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Signposts on My De-Conversion Trail

Like many children, I thought church was extraordinarily boring. Unlike many children, I was compelled to be at church several times a week. That being the case, I couldn’t help absorbing the dogma that was reiterated in both church and home, ad nauseum. I was not raised in a complete bubble, but it was about as close as it could get short of being home-schooled. As an adult – even as a Salvation Army officer – I resolved never to let my life, or the lives of my children, become completely absorbed in evangelical Christian and – especially – Salvation Army bubbles. In hindsight, I think that resolution probably sealed my fate.

I was about 12 when I first learned that there were people who didn’t believe in god. Until then, I’d had no idea that no-god-belief was even an option. As far as I knew, everyone believed in god, and everyone I knew personally believed in god, or said they did. The medium through which I learned about atheism and agnosticism was a TV show called All in the Family and the first “out” nonbeliever I encountered, via the boob tube, was Mike Stivic, Archie Bunker’s agnostic son-in-law. All I figured out at that time was that agnostics professed not to know whether god existed, and atheists did not believe in god. I didn’t know of any way to find out more about nonbelief, so I just tucked those little bits of information into some corner of my mind. I didn’t love god. I didn’t want to “do god’s will.” And I certainly didn’t want to go to church as often as I did, but I wasn’t in a position to change that circumstance anytime soon. So, I got on with my life as best I could. …

Continue Reading January 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm 15 comments

Drifter, Rebel, Modernist…?

Young people aren’t walking away from the church—they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Unlike earlier generations of church dropouts, these “leavers” are unlikely to seek out alternative forms of Christian community such as home churches and small groups. When they leave church, many leave the faith as well.

Thus opens the publicity blurb for a book entitled, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Church and How to Bring Them Back. In an interview published by Christianity Today, author Drew Dyck made this observation:

No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. “Postmodern” leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. …

Continue Reading December 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm 13 comments

Life’s Value

I finally read Richard Dawkins’The Greatest Show on Earth last week. As I read the chapter on embryology a couple of nights ago, I couldn’t help marveling at how amazing life is in all its forms. Religionists often claim that their views enhance the value of life, particularly human life, because all of it has been ordained and designed by the hand(s) of god(s). It seems to me, however, that religious views actually cheapen the value of life. I want to point out three ways in which this occurs.

First, the creation of life forms is not a particularly significant accomplishment for a deity or deities that are capable of doing all sorts of spectacular things. A galaxy here and a supernova there, a parasite here and a mammal there – just another mundane day in the deity office. Ho hum; now it’s time to rest. Big deal.

Second, religious believers frequently assert that earthly life is second-rate compared to what’s ahead in the next life (or lives). Life on earth in the here and now is a trial run, a testing ground, the primary significance of which is to prepare people (or allow people to prepare themselves, or for people to allow god(s) to prepare them – there are many variations on this theme) for the hereafter. If you think this life is great, just wait till you get to heaven; you haven’t seen anything yet. Or, if you think this life sucks, just wait till you get to heaven; god(s) will reward your patience and faithfulness with something much better.

Third, there are religious believers who teach that humankind is the pinnacle of creation. Think about this a moment. As marvelous as human life is, it takes real hubris to believe that humanity is the apex of creation. Bertrand Russell put this idea well when he said, “If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as my final accomplishment.” Human life is remarkable, but to consider it the best thing going (outside of heaven) is tragically impoverished…

Continue Reading November 8, 2009 at 6:13 pm 5 comments

Holy Political Text, Batman!

conservapedia1I know this news is several days old and, therefore, ancient by today’s standards. Moreover, other bloggers have scooped me on this, but I’ll touch on it anyway. Some of the conservatives at conservapedia have launched the Conservative Bible Project, an effort to rid the Bible of its alleged current liberal biases and restore its original conservative bent. Apparently, the Bible, translated and interpreted correctly, lines up perfectly with contemporary American right-wing Republicanism. Who would have guessed?

Generally speaking, I could care less what Christians do with their holy book. I should think, however, that Christians would care deeply about the matter. At least one conservative Christian commenter at the Washington Post agrees with me:
WaPo2
Does anyone other than me find it ironic that the Conservative Bible Project hijacks a supposedly sacred text and manipulates it for political purposes? Then again, it’s not like that’s never happened before. Still, this strikes me as a disrespectful way to treat one’s holy book. Is it too much to ask conservative Christians to recognize that the Bible is a collection of religious writings? It’s not a science book, or a history book, or a psychology book, or a sociology text, or a political platform. It’s a collection of religious reflections – many of which referred to scientific, historic and other ideas as they were understood at the time – on humankind’s place in the cosmos. Some of those reflections still have value for contemporary humans, others – not so much.

One of the most interesting reinterpretations offered on the Washington Post comment thread was this:

WaPo1

If that commenter’s right, then my guess is that Caesar would have gotten along well with George W. Bush. Hmm. Maybe the Bible is a conservative political text after all.

— the chaplain

October 9, 2009 at 4:20 pm 14 comments

What would it take to convince you that there is/is not a god?

Discussions between religious believers and nonbelievers frequently come to a point at which one participant asks the other(s), “What would it take to convince you that there is/is not a god?”

My current answer to that question is this:

All I’d need to believe in to believe in god would be a direct, unequivocal, simultaneous revelation of him/her/itself to all humankind.

Sacred writings are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are only persuasive to those who, for psychological, emotional and sociological reasons are predisposed to believe them. Moreover, many of them contradict each other and there are no standardized criteria by which humanity can separate the wheat from the chaff.

Personal testimonies are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are totally subjective events, which can be described to, but not experienced by, others. Therefore, differing interpretations of the events are not easily resolved.

Traditions and creeds are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; many of them continue to be useful at the current time, and others have been discarded for more effective or humane alternatives.

Miracles are insufficient – we already have plenty of purported miracles that have, eventually, been explained as natural phenomena. Even if one grants that some events have not been explained – yet – as natural phenomena, the odds are that natural explanations for these events will be discovered eventually. Moreover, even if an event could only be explained as miraculous, then that explanation would raise a plethora of questions about the being that performed the miraculous act: its identity; its character; its intentions toward humankind…

Continue Reading August 4, 2009 at 10:37 pm 53 comments

How Religion Ruins Relationships

Max knows that he will be dead before the end of the year – probably no later than October. That’s about the time that doctors expect his cancer-riddled body to lose the fight for life. Max, who is not a Christian, is the manager at the branch office of a Christian business. His boss, Mr. Stanley is deeply concerned about the fate of Max’s eternal soul. In addition to soliciting prayers for Max (particularly his soul) from other employees, Mr. Stanley sometimes visits Max at his office. They chat about business, life in general and, eventually, Max’s “need for salvation.” Last week, Mr. Stanley took a chaplain, a fellow named Raymond, along with him to visit Max.

Max shared with me a few things about last week’s pastoral visit. He began by saying, “I love Raymond. He’s a really great guy. So is Mr. Stanley. But, sometimes I don’t hold my tongue very well when they start talking about religion. I just don’t want to talk about it. And Mr. Stanley doesn’t always hold his tongue very well, either, so our conversations can get heated.”

After we chatted some more, Max said, “Mr. Stanley wants me to fly out west to spend time with my sister. I said I’d take a couple of days for that. Mr. Stanley said, ‘No, I want you to really take time and be with your sister.’ I don’t want to do that. I haven’t told her how bad my condition is because she’ll get on the religious stuff even worse than Mr. Stanley and Raymond. A couple of days of it is all I’ll be able to stand…”

Continue Reading March 25, 2009 at 8:32 pm 32 comments

A Look at Liberal Christianity

I came across an interesting post written by a thoughtful Christian who has moved beyond a literalist, fundamentalist mindset regarding the Bible as the inspired, revealed word of God. Here are some highlights (although you probably should read the whole post, in order to understand the context from which these bits are excerpted – the comments are worth reading too):

The question of whether the Bible is God’s word is not a new one…. There are certainly a number of things which seem “wrong” if we are to take a literal understanding….Yes, genetics has confirmed that we are all related through mitochondrial DNA – but this does not mean one person; it means one small group of people (who were located somewhere in Africa). It also assumes that humanity is hundreds of thousands of years old, which means we need to accept, at least in part, the theory of evolution….

*************

Suddenly, we find ourselves in the position of looking at the Bible and deciding which parts are to be taken literally, which parts are to be taken allegorically, and which parts are to be understood as no longer applying to us because they have “been fulfilled in Christ.” This is a very dangerous thing to do. Once we start doing that, what difference is there between Christianity and any other man-made religion?

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…the Bible has been used to say whatever man wants it to say…and so justify anything we want it to.

Continue Reading March 5, 2009 at 4:50 pm 366 comments

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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