Very few things are truer than this. Or at least in the U.S. Unfortunately.
This is something I often wondered growing up as I did, raised by a very devout Christian widow who…well…let’s just say it was very important to her that her children would go to heaven. Which is why to this day I have never told my mom I no longer believe, and haven’t believed in what is now three years or more.
If I were to imagine heaven, it would be a place where there are no tears, no sadness, no heartache, no despair, no disappointment, no discouragement, no worry, no regrets, no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no yearning for things to be different. Heaven would be all the best things I could ever imagine, like all the most breathtaking natural beauty the earth could offer, only so much more, the colors so much brighter, the sounds so much sweeter. The air would be like standing in a grove of lilac trees, or in the center of a greenhouse filled with roses. All would be so glorious you’d want to stand there forever, drinking it in, content to stay still in that moment forever.
As a Christian I had friends who were not, family who were not. And it bothered me. Really really bothered me. My dad’s cousin Evelyn died, and she was an atheist who told me once to my face she had never sinned. Because she did not believe in sin–which in her view was a man-made invention that made religion necessary. So when Evie died, I was very sad. I didn’t want to think of Evie in hell. It upset me to think of such a wonderful loving lady in such a horrible place.
I have heard it said that hell is not what the bible describes in a literal sense. Hell is to be eternally separate from God. Hell is to be able to gaze across a divide at all the joys of heaven, and not be able to go there, not be able to be among all those happy people, but to be stuck forever and ever in a place apart from God. That’s what hell is.
Now if I were one of those lucky people who managed to make it into heaven, and I looked across and I could see–or even if I couldn’t see, but I just knew, I had friends or family like Evie, in some other place, and they were suffering. If I knew that because of choices they made in their life as puny and ignorant mortals they were doomed to be punished forever, unforgiven, to a place of despair, of sadness, of pain, of separation, of never knowing the utter bliss I was getting to enjoy… Would that be very nice for me? Would I be in heaven? Would heaven be a happy paradise for me, if I knew across the divide there were people I knew and cared for, suffering–and doomed by my God to suffer forever? Would that be a happy thing for me?
The only way I would find Heaven a happy place for me under those circumstances, would be if God made my heart very hard so I wouldn’t care anymore. So I would regard those friends I once cared for and family I cared for as deserving to languish in agony and despair forever. They would be like my enemy and I would feel how right it was for them to suffer for eternity while I enjoyed happiness beyond my wildest dreams.
If I had to have my heart hardened for Heaven to be a happy place for me–for me to no longer care about people I once cared for now having to suffer, how much more brittle and hardened would God’s heart have to be, considering he supposedly is merciful and “love” is one of his names? For him to be merciful and loving by nature, and yet able to condemn billions of souls to eternal torment and still go on his merry way being happy in his paradise despite all that suffering going on….wouldn’t he have to shut his ears and harden his heart and cease to be merciful and loving?
He would no longer be a loving God. He would no longer be a merciful God. He’d be a cruel and unforgiving God–by so enforcing an eternal horrible punishment upon mortal beings who did for whatever reason, not jump through the right hoops while they were living, and so now they must suffer forever.
It would be different if the rule book were crystal clear and not subject to this interpretation or that interpretation. But the rule book is not clear. There are verses in the bible that contradict other verses. The bible says Thou Shalt not Kill and yet time and time again God kills, or orders his followers to kill. There is a verse that says not by works are you saved, but it is a gift from god, and there’s another verse that says good works are just a part of what you must do to have eternal life. There’s a verse that says you should make it known what good works you do, and another verse that says you should keep it secret, and not boast.
Which verses are the correct ones, and which are not? Why are there cities placed in the wrong countries in the bible? Why was there a census mentioned in the bible shortly after Jesus’ birth, but the year is off–there was no census at that time per actual history?
If God’s good news is so important, so critical that the punishment is so horrible indeed for those of us who don’t hear or hear but don’t believe…then why isn’t God’s word perfectly clear? Wouldn’t God insist on it being absolutely clear? Without flaw? Without human tampering? And if our salvation is so important to God, why does he not simply make his existence fact, rather than keep us all guessing? In all the world there is not one scrap of non-biblical proof of the existence of God, or Jesus for that matter. Now if God is real, and if his good news is real, and if our salvation is so important to him, so we don’t end up in hell suffering forever while he, God, is forced to shut his ears and turn his back and never forgive–why isn’t evidence of his existence or Jesus’ existence, as plentiful to find as the bones of dinosaurs are? Why doesn’t God appear and end the doubting that will ultimately cost so many eternal life? Or for that matter, why did God make Lucifer in the first place, or human beings so fallable as to be capable of sin and then place them right where he knew his imperfect angel was lying in wait?
Or if God doesn’t want to appear? If our salvation isn’t worth him revealing himself, why not perform the impossible to prove miracles really do happen? Like, allowing the amputee who has been praying really hard, to have his lost arm or leg grow back? Or give the woman who had her eyes gouged out by the chimpanzee, new eyes–regrow them in her head? If God can do anything, these things would not surpass his power–and would leave very little doubt that the supernatural exists. And yet he doesn’t.
Anyway, I have digressed and I’m sorry. My point is, even if I were still a Christian, and even if I did make it into this paradise Christians look forward to. It wouldn’t be heaven to me because I would know my Aunt Evie was being punished in hell–and she was a really neat lady who does not deserve torment and pain for all eternity. So heaven would become hell for me, knowing Evie isn’t there and knowing there’s nothing I can do to appeal to this merciless deaf God to hear her cries of torment and forgive.
That wouldn’t be heaven for me, and that would not be a god I would even want to follow.
The below article describes better than anything I have read before, just exactly WHY I feel the desire to defend what I believe as a non-believer, and so I wanted to share. Oh, and incidentally, I think it is WRONG that non-believers are deemed unelectable just for not believing in supernatural beings!
Reason Rally: A Secular Coming-Out Celebration
In a show of solidarity that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago, thousands will be flocking to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on March 24 in celebration of secularity. The Reason Rally, a day-long event featuring notable entertainers and speakers and attracting busloads of nonbelievers from all over the country, could be a watershed moment for the secular movement.
The lineup for the day includes a mix of entertainers, public intellectuals, and representatives from various secular groups. All events are free. The band Bad Religion will be performing, and the crowd will also hear from comedian Tim Minchin, popular skeptic and debunker James Randi, and author and scientist Richard Dawkins. Lawrence Krauss, author of “A Universe from Nothing,” whose ideas inspired Miley Cyrus to tweet on the issue (thereby sparking a backlash from enraged Christian fans), will also be on hand, along with many others, to address the secular festival.
This is just me writing this time. Nothing informative. Just writing how I feel and how I’ve felt a very long time. As long as I can remember. It has to do with religion, and with society in general and how I was raised to think and how it has effected me as a person and how I feel it has effected other women too. Based not on fact, but just what I’ve observed in my almost 50 years.
People have this idea that little kids are oblivious and ignorant of such things as human rights. I guess as we get older we forget how it was to be young. I still remember very well, and I suspect my experience is like anyone’s. I was aware. I had an opinion. Things appealed to me or disgusted me or spoke to my heart then just as they do now. I had perceptions, and a sense of fairness, of right and wrong. In short, (literally) I was just a little person, as all children are. When I’d hear adults refer to myself and my friends as “little ones,” ugh! I hated that term! I didn’t feel like a little one. I didn’t feel like anything less. Not then, and not now. Because I’m not. Nobody is.
I remember from a very young age being annoyed to the point of angry at the commercials we were bombarded with. I was a tom boy when I was little…and I never completely lost my interest in playing in the dirt, as even as an adult I liked digging for fossils and splelunking and hauling up rocks or petrified wood or whatever treasure I could find. But watching those commercials, what I could see of them through the often side-ways tilted or rolling black and white screen. Women…raising their families. Women, making dinner. Women, advertising mops and laundry soap. Women using Windex, or irons or making cookies, cleaning house, or shopping. Always made up and wearing dresses, perfect, wearing lipstick even in bed–never a hair out of place. While men in those commercials washed cars, went camping, or fishing, or were shown building tents, lounging in hammocks, digging, climbing ladders, fishing, playing ball with their sons, working on cars.
Always in the TV shows I watched I would silently rage at the helpless females I’d see portrayed. I liked the old campy Science Fiction shows back then, the old movies, and always whenever those rare moments would come that a woman would be needed in a scene, she’d faint, or stumble, or fall exhausted to the ground unable to go on, slowing down our heroes from the horrors pursuing them, just waiting to be rescued. It was the most predictable thing. I’d sit there and think okay, and now she’s going to fall down…and then she would. I remember yelling at the TV, even as a small child, “run you guys! Just LEAVE her! Run!”
Recently I, out of curiosity, tried to watch some old “Lost In Space” reruns. OMG…the mother and daughter Penny in that old show were next to useless. They were only objects to protect…their job…to look astonished, or afraid, or confused, or helpless and vulnerable. These were the kind of role models I had to grow up with. If it wasn’t for Vasquez in ALIENS and Zena and Gabrielle in “Zena ,Warrior Princess…”
(I pause in silent homage to the pioneers that had the courage to write women that way–with grit, tenacity, strength–all the qualities I can admire!)
In my last blog some Muslim guy commented that that’s how men should be. That’s their role and we women in Western cultures who get to actually live our lives and be (at least to some extent) more like what we were made to be, have forgotten this–the fact that some deity designed us to be soft, dependent, loving servants of men–be all those warm and fuzzy wholesome things while our great big sweaty bare-chested males thump their pectorals and lug home dinner to their adoring, families.
Oh please. And yet it still exists. Ever watch QVC? Just watch and listen to the hosts when they’re selling what is traditionally something a MAN would want to buy, vrs. what traditionally a woman would want to buy. If I called QVC during a presentation to sell a ladder, they might ask me if this was for my husband or my son or my father. I would say no, you frickin idiot! It’s for ME.
To be fair the opposite is just as true. If a single man needed an iron and called QVC and got on the air, probably they’d ask him who the gift is for.
The point being, the programming continues on today. It’s still apparent in our commercials, and in how we are treated. I remember when I went to Cycle Barn the first time to look at buying a motorcycle. The place was crowded with men or men with their sons and all the salesmen were busy. It took over an hour of standing there looking interested before one of them thought to come over to me.
Happily so much has changed since I was young, since even when I was in my 20’s. Happily now a young girl can dream big and actually have some possibility of obtaining her dream. When I was little if I had said I wanted to be a fire fighter or a astronaut or President of the United States for that matter, it would have been a joke to any adult who heard me. Oh, they’d say “good for you, Diane!” I’m sure. But they know. And they would no doubt think that as I grew older I’d put aside these childish dreams and discover a desire to hum as I work, dust as I walk, cook wonderful meals for my man and wait on him hand and foot, making sure a spotless house and well mannered children were there to greet him when he got home.
(Sound of Leave It To Beaver theme music.)
I think organized religion has made boxes and tried to tuck people away inside them. Women, you go in this box. It means you can’t be or have or experience anything that’s over here in this box, because this box is only for men. And men, same goes for you. Women can’t be masculine because then no man will want them and men, you can’t have feminine interests because that would make you a fairy…a gay…a homo…an undesirable by society.
In other words, anyone who dares to march to the beat of their own drummer…just better not if they want to be loved, accepted, appreciated, all those things we all want to be.
Well I never liked wearing dresses and my favorite color was blue and the only dolls I liked playing with as a child were my brother’s G.I. Joes…and all the cool helmets and fabric clothing and jeeps and guns that were their accessories. As a child I liked catching snakes and tadpoles and frogs and I liked playing Capture the Flag and building forts with the few boys I found willing to play with me. I liked to play rough. I had no interest in jewelry or make up, and I scoffed at grade school girls who wore these things when being a kid was so much better.
Was I abnormal for a girl? What would have happened to me had I been born and had to grow up in some of these Middle Eastern societies that have these ideas of what women should be vrs what men should be? Could I have endured being denied the freedoms I saw my brother enjoying? Hell no. And if a book told me it was god’s wish for me because I was cursed by being born a female, I wouldn’t feel any love at all for such a god, and in fact I wouldn’t have followed such a deity. Ever!
I did follow the biblical god for over 30 years, because I had blinders on and I didn’t let myself see that the god in the bible is just as sexist, if not more so, than the god the Muslims worship that Christians like to point fingers at and criticize. But now I see no difference between them, and in fact it seems if you just look at the Quran and the bible and not at the religions and how people interpret these books, it seems from what little I’ve read–the Quran is actually less harsh toward women than the bible is.
So that’s it. Just felt like writing and saying WHATEVER. I am glad I didn’t get born 20 years earlier than I did. I’m glad I was born in the 60’s after all the hardest work was already done by the brave women before me who had the gumption to rail against being forced into boxes. I hope we never, as women, forget how hard our recent forebears had to fight to get the rights we enjoy today, and I hope we never give up fighting–that we never again believe in books written only by men telling us how we as women, ought to be.
Some glaring problems with our society (meaning the good ol USA).
1. Unequal treatment (the rich get tax breaks the rest of us do not).
2. Failure to care for our elderly and worse, now it looks like Social Security is under threat of extinction too. What is an older person who has worked hard their whole life to contribute to this society, to do when he/she can no longer work? How is an elderly person supposed to survive without a job and please don’t tell me a retiree plan because people are living longer and cost of living keeps going up. I already know there is no way in hell my retirement plan will keep me from having to live in a cardboard box. What kind of nation doesn’t care for it’s sick or elderly? Inquiring minds really want to know. And hey, what about all the money I paid into Social Security…involuntarily…since age 15? Or is theft committed against me by my government somehow just…okay?
3. Failure to care for the sick or injured poor. Do we really grant care for our fellow humans, only if they’re the priviledged few? Say I have no insurance or I do have insurance but I can’t afford to have much so any kind of illness or injury involving an inpatient stay will put me in huge debt for the rest of my life–which likely might not be very long if I have any kind of health problem that can be aggravated by the tremendous stress huge bills I can’t possibly afford will cause.
4. Short sightedness re. the failing environment and not making this a priority. Let’s see. Every year the tornados and hurricanes and weird weather at all the wrong times, keep getting worse. People are dying because there are tornados now where there shouldn’t be or really big tornados where once really big tornados were rare. Entire towns or cities are being wiped out. So come on! How much longer do we go on blindly pretending global warming doesn’t exist? Is knocking down more trees and more deforestation a good response to this disaster? Killing even more of the struggling natural world we have left? Or hey, how about pouring more crap into our oceans–see how well that solves the problem?
5. Obesity among the growing poor and increasing medical costs as a result. Ever notice how the cheaper food at the grocery store is always the stuff they say is bad for you? Canned food. Processed food. Stuff loaded with tons of salt, sugars, or stuff impossible to pronounce. But hey, if it’s all you can afford you’re going to buy it right? It’s that or walk around hungry because anyone notice the price of produce lately? Fruits. Grains. Nuts? The stuff that’s good for you? So does it follow that the more poor people we have, the more obesity we will have (and more overweight poor people unable to afford decent healthcare) as the price of the healthy food climbs ever higher–which it will, too, guarantee, as the number of farms decrease, and the percentage of acreage available for farming becomes less and less and of course the natural habitat left becomes less and less as we humans go right on wearing blinders. After all, God will one day just fix everything, yes?
6. Uncle Sam or someone/something else? I don’t know but it sure seems to me we haven’t had an independent thinker as president since Bill Clinton, who I personally think did one hell of a good job. How sad that he was impeached for being a sleeze. Last time I checked it wasn’t a person’s religion or morality I was voting for to run my country or make things right. I could care less if my president has the morals of a gutter rat so long as he/she gets the job done. Considering how we thanked Bill Clinton for getting our deficit down to practically nill–the humiliation we put that man through, it seems to me we deserve the substandard leadership we’ve had in the White House ever since.
Does it matter who we vote for, really? We put a Democrat in office–he wants to pander to the Left and abandon all those lofty dreams of yes we can he preached before being elected. We put a Republican in office–again the left has its way, because money talks and money rules and I’m sorry but I think government has become its own special interest group regardless of who we put at the helm. And that’s another thing. Is there a point to voting anymore? When a president can lose the popular vote–and still be elected? What is the point? I live in Washington State and every four years I hear the victor’s name announced before all MY state’s votes are counted. How is this going to make me feel there’s any point–or any say re. what happens to my country that, I’m sorry, I’m beginning not to recognize anymore?
7. Since when is discrimination RIGHT? And yet it is, isn’t it? My Bank of America branch here in Seattle is managed by a hispanic person. Is it mere coincidence that every last person I see working at this bank is either Asian, or hispanic, or black? In the last four or more years I have not seen one white person working there. And at the restaurant where I work my second job, all the cooks, all the dishwashers–they’re all hispanic. Without exception. And if I complete a job application at Walmart or Fred Meyer, the application will specifically ask if I’m of hispanic heritage. Uh, why? If I say yes I am, will I have a better chance at getting the job? If yes, um…why? Seeing only hispanics working at Mexican restaurants and only Asians working at Asian restaurants. Isn’t this discrimination against anyone else who isn’t of that heritage? Why is this permitable? Or how about those places that only hire you if you’re good looking or young? I know of a restaurant that only hires young women for hostesses. Pretty young women. Isn’t this discrimination? And why is this okay?
Why is it okay that we only see attractive news reporters and sports reporters on TV? What if a really ugly woman wanted to be a sports reporter? Or hey, how about an obese one? Would she remotely have a chance? And isn’t this discrimination? I remember sitting at a bar once and the men near me were commenting on how the female sports reporter had put on some weight. Think this would be something they’d notice if said reporter was a man?
And speaking of… in the US where there should be an equal opportunity for all to obtain their dreams if they have enough gumption for it, how come single people can’t be president? It really seems to me you have to have a spouse, don’t you? There has to be a First Lady, after all, or hey, maybe someday, a First Man? And have you noticed lately the emphasis on our president’s religion? People wondering if he’s a Muslim or not? What about this? What if he was? Are only Christians allowed to be president? Can an atheist be president? Or a Hindu? Or a Wiccan? Or is the seat of the presidency reserved for a Christian butt only? Again, I’d really like to know. Because this too seems like discrimination. I’m a single atheist woman who doesn’t look like Sarah Palin, and my chances of being president–absolutely NILL!
So that’s all. Just feeling like having a rant. There’s so much more I could list and maybe I will later, that I see wrong with this culture, and also how we look at the world. When I was in HS I wrote an essay on why I thought human beings will ultimately be the cause of their own extinction. My belief in this hasn’t changed. In fact it’s only grown stronger. And mostly because we tolerate double standards and walk around with blinders on.
Ever wonder what passages in the bible Hitler highlighted? He was very serious about doing God’s work, and from what I read the German church regarded him as the embodiment of the holy spirit on Earth; they supported him. So I suppose Hitler had a bible, and just like every other believer, went through and highlighted the verses he chose to believe as a way to justify it in his mind, he was doing God’s work. Imagine his surprise when he died and found himself in hell. For indeed if such a place did exist, he would be there, as would all people who did hurtful things to others and got away with it…which is probably why hell was dreamed up to begin with.
I had someone send me a link to some Christian website in response to my post where I listed a few contradictions of the bible. Well, of course. For every fifty verses I find describing wholesale slaughter and destruction ordered by or performed by God, the same few New Testament verses about how loving and merciful this god is, will be dredged up. And that’s fine. As someone else pointed out, it’s pointless and a waste of energy to try to argue or talk someone out of belief in myths. I know it because for years people tried to point out the illogic to me. I was only able to wake up to the non-highlighted bits in my bible, at my own time. When my mind and heart were ready to see, I saw.
But it is interesting that the same book can contain verses commanding us to beat children with rods and stone our sons for being disobedient, can also create all these known interpretations of it like the Catholic interpretation, Presbyterian, Baptist, Protestant, Four Square, Lutheran, etc, etc., etc. It just seems to me if God’s important message was so hugely important, it would be very clear, and only interpretable one way–the right way. If our salvation was so important to God, why be so mysterious about it? Why whisper it in our ears rather than thunder it across the skies? Free will only works if we have choices, and I’m sorry but the vehicle God uses to get his good news across, is vague, contradictory, erroneous, misleading, and subject to being taken as a justification for good OR evil and everything in-between too. If the message was so important to God that we hear it, if our salvation was so important to this loving God, I would think he’d make a point to be a lot clearer about it than this.
Once upon a time hundreds of people died for daring to open the Ark of the Covenant. Well, what about all these re-translated, mistranslated, translated into modern-speak versions of the bible from the original Hebrew? God doesn’t mind his sacred word changed, deleted or rewritten? And example– “the word interpreted as “virgin” in the bible is actually “young woman,” and yet everyone accepts the belief now that Mary was a virgin, and Jesus seeded in her womb by God. In no place in the bible is Mary described as a virgin. She’s described as a young woman. This is a blunder that the church has been aware of for centuries and yet chooses to keep intact in the bible because so many people now accept this as part of the story as fact–conveniently used as evidence of Jesus’ heavenly origins.
Is the bible fact? Did the disciples actually exist? Did the disciples write the bible or some anonymous writers hired by the early Roman church and hiding behind fictionous pen names to give them credibility.
I personally am amazed I dedicated thirty plus years of my life to something without first checking out how the book the whole religion is founded on, came to be. In retrospect it seems it should have been my first undertaking. Investigation. Is it TRUE? Before I dedicate my life to it.
Why do Jews Reject the Christian dogma of the
(The Second Jewish Book Of Why)
(By Alfred Kolatch 1985)
Based on Isaiah 7:14, Christians claim that the birth of Jesus was predicted long before the event. The verse reads, “Behold, the alma shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel [literally, ‘God is with us’].” Although the Hebrew word alma literally means “young woman,” when the Gospel of Matthew (1:23) cites the verse from Isaiah, it translates Alma as “Virgin.” This translation is useful in supporting the contention that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament.
Jewish scholars reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because, they point out, in Isaiah 7:14 the word Alma is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-alma hara, meaning “the alma is pregnant.” Since the present tense is used, it is clear that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. This being the case, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future.
Jewish scholars, supported by many Christian scholars, have also noted that the word alma in Isaiah 7:14 cannot mean “virgin” because elsewhere when the Bible wants to specify “virgin,” it uses the Hebrew word betula.
When the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was issued in 1952, the words “young woman,” not the word “Virgin, were used for alma in its translation of Isaiah 7:14. This upset the Fundamentalist Christian community, which maintains that alma in Isaiah refers to the mother of Jesus, who conceived miraculously, without cohabitation with a man. These Fundamentalists expressed their vehement opposition to the new translation by holding burnings of the Revised Edition of the Bible.
I Just Lost Faith In Faith
This was my first article for Freethought Today. It ran in the June 1984 issue.
Religion is a powerful thing. Few can resist its charms and few can truly break its embrace. It is the siren who entices the wandering traveler with songs of love and desire and, once successful, turns a mind into stone. It is a Venus fly trap. Its attraction is like that of drugs to an addict who, wishing to be free and happy, becomes trapped and miserable.
But the saddest part of the dependency is the fact that most participants are willing victims. They think they are happy. They believe religion has kept its promises and have no desire to search elsewhere. They are deeply in love with their faith and have been blinded by that love–blinded to the point of unquestioning sacrifice.
I know this is true because I was one of Christ’s disciples for over nineteen years, and my subsequent self-excision was/is traumatically painful.
My Dad was a professional musician during the 1940’s. At one of his concerts he met a female vocalist and, as things go, they went (lucky for me). They got married and, when I was a toddler, they both found true religion. Dad threw away his collection of original Glenn Miller recordings (ouch!), turned his back on his former “sinful” life and enrolled in seminary to become a minister. He didn’t finish because of the strong demands of raising three boys. But he lived his faith through his family and through lay ministry in local churches.
My folks’ spirituality was so strong that they often found it hard to find a church that met their needs. So we church-hopped for many years. I can’t remember all the churches, but we were Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, fundamentalist, evangelical, “Bible-believing” and charismatic.
For a number of years we formed a family musical team and ministered in many Southern California churches–nothing fantastic–Dad played trombone and preached, Mom sang solos, I played piano, my brothers tooted various instruments and we all joined in singing those famous gospel harmonies. It was a neat experience for us kids. My childhood was filled with love, fun and purpose. I felt truly fortunate to have been born into the “truth” and at the age of fifteen I committed myself to a lifetime of Christian ministry.
My commitment lasted nineteen years. It gave my life a feeling of purpose, destiny and fulfillment. I spent years trekking across Mexico in missionary work–small villages, jungles, deserts, large arenas, radio, television, parks, prisons and street meetings. I spent more years in traveling evangelism across the United States preaching and singing in churches, on street corners, house-to-house witnessing, college campuses and wherever an audience could be found.
I was a “doer of the word and not a hearer only.” I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.
I served for a while as librarian for Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles choir, observing the “miracles” first-hand. I was even instrumental in a few healings myself.
For a number of years I directed the “King’s Children,” a local Christian music group that performed quite extensively including a brief term of hosting a local Christian television show.
For fifteen years I worked with Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian recording artist in the Spanish-speaking world. I was his main producer/arranger, and working with him gave me the opportunity to learn the skills to produce many more Christian albums, including some of my own.
I have written more than a hundred Christian songs which are either published or recorded by various artists, and two of my children’s musicals continue to be best sellers around the world. (“Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a Christmas musical, and “His Fleece Was White as Snow,” for Easter, both published and distributed by Manna Music. You can see the religious symbolism: Christ, the unspotted lamb of god who became the final sacrifice for sin.)
I could go on listing my Christian accomplishments, but I think you can see that I was very serious about my faith, and that I am quite capable of analyzing religion from the inside out.
Last Friday evening I directed a bible study in my own home. I opened it to all comers and announced that I would welcome all points of view with the purpose of examining the documents with skepticism rather than faith. The eight people who arrived (to my astonishment) were Christians who had been informed of my present atheistic stance and were curious about my intentions. My closest ally was my brother, a theistic agnostic [Darrell is now an activist freethinker]. One fellow, a theologian, informed me that his purpose in coming was to convert me back to the faith. (He failed.)
It was a fun, lively evening and much information was exchanged, but I noticed something interesting. They were more concerned about me and my atheism than they were about the bible. The discussion kept coming around to an analysis of my conversion from the faith. They were intrigued that someone who had been so strongly religious could so radically “stray” and not be ashamed. They kept probing for some deep psychological cause, some hidden disappointment, secret bitterness, temptation or pride. They were like spiritual doctors trying to remove a tumor or blinding cataract.
One fellow suggested I had been blinded by Satan–the Devil being so intimidated by my strong Christian witness that he needed to neutralize the enemy, get me out of commission. That was very flattering, but it misses the point.
The point here is that the merits of an argument do not depend on the character of the speaker. All arguments should be weighed for their own sake, based on their own evidences and logical consistencies.
Before the bible study even commenced one fellow said, “Dan, tell us what caused you to lose your faith.” So I told them.
I did not lose my faith, I gave it up purposely. The motivation that drove me into the ministry is the same that drove me out. I have always wanted to know. Even as a child I fervently pursued truth. I was rarely content to accept things without examination, and my examinations were intense. I was a thirsty learner, a good student, and a good minister because of that drive. I always took things apart and put them back together again.
Since I was taught and believed Christianity was the answer, the only hope for “man,” I dedicated myself to understanding all I possibly could. I devoured every book, every sermon, and the bible. I prayed, fasted and obeyed biblical teaching. I decided that I would lean my whole weight upon the truth of scripture. This attitude, I am sure, gave the impression that I was a notch above, that I could be trusted as a Christian authority and leader. Christians, eager for substantiation, gladly allowed me to assume a place of leadership and I took it as confirmation of my holy calling.
But my mind did not go to sleep. In my thirst for knowledge I did not limit myself to Christian authors but curiously desired to understand the reasoning behind nonChristian thinking. I figured the only way to truly grasp a subject was to look at it from all sides. If I had limited myself to Christian books I would probably still be a Christian today. I read philosophy, theology, science and psychology. I studied evolution and natural history. I read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, John Dewey and others. At first I laughed at these worldly thinkers, but I eventually started discovering some disturbing facts–facts that discredited Christianity. I tried to ignore these facts because they did not integrate with my religious world view.
For years I went through an intense inner conflict. On the one hand I was happy with the direction and fulfillment of my Christian life; on the other hand I had intellectual doubts. Faith and reason began a war within me. And it kept escalating. I would cry out to God for answers, and none would come. Like the battered wife who clings to hope, I kept trusting that God would someday come through. He never did.
The only proposed answer was faith, and I gradually grew to dislike the smell of that word. I finally realized that faith is a cop-out, a defeat–an admission that the truths of religion are unknowable through evidence and reason. It is only undemonstrable assertions that require the suspension of reason, and weak ideas that require faith. I just lost faith in faith. Biblical contradictions became more and more discrepant, apologist arguments more and more absurd and, when I finally discarded faith, things became more and more clear.
But don’t imagine that was an easy process. It was like tearing my whole frame of reality to pieces, ripping to shreds the fabric of meaning and hope, betraying the values of existence. It hurt. And it hurt bad. It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege. All of my bases for thinking and values had to be restructured. Add to that inner conflict the outer conflict of reputation and you have a destabilizing war. Did I really want to discard the respect I had so carefully built over many years with so many important people?
I can understand why people cling to their faith. Faith is comforting. It provides many “answers” to life’s riddles. My Christian life was quite positive and I really see no external/cultural reason why I should have rejected it. I continue to share many of the same Christian values I was taught (though I would no longer call them “Christian”–they are my values); and many of my close friends are decent Christian individuals whom I love and respect.
Christians feel deeply that their way of life is the best possible. They feel their attitude toward the rest of the world is one of love. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t understand why people would be critical of Christianity unless they were inwardly motivated by “worldly” Satanic influences. I pretended to love all individuals while hating the “sin” that was in them, like Christ supposedly did. (We were taught that Christ was the most loving example.)
It was a mystery to me how anyone could be blind to the truths of the Gospel. After all, don’t we all want love, peace, happiness, hope and meaning in life? Christ was the only answer, I believed, and I figured all nonChristians must be driven by other things, like greed, lust, evil pride, hate and jealousy. I took the media’s caricature of the world’s situation as evidence of that fact. For me to grow into one of those godless creatures was almost impossible, and I resisted all the way. (I have since discovered that ethics has nothing to do with religion, at least not in positive correlation.)
There was no specific turning point for me. I one day just realized that I was no longer a Christian, and a few months later I mustered the nerve to advertise that fact. That was last January, six months ago. Since then I have been bombarded by all my caring friends and relatives. I appreciate their concern and I sincerely wish to keep a dialogue open.
As an example, while I was typing this article I received a long distance call from a former Christian friend who had heard about my “defection.” It is hard to handle calls like that. She was stunned, and I am certain that she is at this very moment in prayer for me, or calling others to join in prayer. I love this person, I respect her and do not wish to cause any undue harm. She told me that she had read an article I wrote to my local paper. (How it got to her area is a mystery.) I understand her concern and sympathize with her since I know exactly what she is thinking.
I was a preacher for many years, and I guess it hasn’t all rubbed off. I would wish to influence others who may be struggling like I did–influence them to have the guts to think. To think deliberately and clearly. To take no fact without critical examination and to remain open to honest inquiry, wherever it leads.
I have this book, and in fact Mr. Barker’s writings, along with others, have given me the key to unlocking my chains. One of my favorite bits in his book, “Losing Faith in Faith,” I found online and thought I’d post below:
The following open letter was reprinted from Losing Faith in Faith (1992).
by Dan Barker
You asked me to consider Christianity as the answer for my life. I have done that. I consider it untrue, repugnant, and harmful.
You expect me to believe Jesus was born of a virgin impregnated by a ghost? Do you believe all the crazy tales of ancient religions? Julius Caesar was reportedly born of a virgin; Roman historian Seutonius said Augustus bodily rose to heaven when he died; and Buddha was supposedly born speaking. You don’t believe all that, do you? Why do you expect me to swallow the fables of Christianity?
I find it incredible that you ask me to believe that the earth was created in six literal days; women come from a man’s rib; a snake, a donkey, and a burning bush spoke human language; the entire world was flooded, covering the mountains to drown evil; all animal species, millions of them, rode on one boat; language variations stem from the tower of Babel; Moses had a magic wand; the Nile turned to blood; a stick turned into a snake; witches, wizards, and sorcerers really exist; food rained from the sky for 40 years; people were cured by the sight of a brass serpent; the sun stood still to help Joshua win a battle, and it went backward for King Hezekiah; men survived unaided in a fiery furnace; a detached hand floated in the air and wrote on a wall; men followed a star which directed them to a particular house; Jesus walked on water unaided; fish and bread magically multiplied to feed the hungry; water instantly turned into wine; mental illness is caused by demons; a “devil” with wings exists who causes evil; people were healed by stepping into a pool agitated by angels; disembodied voiced spoke from the sky; Jesus vanished and later materialized from thin air; people were healed by Peter’s shadow; angels broke people out of jail; a fiery lake of eternal torment awaits unbelievers under the earth … while there is life-after-death in a city which is 1,500 miles cubed, with mansions and food, for Christians only.
If you believe these stories, then you are the one with the problem, not me. These myths violate natural law, contradict science, and fail to correspond with reality or logic. If you can’t see that, then you can’t separate truth from fantasy. It doesn’t matter how many people accept delusions inflicted by “holy” men; a widely held lie is still a lie. If you are so gullible, then you are like the child who believes the older brother who says there is a monster in the hallway. But there is nothing to be afraid of; go turn on the light and look for yourself.
If Christianity were simply untrue I would not be too concerned. Santa is untrue, but it is a harmless myth which people outgrow. But Christianity, besides being false, is also abhorrent. It amazes me that you claim to love the god of the bible, a hateful, arrogant, sexist, cruel being who can’t tolerate criticism. I would not want to live in the same neighborhood with such a creature!
The biblical god is a macho male warrior. Though he said “Thou shalt not kill,” he ordered death for all opposition, wholesale drowning and mass exterminations; punishes offspring to the fourth generation (Ex. 20:5); ordered pregnant women and children to be ripped up (Hos. 13:16); demands animal and human blood to appease his angry vanity; is partial to one race of people; judges women to be inferior to men; is a sadist who created a hell to torture unbelievers; created evil (Is. 45:7); discriminated against the handicapped (Lev. 21:18-23); ordered virgins to be kept as spoils of war (Num. 31:15-18, Deut. 21:11-14); spread dung on people’s faces (Mal. 2:3); sent bears to devour 42 children who teased a prophet (II Kings 2:23-24); punishes people with snakes, dogs, dragons, drunkenness, swords, arrows, axes, fire, famine, and infanticide; and said fathers should eat their sons (Ez. 5:10). Is that nice? Would you want to live next door to such a person?
And Jesus is a chip off the old block. He said, “I and my father are one,” and he upheld “every jot and tittle” of the Old Testament law. Mt. 5:18 He preached the same old judgment: vengeance and death, wrath and distress, hell and torture for all nonconformists. He believed in demons, angels and spirits. He never denounced the subjugation of slaves or women. Women were excluded as disciples and as guests at his heavenly table. Except for hell he introduced nothing new to ethics or philosophy. He was disrespectful of his mother and brothers; he said we should hate our parents and desert our families. Mt. 10:35-36, Lk. 14:26 (So much for “Christian family life.”) He denounced anger, but was often angry himself. Mt. 5:22, Mk. 3:5 He called people “fools” (Mt. 23:17,19), “serpents,” and “white sepulchers,” though he warned that such language puts you in danger of hellfire. Mt. 5:22 He said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Mt. 10:34 (So much for “Peace on Earth.”) He irrationally cursed and withered a fig tree for being barren out of season. Mt. 21:19 He mandated burning unbelievers. Jn. 15:6 (The Church has complied with relish.) He stole a horse. Lk. 19:30-33 He told people to cut off hands, feet, eyes and sexual organs. Mt. 5:29-30, 19:12 You want me to accept Jesus, but I think I’ll pick my own friend, thank you.
One of Jesus’s many contradictions was saying good works should be seen, and not seen. Mt. 5:16, 6:1-4 One of his mistakes was saying that the mustard plant has the smallest seed. Mt. 13:31-32 The writers of Matthew and Luke could not even get his genealogy straight, contradicting the Old Testament, and giving Jesus two discrepant lines through Joseph, his non-father!
I also find Christianity to be morally repugnant. The concepts of original sin, depravity, substitutionary forgiveness, intolerance, eternal punishment, and humble worship are all beneath the dignity of intelligent human beings and conflict with the values of kindness and reason. They are barbaric ideas for primitive cultures cowering in fear and ignorance.
Finally, Christianity is harmful. More people have been killed in the name of a god than for any other reason. The Church has a shameful, bloody history of Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-burnings, heresy trials, American colonial intolerance, disrespect of indigenous traditions (such as American Indians), support of slavery, and oppression of women. Modern “fruits” of religion include the Jonestown massacre, the callous fraud of “faith healers,” recent wars and ethnic cleansing, and fighting in Northern Ireland. Religion also poses a danger to mental health, damaging self-respect, personal responsibility, and clarity of thought.
Do you see why I do not respect the biblical message? It is an insulting bag of nonsense. You have every right to torment yourself with such insanity — but leave me out of it. I have better things to do with my life.
Ever wonder why, in Christian bookstores, you can find so many versions of the New Testament by itself without the old? Considering the importance of the story of Adam and Eve and the garden, which makes belief on Jesus Christ necessary, I find this odd. Without this one event, the concept of original sin committed by childlike newly made humans of picking a piece of fruit that was forbidden, the entire structure of the Christian religion would fall.
I am no scientist or researcher. I’m just someone with an average IQ trying to grasp the workings of this god. But even I with my limited intellect can see something questionable in this creation story…a major contradiction… that the religion is founded upon.
God is all-knowing. He can see the entire future and what is going to happen before it happens. God is perfect. This is what Christianity maintains. He made humans in his image. That means the original humans would have been perfect too. Or should have been. Had God in his perfection set about to make a perfect creation. But then he didn’t obviously. Because a creation made in his image would be perfect. Unless, that is, he failed? Can God fail? Or is everything he does, part of a master plan?
If God made humans in his image but didn’t do it right and they ended up flawed, corruptable, wouldn’t God have known it ahead of time that his creation was flawed and taken steps to correct the problem? If you are a sculptor making a figure out of clay and the arm falls off, wouldn’t you take the time to reattach the arm? Or better yet start the sculpture over again so this time it has no defect, no weak point?
Clearly if God is all-knowing, he knew when he made humans that his creation had a weakness. Not only did he know this, but he also knew ahead of time that humans would be tempted in the garden. He would have to, because he is all-knowing and can see future events, yes? So he would have known even before he made the earth or scattered stars across the sky that his creation mankind would fail him. And since God cannot fail or make imperfection and/or mistakes we were made perfectly as he intended us to be–imperfect! Human beings. Perfectly (and purposely) made imperfect.
In the same way, God would have known when he made the angel Lucifer, that this angel was going to betray him, cause an uprising against him in heaven, and force God to cast him to the earth, thus creating his worst enemy and the cause of never-ending suffering on the earth. And yet…God made Lucifer anyway, and, knowing ahead of time this angel would be flawed in his character, God could certainly have chosen to not make the angel at all, or perhaps remade Lucifer so he was as perfect as his other angels. Because angels aren’t supposed to have free will like humans. Therefore obviously it would be a flaw in that angel if it were capable of acting in defiance. So twice now at least, God has made flawed creations. Deliberately, because he’s all knowing. First, by making Lucifer, who did have free will, (and then apparently other flawed angels who were capable of being turned to follow Lucifer). And then of course with the creation of humankind, which God would have known ahead of time all the events that were about to happen.
He’d have known it when he made Lucifer, that this angel would fall, known it that Lucifer would become Satan and thus forcing God to make hell as a place separate from God for Satan and his followers to live. God would have known ahead of time that Satan was lurking in Eden in the form of a serpent, would have known ahead of time that he put his flawed creation man in close proximity to this fallen angel and known ahead of time that the creation he had knowingly made flawed, would ultimately fail him.
If you were a ship-wright, and you made a little boat, and you decided to put a hole in its hull before placing it on a lake…would you be angry and surprised to return to the lake a few hours later and find the boat had sunk? Would you become enraged at the boat, curse it, haul it out from the water and break it into pieces and burn it, blaming the boat for having the hole?
Essentially this is what God does in the Adam and Eve story. He throws a tantrum when he “discovers” man and woman hiding their nakedness from him. Yes, like he didn’t know ahead of time that man and woman would succumb to the temptation of Satan or didn’t know ahead of time that Satan whom he bungled the job of making correctly, would foil what I guess was his original plan (does God change his mind?) of having perfect immortal creations made in his image, in a garden to keep him company for all eternity?
Does any of this make sense? So ok, another thing God knew ahead of time. He knew because he had created human beings flawed, deliberately it seems, and Lucifer flawed, again, AWARE, and yet doing this anyway, that a gulf would be created between humans and himself. And in fact from that moment forward humans would have to grovel and offer sacrifice and do everything in their power to make amends for the flaw that God had made in them, the flaw that God had made in Lucifer and in the angels who could defy God and follow Lucifer. That’s alot of flaws for a perfect flawless being to create. Which of course means they aren’t really flaws but part of God’s making that he did deliberately and knowingly.
So great. Now he has outcasted flawed angels in this horrible place called hell because they did just as he had made them to do. And we have a race of sentient beings who must forever give of their food, prosperity, time, energy, love…whatever…to appease this God’s wrath over the fact they too, did what he had designed them to do.
If you make a fire to burn and so it burns, would you then have a tantrum and punish it for burning? Yet, isn’t that what God does with his creations he made flawed deliberately and so they acted as he made them to? If you make a car with its steering wheel stuck all the way to the right so all it can do is drive in tight little circles…would you punish the car for having this flaw? Why then does it make sense that this creator can make flawed creations, and being all-knowing as he is, being aware of the flaws as he makes these flawed creations, only to punish the flawed creation for doing just as he made them to?
A race of slaves, running to do God’s will for fear of being smited if they do not. Giving to him in fire portions of their best crops and livestock, and all the humans after those first flawed creations inheriting that flaw, and having to do likewise…
All so God could send down his only son to be flogged, abused, and ultimately die for the fact we humans (and some of God’s own angels) were made flawed by God, all to provide us a way to reconnect with God again and not have to make sacrifices anymore. Christians call this a loving father. What a role model for father’s everywhere, a superbeing who for generations planned and then oversees that it’s carried out– the murder of his own son. All because…oh yes, that’s right, God knowingly made us flawed and therefore deserving of punishment, needing someone to die horribly so we are all washed clean in his blood.
Lovely image, that. Isn’t it? How odd it is that for this peaceful, loving God so often blood and pain and death are sang about and celebrated by Christians.
Did Jesus supposed sacrifice really free us of God’s judgement–God’s tyranny because certainly Satan never dreamed it up. Free us of the horrible penalty we inherited from flawed primitives who made a mistake with a talking snake? Christianity teaches we are born into sin. We inherited original sin, Eve’s sin, and Adam’s, and our parent’s sin, and their parent’s sin, and their parent’s parent’s sin. We are born corrupted and in need of fixing. We are born flawed–more flawed creations God made deliberately, and the only way for us to avoid eternal torment in a horrible place called hell, is give over our lives to this God. Oh, but we are given free will to choose! And the choices? Take a bullet in the head, or love me. Jump into a vat of acid or love me. Burn and suffer forever in endless torment, or love me. How, may I ask, can this be called free will???
Why would i want to love or follow a God that deliberately and knowingly, made humans flawed and then blamed us, punished us ever since, for it? Unlike every other living thing born on this earth, I am born broken until I beg God to make me whole again.
This is not in my view, the actions of a good and loving God. I think if I were a very sadistic scientist in a lab and I wanted to, just for kicks, torment some rats, I’d do about the same things to them. I’d genetically create rats with only three legs, not four. I’d expect those rats to perform as well as or better than four-legged rats, and when they did not, I would punish them–throw them live, into a fire. Then I’d make the offspring of those genetically engineered to be flawed rats, also born with three legs, to perish the same way, just for inheriting the desired flaw I made them to have.
These are just a few of the flaws I see in what really is the foundation of the Christian religion, a story that without it, there would be no need for Jesus Christ and belief in saviors, or for that matter a need to support churches, or spend our precious little time worshipping a bully who forced all this on us–put us in this position of dependency on him and his mercy, all on purpose apparently if he truly is all-knowing. If God had made us correctly in the first place (and being perfect he should have been able to) and Lucifer, and those angels who followed him–we’d still be in the garden right now. All this is according to his divine plan, Christians say. Well then. His divine plan was to make a flawed race of slaves and force us to surrender up our lives to him to keep from being damned forever for having a flaw he gave us in the first place.
Great article I found
God is merciful, but only if you’re a man
Jew, Christian or Muslim … whatever the faith, women are still treated with disdain or worse
There is plenty to criticise in Islam’s view of women. Last year, the Observer told the story of a man in Basra who stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed to death his 17-year-old daughter for becoming infatuated with a British soldier. The relationship apparently amounted to a few conversations, but her father learnt she had been seen in public talking to the soldier. When the Observer talked to Abdel-Qader Ali two weeks later, he said: “Death was the least she deserved. I don’t regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion.”
This was clearly extreme, but the truth is that the God many people believe in – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish – hates women. Take America’s Southern Baptist Convention, which declares in its faith and mission statement: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” That’s fair enough, isn’t it? After all, he’s probably stronger than she is.
Or there’s the Catholic church. The Pope put things more suavely in an address in 2008: “Faced with cultural and political trends that seek to eliminate, or at least cloud and confuse, the sexual differences inscribed in human nature, considering them a cultural construct, it is necessary to recall God’s design that created the human being masculine and feminine, with a unity and at the same time an original difference.” The insistence on difference is the necessary first step to insisting on inequality and subordination and it is a step that popes have been taking at regular intervals for decades.
In November 2006, Nicaragua enacted a ban on all abortion, with no exceptions, even to save the mother’s life. The law was ratified by the National Assembly in September 2007. Both the original enactment and the vote in September 2007 were widely attributed to the influence of the Catholic church. In a report this month, the United Nations Committee against torture called Nicaragua’s total ban on abortion a violation of human rights.
Then there is Judaism. In one neighbourhood in Jerusalem, religious seminaries flank streets with yellow signs that warn: “If you’re a woman and you’re not properly dressed – don’t pass through our neighbourhood.”
So why is it so often women who fill the pews? Is it a form of Stockholm syndrome? Religions do a good job of training people to be obedient and loyal to the authorities and women in particular are raised to be both devout and submissive. Religions are sticky: they are hard to abandon and that is doubly true for women, given that subordination and unshakable fidelity are their chief duties.
The fact that women are defined as different from men (“complementary” is the religious euphemism) and confined to narrower, more monotonous lives as a result, means that they have more need of the excitements and passions of religion. For women, religion often is the heart of a heartless world. All they have to give up in exchange is their right to shape their own lives; as long as they behave themselves, all will go swimmingly.
The intimate and inescapable connection that contemporary liberal believers like to see between God and love, theism and compassion, is largely a modern invention. It’s far from universal now and it was vanishingly rare in the past. St Francis was an eccentric, not an exemplar. The painful truth is that still, to this day, most people who believe in a god believe in a god who is often vindictive, punitive and sometimes just plain cruel. The Ryan report on abuse of children in Irish industrial schools, released two weeks ago, provides a mountain of searing evidence for that. For decade after decade, generation upon generation, the religious congregations in charge of the institutions saw nothing wrong.
One survivor of Goldenbridge, the most notorious industrial school for girls, run by the Sisters of Mercy, told the commission: “The screaming of children will stay with me for the rest of my life about Goldenbridge. I still hear it, I still haven’t recovered from that. Children crying and screaming, it was just endless, it never, never stopped for years in that place.” Many of those children were there simply because their mothers were unmarried or divorced.
The God we have in the Big Three monotheisms is a God who originated in a period when male superiority was absolutely taken for granted. That time has passed, but the superior male God remains and that God holds women in contempt. That God is the one who puts “His” imprimatur on all those tyrannical laws. That God is a product of history, but taken to be eternal, which is a bad combination. That is the God who hates women.
So why do so many women put up with it? Partly because God gives with one hand what “He” takes away with the other – God consoles people for the very harshness that God creates. It’s the sad, familiar, heartrending bargain in which the victim embraces the perpetrator, in some complicated, confusing, all-too-human mix of appeasement, need and stubborn loyalty. The fact that the embrace is all on one side is resolutely ignored.