Rise From The Ashes of the Mind’s Eye

I feel like this bog post is about three years late, yet the timing is probably best.

I was raised in the Church.  It was practically in my DNA. At no time did I ever doubt there was a God.  Jesus was the answer to the questions of life.

I cannot say I believe this, after over 30 years of living.  It was about 38 years of living and believing to be exact.

About three years ago, I found I could no longer believe.

There is a quote that has been attributable to many writers, from Stephen Meyer to Josh McDowell. It goes “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects.”  I have long believed this.  It is why people can believe very outlandish things.  It is not really a defense, so much as a criticism…but you would not know it, because it is primarily used as a pro-conversion statement.

The road to no more faith in a god of any sort was tough.  In the beginning it was more about doubts of the Church and Bible.  The Church I was a part of encouraged using the “Year Through the Bible”.  It is a Bible structured so that each day, you read a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament and the Psalms (which is…uh, part of the OT, but whatever).  Now, I knew the Bible pretty well.   I studied it my whole life.  And my first pass was pretty uneventful.  I was focused on the “year-thru-the-Bible” gimmick.

It was my second pass.  The second year I was reading thru, stuff started to seem… a little off.  Do not get me wrong…there were uplifting stuff, encouraging stuff.  But more and more, God, proclaimed as good and great throughout scripture, started to show as ego maniacal, self centered, manipulative (“If you really loved me…”) and generally petty.  God exhibited qualities that I would never see as respectable in a person.  I mean, Donald Trump exhibits a lot of the same self regard that God does…I do not consider Trump worthy of worship.  The main difference with God seems to be super powers.  These qualities are not bad for God, because, hey, God is GOD!  Which is a pretty lame defense.

The story of Job shows God letting Job lose *everything* including his family to devastation and death simply to prove a point.  God is not innocent of Job’s suffering.  God stops show His favor to Job so He can prove Job does not need those things to love and worship Him.  There is no indication that God is bothered by anything Job is going through, because it is not about Job…it is about God’s ego.  Sure, God gave Job everything back twofold…well kinda.  It is not like God raised his children and servants from the dead.  No, those people were gone.  He just replaced them for Job.

I had kind of rejected Sola Scripture by this point.  That is the notion that scripture is the only source of wisdom from God.  It is circular logic, as the Bible never makes any such claim.  And the verses that speak of scripture being God-breathed were written when there was no Bible.  So, it got ridiculous.

I also confess that I gave up asking for anything in prayer.

Wait, let me re-state that.  I continued to pray.  But I stopped asking for anything for myself.  I focused on the needs of friends and family.  The common answer Christians give is that God’s answers are yes, no or not now/maybe.  So, God is a magic eight ball.

Anyways, I pretty much decided that I had to reject anything that seemed contrary to God.  I did not want to accept the idea that God might not be real.  I wanted to believe, so I just had to stop buying the idea that God was anything like other Christians were willing to accept about God.

I found other people who had similar ideas, which was a bit of comfort.  Unfortunately, they were not at Church, which eventually led to my dropping out.  I just could not worship that God.  I still participated in the video team, though less and less.  I like doing that stuff, I like helping friends.

I had been, for quite some time, finding that the concept of “Faith” as a noble and great thing problematic.  Faith in things unseen is actually pretty neutral.  Your faith in things unseen might lead you to start a hospital to help the sick or a food bank to feed the poor.  Of course, your faith in things unseen might also lead you to fly planes into buildings or shoot doctors.

About a little over three years ago, I was presented a question that I just could not get around.  “Could I prove God exists without resorting to it being a feeling or sense I had.

And I thought about it.

And I thought about it some more.

And even more.

And you know what I realized?

I could not.  Because that is what faith is.

I claimed a personal relationship with a person who did not answer me back when I spoke with them.  I could not have a conversation.  We do not get to know  people merely by reading about them.  I have friends that are very into reading books about various historical figures.  But no matter how many books they read on Lincoln or John Adams?  They will never be able to claim a personal relationship to either man.  They simply know facts about them.  They may feel a kinship, but there is no relationship.  If they quietly pray to them, it is not a relationship.  If they sing songs to them, it is still not a relationship.

Billy Graham was very fond of the notion that God is like the wind.  e cannot see the wind, but we know it is real.

Except wind and God are not the same thing.  Wind cannot be seen directly, but you can see it physically impacting things.  Smoke dissipates or bends to the wind.  Branches and bushes sway.  We feel it move across our skin.  We can hear it make noise.  Wind is truly verifiable.  If you put five people in a a backyard on a windy day, they will have pretty much the same experience.  The variations will be small.  But you sit five Christians together and you will easily get five different experiences that are very different.  Sometimes even contradictory.  Because, unlike wind, we do not hear God (we often claim it is a still small voice-our conscience…but it is not an audible voice that the other four people would hear).  Unlike the wind, we do not feel a touch of God on our skin.  We do not hear, touch, smell or see God.  We rely on feelings about events in our lives.  “This happened, it must be God speaking to me”.  I honestly do not know a single person who has ever made an indisputable case for God.  Instead, their believe is strictly based on a feeling.

I am not denying their sincerity.  They truly do believe.  They are certain the things they do that are good are because of a change God has made in them.  I actually expect sincere belief to change you.  If you sincerely believe something, you should be changing.  But it does not prove your belief to be true.  But honesty, a lot of the attempts I see to prove that Christianity is not simply a religion, but absolute truth ends up reminding me of those Ghost Hunter and Cryptozoology shows on Nat Geo.  They present a lot of unverified images and sounds and then demand you offer a better explanation than Bigfoot.

And so I am left having to side with the idea that I cannot worship that which I cannot prove the existence of.  I do not believe Christianity is al bad.  I do not believe religion has only brought pain and suffering.  But it certainly has not only brought good either.  The Bible has good concepts, it also has some pretty messed up ideas.  While many Christians reject slavery today, it is most definitely not because the Bible condemns it.  Slave owners used scripture to justify slavery.  Why?  Because the Bible addresses slavery…but it does not condemn it.  The holy scripture does not ever condemn the ownership of another person.  Of course, these things become less of a problem if you do not consider the Bible infallible.  If recognized as a book written by flawed humans with human flaws?  You can take note of and hold on to the good while leaving the bad behind.  Just like we do with any other book.

Honestly, to quote Steve Taylor, “Since I gave up Hope, I feel a lot better.”  I am not using that quite in the way Steve intended, but hey.  What I mean, really, is that I have found life to be filled with more hope than before.  Which surprised me.  I do not have all the answers, and I no longer feel like I have to.  I also appreciate that I am no longer paralyzed by wondering if my hopes and dreams are God’s will or my will.  Maybe I am the only one who ever found that an issue.  Do I want to tell stories because of what I want or is it God?  Do I want to share my art because it is God’s will or my own desire?  And so I would stop trying to accomplish anything.  Now?  Without being driven mad by such worry, I can pursue creative endeavors.

I realize that the reactions to this will be varied.  Some folks will be disappointed.  Some will not be surprised.  Some will mock.  Some will be supportive.  But I felt like it was time to say it.  You might wonder why it would be so hard.  One Christian declared not teaching your kids to believe in Jesus (which I could not do, and my sister is not doing with my nephews currently, though she believes in God) to be the ultimate form of (Cosmic) child abuse.  I have seen how some Christians have responded to Ojo Taylor from Undercover.   There is good reason a lot of former Christians (and other religions) kind of go underground.  And much of my personal life is steeped among Christians.  The majority of my friends and family are Christians.  My parents are very involved in Church.  My mom has terminal cancer that we discovered shortly after I stopped believing.  Do I really want to have ongoing discussions about why I should believe in the time I have left with my mom?  Not really.  I want to build as many positive memories in the time ahead.

But there it is.

I do not believe in God.  Or any gods.

Happy New Year?

 

No One Else Is To Blame

Over the weekend, I saw an episode of some show on the ID Disovery Channel. The tragic story (as with every show on the channel) was as follows:

A woman decided to give a shot at online dating. She joined a dating website. She met a guy and hit it off. They dated some. Her friends did not care for him, and eventually they broke up. As to be expected, a few weeks (months maybe?) later, he drives across the country, kills an ex-girlfriend he had not seen in ten years and then goes and tries to kill the woman who was the focus of the story.

That is really understating it…I will leave out the gory details, but that he failed to take her life is not due to being sloppy or rushed. He made every effort to make this into a homocide investigation. It is amazing she lived to tell her tale. But one detail got me. She is suing the dating agency for ten million dollars because the website had no warnings.

Really? We are going to demand that websites include disclaimers of potential sociopaths and psychopaths using the site to get dates? And would a disclaimer have changed anything? Would she have questioned the guy if only the web site had included a warning label? Would she have not used the website? If she had met the same guy through a friend, would she sue them for $10 million?

What she went through was horrific…but what happened was no more the fault of the the web site than it was hers for breaking up with him. He made the decision to turn to become a murderer. He chose to try and kill her. The web site had no ability to prevent him from crossing into the territory of murderous villain in her life. I get that there is the desire to hold someone accountable… But the responsible party is the person who deceptively portrayed themselves as someone who is not on the verge of a murder binge.

In Another Time

I am making a confession here.  When I was growing up, I have some opinions on things that are not reflective of my views today.  In high school and well into my early twenties, I believed in the perversion of homosexuality.

What I mean by that is, I believed homosexuality was a perversion of “good and natural sexuality”.  I believed this because the Bible seemed so clear on the issues.  A man shall not lie with a man and all that…it  was a simple fact of life that God found it abhorrent.  How could I dispute it?  My God had declared it, I had to believe it.

Understand, I did not hate gay people.  I saw it as a sin, but I did not think they should be beat up or hurt.  I did not like people using “gay” as a catchall negative to say “that thing sucks.”  I hated the slur “fag”.  I did not think they were a unique evil.  It is just what God said. So, what could I do right?

In high school (and post college), I worked in a movie theater.  One of my co-workers was a guy named Matt.  I actually figured out he was gay several years before he pointedly said to me that he was.  I appreciate more than he could know the strength and courage it had to take to tell me.  I was a very talkative Christian.  I talked about God and Church a lot.  I was not tremendously gracious about it, rather I was being “bold” and “assertive” for Christ.  After all, we all know how Christians were persecuted in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this always translated to making bold statements about stuff like homosexuality being an immoral lifestyle.

And yet, Matt was patient and told me anyways.  See, the thing about Matt is that he was kind and generous.  He was intensely gentle in his attempts to challenge opinions.  He was firm but patient.  He was, without question, intensely gracious.  Matt was easily one of the best people I have had the pleasure of knowing.  And somehow, he was able to look past the fact that I saw him as choosing a lifestyle that was immoral and evil.

I think of Matt from time to time.  I think of the fun times we had talking.  I think of how he responded to and treated me.  I think of his kindness.  His goodness.  His patience.  His willingness to be friends in spite of my harsh view of his life experiences.  Reflecting on Matt, it was his behavior that began to chip away at my notions.  Years passed and I was unable to reconcile why Matt would have chosen that lifestyle.  And maybe it is because, well, he had not chosen a lifestyle.

Matt was gay.  He was since his earliest memories.  He did have a choice, of course…he could keep it internalized and work to impress us as a heterosexual, or acknowledge that part of who he was and not live a lie.  And he made the choice that doesn’t drive you mad.  I have not seen Matt in over fifteen years.  But he made a powerful impact that put me on a path of questioning things I just presumed were true, because I read it in a book.  I started to listen and read about the experiences of gay people.  I started to listen to the variety of opinions on the issues of human sexuality.

Where I stand today is very different from where I was all those years ago.  Early in my thirties, I realized my old views could not withstand the information in front of me.  It was not a good thing to stand for keeping people from access to things I could access simply because I was attracted to the women side of the human scale.

This is my apology, to the GLBT people I know.  The ones I don’t.  It is my apology to say I am sorry I was not willing to hear your voices earlier, that I let what others told me I should believe shape my reaction to your lives.  I am sorry and want you to know that I am  glad you are here.  I am glad I could learn and grow.  And to others, I hope this can show that this can give hope that people can change.

Lack of Understanding Is Not Rightness

It seems fairly common for people that when they cannot understand how a person feels, they see the problem as being with the other person.

I am not speaking about differences of opinions on politics. I am talking about life choices. Big ones. For many of us, the decisions and feelings of a trans person are unrelateable. We do not get it. So some folks demonize the trans community as deviants.

I am being honest here. I do not understand what a trans person is going through. There is a simple reason. I have never been in question about my gender versus my body. These two aspects of my being are not in conflict. I can never truly grasp the struggle if they were to come to terms. How frustrating it must be to feel something is not… Exact…but not understand what as I am growing up.

The same is true of being gay. I have never been in question of the fact that I am drawn to women. I wonder at times how I would deal if society told me at every turn that being attracted to women was deviant and immoral.

Angelina Jolie took heat from “heartbroken” men about a double mastectomy. They could not fathom why she would removed a great pair of breasts. Sure, I suspect some men thought they were being funny…but it isn’t really funny.

Granted, I could probably identify with Jolie’s situation a bit more than the other two examples.

But the thing is, the real problem is not the situations above. The real problem is with the people who decide that their lack of understanding makes them right. That because they cannot understand or relate, there is something deviant or dangerous about the people they don’t understand.

I may not understand what a trans person is fully going through. But I am not “normal” because of it. I am simply a person. As are they. I am not helping a person in their struggles by telling them they are deviant simply for their realization that their identity and birth gender are in conflict. Making them the but of jokes, or embarrassing secrets is cruel. How is being cruel “normal”? How is being ruled by our inability to relate “wise”?

Instead, we see numerous people separating these groups out as if they are an evil attack group out to destroy “good, decent and moral” society. When compassion is treated as a weakness, one forfeits the ability to say they are on the side of good, decent or moral societies.

So…Um, Sorry

About the lack of presence here on the blog.  Life has had some big upsets and changes, none really things one wants to discuss, but I may share for folks who are finding their life hitting the same areas.  It could certainly be worse, but life is not without it’s downs at this time.

Things You Do Not Lie About

So, I watched a guy get in trouble for solicitation in a store tonight. What was he soliciting? His Christian Ministry. He was showing brochures that were prominently sticking out of his shirt pocket. He was told not to do so once…and then he did it a second time. He told the security officer and manager he forgot the brochures were in his pocket.

You know…the brochure he had out and open three minutes before. He was lying about talking about his Christian ministry.

And yet we are always surprised when politicians get caught red handed doing something actually bad and they lie about it.

Nothing Witty To Say

I will be honest…if I were to write a book about the worst parts of Christian music?  Carman would probably be the penultimate chapter.   I am not a fan (though in my pre-teens I was).  Among the host of problems? The weird presentation of Jesus as an ass kicking hero beating up the devil and demons is just a weird portrayal of his Charismatic Christianity.

I confess, I was a bit surprised to learn that he has not taken this attitude with the revelation of having terminal cancer.

“I will not leave this world quietly and I want the devil to know that he put cancer on absolutely the wrong Italian. I have a few good years and before it’s too late I want to see your faces, shake your hands and hug your necks,” the New Jersey native wrote. “But mostly I want to see one of you get healed of what threatens your future and I really want to see someone you love come to Christ. Now lets get back to business, we have to work while its day for soon the night comes.”

Sure, there is that whole “the devil put cancer into the wrong Italian” bit.  But he is surprisingly candid about the situation.  I have seen a lot of people get cancer.  I have seen overly optimistic reactions, especially with those who have religious faith.  And those have often ended in “defeat.”  Certainly, they may have come to terms, but it took them a long time to get there, hoping for healing.
Carman, instead of asking for healing himself from his faith, says he wants to see someone else get healed.  He is, at least on the surface, very much coming to terms with a lousy diagnosis.   And I can really respect that.
My sympathies go out to Carman, his family, friends and fans.