep up the masquerade.
Every kid wants to be a hero. We all ran around the house with a bath towel cape at one point, thwarting our imaginary nemesis, enlisting an annoying little sibling or long suffering family dog for our trusty sidekick. At some point, we lose the towel and the spider-man underoos but for at least few the dream never dies. Some us do grow up to be everyday heroes: firemen, cops, EMTs, etc., but most of us don’t. We go to college or get a good union job in the local factory and with time we stop thinking that we sold out. We change our definition of success until the daily grind meets it.
For me the desire to do something great and noble that I could truly be proud of never left me. I believed in a great story, written by the unerring hand of God and that God had a role for me in his unfolding drama. God was the decider of human affairs. If I was to amount to anything in this world, it would be by the hand of God. I’ve been a very relational person my entire life, always aware of my emotions and the emotions of others. I could be carried up to the heavens with a single compliment or beaten down with a single harsh word. However, I had deep sensitivity to reality, an almost hyper-awareness of how feeling that something is true does not make it true. I poured myself into Christianity because it was the only context I had for greatness.
Adolescence didn’t cure me of these thoughts, but it did change me in two ways that weren’t compatible with Christianity. First, I became sexually aware. I thought about sex constantly and frequently while masturbating. Also, I began to struggle with occasionally despondency. God’s commands about sex and sexual fantasy are clearly withing marriage, and a Christian should be full of peace and joy, even in the midst of anguish, echoing Job’s “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.” Relational as I way, this deeply concerned me. Love is shown in actions, sin “nails Christ to the cross again” so every time I was lusting I was hurting my friend and savior. I wanted a girlfriend and friends, and had none and few respectively. Christianity teaches that ones relationship with God is the fount from which all relationships flow, so when I was hurt, and lonely, and blue my pain was magnified by my additional failure to be totally content with God.
When high school was over, I was a full blown neurotic. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do with my life was to be great. I had heard college was full of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. To me, my inability to shut off my sexual desire showed my lack of self control. I knew the guilt that I would feel if I partied and slept with strangers, and out of fear of suicide in response, I went to Bible college instead.
Like so many young men away from home for the first time, the next part of my story begins with “So, I met this girl.” She was a little blond butterfly, social, friendly, and bouncy. I was so proud that she would even talk to me. At the same time, sensitive as I was, I knew she’d be hurt badly, torn apart inside. I could see it on her like a shadow. Now in part I pursed her because she was cute, in part because she was aching. And I pursued because she was wounded in part because I wanted to help her, but in part because I hated myself. I thought I was trash, and thought when she realized what a filthy, disgusting person I was, only if she was desperate for man, only if she was broken inside, would she not leave me.
However, in the end, I broke up with her, believing her not to be a part of God’s plan for my life. I came home, and got a crappy job, followed by some random college classes. This became a pattern: work pointless jobs and fail out of college classes. I worked talentless, pointless jobs for almost nothing. I did it for two reasons. First, because I believed this was my path to greatness, from the lowly and humble to the top of the company by hard work and godly decisions making. The other reason I believed this was because I still thought I was trash. I needed approval so badly and handled rejection so poorly that I took jobs any sane person would have turned down, because only when my peers were drug addicts, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill did I feel I was appreciated enough in comparison.
During this time, I met the woman I am now married to. We did marry for love, but alloying that love was lot of desperation. For sex on my part and to get started having babies-for-Jesus on hers. I failed out college a last time, saying God needed me somewhere else, not that I hadn’t been proactive enough with my advisers about my needs as a student. We were called to an inner city mission in Kansas City. The pain of previous failure would be worth it when we got to partner with God to save the city from Darkness. My daughter was born.
We went to that inner city saving church for 2 years. In many ways they were good years, but in the end, the church was a lot more interested in feeling like they were changing the world then changing it. Also the work environment I was in was filled with pornography, dirty stories, drugs, and cursing. To obey God and flee temptation, I quit my job, fully expecting God to give me a job that paid better, perhaps one SO nice, we wouldn’t have to take welfare anymore. The whole church prayed for us, but no one would help us.
Needing to hear that I had done the right thing, I called my brother, a pastor. He called me a fool and said that I was a failure as a father and husband. I hung up the phone and sobbed like a little girl for three hours. When I could breathe again, I walked outside and sat on the porch. I looked at the clean new Cadillacs and broken beer bottles. I watched the drug dealers and the prostitutes mingle. I thought of my little girl upstairs. And the weight of it hit me. I was twenty five years old. My life was a third over and I had shat it all away.
In the words of Social Distortion “Well I’ve searched and I’ve searched/To find the perfect life/A brand new car and a brand new suit/I even got me a little wife/But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere.” It was all my fault. I had done this all to myself. I was everything that Christianity said I was supposed be, possessing all the values that the Bible said I should have. I had lived in constant, slow, misery trying to find my place in God’s plan. I said out loud “American Christianity is a black hole. It’s never going to change anything. I’m going to find God on my own, and I am never trusting anyone else to take care of me or my family again. I’m never taking anyone’s word on what Truth is again, because the people that told me to obey God are sitting on their asses with good jobs and safe homes and I am sitting in fucking hole with loaded shotgun behind the door.” Three months later, the Air Force paid me for the privilege of moving all of my belongings to a prestigious a training school in Southern California.
I kept a promise to myself to truly understand scripture on my own. I read the Bible cover to cover and investigated the history of the early church. A child could tell you it’s all just make believe. I didn’t make the cut in the 95% fail rate program, and for the first time in my life, the failure didn’t crush me because I didn’t care. I’d made my decision, I’d done my best. I took another career in the Air Force. I studied more and more about the Bible and began to study the things the Bible had argued with science. Science won.
And then I told my dear sweet wife, the one who had married me to raise sweet little Christian children with that I was atheist. It broke her heart. She would not have married me 5 years previous if I had been an atheist. I told her she could leave me, if she wanted a divorce I would give her one and she could have any portion of my income she wanted as long as I got to keep my daughter with me. She declined, and instead we began to get to know each other. And she fell in love again with the new me. The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.
And with time, the questions she had always had about Christianity became insurmountable to her. She progressed from Deist, to agnostic, to atheist. For the first time in our lives, our future was what we made of it, not what our God ordained leaders said it was, not what the Bible said it should be, not what the Church said it was. Our future was whatever we made it to be. We worked our asses off. We got out of debt, became full time students, and began saving money. We started writing our own story.
That’s the key to atheism. I’m not a nihilist; I don’t think life has no meaning. I’m an existentialist. I think my life has the meaning I give it. For the first time in my life I am writing my own story. The things I did, the things I valued never belonged to me. Atheism has not cured me of occasionally struggling with despondency or even the rare depression I fall into. Importantly, neither did Christianity. Atheism gives me the freedom to accept occasional bouts of blue funk without feeling like a moral failure. Nor does atheism require to me to reject my emotional sensitivity and relational orientation as not manly enough. It takes away the right for others to tell me the best way to be…me.
Am I happy? Yes and no. As I said, atheism and existentialism have not cured me of situational depression or high strungness. What is had cured is my belief that I need to be cured of my own identifying characteristics . I will make no apologies for what I am anymore, and ultimately, being content with who I am is a long way toward happiness. My whole life I wanted to do something great, something noble, something worth remembering. Now, I am. I am making something wonderful: me.
I am worth working on. And starting from that single point, my dreams matter and are worth making real.
Aching loneliness in my soul
Led me down paths strange
Shoveling cinder and coal
Burying me in burning shame
It seemed a simple thing at first,
Images of women’s kindness
Did amply slake my thirst
And restore in me fineness
But my thirst would not be stayed
By such innocent mintage
Twas like sipping lemonade
But wanting headier vintage
Searching out stranger strangers
Seeing things which ought not.
Watching clips of varied dangers
Finding not that which I sought.
Then, forgetting mad dreams
I flesh and blood pursued
In hope and without schemes
I let myself be used
Steamy pictures o’ erotic tangles
Had awfully prepared me
For a real relationships’ tangles,
Arguments, tears, and pleas
Porn and I then parted ways
Religion was my watchword
I fantasized not of other lays
And followed always cross-ward.
Religion didn’t heal me
From the aching at the start
In fact, it just buried the real me
And broke my aching heart
Investigation of church’s claims
Left me scratching my head
The church had nefarious aims
Obsessed with others’ beds.
So I left the sacred fold
Trading one lonely for another
Finding bits of soul I’d sold
And myself, and my lover
When porn was viewed
By more secular angle
Without religious skew
Or tempting fallen angel
I realized I was never seeking
some erotic chemical high
Twas on beauty I was tweaking
Eros when most shy
To strange pastures I went
Not for tolerance built
To creepy content I was sent
Driven by crushing guilt
Atheism, ironic blessing
Freed me from guilt’s’ bully
To be myself without missing
The parts that are not “holy”
Free from guilt and shame
I view what I find lovely
I’m not driven by pain
And skip what misogyny makes ugly
And I can see clearly
With all the women I view
Real women I loved dearly
And almost always you
My taste has improved
I’m not looking in dark places
With all the shots perused
Trying to find you in their faces
But such an awful thing to say
And even worse to do!
To shape images like clay
To dream of loving you
The dream I often visit
Is us physically together
But, somehow, not illicit
A love that time could weather
I would be scorned
I seek images in replacement
I want to love and be loved in return,
You’d gag at my abasement.
None of them are right
None of them are you
All of them are right
All of them are you
So, to what cannot be
Between us, (though we love you)
Onan and I will see
What can I substitute
But it would misleading,
To blame only the ‘net
Your image is fleeting
For we’ve nott met yet
Morning dew gleams
Moon beams shine brighter
Life is better it seems
When love’s circle is wider.
I don’t want love to still
At some arbitrarily limit
I do seek a thrill
But only if love gives it.
I want love’s full expression
In context of friendship
Where physical affection
Is compassions apprentice.
So, I am seeking another
to have and to hold
Addition and keeping
Not substitution of old
I want to love with depth
A true equal and partner
But also with breadth
A circle out farther
I like to invent things (even if only on paper) and I do so in spurts of enthusiam for different things. For the last year or so, my enthusiam has been about religion and government.
General, cultural Christianity as well as my personal upbringing, instilled in me the paradoxical idea that government is (omnipresent) God in abstentia, along with some other conflicting ideas like freedom being a gift from God, but only for good people not for undesirables like homosexuals or the inner-city poor. These ideas were among the many that burned off like fog in the sun when I de-converted.
But it left me with a ticklish problem. If the purpose of government wasn’t the “or else” in the statement “Obey God’s rules, or else!” what was it? I studied different ideologies and rejected them one by one. Some ideologies contained more truth than others, but ultimately I found a lot of them were based on false premises, and unconfirmable or unconfirmed data.
Since I’ve been fascinated by revolutionary movements since I was child (When I was 9, I planned out an eloborate and violent coup of my school giving it up not out of moral qualms but because I realized ultimately, any resistance I offered adults would not result in children being granted our constititional rights, but serve as pretext to steal the few we had.) I had decent working knowledge of revolutionary movements, further enhanced by some pretty hard reveiw of revoltionary movements I undertook to offer advice to my so called “revolutionary church”.
This knowledge served me well, as world history is the story of the revolutionary movements that worked. Even within the scope of revolutions that effectively won, most revolutionary movements struggle enormously with the task of switching from David to Goliath.
War represents a reversal of normal values. Normally killing people and taking their stuff is socially condemned, in war, it is applauded. Civil war is worse because it is more specific. Normally killing your neighbor is socially condemned, in civil war, it is applauded. The same key that increases a revolutionary movements’ chance to succeed increases the revolutionary movements’ chance to successfully transition for revolutionary movement to rule. That key is how the members respond to the entrenched ideology of the existing government.
People gather together around ideologies, from NASCAR tailgating parties, to the ritual cannibalism of the Eucharist. If a revolutionary movement gathers under hating the existing system, it is gathering around hate and no change of system will change the organized , systemic, rage. Most likely the hate will destroy unit discipline within the revolutionary cabal and it will collapse into organized crime and terrorism. (Al-qaeda and the Tamil Tigers). Should the the hate-based group stay organized under a strong and ruthless leader (such as Lenin) as well as defeat the existing government, it will transition to power by entrenching the existing system at the point of a gun. This is why so many revolutionary movements become everything they abhor.
Contrariwise, if a revolutionary movement gathers around the postive change that it wants to make, it can often become a competeing voice in the existing system, growing in legitimacy and power. Should it succesfully overthrow the incumbent government, it has a post-revolution plan. Since the people revolting were gathered around something besides destruction they tend to have better idea of what to do with power once they have it. For an object lesson on this, juxtipose the American to the French revolution.
The government classes I had studied as outstanding young Christian gentleman were centered on what was wrong with the existant American system. They offered no plan, no system, no roadmap for post-change improvement. It was believed, I think, that no roadmap was nessisary. When things were “made right” God would magically make everything work. Question: Why did terrorists attack? Answer: Because we we’re too soft on queers and babykillers. When we stopped allowing shows like “Will and Grace” to be broadcast and made abortion illegal, or at worst difficult to get, then the terrorism situation would improve in the total absence of systemic change.
So I addressed my desire to understand government, and the flaws I percieved in various ideolgeous by trying to invent a new government. I won’t make any argument against the componants of the existant system until I can offer a better peice. Not a peice I feel better about, mind you, but one that does the componants’ function better.
And finally, it must be remembered we speak of a system here. By definition, systems are interconnected. If 3 foot rail gauge is better than Standard for a rail system, you can’t make one line narrow gauge and expect improvement. Systems must be integrated fully to function at all. Thus, I can’t offer a single better peice to governmental theory. In the absence of total systemic improvement, individual peicemeal improvements are actively destructive.
I’m trying to invent a whole new government from the ground up, with consistancy and reason throughout. It’s the largest, and most encompassing inventing I’ve tried.
So what ties the previous two blogs together? In the first blog, I talked about sometimes missing the comfort the church provided me. I spoke of speaking in tongues and the joy of sharing spiritual experiences with others.
In the next, I wrote about one of the best nights at house church. What happened that night felt wonderful, a pleasure not entirely unlike the non-sexual part of one’s wedding night. When you get married, there is this joy that seems to exist independently of the joy of sex . It’s the joy of belonging to someone totally and them belonging to you. There is a spiritual sharing, a knowledge that this person is really, finally, yours.
And that was the feeling I felt that night. My life would forever be tied to those people in that room. We had all adopted each other, so to speak. We had committed ourselves to love them, to care for them, to help them be the best they could be, and they committed the same to us. There were perhaps 30 of us in that room, and we conscientiously decided we were going to be the early church together, God’s little point of light in Westport, Kansas City.
The feelings I felt that night were real. The elation, the warmth, the affection. All of those feelings were real feelings. It’s just the premise which was false. None of us really loved each other, not like that. We all thought we did; I don’t doubt anyone’s sincerity that night. It’s just that our hearts were writing checks our lifestyles couldn’t cash.
I remember once taking an old, rotten wood and canvas canoe down a river. My father and I began with the feeling that everything would be OK. The boat fell apart over a little 3 day trip, patched beyond repair. The next year we began another river trip, this time in a heavy aluminum jon boat. Again we began with the same hope, excitement, expectation and the feeling that everything would be OK. That trip was OK because our feelings were founded on solid fact, unlike the first, when the feelings were not.
The comfort of the church I miss is the false comfort of kindly lies. I do miss the comfort of naivety, but not at the price of living a lie. To be naive because you are ignorant of the truth is a normal part of youth. To be naive because you choose to believe lies rather than truth is the first step toward mental illness.
Above all, I guess what I missed was the friendship, but upon reflection I realize, I didn’t have real friendship, but rather real feelings about non-friends. An acquaintance asked me the other day if I still wanted to be friends with her. I laughed out loud. Real friendship isn’t something you choose to do, it’s something you cannot chose not to do. And that sort of friendship takes time measured in years and decades, not months.
Let me plug my friends Jason, Paul, and Ben here. I have known all of them for 16 years. Any of them would lay their lives down for me, and I for them. We aren’t friends because we know how to be, we are friends because we don’t know how not to be. All saw me through an awkward adolescence, the turbulent nine years of teenhood, 3 failed attempts at college, a failed engagement, marriage, fatherhood, ministry, and finally atheism. And nothing I have done has made it possible for them to stop loving me. That’s friendship.
I am not super atheist. I do miss the comfort of the church sometimes, but it was real emotions based on false events. I miss the feeling, not the falsehood.
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. Fasting is hardship. It’s not nearly so bad as starving, but it’s an experience that few westerns have had. Shared hardship builds tight social bonds, and fasting is no exception. We hadn’t eaten in three days. The first day is easiest, you don’t even feel it till supper, really. The second day is harder at breakfast, but easier in the afternoon. The third day is pretty hard. I’ve talked to people who’ve fasted for weeks, and they say the third day is the hardest, that your body is learning how to fast, metabolically.
Wednesday night we had all had supper together, and none of us had eaten since. Eating together also forms bonds between people. The early church broke bread and praised together in houses Acts 2:46 and so did we. Everyone had brought something, a casserole, a dessert, finger food, prepared with shaky hands and growling stomachs. Have you ever prepared food when you haven’t eaten in 70 hours? The anticipation is almost crushing.
There was so much food it was overflowing the table, crock pots were circled around outlets like campers around a fire, and chairs were loaded down with platters and bowls. We stood around the table, hand in hand. It was strange how we looked at each other. Our eyes were shinning like lovers as we looked into each other’s souls shamelessly.
We prayed in a babble of tongues for a time, each person worshiping God in an inscrutable language he blessed them with, and then stopped, looking at each other breathlessly. We ate, at last. We talked, we laughed, we loved. We all loved each other.
Finally it’s time for communion. Communion is a joy, but also serious business. Many modern Christians have forgotten that God punishes those who take communion unworthily with death and damns them to hell (First Corinthians 11:27-37). This same passage also tells us that to take communion is to be in unity. We knew that. We had chosen this communion to be special.
This was our standing before the lord as one. We took communion together that night not only because we loved Jesus, but because we loved one another. That night, before we took the cup, we each affirmed that we loved each other, and that we bonded ourselves together, to care for one another as Christ cares for us.
The next post I write will tie this and Super Atheist together. Thanks for reading all, and thanks for the comments, both for and against my position.
I have an online acquaintance who is disabled. She speaks often of a struggle she has, which she calls the “Super Cripple” complex. (Read her blog here). Are you familiar with positive stereotypes? A positive stereotype is a belief which infers imaginary abilities to a group or subgroup, such as black people being better at sports or Asians being better at math, etc.
She deals daily with the struggle to accept herself as she is, rather than a Hallmark Movie caricature of herself crafted of positive stereotypes. She calls this caricature “Super Cripple”. SC never gets tired of campaigning for human rights. SC can wheel-up gradual stairs. SC is super, she doesn’t need help from ANYBODY! The reality, of course, is that disabled means “less able” and she does need help. The real strength is accepting the reality of needing help, rather than trying to pretend she doesn’t by playing the fictional part of SC. Accepting this every day remains a challenge for her.
My struggle, or one of them, is to not be Super Atheist. Super Atheist finds purpose and joy without God or religion. Super Atheist doesn’t need faith; Super Atheist has reason! Super Atheist never believes sincerely with one part of his mind something that another part of his mind knows is actually false. Super Atheist finds happiness in holidays like Easter and Christmas, because even though he knows there is no God to celebrate, he is with his family and that is what really counts. Super Atheist never wants to go to church, or take communion, or pray for the broken of the world. Super Atheist can do anything!
But the thing is, I’m not Super Atheist. I miss the comfort of the God hypothesis. The idea that I am here for a capital “P,” Purpose, a participant in a grand narrative. I miss the afterlife hypothesis. The idea that what we do on earth has a greater meaning than the handful of lives we touch, and that evil which is not caught in the here and now, will someday be punished in the after life.
I miss crappy church. I miss getting dressed up and going and singing once a week. I miss real church…a lot. I miss sitting in a room full of adopted family, and singing and praying and feeling loving and loved.
I miss speaking in tongues and the emotional high that it brings. Actually, come to mention that, I really miss it. Someone would come forward and we would all put them in a group hug. We’d all go around the circle and “pray a message of God’s heart for that person” which amounted to telling the person how valuable they were, how loved, how special. It felt great to do and to have done to you. Then we’d pray in tongues. The reason part of the brain idles down, and the emotional part revs up. I’ve never taken 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (Ecstasy) but speaking in tongues seems to have the exact same effects. From wikipedia:
- Mental and physical euphoria
- A sense of general well-being and contentedness
- Decreased negative emotion and behavior such as stress, anxiety, fear, and paranoia
- Increased sociability and feelings of communication being easy or simple
- Increased urge to communicate with others.
- Increased empathy and feelings of closeness or connection with others
- Reduced insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of emotional injury
- Decreased irritability, aggression, anger, and jealousy
- A sense of increased insightfulness and introspection
- Mild psychedelia (colors and sounds are enhanced, mild closed-eye visuals, improved pattern recognition, etc)
- Enhanced tactile sensations (touching, hugging, and sex for example all feel better) Ask any married Pentecostal if you don’t believe me, by the way, sex after praying in tongues is an amazing spiri-sexual experience.)
And I miss them all. Above all I miss feeling like I was apart of something really special: a 2000 year old Royal guard, still fighting the rebels to have the kingship of the true and most high King recognized. There is a romance to words like “Kingdom”, “Knight of the Cross”, “Sacred purpose”, “Most High” that words like “country”, “community advocate”, “special reason”, and “President” simply cannot match. Though administratively identical, they are rhetorically worlds apart.
I am not Super Atheist. I confess, I have a desire in my heart to gather with believers, to sing songs of worship, reverence, sorrow, penitence, and heroic victory. I long to kneel, to dip the broken crust in the wine, to speak the words of my heart to a friend and Lord. My only caveat is that he not be imaginary. I desperately want to sing, worship, kneel and gather my community around a real God.
I long for a god, a religion, a purpose, and grand narrative. I long for everything worthy religion gives man. My disbelief in God is not the result of a lack of longing, but a lack of God.