From a Church of Christ preacher's post on Facebook:
"Even an atheist doesn't want to be punched in the face. If there is no God, then there are no moral absolutes. Yet 'no one ever hates his own flesh, but provides and cares for it' (Ephesians 5>29, HCSB). This instinct for self-preservation is the basest, most universal expression of self-love. Atheism cannot explain why or how people know it is wrong for others to hurt them."
I don't know that I've ever seen a more ignorant statement. We'll disregard the mistaken idea that atheism attempts to explain anything and just deal with what he says here. Is he saying that if there were no god to give us moral absolutes, we wouldn't know that we need to respond to a punch in the face? Yes, that's exactly what he's saying. While atheism doesn't explain things, the need for self-preservation is one of the most basic drivers of evolution. And even more obvious: We can feel pain! He's saying that without a god to give us moral absolutes, we woudn't have the urge to retaliate because we wouldn't understand that the other person had no right to cause us injury.
Christianity, on the other hand, eschews the idea of self-love. Christianity says "turn the other cheek" when someone punches you. (And while there may be expedient reasons for doing so, it is not our nature.) That instinct for self-preservation is anti-Christian.
To top it off, the absolute statement that no one ever hated their own flesh is false, as well. It may be true that most people do not hate themselves, but it is not true that no-one hates themselves.
He goes on to say "the universal law of 'ought' shows 'the work of the Law written in their hearts' (Romans 2:15), which points to a universal lawgiver." Again, this is a statement that sounds "thoughty" but which turns out to be shallow, what Daniel Dennett refers to as a "deepity". Yes, we have a sense of right and wrong, but if a person thinks this wouldn't have evolved, they don't really know much about evolution or about memetics. Organisms live to reproduce if they have a way of defending themselves. Societies thrive if the members of the society defend one another. The Bible even says so: Ecclesiastes 4:12 -- " And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." That's memetics in a nutshell, right in their own "holy" book! When people started farming, when they became stationary and began to live in communities, writing was developed and rules were written down. Communities where everyone pitched in to hunt and farm, and for defense, thrived. And while selfish individuals never disappeared and could actually thrive within a community, the community itself had to comprise mostly altruistic individuals in order to thrive, which resulted in our current mix of individuals today, comprising mostly altruistic people with some selfish people in the mix.
This isn't hard, but if you start by saying there's a creator and that you must base all of your beliefs on that, then you have to come up with deepities to allow yourself to continue without experiencing significant cognitive dissonance, and you never think you need to find the truth or question your beliefs. You're looking for a quick and dirty "answer" that doesn't have to be a real answer at all, just a place for you to stop thinking about the subject. If you start with the real world and try to understand why things are the way they are using forensics, you'll always have unanswered questions and you'll sometimes have to change your beliefs, but you'll generally be on the right track and there will be a lot that you can know for certain. But you never stop thinking about the subject because you have a thirst for knowledge.
We had a blow-up last night. Maybe I overreacted. She was reading some apologetics stuff and wanting to order a book from Amazon with a title something like "100 OT Prophecies Fulfilled By Jesus," but it was only sold as a used book by 3rd party sellers, and there were actually a couple of different books and a tract with the same title but different authors. She hadn't ordered anything via Amazon by 3rd party sellers before, so it confused her and she was asking me about it. No problem -- happy to help her find what she's looking for.
Then she hit me with "do you know about the prophecy about Bethlehem Ephrathah?" Well, I've read that stuff before and don't specifically remember what I've read about that, so I wasn't prepared to answer. I don't remember what transpired, exactly, but it ended up with me feeling like I just couldn't stand to be there. We've been married 36 years and I've never felt that way before. She has packed her bags a few times, a couple of them when the kids were in elementary school, but I thought she was just doing it as a threat. I talked her out of leaving those times. Last night I found out that it was real.
I don't want to have those discussions. She's truly afraid that if I die I'll wind up in Hell, so she sees the discussions as imperative. I get that -- I used to believe. But I go to church (more often than she does) and I live my life as if I am still a Christian. I actually told her that if "God" were real and if he would send a person to Hell who lives like a Christian, simply because that person doesn't really believe in him, then that's an evil god. She just keeps thinking "what if I can point out something you weren't aware of that will make you change your mind?" (Her words.)
I didn't want to leave because I was angry; it was because I could not bear the conversation and I could not bear to be there at that moment. I'm not sure I can explain the difference, but it was not because of anger. It was more of an empty feeling, like I didn't belong there. I got a suitcase down and took a couple of items off of hangers, thinking I would spend the night at a nearby hotel. Interestingly, she didn't try to talk me out of it. But we talked about what had just happened and I didn't pack anything. Somehow we both managed to sleep all night.
Today I called her while on my lunch break and she apologized. I told her again that I understood where she was coming from. I do! But I don't know if it's possible for her to see where I'm coming from.
So once or twice a year we have these blow-ups. I cannot say everything I'm thinking. One of our sons is a non-believer and it tears her up to think that his daughter might grow up to be a non-believer as well, even though they're taking her to church at the moment. What I didn't say was that I doubt that our preacher-son's kids will still believe by the time they're 30. There's just very little chance of that in today's world, because no matter how much you teach them your version of the Bible stories and try to teach them not to investigate outside of apologetics material, once they're grown they'll probably find out the truth. That's the risk you take if you're a fundamentalist.
Come to think of it, the atheist son and his wife are going to a Presbyterian church (my wife doesn't know that), and if they don't teach a literalist version of the Bible, it could be that that grandchild will grow up to be a Christian and the others will deconvert at some point.
Anyway, the blow-up is over and I expect a long period of time without any of that discussion. It just takes a few days for my heart to stop pounding.
I'm 58 years old, and it was right at 6 years ago that I realized that the religious book I had believed since I was old enough to understand anything was, in fact, a book of myths, legends, and embellished history, and that even if there were any such things as gods, Yahweh certainly wasn't real.
It's been interesting, in some ways great, in some ways awfully stressful. I've kept quiet for the most part, but have managed to beg off of responsibilities at church and I've cut my contribution way down, skipping writing the check most weeks and writing a small one when I feel like I need to be seen. Staying in the closet seems to require only modest effort.
I was outed a year ago and at first thought that might be a good thing, but I quickly found out it wasn't going to fly with my minister son. The "outing" was an indirect result of my other son's deconversion. The two of them are sometimes cordial to one another and sometimes, not so much. Family members are hard on the atheist. He even went forward at church and "repented" just to get people off of his back and so that his wife's brother wouldn't shun him, but he's going to the "wrong" church, so people are still critical. But I think it's working for him, and I'm happy about that. I just wish that minister son didn't care.
And once in a while my wife starts to worry about my "soul", so we have a day or two of uncomfortable conversations. The problem there is that she thinks I can be converted. I can't really participate in the discussion without making her mad and having her accuse me of thinking I"m smarter than other people, so I generally just refuse to have the discussion. It blows over for awhile, then a few months later it pops up again.
But we love each other and care about each other, and neither of us is about to throw away 36 years of marriage, shared experiences, and future experiences which include visiting grandchildren.
I do hope that minister son gets a real job in a couple of years. Who knows, maybe Bible-study-induced cognitive dissonance will cause him to become an atheist! I would say that's too much to hope for, but that's what happened to atheist son and it took me completely by surprise.
So while there's some stress involved in being in the closet, it really isn't that hard to keep up appearances to the extent that no one is on my back, and I know it's all bullshit so none of it bothers me. Sometimes the sermons or Bible classes make me mad because they're so ridiculous, but most Sunday mornings I'm there by myself due to my wife's various health problems, and I sit there and read books on my phone. It's a good way to sneak in some "me time."
When atheist son is with us he doesn't sing or bow his head during the prayers, and this upsets my wife. He's not very diligent about being half-closeted (hehe)! Can't say I blame him, but I find it easier to have my wife wonder if maybe I still do believe. When she's there, I sing quietly, and bow my head even if my eyes are open during most of the prayer. Doesn't hurt me any.
And while I do get mad at the religious nuts who are running the country today, I think their time is running out. The younger generation is going to make this country a better place unless they become conservatives when they get older. Even if they become more conservative, I doubt they'll ever be religious nuts the way my generation has turned out to be.
The simple fact that I know that Christianity is bogus makes my life better, even if I do have to make accommodations for the believers around me. That's worth celebrating. (Quietly. In my own mind. And here among other ex-Christians.)
A woman I knew in high school in the 1970s, and who was ordained as a Methodist minister a few years ago, posted some photos on Facebook of a trip she took to Israel a few years ago. Along with the photos, she commented "The prayer that never fails, 'Thy will be done.'"
I would call that "the ultimate salve for cognitive dissonance". In "the Lord's prayer" Jesus reputedly said "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven."
James 4:13-16 says " 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. "
In Mark 11 Jesus is said to have claimed that if a person has faith, they can tell a mountain to move and God will make it happen. In James, it is said that if you're sick and you call the elders to pray for you, you'll get well. These promises don't have caveats (except for a lack of faith in the first one). Ask for it, and as long as you have faith it will happen -- period!
But when people add "if it's your will" (or, more likely the antiquated English phrase "if it be thy will"), they provide an "out." This "out" isn't for their god, but for themselves. If they add "if it be thy will" then when it doesn't happen, they don't have to wonder why their god didn't keep his promise. They can just say "I suppose it must not have been God's will." Between that and "God's ways are higher than man's ways" they give themselves a way to ignore the fact that the relationship between saying prayers and things actually happening is completely random. There's no positive correlation unless people are praying for things that are likely. There's no negative correlation unless they're praying for things that are unlikely. Saying "thy will be done" allows them to count the "hits" and ignore the "misses."
The terms "Postdiction" and "Hindsight Bias" usually refer to the way psychics go back after the fact and "prove" their abilities by telling you about the things they got right, but it applies to prayer even better, because with prayer, the believer has been taught ahead of time that if what they are praying for doesn't happen, it's not because there's nobody listening -- it's because it just wasn't what their god thought best. You've no doubt heard the expression that some unfortunate person "can't win for losing." Well, people's gods can't lose for winning!
Recent studies have shown that when people are shown statistics, they will often dig in their heels regarding their false beliefs. That being the case, how would you go about showing a Christian or other religious person that "thy will be done" is an evolutionary adaptation of their religion to keep itself replicating throughout the ages?
It seems so obvious from the outside.
Ah, life in the closet! Fodder for blog posts!
Sunday morning's sermon was called "Motivations for Holy Conduct." Sermons usually have 3 main points, and number three, which the most time was spent on, was "The Wrath of God."
This was pretty ironic, because I spend my time during the sermon reading in the Nook app on my phone. Right now I'm reading "The God Delusion," and I'm in chapter 7, "The 'Good' Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist". Part of the chapter deals with the wrath of this supposed god.
So while the preacher is droning on about how afraid we ought to be of going to Hell, and therefore motivated to do good, I'm reading a chapter that directly dismantles these arguments.
The wrath of Yahweh presented in the Bible has him bringing about natural disasters, or instructing the Jewish army to perpetrate war crimes (killing all men, women, and children, except for virgins, whom they could take home and rape), or punishing the wrong people -- Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister instead of his wife (twice), and the kings who take her into their harems are punished, rather than Abraham, who told the lie because he was afraid they'd kill him to take her if they knew she was his wife. Yahweh also gets really upset when Israel or Judah starts to follow one of his brothers, such as Baal. He'll wipe out a bunch of people just because he's jealous. It even says his name is "Jealous!"
Many modern theologians would protest that these stories are just metaphors for something. Of course, I'm in a fundamentalist church, so the preacher insists that these stories are real. Regardless, there's no moral lesson in these passages. The god depicted is capricious, unfair, and just plain evil.
The Old Testament in no way depicts modern morality, even though fundamentalists portray the book as being 100% consistent from beginning to end. This god of the Old Testament was ruthless and evil, and if he were real, we certainly would be afraid of his wrath, and on pins and needles because we would never know what little thing we do in ignorance might piss him off.
In the New Testament, we're supposedly forgiven because Jesus suffered in our place. The only thing is, "salvation" seems to be a sort-of light switch, constantly turning off and on. If I mess up, I'm headed for Hell until I repent. Not that anyone would directly say that, but it's implied in every sermon.
I suppose the most ironic thing about this "motivator for being holy" is that it's entirely fear based. God, in this picture, is an abuser. He's irrationally angry and will send you to eternal punishment ("where the worm dieth not") for really minor infractions, and for things that are considered sinful for no logical reason. It isn't a "works salvation," but it is. You can't earn salvation, but you have to try. You can be a really good person, do all of the things Yahweh insists upon, and still go to Hell because, well, works don't really count -- thought crimes will get you. Your church has an organ! Sorry, you're going to Hell! Oh, you thought you were saved before your were baptized? Sorry, your obedience doesn't count... off to Hell for you, too!
Illogical. But we aren't supposed to trust our own judgment, we're supposed to figure out what this inconsistent book is trying to tell us.
In Ron Reagan's FFRF ad, he concludes by saying "Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in Hell." When I first heard that I wasn't sure about its effectiveness, because to Christians this would sound arrogant. But the truth is that there's no reason to be afraid of burning in Hell. There's no reason to fear the wrath of a mythological being. In my imaginary conversations with Christians, I would ask them if they were afraid that Zeus would strike them with lightning. Their answer, of course, would be "no." Why? "Because Zeus isn't real." But aren't you afraid that he'll strike you with lightning for saying he isn't real? "Well, no, because he can't, because he isn't real!" Exactly! Yahweh can't send me to Hell because he isn't real. He can't get mad at me for saying he isn't real, because he isn't real! If you aren't afraid of Greek gods, you shouldn't be afraid of Hebrew gods, either.
Ah, the joys of being semi-closeted! I knew I'd hear some ridiculous stuff after hurricane Harvey hit our area.
My wife's sister and her husband lost their home. They're insured, but the house was paid off and they intended to live in it until their kids told them they were too old to be on their own. It's going to be a multiple-months long headache rebuilding. They're with us for the moment, and she was in Walmart the other day waiting for the next self-check register when the woman ahead of her randomly spouted off that she thought all of the events had been good for us, because it brought us all together. My sister-in-law replied that her house was literally under water, and she didn't think that whatever social impact it may have had was worth it.
Of course, that wasn't a Christiany opinion that the woman had, just a generally clueless one.
Then there's the facebook share of an article claiming that this must have been a miracle, because only about 60 lives were lost and with a flood this size you might have expected 1000 or more. So, what, your god underestimated the number of angels he needed to save people, and sent 60 too few? Or maybe 59 too few, because that husband and wife in Katy -- the husband was a beloved pastor -- could have been saved with the help of only one angel. Tell the families of those 60 people that this was a miracle. What a wimpy god you folks believe in!
And then there was church Sunday night. In churches of Christ they don't believe in miracles, but they do believe in divine providence (which really is just miracles that aren't obvious). So the preacher was talking about "the chastening of the Lord" and about how sometimes problems are the Lord's chastening, and sometimes they aren't. He talked about how ol' Yahweh said that Satan had incited him against Job, even though Satan was the one doing the work. So Yahweh sort-of took credit for the actions of Satan. The conclusion of the lesson was that it's impossible to tell whether it was random chance, the work of Satan but allowed by God, or the work of God himself trying to bring about some eternal good, but that we should use it to strengthen our faith. Because what really matters is salvation, of course, eternal life, not this temporary life on this wild and woolly planet Earth.
I wonder when people say things like that if there's any cognitive dissonance. Or maybe it's evidence that he's found a way to get rid of the cognitive dissonance. But I don't think he knows what he said, which is that is that it's impossible to tell the difference in a world with this kind of god in charge and in a world without one. There are no obvious happenings that would show us that there are invisible helpers (or invisible hinderers). Church-of-Christ folks know this, yet they still believe!
My sister-in-law and her husband have been going through a lot in the last few years, and just a week ago a major difficulty in their life was worked out. They thought they were finally going to get some rest. For one day. She basically said that she figured she'd learned enough patience, and didn't need any more training. I think maybe she has some doubts. But she'll shove them down and get on with her life, and continue practicing her mythology. They'll continue to live a life where they take care of way more than their share of their own and other people's burdens, and never see that it's they who are "angels," not any invisible beings. They'll attribute their own strength to the help of this invisible being, despite the clear evidence in their own lives that that god doesn't exist.
Mark Twain supposedly said "Faith is believin' what you know ain't so." Peter Boghossian, in "A Manual for Creating Atheists," insists that faith is pretending to know things that you don't know. And he insists that other definitions of faith, for example faith in a person's ability to do something, are not really faith, because they're based on your knowledge of the person's ability and history. I think he's wrong to say that this definition of the word is invalid, because it's certainly how it's used most of the time. What he's trying to do is get people to see that that sort of faith does not equal faith in the Biblical sense. That's true -- it's a different thing, and perhaps it gives people who have religious faith (belief in gods and spirits and miracles) some reason to think that their faith is reasonable, because the same word has a meaning that reflects faith justified by evidence.
But what does the Bible actually say? Well, most everyone has heard the verse: Hebrews 11:1 -- "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Christians (and many non-Christians) can quote this off the top of their heads. But what does it actually mean? It is the Biblical definition of faith. What is it getting at?
This verse begins the passage often referred to as the "Hall of Faith." The Hebrew writer goes on to talk about what certain Old Testament heroes did because they had faith. Generally speaking, the point is that they couldn't see the future things that their god had promised them, but they believed it anyway, and acted accordingly. The story of Joseph is that on his deathbed he gave instructions that when Israel would leave Egypt, they should take his bones with them to the land of promise. They weren't even in captivity yet. There weren't enough of them to be a nation yet. But he believed that his descendants would eventually go to the land that their god had promised them, and he wanted to be buried there.
So let's break that definition down. "The substance of things hoped for." If you're hoping for something but you don't have it, have never seen it, and nobody has ever seen it, then there is no "substance" to it. Faith takes the place of substance, allowing the believer to, well, believe. "The evidence of things not seen." This is essentially redundant. What is evidence? Evidence is the set of facts, observations about either physical specimens or the leftover effects of physical processes, that lead one to believe a certain thing exists, or a certain event happened. But "evidence of things not seen" implies belief without what would normally lead to belief.
To put it more succinctly, faith is a substitute for substance, and a substitute for evidence. So Boghossian's definition fits the Bible definition here. Twain, of course, was jesting. People don't know that what they have faith in isn't really so, but his statement is a way to call attention to the fact that Biblical faith allows people to believe things that they can't possibly know, and, in fact, to believe things that are demonstrably false. There's no dome above the Earth, as early Bible passages describe. The Universe is 13.8 billion years old, not the 6000-10000 you would calculate using the Bible, and it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Hebrew writer was trying to assure his readers that there is an afterlife. There's no evidence for this at all, so in order to believe it one must accept that the New Testament writers knew it to be true. Yet the Hebrew writer himself has no confidence other than faith -- he substitutes faith for evidence, and even tells us that's what he's doing. Not very confidence inspiring, is it?
I've said on occasion that I'm glad I was raised in a fundamentalist church (Non-institutional Church of Christ, to be specific). The reason I'm glad is that if I had been raised in a mainline Christian denomination, I might never have had a reason to question what I believed.
So what is it about "fundamentalism"? How am I defining that? Essentially, it's the belief that the Bible is the word of Yahweh, that every word, while written by people, was overseen by the Holy Spirit and therefore is exactly what Yahweh wants to convey.
The Bible itself does not assert such a thing anywhere. Peter does refer to the writings of Paul as "scripture" at one point, but that's about all you've got. The reason fundamentalists have this belief is that they assert that Yahweh could have made "his" book perfect, without error, and 100% consistent from beginning to end; because he could have, he would have, and therefore he did.
That's it! But to hold this belief, fundamentalists must impose whatever beliefs they've settled on, on top of every passage in the Bible, whether it really fits or not.
The truth is that beliefs of the Old Testament writers barely resemble the beliefs of the New Testament writers. And the writers of the first books of the OT had substantially different beliefs than the writers of the later books of the OT.
And all you have to do to figure this out is to start at the beginning and read it with an open mind. I say "all you have to do" as if it's easy -- it isn't. When you've spent your entire life being taught that it must all fit, and you have all of the "answers" to make it fit, it's pretty hard to read without imposing the things you've already been taught upon it.
But it can be done. If you're interested, start with these two things:
Genesis 3 -- There's no "Satan" here. Yes, Jesus in the NT says something that may lead you to believe that Satan is that serpent, but ignore that for a few minutes and just read the chapter. "The serpent was more subtle than the beasts of the field." Does that sound like Satan did this, or is it just that snakes are sneaky? No, you don't and I don't believe snakes are smart enough to be sneaky, but the author did.
Deuteronomy 32 -- Read this from the ESV. The ESV uses the Septuagint here, which is older than the Masoretic, and the Septuagint agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Oh, they told you the Dead Sea Scrolls didn't have any significant differences from the Masoretic? Not so! Especially here!) In this passage, we see that the Most High God divided the people of earth into nations based on the number of his sons. Each got a portion, or a nation. And the Lord's (aka Yahweh) portion were the descendants of Jacob. Yahwah/Jehovah/The Lord/Adonai INHERITED Israel. The rest of the chapter explains how The Lord is much better at leading his people than his brother gods are. The other Bible versions use the Masoretic text here, and that version of the Hebrew Scriptures came along several hundred years after the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and its compilers deliberately altered the text here to align with their belief that there was only one god.
Those two passages alone should be enough to disabuse anyone of the idea that the Bible is 100% consistent. And if you're a fundamentalist like I was, that's enough by itself to turn you into a non-Christian and allow you to start looking for the truth.
This isn't a blog post, really, just a place for a couple of bookmarks.
I follow Captain Cassidy on Twitter, who writes the blog "Roll to Disbelieve" on patheos. She recently tweeted a link to an older blog post of her own called The Four Facts of the Resurrection (Aren’t)
Here, she discusses how four "facts" about the resurrection that even non-believers don't dispute, aren't facts at all, aren't well attested, and are certainly not accepted by non-believers. These facts are:
And in that post, she links a site discussion the lack of ancient sources that reference Jesus. That site discusses what Christian apologists call the 10 / 42 argument, which claims that there are more ancient attestations of Jesus than there are for Tiberius Caesar. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be not even remotely true. Find that web page here: Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan
Update: I think I'll use this post for interesting links. Here's one from Bob Seidensticker's blog Cross Examined about the ancient "combat myths" of the creation, and how the Bible actually describes Israel's version, even though Christians don't recognize it. (These are considered "difficult passages" because they don't agree with Christian belief, so Christians just write them off as "difficult".) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2017/02/combat-myth-the-curious-story-of-yahweh-and-the-gods-who-preceded-him-2/
Here's the Wikipedia entry on Yahweh explaining where he came from. Seems he wasn't originally an Canaanite god, but may have come from Egypt. I need to read more about this. Israel was Canaanite nation, worshiping "El" (IsraEL), El having had 70 sons (among whom Baal is the most prominent). Yahweh was eventually conflated with El. I'm not sure how this works with Deuteronomy 32 (though that passage is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry).
Here's an article about the declining numbers of Church-of-Christ affiliated students in Church-of-Christ affiliated colleges.
I posted in the forums about how my older son discovered the truth about the Bible after he decided he really needed to study more. He had managed to come out of the closet and, he thought, not destroy his relationships. Well, it turned out to be more complicated than that, and it got really complicated for me, as well.
My son and his wife had a baby. They live in another town, and his in-laws live there, as well. So we went to see meet new granddaughter. They weren't at church that Sunday, and in fact left the hospital for home about the time of the evening service. My wife and I went to church. We noticed my son's father-in-law looking what we thought was his usual odd self. We didn't really want to talk to him because even though our son was accepted as a "visitor" and "former member" by the church, his father-in-law is one of the "church discipline" types who thinks you can't have anything at all to do with any Christian who is "living in sin," and that being a Christian who has rejected God is "living in sin." (In other words, there's no such thing as an "ex-Christian." If you leave, you're an "erring Christian.")
So when it was over we answered a few questions about the baby for the people who were asking and congratulating us, and then we made our way to the car. We planned to pick up dinner and take it to our son's house. But father-in-law went out a side door and intersected our path! As he approached, making a bee-line for me, my wife congratulated him on the new granddaughter, which interrupted his train of thought. He turned to her and shook her and and said "you -- congratulations!" Then he turned to me, refusing my hand, and said "and you... I KNOW YOUR SECRET." I replied "ohhhh kay?" and we proceeded to the car.
Boy, was my wife mad. I was shocked. How in hell did he know I was an atheist? It was a tough night, but I didn't really know that anything would come of it. Our son already had a chilly relationship with him.
The following Wednesday night I went to Bible class, and as usually, afterwards took our older granddaughter outside to play. But a little while later one of the elders came out and found me, and asked if they could speak with me. I took my granddaughter to our other son and told him the elders wanted to see me, then I went to the room they were meeting in. Only two of the three were there. One of them said to me, quite sheepishly, really, that they had been told I had a blog called "The Closet Atheist." Well, of course, that was true, but in my shock I was able to act shocked enough to deny it and, I thought, seem believable. I asked what it was, and he started to explain to me what a blog was. When I said, no, I understood that, he told me how there were pages and pages of posts dating back several years. After attempting to deny it, they said that they weren't inclined to believe it, but that they felt they had to ask.
I wandered out in a daze and went home. My wife hadn't gone that night and I didn't say anything to her. She was unaware of the blog.
So, I need to back up a bit. When my son first indicated that he was doubting, he also implied that his wife was kind-of on board with him. That was wishful thinking. In an effort to be supportive (and, frankly, because I was so happy for him) I told him about the blog, and even said he could tell his wife about it. I wanted her to know that even if they didn't agree, that didn't mean he wasn't the person she married, and it didn't mean their marriage was over. The baby's birth was four month's away at this point, and it really seemed important that she not suffer any undue stress. In reality, the realization that there are no such things as gods shouldn't cause anything but joy in one's life, but when you have fundamentalist family, it isn't simple at all. I wanted to help.
But his wife really still believed, and she's not one to keep secrets, so when conversing and seeking advice from her parents, she mentioned my blog.
Later in the week the elders emailed me wanting to meet again. I had to tell her now, and she yelled at me about how naive I had been. She's never been more right. I trust people. My daughter-in-law loves me. She wasn't trying to sabotage me or betray me, yet that's exactly what she did. My honesty plus hers combined to start an avalanche.
I didn't know whether to be relieved or scared to death. My younger son and his family were moving... that Wednesday was to be the last one at this church, and they were headed on a vacation/journey to a new home on the West Coast. They left before I could talk to him. Right here -- this is it. The ONLY reason I cared whether anyone knew I was an atheist is because I was afraid it would affect my relationship with this younger son, and that he wouldn't want his daughter to be around me much. That's it. That's the only real negative that could happen in my life. And if that happened, my wife would never forgive me. Literally, not metaphorically, never forgive me.
The blog was somewhat cryptic, in the sense that if someone had stumbled across it they wouldn't have suspected it was mine. Yet there was enough information in there that if someone said it was mine, and someone else read it, I wouldn't be able to deny it, so before my meeting with the elders I decided I'd better come clean. I admitted it was mine, and I said that I would go before the congregation and ask for forgiveness. I took the blog down before sending the email. I also said that I would begin a Bible study via email with a preacher who was well educated, but a member of a "mainline" church rather than one of the non-institutional groups. (My thinking was that this would keep the rumor mill quiet. I didn't have to tell that preacher what was behind it, and he wouldn't have any discussions with "our" preachers.)
The next Wednesday night I showed up early (along with my wife, who went into the auditorium to both suffer embarrassment and to be comforted by the other ladies who were there early. I went into the office to meet with the three elders, and the preacher was there, too. He didn't know much about what was going on except for what the elders had told him in a few minutes, and he had not seen the blog (which was gone by this time). He was aware of my older son's deconversion and had actually had a number of discussions with him about it. Again, I made my promise to study, and I indicated that I wished to continue to be a member of the church. I was to go forward to offer public confession after the "invitation" was offered ("invitation" is Church-of-Christ speak for "altar call") and "acknowledge my sin." One of the elders remarked that most people in my situation would just say "I'm outta here!" and he wondered why I didn't respond that way. My honest reply was that there was simply no advantage to it, and that it would cause too many problems within my own family. They accepted this reasoning.
So then there was the confession: This was tough. I told about the blog, and explained that I needed to confess because that was public and required public "repentance." I apologized to my wife and thanked her for putting up with me. Then one of the elders got up and made a few comments. I interrupted to ask that nobody call my younger son, who was on his way to his new home, because I hadn't talked to him yet and he didn't know what was going on. Then they prayed for me.
Afterward, people offered all sorts of words of encouragement. Several people wanted to talk way too much, and in the next couple of week some brought me reading material.
I called my son the next day and left a message. He eventually called me back. He was upset, but he said he wasn't surprised. I talked to him about how Moses apparently believed that there was more than one god, and he said he knew that already! (So why is he still a believer.) I didn't tell him everything, but at the end he asked me to please say that I still believed that Jesus was the son of God, so I lied and said "yes." Since then, he hasn't said a word about it and I really think he doesn't want to know any more.
And since that time, I quit leading singing. One of the elders did ask several months later if I was going to start leading singing again, and I indicated that I was pretty happy to be retired from that. I may get that uncomfortable question again, but I can easily dismiss it if my wife isn't around. (When she's around it's harder to just dismiss, because it embarrasses her and she doesn't go to bat for me -- she takes the side of the person who's bugging me. I end up having to try to justify my decision. It's a pain, especially because she knows I'm an atheist!)
Occasionally, one of the other elders asks me how I'm doing, meaning "spiritually," and I say "pretty well." That's all there is to that conversation.
And that's it at this point! I show up most Sunday mornings by myself and use the time to read, and I go other times when my wife makes it, but not usually by myself. Nobody really expects much of me any more, and that's quite a relief.
I hope that some day my younger son won't be able to avoid the truth, and we can just be done with it. My older son surprised me when he figured it out, so it could happen.
I may decide to write a book someday. I wrote this post because I had never written this stuff down. It's kind of hurried, so there may be typos and awkward wording, but if I wait any longer I'll forget things.
There's a saying by Reinhold Niebuhr known as the "Serenity Prayer." It says "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".
A discussion in the forums made me realize something today: For a Christian, the above is impossible, or nearly so. That's why they think the prayer is so important that they post it on knick-knacks all over their houses. They want their god to grant these things to them, but because they really think that by praying they should be able to change those things that are beyond their control, they will never have that serenity.
But as an atheist, this is easy! Once I realized that there was no such thing as Yahweh or any other god, I actually gained that peace that is beyond the Christian's understanding. I know for a fact that there are some things I can change, and some that I can't, and so accepting the things I cannot change becomes easy.
There are many things that Christianity claims for itself that are merely wishful thinking. The "peace that passes understanding" is once. Another important one is "ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." These are things that only the atheist can enjoy.
For various reasons -- mostly family related -- I'm semi-closeted, "making an effort" in order to avoid uncomfortable discussions -- so I show up for church on Sunday morning. I use the opportunity during the sermon to read. (I've just started "The God Delusion!") Since I am using the Nook app on my phone, nobody knows that it I'm not following the sermon in my Bible.
But I can't help hearing the sermon to some extent and seeing the slides. This morning's sermon was about "God's Presence." It was pretty much what you would expect.
How can we know that God not only exists but is near us? Some families just returned from a road trip out West, and having posted a number of beautiful pictures on Facebook, well, there's evidence right there, is there not? (Spoiler: No, actually that's evidence of 4.5 billion years of geology.) Preacher's point was that the fact that we perceive this as beauty is evidence of God.
And then there are the things that make us happy: Look at that cute baby! Wow, that ice cream sure tastes good! I love my children and grandchildren so much! Surely the fact that God has given us these wonderful things is evidence of his presence, his nearness! (Please ignore the circular reasoning!)
But that's not enough to convince a person, so what about this? You got to eat this morning! That's right, the fact that your needs are met is evidence that God is near.
But lest you be going through a rough time and are having a hard time appreciating all of the wonderful things in your life, please listen to this. Preacher suggests that if we wanted to, we could all make a list of the problems we're having right now. The aches and pains, the fact for some audience members that they're out of work, or that a loved one is sick or has recently died. And if we were so inclined, we could all make lists and compare then. By doing so, we might find out just who among us has it the very worst! But even after having done that, we still have blessings, don't we?! So you see, we still know that God is near!
Yes, that was the lesson. He's usually a pretty good preacher with some decently deep thoughts, but this lesson was as shallow as it could be. To boil it down, he's suggesting that we can have confidence in God's presence if we learn to exercise cognitive bias! If we learn to count the hits and ignore the misses, we'll have more faith!
That's it! Aren't you thrilled to know how easy it is to believe?
In "The Case for Christianity" C.S. Lewis wrote:
Can you see the problem here? He says "God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way." According to the Bible, there was no "if." Jehovah purposed to send the redeemer before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:3-5 says:
Christians who don't believe that Jehovah predestined each individual who would be saved, such as those in churches of Christ, believe that this is saying simply that Jehovah knew people would sin so he predestined the method by which they would be redeemed, and it seems to me that the wording supports that view.
Let's dissect this: The definition of "sin" is simply doing one's own will instead of Jehovah's will. Jehovah cannot sin, by definition, because whatever he does is his own will. Without free will there is no sin, so when Jehovah gave the angels free will he created sin. He didn't sin himself, because that is impossible by definition, but also by definition sin virtually came into existence the moment the option was opened up.
The ironic thing here is that it says he predestined us to adoption according to the kind intention of His will. The "kind intention of his will" is that he was going to create a class of eternal beings, give them the ability to choose to follow their own will instead of his own, knowing full well that's what the majority would do and that he would have no choice but to send them to Hell, which he created for the Devil and his angels (to whom he had also given free will, by the way), and he did it anyway! So according to the Bible Jehovah created two classes of eternal beings -- angels and humans -- and gave them the ability to sin. He apparently had better luck with the angels, since only a portion of them chose to do their own will (but without the avenue of redemption), whereas every last human ever born chooses to rebel against him. Does that definition of "kind" seem different than the one you normally use?
This cannot be stated too strongly: According to the Bible Jehovah knew ahead of time that the majority of humans would wind up in that place that he supposedly didn't intend them to be in.
This discussion is not intended to say that Jehovah is evil or malicious or anything of the sort. This discussion is intended to make the reader realize that Jehovah is a not-well-thought-out concept of a god that obviously does not exist. And while C.S. Lewis wrote this in defense of Christianity, does he not himself sound full of doubt? It's as if he's saying "I don't know why Jehovah created free will; it doesn't seem to be a good thing, but he's God so he must know what he's doing."
There's another quote that is relevant here. It's reputed to be by Epicurus, although that seems doubtful since his Greek culture was polytheistic and the quote is about a monotheistic god. Nevertheless, it presents something that through the ages has been referred to as "the problem of evil," and it's about as good of an argument against the existence of the god of the Bible as I've ever read:
Why indeed? Why even think such a being exists?
I don't know what it's like to not think about Christianity. Having been told the Bible was non-fiction from the time I was old enough to understand, and then in my 50's realizing that it's really just a book of myths, legends, and embellished history, it has thus-far been impossible for me to let go of this near obsession. Christianity affected nearly everything in my life, and realizing that it isn't true does not lessen the impact of it on my life in any significant way. Living in a place where nearly everyone believes it doesn't help. What must it have been like for the Romans and Greeks who first realized that their gods weren't real? I suspect that I can identify with them to some extent, except that they may have been in danger of being arrested. 500 years ago a person who told the truth about the Bible might have been arrested, too, but fortunately that isn't so today (at least not in the U.S.A.) What I really hope happens soon is that I forget about all of this, that I do not spend so many of my waking moments obsessing about Christianity. It's a mentally exhausting preoccupation. I hope that writing about it here provides the catharsis for me to put it in the past.
Now that I'm on the outside (mentally at least, though being in the closet I still go to church), it occurs to me that there are some words and phrases I used as a Christian that make no sense any more, and ways of expressing thoughts that now seem bizarre. These terms and phrases were designed to keep people in, and from the outside they're meaningless. Here are a few of them, with an explanation as to why they're so strange to me now.
1. Lost their faith
As a Christian, I don't think I even understood what this meant. When someone quit going to church, we said they had lost their faith whether they publicly declared that they didn't believe the Bible or not. If they quit going to the Church of Christ and started going to the Methodist church, we still said they had lost their faith. I don't think I ever thought about what faith really meant in this context, if it was a thing that could be lost or found. Mark Twain is wrote the following:
Now that I'm no longer a believer, I realize those who quit Christianity don't do so because they've lost anything. OK, maybe Twain was wrong, because a person who believes the Bible to be the word of Jehovah doesn't know it isn't.
The sad thing here is that we're warned so much about losing our faith that we go to great lengths to protect it. When we start to question, we do not launch an investigation to determine the truth. Instead we buy books and talk to people who are supposed to understand the Bible better with the goal of convincing ourselves that it's all true.
Faith requires ignoring the cognitive dissonance. When you realize the truth the phrase "losing your faith" no longer makes any sense, because all you've really done is realize how foolish (or simply fooled) you were before. To borrow another Biblical term, faith isn't a thing to be grasped.
That isn't to say that faith isn't real. My wife has faith in me and I in her, faith that we are both as committed to one another as we claim to be. This faith comes from experience, having developed trust in the other person. That faith can be destroyed by the other person, but we can't simply lose it. To make that more clear, I would not suddenly wake up one day and wonder whether my wife would cheat on me. I would not even, over time, begin to wonder whether she would cheat, eventually losing my faith in her. This could only happen if she were to do something to destroy that faith. Faith in Jehovah can't be "lost", either, and Jehovah can't destroy it, because it was based on fiction in the first place. Once we no longer have faith in the god of the Bible we can't say we've lost anything, only that we've learned the truth.
2. Fell away
I picture an open airship of some sort that a person can accidentally fall off of. Maybe I should picture a cruise ship, as drunk passengers do occasionally fall off of them. They fall away and get left behind, and it's a tragedy.
I get it. I've been on the end of having someone I cared about "fall away". From the inside it literally feels like a death in the family! But from the outside you realize that no such thing has happened. From the outside, being mourned for realizing there are no gods makes about as much sense as going into a deep emotional pit because your child realized that Santa Claus isn't real. To the person who supposedly "fell away", what really happened is that their eyes were opened to the truth. It's a time of rejoicing, because I'm no longer deceived. And it's a time of rejoicing because I'm no longer afraid that my relatives who "died without knowing the Lord" are in torment awaiting Hell! I haven't fallen: The scary ride just finally stopped and I got off.
3. Believe in
As a Christian I thought (like everyone around me) that you could choose to believe in things, and that you could reject a god that you knew was real. If a person who had been a Christian "fell away" it was probably because they didn't want to live according to Jehovah's rules. There must have been something they wanted to do that was sinful, so they just said "I don't believe in Jehovah" as a way of deceiving themselves.
Now I understand that the term "believe in" doesn't even apply to things that are real. A child believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. If Santa Claus was real, they wouldn't have to believe in him! A person doesn't believe in their house or their job or their spouse, because they know their house and job are real and their spouse is a part of their life. There are even things you can't see that do not require the phrase "believe in," such as bacteria. But a person who says that Jehovah is real must say they believe in him.
1 + 1 = 2. I don't have to believe in that, I simply understand it. Though I had to be taught what the symbols meant, the concept is intuitively obvious. Not so with Jehovah. Jehovah must be taught. Jehovah must be imagined.
The most important thing here is that you cannot choose whether you believe in Jehovah or not. You believe in Jehovah only because you've chosen to ignore evidence to the contrary (or perhaps never paid enough attention to notice it), and generally you seek out reasons to believe. Once you become aware that there's no such thing you don't choose to not believe, you simply cannot force yourself to believe something that isn't true!
4. Atheism is a religion
5. Evolution is a religion
Atheism is by definition not a religion. Atheism is the understanding that there are no gods. Atheism does not require one to pursue it. Although I'm a bit consumed with it now, atheism does not need me or anyone else to follow it.
And there's not any such thing as an "evolutionist"! Evolution is simply a field of study. Nobody worships Charles Darwin, and people who study evolution are quite aware of where he was right and where he was wrong. He did a really good job at getting the field started, but science is about learning, about understanding, and it requires knowing that there's always more to learn. Science, and in particular the field of evolution, can be pursued, but nobody thinks of it as a god.
By the way, there are plenty of Christians (who you, if you are a fundamentalist, might refer to as "so-called Christians") who accept evolution. Michael Behe, the fellow behind the "irreducible complexity" theory that "Intelligent Design" people love to use, believes in common descent. Young Earth Creationists quote Behe, but only so far as irreducible complexity is concerned, because he believes that evolution was guided by Jehovah.
6. Money or fame or fancy cars or television or celebrities are gods
It's good not to get too wrapped up in stuff. A person can get obsessed with things and lose sight of what is most important in life, namely, relationships with other people.
To say those things are gods can only come from a religious perspective. That saying implies that the person pursuing those things is substituting them for Jehovah. They aren't, because there are no gods.
The problem with saying these unimportant things are our gods is that, from the Christian perspective, even things that are truly important are seen as usurping Jehovah in our lives, therefore becoming our gods. If we spend time with our families, whether it's Wednesday night Little League games or vacation in a place where we may not go to an "established church" on Sunday, our family has become "our god" and we have sinned.
Family is not a god, but family is important. The same is true of caring for other people. Some really good teaching on this is attributed to Jesus. The person who pursues material goods in this life to the exclusion of relationships may be selfish or simply clueless when it comes to establishing priorities, but those things aren't a substitute for "Jehovah", they're a substitute for the better things in life.
7. "This life"
I actually typed "the person who pursues material goods in this life" above, then I realized what I had done. There's no reason to specify this life, because there is no other life. This is all we have, so we'd better try to make it as pleasant as we can for ourselves, for people around us, and for the generations to come. To do good is not to try to get a reward in a future existence whether that's a better position in a reincarnated life or a place in Heaven, it's to go through life spreading happiness.
8. Without the objective standard that the Bible gives us, nobody can say what is good and what is evil.
This. Is. HUGE.
There are more people in the world who do not claim to be Christians than there are who claim to be. There are people who practice Buddhism and Hinduism who are very kind and good people, and they don't look to the Bible to find out what is good and what isn't.
The saying among Humanists is "be good for goodness sake", which sounds like a Christmas song. But the Christian says we cannot know what "good" is.
The Old Testament actually condones evil in some cases. The case of Israel being told to kill every man woman and child among the Amalekites is literally genocide. If a nation at war were to do that today, we would try the generals, corporals, and even some privates for war crimes. Why? Because even if they were just following orders, they're supposed to know better. It is immoral to kill non-combatants, downright evil to kill children except in self defense, and we know this. But if we were to depend on the Bible for our moral code, we would allow such horrible things.
But that point is not necessary to reach the conclusion. Even if there was nothing evil in the Bible attributed to Jehovah, he wouldn't be necessary for us to know the difference between good and evil.
There's a very good question that has been asked, but is hard to word coherently. I'll try here:
Is a thing good because Jehovah says it's good, or does Jehovah inform us of what is good because it is inherently good and he wants us to know?
If it's good because Jehovah says so, then it's arbitrary: Capital punishment for adultery is somehow "good". But if Jehovah tells us what is good because it is inherently good, then his existence is not necessary for there to be such a thing as goodness.
The truth is that we know what is good and what is bad. Yes, there are sociopaths who seem to have no concept of right and wrong, but most people know that if you do something hurtful to another person, that's wrong. And you don't have to have religion to know this.
Evolution actually explains this quite well: Those members of the species who cooperated fared better than those who were selfish. Some people insist that "survival of the fittest" means "might makes right" but the overly selfish animal or person is not particularly fit. The Bible even says "if two lie together they can stay warm." Evolution agrees.
If what you do harms another, it's bad. If harm cannot be avoided, for instance if you have to choose who to favor, then do as little harm as possible. But causing deliberate harm to another is evil.
Speaking to the reverse, we really should be trying to help, not just avoiding harm. We should be doing good.
And billions of people around the world know the difference even without the Bible.