A Huge Miracle…

I am still unfortunately sick with the flu, but I want to share a few thoughts… I don’t think I can stress enough or adequately put into words what a HUGE MIRACLE being delivered from all of that almost constant anger and rage really is! The FREEDOM from it is WONDERFUL!! I was a good person before I was delivered, but now I am TOTALLY FREE to be ME, and to shine my Light everywhere without reservation and without the possibility of getting caught up in anger again… It’s like a HUGE WEIGHT has permanently been lifted off of me… it’s just no longer there! And I want to press in and really get to know the God who did this for me… that doesn’t necessarily translate to a return to extreme fundamentalism again. I’m not interested in that… there’s too much stuff I would have to believe again that I know isn’t actually true… and I could never see the Bible as inerrant or infallible again… but I am interested in serving God as I understand Him with gratefulness and love in my heart… and I am spending time reading widely on both sides of the religious fence, out of curiosity and out of love for the faith that I once abandoned and openly ridiculed…

But to answer my friend Ryan’s question in another post thread, I don’t think having a religion is really necessary. For me, it works, but I think if there is a God, that He would care more about us being loving and kind toward one another than He would about us subscribing to a particular belief system. My Christianity is extremely liberal, and I view Jesus as more of a moral teacher than anything else, and if pressed to answer the question of his resurrection, I would have to say no, due to lack of evidence and due to my knowledge of how Jesus became God as outlined in Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book of that same name, “How Jesus Became God”. But what does impress me from the pages of that book is how Jesus was already being worshiped as God just a few years after his death… so I dunno… by beliefs are not settled, and I don’t think they have to be right now…

My Religious Journey

Man, what an interesting and incredible and amazing ride this religion thing has been! I was raised United Methodist until I was 10 years old, and then I went back for the Confirmation process in my early teens. And then I didn’t think about religion too much for a few years until we moved across town and I met my new fundamentalist Christian neighbors. Bob and Roxann and I had many interesting religious conversations and I even went to church with them at least once, but for some reason religion just didn’t “stick” at that point in time. I wasn’t convinced and I wasn’t interested. But I was spiritually curious. This was the early 80’s, and I read a lot of the New Age stuff that was in the bookstores and popular at that time, and as teens sometimes are, I was interested in the darker side of spirituality. I looked into out of body experiences and astral travel and I had more than a passing interest in Satanism. I have never been a big KISS fan, but I do like the songs “Lick It Up” and “Heaven’s on Fire.”

I can remember as a teenager imagining that I was worshiping the devil when I listened to that music, lol… it’s funny to me now because I knew and still know basically nothing about modern Satanism, whether the theistic variety or not. LOL… although several years ago I met a theistic Satanist online named Diane Vera and she seemed like a nice person and she was very intelligent but… kooky, lol… She was convinced that Satan existed and was worthy of her worship because a dish that should have been dirty with dust was somehow magically clean… or something… Oooookayyy…. LOL

But anyway… I do remember not liking Jesus or Christmas too much, and it was a spiritual dislike… Hmm…

But then I totally got away from any sort of religion or spirituality for a few years, until I went to college and met Michael Allen Dizmang in drama class. I had ZERO acting talent, but our teacher Mr. Kinney found a very small part for me in the play “Candide.” I was a pirate or something. My job was to scratch my body and make pirate noises, lol… 😀

I was only in the drama class for one semester, but it involved a lot of partying, which I enjoyed enthusiastically, being the young party animal that I was. Between all of this partying and attending classes stoned and staying with friends so I could party instead of living at home under my mom’s roof, Mike was talking to me about Jesus. My initial response was to tell him to “get away from me with that Jesus shit!” But Mike kept at it and he didn’t just talk about his faith. He LIVED his faith and put it into action, giving me a coat when it was cold and making sure I was fed when I was hungry. We didn’t know it back in those days, but I was severely mentally ill with Type 2 bipolar disorder that was years away from proper diagnosis. I was not getting along with my mom at the time, and I had moved in with some fellow party animal friends so I could smoke pot all day, and my job at the time was delivering pizza for Domino’s, and the boss was cool and didn’t care if we smoked pot on the job! As long as we didn’t get too stoned to work, lol… Hey man… HA HA HA HA…. here’s your, uh, pizza HA HA HA HA… LOL…

Anyway, Mike finally got me out to his car to read some Bible verses, and when we read Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir and come alive in me, and I thought, “Hey, there might be something to this Jesus shit!” So, we prayed that day in his car. It was a Honda Accord, so we were all together in one Accord, lol… and I asked Jesus to be my Savior, and not long after that I attended a showing of the “Jesus Film” at a local Baptist church. That sealed the deal for me. I knew by the time the movie was over that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer! I prayed to receive Christ again just to be sure! 🙂 That was March 7, 1985. Yes, I still remember the date! 🙂

A few months later, it was off to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX for more college. And we still didn’t know that I was seriously mentally ill. Mom and her friend Richard dropped me off at ETBU and unloaded my stuff in my dorm room and left, and I found myself in a strange place, away from home for the first time in my life. I didn’t know a single soul there, and I felt ALONE. I laid down on my bare mattress and cried. And then I went looking for someone to talk to, and within a few minutes I was making new friends. I remember Steve and Chuck and Tommy, but the rest of their names are lost to the mists of time now. It wasn’t too long before my friends found out that I could sing really well, and I got to sing a Michael W. Smith song, “I Am Up”, I believe was the name of it, at the local skating rink’s “Christian Night.” My friends and I also frequently drove across the border to Louisiana to attend numerous Christian concerts. We saw Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart one night, and I got to shake Mylon’s hand backstage! I had gone back for prayer, but Mylon walked up and we shook hands and I said something like, “That was fun!” and he replied, “Yeah, it was!” or something like that. I bet I didn’t wash that hand for a week, lol…

Anyway… the good times at ETBU didn’t last. The mental illness I didn’t know I had at the time raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and smoking pot again… at a Christian school! Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with the powers that be, and I was expelled. Technically, it was an academic suspension since my grades sucked, but the real reason they kicked me out was the partying…

I had no way of knowing it or realizing it at the time back then, but the back and forth yo-yoing of beliefs had begun, and I would be stuck with that cycling for 15 years of my life, swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of doubt and unbelief and often severe substance abuse when I was depressed. I first started questioning my faith at ETBU, and I remember one of my friends using his wallet as an evangelism tool, lol…

When I got home from ETBU, I went into an inpatient hospital facility for alcohol abuse, but it didn’t work, primarily because they didn’t catch the mental illness and it remained untreated. And I kept drinking after I got out, and I thought AA meetings consisted of the longest hours in the history of the universe! Listening to older alcoholics tell “war stories” as they were called was usually boring as hell!

But anyway… I ended up finding a new church, the Shady Oaks Assembly of God, and there too my singing talent was soon discovered and so began several years of frequently singing solos at church. 🙂 I still remember Anna Jo Fortner shouting, “JEFF!!” after she heard me sing for the first time. She was impressed! 🙂

I have only vague memories of my time at Shady Oaks, but it was fun. At one meeting I attended, we got a laugh about God being able to handle the weight of our very obese pastor. I guess you had to be there, lol…
I soon followed the Fortner’s to their new church outside of Brazoria, TX, called Church on the Rock. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and that was place was fun! Yes, church was fun!  I was soon singing solos there and participating in the praise and worship choir, and I made many good friends. I have many very good memories of that church and of our pastor, Brother Watts. He trusted me enough to let me spend the night at his church on more than one occasion. I spent those nights seeking God and blasting Christian Rock music through the awesome sound system and just having fun, as young people know how to do! 🙂

I continued attending Church on the Rock even after I moved to Houston, TX though I often struggled to come up with the gas money. I made the move to Houston in 1988, and so began a seemingly endless stream of low-wage, dead-end jobs over the next few years. I got fired from Macy’s, where I worked an extremely boring job in the Men’s department, for disappearing from work and for poor job performance. But I thought it was a lot more fun to sneak out of the store and browse the nearby bookstore than it was to do my job. In early 1990, my mother hired me to work at her travel agency in Lake Jackson, TX. I entered the computer world for the first time there, and it wasn’t long before I knew enough to do at least some of the computer maintenance, and I also learned how to use now ancient versions of PageMaker and a program called Arts & Letters. So I did computer work and I did graphics design for her newspaper ads.

But back to religion… I found a new church – the Brazosport Christian Center. I made many new friends and I sang solos there too, though not as frequently as I had at Church on the Rock. In March of 1992, I sang Dallas Holm’s song, “Rise Again” at the Brazosport College Follies and won first place. I still have the video of that performance! I was SO very nervous, and I almost forgot the words toward the end of the song. I remembered the words just literally a second before it was time to sing them, and of course I credited God with the save! 🙂

After my time at the Christian Center, I entered a few years where I was still a believer, but I wasn’t nearly as religious as I had been in earlier years. I had many doubts about my faith and questions that I couldn’t find good answers for. And I was still dealing with a then undiagnosed mental illness. So… fast forward to 2000, and I got on the Net as it existed back then and went searching for information that was critical of the Bible or the Christian faith. I found a bunch of it, and my skeptical education began at sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. Let me back up for a minute and explain something. When I was 16 years old, a psychologist told my mother that I had a “free-floating anger” inside of me that could attach itself to anything. And as I read these skeptical atheist sites, that anger and rage attached itself to the fundamentalist Christian faith, and it didn’t let go for 16 years!! After I had absorbed quite an education from these sites, I decided to start my own. I purchased religionisbullshit.com and went to work! My friend Dave, who still runs www.exchristian.net suggested that I turn it into a blog, and the site took off and became popular! This was 2002, and blogs were new back then, and any site that was a blog was almost guaranteed to be popular… I was so ANGRY, and I look back on the posts I made to that site now and I can’t see how my site got any visitors, because in one form or another, my site was about ANGER and RAGE. I took the site offline in 2004 because I felt guilty about all of the anger I was expressing and about how I was portraying Christians on the site. I frequently used this pic to portray Christians as uneducated morons:

Christian

After I took that site offline I experienced one of many brief but intense swings back up into manic religious beliefs, but it didn’t last. It never does. But soon I was back to wanting to do an atheist site again, and I bought another domain name similar to the one I had had before and went to work and tried to regain my former popularity. Harsh reality didn’t take long to hit. It’s hard to build a successful site, and I got lucky with my first site since blogs were new back then. I tried several times over several years to build another successful site, but every effort failed miserably. And I know why now! It’s not because I didn’t have something of value to say. It’s because once again my sites were about ANGER and RAGE, and I delivered my message in probably the worst way possible to actually get it heard. People don’t generally like to read anger and rage, lol… If I hit a site that is angry in tone, I’ll click away too!

So… long story short, I spent several years as a very angry atheist, and I made my views known on Facebook too. I spent a long time there posting some very angry rants against belief in God and against the Bible and the Christian faith. And I deeply regret all of that now. My anger has cost me some dear friends over the last few years, and that includes my band directors from my junior high and high school years.

But my atheism wasn’t consistent. I mentioned earlier that I spent years swinging between devout religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief. I have also tried different forms of spirituality on for size over time, and one of the spiritual teachers I discovered was Eknath Easwaran (www.easwaran.org). He took the best from the world’s major religious traditions and created an 8-Point spiritual program that I still find very uplifting and very beneficial. I meditate frequently on the beautiful Prayer of St. Francis, and I have written a book on putting that prayer into practice in daily life.

So… now 15 years of fundamentalist Christian belief and 16 years of inconsistent but very angry atheism are over, and I am happy with the spirituality that I have embraced now, which is a blending of very liberal Christianity and Eastern religious thought, that being primarily the works of the above-mentioned Eknath Easwaran. Reading his work is like breath of fresh air. And I feel the same way about some passages from the Bible.

So that is where I’m at now… but I do have what I consider to be a miracle to report! That free-floating anger that I mentioned earlier that has plagued me for so many years is… GONE!! And it’s like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders and like a veil has been lifted from my eyes and this blind man can see again! I feel like I’ve been born again… again! Lol…

Living the Prayer of St. Francis

This post contains my thoughts on living the Prayer of St. Francis. I wrote this about five years ago, but I still feel the same way, and I invite you to consider my words. 🙂

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so
much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

For the past couple of months or so, I have been meditating on the Prayer of St. Francis as suggested by Eknath Easwaran as a part of his Eight Point Program. To say that meditating on the prayer is life-transforming would be putting it mildly. And, of course, I have had a desire to make this wonderful, beautiful prayer an integral part of my life. As I was meditating this morning I asked myself, “What if I actually did it?” “What if, instead of just giving mental assent to this prayer as a wonderful ideal, I actually put it into practice in my daily life?” “What if we all actually did so?”

I have, of course, been inspired to live a more compassionate life and to consciously show more love toward others since I began meditating. But how much more life-transforming would it be to really put this prayer into practice in my daily life?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

On a daily basis, at least on an intellectual level, I deeply appreciate the fact that God — who is the Lord of Love — is enshrined not just in my own heart but in the hearts of all. But I would love for that knowledge to move deeper into my heart and to become more real to me in my daily life. I would love for the knowledge that God is all and is in all to be so deeply ingrained in my being that it informs every thought that I have and every action that I take. I would love to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.

And where there is hatred, I would love to sow love. There are so many places in our world where hatred abounds and love is desperately needed — for example, in our political and religious discourse. There is so much hatred and vitriol present on both sides of the fence and on each topic. I am ashamed to say that I have been a part of participating in and spreading that hatred and vitriol. But I am only human and have just been blindly going with the flow of what is sadly normal now in our political and religious discussions and debates, allowing my emotions to run free and for the moment ignoring the fact that my opponent on the other side of the fence or on the other end of the religious or political spectrum is a living, thinking, feeling human being who in all likelihood loves God and country just as much as I do.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

What if all of us made a conscious effort to put aside the emotions that can inflict so much damage and chose instead to listen to and hear the other group’s point of view with an attitude of love and did our best to understand instead of criticize? To those who would say in response, “Well, that would be nice, but it’s not the real world” I would ask, “Why can’t it be? Why shouldn’t it be? What, besides a cynical, jaded attitude toward the idea and a lack of willingness to make a positive change is keeping you, me, or anyone else from it?” Every one of us has the freedom to choose how we will respond at any moment to any given situation. We can respond to those whom we disagree with either with anger and vitriol or with an attitude of understanding and love. The choice is ours to make. It really is just that simple! As Eknath Easwaran relates in his powerful book entitled Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life (Essential Easwaran Library):

It may seem old-fashioned, but I would recommend

standing guard over the gate of

the mouth to ensure that only the right kind of words come out.

It is another form of sense training. Vulgar speech, sarcasm,

gossip, even pointless chatter, should all be denied exit visas.

The Sufis capture this idea in a splendid metaphor. They

advise us to speak only after our words have managed to issue

through three gates. At the first gate we ask ourselves, “Are these

words true?” If so, let them pass on; if not, back they go.

At the second gate we ask, “Are they kind?” If we still feel we

must speak out, we need to choose words that will be support-

ive and loving, not words that embarrass or wound another

person.

At the final gate, we ask, “Are they necessary?” They may be

true, even kind, but it doesn’t follow that they have to be uttered;

they must serve some meaningful purpose. Do they clarify the

situation or help someone? Or do they strike a discordant or

irrelevant note?

All of us understand what blows can do to someone, but we

do not realize that words can create a more painful injury, one

that can last for many years. Nor do we understand the terribly

destructive impact words can have on the consciousness of the

person who uses them.

What a change there would be in our political and religious discourse — and in our discussions on many other topics as well of course — if all of us took the advice of the Sufis to heart concerning our words!

where there is injury, pardon;

When we are injured, our natural conditioned response is to react with anger. When someone does something bad to us or says something bad about us, our natural response is a desire to retaliate. But the much better way to respond — the way that promotes peace and that helps bring love into the world — is to choose to pardon those who have offended us. As the famous Twin Verses of the Dhammapada say:

Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.

“He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” – those who dwell on such thoughts will never be free from hatred.
“He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” –those who do not dwell on such thoughts will surely become free from hatred.

For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law.

Like most people have, I have encountered some bad people in life who have hurt and used me. One person named Rebecca stands out in particular. It’s a long and very embarrassing story and some of the details I prefer to keep private, but suffice it to say that this woman – whom I met over the Internet — lied to me about who and what she was and she used me for the Web skills I possessed that she had need of and when my usefulness was over, she got rid of me in a very cruel way. It made things all the worse that she knew that I had developed romantic feelings for her and she used that knowledge to full advantage. Needless to say, it made the hurt of being used as I was much deeper.

I have bipolar disorder that is very well controlled now, but back in those days I was very ill and very angry. Although violence does not normally come naturally to me at all, I was so enraged by the way Rebecca had treated me that I thought I could probably kill her if the opportunity ever arose. Haven’t we all experienced angry thoughts that we would never actually act upon? It’s just an unfortunate part of the human condition. But now, if I was to encounter Rebecca again, I would give her a big hug and let her know that I forgive her. How she would choose to respond to that would be entirely up to her. The important thing for me is to do the forgiving. Continuing to hate Rebecca and continuing to feel anger toward her serves no purpose except to make me miserable. Responding with love and forgiveness brings healing not just to me, but to the whole situation.

where there is doubt, faith;

Who hasn’t doubted their abilities, their worth, or their faith in God at some point in time? The highest and most wonderful service we can render to anyone who is experiencing those painful times of doubting is to lift them up, give them encouragement, love them, and remind them that even in our times of questioning and doubting God is always present and that He will never leave them or forsake them.

When we are responding with love and compassion, there is no room for judgment or criticism.

Jesus hugging

where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;

Before my bipolar illness was diagnosed and successfully brought under control, I spent years experiencing a great deal of despair and depression, and I went through some really dark and miserable times. I feel a tremendous amount of gratefulness toward my loving and supportive family, my knowledgeable and compassionate physicians, and everyone else who helped me regain my health. There are many people in this world who are suffering for any number of reasons. We live in a troubled world, and problems such as hunger, poverty, disease, crime, alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, racism, physical and mental abuse and many other serious issues afflict far too many of us, causing tremendous suffering. There are no easy fixes to these problems, but again the highest service we can render those who are suffering is to love them, to assure them that there is hope and when we have the power to do so, to offer them a way out of their suffering. Love brings healing, and when we are busy loving others and serving them, it is impossible to criticize them and judge them at the same time.

where there is sadness, joy;

There are many reasons for sadness in this life, too. Who of us hasn’t experienced the pain of the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, for example? When we encounter someone who is experiencing sadness in their life, the highest and greatest service we can render to them is to comfort and console them and do what we can to bring joy back into their life.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The whole thrust of this wonderful prayer is to inspire us to live life in such a way that it brings transformation not just to our own lives, but also to the lives of others. When we put our own needs aside and choose to live a life of service toward others we unleash the incredible power of love, and the joy of seeing the lives of others positively transformed because of our efforts in their behalf is ours to enjoy. What better way and more joyful way of life can there possibly be than to dedicate ourselves to the task of transforming hatred into love, injury into pardon, doubt into faith, despair into hope, darkness into light, and sadness into joy? As St. Francis so truthfully has said, when we give to others we receive, when we pardon others we too are pardoned, and when we die to ourselves we are born to eternal life — a life of peace, love, and joy that will never fade away. As Jesus said:

25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25, New King James Version)

This is the prayer that guides my life and if you haven’t already done so, I hope you will consider making it yours too. St. Francis gave us the formula for a happy, joyful, fulfilled, and deeply meaningful life centuries ago. It’s up to us now to put it into practice in our lives and then watch as the love and compassion we share with others ripples out from us and our entire world is transformed.

Namaste.

The Journey from Christianity to Atheism

I have tried a number of times over the years to explain to people who have never walked the path from Christian –> ex-Christian –> Atheist what that journey is like and what it means to me and to others like me. It is not an easy path to travel at all. The journey from devout Christian religious belief back to the real world is one filled with doubts and questions and a great deal of strong emotion. As I explained it to my high school band director a couple of years ago or so:

My journey from devout religious belief to atheism has been a long and interesting one. I spent 15 years as a very devout fundamentalist Christian. I was the type who annoyed everybody. I wrote evangelistic letters to my family. I tried to convert my friends and co-workers. I handed out those ridiculous Chick tracts to convenience store clerks and toll booth operators. I was at church every time the doors opened, including early morning prayer meetings. I forced my beliefs on everybody all the time and though I meant well, I made a huge nuisance of myself. Despite all of that religious activity and belief, I still had questions that that seemed to have no good answers from my pastors or from the Christian apologists I read. Those questions finally built up to the point where I could no longer ignore them or write them off as coming from the devil.

In early 2000, I got on the Net as it existed back then and started researching my faith on both sides of the fence. I was absolutely stunned to find that the religious skeptics had far better answers than I had encountered from Christian apologists and I was also very surprised to see how easily they ripped my once cherished beliefs to shreds, not through ridicule but with facts. I started reading the skeptical side at www.infidels.org and went from there.

After I got over the shock of having my Christian worldview ripped out from under me, I became very very ANGRY! The fact that I was also very mentally ill at the time with not well controlled bipolar disorder didn’t help matters any. I felt foolish, used, and betrayed when I realized I had been intentionally lied to for 15 years and I had bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Having doubts and questions about religious beliefs is normal if you are a reasonably intelligent thinking person, but in fundamentalist religion, doubting and questioning is strongly discouraged. Just pray about it and have more faith, we are told, and God will take care of it. Sounds nice, except for the fact that it isn’t true. For Christians who want answers to their questions, a whole industry of apologetics has come into being over the past few decades. For some Christians, the answers given by Christian apologists may be enough to keep them in the faith. For others like me, the answers were not satisfying. They did not resolve my doubts or my questions, so inevitably, I went looking elsewhere and found good answers that made sense to me from the place that I least expected it at the time — from the skeptical side of the fence.

I can’t speak for everyone who has made the journey from devout Christian belief to Atheism. But I can share my own personal story and what my journey was like.

I was raised United Methodist until I was ten years old. At that time, I asked my parents if I could stop attending church because I didn’t believe what they were teaching. Since we attended church mostly for social reasons anyway, they agreed. For reasons that I cannot recall now, I was back at that church when I was in my early teens for the Confirmation process. I didn’t think much about religion after that until we moved across town and I got into some interesting religious conversations with my new fundamentalist Christian neighbors. I was a teenager at the time, and Bob and Roxanne were nice people. I discussed religion with them a lot and even attended church with them at least once, but at the time religion just didn’t “take” with me. I became a typical teenage party animal and was totally turned off by religion. A few years later when I was in college, I met a guy named Mike who was a devout Christian. He shared his faith with me and I gradually became more receptive to it. Mike finally got me out to his car to read some Bible verses, and when we read Hebrews 4:12 I felt something stir inside of me, and I thought maybe there really was something to this “Jesus” stuff. Shortly after that, I went to a public showing of the Jesus Film put on by a local Baptist church. I was extremely moved by the movie, and I knew by the time that film was over that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer, and I became a Christian on March 7, 1985. My transformation from a typical teenage party animal to a devout fundamentalist Christian was rapid and dramatic. I stopped drinking and using drugs and threw myself totally and enthusiastically into my new-found faith. I made friends with the music director at the local Baptist church, and I hung out a lot with my friend Mike. We engaged in a whole lot of religious activity and talked about how wonderful and awesome Jesus was all the time. Mike introduced me tho the popular Christian music of the time, and I fell in love with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith and particularly with Keith Green. I loved Keith Green’s music and his strong and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. I wanted to see him in concert badly, and when Mike informed me that he was dead (plane crash in 1982), I was devastated. Shortly after my conversion, my mother bought me a nice Bible and she arranged for me to attend East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX. I arrived there expecting a church-like atmosphere and students who were just as devout as I was. What I found was indeed a religious school, but my fellow students, for the most part, were just typical young adults who happened to have religious beliefs. That was, I suppose, the beginning of my disillusionment and questioning. While I was at ETBU, I began to have serious doubts about my faith. I can remember a friend of mine there using his wallet as an evangelism tool. He tried to assure me that Christianity was for real and that once I was saved that was a done deal that I could never lose.

We did not know it at that time, but I had bipolar disorder that was not diagnosed and so was untreated. What began at ETBU was a cycle of swings between devout religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief featuring severe substance abuse that I would be trapped in for 15 years of my life. I had a great time at ETBU while I was religious. I was able to put my doubts and questions aside enough that I could keep the faith, at least for a while. I had a great time traveling across the border to Louisiana for Christian concerts featuring the stars of the time. I particularly remember seeing a band called Cruse 2 and Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart. Mylon’s music was awesome and I loved the sincerity with which he delivered his message. I jammed for Jesus to their music for years! Back home near Houston, TX I went with my friend Mike to see Michael W. Smith and Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart. I had some really fun times in my younger Christian days! Here’s just a sample of his music from back in those days. I still love the music, though I no longer believe the message.

I had my first bout of doubt and unbelief while I was at ETBU and I started drinking and using drugs again — at a Christian school! Needless to say, they were not happy with me, and they kicked me out after the first summer semester of 1986. If I remember correctly, it was officially an academic suspension because I was not doing well in my classes.

Back home in the Brazosport area of Texas, I soon found a really fun church — Church on the Rock in Brazoria, TX. It was located several miles out of town on Hwy 521. It was a very fun place as churches go. I made friends with the pastor and other leaders of the church, and loved the Charismatic-style praise and worship services, and for a while I participated in the praise and worship choir. I sang solos frequently, and when I could manage to drag my young body out of bed early enough, I attended the 6:00 am prayer meetings. At that time, I was engaging in a great deal of religious activity. I prayed a lot, I worshiped for hours daily, I read my Bible frequently, and I told everyone who would listen about Jesus. I also frequently handed out those Chick tracts, which I thought were an awesome evangelism tool at the time. But even with all of that religious activity, doubts were creeping in. I suppose I could never see the connection between my cherished religious beliefs and the real world, and I know now of course, that that is because there is no connection between religious belief and the real world. I never read anything in the Bible that made me question my beliefs because at that time I had not been exposed to much of the Old Testament, other than scripture that was supposed to be about Jesus. I remember at one early morning prayer meeting, I was so filled with doubt and unbelief that my friend Mike had to pray me through to belief again so that I could enjoy the rest of the prayer meeting. I guess I found it hard to believe in God at 6:00 am in the morning. 🙂 There was also a time during one particular praise and worship service that I was so filled with doubts about the reality of it all that I couldn’t enjoy the service, but everybody else was experiencing a “powerful move of God”, as if we were getting a small taste of what Heaven would be like. Everyone else was awed by how awesome God was, but I felt nothing. I remember testifying later in that service about how I had missed out on the blessing of the awesome worship service, but that God had blessed me anyway. I don’t remember now how I thought God had blessed me or what I said, though. That church was fun. We had slogans for each year such as “Storm the Gate in ’88” and “Draw the Line in ’89”. A few times, the pastor allowed me to spend the night at the church. I played Christian music through their awesome sound system and prayed and worshiped and sought God all night long. At the time, it was an awesome experience, and I was grateful that the pastor trusted me enough to leave me alone in his church all night.

By the time the early 1990’s rolled around, I was working for my mother at her travel agency in Lake Jackson, TX and I had found a new church that I also enjoyed — Brazosport Christian Center. I made friends with the pastor there too, and I sang solos there as well, though not as frequently as I had at Church on the Rock. I made many good friends at both churches, and we all had a great time hanging out together. In 1992, I had the opportunity to perform one of my favorite songs at the time, Dallas Holm’s “Rise Again” at the Brazosport College Follies. I still have the video of that performance:

The next several years I was still a believer, but I was not nearly as religious as I had been when I was a bit younger. But I still believed in God and I still believed that the Bible was His Word. But by early 2000, my doubts and questions had built up to the point that I could no longer write them off to tricks of the devil, and I was not getting good answers from Christian apologists. As I related earlier, I got on the Net as it existed in early 2000, and went looking for information that was critical of the Bible and the Christian religion. I honestly was not expecting to find much. After all, the Bible was the inerrant, infallible Word of God, so what could really be said against it that was valid? I stumbled across http://www.infidels.org and I quickly began to get an education. I found my cherished Christian religious beliefs brought into serious question and basically debunked not with ridicule or derision but with solid evidence and facts. I soon also discovered http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net and my education continued. The author of that site unemotionally but thoroughly debunked the Bible and showed it for what it really is — a collection of ancient religious mythology, most of which was written anonymously. I became aware for the first time that Adam and Eve were not real historical people but rather they were part of an ancient creation myth that makes no sense to modern minds when taken literally. I learned that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are pure mythology. I was exposed to parts of the Old Testament that I had never laid eyes on before, and I learned that on numerous occasions that God had either ordered or directly committed mass murder and genocide. I began to learn that the character of the God of the Bible is not loving as I had been taught. I learned about failed prophecy in the Bible, and that was a shocker at the time because I had been told that fulfilled prophecy was a proof that God had inspired the Bible and that Jesus was the Messiah. I learned many things that brought the beliefs that I had held as Christian into very serious doubt. When I looked into what Jews had to say about Jesus, I was shocked again at how easily they proved from their own scriptures and religious beliefs and traditions that Jesus was not their long-awaited Messiah. I learned also that the two contradictory creation myths found in the book of Genesis have no scientific basis, that the Noah’s Ark story was borrowed from the much earlier Epic of Gilgamesh, the Exodus event never happened, that the events depicted in the Tower of Babel story is not how different languages came into being, and much more. I learned about the hundreds of meaningful contradictions contained in the Bible, which are graphically illustrated here. I learned about the atrocities in the Bible and also about the absurdities in the Bible, many of which I now find hilarious. For example, the book of Leviticus makes the claim that insects have four legs (Leviticus 11:20) and Psalms makes the claim that snails melt (Psalm 58:8). The Bible also clearly teaches a flat earth (see Isaiah 40:22 and Daniel 4:11 and Matthew 4:8), and the first chapter of the book of Genesis depicts a solid dome firmament (Genesis 1:7) with the stars stuck in it covering our flat world, which is supported by pillars (I Sam. 2:8).

While I was discovering all of these things and processing this new knowledge, I had some strong emotions to deal with. I became very, very angry that I had been sold a pack of ancient myths and lies for 15 years of my life and that I had mistook them for Divine Truth. I was rapidly losing my belief in God and I was realizing that Jesus was not and could not have been God in the flesh. He did not rise from the dead and he was not alive forevermore in heaven. Losing religious faith is a very painful and very emotional process. I didn’t just wake up and decide one day that I no longer believed in God and that I was no longer a Christian. It was a process that took months, and once I was no longer a believer, processing the anger and rage and betrayal that I felt for having years of my younger life stolen from me by a cult took several years to process, and it was not helped by the fact that I was dealing with serious mental illness at the time. It took a lot of research and a lot of time and a lot of thought for me to make the journey from devout Christian religious belief to atheism and the real world.

Leaving the Christian faith and becoming an ex-Christian does not automatically mean becoming an atheist, though that’s what it meant for me. Many former Christians find other faiths that they are happy with. I no longer find the Bible believable as the “word” of a God and my beliefs about Jesus have changed from “He was and is God in the flesh” to the much more realistic and mainstream among serious Bible scholars “he was an ancient Jewish apocalyptic preacher” who was the historical person behind the myths we find about him in the Bible.

There are five stages of grief that are generally recognized as valid, and I had to go through every single one of them as a part of losing my religious faith. I wrote about it recently on the http://www.ex-christian.net forums and I’ll re-post it here for your consideration. I apologize for the overlap and repeat of some of what I have already had to say.

The first stage of loss/grief is Denial and Isolation. I can’t really say I was in denial for very long about there being serious problems with my faith, but when I first started looking for information that was critical of the Bible, I honestly didn’t expect to find much! After all, the Bible was the Word of God, so what could unbelievers really have to say about it that would mean anything? I seriously roll my eyes now that I was once so uneducated and so naive, but I guess we all have to start somewhere. I believed that the Bible was the “inerrant, infallible Word of God” for many years because I was told that it was by people that I trusted at the time to tell me the truth. I had never actually read the vast majority of the Bible for myself, but the inerrancy of scripture was a major doctrine and for a long time I accepted it with little, if any, questioning. I was even quite impressed at the time with apologists such as Grant Jeffrey, whom I thought did a glorious job of defending the Bible as God’s Word. Anyway, when I came across sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net I was shocked to discover how easily the Bible and my once-cherished Christian beliefs were ripped to shreds, and it was done not through ridicule, but with good evidence, the latest biblical scholarship, and verifiable facts. I can’t say that I was in much denial about what I was discovering because what I was discovering about the Bible I was also discovering that Christians couldn’t logically or rationally or factually refute, but I did isolate myself a lot. I spent hours on the internet with my glorious 56k modem connection, reading and researching and learning everything I could that was true and factual about the Bible and the Christian religion.

The second stage of loss/grief is Anger. After I got over the initial shock of discovering that the Bible was absolutely not inerrant or infallible, that it contained many ancient myths, and that it was definitely not authored by God, I became very, very ANGRY. All I could feel for quite a while when I thought about religion was ANGER and BLISTERING RAGE!!! Back around 2002, I put my first “Religion is Bullshit” website online, and with webmaster Dave’s glorious suggestion to turn it into a blog (those were new at the time), it ended up becoming quite popular. I ran that site until August of 2004, and much of what I posted reflected the DEEP RAGE that I felt for being lied to, brainwashed, indoctrinated, and severely psychologically damaged for 15 years of my life. I was ANGRY that I had wasted so many of my younger years trying to please a nonexistent god who never gave me any feedback, and that I had wasted so much time and emotional energy worrying about sin and worrying about whether I was really saved or not, and about my family and friends going to hell. And, once I realized the morally reprehensible nature of the concept of Hell, I was shocked with myself that I had ever bought in to such a demented and evil concept as being for real and that I had thought my loving God would send anyone there, much less my family and friends, all of whom were and are good people. The flip side of my anger about Hell was anger and deep disappointment that Heaven was not for real. I was so mentally ill at the time and I was so looking forward to that wonderful place where God would wipe away all of my suffering and tears, and I would live forever with Him in eternal joy, happiness, and total bliss. And then… I realized that it was all just an ancient myth. That realization was extremely difficult to accept, and I stayed angry about it for a long time. And, of course, letting go of belief in God was extremely difficult too. I was very ANGRY that God was not actually real and that I had spent so many years of my life loving and worshiping a nonexistent being. Then, once I became aware of the many atrocities in the Old Testament that portray God repeatedly ordering or directly committing mass murder and genocide, I was ANGRY that I had been taught that God was Love, and that I had believed it so strongly for so long. There is no way now that I can accept the God of the Bible as loving, given what I know about the Old Testament, and even how he is portrayed in the New Testament. In Acts 5, God murders two people simply for lying to him about their finances, and if the book of Revelation were to come true in our modern world, billions of non-Christian people would die horribly and then be sent to an eternal hell to be tormented endlessly without any hope of reprieve, forever. This is a loving God? I don’t think so… And what about Jesus? I trusted him as my loving Lord and Savior for years! I never once thought about the fact that it was him who introduced the morally reprehensible concept of Hell to scripture, and I never once heard in church about how Jesus said we had to literally hate our families to truly be his disciples (Luke 14:26), and I certainly never heard that he ordered those who refused to follow him to be killed in front of him (Luke 19:27). And what about hacking off body parts that cause you to sin (Matthew 5)? Sure, I read that many times, but with my Jesus Goggles firmly in place, and I never gave it much, if any, critical thought.

The third stage of loss/grief is Bargaining. I can’t really say that I did a lot of bargaining, but I did still desperately want God to real and for Jesus to really be real and Alive in Heaven forevermore. I am sure that I did some bargaining in the form of prayer, asking God to prove Himself to me in a way that would be undeniable. Of course, he never did…

The fourth stage of loss/grief is Depression. I did indeed experience a great deal of depression when I realized that the Bible was mostly ancient myth and legend, that there is no God and that the God depicted within the pages of the Bible was not good or loving, and that there was no heaven wonderful beyond description waiting for me after I died. Depression and anger, at least for me, were two sides of the same coin, and I spent years flipping between them. Some of that, of course, was due to my bipolar illness, but a lot of it was a normal part of working through the loss of my God and my once-cherished religious beliefs.

The fifth and final stage of loss/grief is Acceptance. This is largely where I am now, and I bless the Lard mightily for it! Glory! When I write about religion here or on my glorious website or on Facebook, I do still often write with great passion and emotion, and sometimes I take trips back to the Anger phase of loss/grief, but I always end up coming back pretty quickly to Acceptance once I had done my writing and had my say. I have come to accept the fact that there very likely is no God and that there very likely is no afterlife waiting for us after we die. We just simply cease to exist, in all likelihood, and I am at peace with that probable reality now. Knowing that life is incredible and amazing and fun — but TEMPORARY — has given me reason to wring every last bit of happiness and joy and fun out of it that I can in the HERE and NOW! It has given me reason to show my loved ones how much I care about them NOW! I enjoy my life IMMENSELY with no religious or spiritual beliefs and no reference to God. It took me many years to work through the stages of loss/grief to finally arrive at Acceptance. I stayed ANGRY for years. But now, I am completely and gloriously FREE of religion! I am absolutely FREE of all religious fears! I am free to be ME and to enjoy the one life I have on this earth FULLY, with nothing held back and with no worries about pissing Jesus off or angering his father (who is also somehow magically Him). I don’t have much money and right now I am just beginning to work on building my health coaching career, but I am HAPPY, and I feel extremely grateful to webmaster Dave for creating this glorious site (his blog and these glorious forums), and I feel extremely grateful to have so many online friends here who share the bond of having left religious belief behind in favor of the REAL WORLD and who love me and accept me exactly as I am!

I am not really that angry about the years that I spent as a Christian believer now. Yes, I wish that things could have been different, but I think we all have some regrets in life once we have lived long enough. I am quite happy now as an ex-Christian atheist, and I firmly believe that the best approach to life is facing the real world exactly as it is — as brutal as that can be at times — instead of hiding from it through religious belief. Even the hardest blows in life, such as the deaths of loved ones — should be faced head on. There very likely is no afterlife waiting on us after we die. When people die, they really die and are gone forever. That’s why it is so important to spend as much time as we can with those we love and to grab every moment of life where we are here to enjoy it!

I apologize if this post has seemed rambling and somewhat disjointed. That’s a natural result of trying to cover thirty years of life and changing beliefs and thought and research in one post that is reasonable in length. But I hope I have conveyed at least to some extent what it is like to travel the road from Christianity –> ex-Christian –> Atheist, and to some extent why I am no longer a Christian believer..

For those who may be interested, I wrote a book in 2013 on my experiences with religion and bipolar disorder. I am happy to make it freely available to my readers.

Bipolar Religiosity – Bipolar Disorder and My Religious Experience

I hope this post has been helpful to those who have not been in our shoes to make the journey from Christianity to Atheism. It can be hard to understand the life experiences of people who have lived through things that you have never had to experience. Trying to explain mental illness is difficult to relate to someone who has never had experience with it. In the same way, explaining the journey from religious belief to the lack of it can be difficult to relate, but I hope I have succeeded here at least to some degree.

I am extremely happy now and I enjoy life immensely with no reference to God or to any religious or spiritual beliefs whatsoever. I find the real world exactly as it really is interesting, exciting, and enthralling. Life is amazing and fun and very enjoyable indeed, but it is not permanent. It is a very precious thing because it is temporary and impermanent. Enjoy this life while you have it. There is no good evidence that there is another one waiting for us on the other side of the grave.

Heaven is for Real?

I saw the movie Heaven is for Real out at the Dimond Mall today, on a whim. I was going to skip it since I don’t generally think much of religious movies, but since this one dealt with a near-death experience, I decided to give it a chance. I am really glad that I did. The movie was very well done — a thought-provoking tear-jerker that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. It was a powerfully moving, emotional movie. The movie centers around the illness and near-death experience of Todd Burpo’s four year old son, Colton. While in surgery for a ruptured appendix, Colton has a near-death experience and sees Jesus, Heaven, Todd’s grandfather, and an unborn sister (who died in the womb) that he didn’t know he had. The movie also deals with the Burpo family’s coming to accept their son’s experience and coming to accept that heaven is actually for real. Part of what I gathered from the movie is that Todd Burpo, a preacher, really didn’t believe what he was being paid to preach, and that the same goes for his wife. Atheists in church? Perish the thought! 🙂

I have always found near-death experiences fascinating and thought-provoking. What if they really are for real? What if they really point to a continued existence in another place after physical death? I am not religious, and I certainly don’t anticipate ever returning to Christian belief, but I tend to take these experiences seriously, especially since I find the skeptical “hallucination” theory problematical at best. Calling near-death experiences hallucinations and writing them off as such fails to explain anything meaningful about them, including their life-changing scope and power.

I currently consider myself to be an ex-Christian agnostic, with atheist leanings. But near-death experiences (NDEs) really do make me think and consider the possibility that there may be more to life than what meets the physical eye. I would love to believe in a loving God and that a peaceful and heavenly existence awaits us after death, but I have been burned badly once by religion (fundamentalist Christianity) and I am very hesitant to put my trust in another set of beliefs again. But beyond thought-provoking NDE experiences, I don’t know of any real evidence that such a God or such a place actually exists. I think it is a matter of faith, but I’ll grant that such beliefs are certainly positive and life-affirming. In the movie, Colton Burpo encounters Jesus Christ, but I find that encounter hard to accept as real because the research I have done into the subject strongly suggest to me that Jesus — especially the loving Jesus that Christians tend to believe in and promote — is little more than a myth. There just isn’t much evidence that he ever walked the face of this earth, much less than he died on a Roman cross 2000 years ago and rose from the dead. The Gospels, while beautiful in some respects, were anonymously written decades after the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus, so they are not eyewitness accounts, and it is difficult for me to take them seriously as accurate accounts of the life of Jesus, especially since each Gospel portrays Jesus so differently. The most important event in Christian history — the resurrection of Jesus Christ — is not even portrayed accurately in the Gospels. The accounts vary and differ in the important details of the event. The Gospel of Matthew even has a story suggesting that many dead saints arose and visited the city of Jerusalem after Christ’s resurrection. I’m supposed to take a biblical account of a zombie apocalypse seriously?? I don’t think so…

There are some portrayals of Jesus that are beautiful. If you watch the Jesus Film, for example, it’s hard not to fall in love with Jesus and want what the movie strongly suggests that he has to offer — salvation and eternal life! On the other hand, Jesus supposedly commanded the literal hacking off of body parts if they caused offense or sin — not such a pretty picture of a loving Savior… Jesus is also depicted as bringing a sword rather than bringing peace (Matthew 10:34) and the Gospels contain warnings about a place called Hell, which I find diametrically opposed to the concept of a loving God. If Hell exists and human beings go there forever (being punished infinitely for finite sin), then God is a monster, not a loving Supreme Being. And, in fact, the Old Testament does portray God as a monster — a mass murdering monster most definitely not worthy of love or worship…

So… while I truly appreciated and enjoyed Heaven is for Real, and I highly recommend going to see it, I find it impossible at this time to justify a return to Christian faith. I’m sure that many Christians will love the movie, and I’m sure many will find fault with it. Go see it for yourself and let me know what you think…

My Thoughts on Primary Foods

I am currently going to school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, studying to be a Health Coach. IIN promotes the concept of Primary Foods — relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality. As you can see in this graphic, primary foods are just as important as what we eat (secondary food), if not more so. You could eat broccoli all day, but if your primary foods are not in order then you will not be healthy or happy!

primary foods_Page_10

My relationship with my family is great. I get along well with my parents and my sister. I talk to my mother on the phone nearly every day. My sister and I don’t get a lot of time together even to talk on the phone, but we are planning another trip to Europe together in a few years, and I am very excited about that. The last trip we took around Europe was in 1984. It was my high school graduation present and my sister got to come along. We had a great time back then, but it will be fun again in a few years too. Fun, but different. We are a lot older now than we were back in 1984, and the world is a very different place.

Because of my life circumstances, I have never been in a romantic relationship. In fact, I have never even been out on a date, and I am 48 years old. I was unpopular in school because I had behavioral problems due to then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and we all know how cruel kids can be. I was one of the “weird kid” outcasts in high school, so my romantic options were pretty much nonexistent. But, I was fine with not having that as a part of my life back then. I was a late bloomer anyway, and I was happy being active in the band (I played the tuba) and with being obsessed with Star Trek. I still love the show now, but I don’t go around greeting people with the Vulcan salute, ha ha… I have struggled with mental illness and with being able to financially support myself all of my adult life, so the past 30 years have not lent themselves well to being in a serious relationship. I hope it will happen for me someday, but if I am single for the rest of my life and I never get to experience a romantic relationship, I am okay with that. It’s been the story of my life so far anyway, so I am comfortable with it.

My career path now is working hard to become a successful health coach. But in the past, my employment record has reflected a lifetime spent struggling with mental illness. I have worked many low-paying, dead-end jobs over the years, and the last ten years I have not worked at all. There have only been two times in my life when I was self-sufficient financially. I worked at Dell for a year and four months (1996-1998). That was a great job and I was looking forward to having a career at Dell, but unfortunately bipolar disorder reared its ugly head and I ended up in the hospital and I lost my job. But… it was at that time that I was properly diagnosed at the age of 32. After the job at Dell, I had a job in Amarillo, TX for a few months working as a printer repair technician. But… I hardly had to work at that job! I had to call in every day to see if there was work or not, but most days I was free. Needless to say, that job didn’t last long. I am still surprised when I think about it today that that job lasted six months. I was semi-retired, making $16/hr for doing basically nothing. The company I was working for is no longer in business, but they couldn’t keep that up forever!

I am usually very physically active, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time in my life a few years ago that I was so overweight and out of shape that I could barely climb the stairs in our house. Back in late 2011, I was introduced to the Beachbody company and their DVD workout programs, and since then my physical health has improved dramatically. I started with Power 90 and then progressed to doing P90X. Since then, I have done Insanity, Body Beast, and Les Mills Combat. But…I have had a few setbacks and I am now about 30 pounds heavier than I was summer of 2012. I’m also totally burned out right now on doing DVD workout programs. I am having a really hard time sticking to any program. Summer is almost here though, and the ice and snow have melted enough that I can get back on my bike. I’m planning to ride it around the neighborhood and around town as much as is reasonably possible to get some good exercise. I will be walking the trails in town frequently too. Biking and walking may not be as intense as the DVD workout programs, but they are fun and I can see myself sticking with them better right now.

Spirituality…wow, that’s a tough one for me! I currently lack any religious or spiritual beliefs, and I am very happy that way. After 15 years of fundamentalist Christianity and a year or so of seriously dabbling in Hindu beliefs and meditation techniques, I am completely and gloriously free of religion! I plan on staying that way too. I went through a lot of emotional trauma and pain after discovering that my strongly held Christian beliefs were not true and after realizing that the Bible is mostly anonymously-written ancient mythology (long stories!), but my deconversion process is complete now and I am very happy now that I am free and I can see the world as it really is! My spiritual practice now is just being the best ME that I can be – being the kindest, loving, and compassionate and understanding ME that I can be. When the subject inevitably comes up with my clients, I plan to work to see them free as well, but of course at a pace that is comfortable for them. If religion is working well for them, there may not be a reason to change that, necessarily. But if limiting religious beliefs or doctrines are holding a client back, then that should probably be addressed, and I know how to do that effectively and with compassion and patience. Being free of religion is wonderful and amazing, and everyone should have that option available to them!

So…that’s my story, my life experience, and my 2 cents…

The Hypocrisy of Gay Hating

So a major league sports player came out as gay today. Why, exactly, should that be a big deal? Who really cares what people choose to do with their private parts and with whom in the privacy of their own homes? It is a telling fact that religious fundamentalists are the only ones who make an issue of it. Everyone else has pretty much grown up. The focus is on homosexuality as if that is some heinous sin while the sins of gluttony and lying, for example, are ignored. The church refuses to welcome and accept gays, but churches in this country are chock full of fat people and liars. Oh, the hypocrisy!! If sin is sin, then why do we not hear sermons condemning fat people and liars as heinous sinners in danger of being smitten by an angry God? Why are there not picketers holding signs reading, “God Hates Fat People” or “God Hates Liars”?

I have a casual friend who I know through NAMI who happens to be gay. You know what? He is a really nice guy and a fellow HUMAN BEING. I couldn’t possibly care less that he is gay. I like the guy just as he is.

I wonder if we will ever mature as a species enough that issues such as sexual orientation simply won’t matter. I doubt it anytime soon, but one can hope that we will all eventually grow up…

Bigotry has a tendency to really sour me again on religion, though I believe in God. So do attacks on our educational system by fundamentalists. If you want to teach BS in church, fine. Just don’t try bringing it into the science classroom.

Any number of reasons that though I have faith, I cannot align myself with the fundamentalist sect… Way too much hypocrisy and way too much denial of science and history, and plenty of other issues…

Murdered Children Not with Jesus

jesuschildrenI saw this image posted on Facebook yesterday, and it really pissed me off because it is a complete fantasy and a gross misrepresentation of reality. The brutal truth of the matter is that the children who were murdered the other day in Connecticut are not floating in the clouds with Jesus. They are not in a “better place” living happily ever after. The brutal reality is that they are DEAD. WIPED OUT. GONE. They no longer exist, and there is nothing that can change the finality of their deaths, no matter how much we wish it could be different.

 

Christopher Hitchens famously commented that “religion poisons everything”, and he was correct. Fantasies such as that depicted in this image are just that — fantasies. It may be comfortable to believe that the young, innocent lives that were tragically cut short are continuing in another realm, but that just simply is not the case. I understand the need to find some source of comfort and hope when unspeakable tragedies such as this occur, but those sources of comfort should be solidly based in reality. Escaping into religious fantasy is not a healthy way to deal with shock or grief, and it is not helpful in the long run. Carl Sagan once said that it is far better to grasp the universe as it is than to persist in delusion, no matter how satisfying.

Facing the fact that those young lives were snuffed out beyond any hope of recovery is hard. It is brutal. It is unspeakably, tragically, indescribably sad. But it is reality, and it cannot be changed. It is far better to face that brutal reality head on than it is to escape from it into a religious fantasy world.

My heart goes out to the families and everyone else affected by this horrific tragedy. If I was able to say anything to offer comfort, it would be showing that I care and would do anything within my power to ease their suffering. That’s all any of us can do and I’m thankful that those who are qualified and are in a position to help are doing so.

Is Biblical Morality the Answer to these Tragedies?

In the aftermath of the tragedy which occurred in Connecticut yesterday morning, I have heard calls from my Christian friends for a return to biblical morality and calls to put God back in our schools. As an ex-Christian and an atheist, I must respectfully but strongly disagree with my well-meaning friends.

Let dispense first with the idea that we need to put God back in our schools. The first problem with that notion is the fact that God has never been removed from our schools. Any student or faculty member can pray to any god they wish to on school property. Likewise, they are free to read any holy book they may desire to read. What is not allowed, and for good reason, is state-sponsored religion. Religion should also be banned from our science curriculum. Science classes should focus on established, peer-reviewed SCIENCE, and not on absurd religious myths put forth by ignorant religious fundamentalists who know little or nothing about science and how it works, including what the word “theory” means when used in the scientific world. I live in Alaska now, but I was born and raised in Texas. As much as I love that state, it is becoming more and more embarrassing to be from there. That is thanks in large part to the damage religious fundamentalists have done to the state’s educational system. Their attempts to get their religious myths taught as science and their attempts to rewrite history to favor their religion are both wrong and they both should be strongly opposed. The last time I checked, lying was a sin. I’m pretty sure that lying for Jesus qualifies as a sin too…

What about biblical morality? That may sound like a reasonable suggestion to most people in this country, but let’s take a hard and honest look at what the Bible actually teaches on the subject of morality.

We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find serious moral problems with the behavior of God himself. In the Book of Genesis, God’s solution to the problem of mankind’s evil behavior is mass murder in the form of the Flood. Putting aside the absurdity of the story and the total lack of evidence for its historicity, what does God’s act of mass murder say about the character of God himself? In later biblical books, God’s character is again repeatedly called into question as we read horrific accounts of God either ordering or directly committing mass murder and genocide. This same God also condones the killing of a man for working on the Sabbath simply because he picked up some sticks (Numbers 15:32-36). In the New Testament, he murders two people simply for lying to him (Acts 5). When was the last time you murdered someone simply because they lied to you? Well… according to the Bible, that is perfectly acceptable behavior!

The Bible condones and never once condemns in any way the concept of slavery. It is, in fact, perfectly acceptable not only to own slaves, but to beat them severely as long as you don’t kill them (Exodus 21:20-21).

The Bible recommends the practice of stoning disobedient children to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and it defines the way to happiness as bashing the heads of children against rocks (Psalm 137:9).

The verses cited above just barely scratch the surface of the immoral and morally reprehensible behavior condoned in the Bible. So do we really need a return to biblical morality in this country? Obviously not!

There are no easy answers to the problems we have as a society that inevitably lead to violent tragedies. It’s easy to point to our violent games and television and movie entertainment and put at least some of the blame on them. And that has some validity, but it misses the point that we as a society must reject violence not only in our entertainment but out there in the real world where real people get hurt and die. It’s easy to say that we just need to return to faith in God and the morality taught in the Bible, but that clearly is not the case. Gun control laws are not the answer either since criminals and those who are violently mentally ill don’t care about gun laws. They will find ways to get the weapons they want, the laws of the land be damned. I don’t know what the correct answers are. I do know that we as a society MUST find workable answers to prevent future tragedies NOW.

What Makes People Think There is a God?

What makes people think there is a God? My nonreligious father asked me that question a while back, and it has stuck with me. As a former fundamentalist Christian, I have a very religious past, and most of my relatives (whom I now generally have little contact with) are very religious. What made me believe? Well… it was a combination of things and a single reason would be hard to pin down. My mother is not religious but she believes in God. I had some interesting conversations about God and the Bible with religious neighbors when I was a teenager. I guess until my deconversion from Christianity in early 2000 I never really doubted the existence of God. And when I converted to Christianity in 1985 it was in large part because after reading Hebrews 4:12 out in my friend Mike’s car, I felt something come alive inside of me. Mike had been “witnessing” to me, telling me about Jesus, and I my attitude had shifted from “Get away from me with that Jesus shit” to thinking maybe there was something to this Jesus thing. That feeling I got in the car after reading that verse was important in my conversion, but so was seeing the “Jesus Film” shortly thereafter at a local Baptist church. I knew after I saw that film that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer, and even now as I write this the memory of that exciting time in my life softens my heart a bit yet again.

But what made me believe in God? And what made me believe specifically in the Christian God? I think because of my upbringing the default position for me was belief. I was raised United Methodist until I was ten years old. I asked then to stop going to church because I didn’t believe what they were teaching, but yet I returned in my early teens to go through the Confirmation process.

Most people in this nation believe in God. For them, the default position is belief because of their upbringing, whether they were raised in a religious home or not. The reason most people believe in the Christian God in the US is simply a matter of geography. Christianity is the dominant religion in this country and so most people believe in its god. There is, however, no evidence at all that the tribal war god of the ancient Jews actually exists, nor is there much evidence that Jesus ever actually lived if you really look into it. I am not one who claims that Jesus never lives as those folks are generally on the lunatic fringe of atheism, but their writings do provide a lot of food for thought.

They way from religious belief to atheism is one full of questions. Bit by bit you chip away at the religious teachings you once held as sacred and as each card in the proverbial house of cards falls down, the entire belief system eventually falls away. For me and for many of us who identify as ex-Christians, that is an intensely emotional time, and working through the emotional trauma of religious brainwashing and indoctrination that we realize we have been subjected to can take many years to resolve.

One big clue for me that God does not exist is the fact that he never thinks, says, or does anything at all except in the minds of believers. NEVER! And he never answers prayers or heals amputees. As comfortable as it is to believe in God, the fact is that he is imaginary!

One of my greatest fears in letting go of God was that life would lose its meaning and purpose. And for a while that was true. I had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of there being no god and no afterlife. Now I see it as tremendously freeing! We are here as a result of billions of years of biological evolution, not as the result of a magical act of a god that occurred just thousands of years ago. When we realize that this life is IT, then life becomes incredibly precious. Every moment must be lived. Savored. Enjoyed to the utmost! Every moment brings us closer to the end of our existence, but that is not reason to despair. It is reason to grab life by the horns and live it to the fullest! Let go of fear and LIVE! You will never get another chance to do it! Life is fabulous. Wonderful. Enthralling. Exciting. Magnificent. AWESOME!

Why do people believe in God? I recently watched a fascinating video on that subject. It is rare that I devote an hour of my time to watching a video on YouTube, but in this instance I am very glad that I did. Andy Thompson of American Atheists does an excellent job of laying out the scientific basis for why we believe in gods.

It is actually not too big of a step to go from believing in the natural to believing in the supernatural because of how our brains work and systems already at work in our minds.

I posted this on Facebook for my friend and high school band director and I think it sums up my thoughts on God well:

My journey from devout religious belief to atheism has been a long and interesting one. I spent 15 years as a very devout fundamentalist Christian. I was the type who annoyed everybody. I wrote evangelistic letters to my family. I tried to convert my friends and co-workers. I handed out those ridiculous Chick tracts to convenience store clerks and toll booth operators. I was at church every time the doors opened, including early morning prayer meetings. I forced my beliefs on everybody all the time and though I meant well, I made a huge nuisance of myself. Despite all of that religious activity and belief, I still had questions that that seemed to have no good answers from my pastors or from the Christian apologists I read. Those questions finally built up to the point where I could no longer ignore them or write them off as coming from the devil.

In early 2000, I got on the Net as it existed back then and started researching my faith on both sides of the fence. I was absolutely stunned to find that the religious skeptics had far better answers than I had encountered from Christian apologists and I was also very surprised to see how easily they ripped my once cherished beliefs to shreds, not through ridicule but with facts. I started reading the skeptical side at www.infidels.org and went from there.

After I got over the shock of having my Christian worldview ripped out from under me, I became very very ANGRY! The fact that I was also very mentally ill at the time with not well controlled bipolar disorder didn’t help matters any. I felt foolish, used, and betrayed when I realized I had been intentionally lied to for 15 years and I had bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

What followed next was a swing to the other side of the religious spectrum and several years of outspoken atheism. I maintained a strongly anti-Christian website that had a few different incarnations and I regularly ridiculed the beliefs that I had once held sacred. It was not a happy time in my life, but it was a necessary part for me of processing an excruciatingly painful experience.

I have experimented with several different belief systems over the years since I left the Christian faith. Atheism still makes the most rational sense to me, but right now I would say I am agnostic. I DON’T KNOW if a god of any kind exists, but I strongly doubt it. There’s just no good evidence that he/she/it does. And the fact that God never thinks, says, or does anything at all except in the minds of believers speaks volumes to me.

I have found spiritual beliefs that have some meaning to me. I happen to really appreciate the wisdom that comes out of Hinduism and Buddhism. I can find good in all religions, but I don’t for a moment believe that any of them have a divine origin.

I am not at a place right now where I feel comfortable embracing belief. I sacrificed my brain at the altar of religion once when I was young and got hurt badly, and I will not ever make that mistake again.