All posts by womanoftheexile

About womanoftheexile

Hey there. I write about religion, mental health, and a variety of other issues. Some of my influences are Bishop John Shelby Spong, Christopher Hitchens, Betty Friedan, and Iyanla Vanzant. I'm glad that you've decided to join me on my journey.

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.

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Gray

Just about every week now, I spot a gray hair on my head, and almost always pluck it out. If I don’t kick this habit eventually, I will someday discover that I don’t have very much hair left. For now, though, I can stave my annoyance at seeing what looks- to me- like little bits of lint mingled in with my dark mane by simply removing the offending fibers. I keep telling myself that I’ll let it fly when I can have a true salt and pepper, not this random stray white strand here and there, but maybe that’s a lie. Maybe I’ll dye it.

I don’t know how or when I went from simply trying to tame my tresses with chemicals, to natural hair that I would cut short to keep manageable, to graying- but still gratefully natural- hair that I’m plucking out one gray at a time. I’m trying to grow it out again, and it’s getting to that weird awkward stage, so I twisted it out. I undid the twists today and got springy curls that my co-workers complimented me on when I went in today. Will I be able to keep it up? Probably not, but it’s worth a try.

Sometimes when I think about things that I won’t be able to keep up, it’s about things I shouldn’t keep up, like plucking out gray hairs. Most times it’s about much bigger things, like my religious and spiritual identity. As this year is ending, I find myself reflecting on the theological journey that I embarked on between 2016- when I started my Tumblr– to early 2018, which corresponded in both the death of my Christian identity and the death of my father. Of course, I had stopped identifying as Christian the year before, but I didn’t feel settled as an “unbeliever” until sometime later.

I now believe that deceased people mostly stay dead, but it seems that old beliefs and habits die harder. While sitting with my mother and sisters in their nightly Bible study, I expressed to my mom that I missed my old church and sometimes felt an urge to go, but I didn’t feel right because I “no longer identify as a Christian.” I could sense in my sisters their awkwardness at that confession- even though they were already aware of it- and Mom quickly said, almost in amusement, “I don’t see how you could be raised in it and not believe in it” but rather than let that hang she continued, “Just go and hear a good word.”

Ironically, in my inability to “go and hear a good word” I am more like my father than my mother. He would go with her to Christian conventions, and while she was able to simply lose herself in the spirit of worship and the moment, my dad was extremely cautious and critical. One time, he took his laptop with him to the service, and when one of the people sitting next to us casually mentioned it, my dad replied, “Yes- so no one can lie to me.” He was looking up scriptures and Strong’s numbers on the laptop so that he could judge everything that was being said against his own understanding of the Bible.

Just like my father, I find myself hyper-aware of my own disharmony and disagreement when I attend services. It’s hard to fully enjoy songs that praise Jesus for giving his life for our sins and “conquering the grave”, when I no longer believe in the concept of Original Sin and that we need to be saved from it, or that a man who lived 2000 years ago would be the catalyst through which this salvation would be possible. I don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, physical or otherwise, or that he was “fully god and fully man”, or anything else with regards to him being divine or supernatural. I don’t believe that the Judeo-Christian god as described in the Bible exists; he is described as all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present, full of love and mercy and worthy of worship.

When I joined my church, I signed an agreement that I believed in certain tenants of faith, and those are lost to me now. Continuing to attend now seems disingenuous. Yes, I miss the worship music, even though I become tense when hearing songs that explicitly worship Jesus or mention being redeemed from sin (many of them don’t- some instead talk vaguely about God being present in times of trouble). Yes, I immensely miss the fellowship and sense of purpose and community. Yes, I think that my church benefits the community that it serves. Somehow, though, I am unable to, as my boyfriend put it, “separate the ritual from the belief.” To me, the belief is the ritual.

I cannot be faulted for perceiving it this way, because that is what the Pauline epistles teach. They taught that the “works of the law” or all the Old Testament Jewish rituals, could not save a person from sin, but only genuine faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. My boyfriend wanted to know why I couldn’t take a more Jewish approach- there are many Jewish people who fully practice Jewish rituals but do not focus on believing in the existence of God. There are, however, no “Christian atheists” and the reason for that is abundantly clear.

Yes, there are Christian denominations that do not espouse that the Bible is inerrant and take a more allegorical approach to the scriptures. There are sex-positive and LGBTQ+ friendly churches. There are denominations that don’t believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus, but they do believe somewhat in his divinity. I was listening to the podcast Sunday School Dropouts. For one of their episodes (and if I find it, I’ll add it here later) they were talking to someone who had one atheist and one Christian parent, and who had spent her life as an atheist. She talked about reading progressive Christian literature, including “Take this Bread” by Sara Miles, and finding herself consistently moved to tears, but not understanding what was happening to her. Eventually, she called a Christian friend who helped her to fully realize her conversion.

When Lauren O’Neal- one of the hosts of the podcast and a self-proclaimed ex-Christian- heard this story, she said that one of the things she was so afraid of was that she would eventually end up being Christian again. I think that deep down, I fear this too, because I’m not sure what it could possibly look like. If I believe in all of the teachings of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, things like the beatitudes and his condemnation of the sanctimonious and the rich, but ignore his emphasis on his own divinity as it is found in the Gospel of John, I find myself feeling as though I am ignoring part of the picture.

This is not meant as a condemnation of Christian denominations outside Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christianity. It is just difficult for me to transition from a faith where the direct intervention of a loving and/or judgmental god in the world was emphasized, to a faith where God is acknowledged but relegated to a more inferior role. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe God isn’t any less “real” for Progressive Christians than for Evangelicals. I keep thinking of that verse that’s attributed to Paul and was so often quoted by my dad. “Having a form of godliness but denying the power. From such turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:5. Now that I read that again, I can see that he was probably taking it out of context, but somehow it stuck in my mind, especially when paired with 1 Corinthians 2:5, “That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

There has been such an emphasis on the “power of God” and supernatural answers of prayer, healing, et cetera, in my previous denomination, that it’s hard to look to belief systems that lack that kind of a tangible deity and feel at home in them. It doesn’t matter that it was clear that confirmation bias played a role in what people thought were answered prayers. It doesn’t matter if Evangelical Christian theology never came up with a good explanation for why people in developed nations like the U.S. and Australia were experiencing prosperity, but Christians in other nations were suffering. In fact, even within the United States there is a discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots who practice Christianity.

It reminds me of something I heard on an NPR bit recently (I looked everywhere and couldn’t find that either). It was about first-generation college students and the struggles they were facing, financially and otherwise as they tried to finish school. One young Latino man named Mario was talking about how he wanted to become a Christian counselor. He decided to attend Liberty University. When the journalists followed up with him, though, some of his views on Christianity had changed. He pointed out that when many of his friends would pray when their cars would break down, someone would help them get a car within a week or even a day. He, however, who was going to college and struggling to juggle two jobs, would have to go without a car if his broke down, regardless of whether he prayed or not. These realities really negate the “prosperity gospel” that is so prevalent in this country.

Tonight, I really was going to go to a New Year’s Eve church service, despite still believing everything that I have expressed here. The fact that I didn’t is mainly luck. I knew my church was going to be having an end of the year service yesterday morning (Sunday), but after consulting with my boyfriend I decided not to go. He encouraged me to consider why I wanted to go, and in that conversation was when he made the comments about my not being able to “separate the ritual from the belief” and the fact that I wasn’t ready to go if I couldn’t do that, i.e. just enjoy the service for its own sake.

At work today, someone mentioned that she might be attending a New Year’s Eve candle night service. When I got home, I desperately searched to see if the church that I am a member of was having one. I suspected that they were not because I couldn’t remember having ever attended one in the past. It turns out that they are not. I was saved- since there was no way I was going to go to a New Year’s Eve service at a strange church- and so instead of going to church I’m watching an atheist Youtuber named Mr Atheist do a New Year’s Eve livestream. I normally don’t like “Atheist Apologetics” or whatever the real name is called, but he isn’t overly crass or condescending and is also a friend to women and the LGBTQ+ community.

I know that it’s silly to ascribe cosmic significance to small things, but I almost feel like me choosing not to go to the service yesterday, even though I felt conflicted and almost went back on it, was taking a brave step in a new direction. I thought a lot about how I wanted to start out this new year. I knew that it would be a bit contradictory to spend it in a church, but at the same time I was thinking about Progressive Christianity and whether it would be a good fit for me. Granted, my old church is Assemblies of God, but I thought maybe just starting out in church in general wouldn’t be a bad start to the year.

It’s been three years since the beginning of my deconversion. I was even more uncertain. I didn’t have gray hairs back then. I was still hiding my new beliefs from my parents. I wish that the roots of hyperreligiosity were as easy to pluck out as the hairs on my head, but I think one day those roots won’t grow back. Since January 2016, I have grown in confidence. I have grown in my ability to live in my own truth. I have grown gray hairs. Maybe this doesn’t mean very much, because I am still relatively young, and I have a lot to learn, but I have also learned and grown a lot.

Walking away hasn’t been easy but staying was impossible.

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.

Something Out There

I seem to have encountered a tree root that has tripped me up on my journey on the Road to Atheism. Maybe that is not the most eloquent or accurate way of describing it. I am, partly due to an emotional personal experience, questioning some of the certainty with which I have expressed disbelief in hidden agency. Hidden agency is a way of describing the invisible forces that some people believe are behind a variety of real-life (sometimes unexplained) phenomena. Gods, ghosts, spirits, synchronicities, and “spiritual laws” or karma are all examples of hidden agency.

You do not have to tell me that personal anecdotes cannot on their own prove or disprove the existence of God. If I believe that there is a loving deity intervening in my life for the better, I must also accept the times when this being does not intervene in others’ lives in the same way. Confronting the question of how or why gods/hidden forces intervene in the world is, to me, a key part of theology. One of the main reasons that I reject the Christian God, is because He is almost universally thought to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, while at the same time being completely devoted to love. I look at the world around me and cannot conclude that a god who commands absolute power, but won’t wield it to end unspeakable human suffering, can also be all-loving. I believe given the world climate, these two aspects are incompatible.

I know, however, that there are some branches of Christianity that have proposed the idea that maybe God is not all-powerful. The Christianity that I was raised in was Evangelical Christianity, and such a notion is considered heretical within that faith and in several other Christian denominations as well. For me, though, it is key to my understanding of God. If God is not an all-powerful, overruling deity, but rather a benevolent force that influences situations for good, it would explain why some bad things still seem to happen. God wouldn’t be able to supernaturally alter those circumstances, but would be confined to working through humans, with our finite abilities and resources. This places the larger responsibility on human shoulders, with God existing as a kind of counselor or support for those who choose to do good.

This does raise the question, though, “If we’re doing it all ourselves anyway, why do we need God?” If God is not all-powerful, how can he/she/it assist us in our time of need? What is the point of prayer? I believe prayer could help someone align themselves with the divine will, which in my understanding would always be devoted to the good of humanity. Prayer would not be for a god to change things using his/her/its divine power, but rather for god to change us. We would be the ambassadors of a life-giving force of love in the world.

These are not ideas that I have not presented earlier in previous writings. I have always wanted to cling to the “baggage of theism.” I have always wanted to believe that there was “something out there.” Despite knowing that there is no concrete proof of the existence of hidden agency, something inside of me wants to believe. I feel something drawing me to a better understanding of the divine, and I feel that that force is my god.

I have found myself re-reading a lot of Iyanla Vanzant’s teachings in “The Value in the Valley” and continuing to identify with them despite my current knowledge. She talks about the importance of listening to “spirit” but she does not attempt to give a clear definition of what spirit is. It becomes a little messy when she starts talking about spiritual laws like the “law of compensation”, which seem to me to be another version of the law of attraction.

I have expressed concern about the law of attraction in the past, in that it seems to open the door for blaming the victims of abuse or violent circumstances by implying that they somehow did something abstract to “attract” these circumstances into their lives. It is true that sometimes when we have self-esteem problems, we tend to surround ourselves with people who reinforce our low opinion of ourselves. We need to be careful, though, that in pointing this out we don’t make people feel like their victimization is their own fault, or that they deserve to be victimized. Additionally, bad actors regularly fail to get what they “deserve”, so the idea that you get from the world only what you put into it is faulty. It also reinforces the idea for me that there isn’t an all-powerful sky deity enforcing judgment on the earth.

Despite this, I know the internal state of our hearts and minds can have profound impacts on our physical and emotional well-being. Confidence is an important part of success, to a point. If prayer or meditation helps you to feel more calm and confident about how you move through the world, I feel that it is worth the time and effort. Maybe having perfect theology doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it.

Meanwhile, I am making plans to attend a Unitarian church this weekend. I feel that many of my beliefs are in line with their theology. The thought of attending had crossed my mind before, but I had always hesitated, because they got a bad rap from some of the other denominations for not being “real” Christians. I also thought, why cling to Christianity if it is nominal only? I wanted to be rid of the shadow that religion had cast over my life. Now, I see that it is almost impossible to full extricate myself from it. This could turn out to be yet another disappointment, and I may ultimately end up rejecting a belief in god altogether, but I feel that I need to give myself the opportunity to believe.

Still Getting Used to It

It has been a few months since I fully admitted to myself that my belief in God has all but totally vanished. It has been even longer since I began first questioning the core tenets of Evangelical Christianity. It has been longer still since I first expressed my chagrin at predestination theory. Despite all that time that has passed, I still find that some old habits are hard to break.

For one, I still find myself “darkening the door of a church”- specifically, my home church, which I had developed a great fondness for. I still harbor that fondness, honestly, otherwise I would see no reason to continue my visits. The visits are getting fewer and farther between, though, and even though I keep thinking that maybe the feeling of disharmony I feel when I hear the sermons will somehow magically dissipate, it never does. I still have a sharp sense of being out of place. The memory of me lifting my hands, singing, and swaying in worship with everyone else stands in sharp contrast to the way I stand now, either with my arms folded across my chest or hanging stiffly at my sides.

Each time the pastor talks about the benefits of tithing, or the amazing, wonderful life you can have in Jesus, I am reminded that you must always give up something in the present to secure this bountiful future. When cheers rise from the crowd as “testimonies” are given, my mind immediately goes to the idea of confirmation bias and the role it must play in these miracle stories. I cannot rejoice when they proclaim “He is risen! Jesus is alive!” because I do not picture the Son of God seated on a heavenly throne next to His Father. I see in my mind the vast, star-speckled blackness of space- an “empty heaven.”

I started my Tumblr account in January of 2016 and transferred most of my religious-themed posts over here in March of this year. My public transition from theism to atheism has been over three years long, even though as I said before, my questioning started long before then. I remember being 15 years old and being disturbed by the possibility that my non-Christian friends might be destined to hell. That is also when I began to feel unbearably unsettled with the concept that everything we do as humans has already been predetermined, including our choice to believe in Jesus as our savior. I questioned a god that would test the faith of Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac, even if he knew what the results would be.

Despite these serious cracks in the foundation of my faith, I was able to cover up the cracks for years. There are many Christians whose faith survives these doubts. They might switch denominations, become “non-practicing”, or become Christian apologists when they dig deep and find the answers to their questions. Other times, they simply swallow truths that may be bitter and stay out of tradition or loyalty. I could do none of these things. I was determined to either embrace faith wholeheartedly, or not at all. I did not desire to believe in a god who did not possess power, but my god’s power was rapidly diminishing in my view. The omnipotence of the God of the Bible did not seem to be in agreement with His unfathomable love; I could not embrace a god who claimed to have complete power over everything and repeatedly refused to solve the problem of human suffering, no matter how wise he seemed to be.

Further evidence still against the existence of the Christian God has been His repeatedly failing promise to send His Son back to earth. I know, “no one knows the day or the hour”, “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” and “the Lord is not slack concerning his promises…he is longsuffering…”. There is a redundancy built into the promises, a “keep waiting, because you never know” kind of aspect to them. I will decline to go into detail about all that, but I know that I have personally waited long enough. The Second Coming of Christ has been predicted incorrectly more times than I would even dare to quantify. In fact, Christians have been predicting Christ’s arrival since the beginning of the faith. To date, none of these predictions have been correct. Truly, it only has to happen once for it to be right, but with God intervening so little in human life now, I am skeptical that He will one day open the clouds and let His righteousness and judgment rain down on the earth.

Even so, “I’m still getting used to it.” When good things happen, I still want to open my mouth and praise God. Humorously, I said “thank God” to my boyfriend, and quickly qualified it by saying, “I mean, I’m thanking all the gods I don’t believe in.” He said, “We get it. You don’t have to qualify it. It’s a saying.” (In other words, he was telling me to get over myself.) I similarly find myself wanting to say a prayer, and sometimes I do. “God, I know you’re not real but if you are, please help.” Even though I look at the date, realize that it is 2018 and all that hoopla about the Jesus coming back in Y2K is now almost two decades in the past, I am still tempted to think, “He is coming soon.” I do not think that I will ever unlearn Christian jargon, or fully forget scriptures that I labored to memorize. Evangelical Christian culture is in my blood. My entire early life is defined by it. I still love “Oceans”, “Ever Be”, “Brave” and various other Contemporary Christian tunes that may come across the radio (and in secret I still sing them). I sit with my family for Bible study when I visit, even though I know it is not mandatory anymore.

Deconversion has been a process for me. Some people are able to make a quick, clean break from their Christian culture, but for a lot of us it is an ongoing journey. There is always something that brings back a memory. People think that we stopped believing because we are angry, that we went, “Screw you God, I don’t believe in you anymore” and that was how simple that it was. They neglect to realize that when we go home for the holidays- or even just for a casual visit- there it is in our faces again, and there we are reminded by the people we love the most that we are different. Some of us are children of pastors. Many of us have served in the church, and some have even had leadership positions. Some, but not all of us, are queer. Whatever the circumstances and whatever the reason, we share this same burden of being “ex-fill-in-the-blank”.

Sometimes we get so concerned with who we are not that we forget who we are. I know that I do, sometimes. I forget that I am more than just an “ex”, that I am a woman of extraordinary character and even more impressive resolve. I know that despite it being a time-intensive process, I will some day feel comfortable in this new skin of mine. God is dead to me, but I have been reborn. I have a whole new life to live, and I plan to live it with everything that I have.

 

 

God is Not Dead?

It is said that God can speak aloud. According to the Biblical account, His voice thundered from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, proclaiming, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was said that he guided the Israelites by way of a visible cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He rained bread from heaven, parted the Red Sea, and made the earth open its mouth and swallow transgressors. Sin was dealt with in a swift and visible way.

Of course, God’s lack of intervention in certain events- like the martyring of Stephen in the New Testament- does not in and of itself prove that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist. Revelations speaks of Christians who have been martyred achieving a glorious resurrection in the future. Paul says that, “If in this life alone we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) He too held out the promise of one day living again in God’s kingdom as a reason to endure persecution and ridicule.

In this post I want to address the problem of those who claim to speak for God and Christ and have done unspeakable evil. The Ku Klux Klan claimed to be a Christian organization. Their leaders never came to a sudden realization of their wrongness or died suddenly- in fact, the group persists today, albeit with reduced power and influence. The Bible was used as an excuse to justify the slavery and mistreatment of millions of people. Thousands of Catholic priests, supposedly holy men who were tasked with helping people connect with God, were found guilty of child molestation. Some Evangelical Christian men abuse their wives without remorse, holding Paul’s controversial “Wives, submit to your husbands in all things” teachings over their wives’ heads like a weapon. Cult leaders seek to use the scripture to subjugate and control the lives of their followers. Parents eschew medical help in favor of trusting God, and God lets their children die.

In all the above cases, God never appeared to any of these people in a vision and admonished them for their wrongness. He never shouted from heaven and rebuked them for any of their misdeeds. No, people instead are allowed to kill, steal, and destroy in His name, with seemingly no response from heaven. I understand that you may say that God uses the wickedness of humanity for His greater purpose, but in doing so you then admit that God is responsible for evil actions. Whether this makes or breaks your theology is up to you.

If you say “Evil came into the world because of man’s rebellion against God, and because of the wiles of Satan” then you ignore the point of what I am saying. These aren’t people who are rebelling outside the paradigm of Christianity. These are people who take the name of Christ on their lips, and yet do the exact opposite of what He has commanded. You would think that a God who is dedicated to the salvation of all mankind, would make sure that no one was confused about whether or not he was behind certain unfortunate actions. We are talking about a god who killed people for disrespecting the ark of the covenant (see the Old Testament). You would think that He would have some sort of response for people who brazenly and unabashedly disrespected the “better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6) that comes through Jesus.

Can you see where I’m coming from?

Either you must admit that God doesn’t particularly care that people are besmirching Him, or that He has limited power to act in this world. Neither of those conclusions fit into the Judeo-Christian concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God.

I know you have one last tool in your toolbox, and that is to say that in the end of days, everything will be made right. In Jesus’ parables, He talked about people who disobeyed his instructions. He talked about the parable of the people left in charge of their master’s household, and how in the master’s absence they beat the servants and engaged in drunken and destructive behavior. He talks about the people who didn’t feed, clothe, and visit his brethren in prison, and what their fate will be. According to Jesus, their fate will be most unpleasant.

This brings me to my next point- how Christianity often explains away the problems of the modern age by moving the solutions for them forward into the future. Remember how I talked about Apostle Paul and the author of Revelations talking about the promise of resurrection as an incentive to suffer through the difficulties of life? This is a theme that exists throughout the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. He asks his disciples to forsake all in following him, and when they ask him about it, he says this;

“Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” -Mark 10:29-31

The problem is, not everyone seems to receive that hundredfold. As for “eternal life”, that is not guaranteed. No one truly knows what will happen to us after death. All we have to go on is what we know about life now and the people who have passed on. We know that NDEs (near death experiences) have been explained scientifically, at least in part, and that people who have near death experiences often see images related to whatever their religious beliefs are at the time. A Hindu person isn’t going to have the same NDE as a Christian. Does this mean that both Hinduism and Christianity are correct about the afterlife? In other words, do you really want to sacrifice this physical life in order to gain an uncertain eternity?

In addition to providing these tantalizing promises for the future as a reason to explain away the inconsistencies of the present, the Bible also gives us a very stylized view of the past. As I pointed out earlier, God is displayed as being powerful and influential in the world, in a way that He is not expected to be today. Christians have fixed in their mind the image of a god who crafted the universe from mere words, turned the sea into blood, stopped the sun in the sky, and rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrha. They stand in awe of this god. He has high moral authority and cannot be questioned.

Even today, however, some of them do argue that He never stopped doing these mighty feats. They tell tales of food stretching to feed many more than it was intended to, of people speaking in languages they don’t know, of sick being healed and dead being raised. These stories, however, are often told from the perspective of Western privilege. We have medical advancements to “help” God along. We have wealth, so we can afford to pay tithes and then use confirmation bias to say that that’s the reason we got a promotion at work or some other financial boost. We can’t honestly take our prosperity gospel with us into places of extreme poverty and abject suffering. We can’t say that the reason we experience miracles is because we have more faith than these suffering people do.

Of course, Christian missionaries to these impoverished places don’t often say that. They often get down in the dirt and help. They consider themselves ambassadors of God. The truth is, God would never do anything if they weren’t there. God, despite having absolute power, has never used His power to help even one human being, without the intervention of other human beings. Whether we say God is using us for good or not, the point of the matter is that God can’t do anything without us. God cannot materialize food out of nothing. He can’t send rain on drought-blasted lands. If you think that these things happened, you’re looking through the “veil of time”, as described by Oh No Ross and Carrie host, Ross Blocher. The veil of time is what allows people to believe that incredible events are more likely to have happened if it was at some point thousands of years in the past.

God’s lack of intervention today points to only one thing, in my opinion- that God never intervened in the first place. Is it not possible that maybe those Old Testament stories were never meant to be taken literally, and that instead they teach us moral lessons and give us a glimpse into the mentality of the God we are said to worship? Does the ability of the Bible to be given to abuse and misinterpretation provide some inkling as to the darker nature of the text?

People sully God’s name without recourse, because God is either unwilling or unable to defend His reputation. Even though I could just as easily believe in an evil god as not believe in any sort of deity at all, I am leaning towards the “unable” category. I don’t think that God is capable of doing anything other than what we see happening already. People are going to besmirch His name, because humans have agency and that’s what they’re choosing to do. People can do good and exalt Him, because humans have agency and that’s what they’re choosing to do. I believe we are acting under our own influence, as misguided as that may sometimes be. I am also not convinced that there is any sort of second life after this one. This is all we have. We can either spend it being victims, or we can rise up and save ourselves.

God is dead.

 

Why I Left

The look is always the same. It starts off as mostly disbelief, then morphs gently into a pity that is tinged with disapproval. The face ultimately settles on to a look of kind resolve, and the mouth opens to express a variation of the same theme; if only you knew God like I do, you would never have left. If only you realized that God transcends the laws of nature, cannot be explained properly by science, and is infinitely wiser and more loving than we could ever comprehend. If only you understood the power of prayer, if only you could see the miraculous happenings that only the existence of God could explain, and if only you understood “But for the grace of God, there go I.” If only you could see that He is “as near as the next breath” and He holds that very breath of yours in His hands.

“What you need is a personal relationship with God.”

This implies that the reason I left Christianity was because my “relationship with God” was strained. God must have done something to offend me, and that must’ve been because I just didn’t really know or understand Him. I can safely assume that they are talking about the God of the Bible, and in that case maybe there is a degree of truth to their statements. Maybe I didn’t “know” him that well, despite those times when I thought I felt his presence, but now, I think I know him too well.

Evangelical Christians like to use a play on words regarding Jesus Christ’s atonement; they call it “at-one-ment.” They say that through Christ’s suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection, he broke the power of sin in the world and brought us back into oneness with God the Father. One of my biggest unanswered questions in Christianity is why exactly this would all be necessary.

To explain my disquiet, I will break this down into the three parts.

1)     His Suffering

Jesus suffered incredibly prior to his crucifixion. He was beaten, spit upon, and flogged. He was so wounded by his assault that he was unable to carry his own cross. The night that he was betrayed by Judas, he knelt and begged God, “If possible, remove this cup from me.”

My question is “Was it possible?” and no Christian can safely deny that it wasn’t. God, as they assert, could- and still can- do anything. The Judeo-Christian God was said to be a God of love. Jesus was identified as the “first begotten Son of God.” Is it incorrect to assume, that an all-powerful, loving god, could have come up with a less excruciating way for his firstborn son to redeem the world?

Even as Jesus begged his father to keep him from suffering, he said “Not my will, but yours be done.” Apparently, God “willed” for his son to die a gruesome death before he could deem it possible to forgive mankind and redeem them from the power of sin. I think that says a lot about the kind of god Christians worship, and it doesn’t fit into the paradigm of a loving god.

2)     His death

Jesus died by crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered so painful, that it is partly from where we get the word “excruciating.” I have already outlined Jesus suffering in the earlier point and have sought to bring attention to the fact that this was ostensibly done to him by his own father. There is even more lying below the surface of this Biblical account.

Christians seem to take it for granted that Jesus dying somehow saves us all from the power of sin. The biblical book of Hebrews makes references to the animal sacrifices performed under early Judaism, pointing out how they could only remove sin temporarily. Jesus was said to have removed sin permanently.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” -Hebrews 9:12

Jesus was said to have become a substitution for the animal sacrifices of the old testament. The question that we need to ask, though, is why should an innocent animal- or an innocent man- need to be killed to atone for the wrongdoings of a guilty person? How or why does a divine being find it necessary to seek retribution in this way? Remember, this is a god that is said to be able to do absolutely anything. Why this ineffective and risky way of dealing with things?

3)     His resurrection

“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” -1 Corinthians 15:16-17

According to Biblical legend, it was not enough that Jesus suffer and die. He also had to live again, so that he could reign in heaven with the Father and be the head of his Holy Church. By rising from the dead, he showed that even death could be conquered by the power of God.

The problem with this account, is that no one- outside of religious myth- has ever been recorded to come back to life after being dead for any substantial amount of time. Christians might use this to argue that this makes Jesus even more unique, that this proves that he was God’s first son, that this proves that he had power over sin and death. My issue is just that I can no longer bring myself to accept this account just because it appears in the Bible. There is no precedent for it or evidence of it.

Of course, Christians would argue that everyday answers to prayer are the result of a powerful God and living Jesus, but in my previous post I explained how most perceived answers to prayer can be explained as being the result of confirmation bias.

4)     Final Thoughts

Points 1-3 give a few reasons as to why I left. They stem more from a disagreement with the most basic tenets of Christianity, as opposed to some sort of personal dispute that I have with “the Creator”. I came to my conclusions very slowly and with a lot of consideration. I do not feel betrayed or jilted, I have simply moved away from faith in the god of Christianity to faith in other things. This isn’t about some unanswered prayer or a lack of feeling God’s love, it’s from a new hesitation to believe in any sort of god at all.

At this point, I have moved far beyond, “I’m really not sure what I believe anymore” into “These are the things that I know that I don’t believe.” I haven’t closed my mind to all religion, but I am also not on the fence either. Quoting scriptures to me won’t help your case, when I no longer believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We are viewing the world through totally different lenses. It may never make sense to you why I left, even though I can understand why you stay.

You may say I “never had a personal relationship with God”, but now I know that I never will.

From Deism to Agnosticism to Atheism?

I have addressed numerous subjects during my many months of blogging. One of those subjects is whether miracle testimonies or positive personal anecdotes prove the existence of God. I concluded that they do not, largely because of a thing that I haven’t mentioned a lot by name: confirmation bias. The website Science Daily describes confirmation bias (with regards to science and psychology) as a “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”

A good example of confirmation bias would be when someone excitedly praises God when a parking space is open “for them” close to the front of the store. Various factors were involved in making that happen, all more to do with fortunate timing than anything else. If you want to bring the divine into it, you have to say that God (or a higher power) was personally responsible for the time the original parking space holder left home, the amount of time they spent in the store, and the exact time they pulled out to go home. God was also responsible for the actions that you took to get to the store at that exact moment. This would mean that God was somehow directly influencing even the smallest of peoples’ thoughts and actions- and doesn’t he/she/it have something better to do than to preside over who gets what parking space? More importantly, this muddles with the concept of free will and takes us into controversial predestination territory.

There is a website called The Odds Must Be Crazy that addresses the mathematical probability of various events. The purpose of the site is to express that certain things that we think of as “meant to be” or “synchronicities” aren’t as special as we think that they are. For example, if your friend calls you just as you’re thinking of them, you might think of this as an uncommon occurrence, but the probability of this happening is higher than you might expect. Or maybe you unexpectedly run into someone that you haven’t seen in years at a place where neither of you has ever been before, on the anniversary of when you first met. Or maybe- as I heard recently on the radio- you, your mom, and your grandma all end up having the same birthday. Is a higher power really responsible for these things, or are they more or less random chance?

It has been very hard to separate myself from the notion that “everything happens for a reason” and “some things are meant to be.” It is awfully unromantic to think that the universe began expanding inexplicably and is moving naturally towards entropy, with us existing as simply a consequence of this. We are very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, so it makes sense that we would try to draw significance from the finer details of life.

This brings me to my next point; is there an intelligent being that created the universe, and if there is, do we really have a duty to worship him/her/it? These were questions posed to me- more or less- by my younger brother, and these were some ideas that I had never considered. He also asked, if there really was a god who created everything, would he really be hyper-focused on such a relatively tiny part of his creation?

Again, we must envision the bigger picture here. Proponents of intelligent design propose that there is a god that created everything, and more often than not they describe this as the Judeo-Christian deity. Why would a god so advanced require animal sacrifice, and later on, a human sacrifice in order to forgive our sins? Why would God be concerned with our sins in this way? Why would He, being privy to our human frailties, require unconditional worship and devotion? Surely, we were created with more in mind than stroking the divine ego. Why if, in the end, belief was so important to Him, would He not reveal Himself more clearly to His creation?

Often times I am told not to ask why, but to simply accept the Bible is God’s word. My question would be, “On what basis?” There are plenty of purported “holy” texts that have preceded the Bible by centuries, and there are plenty that have come after that are said to amend it. Where is the starting point that will eventually lead us to the truth? Also, Christianity has yet to sufficiently explain how extreme human suffering fits into God’s loving plan for us and our planet.

So where does that leave me? When I started my journey away from Christianity, I still believed in God. I believed that “something” had to have made us. I later described this as the underlying life force of the universe. I believed that this being/entity could be contacted in meditation in order to receive guidance, but did not necessarily believe that the this being intervened on our behalf in the physical world. This helped me to resolve some of my misgivings about the apparent inconsistency of “divine intervention” in the world. As time went on, however, I began to feel frustrated at the thought of an intelligent god that existed but was unable to aid me or others in any practical way.

After my experience with that form of deism, I moved on to agnosticism. Maybe God was real, but there didn’t seem to be a concrete way to find out. Throwing out the idea of a higher power altogether did not quite appeal to me. Plus, the pity and/or disgust exhibited towards atheists from Christians was still something that I was keenly aware of. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1) was something that I have heard quoted my entire life. I was also familiar with Paul’s diatribe in Romans 1, where he states the creation itself is a testament to the invisible God. To say that I did not believe in any god at all seemed so final, so defeatist, and so concrete. I was afraid to exhibit that kind of certainty about something that had seemed so uncertain to me.

Despite all of that, here we are. Here I am, not seeing any reason to believe that there is an overruling higher power, yet still unwilling to let go of some of the baggage of theism. When something fortunate happens, I am still tempted to believe that there is hidden agency or that there are unseen forces pulling the strings (even though that also requires believing that misfortune is divine as well). I also had my experiences with 12-step programs, where admitting powerlessness and surrendering to a higher power are touted as foundational steps towards recovery. This “God presence” seems to permeate every aspect of our society. To step outside of that understanding, I feared, would make me a pariah to people that I loved. I envisioned the looks of disbelief when I told people that I no longer believed in any sort of intelligent creator.

The question, however, isn’t about how I will be perceived, but rather what I perceive to be true. I ran into a man, almost a stranger, who told me that I was going to hell if I didn’t believe the story about Jesus. Those were his perceptions. When he had asked me why I didn’t believe anymore, I told him that it “just didn’t seem real to me” and I told him I had some doctrinal issues. He told me that that was unfortunate, that it really was real, and after that was when he told me that if I didn’t believe in Jesus I was going to hell. He told me that he was “just the messenger”, as if that would soften the blow a little bit. Needless to say, it did not.

There wasn’t time to continue the conversation with him, and he would never have been able to understand my point of view anyway. I just went away from that, marveling as I do nowadays at the ease with which Christians are able to express their beliefs in this country. You have beliefs that are wholly based on a lack of evidence, and yet they roll off the tongue as if they were established fact. Once upon a time, I felt the same way. I was sure that there really was a man who miraculously rose from the dead 2000 years ago, seated himself physically in heaven, and would someday return for his “spotless church.” Never mind that we have never seen any evidence of heaven when we peer into the vastness of space, or the fact that to pass through the atmosphere- and then also survive there- is a pretty farfetched idea. Of course, Jesus was God, and somehow being God makes you able to trump the laws of nature. Also, maybe we can’t see heaven because it’s not up but rather in another dimension? (No Christian has ever told me that, I am just hypothesizing.)

A lot of Christians say that it takes just as much- if not more- faith to believe that we all came from nothing and then evolved, than it takes to just believe the Bible. I would beg to differ. I think it takes a whole lot of blind faith to ignore mountains of archeological and scientific evidence and still insist that the earth is merely thousands of years old. Or to see the complexity of the universe and believe that an invisible man in the sky created it all with his words in only six days. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I feel that knowing that is what opens the door for more discovery and knowledge. Christianity claims to have this whole thing pegged down, and I just can’t accept those claims.

Ultimately, though, the purpose of my blog is not to discredit Christianity. It is simply a personal record of my journey from faith to disbelief. Even describing it like that- “faith to disbelief”- subtly supports the idea that belief in the idea of god is positive and a lack of belief in the idea of god is negative. Atheists are often isolated and judged based solely on their lack of belief in a deity, which is in many respects only one aspect of their lives. Atheism isn’t all about “disbelief” but it is also about the things that we do believe in. Many of us have faith in ourselves, in our friends and family, and of the ability of good to triumph over evil. The difference is that we do not depend on a higher power to bring about change in the world, but we allow the burden of responsibility to fall squarely on our own shoulders. It is a sobering position to be in, but we accept it because we believe that we have no other choice.

The next time I hear another story about guardian angels, miracle healings, “coincidences” (it’s always said with quotation marks), or Jesus helping someone find their car keys, I will again be reminded that confirmation bias allows people to interpret these events through the lens of whatever faith they ascribe to. If someone warns me about the possibility of hell, I will ask “Which one?” (also a great question if they urge you to believe in God.) The truth is that most of what religion has sought to explain can now be explained using our knowledge of biology, natural laws and how the universe operates. Every time someone tells me “God did this” I can ask, “Are you sure about that?” If your loved one was healed of cancer, are you sure that was God, or was it medical intervention? Are you aware of people that eschewed medicine in the name of God and died? If someone sent you money just when you needed it, are you sure that was God or was that just their intent meeting fortunate timing?

As I stated earlier, people take the pervasiveness of theism in our society (especially here in the U.S.) for granted. One of the most common things people say to encourage another person is, “I’ll be praying for you.” People often throw up the exclamations, “Oh my God” and “Thank God” regardless of their level of religiosity, because those ideas are so woven in to our culture. Natural disasters are legally called “acts of God”. God is everywhere and in everything, and like I said, stepping outside that narrative presents a lot of challenges. It hasn’t been easy for most people who have deconverted, and it hasn’t been easy for me, but I am ready to face the future with my eyes wide open.

 

Which witch?

In my quest to explore different religions, I decided that I wanted to eventually write a post on here about witchcraft, which would include some tidbits about its history and some facts about modern witches. My misguided enthusiasm led me to get five or more books on the subject from the local library, but I only ended up reading a handful. I think that my focus was a little bit wrongheaded- was I really interested in the subject, or was I just reading about it because the Christian church- of which I was formerly a member- considered it to be taboo?

Nevertheless, I did learn a few things. Notably, that the witches of the “Burning Times” (a period of heavy witch hunting around 1450-1750 A.D.) differ somewhat from the witches of today, in that those witches did claim to worship Satan. Satan was said to appear in one form or another and preside over the various ceremonies. He was also said to appear to new initiates to complete their initiation. There were various ways the initiation was performed- one young woman who was caught claimed that all that was necessary was for someone to form the sign of the cross with their left hand. Other ways of being initiated was to go through a ceremony where one renounced their faith and baptism, and were “rechristened” with a new witchy name.

The superstitions about witches were pretty farfetched- they were said to fly around on brooms, and also thought to possess the ability to transform into an animal like a toad or a black cat. The devil was also said to be able to transform- he was either depicted as an extremely ugly fellow or as a man with a goat head or some other kinds of animal features.

Actually, the superstition about witches being able to transform into cats caused widespread killing of cats in England. Ironically, this led to an explosion in the rat population, and these rats aided in the spreading of the bubonic plague (which as we know killed thousands throughout Europe). So the very thing that people thought they were doing to protect themselves actually happened to be to their great detriment.

Also, the people that were hunted and killed during the Burning Times were more than likely not even witches. Some of the tests utilized by the Inquisition to test whether someone was a witch were completely absurd. People were assumed to be guilty, rather than assumed first to be innocent. Torture was often used to procure a confession- and many people would confess rather than continue to suffer the excruciating pain of the torture. In addition, there was a method of tying a woman’s thumb to her big toe, and throwing her into the water. If she sank, she was thought to be innocent, but if she floated, she was a witch. Often even people thought to be innocent- the sinkers- died of drowning before they were fished out. Anyone who swam to stay alive was then sentenced to death by burning or hanging.

It is estimated that over 100,000 accused witches were killed during the Burning Times. The victims were disproportionately female; some villages were left with only one or two women left in them after the Inquisition swept through.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on modern witchcraft. Most of what I read focused around Wicca. I read a little bit of a Wiccan  book entitled “Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring, and Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft” by Deborah Blake. It might not have been the best source of information (or maybe it was) but I learned a little about what some witches believe and a little bit about spells and practices.

For one thing, most modern witches do not worship Satan, but instead focus their devotion on ancient gods and goddesses (such as gods/goddesses from the Greek pantheon or Egyptian deities). A witch may invoke these gods and goddesses during spell-casting or call upon them for aid. I learned about the athame– a special knife that is used in various rituals. The book also went into details about some herbs and plants that were important in Wicca, but I mainly glossed over these. I learned that if you put a few drops of rose oil on an amethyst stone and place the stone under your pillow, it is said to thwart bad dreams.

It’s important to note at this point that witchcraft preceded the Burning Times, and in some cases it is that ancient witchcraft that modern witches are trying to return back to. Thousands of years ago, goddesses were more central to religion than male deities. The female body was revered because it was capable of carrying new life. People appealed to the Goddess to protect their crops and shield them from disease. Ancient witches, who knew a lot about which plants could relieve pain or bring relief for various sicknesses, were revered. These people- usually women- were thought to have a special connection with the divine.

At this point I’ve only scratched the surface of the subject of witchcraft. There are many types of modern witches besides Wiccans, including some forms of witchcraft like neo-Shamanism which seeks to combine modern witchcraft with ancient shamanism.

As far as my personal religion journey goes, I do not relate particularly well with witchcraft. I tend to shy away from religious traditions that focus on objects and rituals to bring about particular results. I don’t give special significance to a kind of stone, or to a specific spell/mantra. I do have an altar at home with objects that are important to me, but it is kind of a mishmash of various religions. The altar isn’t “to” a particular object or deity, and I mainly light my candle so I can focus, rather than in honor of a specific god.

In writing this piece, I wanted to be able to do the subject justice. Just because I don’t personally relate to witchcraft, doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid or important to many people. I think it is vital for each person to carve out their own path with regards to their particular faith and practice. If you feel the presence of god(s) with you during your rituals- and/or they give you peace- then that is the most important thing.

Thankfully, the Burning Times are far behind us, but we still live in a world where people are persecuted because of their religious beliefs. Christians are being beheaded and crucified by ISIS in Iraq. Muslims that are different from the ruling sect are being attacked. Anti-semitism is still alive and well in the U.S. and Europe. Maybe one day, we’ll all come to a place where it isn’t necessary to attack one another just because some of us have different beliefs and practices. Until then, the only thing that those of us who are aware can do is to continue to be open-minded and fight against hatred.

I Don’t Need a Savior

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

In times like these, it’s easy to want to “blame” good fortune- as well as misfortunes- on something esoteric and otherworldly. Today, I went to a church with an aquarium, a restaurant, and an elaborately designed sanctuary. Everyone was very welcoming and was always saying “Jesus loves you.” The pastor made it a point to say things like, “The reason why you’re going through trials is because you’re on assignment” and “People aren’t against you, they’re against the Jesus that they see in you.” He tied the reception- or the lack thereof- that Christians receive in the world to their relationship with the Christ figure. He blamed some troubles on the Devil (“The Devil won’t steal my joy!”).

When the pastor kept asking congregants to say “Jesus loves you” to one another, I’ll admit that eventually I just gave in rather than be the awkward one in the room. I justified it by saying that if Jesus really were alive in heaven, and the sin-defeating, healer/miracle worker that the Bible described, we really could say “Jesus loves you.” During the first songs- which were popular gospel tunes- I started to feel emotional because I couldn’t help but think of how much my mother would’ve loved that church. I had a sense that that church was a real community, centered around a love for- and perceived love from- Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

I don’t know if they perform the same outreach ministries that my church does, but I’m sure that they do a great deal. In fact, a large portion of the pastor’s sermon was about how Christians “aren’t in the life-saving business anymore.” How once, Christians cared about whether people “got saved”, but then they became more concerned with how much they loved the sanctuary, the ushers, and most of what was happening within the four walls. They lost their vision and their desire to reach out to people outside of the church community. He talked about “sins of the spirit” like “pride”, “a superior attitude” and “impatient words.”

“Reaching the lost” is considered by most churches to be a huge part- if not the ultimate goal- of their ministry. This doesn’t just mean feeding the hungry, rehabilitating people, and visiting people in hospitals and prisons. It primarily regards a call to conversion, to seeing people “turn away from useless idols to serve the living God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This part of Christianity that is so essential to its creed is what I take the most issue with. The idea that we’re lost or depraved is the one that I have most come to reject. I also reject the idea of a God with astounding abilities who chooses to remain largely indifferent to the sufferings of humanity. If I believe that God is omniscient and omnipotent, and his primary mission for us is to bring people into the faith, I must also accept that he is responsible for their state of unbelief and depravity to begin with.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in fact, addresses this very conundrum. In it Paul admits that in the Old Testament account, God is said to have hardened Pharoah’s heart. He then goes on to address the question of how God could rightly judge anyone, if he was responsible for whether they obeyed or disobeyed him in the first place. Paul is rather condescending and dismissive in his response, saying “Who are you to reply against God? Shall the one formed say to him that formed it, ‘Why have you made me this way?’” He also said that God had “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of destruction” and was free to show his favor to one, and display his wrath and power through the other.

I don’t know about you, but I choose not to believe that I’m simply a puppet on a string being jerked around in a contest of wills between God and the Devil (or maybe even just God and Himself). I also don’t believe that even if God were all-powerful, that he would be given to such a mercurial and unstable temperament- especially not if he were also all-knowing and could fully comprehended human frailties. Some people could argue that I’m just trying to turn God into a god that satisfies my human sensibilities, but I don’t see how that’s any different from what people have been claiming about God(s) for hundreds of years. Whether people believe it or not, the concept of God is interpreted differently by each person. He’s vengeful to one, all-merciful to another one. To some there is one God, but to others, there are multiple deities. Since we seem incapable of reaching a consensus, I am going to say that it is perfectly acceptable for me to create my own concept of what God is like, as well as my own way of approaching him/her/it.

Right now, though, I don’t feel that I need a savior. I don’t need to be saved from my sins. I’m just a human being in a world of many other human beings, trying to make the best life for myself that I am capable of. In the Christian community it’s considered cool to brag about your imperfections, that you’re “ a work in progress” or in the “process of sanctification” or on the “journey of holiness.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we’re really all sinners, regardless of whether we’re “saved” or not, then maybe “salvation” doesn’t really make you any different from anybody else. Maybe believing in a set of “facts” about a man who died over 2000 years ago doesn’t make you holy. I think we’re all in the same boat here, and that we all need to work together to make this world a better place. If religion is what inspires you to do good for your fellow man, then I can’t say that there’s anything wrong with that. If you choose to do good because you think it’s right and it makes you feel happy, then that is just as well. Let’s just not judge each other because of having different motivations.

The more I go to church, the more I feel a profound sense of loss at the community that I used to be a part of, but the more I also feel grateful for the path that I’m currently walking. As a person who still feels connected in some ways to Christianity, but cannot bring herself to accept the core doctrines of her former denomination(s), I often find myself in that dry place that Bishop John Shelby Spong accurately termed “the Exile.” I have a profound respect for the Jesus of the Bible, but I cannot bring myself to feel comforted when people say “Jesus loves you.” I do not feel convinced of the existence of hell or heaven- for all I know, when I die, I am no more. Even so, I know that I’ll live on in the memory of those people who loved me. I know that even though I’ve lost a lot with what I’ve decided, hopefully I’ve gained just that much more. I know that life is more about the journey than the final destination.