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.
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.
Brother this and brother that
Hold me I’m scared
and have I gotten fat?
Love should be shared
So tell me your prayers!
I’m ever so blessed
To have brother who cares
when I feel distressed
When I feel depressed
eyes stained red
Kind words confessed
He kisses my head
His white armour does shine
This man I love, “brother” of mine
Truly, I loved you
There could be no denying
My heart surely was true
But, a bit I was lying
Strong passions raised by your pining
I first feared your kindness
But you told me of love
How holiness makes blindness
Purity, gift from above
Would descend like a dove
And I believed
I fell for your drug
My heart was relieved
You were my “sister” appointed by Jesus
Divine friendship crafted to free us
Never had I loved with abandon
Trusted so completely
I wasn’t my way. I planned
Scared to let love defeat me.
But you, I loved madly
Without contract or treaty
It couldn’t end badly
With the Lord as our daddy
Holy union, perfect, platonic
Life couldn’t go sadly
Love was our tonic
High on Jesus, love, and each other
I was truly happy being your “brother”
But a line had be crossed
A road had be started
The switch had been tossed
The train had departed
To and fro my emotions darted
I couldn’t shut it down
I became broken hearted
Needing more of the sound
Of your voice, heard round
Me. And every part of you.
needed to be around
I wanted all of you
I need to have all, the whole.
Union of flesh as well as the soul
Every time you touched my face
You called me brother
And I felt like disgrace
Because my feelings were other
Skin hot like a lover
You affection was damning
My smile a cover
Of the pain you were fanning
I hated my standing
Torn on the fence
One foot on your landing
The other intent
On running away from your sighs
and the adoration plain in your eyes
I didn’t know how to feel
I loved you so much
Not knowing how to deal
With hunger for your touch
Was it love or lust?
That drew my eyes
To your petite bust
And voluptuous thighs?
Wrong or right to despise
Myself, to feel a louse
For wanting you to abide
In my own house?
Torn up, I told you my feelings
You went sick, your stomach reeling.
I, your “brother”, no less
Wanted you for more?
This was plain incest
And I was a whore
The bands of union tore
You offended, left with a fight
your friend no more
Because I didn’t love right
Years since that night
I’ve thought and thought
Relationship’s a rope tight
Upon which we walk
You told me to love you free
And did and loved indeed.
I would have gone back
And kept lying
At first when it was black
and felt I was dieing.
But after much sighing
I now know my statement
It was true love shining
And not abasement
Finished with self effacement
I wanted your body for your soul
Not for lusts enchainment
Intimacy means loving the whole
person, flesh, spirit or other.
Fear of love, not love, made you call me brother.
I stumbled onto a blog the other day called Textual Fury. It’s the daily musing of a woman named Kateryna. I wish I could say the blog is great, but I’m afraid that if I just said it’s great, you might get the wrong idea. Kat is a truth speaker. Sometimes truth is beautiful, sometimes it’s as ugly as death. Because she just writes the truth, the subject matter is occasionally ghastly.
I’ve written about my parents before. I spent about three blogs attacking them. Upon reflection, I realized that wasn’t fair or right and publicly apologized. I’ve said before my parents never abused me, not verbally, not emotionally, not physically, not sexually. Kat’s parents did, frequently and regularly. While my parents weren’t perfect (none are), anything my parents did wrong was well meaning harm, rooted in sincere love. Kat’s father was a monster, and her mother both enabled the physical and sexual abuse as well as actively pursuing her own emotional abuse. I was never anywhere near anything that compares.
Yet when Kat talks about how she felt about herself and what she did to herself, self loathing, self harm, suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions, she could be reading my journal entries from not so many years ago. She is survivor and a victim of abuse of a kind I could not even imagine had I not read her blog. I try to wrap my mind around this. I carry almost none of the scars that she does, yet had the same level of self hatred and self destruction. I, with my basically good family, her with her sick one, both came to believe that we were trash. What possible environmental condition could we have shared?
We were raised in Christian homes. Her father wanted her raised in a Christian home to make her easier to control and harm. My parents wanted me raised in a Christian home because they love me and wanted to protect me. I think most people who are Christians and want their kids to be Christians do so with true hearts of love. It is this love, and not scripture, which is good for children.
The beauty that can be made of Christianity in spite of scripture, does not, however, change what scripture says. It says first that you are worthy of eternal torture. Let’s look at the torture first. Burns are one of the most painful things the body can experience. The Bible, in too many places to mention, says hell is a place of eternal fire. Imagine being doused in gas and lit on fire. Now imagine that it never stops. Imagine as your flesh burns away, it is healed so you can keep enduring it forever. As you scream and cry and besoil yourself…remember, you deserve this.
The most foundational aspect of Christianity is that you deserve to be burned alive forever. What do you suppose truly believing such a thing does to a person? You can’t believe that you are valuable, special, or worthy of love and believe such a thing.
Ah, the Christian contends, surely not. You accept that Jesus loved you before you were even born. So, to accept that, you must accept the fact that love can include torturing someone almost to the edge of death, then stopping at death so you can torture them some more. After all God said you had to go there and he loves you.
Having accepted that, you may now rejoice! If you believe that Jesus is God you are saved, accept you’re not. Because the demons in hell believe that and tremble at the mention of His name. Faith must be shown in works (James 2). Do works save? No. They reveal what is inside. Real salvation is accompanied by a real change. But how much change is “real change”. The Bible says that people have raised the dead in Jesus name and still had to go to Hell. You’ll never know, so you will have to keep working and working, constantly asking yourself, “Is this enough?”
So, you are a horrible disgusting murderer (you killed Christ), the greatest love includes the threat “Or I’ll burn you alive for ever.” And finally, you will live under the constant threat of hell. You will never know if the actions you are taking are personally costly enough (actions taken in God’s name to advance yourself rather than God are punishable by death). You will keep suffering and suffering, waiting for God to pour out his promised blessings upon you.
This is a recipe for madness. Convincing people of a horrible guilt, twisting the meanings of common concepts like “love” or “justice” until they mean the opposite, and creating constant stress of never knowing what is going to happen next are text book methods of control. It worked for Stalin.
Does this mean all Christians are evil? Not at all. Most Christians are wonderful people who really want to the make the world a better place. They subconsciously focus on the best parts of scripture, the savability of man, universal love, and the siblinghood of all people. But Christian doctrine in its raw state, rather than sanitized for mass consumption, is a road of worthlessness and self harm to the individual and manifesto of abuse to the predator.
Accidentally and in spite of the hard work and compassion of rank and file believers, the doctrine of the Bible when practiced literally, rather then re-written by modern psychological norms, is a doctrine of violence and abuse.
The following is true, names and situations slightly modified.
It was noon. All the campers were back in their cabins for quiet time. It was about the only time of day that Annette was free to work on the accounts. She had applied to be the camp registrar, having no idea that she would be the camp mom. Every kid who got stung by a bee, or skinned their elbow, or (for the older kids) had their heart broken came to her window, sniffling pathetically and waiting for her to make it all better.
She sighed as she wondered about herself. She was 26. She’d finished her masters degree in child psych, and had a good job lined up with a private school. This was her last summer, ever. From this point forward summer would not be a break from studying, but a break from kids who should be studying. For some reason, it seemed like the perfect thing to do before she began her long delayed adulthood was pull one last year at Bible camp.
She had worked there 8 years before as a “kitchen helper”, serving institutional glop by the ice cream scoop. The first week was for families, next high schoolers, then eighth graders, and all the way down week by week to the a half week for the “Lil’ Cowpokes” which was the name for the third graders.
The same office she’d seen since she was a baby in her mother’s arms, only now she was on the opposite side of the window. Parents came to family camp, then their kids went to kid camp, and then some would apply and get jobs, some for a single season, some for summers on end. Her father had been friends with Jon, the camp director, since before she was born, and when Jon found out a 26 year old with a master’s degree wanted the job of registrar, she’d been a shoe in. Of course, at the time, she didn’t realize what the job meant. As if it weren’t bad enough that she had to mother 300 some campers, she also had to mother the whole eighteen to twenty something staff.
The nails of her fingers clicked furiously at ancient keyboard. Bible camp did not pay well because it did not earn well. Most of the expenses were supported by freewill donation. She was considering the difficulty of transferring all the files on the antique IBM to her Dell when she had the feeling of someone staring at her. She turned to the window.
“Hello, gorgeous!” said the lifeguard, a huge smile beaming out of a tanned brown face. His name was Abraham, and he didn’t smile often. In fact, for a eighteen year old, he was painfully serious, his brow in a constant furrow of concern with almost everything. A lot of the kids and even some of the other staff thought he was jerk because he took everything so seriously, but he never had anything but smiles for her. Before opening the pool for the kids every afternoon he would come and try to flirt with her for about 10 minutes.
It made her feel funny, not bad, but funny. His was a Bible camp family, she was 8 when he was 2 and she remembered him very clearly. He’d been a handful in nursery, where she was a helper. When she started high school and worked as an assistant in children’s chapel, he’d been a handful there too. He wasn’t a bad kid, but he had a way of looking through adults rather than at them that made them uncomfortable. Her last year of high school, when she’d worked in the kitchen all summer, he’d been twelve. He was goofy, goofy kid, but he’d had a huge crush on her.
Now he was eighteen. He wore small expensive glasses instead of large cheap ones. He was broad and brown and his hair was frosted blond from being in the sun all day. She didn’t normally flirt back. Normally there were people in the office, and it felt…untoward, as if she was flirting at a family reunion. But today, she’d told everyone to leave her alone so she could work on the accounts.
He was still grinning like an idiot. He was just so doggone happy when he talked to her, and that warm smile was infectious. He was 18, just barely, she shouldn’t encourage him, but he just had no shame when it came to flirting with her. He rarely called her Annette, it was always “gorgeous” or “beautiful” or “darling”. From anyone else it would be so sleazy, but from this kid it was just adorable, with total sincerity and not a hint of irony.
“You gonna come swim today?” he asked. He’d asked everyday.
She kept typing, but turned to him for moment, eyebrow raised
“Why do you want me to come swim so badly anyway?” she asked.
“Well, I like talking to you and because you make me look good! I like people seeing me talking to this hot older woman.” He teased her about being an “older” or “more experienced” woman all the time.
Annette turned away from the computer to stare at him, crossing her arms over her ample chest. He had just called her “hot”? As always, with that total sincerity! Was he flirting? Was he being funny? Did he really want to get with her? She felt much more flushed then she felt the complement of a boy just done with high school should have made her, and then she had a dawning realization about Abe.
“I think you just want to see me in a swimsuit.” She said coyly accusing. For Bible camp, this was a pretty racy conversation.
His smile winked out like a light, but his eyes went from looking at her to looking straight into her eyes.
“Well, to be honest, yes I do” he said softly.
Anette blushed deep red and tuned away, toward the window. “Abe! Why do you want to see me in a swimsuit?” The words were an accusation, but the tone begged for a compliment. Annette had butterflies in her stomach.
Abe struggled. He felt like he was terrible with social situations. He’d really enjoyed talking to Annette because he felt he could just be himself with her. Without seeing her face, he couldn’t even guess what the right thing to say was.
“Honestly?” he asked
“Honestly.” She said.
“I see every girl here dressed and in a swim suit. A woman’s suit fit’s like a second skin, so I know every curve of their bodies. Except you. I only ever see you dressed. Clothing hides a lot. I just want to know what you really look like, how you’re really shaped.”
“Why?” She said.
Abe sighed, still talking to the back of her head. “Because I wasn’t joking when I said that I wanted to be seen with you. You’re incredibly hot. I mean, I know your 26 and I’m 18 and there’s no way in hell I’d ever have a chance with you, but I can look, and I want to see every inch of you that I can because you’re beautiful.”
Annette swiveled her chair and got up for the door, she turned to the door.
“Abraham, come in for here for second.” Abe obeyed, terrified and desperately hopeful.
Anette slid him a chair. “Sit.” She commanded, and he did.
She sat back down in her office chair, and rolled it up to him, her face close to his. Her head was cocked to the side and one eyebrow was up.
“Abraham, do you like me?”
His brown eyes gazed deep into hers. “Yes.”
“Do you really think I’m beautiful?”
This one was bit harder to ask. “Do you really think I am hot? My body turns you on?”
He swallowed. “Yes.”
Satisfied he was telling her the truth, she scooted the chair away and turned three quarters to make it easier for him to see all of her. “Ok, last one, and you’d better be totally honest with me. You know I’m fat, right?”
Abraham’s eyes opened wide. He knew he shouldn’t, but he looked her over feet to head. He realized for the first time that other men would call her supple legs “fat”, her lovely hips “fat”, her round butt “fat”, her padded biceps “fat”, her full bosom “fat”. He blinked. Fat doesn’t just mean overweight to most people; it means ugly. He tried to make Annette ugly in his eyes. He’d had a crush on her since he was 8 years old. He tried to will her cute nose and smile dimples from cherubic to merely “fat”. But he couldn’t. She was beautiful to him, and had been since he was old enough to notice such things. She was funny, and smart and had huge tits. There was nothing to not like.
“Honestly, Annette, I just think you’re beautiful. I know your bigger than most girls, but it never crossed my mind that you were fat.”
Annette began to giggle.
“Abe, do you like Gina or Angie?”
Confusion. “Um, no, not especially.”
Annette considered one particularly popular cheerleader. “What about Mary?”
Abraham, scrunched his nose. “No, she’s totally fake.”
Her giggling turned to outright laughing.
“Do you like Beverley?”
“What about Laura?”
“And you think Jaycee is really hot, don’t you!’
Abe, ran his fingers through his hair. He was really confused now. “Yeah, I do. Why?”
Annette smiled warmly at him. “The girls you like? They’re all fat. The ones you think are vapid? They’re all skinny. Abe, honey, you like fat girls. With other guys I’ve known it’s creepy, I don’t think it is with you, you just like big girls.”
Abe though for a moment. He thought of ever girl he ever had a crush on. It was waking up after a long confusing dream, as angels sang out for just a moment in heavenly harmony “You like fat girls.” He felt like some small part of his future, his very life, had just come into focus. Then he realized he was still in the office with Annette.
“I guess I do! Does this mean you’re coming swimming today?”
“NO! You can ogle me some other day, I have work to do. Now, shoo.” Anette ran him out, still smiling. She would be smiling for a while, as would Abraham.
My parents right now are really hurting over me becoming an atheist. I feel bad. I don’t like hurting them. I considered not telling them at all so it wouldn’t hurt them. But I knew it would come up sooner or later, and that they would have to be told. I, personally, would rather be told that someone disagrees with my core beliefs at the beginning, rather than have it hidden from me for years. I think that the distrust and lies of omission hurt more than the disagreement. For them, we’ll see.
But having grown up a Bible thumping fundamentalist and now being an atheist, I would like to prevent other parents suffering the way my parents are right now. And I think I know how. I offer the following in total seriousness, my guide to people in the Church on preventing atheism in her members.
I know that if some pastor reads this, he could very offended. This is not a joke me. I am not saying it to be offensive. I am truly offering this as advice to pastors and evangelists. If you don’t want people to de-convert like I did, listen to me. Some of these things are going to be hard for you to read, because they are very irreverent. Remember the person you are attempting to save has no idea what you hold reverent.
(1.) I can’t stress this enough. You must truly believe that some people are called to be God’s and some aren’t. No, seriously, you have to accept that. (Romans 11:7, Acts 13:48,)
(2.) As such, you must accept that fact that witnessing consists of laying the facts on the table. If the person is called by God, they believe them, if they’re not, they don’t. (Romans 11, Acts 4:4, Ephesians 1:13)
(3.) Accept the fact that the “facts” are ridiculous. Talking donkeys (Numbers 2:28), the sun stopping in the sky (Joshua 10:13), floating cities (Revelations 21). Don’t pretend that they make sense on their own, because they don’t. They make sense only to the Chosen. Don’t pretend it’s all about Jesus. It’s not. Jesus only matters if the Bible is true. If it’s true when it says “Jesus Saves”; it’s true when it says sheep copulating in front of spotted sticks makes spotted sheep. (Genesis 30:38-39) Pretending this sort of thing is rational will make someone doubt their sanity. Admit frankly that these things are irrational, on purpose, because God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise. (First Corinthians 1:27, First Corinthians 2:14)
(4.) Don’t lie when you witness. Make it clear that you are going to have to believe the whole Bible to be a Christian. (2nd Timothy 3:16) When it says that a woman who files a false rape report must be beaten to death (According to Deuteronomy 22:25, the penalty for rape is death. According to Deuteronomy 18:18-19 a false witness must face the punishment that would have been given to the accused.) or that priests can’t have bruised testicles (Leviticus 21:20) you must accept that and believe that it is really important or it wouldn’t be in there. The ideal witnessing method would include every odd claim and bizarre thing in the Bible. Let new believers know what they are getting into so that when someone presents them with this data, they aren’t surprised. Surprised believers feel betrayed by the church.
(5.) Don’t explain God in terms of personal relationship. A reasonable person would expect a personal relationship with supernatural being to involve supernatural actions. But that’s not how God works. Many believers will go their whole life and never see a single “New Testament” style miracle, like a regeneration of a limb, or reanimation of the dead. “Personal relationship” misleads people into thinking that God shows up regularly on human terms. He doesn’t, and people who expect it will become disillusioned. It takes several years of normalization in the church before the phrase “personal relationship” means “vague feelings in response to readings of scripture or singing of hyms”
(6.) Don’t explain God in terms of love. Love to normal people does not include the statement “…or I’ll roast you alive forever.” Explain God purely in terms of salvation from deserved misery. People who think they are sinners will get it. People who don’t consider themselves deserving of eternal damnation when they are presented with the idea are NOT savable, because they don’t accept the truth of God. It takes years of time in the Church before people accept the idea that the Divine death threat “Love me, or I’ll kill you.” is a moral highpoint, not low point. You can’t protect new converts from this truth, so tell it up front and don’t evangelize in terms of “love”.
(7.) Accept that fact that God says “Love me, or I’ll burn you alive forever.” (Romans 6:23, Mathew 5:22, Mark 9:43, and many, many more.) Yes, that is a gross oversimplification. It’s still what he says. If you disagree, you’re not savable; it’s that simple. Either you don’t believe that God commands you to love him, or you don’t believe that he cast those who don’t in to hell. Both are basic doctrine.
(8.) Accept the fact that God can do whatever he wants. Do not pretend that God is held to any standard, even the standard he reveals in scripture for himself. (Job and Eccleisaties) He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He has ordered the slaughter of woman and children (Deuteronomy 3:6). It was holy, and if you disagree that all the actions of God are Holy, then you don’t accept him as fully God. In which case, you aren’t savable.
(9.) Do not reason with the converting, it makes lousy converts. If a person can be argued into belief, they can argued out of it. Further, it creates a false expectation that the faith can be reasoned through. It can’t. By definition, the supernatural does not follow the rules of the natural. As such, tools of analysis like reason or science won’t work on it.
(10.) Science is the universe in the absence of God. Science is the study of nature. God is supernatural. Accept the fact that science is merely the absence of the miraculous or demonic. Studies, science, and reason cannot be trusted. They are rough approximations of the universe that are accurate only because God does not manifest miracles all the time, and the Devil, unlike God, is not everywhere at once.
(11.) Going from that, only studies which confirm the church’s point of view are true, all others are false. This is called data mining. Make it clear to the converting, that data mining, like homicide is bad only when people besides God do it. In this way, Christians can trained to see data mining as bad and spot it (as they have on the global warming debate), but are not left with the idea that it would wrong for the church to do it. If they thought data mining was intrinsically bad, they will be disillusioned when they find how much the church does it.
(12.) Don’t teach apologetics. Ever. Most De-cons were trained apologists. Apologetics teaches people that God can be found with reason. Any god that could be found through human facility is not much of God. It encourages people to think that the Bible is true because of evidence instead of authorship. Elevating evidence over God is idolatry. Further still, where there is evidence, there is no faith. The conversion of people with an interest in apologetics or converted by apologetics cannot be trusted. They believe that God is reasonable. God isn’t. They aren’t savable if they don’t repent of this false belief about God.
(13.) Don’t teach them to witness to people of other faiths. It seems like a good idea: teach believers about other religions so they can witness to people of those faiths. But it’s a terrible idea. (Exodus 23:13, Deuteronomy 13:1 through 8. ) First, it works from the idea that there are specific arguments that can talk people out of specific faiths into believing the true faith. But as said before, those reasoned in, can be reasoned out. Reason is an idol. Second, since there is only one way to God, all other ways are tricks of Satan, and meditating on them is meditating on the Satanic. The usual approach to this is to data mine the information about these religions, but this is not a perfect strategy. Should the believer meet a person of a different faith and find that Church data mined the information on that religion they will feel hurt and betrayed.
A bit of history about about the birth of Jesus. He was born, not in zero A.D. as you might think, (there is no zero A.D., the calender goes right from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.) but sometime between 4 and 7 A.D. The bible was not over concerned with the date of his birth, as none is given in the New Testament. Nor was the Church apparently, because surviving documents show no mention of the celebrating the birth of Jesus until after 200 A.D. In fact, it was even seen to some contemporaries to be sort of sacrilege to celebrate the birth of a God.
During the period of 200 to the mid 300’s, the date of Jesus birth was celebrated by different people at different times, though always in the spring. Josephus places the birth of Jesus as spring time, which makes good sense. Sheppards did not stay out in the fields in the cold months, nor would a census be ordered when roads were impassible, as they would be in December.
A feast occurs on December 25th, and sporadically gets popular and dies out between 350 and 400 AD. Now, during the range of 250 to 350, a Roman emperor decided the reason the economy was failing and wars were being lost in far off lands was because they were a one nation under God (believing Mithras was the proper understanding of Zeus), and had turned their backs on him. (Sound familiar?) Aurelian tried to enforce a sort of modern concept of piety on Paganism, to fight radical, extremist version of an established desert faith (early Christianity was a Jewish development, growing to envelope more and more non-Jews after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem around 80 A.D) Most of his politico-religious plans fell through, but everyone liked his December 25th celebration of the Sun being born triumphant to take his rightful place as the ruler of all the earth.
The week prior to the Sun’s Triumphant birth, was a celebration of Saturn, in which people gave each other small gifts, and had little fairs. Over time, the the Saturnia celebration, the birth of the triumphant ruler, and the birth of Christ began rolled into one single celebration, but the Church was never particularly excited about it, as revelry and dancing were common carry overs from the days of old. We get Christmas markets, gift giving, caroling, evergreens, Yule logs, Christmas trees, etc, not from the Catholic Church, but Pagan traditions.
The pagan traditions were so strong, that when the Protestants evolved into the Puritans, they really hated Christmas, resulting in Christmas ban in the 1600’s (pro-Christmas rioters seized the city house by house, tacking holly to the door posts.) The modern American traditions of a tree in the house and Santa Clause is a Victorian invention, no older than the 19th century. Advent calenders are newish, as advent itself is newish, a high middle ages attempt by the Catholic Church to stamp out the last of those dastardly pagan rituals of enjoying time with ones family, drinking with friends, feasting, and singing with strangers.
Tradition, it turns out is a very relative term. Do you want to celebrate the pre-Victorian tradition? The Puritan tradition? The protestant tradition? The late middle ages tradition? The early middle ages tradition? The late imperial tradition? And do you want to celebrate the pagan traditions that the Christian traditions are in response to, or the Christian traditions?
Or you could be like Becky and me, and just make it up as you go. We had sun cake on December 21st (December 25th by the Roman calender) to celebrate the fact that we will be seeing more of the sun soon, something that becomes very important when you live this close to the Arctic circle. It was a big yellow lemon cake with frosting sun glasses on.
On Christmas Eve we ate stuffed mushrooms, little smokies in barbecue sauce, and lime jello with maraschino cherries in it. Christmas morning we opened the stockings, opened the presents, and relaxed. We made phone calls, and had Cornish game hens, stuffing, and yams for supper. After sundown (around 4:30, I think) we played video games while the kid played with her toys.
Never once did I think “Oh sure, I’m having fun, but am I pleasing the Lord?” I never asked myself if I was doing Christmas right this year. I never thought, “Am I making sure that I keeping Christ the center of my Christmas?” I never thought that I should be spending this money to advance the kingdom of the Lord instead of on the people I love. I had a wonderful Christmas with my family, and no Christian guilt.
Ubiquitous anti-religious Christmas Post
So, after much thought and deliberation, I get a little further along with my atheism. I am a skeptic, which means I believe in evidence. I strive to be a good skeptic which means I can reverse course pretty quickly if evidence is presented. Occam’s Razor is dependent on good data, so when I can have one opinion with data X and then change my opinion in the face of data X + Y.
Originally, I was a fundamentalist Christian. This means that I chose which things in the Bible to believe very un-systematically. Believing that it was wrong to own slaves, or sell your kids, but perfectly acceptable to beat children or stone homosexuals. I realized how un-systematic my beliefs were and…
Then I was an Evangelical Christian. This means that I chose which things in the Bible to believe somewhat more systematically, focused on the character of God as revealed by New Testament, rather than the old. But I realized that you can’t develop the character God without the Old Testament, or what did Christ’s sacrifice mean? Also, I realized I was as choosy about what I followed in the New Testament as I had been with the Old. There was a lot in the second chapter of Acts that I wasn’t doing, and…
Then I was Charismatic. That means I believed the stuff God said about healing and the church sharing everything in common. But then I realized that the Charismatic rhetoric was much more revolutionary than anything the mainstream church was doing, and…
Then I became a radical charismatic. That means I believed in the Kingdom Mandate. Read Das Kapital and substitute “capitalist” for “mainstream church” and “capital” for “power and presence of God”. Then read Lenin’s Что делать? and substitute “house church” for “vanguard of the revolution” and “mega church” for “trade unionists” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what a radical charismatic is. Taking the Bible seriously got weirder and sicker. Following the commands of God took care for the poor and such took a real backseat to pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric and…
Then I became a Theist. I still believed in God. I believed He was real and demanded action. But I couldn’t find Him. Logical demand and….
Then I became a Deist. That means I believed the divine is real, but I am not really sure how it works.
And now I am fully an atheist. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. It means I won’t believe he exists till I see proof. My proof? A single, documented healing of a amputee who prayed for healing. I’d been loathe to just take that stance, both on my blog and real life, because saying you are an atheist means a lot of people are going to argue with you. It also means I have to truly accept a lot of things, rather than just intellectually ascent to their likelihood.
I am now, in person and on my blog, an unapologetic atheist. (Before I was a very apologetic deist.)
So for English I had to write one of those “who I am and where I came from” papers. I talked about my childhood a bit. I’ve an odd relationship with my childhood: My parents were pretty different. They made an interesting home life for us and all of us kids grew up a little confused about our place in the world. Through it all, I think they meant well, though. Yes, they held some odd viewpoints and values, but I think that they did everything they did because they really loved us and wanted the best for us. I think that’s why we all turned out OK.
But as anyone reads this blog or knows me understands, when I was kid I thought I had all kinds of problems. As a young adult my biggest problem was all the problems I thought I had. (Which disguised the fact there were actually somethings I could work on, but I wouldn’t find that out for years.) But as a 14 year old I was a bundle of insecurities and self loathing.
So, when I was 14, I visited Emmaus Bible College where my sister was a freshman. I met a lot of people there, but most importantly for this story, I met Jason, Tyler, Sarah, and Paul. Jason is still one of my closest friends, a crazy home experimenter and hacker. Paul is also still one of my closest friends, my go-to-guy for anything I need career advice on. While I was finishing high, school Tyler and Sarah fell in love and got married.
My senior year of high school I was dating this girl from my hometown. One night I had a vision. I saw her getting pregnant and us buying a house behind the window factory, where I was would live for the rest of my life. That didn’t appeal to me. I had around $4000 I had saved up throughout my short life. I had been alternating between wanting to use that money to (1.) buy a used airplane and teaching myself to fly or (2.) going to Pittsburgh, legally changing my name, and inventing a new life for myself free of the constraints Christian living. Both had problems: if I bought the plane, I would not have enough money to leave home. I would have to stay with my parents “forever”. (Forever being more than 2-3 years to an 18 year old.) If I moved to Pittsburgh and started Me 2.0 I thought I would probably do such crazy sinful things that I would kill myself because of the guilt (or at least that was the plan. I was 18, don’t judge.) If I went to Pittsburgh, I was going launch into crazy orgies and stuff, if I stayed home I was going to start sleeping with my girlfriend. (My apologizes to the good people of Pittsburgh. I don’t know why as angry young man, I fixated on Pittsburgh and not New York and LA like everyone else who wants to leave a small town and go to the big city. I don’t know why I thought orgies would be particularly available in Pittsburgh either. ) Either way, I was getting laid and feeling icky.
But I had a third option. I could take my $4000 and pay for one semester of Bible college. It was the path of least moral failure. But I still didn’t feel really good about myself. We went around the auditorium and said why we had come there. Everyone said “To learn more about JESUS!” I knew for a fact at least one of the guys on my floor was there because his parents told him that if he went to a year of Bible college they would give him a Jeep Wrangler. So when it got to me I said “I’m just here to meet a nice Christian girl and marry her”. Now this wasn’t strictly true, I was there so a girl back home didn’t get pregnant, but I really didn’t mind the image I thought this gave me, and I was uncomfortable about lying about Jesus. Lying about God to impress your friends just seemed (and seems) like a really awful idea.
Well, it turned out, not surprisingly, the guy who went to Bible college so he wouldn’t join (or start) a sex cult in Pittsburgh was NOT really cut out for Bible college. I met a girl there who was much life myself (named Lydia): a basically kind person who life had beaned her with a series of complicated hard to deal with things. In that environment of judgment, conformism, and emotional and sexual desperation we found each other and leaned on each other to survive.
And the person who was a life line to us: Sarah, Tyler’s wife. Now, I’d known Sarah since I was 14. She’d come to Emmaus with her own story of what she wanted to run away from (something I would not find out until years later) and when she had met geeky, awkward, bespectacled me, I reminded her of her brother Paul. So she was really nice to me. She was always really happy to see me and listened to all my silly talk warmly. Gentle reader, do you remember when you were 14? How would you have felt if an attractive, street smart, 20 something women treated you kindly? If Sarah had told me to cut my right arm off and give it to her I would have.
Well, then I was 18. Sarah opened her home to Lydia and me. She trusted us, listened to us and gave us a home. That last bit is more important that you can imagine. Both Lydia and I had good reasons to never want to go back home. We both had loving parents who meant well but just didn’t get it, and “Christian” friends who characterized the Sanhedrin a lot more than the Son of God. (Her more so that I. Everyone has a different burden to carry, I’d be lying if I said hers wasn’t heavier.) Sarah’s house was warmth and honesty and openness. It was the place we could go and be our real selves instead of the Christian selves we had to be at Emmaus. Sarah was my hero.
When I broke up with Lydia I was so ashamed. I was ashamed of what I had done. I was ashamed of what I had not done. I was ashamed of breaking up with her in the first place. I was ashamed that I hadn’t done it sooner. And I didn’t want to go to Sarah and Tyler’s house anymore. They had seen me as my most honest self: a good man but not a Christian, desperately lonely, easily hurt, and high strung. Every time I saw them, it was like looking into a mirror of who I really was.
But not who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Amazing Christian! I wanted to love Jesus so much that I didn’t sin anymore. I wanted to be GOOD man. I wanted to be rich, or have the capacity to be so and not take it because I choose poverty out of love for Christ. I wanted to be the best Christian in the world. And every time I looked at Ty and Sarah, I saw the people who saw what I really was.
So, gradually, I stopped calling. Stopped dropping in. I moved. They moved. Time passes.
Now its 2008, nine years after I left Emmaus. I don’t want to be Amazing Christian anymore. More than not caring if I meet the churches ideal, I now consider meeting the churches ideal a moral failure in and of itself. I find that I really care about the people that loved me back then.
So I called Tyler and Sarah up. Sarah answered. We talked. She’s having some problems. She had rough life physically and emotionally when she was a kid, and those scars run deep. Sarah’s strong, she’s holding up. And Tyler is a good man, always was. He takes good care of her.
But they could have had one more friend helping shoulder the load. One more person to listen. One more person to cry with. And I pushed them away. On purpose, because horror of all horrors, they saw me for what I was instead of who I wanted to be.
So, to Sarah and Tyler, Anna and Joe, Ben and Heather, Scott, and anyone else who I have forgotten, or purposely not put on this list due to its public nature.
Thanks for trying, and I am sorry I pushed you all away.
NOTE: the following is the pertinent part of a on going discussion I am having. This cuts the personal part out which is why it seems a bit abrupt.
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth but when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Christ is the sower, he plants the seed. It grows, and then dies. If the rejection of Christ was initial, how and what is growing?
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 10 people waiting desperately for the Bridegroom (Christ). Five are prepared. Five are not. Five get to God with Lord, five don’t. All were waiting and all knew he was coming, but the five with oil were a little more prepared.
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first… Now, Jesus goes on to insult the Pharisees here, but the point is the man who said no but obeyed was in his father’s will and the man who said “Yes, sir!” but didn’t wasn’t.
The point is, saying that Christ’s rejection of a person who rejects him is only in the initial meeting between Christ and person does not square with the above verses. Further, it is not in the character of God as revealed in the Bible in total. Jesus also says “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me”(Mat 10:38). Predestination to a call and decision to heed that initial call is not enough. You must be crucified with Christ. I know in my heart that I am not yet crucified with Christ, so I will not call myself a Christian.
Wanting to be saved is certainly necessary for salvation, but wanting alone is NOT enough. You have to want it so much that you love Christ more than your mother, father, or child. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mathew 10:37. Since we have to be crucified with Christ, you have to love Christ more than your own life. As I said, before if I am not ready for martyrdom, then I don’t love Christ more than my life. If I don’t love Christ more than my life, then I am NOT crucified with Christ. If I am not crucified with Christ, then I am not Christian. I never said I don’t want to be a Son of God, I said there is clear objective standard of what that means, I don’t meet it, and I will not claim to to when I don’t because I am unwilling to be lukewarm. I would far rather be the Son who said No but obeyed than the Son who said Yes! and did not.