Don’t Pray For Me

I am finally convinced now, more than ever, that saying “I will be praying for you” is another way of saying “I cannot offer any meaningful help, so I can just convey that I felt a little bit sorry for you.” Saying, “I will be praying for you” independent of any kind of action such as:

  • Offering a listening ear or a word of real encouragement
  • Committing to take the time to work through the problem if it is an interpersonal issue
  • Offering to help by dedicating measurable time or effort towards problem solving
  • Offering resources or to render material aid or services

Now, more than ever, if someone I know well ends a difficult conversation with a cheerful “I’ll be praying for you!” it feels like a dismissal at best and slap in the face at worst. It conveys the least amount of effort towards empathy and consideration that could be offered next to offering none at all.

Don’t pray for me. I don’t believe in your God. I don’t rely or depend on him. Save your pious platitudes and sanctimonious pity. I solve my own problems. Always have, always will. I am able to do this because I am alive, and the people who work with me and have an understanding of their own worth, responsibility, and agency are also alive and thus capable of paving a path towards a meaningful future.

We still do not know what makes a living being “alive”, but we know that the religious explanations offered so far do not adequately explain this miracle. Gods were invented by human beings so that they could explain things that were inexplicable, but outsourcing your locus of control to forces you cannot see, hear, feel, or comprehend, things that are not observable in material reality, may lead to temporary feelings of safety and catharsis, but we all know how much confusion and destruction has been wrought in “The name of God.”

I think, also, some of the most egregious poverties of compassion have occurred when “good” people have turned a blind eye to suffering, instead leaving the solution to their community’s problems in the hands of “heavenly authority.”

It may be tempting to try to offer people you love comfort by saying you will be praying for them, but I believe that most people would be much more satisfied if you asked them what you, the human being they can see and/or hear, can do for them during their time of great suffering, rather than just telling them it’ll all work out alright and that “God’s got it.” Even when I still believed in the Christian God, it was much easier to experience what I perceived as God’s compassion operating in a human vessel, especially when I “felt separated from god” than it was to try to imagine some invisible connection to a force I had never truly experienced.

Now, almost 5 years into my deconversion, I am now seeing acts of genuine human compassion in a warmer and richer hue than I ever had before. Now, seeing the objective goodness of human beings, and knowing that those acts are emanating from an earnest human heart—and not being bolstered up by divinity— I have an intense appreciation for the depth of love that can be found in humanity.

Similarly, when I see or experience acts of incredible, intolerable ingratitude, greed, and cruelty, I have to recognize that those too, are human traits. We all have a part of us that is a little animal, a little savage, a little over-eager for tribalism and bloodshed.

Morality and virtue are not things that we can gain by osmosis through repeated religious rite or ritual. Being brave, prudent, and virtuous involves putting real energy towards improving ourselves and our relationships with the human beings around us. It takes stepping out of “me” and stepping into the shoes of “the Other.” Salvation or, “redemption”, is not something that happens to you or a gift you can acquire with no effort; we all must participate in our own salvation and self-discovery. We must all decide whether or not we will give time and attention to the people, places, and things we claim to value.

I know that those who offer thoughts and prayers mean well, but it can feel so insulting when the people saying those words are fully aware that they offer no comfort to me, an agnostic atheist, only a slightly soothed conscience for the person doling out the rote response.

It’s incredibly insincere and self-serving to give a gift to someone that only serves yourself. I have decided to finally stop allowing people to make me feel guilty for not taking their back-handed compliments, refusing to take responsibility for their thoughts and feelings, or for immediately rejecting their unsolicited advice. I also refuse to chase the affection of people who don’t take no for an answer and do not respect my boundaries, people who, on some level, interpret my adamant “no” as an enthusiastic encouragement for them to needle, neg, nag, and badger me until it becomes a “yes.”

I don’t want to carry the cross of peoples’ misguided expectations. It’s one thing when people refuse to accept you for who you are—they really are not obligated to do so— but when they continuously and casually refuse to acknowledge it, it’s nothing more than gaslighting and emotional abuse.

To all to whom it may apply: I am done carrying your burdens and taking responsibility for things that have far more to do with you than they do with me.

The Problem with Patheos

Update 7/04/20:

Hi everyone! After publishing this post I received information from a Patheos author explaining that DisQus flags some posts with “trigger words” and authors often have to wade through lots of pending comments and determine which ones are appropriate to publish. So fingers crossed that what I have experienced hasn’t been a conspiracy to censor. At this time my comments on a couple Patheos posts are still pending approval, but I will update this immediately if that changes.

To any of you who are unaware, Patheos is a website devoted to platforming authors who represent various religions, as well as nonreligious and atheist authors. Due to the current crazy world conditions, it seems reasonable that Christian authors on Patheos should be willing to respond to thoughtful critique by people of various faiths who may think differently than they do or be struggling with their faith at this difficult time.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I will admit that the comments I submitted to these sites these times were much longer than those I had submitted in the past. I would also note that every website author reserves the right to disapprove any comment for any reason.

Personally, I have never disapproved any comments on this website. Even if someone were hostile to me, I would not disapprove their comments for that alone. I love engagement and strongly support any feedback– even negative– on my pages, with these exceptions:

  • Comments that attack other people in my comment section
  • Content of any especially vulgar sort (overly violent or sexual in nature)
  • Spam comments
  • Comments that disclose personally identifiable information of myself or any other users

With that in mind, we can move on to what I have decided to do, given the fact that two Christian authors– one Evangelical, and one Progressive– have chosen to leave my comments “pending approval” even as other comments continued to be approved in the last 36 hrs. Again, maybe this has to do with the lengthy nature of my commentary, and maybe it does not.

My speculation is that they did not like what I said, but I still want to say it, so I am going to say it here. I am going to speculate, because this is a petty time in America, that they did not approve my comment because it would have opened up a can of worms that they are not going to be able to use to “catch more fish.”

I am very open to being found wrong. My issue with Patheos has less to do with the fact that a few authors failed to approve my comments, and more to do with the lack of authentic, deep, open discourse among communities of faith and some nonreligious communities as well.

Anyway, without further adieu, here is a link to the first article, How Can You Know if You’re a Christian by Evangelical Patheos author, Anne Kennedy. It had to do with a litmus test for true Christianity, and here was my response:

“Ah, the “No true Scotsman fallacy”, a.k.a “Real Christianity = X.” Many Evangelicals claim that Catholics are not “real Christians”, even though they believe in the Holy Trinity, the deity of Christ, the legitimacy of the resurrection. the virgin birth, and God’s judgment. Catholics counter, rightfully, that Catholocism, said to be founded by St. Peter himself (the “rock” that Christ said he would build his church on) was the original Christianity. Protestantism, from which Evangelicalism springs, is literally called that because Martin Luther stood in protest of traditional church doctrine. He took the Pauline approach of “saved by grace” against the pure work/confession/penance based Christianity of the Catholic Church.

If we are being honest, Martin Luther was not even the first protestant. Since early Christianity, various councils– including the famous Council of Nicene– have sought to reform Christian doctrine. Early Christians believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime, and thus heavily encouraged celibacy and discouraged marriage and bringing children into the world. Later, Christians were encouraged to be “fruitful and multiply” as a prime directive from God.

There are various other disagreements within the church. Apostle Paul said, “He who should not work should not eat”, which is the basis of the Protestant Work Ethic. Yet the early church, according to Acts, was completely communist. Everyone contributed voluntarily to the communal church financial pool and the church distributed it “as everyone had need.” There was no talk of means testing.

On a more personal note, two Christians who ostensibly believe the same thing can use the Bible to support completely opposing views. Some Christians used the Bible to justify the slavery of African American people, and others used it to say that because “we are all one in Christ” or even “because we were all slaves in Egypt” owning another human being is immoral.

Honestly, I am less concerned about what you believe– as erroneous as I may find it– but rather about the fact that you sit in judgment of others and insist that you are the gatekeepers of who is a “real” Christian or not, when church history and even the modern existence of thousands– yes THOUSANDS– of different denominations of Christianity exist in the world right now.

So I speak not for the Evangelicals in this thread who are cemented in their beliefs and sit arrogantly on their high horse. I do not believe in “canceling” anyone, but in the free distribution of ideas. I want Evangelicals like you to speak boldly so that your proud obstinancy can be within full view of the entire world. So that people will know who you really are– wolves in sheep’s clothing, Pharisees, hypocrites. YOU are the kind of person Jesus was describing when he said “You make clean the outside of the cup and dish but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness.”

i speak for the young person who is struggling to discover their identity– like I was– and instead are met with a sea of resistance instead of compassionate understanding. I am here for the person that goes to church every Sunday and goes through the motions but lost faith in God a long time ago. I am here for someone who longs to maintain their faith in God and Christ, but is so afraid that their devotion is “not real” and told that they are lukewarm cherry-pickers. I am here for the person who strongly believes in the reality of the scientific method but is instead chose to close their eyes in blind faith.

You want to know truth? Christianity– particularly Evangelical Christianity– will have to adapt or die. The idea that there has only been One Christianity for all of time is historically inaccurate. There was the Reformation and the Great Awakening of times old, but as for now, that fire is cold and dead. And unless you all ignite it, you’ll go the way of the dinosaur.”

So, it is wordy, it is harsh at the end, but what about my response to a Progressive Christian’s stance on a similar topic? In, Why Are So Many Christians Such Hypocrites , John Shore explores the subject of what constitutes genuine Christianity. Here is my response:

“I think I understand what you are trying to get at here, and this was a defining factor in my decision on whether or not to accept “Progressive Christianity” or to just leave religion altogether. I was raised Evangelical, and had it drilled constantly into my head what “real Christianity” was, and was taught that there was some sort of badge of honor in being “hated by the world.” I realized that embracing a different kind of Christianity would open me up to something new; being hated BY MY OWN.

Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book that served as a catalyst for my deconversion, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. The truth is, Christianity has never been static, but Spong was describing Fundamental Christianity in all its forms. He admitted, that given our current scientific knowledge, an insistence on miraculous phenomenon, the Virign Birth, and the Deity of Christ are “facts” that cannot be taken literally. Yet he stated, “Jesus Christ is everything to me” and that God is a Universal being who transcends our human understanding.

He realized that believing these controversial things– yet passionately serving as an Episcopal Priest (who also caught severe flak for officiating gay weddings in the 1970s)– placed him and others like him in a wilderness; an exile. It’s a no man’s land, and yet he somehow managed to carve out a home there.

I have a lot of reverence for Jesus, too. I regularly incorporate Proverbs, Psalms, and Biblical allegories into my life and morality. However, I cannot, will not, call myself a Christian, when doing so brings on one of the most painful things for me; invalidation.

It is clear what Fundamental Christians say of atheists. “The fool has said in his heart there is no god” is a favorite. But what they say about a “misguided Christian” is far, far worse. We all know about the taunts of “lukewarm” and the chants of “anathema maranatha” and threats of “ex-communication” and “shunning.”

By calling myself an agnostic atheist, I know where I stand. Religiously non-affiliated “nones” make only 16% of the population, with atheists being 4% of the whole. We are a minority within a minority, but, at least I stand knowing “open rebuke is better than secret love.” It’s much easier to explain why I’m an atheist than why I’m “not like other Christians.” If my beliefs and lifestyle remain the same, I feel no need to subscribe to any religious affiliation.

For me, it was very easy to go from “Why Are So Many Christians Hypocrites?” and arrive at “What Is the Purpose of Being a Christian at All?”

Not to try to toot my own horn too loudly, but I find it very difficult to find people on this platform or on Patheos who are willing to engage with me on the level I desire. Maybe I am expecting or asking too much, but when Christian Apologists frequently pop a “like” on my oft-ignored blog without even bothering to leave a comment, just so that I will follow the bread crumb trail to theirs and be forced to engage with their community on their terms, it never fails to appear hopelessly shallow to me. Maybe I am a fool for following that trail every time and hoping for something more, but when I keep encountering the same poorly thought out arguments everywhere I turn then I find it exhausting.

There are a few articles on Patheos that have risen above the rest, and above most other religious-themed articles I have ever read.

This was a series written by Neil Carter (Godless in Dixie):

How Faith Breaks Your Thinker

How Faith Breaks Your Feeler

You can read those articles and still maintain your faith, but you cannot read them and pretend that faith is for everyone and is also incapable of causing harm. It is the most humble, least bitter rejection of faith I have ever seen. In other words, everyone else on Patheos needs to grind considerably before they will be anywhere near that level.

Reading’s Neil’s work helped me keep going at a time when it was hard to be true to who I was, and I hope that my work does the same for somebody else someday.

God is Dead

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” –Friedrich Nietzsche.

To be honest, I am not fully familiar with the works of Nietzsche. I learned about some of his concepts while reading “Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson. Manson emphasized that the weakening of our social, governmental, and religious institutions was creating a moral vacuum which we might struggle to fill. Pursuit of empty pleasure, quick riches, and vapid popularity have created a bankruptcy of compassion and human decency.

Nietzsche proposed that society would become so lost and self-absorbed that we would need to rely on an “Übermensch” or “Superman” to guide us to greater values. The Übermensch was anticipated to “rise above” Christian morality and instead implement a superior moral system that would usher the world into a new Age of Enlightenment.

We currently live in an era in the United States where some of our highest religious leaders believe that greed is God. They tout a return to “traditional Christian values”, usually emphasizing sexual purity, loyalty to leadership, church attendance, and tithing, with or without emphasizing community service. I would like to break down how and why focusing on these things alone, without prioritizing compassion, selflessness, and care for the poor and needy—and worse, while also legitimizing greed—absolutely misses the points that Jesus was

trying to make with his teachings.

SEXUAL PURITY

“But I say unto you, that whoever looks at a women and lusts after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” –Matthew 5:28

“…Whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.” -Matthew 5:32

LOYALTY TO LEADERSHIP

“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” –Romans 13:7-8

CHURCH ATTENDANCE

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” –John 4:21-24

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” –Luke 17:21

TITHING

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” –Matthew 23:22

INDICTMENT OF GREED AND SELFISHNESS

Jesus had very clear teachings on all those subjects many churches emphasize, but he had even stronger teachings about greed. He often used parables to express his views on excessive wealth.

For example, in Luke 12 he tells the parable of a rich man who had an especially bountiful harvest. This rich man realizes his boon and decides to pull down his old barns and build bigger ones so that he can store all the extra crops. He plans to use his new wealth to live an easy life for the next few years.

God is described as having stern words for him:

“You fool! Tonight, your soul is required of you, and who will these things that you have saved up belong to then?

So is he that stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” –Luke 12:20-21

Jesus implied that being “rich towards God” was dependent on being generous to others.

In the famous “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”, he is judging the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time. He places the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. He invites the sheep to join him in the kingdom of heaven. He explains that when they saw him hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison, they ministered to him. When they asked him when they had provided these services to him, he said,

“If you’ve done it to the least of my brothers, you have done it to me.” ­–Matthew 25:40

The goats, who had failed to provide for his brothers, were told to go to “everlasting fire.” They were not judged on the basis of their church attendance, their belief, or their adherence to superficial doctrine. Jesus had already said that there would be many who thought they would enter his kingdom who would fail to do so.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” –Matthew 7:22-23

EYE OF A NEEDLE

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” –Matthew 19:24

This verse is often quoted, but the context is just as often ignored. Jesus was addressing his disciples to explain an exchange he had with a “rich younger ruler.” This young man approached Jesus to ask him what he would need to do to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus asked if he was keeping the commandments, including honoring his parents, avoiding lying and stealing, and loving his neighbor as himself. The man said he had been doing this from childhood and asked what more he needed to do. Jesus instructed him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor so that “he would have treasure in heaven.”

The man “went away sorrowful” because he had “great possessions.” On paper, he was doing everything right, but his overvaluing of material goods—more than any other factor— stood between him and the entrance to the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ disciples were astonished, and they asked him if there was any hope of anyone being saved. Jesus replied:

“With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26

Some people—like millionaire televangelist Kenneth Copeland—would have us believe that Jesus was saying that somehow, rich people could enter the kingdom of heaven while maintaining their wealth. In reality, Jesus was saying that someone could find the strength to be generous and open, with God’s help.

In the face of so much anti-greed rhetoric in writings that have been attributed to Jesus, you would think that pastors would emphasize community service and generosity above building massive church buildings and parking lots and purchasing fancy technical equipment. Before the birth of what we now know as the Catholic church, early Christians focused far less on ornate cathedrals and more on eliminating poverty and spreading Jesus’ teachings.

In the book of Acts, the church is described as utilizing a communal system in which they “shared everything” and “there was no lack.” (Acts 2:44-46)

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

I could pull examples from all over the Bible showing why greed is—and should be considered—one of the worst sins in Christianity.

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have strayed from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” –1 Timothy 6:10

Money itself is not evil, but what is evil is accumulating wealth at the expense of others. Yet this is what so many of our U.S. politicians, church leaders, and thought leaders do on a daily basis, while sitting on a moral high horse and neatly absolving themselves of all guilt or responsibility.

We have experienced an unprecedented shift in how most people in the U.S.—and worldwide—will be able to worship. Due to COVID-19, public gatherings of more than 50 people are absolutely prohibited in most places, and that includes church services. Houses of worship—large and small—are completely empty on Sunday mornings, save for the staff of tech-savvy churches who have moved their services online. Christianity is facing one of its greatest tests of the modern age; Christians will need to decide whether they go to church or they are the church.

Yes, most other aspects of life have been relegated to home as well, but I think those who depend on religious institutions for guidance and a sense of purpose— or at the very least a way to feel as though they have done their due diligence for the week by attending services— find themselves stripped of ceremony, ritual, and community, and now they must determine if their faith endures this disaster.

Meanwhile, our government—populated largely by members of the so-called Moral Majority—has utterly failed us. They have chosen—once again—to bail out big businesses while shafting independent workers and the oft unemployed underclass. The same men and women who stood up for “Biblical marriage” are now in an adulterous relationship with money. Instead of having a heart full of repentance, they pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other on a job well done.

If there is an afterlife, they will be utterly shocked when they discover that whatever kind of hell that exists will have a special place for them.

We need something to replace the structures that are clearly rotting away. We have done what Jesus admonished against—built our homes on the sinking sand of trash values and empty dogma (Matthew 7:24-27). When major institutions erode, then the foundation is laid for apathy, violence, and even greater oppression. As our leaders threaten to plunge us into darkness—the likes of which we have not known for centuries— we need someone to shine the light for us. We do not need a savior, though, because if he or she appears, it is likely that we will not recognize or acknowledge them. Each of us must be our own savior. We have to pursue virtue, not because of some external reward, but because doing what is right is so important, especially when the world feels so wrong.

According to Christianity, love is the highest law. That means that Biblical doctrine does not force any Christian to endorse any leadership or institution that does not have love at its helm. We do not have to uphold corrupt laws that hurt the people we cherish.

If you are a Christian, you may wonder why a professing agnostic atheist is lecturing on Biblical morality. It is because that god died for me a long time ago, and I know that under these conditions, he will die for many others. People need something to believe in, to fight for, to strive towards. Life becomes very chaotic when community, purpose, and basic physiological needs are lacking. This is the “trial by fire” that was expressed by St. Peter in 1 Peter 1:7. Gold has to be refined in order to remove the impurities. For better or worse, this current crisis is exposing people for what they really are. The demons who have been disguised as angels of light are shedding their suits and revealing the reptilian skin underneath.

I am not afraid of hell in the afterlife—I am afraid of hell on earth— and unfettered greed has contributed to the reality of this hell very directly. We—the good people of earth—have to come together and rise up above this tide of trash that has been dumped on us. We need to reach out to the hurting people around us. I am a firm believer that believing a set of facts about a deity is useless if you do not embody the principles of your faith.

“Faith without works is dead.” – James 2:20

The Gospel of John Frum

When I am challenging the arguments of Evangelical Christian apologists, I have often posed a question for which I have not found a satisfying answer. I often ask, “If you accept the fantastical, miraculous events that are recorded in the Bible as absolute truth, why do you so easily discount Hindu gods, Greek mythology, or Native American creation stories?” Christians say that we are the children of YAHWEH, but Norse mythology spins tales of Odin and his sons as being the progenitors of humanity. How do I know whose report to believe?

The answer I receive is often something to the effect of, “The Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that is how we know it is infallible.” If I ask them how they know this is true, they say, “Because it is written in the Bible.” This is circular logic at its finest. Essentially the argument is, “The Bible is true because it says so in the Bible.” The claim is unfalsifiable, because there is no way to test against it. If I point out to them that the Bible was written by human beings, and therefore subject to human error, they insist that God made sure that every word that was “supposed” to be in there, is. This neglects the fact that, there are many books that we now consider to be a part of Biblical canon that were not originally canon. Different Christian denominations, even today, consider different books to be canon.

Believing the Bible just because the Bible says you can believe it, is analogous to interviewing someone for a job who says, “You can trust me” and taking their word for it without looking at references or doing a background check. The stakes are even higher if this potential employee is being hired as your personal guide to a joyous life that culminates in eternal paradise, and any deviation from the path exposes you to the possibility of lifelong misery and eternal torment in the afterlife. With such an important choice at stake, it is imperative that you either find the right guide, or you educate yourself enough to make the trip on your own.

I think it is important to clarify that while I question the historical validity of the Bible, I do not fully doubt the existence of some of the main characters. There is evidence to suggest that characters like Abraham, Moses, and King David were based on real individuals. The issue is how time has allowed us to stretch the real stories of these people into legendary narratives. Examples of this happening in history concern figures such as King Arthur, Charlemagne, and St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was the inspiration for Santa Claus. The real figure was just an ordinary man who was born in Greece around 280 A.D. He became the bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey. He became revered for his fiery defense of the Christian faith at a time when Christians were being harshly persecuted. He became associated with many miracles, and after his death, his legend grew and his image morphed until he became associated with Santa Claus, the Christmas gift-giver.

I have often theorized that this is exactly how Christianity began in the first place. We have limited verifiable historical accounts from that time, but there is evidence implying that Jesus Christ was indeed a real person. Maybe he really was a humble carpenter, or maybe he had some other profession. It is an undeniable possibility that— given the impact that his teachings have even today— people of his time so revered him that they deified him after his death. “Proof” of his resurrection, such as the empty tomb, the burial cloths, and fragments from his cross, became holy relics.

If this seems heretical or preposterous to you, I would encourage you to review the case of John Frum. An American soldier named John arrived at the island of Tanna in Vanuatu during World War II. The tribes he encountered there were unfamiliar with modern technology and were amazed by John and the items he brought with him. He told them that his fellow troops would send medicine and goods. When airplanes rained this precious cargo from the skies, the inhabitants of Tanna viewed this as a supernatural, divine event. They believed that John’s “prophecy” had been fulfilled. They formed a religion around “John from America”, referring to him as “John From” or “John Frum”. The items he left behind after his departure became revered as holy relics. The people of Tanna made effigies of airplanes and performed religious rites that involved re-creations of American military uniforms and drills.

Most importantly, the tribes of Tanna believe that “John Frum” will someday return and bestow them with unprecedented wealth. What makes this story so important is that it is only one of many stories like it; Cargo cults are common in Melanesia and other technologically undeveloped parts of the world. These cults often focus on prophecies surrounding an apocalyptic event, which is expected to be followed by the arrival of a savior who will lead them into an age of prosperity and peace.

In fact, these themes are present in most religions, but seeing a Messianic religion be born and progress in the modern age gives us important clues into the possible origins of ancient religion. The fact that we can trace the origins of John Frum, that we can know with complete certainty that he was an American soldier who was deployed during WWII, casts doubt on the deity of every religious figure who has ever lived. These misguided Melanesian tribes are worshipping a mere mortal as though he were a god, and they ignore consistent evidence to the contrary. Even though they encountered thousands of American troops after John Frum, they still singled him out as a Messiah.

There is another distinct possibility. Perhaps ancient people, just like the tribes of Tanna, encountered beings possessing technology that was well beyond anything that they could explain. These foreign visitors may have been otherworldly, even extraterrestrial, but not infallible or immortal. It may seem like a far stretch to think that the intervention of a highly developed alien race could be responsible for the supernatural phenomena that have been recorded over the years, but as recently as a few decades ago, people formed a religion around a human man who had technology that they did not understand.

We may see that as preposterous, but is it any more preposterous than believing that the Red Sea parted when Moses held out his staff? Is it any more unbelievable than believing that YAHWEH stopped the sun in the sky to prolong a battle? Is it any different than believing that God physically appeared before his people as a column of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night?

Christians believe that God became flesh and lived as a man. They believe that this man, Jesus Christ, performed miraculous deeds throughout his life that included transforming water into wine, curing disease, multiplying food, and raising the dead. After living that life, he died a criminal’s death and was said to have come back to life. He is believed to have ascended up to heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God, waiting to be sent back down and complete his service to humanity. Christians have tirelessly anticipated his return for over 2000 years, ignoring countless failed predictions.

What is the real difference between the tribe in Tanna believing in the Second Coming of John Frum and Christians patiently awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?

I’ll wait.

The Secret Things

“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” -Deuteronomy 29:29

When I was growing up, my dad used this scripture to justify contradictions or confusing things in the Bible that could not be explained. Some of these contradictions included no clear differentiation between where God’s sovereignty began and when our free will ended—assuming that we possessed any free will at all—and how God judged people for any wrongdoing if He was ultimately the one pulling the strings. They also included more esoteric musings such as what exactly angels were and the definition of their roles in heaven. For example, they were terrifyingly powerful, immortal beings, but they were still second-class citizens when compared to children of God, because they were His servants, not His heirs (see Hebrews 1).

I was fairly content to leave issues of angelic status as a mystery; I was less comfortable being told not to challenge things that are a part of core theology. My dad did not ascribe to any specific denomination, but he was often lumped in with some of the more commonly rejected ones based on some of his teachings. He rejected holidays (except Thanksgiving) and blood transfusions as the Jehovah’s Witnesses did. He emphasized using real wine when serving communion, which feels distinctly Catholic. His emphasis on predestination theory, and “once saved always saved” a.k.a. “if you leave for real you were never saved” if you want to go deeper with it, was decidedly Calvinistic. His rejection of modern medicine in favor of faith healing was reminiscent of Christian Science. His emphasis on the workings of the Holy Spirit was Pentecostal.

We were ultimately non-denominational, but my dad’s theology was a mishmash of some of the most controversial ideas across Christianity, mixed with further adaptions of his own. If you are wondering why I allude so much to his teachings, it is because I was homeschooled for my entire education—primarily for religious reasons— and my dad was as suspicious of mainstream churches as he was of the modern educational system and modern medicine. Daily family Bible studies that stretched from the evening to sometimes well past midnight were a part of our regimen. My dad thrived off the sermons of Word of Faith ministers such as Kenneth Hagin and E.W. Kenyon. These ministers taught the “what you say is what you get” gospel. They believed that anything you prayed for and confessed could be manifested in reality, as long as you had faith and did not doubt (Mark 11:23-24). You could literal perform Jesus-like miracles if you simply believed hard enough.

This created some theological conundrums. Romans 10:17 states, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This implied that someone could build their faith through careful study of the scripture. This diligent study and almost constant rehearsal of scripture is widely emphasized in the Word of Faith movement. On the other hand, 1st Corinthians 12 describes faith as a gift of the Spirit. This implies that the acquisition of faith may exist outside of our control—that God may just “gift” faith on people as He chooses. I will explain why that may be a problem later.

I personally wanted to believe that God could meet someone where they were—that a simple lack of faith was not enough to disqualify someone immediately from receiving answers to prayer. In the story of the epileptic child in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 9), Jesus says, “If you can believe, everything is possible to him who believes.”

The father of the child says something significant, “I believe, Lord; please help my unbelief.” Jesus then performs the exorcism and the boy is made well (A/N: in ancient times, diseases like epilepsy were widely thought to have been caused by evil spirits). Jesus did not chastise the man for his lack of faith or insist that he remove all doubt before He performed the miracle. He met that man exactly where he was.

This is where I find theological holes. People within the Word of Faith movement insist that it is always God’s will to heal, to save, to deliver. They insist that any suffering we may experience in this life can be overcome through constantly “confessing the word” out loud and affirming the promises of God in scripture. Victims of wrongdoing were often blamed for “opening the door for Satan” into their lives. Demons were routinely thought to be behind anything from financial instability, to cancer, to family problems. The onus was constantly on the “believer” to be “warring against principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12) and putting these otherworldly forces in their place.

This may be well and good, but my dad would combine this radical Word of Faith teaching with predestination theory, and that is when the real circus started. He routinely quoted verses like Phillipians 2:13: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” He interpreted this to mean that God was both behind your motivation to do well, and your performance of that action. He quoted Jesus in the New Testament saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” (John 6:44). Of course, he also used Romans 9, which explains how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the Old Testament so that he would not release God’s people, thus giving God an excuse to exact terrible judgment on Egypt.

Romans 9 deals the toughest blow against the argument of human free will and provides a huge supporting argument for predestination theory. The Apostle Paul literally says, “How can he then find fault? Who has resisted his will?” and answers it by saying that we have no right to challenge God, because He created us. If He wants to have “vessels of mercy” who are predestined for glory, He can, and He can also have “vessels of destruction” which serve no other purpose than to be destroyed.

The greatest part is that you have no idea which one you might be.

Suddenly, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” becomes “Puppets in the Hand of an Angry God.” Predestination theory mixed with Word of Faith teaching is a disastrous combination. “I have no agency, but everything is my fault” is a devastating way to look at the world. You find yourself simultaneously begging God for more faith, while at the same time wondering if He will have mercy and give it to you. You fight the devil, but you also try to remind yourself that nothing can happen outside of God’s perfect plan, so you are trying to fight—and practice surrender—at the same time.

This is not even the worst part of it all. The worst part is that you are not permitted to challenge this narrative. When people say things like “the secret things belong to God” or “God works in mysterious ways” they are allowing a being who is supposed to have unlimited power and understanding off the hook. He literally has the power to just allow people to see the world as He sees it—at least to whatever extent the human mind is able to—to not have to answer at all for His actions.

Let us detour and talk a little bit more about these actions He is supposed to be performing, and also revisit the concept that the Christian life is meant to be free of suffering. The two concepts do not seem related on the surface, but they are deeply interwoven.

First of all—Jesus never said that there would be no suffering in the Christian life. He did not advise people, “Fight demons until you win.” Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He encouraged his disciples to shed their worldly goods and leave their families in service to Him. He instructed them that when they went out as missionaries they were to depend on the generosity of the people they preached to and not carry excess belongings (Mark 6:7-11). This is anything but the easy, prosperous life that Evangelical Christianity and the Word of Faith movement promise.

It is important that we establish that hardships in life were never meant to be a sign that God was punishing you or that you lacked faith.

However, this leads to another problem and actually my central argument. If unfavorable events cannot disprove the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, then can favorable events prove that He exists? If God is responsible for everything, what happens if you remove God from that picture?

I will illustrate this concept with a vivid example. Imagine that a couple has struggled for a long time to conceive a child. They have their pastor and their church pray for them. After years and years of trying—and maybe with some treatments from doctors to boost fertility— the wife is finally able to conceive. Her pregnancy goes off without a hitch and she gives birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The couple is overjoyed and are ceaseless in their effuse praise towards God and gratitude to their congregation for their prayers.

Years go by—5, exactly—and their child falls ill. At first, doctors are unable to discover the source of the illness. Soon, though, they discover that it is leukemia. The child is placed in the hospital and chemotherapy is administered. The parents pray desperately—and enlist the help of their church once more. Members bring flowers, gifts, and good-will wishes.

Heaven does not answer—at least not in the way that was requested. Grace dies just two months shy of her 6th birthday.

Oh, but the story is not over. The parents are blindsided by grief, and the members of their church give all the usual platitudes, “God needed another rose in his garden” or “We know how much you wanted this child, but at least He let you have her for those first 5 years” or “You will see her again someday.”

Over time, the husband processes his grief by leaning on friends and family and internalizing the explanations offered by the congregation and the pastor. “God knows better than we do,” he says. “He knew how much we loved her, and while I don’t understand why it had to be this way, I trust Him.”

The wife, however, is riddled with doubts. Why would God taunt them like this? Why would He allow her to have the deepest desire of her heart, only to snatch this gift away so prematurely? Every well-meaning statement from a member of her congregation feels like a barb through the heart. She becomes gradually more disillusioned until she finally comes to a private conclusion that either there is no god or that her god is not who she thought He was.

This is where I—an atheist—take issue. What does this situation really have to do with God at all? They prayed to conceive a child, but they were also undergoing fertility treatments. Their child developed leukemia, as many young children do. Chemotherapy was administered, but the treatment was ineffective. God did not kill their child. She died of a medical illness that is sometimes treatable, sometimes not.

However, this husband and wife were trained not to question the familiar narrative. When good things happen, you praise God. When bad things happen, you praise God. “The secret things belong to the LORD.” The circumstances themselves cannot prove or disprove the existence of God; God is just a lens they are using to interpret their experiences. If you remove that lens, the story becomes very different.

So many Christians—including members of my own family—say things like, “Thank God I was able to do X” and now I question, “Okay, so if you weren’t, would that mean that you don’t thank God or that He doesn’t exist?” Of course, they say no, that God is God, and God is Good, no matter what the circumstances. So often, though, God is good because He is good to me. Or even alternatively, God is bad because He is bad to me. This narrow focus is extremely unhelpful.

I know I am taking the difficult route here. Most atheists try to argue against the existence of God based solely on geological, historical, and scientific evidence. I know, however, that so many Christians are science-deniers, and even I myself have a knowledge of science that is severely lacking. Reliable scientific teaching was almost fully absent from my school curriculum, and I am still playing a game of catch-up. For this reason, I seek to base my arguments against religion on theology, philosophy, and morality.

When I look at the splintered theological mess that is Christianity, I am not encouraged to believe in the Christian God. If He is real, He must be one of the most inconsistent deities who has ever been written about. For one thing, He allows doctrinal confusion—such as a casual symbiosis between Word of Faith and predestination theory— on such a mass scale as to be truly incredible. He allows people to persecute and kill in His name without recourse. The same God who parted the Red Sea and appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night is strangely invisible these days.

Even if we fear going to hell for our lack of faith, we have to wonder why every time NDEs (near-death experiences) are recorded, people who have these experiences are recorded as seeing images that confirm what they already believe. Hindus do not see Jesus when they come back from the edge of death, just like Christians never see Vishnu.

It is almost as though our own concepts of God exist exclusively in our own minds. It is almost as though whether God is seen as good, bad, or ugly, has much more to do with someone’s preconceived notions than anything that can be proven empirically.

In other words, “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.” God seems to be nothing more than just a man-made concept. Taking God out of the equation or putting Him in seems to have almost no bearing on the final answer. We still struggle in our day-to-day lives. We still strive to glean hope from tragedy. Things happen that we cannot explain, and we try to apply divine significance to these things, but we really cannot prove—or fully disprove—the existence of hidden agency. Maybe someday we will have better tools for interpreting mysterious phenomenon, but for now, we can only make informed hypotheses.

If “the secret things belong to the LORD” then I want to raid heaven and steal all His secrets. There are so many unanswered questions, and yes, I will keep questioning until my dying breath. My goal is not to just carelessly tear faith down, but to encourage people to think critically about why they hold the beliefs they do.

Spiritual Atheists?

Can an atheist be spiritual?

This is a question that I have longed to explore. I have always felt a certain “something” missing from my life as an atheist. It is obvious to anyone who possesses a scientific mind that we live in a chaotic and unpredictable universe, but this chaos sometimes arranges itself into orderly patterns. Change the polarity of an atom from negative to positive—or vice versa—it has a very predictable way of seeking to regain its neutrality. The moon exerts a reliable influence on the ocean’s tides. We do not expect the earth’s gravity to suddenly shift without cause or explanation.

It is easy to look at some of this orderliness and think that an Intelligent Being is holding it all together. We often forget that the Universe does not have an “agenda.” An anthropocentric worldview posits that all of the world around us is designed for the consumption of human beings, but that is not the case. It is actually the other way around; the environment exists in a specific way and we have evolved to adapt to it. This world was not “created” for us. We survived because our ancestors developed traits that made them the most likely to survive—and thrive— on this planet. We are just products of that process.

You really begin to put things in perspective, when you see that if human beings disappeared from this world, all the other species would continue to survive and perhaps even be better off. Climate change would reverse itself. However, if bees go extinct, then the results would be catastrophic for human beings and other species. This age has been called “The Age of the Anthropocene” because it has been dominated by human population expansion and environment-altering activity. We may have made everything all about us, but that is very much detrimental to our well-being.

In the face of the possible self-destruction of humankind, it is almost impossible to find solace in prayers, magic, or rituals. Yet, still, I pray. That may make me seem like a hypocrite, but trust me, I still do not believe in God. I do not believe in a personally relatable deity with a distinct, humanoid personality, who arbitrarily pulls the strings guiding human lives like a cruel puppet master. I do not necessarily hold a belief in ghosts, spirits, demons, or angels. I am skeptical of the existence of anything approaching the description of a human “soul”, or some metaphysical, nebulous part of ourselves that holds our consciousness. If all of human consciousness is contained in the fleshy chambers of the human brain—as I am leaning towards believing— then reincarnation is also impossible, because once you die, all essence of that consciousness is lost. This also invalidates experiences such as astral projection, which is the “soul” traveling outside the body.

So, what am I praying to?

To explain that, I will have to describe a concept that I have been toying with in my mind for a while. We all know that human beings are made of the same elements that are naturally occurring in the environment. We are talking about components such as: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, and others. None of these disparate elements, on their own, could be considered “alive.” So why, when they are combined together into human form, do they form a vessel capable of holding life?

I know that, once upon a time, we were a one-celled organism hanging out in the depths of the ocean. Beyond what caused us to shift from earth to land—what made us alive? Why did we become able to reproduce ourselves? To grow? To change? What is the difference between me and the carbon-filled earth that I am walking on? I feel that science does not yet have an adequate answer to this question, or at least not an answer that takes into account the gravity of the issue (maybe I need to take a closer look).

So, my theory—and it is hardly original—is that there is some kind of energy flowing throughout the universe, the “essence of life” so to speak. From what I have researched, my concept basically fits the definition of Chi/Qi/Ki. In my understanding, this is not the same as a “god” because this is an impersonal force. Life is available both for those who deserve it and those who do not. The energy of life in the world is not making calculated decisions about who lives or dies.

I understand that there is a certain belief/spiritual practice surrounding Chi that involves energy work to improve the flow of Chi in the body. I understand that the practice of energy work has not been scientifically supported, so I hesitate to make an endorsement of it here. Within the belief system that I have adopted so far, you cannot perform rituals to manipulate the energy in your body. It just is. However, I do believe it is strongly related to human intuition—which scientists have proven is most likely a physical more than spiritual phenomenon— so I feel that by becoming more aware of it we can align ourselves more with what we already know.

So, more-or-less, I “pray” for answers. I pray for guidance. I pray for strength. Not to something outward, but to the wisdom that is already inside of me.

Things I do not pray for, are specific outcomes and for certain things outside of my control to change. For example, I would never pray to get a job or for money or for a specific relationship to come into my life (that is not to say I am not tempted). This is because I know that there is no one pulling the strings, and if there is, they are clearly either incompetent or hopelessly cruel and unjust. I know that modern testimonies of “answers to prayer” are largely supported by confirmation bias. If you do not agree, then that is fine, we can just agree to disagree.

I feel that I discussed this concept—in a different way—in my post entitled “The Praying Deist?”. The only real difference between my spirituality then and now is that I referred to the force as “benevolent” before, and now I refer to it as “impersonal.” There was also a post cited in The Praying Deist?” that referred to me losing faith in the Christian god, but still holding on to faith in a god but now I have let that go completely. I am definitely an atheist. I am an agnostic one, which pretty much states that we do not have the methods to detect whether any god or gods are real at this time, and therefore, I am going to behave as though there are not.

I have learned that some agnostics/atheists have chosen to embrace elements of Buddhism, because ultimately Buddhism is a way of life rather than a religion centered around the worship of deities. I am not familiar with the concepts, so I will leave off commenting on them. However, I do find it fascinating— and comforting—that I am not the only one who lacks faith in god(s) but still wants to be a part of a spiritual practice.

So, in answer to the question, yes, atheists can be spiritual.

P.S. Avril Lavigne’s “Head Above Water” is an excellent song. Regardless of my atheism, that song is amazing. Also, if you thought I was giving up “Oceans” by Hillsong United, you were sadly mistaken. I love a good worship song with water metaphors.

Still don’t believe in your god.

Fully Known, Fully Loved

My pastor at my former church had a saying that he used to recite to us all the time; “The greatest desire of every human being is to be fully known and fully loved.”

Having been an Evangelical Christian for years, I took the weight of his statement for granted. Of course, he implied that this state of total acceptance could only be found in the arms of Father God, who demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. The love of God was, essentially thought to be, the truest kind of love there was.

A popular Biblical verse in the Christian canon is Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”

Think about the power of that for a moment. God’s love was said to be the “perfect love”, a love that neither judges nor condemns. Imagine if there was someone who knew all your secrets, faults, and the insecurities that you desperately tried to conceal, and yet loved you completely and wholeheartedly anyway. Think about how ultimately freeing that would be, to be able to fully relax into a relationship with someone, without feeling that they would abandon you over something you did or said.

Now that I self-profess as an agnostic atheist, the promise of that kind of love is out of reach. I had been, however, in a relationship where I believed that I was indeed fully known, and fully loved, or at least the closest to it that I could get. It was a romantic relationship and friendship that spanned the course of several years in an on/again, off/again way. Even to this day, I do not doubt that he loved me fully.

I doubt that he knew me fully.

Maybe being “fully known, and fully loved” is outside of the realm of human possibility. When Evangelical Christians, who profess to bask in the love of God, cast out their children for being LGBTQ+, I often wonder, “Did you ever really love your child?” It is possible that they did; but they only loved the version of the child that they thought they knew. They loved a child, that essentially, was not their child. They loved a hypothetical child that did not exist, and when the truth was revealed, their love melted away.

Or there are Christians, who denounce abortion and who encourage people to carry their pregnancies to term at almost any cost but turn their noses up at unwed teenage mothers who come to church with a baby on their hip. Many young women make the “right” decision but are greeted with reproach and disdain when they reenter their congregations.

Are these women not fully known? Or are they not fully loved?

Ultimately, there are many forms of love, but Christians love to emphasize agape. Agape is a Greek word that Christians use to describe an unconditional, divine type of love that is the kind that God has towards us and that we are encouraged by the scriptures to have towards each other. I will not go into a detailed analysis of this, but 1st John is an excellent example of the ways that Christians are encouraged to love one another.

In 1st John, sacrificial love is emphasized. John says, “he who hates his brother abides in death.” He wrote that anyone who had worldly goods and did not show compassion to his brother who had material needs did not have God’s love in him. He explained that “no one has seen God at any time” but “God’s love is perfected in us.” In other words, the Christian duty was to be a vessel of God’s love in the world. Love was more than words, it was action. DC Talk was on pointe when they sang, “Love is a verb.”

All that aside, I am clearly not here to nitpick Christian theology or to take a superior position and preach to Christians about what they should be doing. Most love in this world is conditional. If unconditional love exists, it is probably rarer than any of us have been led to believe. I say, “I love you” until you betray me, until you cheat, or until you take me for granted. Once that happens, I feel justified in withdrawing my love. “If you live in my house you are going to follow my rules”, says the authoritarian parent. However, sometimes it is the effusively affectionate, but emotionally needy parent that hurts us the most with their blurred boundaries and inability to let us live our own lives. If we reject that parent in favor of our own autonomy, are we in essence taking away a little piece of our love?

Relationships are notoriously complicated to parse out. I think we love people in varying degrees and under varying conditions. The idea of a mystical being in the sky offering us the kind of love that we likely will not experience in the course of our finite human lives is attractive to many, and it is not difficult to see why. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think that the pursuit of that kind of love is a distraction. Like the Apostle John stated, “none of us have seen God at any time.” All we have to go by is our lived human experience and how we relate to other people. From what I have seen, Christians and non-Christians alike are notoriously bad at expressing love in a genuine and sincere way.

I say this, even though my old home church is probably the most warm and welcoming church I have ever been to. People of many races and ethnicities were present there, and the church did a whole lot of work for the community. I have nothing but love for my church, even though I obviously wrestle with the theology. Some issues that were taboo were just never discussed. For example, my church was not openly anti-LGBTQ+ but there were some subtle signs that maybe LGBTQ+ members were not thought of as equal to other members.

For example, I applied to volunteer to help in the nursery (thankfully I was unable to get in for some reason—those kids would have run me ragged). One of the questions on the form was, “Have you been involved in a homosexual relationship in the last year?” There was no explicit indication of what the implications would be if I had marked “Yes” as my answer, but I think I have some clues. I am guessing that my church had a very “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude towards supposed sexual “indiscretions”, whether that be adultery or homosexuality. The attitude was that “sinners are welcome” but “sin is sin.”

It is saddening that the major religions of this world have labeled a sexual identity as something that is sinful, but as I stated earlier, I am not necessarily here to make theological arguments. Every religion has rules and things that they allow and do not allow, but it is the navigating of life under those conditions that we are seeking to explore here.

The same Jesus that stated, “Turn the other cheek” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” also said that if anybody did not “hate” his father, mother, entire family, and even himself, that person was not worthy of being His disciple. Jesus— or at least the Jesus of the gospel of Luke— appeared to require unconditional love and devotion. That angle is still played up in worship services today. We have Christian worship songs that have lyrics like this:

“Who have I but you, Jesus? / Who have I but you?”

“Your praise will ever be on my lips”

“I know you can save through the fire with you mighty hand / But even if you don’t / My hope is you alone”

At first glance, it seems like God’s/Jesus’s unconditional love was the one that was being emphasized. Now, we see that Christians also feel that they are responsible for having unconditional loyalty and devotion towards God. God cannot be questioned. “His ways are higher than our ways.” “He works in mysterious ways.” God is said to love us without reservations, and in turn we are expected to devote our entire lives to Him.

I have seen the kind of toxicity this kind of dynamic can create. If I analyze it all further, maybe love should be questioned. Maybe authenticity should be scrutinized. Maybe, no matter the type of relationships we find ourselves in—whether with an invisible deity or with our siblings and friends— we need to always be examining whether these relationships are as egalitarian as possible or whether one party is pulling an unjust amount of weight.

So, did we answer our original query? Can you be “fully known, and fully loved”? I am unsure, and that might be because I often do not allow myself to be fully known. I do not think there is one person that I am my fully true, authentic self with; I am often aware of holding parts of myself back. Maybe, now that I realize that, I am being presented with an opportunity to allow myself to be more vulnerable. I have often said, “Everyone who wants to be in my life right now is in it.” If you want to be here—and I want you here— you will be here (this includes family/extended family). There is no need for me to beg and debase myself.

I have friends that I can go months without seeing or talking to and then when we meet again it is like no time has passed. While it would be nice to have those people physically around me all the time, there is some comfort in knowing that we still care about each other and hold each other in high regard. Some would argue that “being in a relationship with God” is like having that friend or confidant near you at all times. If that has been your experience, all the more power to you. God has never been able to fill that role for me, and now things are rather complicated by the fact that even if He does exist, I believe we cannot be sure of it given our current methods of observation.

I would advise you to not waste your time looking for unconditional love or trying to unconditionally love people that you know. Relationships require work and effort. If you do find that “perfect love”, though, then please hold onto it, because you really have found something rare and beautiful.

Coming to Terms with My Atheism

It has been almost six months since I last wrote for this WordPress. The last post was made around the three-year anniversary of my publishing my first blog post questioning my belief system. As I have mentioned before, I had had doubts in the past, but previously pushed them away without resolving them. Internal conflicts around Biblical morality, predestination, and the inerrancy of the scripture popped up when I was in my early teens, but I never thought about full abandonment of the faith as a solution to them. It was only later in my life when I began to question the supernatural accounts of the Bible, including the possibility that a human being could die a brutal death and be returned to life miraculously after three days. It was when I questioned the supernatural accounts—in addition to my existing questions about the morality of it—that my internal conflict really ramped up.

Early on in my deconversion, issues of religion were all-consuming. Every visit to see my hyperreligious dad was an agony, and I would rant to my boyfriend constantly about my doubts and confusion. My boyfriend was always patient and understanding; even when I myself self-professed Christianity, he never tried to dissuade me from views that I now understand to be erroneous. I kept returning to church but found no peace. I blogged my concerns obsessively, carefully building counterarguments and defenses against the empty, but well-intentioned assaults of religious people.

When I revealed to my dad that I no longer believed in the Bible anymore or the resurrection of Jesus, he refused to speak to me for seven months. During that time frame, he also refused to allow me to talk to my mother or younger siblings who were at home with him. I was, in effect, “shunned.” I still found small ways to keep in touch with my mom and brothers, and my older brother and his family—who did not live with my dad—rallied around me to show support. Of course, most of my family members had expectations that my lack of faith was temporary, and that I would return to belief in God and Christ once a certain amount of time had elapsed.

I didn’t return to God—but my dad did return to me. Faced with a health crisis, he sought reconciliation. I guess it was within my rights to be angry or bitter with him for what he had done, but I wasn’t. I understand that his religion was the single most important thing in his life, and that he found my apostasy personally threatening, and perhaps in some ways, a failure on his part. I spent as much time as possible with him in the last days of his life, seeking to both support him and put his mind at ease.

I suppose someone could argue that it was the grace of God that held us together in those final times, but I disagree. It would have been a better grace if he had no suffered that way at all, and the physical suffering was the least of it. He suffered mentally and emotionally, and I wish I could have done more to help. If there is one takeaway that I have from everything that has transpired, it is that personal anecdotes cannot prove or disprove the existence of god(s). For every time that “God” has intervened miraculously, there have been times when his/her/its saving hand has “been short.” If we pray for someone who is sick, and they die, we say that God had a higher purpose. If we pray for someone, and they live, then we praise God and thank Him for His mercy.

If a universe where God exists—and one where he/she/it does not—are indistinguishable from each other, then we either worship a “God of Chaos” or no god at all. I do not disbelieve in god(s) as a result or as a lack of some personal experience, but rather, that when I take in experiences as a whole it seems that God is either careless and inconsistent or simply incapable of fully taking care of his/her/its people. Furthermore, it seems that the miraculous claims of the Bible in particular, are so alien from our historical background and lived experience as to be difficult to prove as true. The Biblical God went from a physically visible presence as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, guarding over His people and raining bread from heaven down on them, to fully disappearing from their lived experience. What happened? Does the Biblical God just not want people to know who He is anymore?

I know it sounds like I am asking for “proof” of God’s existence, and while that may be nice, that isn’t the purpose of this post. I really wrote this with the realization that it is no longer my burden to try to give proof that no gods exist. In fact, I do not even claim that no gods exist, but rather than it is impossible for us to know the answer to that question, at least with our current knowledge. Even if there are gods, their intervention in human life seems rather inconsistent, so the benefits of devoting my life to any specific deity seem sparse at best. I would much rather carve out my own path and find my own meaning in life. Also, I am finally free from the pressure to try to defend my lack of belief in god(s) at every turn.

Early on, religion was constantly on my mind, and I obsessed over whether I was “on the right path.” This was related to being raised to actively seek the will of God over every decision I made; without God to consult with, I experienced some serious self-doubt. Never mind that in the brand of Christianity I followed, my husband or father could overrule anything that I personally “heard” from God, so my own intuition was devalued from the start.

On the subject of intuition, though, I do think that it is supernatural, even though I see it as disconnected from a deity. I know that there are many people who have studied ESP (extra-sensory perception) and know much more about the subject that I do. The issue with intuition is that it is not foolproof by any means. People who tend to believe in hidden agency or the power of prayer sometimes have a similar over-reliance on intuition. The truth is, one can have a “bad feeling” about a person or a situation and be completely wrong, but confirmation bias has us selectively remember the times when we were “right” about those “bad vibes” we had.

So, if we cannot rely on our inner senses or personal experiences fully, then what can we rely on? I do not have the answer to that question. There are so many things that we do not fully understand. I think it can be empowering to say the words, “I don’t know.” Religion tries to give us the truth in neatly wrapped packages, but we make new discoveries every day. We may discover that old techniques we used to rely on were not effective, and we pivot accordingly. We have adapted the way we prescribe medicine, discipline and educate children, and practice science. We have gotten rid of laws that were found to be unjust or prejudiced. Our experience of the world is constantly evolving, and yet, people think that the rigid constraints of ancient religion are a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. Knowing when to “trust our gut” and when to appeal to logic, is a personal decision and does not need to be policed by religion.

I have personally finally found peace with my own lack of religious devotion. There are undoubtedly still some concepts and traditions that I borrow from my former faith. I am not by any means unfriendly to religion. I believe that religious groups can provide people with a sense of purpose, community, and identity. For some people, though, especially within the LGBTQ+ community, major denominations of the three major religions can prove to be toxic and even physically unsafe for some members. Whereas some people get a sense of wellbeing and freedom from belonging to the group, others may feel stifled and even threatened. The fact that it can be so difficult to leave at times further complicates things. Of course, areligious groups can have some of these problems, but I think that any formerly religious person who is trying to leave a major denomination understands what I mean when I say leaving can be very difficult.

Now that I am on the other side of all the insomnia, soul-searching, and initial tension with family and friends, I think it is safe to say that things have calmed down considerably. I am not combative about my lack of faith—not that that would necessarily be a bad thing—but I am firm with it. I can listen to religious arguments without feeling attacked or threatened. I know what I believe now, and for the first time I feel at peace with it all. When I was a Christian, I had extreme cognitive dissonance over some of the contradictory concepts, but now, what I believe—and practice—is in line with my personal morality and values. I no longer see religion as something that I need to excessively think and talk about, and that is partially why I have not been writing here as much.

I am not sure what the future of this blog is; in many ways I feel like I have said everything that I need to say. The purpose of writing has been to embark on my own personal journey—not to fight with theists or disprove religion. I am happy to assist people who are seeking to leave religion behind, and I am not going to stop just to avoid ruffling the feathers of a few theists. Even though I’ve “come out” as agnostic/atheist lately, there are still other aspects of my identity that I keep mostly hidden, and maybe some day I will be able to do more work towards being my fully authentic self. I do not feel that this is the place for that work to be done.

For now, farewell.

Godless

The term “godless” is one that has been supercharged with connotations of immorality and depravity. “The fool hath said in his heart ‘there is no god.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; there is none that doeth good”, or so the quote goes from Psalm 14:1. Scriptures such as these are thrown in our faces when we dare to assume the identity of “atheist.” Here’s another for good measure (I’ve kind of modernized the KJV translation here):

“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.

Because what may be known of God is apparent to them, because God has shown it to them.

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that were made, which demonstrate his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

Because that, when they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” -Romans 1:18-21

In summary, this passage is giving an argument that is commonly given by many Christian apologists today. It states that the complexity of creation makes the existence and power of God “apparent” and that people who do not “glorify” or express gratitude to God are “vain”, “foolish”, and their hearts have been “darkened.” I won’t quote it here, but the writer of Romans also goes on in the passage to state that people who worship deities outside the Judeo-Christian tradition will be given over to homosexuality, in effect stating that God will turn unbelievers over to even greater sin and delusion (more on that later).

Christians do indeed believe that a complex “creation” has to imply a complex “creator”. It is unfathomable to them to think that the complicated world came about spontaneously or “by accident.” They consider things like human intelligence, morality, and physical intricacy to be proof that it is all by design. They take on a very anthropocentric approach to the world, very much convinced that as in the Genesis account, animals, nature, and the very planet itself were created primarily for the consumption and enjoyment of human beings.

If we look outside the Genesis account, however, to the theory of evolution, then we see that this theory stands in direct opposition to that assumption. The world, it states, was not made primarily for humans; there is no anthropocentric agenda in the laws of nature. All forms of life evolved on their own- although they are also interdependent- but human beings, because of the way we adapted to our environment, managed to come out on top. The YouTuber Mr Atheist makes this argument more eloquently than I do in this video. Also, I recommend the book Undeniable by Bill Nye, because it really breaks down evolution for someone who was either raised without a knowledge of it- like I was- or finds it hard to grasp the concepts.

“So maybe God didn’t directly create us”, Christian apologists might admit, “But surely someone must have imbued us with our sense of right and wrong.” If you believe that morality comes from a Higher Power, specifically the Judeo-Christian god, you may also accept that the foundations of that morality, the Ten Commandments, were literally dictated to Moses on Mt. Sinai, or at the very least that those principles were divinely inspired. What happens, though, if you go over to Old Babylon, a “heathen” nation, and look at the Laws of Hammurabi? They are estimated to have preceded the Ten Commandments by over three hundred years, but similarities can be drawn between the two texts. There are also similarities between the Laws of Hammurabi and the expanded Jewish law.

Maybe upon seeing this, you could try to argue that the Judeo-Christian god inspired both sets of laws, but if you say this, it does not match with the account the Bible gives of non-believers as “foolish” and “corrupt”. If non-believers can adhere to Judeo-Christian morality without a realization of YHWH as God, then a belief in YHWH is not necessary for morality. This negates, rather than supports the argument.

Furthermore, we can see that what has been regarded as “moral” has changed over the years. Most Christians today don’t support slavery, killing rebellious children, stoning adulterers, or advocate amputation as a form of punishment. Does this mean that the “laws of God” as described in the Mosaic books were not perfect? The writer of Hebrews attempts to answer this by stating that the old ceremonial Jewish sacrifices had been replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus, but that doesn’t explain the abandonment of much of the legal code. It seems to me that the goalposts have been shifted farther and farther over the years, with many Christians remaining stubborn on a few choice issues like the death penalty, homosexuality, and corporal punishment for children.

Speaking of homosexuality, I told you that I would get back to it. Regarding worshippers of other deities, the writer of Romans wrote that God “gave them up unto vile affections.” In case there was any confusion over what that meant, it continues this way:

“…even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise, also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another; men with men, working that that which is unseemly…and even as they did not like to retain God in their minds, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”  -Romans 1:25-28

So, the question now is, why would a moral god give people over to immorality? Even if they disregarded him initially, are they now worthy of being given no way back to God? In Romans chapter 9, the writer expounds on this further by drawing an example from the way that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the Old Testament account. The writer pantomimes the question by stating, “How does he then find fault, for who has resisted his will?” and answers it by saying, “Who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:19-20) This makes the claim of God’s morality unfalsifiable, because if God is all-powerful and you are a mere human, then you have no right to question anything.

My position is that morality is a human construct, and that it has changed and evolved over the years as humanity has progressed. Slavery continues to be a huge issue today, but it is still regarded as unlawful in most countries. Unfortunately, people are still being stoned for apostasy, adultery, or being gay, but the Western world- which is thought to have been established on Judeo-Christian principles- has largely abandoned these practices. Why? Did God change? I thought he said, “I change not” (Malachi 3:6)? If God is the same no matter what, then maybe we are in error.

Honestly, I find it much easier to just believe that the capricious god of the Bible doesn’t exist, than to try to go through the mental gymnastics required to explain his confusing, contradictory actions. The Old Testament account has human frailty and fallacy written all over it. Disproving the god of the Bible doesn’t necessarily disprove all gods, but when I read stories of other deities they seem just as unproven and fantastical. If I easily discount Greek mythology, then why should I cling to ideas of a god parting a Red Sea, raining down manna, or literally writing his commandments on tablets of stone? Why should I cling to vestiges of ancient morality, even as so much of it is disregarded by the very people who tout it the most? Why should I attempt to follow a god who seems to either draw or repel followers to himself on a whim?

When Christians mock atheists and ramble about “Biblical morality”, they do so without a concrete definition of Biblical morality to turn to. They stand on a “moral high ground” that is based on an extremely unstable foundation. When they behave as though the existence of the Judeo-Christian god should be “clearly seen” from the examination of the natural world, they are ignoring the wealth of creation stories that preceded those found in the Bible. There is nothing on the surface that makes the Bible appear any more factual than any of these earlier accounts. They often also misrepresent the theory of evolution in their arguments. Finally, when they quote verses like Romans 1:20, they only serve to further alienate non-believers, because of the smarmy assertion that everyone who disbelieves is immoral.

I could certainly expand about what constitutes morality in a “godless” society, but mostly I feel that we are already there. If no god(s) exist in the first place, then the question of morality has been a human one all along. If fearing the wrath of god(s) was enough to “keep people in line”, then we should have seen a much more equitable world when religion was reigning supreme, but we did not. We have, and have had, wars, violence, and injustice throughout the ages, but if we look at the modern age, the world is less violent now than at other times in history. If people being more devout were responsible for this change, we wouldn’t be seeing it. Also, it is a few years old now, but Christopher Hitchens wrote a wonderful book called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything which explains how religions have historically incited wars and impeded social and scientific progress throughout the world. He does so without coming across as crass or reductionist, and he doesn’t imply that atheists haven’t also caused their fair share of conflict. It is a historical book that is well-researched and insightful.

It is short-sighted to assume that just because someone is an atheist, they lack a moral compass or are ignoring evidence of a higher power that should be obvious. Most of us were raised in religion and did not take the decision to abandon it lightly. To me, the teachings found in the Bible often go up against what most of us in the Western world- Christian and otherwise- think of as moral. In my opinion, “God’s commandments” are often immoral, not because God is imperfect or immoral, but because human beings are imperfect, and our understanding of justice and equality has evolved as we have. As we’ve become more secular, we haven’t found the disintegration of society as many Christian apologists predicted, but instead we have found strength of character and a renewed kinship with our fellow human beings.

Stop Telling Women to Get Married

Not every woman aspires to be a wife and mother, and these days, women are being increasingly bolder about saying so. A lot of women are waiting longer and longer to get married, and some women in committed relationships are eschewing marriage altogether. Financial reasons are often cited, with women wanting to focus on their education and careers before diving into debt for a house with their partner or being forced to drop out of the workforce to mother kids. Women are now fighting for their personal autonomy and sense of self by challenging the previous mandate to sacrifice their individual identities for the sake of husbands and children.

Women are now redefining what success in life looks like. These resurgences of female independence have occurred throughout the history of our country, sometimes dying out in favor of the 1950s housewife mentality before emerging again. Really, there isn’t anything wrong with being a housewife; my mother was a housewife, and probably some of your mothers, too, or mothers who are friends of yours. The problem is when women are consistently urged to follow one specific lifestyle or path to happiness and fulfillment, at the exclusion of all others.

Maybe the insistence on housewifery has abated somewhat, but the insistence still that a woman should find “the One” and settle down, children or not, into some sort of stable heteronormative relationship is one that simply won’t die. Never mind that this concept excludes the needs and desires of queer women, polyamorous women, asexual and aromantic women or other groups of women who may be marginalized for some other reason. Women may not want “the man of their dreams” to sweep them off their feet, they may want “the woman of their dreams”, multiple partners, or no partner whatsoever. None of these women should be made to feel as though their lifestyles are less legitimate than those of women who choose the hypermasculine “One.”

Let’s explore more deeply the concept of “the One.” From a young age we have been expected to believe that romantic love should last forever; we are taught that even though people change over time, their love can be expected to remain the same “’til death do us part.” We are expected to remain loyal to the same person “in sickness and in health”, but this is sometimes not the reality that men and women face. Men are more likely to leave their female partners in the case of a serious illness than the other way around. No one prepares women for the possibility that their “knight in shining armor” might just bail on them in the middle of a health crisis, or even that the illness of their loved one might be more than they themselves can bear.

Never mind the effects that other changes can have on the relationship, such as the introduction of children or pets, financial woes or the care of aging parents. Sometimes the love that is good right now, is not the love that will sustain you throughout the rest of your life, and maybe that should be okay. Maybe we should stop telling people to live together for “richer or for poorer” and allow them the freedom leave the partner that may be running their finances into the ground. Maybe we shouldn’t tell women- or men­­­- to stay “for better or for worse” without establishing boundaries on how much “worse” things can be allowed to get before they’re allowed to reconsider their own wellbeing. Maybe we shouldn’t consider the end of a relationship as a personal failure, but rather as a chance for a new beginning.

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the cradle.” At least that is what the nursery song says. I just watched- with fascinated disgust- a Ted Talk that was about an issue I was already familiar with: the struggle which young women who express a desire to be sterilized face when approaching their health care providers for help. Christen Reighter was the presenter of that Ted Talk. She was fortunately able to receive her surgery at age 22, but unfortunately some women are forced to wait until their 30s or beyond. This is obviously a gendered issue, because men who go in for vasectomies are not forced to undergo the same scrutiny and disapproval. They are not rudely told, “You will change your mind” or asked, “What happens if your future partner wants children?” as if they were incapable of making an informed decision for themselves. If you have a womb and healthy ovaries, you are treated as a pariah for expressing a desire to never use them.

I am writing this as a woman in a happy, committed- albeit long distance- relationship. It would be excellent if our relationship could weather the storms of life, if it could last until we are old and gray, but I must be prepared for the possibility that this isn’t the case. Giving up on what I have with him doesn’t mean that I’ve “missed out on true love”, whatever that means. As it stands now, marriage and kids are something that I am not even sure that I want to be a part of our future together, but that uncertainty doesn’t make what we have any less legitimate. We love each other and share our hopes, fears and dreams with one another. If this were to end, I won’t have regretted the time spent together, and I won’t be in a terrible hurry to “get back out there”. There is no “expiration date” on my ability to be happy.

That all being said, whenever you enter in to any kind of relationship, there must be some ability to compromise. Someone might have to move, someone might have to stay home with the kids if you can’t afford day care, someone might have to change jobs. The problem arises when the burden is unfairly placed on women to shoulder alone. Nowadays, even women (in heterosexual relationships) who work outside the home still find themselves doing 70%- or more- of the household chores, be that cleaning, child care, or making appointments. They carry an unfair percentage of what can be termed “mental load” or “invisible labor” (see You Should Have Asked by Emma). As a result of this, many women who get married find themselves less happy than before, and less happy in marriage than their male counterparts.

One reason that heterosexual marriage continues to be an unequal partnership for many women, is because of the influences of the patriarchy, which is tied in some ways to the Christian doctrine of complementarianism. This is a doctrine that teaches that because Biblical Eve was originally formed as a “helpmeet” for Adam, it is a woman’s duty to “complement” her male partner as his helper. Combine this with the teachings of Paul in the New Testament, urging women to “submit to your husband as unto the Lord” it is unsurprising that these beliefs and ideals bled into the culture of all nations that had Christianity as a founding religion. Even now in the “modern” era, ideas about female submission, and that women should be “chaste” as well as quiet and agreeable have had a lasting effect on our society. Women are told that we should work harder for less rewards and never complain while doing it.

Men might be harassed by their parents a little about when they’re going to get married or have kids, but if they are in a fulfilling career the pressure for them to find these things is a lot less. Getting married and/or having children are not considered to be the primary goal of their lives. Men get to be a lot more multifaceted, and if they’re ambitious with regards to their job or career, they are praised for it. There is no male equivalent of an “old cat lady”, and the term “spinster” has never applied to men. Slut-shaming of men is virtually nonexistent; instead he is “sowing his wild oats”, and even in Christian purity circles if a man has had sex before getting married he isn’t “corrupted.”

Of course, men have problems of their own (i.e. toxic masculinity) but that is not the focus of this article. I am instead focusing on dismantling the harmful idea that if a woman doesn’t settle down with a man with the intent to remain with him and him alone for the rest of her adult life, that she can never truly be happy or complete. I am here to challenge the idea that if you’re above the age of 30 and you still haven’t “found love” then you are out of luck. Of course, if you want a traditional marriage and a family, you should feel free to pursue that, but you also shouldn’t feel like damaged goods if that doesn’t happen for you right away- or at all. It is statistically impossible for every woman who wants a long-lasting romantic relationship to find it. Don’t let someone relegate you to the corner and throws words like “spinster” at you. You are valued as a woman, and you are under no obligation to allow society’s toxic ideals to stop you from enjoying your life.