Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fruits of the Spirit

A favorite topic among Protestant Christians is the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. These fruits are:
  • Faithfulness

  • Self-Control

  • Patience

  • Goodness

  • Gentleness

  • Joy

  • Kindness

  • Peace

  • Love

I've heard these spoken of a few different ways. One theory is that these "fruits" are present in anyone "filled by the Holy Spirit", and presence of these "fruits" is evidence that the person is indeed holy or spirit-filled. I've also heard Christians say that it should be the primary aim of any Christian desiring to please God to strive to attain these characteristics through conscious choice and acts of will. Now, these are more different than they maybe sound. On the one hand you have the God-did-it solution: You ask the Holy Spirit to make you a kind, generous, nice person and he/it does it. On the other hand, you desire to BE a spirit-filled person, or a person with fruits of the Spirit, and so you do your best to be a person who displays all these characteristics, in the hopes to be good enough for God (or other Christians).

As a child I grew up with a very guilt-inducing dogma: All life's problems were my fault. Sickness was a sign of being out of God's favor; tragedies indicated I had somehow "opened a door" for demons to enter and start screwing with my life. Once I became a teen and tried to find more liberal, forgiving churches, I embraced Ephesians 2 as my absolute favorite chapter of the Bible. It states in verse 8 that "through grace we are saved, not by works, that no man may boast". It meant that I could screw up as often as I wanted - that I had carte blanche immunity to sinning - and God would forgive me. After all, if we don't get into heaven based on our own works, why bother doing good works? Besides, some sins are a lot of fun. (You'll find out which ones when you're older.)

Now as an atheist, I don't think anyone can take away my responsibility for my actions. I don't think any mystical being, holy or otherwise, can change my basic character. All of that is my job now. And I would have to say, that although I'm certainly not filled with any kind of Holy Spirit, I do seem to have quite a bit of his fruit. I'm generally loving, kind, gentle, and good. Anyone who has seen me with my son will vouch for my patience and self-control. I majored in Middle East Relations in college, with the hopes of being a peace negotiator, so I would have to say I'm fairly peaceful. I laugh at life's struggles and absurdities, and while everyone has their blue days, I'm overall a joyful person. The only question left is faith. If by faith we mean belief in an unseen deity, then clearly I am not faithful. But if faithfulness means reliability, keeping my word and my commitments, or loyalty to my loved ones, then yes, I am faithful also.

So if an atheist, apostate, non-believing blasphemer can attain or possess all 9 Fruits of the Spirit without being "filled" please answer me this: What is the point in the Holy Spirit in the first place?

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 4

You are speaking live with James, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

James: Has transferred you to Matthew

You are speaking live with Matthew, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Me: Hello Matthew

Matthew: Hellos Angie! This is Matt, how are you?

Me: I'm doing great. How are you?

Matthew: I'm doing great!
(My, he's chipper!)

Me: How long have you been Mormon?
(translation: How old are you?)

Matthew: 19 years. What about you?
(Even if it all goes downhill from here, Matthew wins the Shift-Key Award!)

Me: Well, I'm not Mormon. I do have some questions though. I studied a bit about LDS founders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in American History.

Matthew: Really? What questions do you have?
(His Shift Key use is so endearing!)

Me: Why do you think God waited so long to reveal his words to Joseph Smith? LDS is a pretty young church compared to a lot of world religions.
(Typical hard-question pause. Hmmm... I probably don't have enough time to run outside for a cigarette though. Oooh! He's back already - under 2 minutes!)

Matthew: We know the LDS church to be the restored church of Jesus Christ. After the people rejected and killed Jesus Christ and his apostles, Christ's gospel was taken off the earth. Because of the people's choices at the time, Christ's church wasn't able to be on the earth.

Me: Well, actually the Early Christian church didn't start until after his death, to my understanding. Like during the 1st century AD/CE
(Writing out both versions reminds me of the band AC/DC.)

Matthew: But Joseph Smith restored Christ's church back to the earth in its fullness!
(So far, this one seems so sweet and earnest. I don't want to burst his bubble, and yet my mission to cast seeds of doubt must go on.)

Me: Well, can you explain what you mean by the "restored church"? You say that Christ's gospel was taken off the earth. Do you mean the actual message recorded in the Bible, or something different?

Matthew: Christ's true gospel meaning the authority to act in Christ's name was taken off the earth. His priesthood died out with his apostle's death. Therefore, during the first century after Christ's ressurection all true authority no longer existed on the earth
The same church that Christ had while He was on the earth exists today.

Me: Wow, I've never heard that before. So do you think that the earliest Christians who spread the word and actually put together the Canon of the Bible - they had no authority to do that?

Matthew: I have to go Angie but thank you for talking with me!
Have a great day.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us and for your interest in the Church. Please know that you are welcome to worship with us any time, request a visit from Mormon missionaries, order a Book of Mormon, or continue to browse our Web site to learn more answers to life's greatest questions.

He hung up on me! And I hadn't even had a chance to be offensive. Since you have to enter your name and email address into the chat applet each time - and I've been using the same one - apparently it only took 4 visits for them to be onto me. Hopefully they're not also logging IP addresses, because you know this is NOT the end.

What have I learned? I've learned to get the doubt in early, in case their supervisor tells them to click off. I've learned that a group of late teen boys can be terrified of the name "Angie" if it poses enough hard questions. (James didn't even say "Hello".) I've learned that not ALL Mormon missionaries like basic typing - in fact, young Matthew does indeed win the Angie the Anti-Theist Shift-Key Award! The grand prize (should he choose to accept) is a series of links to ex-mormon and atheist-friendly websites, and a personal invitation to be my Friend on (Check out the banner to your right if you'd like to accept this prize yourself!)

Tune in next week when we'll discover whether Mormons track IP addresses...

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Atheist BlogRoll

Angie the Anti-Theist has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

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Deuteronomy 28

The following is an excerpt from my in-progress book "Exodus from Zion" by Angie Jackson.

The first book I ever remember reading was Deuteronomy. Long before I embraced the works of Dr. Seuss or discovered the magical lands of Fantasia, Narnia, and Pern, I read about God’s threats to the Israelis, should they stray from his commands. I loved the cadence and rhythm to Deuteronomy 28 – it was almost a form of poetry – and I loved the drama.

I sat in the den on a blue gingham checked sofa and read from my sister’s lavender, leather-bound NIV Bible. The first twelve verses of the chapter detail how the Lord will bless the Israelites if they obey the Ten Commandments, but it was the later verses I found so thrilling.

“You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hands to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.

The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess.

The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish.

The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.

The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.

Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.
The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores, and the itch, from which you cannot be cured.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.

At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit.

Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them.
Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand.

A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days.

The sights you see will drive you mad.

It goes on from there, another 34 verses of curses. God threatens to throw the proverbial book at them if they fall or falter, up to and including genocide, cannibalism, loss of status, loss of livelihood, and the rape of a man’s fiancé. I think this is an odd book of the Bible to start with. Surely most children hear about Noah and the animals, or Adam and Eve and creation, or Jesus performing party trick miracles, before they read the details of God’s version of “justice”.

My mother tried to interest me in the blessings that started off the chapter as well; surely they held the same poetic appeal, the same cadence and musicality. But the blessings are a scant 12 verses long, and the cursings are 56 verses long. Besides, they were more descriptive. The sense of total destruction and utter woe is captured as well in this chapter as in almost anything I’ve read since in my life.

I think this was why I never believed the sentiment “God is love”. God was justice to me, not love. Love suggests something gentle, nurturing, and kind. Justice, on the other hand, makes room for both the carrot and the stick, heaven and hell, blessing and cursing. So my God growing up was powerful and just, omnipotent and omniscient, but I never thought he was all-loving or omnibenevolent.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 1

Why wait for the bible-salesmen to come to you? Chat Live with a Missionary!

"You are speaking live with Spencer, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church."

Spencer: hello how may i help you

Angie: Hi I have some questions about Mormonism/LDS. I'm a college student, with a dual major in american history and middle east studies.

Spencer: ok Angie what questions

Angie: Both Islam and LDS claim to be the completions of the workings of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. How do you know yours is right?

Spencer: Well webelieve that when all the apostles were killed that the athority to lead christ church was lost

Angie: So what happened after it was lost?

Spencer: and this is seen because of all the reformations that occered druing the dark ages

Angie: Okay, so you believe that the other denominations of Christianity are lacking authority, right?

Spencer: because of this loss the true and full gosple needed to be restored to the earth

Angie: What makes you think the gospel in the standard Christian bible is incomplete? Note: I am not a Christian

Spencer: well they all have certain truths but the funness and the athority was taken from the earth when the last of the apostles died
(I'm sure he meant "fullness" but his typos were too cute to correct!

Angie: How do you know this?

Spencer: in the bible there were prophets who lead the people right

Angie: right, the Bible tells of prophets

Spencer: well in Amos 3:7 we know that god wall alway revile his truth through prophets. were are the prophets today?

Angie: according to Muslims, Muhammed was the prophet of god (Allah means god in Arabic) and according to Mormons Joseph Smith was the prophet, and according to most protestant chrsitians, they're still waiting on a prophet who will come later. Jehovah's Witnesses believe their church leadership are the prophets.

Spencer: right and but most churches now call their leaders prophets but the will not claim that they talk to god still they belive that we have the bible and thats all we need. but i know the bible is great but you need someone who can talk to god and recive interpitations of it

Angie: well no, actually. MANY churches claim to talk directly to god, or through their leaders to god. In pentacostal churches they have "intercessors" who pray and many churches have some who speak in tongues, and others who interpret this as revelation from god. The catholics ask their priests and pope to talk to god and receive inspiration that way. Muslims believe their imams get divine inspiration from god

Spencer: they believe that they talk to god but do not but do notclaim to recive revolation from him

Angie: some do. Faith healers, the pope, and imams all claim to receive revaltion from god

Spencer: ok

Angie: how do mormons believe they receive revelation beyond the bible?

Spencer: you asked earlyer how I know were right yes

Angie: yes, how do you know that your beliefs are correct and the others are incorrect

Spencer: i have prayed to god for myself because i know that god answers our prayers because he loves us and he does not want us to wander in confusion all our lives. have you read the book of mormon

Angie: I would certainly hope no god would desire its followers to be confused. You say that you know god answers your prayers and that you know god loves you. can you explain this?

Spencer: well i know we can get answers and we don't have to take someone elses word for it we can ask. god will let us know fi something is true or not

Angie: I don't know what you mean. Are you saying a revealed truth directly to you, not through a book or through what others tell you?

Spencer: you said your not christian well cani ask what do you belive in

Angie: Sure, but first, can you answer my question? How do you know that what you believe is right, when so many people of different faiths so they know that they are right, and that their god answers their prayers? I don't see how one can choose when they all say the same things

Spencer: one second
(long pause while Spencer gets help)
you can ask for yourself

Angie: Please explain - I don't know what you mean by "ask for myself"

Spencer: get on your knees in a quiet place and ask god if there are prophet today or ask if the bible is true or any questions like that

Angie: mmmm, well how will I know that it is god answering me, and not just the thoughts in my own head or demons trying to deceive me?

Spencer: i know that if you ask in faith you will recive an answr not a voice or an angel but a feeling in your heart a burning or a feeling of peace

Angie: So I'll know it's god if I feel peaceful burning?
I'm just confused, because protestants say the same thing, and so do muslims. and there's a really nice hindu woman on my bus and she says her gods answer her prayers and that she can feel them when she talks to them

Spencer: it is difficult to describe i'll do my best

Angie: thank you.

Spencer: when i was young i didn't know if this church was true my parents said tehy knew but i had just always followed along

Angie: sure, most people end up with the same religion as their parents

Spencer: but when i was 15 a lot of things had been happening in my life and one of my friend asked me why i still went to church how do you know it's true and i didn't have an answer for him or myself

Angie: Right, I think a lot of teenagers of various faiths experience that - wanting to know that what they believe is true

Spencer: so when i got home that day i went into my room and read from the scriptures in the book of mormon there is this chapter in moroni that says if you pray in faith about these thigns the truth of them will be show unto you. it diricult beliveing enuything as a teenager
(at this point I began to wonder how old this missionary was

Angie: So you wanted to know if Mormonism was right, so you read the Book Mormon, and it said in the chapter Moroni that if you had faith in Mormonism and prayed then you would know Mormonism was true?

Spencer: if i had faith that god would answer me theni would recive an answer
whether it was true or not

Angie: That doesn't make sense to me. I would have to believe that whatever I thought was from god, without knowing for sure it WAS from god, because I had already chosen to believe it before I prayed about it!

Spencer: my church friend all talked about this great burning feeling they got when they prayed for truth

Angie: Is there any way to know that the Mormon religion is true outside of the book of Mormon, like from the world around us, or something that mormons know that other people don't?

Spencer: welll i didn't know it was true all i knew was people said it was true

Angie: right, you didn't want to take someone's word for it. you wanted to know for yourself, I can respect that

Spencer: i didn't want to belive it i wanted to know if it was true. i was also scared because if it was true then i had to live it

Angie: so you don't just believe, no you know that it's true?

Spencer: yeah and it doesn't matter if my parent come and tell me that they don't belive anymore because i know that i'm right

Angie: wow, you sound really certain. can you tell me how you know you're right? I mean, if it's true I'd certainly rather know that. I really care about what is true and want to know as many true things, and believe as few false things, as possible.

Spencer: when i prayed it was different from what many people described. i asked if god loved me because i wanted to experiment with an easy answer. when i did this i waited for an answer and felt myself start to feel just completely safe comfortable that nothing mattered because was loved an i could feel it at that moment

Angie: feeling loved is very nice, yes

Spencer: when i knew that god would answer me i asked if prophet excisted on the earth and if joseph smith was one

Angie: you knew god could answer you because you felt loved when you asked if god loved you, is that right?

(5 minutes later)

Angie: Are you still there Spencer?


So what have I learned from this experiment? Well, that if I refrain from "you moron!" type comments I tend to make in comments to YouTube videos and to trolls here *ahem* I get a lot farther. My goal was to get him to start asking questions, by posing as dumb blonde agnostic (not to insult agnostics, you know what I mean). I learned that you can keep the other person on defense by asking all the questions. Notice how when Spencer asked me what I believed, I quickly deflected back to you, Sure but first answer my question. He was trying to change the subject to one that is easier - attacking the beliefs of someone else are much simpler than defending your own beliefs. I learned that bad internet connections can hinder the process (if he didn't just run away, lol). And I learned that you don't always have the opportunity to go back later. I wish I'd asked him while he was still on why he was afraid of god being true, and having to follow the teachings of his church. Finally, I learned that Mormon missionaries aren't required to be good at spelling to represent the church on this website.

Try it for yourselves if you want to get some good debate practice in without an audience:

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Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 2

"You are speaking live with Tyson, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church."

(Chat 1 with Spencer)

Tyson: hello Angie how are you today?

Me: I'm doing well Tyson. How are you?

Tyson: Oh im doin just fine. Do you have any questions for me?

Me: Yes. I want to know how you know that Mormons are right and Muslims are not.

Tyson: Well do you believe in Jesus Christ?
Are you a Muslim?

Me: Well a lot of other people do. I think it's pretty likely that a man named Jesus lived in Israel and had followers. No, I'm not a Muslim. I'm just trying to understand Mormonism better.

Tyson: ok well thats exactly what we believe in. We believe that Jesus Christ came to earth to redeem mankind

Me: redeem them from what?

Tyson: we believe him to be the son of God and only through Jesus Christ can we return to our father in heaven again
Redeem them from their sins.

Me; I see. You believe that Jesus is god's son and that we need him to go to heaven. Where is heaven?
And what do you mean by sin?

Tyson: You see, Jesus Christ Suffered for all of our sins and through him we don't have to live with the guilt of having them anymore

Me: Okay well that's all right. I don't have any guilt about sins. So I guess I'm okay

Tyson: God has given us commandments and when we disobey these commandments, we are distanced from him

Me: the commandments in the bible? or the koran? or int he code of hammurabi? (I know this isn't a holy text, just made me giggle to include it, as he probably has no idea what it is)
How do we know these commands come from god?

Tyson: the commandments are found in the bible and we know they are of god because they were revealed or told to prophets on the earth that we can read of in the bible and learn of their teachings

Me: so which commandments in the bible? ALL of them?
and aren't prophets just men? How do you know they are telling you the word of god, and not just what they think?

Tyson: A commandment is from God and when we disobey any of His commandments we need to be forgiven

Angie: but how do you know it's from god? I don't feel like I need to be forgiven just because I eat shellfish and the bible says that's a command from god.

Tyson: yes the commandments are found in the bible and we know these men are prophets because they were called of God and had the authority to preach the words of god
We can know for ourselves if these words are truough through praying to our heavenly father and asking him

Me: So if someone says he's a prophet, you believe everything he says? I'm just trying to understand

Tyson: no i ask my Father in heaven if the words these people say are true and i can reieve a witness through the holy ghost of what is the truth

Me: god speaks to you when you pray to him? how does he do that?
and if you have to check with god to verify the prophet's words, what is the point of having prophets at all?

Tyson: yes he does through the holy ghost. i want to share with you a scripture that talks about prayer and how we can receive an answer
(Here he gives a link that opens to THIS verse from Moroni) (Link lost - apologies)

Me: there are a lot of holy books and prophets though. how do i know this one is the true word of god, and not the qu'ran written by the prophet Muhammad?

Tyson: did you read that scripture i sent you a link for?

Me: it basically seems to say that if i ask and i believe that god will tell me if it's true, than the holy ghost (?) will explain it to me?
It seems like you have to believe it's true before you ask if it's true. that doesn't make sense to me.

Tyson: what you need to do is believe that God will answer your questions and then you ask him and he'll answer your question through the holy ghost

Me: okay, so the first step is to believe in god, then to believe that he'll answer my questions, and then to ask him and the ghost will answer for him?
Well how do you know that you are worshiping the right god? I don't want to make the wrong choice, because in ever religion god gets upset when you worship a false god

Tyson: the holy ghost answers your questions through a feeling or prompting in your heart

Me: what kind of feeling?

Tyson: I understand that you want to make the right choice and i know that if you ask God with a sincere heart, with real intent you will receive and answer. its hard to explain but the feeling will be a warm feeling deep within your heart that somehow you know, without a doubt, that it is the truth
will you do as this scripture says and pray to God and ask him if this is the correct church

Me: But how will i know which god to pray to? i know that you have faith and i want to know how i can be sure before i make any kind of commitment
okay, but which scripture do I use? The book of mormon? the bible? the koran? I want to know BEFORE I pray to any god that I'm picking the right one, and they all have holy books that say you're only supposed to pray to them

Tyson: well there is only one God and he is our father in heaven

Me: but how do you know he's the one god and not a false god?

Tyson: well you can pray to God and ask him which book is the correct book
because i have received an answer in my life
i know that he lives and he loves every one of us and will answer our prayers

(At this point my ride called to say he was on his way, so unfortunately I had to wrap up the conversation. Once I left though, I kept the applet open so I could get his final words)

Me: I have a ride coming soon, but I'd like to talk you to more. I want to follow the truth
(This is no lie. It's also why I'm an atheist
That's great that you know that. How can I know it? My Muslim friends say Allah loves them and answers their prayers

Tyson: thats so good to hear and i want you to pray tonight and ask God if this is the truth and ask him if the bible is the word of God
will you do that?
well its an answer only you can recieve for yourself

Me: well no, because i don't know that he isn't a false god, so that's not a risk i'm willing to take without more information
What do you mean I can only receive it for myself? How will I know it's not just thoughts in my brain, or the devil?

Tyson: I know that this church is true and that you will know for yourself that he is a true god through that answer. God answers prayers and he will testify to you what you need to know
i challenge you to kneel down and ask him in faith that he will answer your prayer and i know you will recieve and answer

Me: Tyson my ride is here. I'd really like to talk to you more before I accept your challenge. Will you email me? my email address

Tyson: will you do this for me? just try it and see how you feel
when you come on again to chat just request Tyson and hopefully ill be here to chat

Me: I don't hink you can learn what is true and what is false just by feelings. Feelings are wrong all the time.

Tyson: its not a feeling
its an undeniable witness that this is the truth
it is a prompting from God and will exceed any other feelings you might feel
I have experienced this in my life and i want you to just try and youll know
iknow youll be bless greatly in your life and you are so close to knowing the truth
i want you to try this and know for yourself it is true

So what have I learned this time? Well, I bounced around too much. I should have kept him on any one point of questioning, instead of just throwing bluster at him ala christian evangelists. I really wish I had followed up on "What is the point of prophets if you have to check what they say with god?" Also, not all Mormons are completely dolts at spelling as the last one was.

To be continued... Mwhyahahaha! (I don't know why evil laughter seemed appropriate - it just did. Maybe it was an "undeniable feeling" that "isn't a feeling"?)

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Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 3

"You are speaking live with Andrew, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church."

(Chat 1 with Spencer)
(Chat 2 with Tyson)

Andrew: Hello Angie!

Me: Hi Andrew :)

Andrew: How may i help you today?
(Already I'm impressed with his use of the Shift key! So much better than the last two dear boys.)

Me: I wanted to ask about LDS and women. What is life like for a Mormon woman?

Andrew: I am not really sure how to answer that. I would say the have the same kind of life as any other woman, just that they are mormon.

(At this point I literally facepalmed myself - it stung a bit.)

Me: Well, okay, I'll be more specific. Are there a lot of single Mormon women in their 30s?

Andrew: you know, I am not sure. To my knowledge there arent, but that either because they havent found the person for them, or they are just waiting for the right time for them to get married.
(I take back that remark about his Shift usage. Or maybe Mormons just have really crappy keyboards?)

Me: Well, what kinds of jobs do women have in the Church?
Like, are they missionaries like you?

Andrew: yeah woman can be missionaries if they want, they have callings in church like sundaschool teachers or young woman teachers, and relief society teachers

Me: So they can teach kids and other women. What about men?

Andrew: that would be under the sunday school teacher also

Me: Oh, okay. I thought Sunday School meant children's church. Do Mormons use birth control?

Andrew: Sunday school is for everyone, its just a title we use for our church lessons. As for Birth Control that is up to the woman. I have heard of people using it, and i have never heard anything against it.

Me: Oh, I always thought they didn't, because you seem to have such big families. That's a relief.
Well, what about prophecy - are women ever prophets?

Andrew: unfortunetly not

Me: What, not ever?

Andrew: nope

Me: Why not?
(Looooong pause. Gotcha mother f$#$er!)

Andrew: its because the men are the ones that hold the priesthood and they are called to have that position, where as woman have more important rolls that man arent capable of doing.

Me: Well, I have two questions.
1) Why are only men in the priesthood?
2) What is more important than leading your community and talking directly to god?

Andrew: Because God has set for that Man are the leaders of his matters. that is in Genesis.

Me: So god just decided that men get to be leaders and women don't? What if you have a very smart, capable woman with a lot of leadership skills, and a man who isn't very bright or educated and is shy speaking in public? Which one would god choose to make a prophet?

Me: Wait, that verse doesn't say anything about church leadership! That just says Eve will be sad and have lots of babies and that she'll wanna get it on with Adam.
(Oh, I crack myself up sometimes. This is usually when I think they'll end the conversation.)

(Worryingly long pause. Maybe I went too far with the "get it on" comment?)

Me: Andrew?

Andrew: Yes, one moment please

(Now I'm just bored. I wonder what I should make for dinner?)

Andrew: the only answer i have for you is that we will never understand the ways of the lord and why he has said he wants things this way

Me: Yes, but that verse didn't actually SAY the Lord wants men to be the only ones in the priesthood. So who decided that?

(Yogurt is yummy! Let's see if I finish the carton before Andrew's back with the answer from his mission supervisor.)

(i finished the half the carton and watched one clip of Atheist Nexus on YouTube but now he's back in action!)

Andrew: The Lord

Me: How do you know the Lord decided that?

Andrew: Through out the ages the lord has limited his knowledge and commandments we dont know why
back in the old testament only those of the tribe of levi could have the priesthood, we dont know why, but he limmited it them

Me: I'm just asking what verses or support you have to say that the Lord says women can't be prophets. Please?

Andrew: Here is a talk done by a prophet of God on the idea of a prophetess

Me: I don't want to know what some guy says. I want to know what GOD says. I'm sure lots of guys would like to see women have to follow them. I only care about what GOD thinks about it.

Andrew: This is God speaking through his prophet
(Another literal facepalm. I gotta quit doing those...)

Me: Give me a moment to read it. Please don't go :)
Wait - he lists all these different places where women were prophetesses in the Bible and then says, "But there is no office, calling, or position of prophetess within the priesthood, nor any other area of jurisdiction, nor were there in olden times such priesthood offices or callings that could have given rise to such usage."
He's contradicting the Bible. God never said women couldn't be prophets - he said the opposite!

Andrew: What i am saying is that modern day prophets are called because of there worthiness of using the priesthood they have. This statement is saying that woman can be, but they are not called to be leaders of Gods church, they may be able to gain revelations.

Me: But why aren't women called to be leaders of God's church? I'm trying to understand

Andrew:...and visions through the holy spirity but they dont hold the priesthood so they are not called as leaders of this church
Please show me in the Bible where it says women were given the priesthood.

Me: Show me where it says they weren't! Deborah was a leader, a judge, and a prophetess. In ancient times where the men pretty much owned the women, not like modern times when women are allowed to divorce, own property, vote, etc. I would think women in the church would be freer now than Deborah was back then.

Andrew: Again Angie, if you can't show me where it says they were given the priesthood, then your argument is pretty flat. My purpose is not to argue here, and I can show you plenty of scriptures where the priesthood was passed to the male leaders of the church.
But I really don't think we're getting anywhere. To best understand this, I invite you to talk with some female members of the LDS church. (AKA "Shut up bitch!")

Me: Well, I just don't see why any woman would join the Mormon church, if they have to be second-class citizens.
I'd love to - are there any female missionaries on the chat server?

Andrew: I appreciate your time and patience with me and hope you find the answers locally that you are searching for
If you feel that they are second-class citizen, then i am truly sorry you have been misniformed
Let me check. One moment please

Me: If women can't have the most important position - prophet - then yes, that is second class. That is not first class.

Andrew: Sorry, there's none available right now

Me: When should I try back?

Andrew: Please try back tomorrow about the same time.
Hopefully there will be a female missionary available

Me: Okay, I guess you don't have the answers I'm looking for about women in your church.

Andrew: I hope you have a great day Angie

Me: You too, Andrew. (Lie) And I hope you start to ask yourself why women don't get to be prophets, and don't settle for things like "god is mysterious".

Andrew: I know the answer, i hope you can come to understand it also
Goodbye angie

And then he clicked off before I could respond - If you know the answer, flipping tell me already! So, what have I learned? Well, before I started I learned from previous posts that ya'll weren't getting the full impact of the pauses. I learned that I'm okay with getting disconnected by the young lad, as I was pretty much two clicks away from saying "You're god is a prick" which is fun, but probably less persuasive of an argument. As long as I can get some really good seeds of doubt planted, it's worth biting my typing tongue (aka "fingers"). Hopefully if nothing else young Andrew realizes that he doesn't know squat about half his fellow Mormons. Maybe he'll start to look at his beliefs a little more closely. Reading the Bible made me an atheist - Might reading the Book of Mormon do the same for him?

I've learned that it always helps to know their holy texts better than they do. Now, I don't know anything really from the BoM, but I know how it was composed by a convicted con man with magic plates and magic stones who put his face in a hat and largely ripped off from Isaiah, so I'm gonna rest on my Bible-Bowl-gold-medal-from-2nd-grade laurels.

Finally, I've learned that seemingly nice young men are totally cool with women getting screwed by the big man in the sky. Man, God's a misogynist prick no matter WHAT kind of underwear you're in!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Faith Healing = Epic FAIL

It's rainy season here in Florida and for me that can only mean one thing - hip pain. I dislocated my hip 12 years ago. At the time my family and I were members/followers of my grandmother's faith-healing sect, and so my mother and I didn't seek medical treatment. I spent my Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years of high school walking with a cane, in pretty constant physical agony. The recurring pain I still suffer after extensive physical therapy is a personal reminder of the costs of faith and the failures of prayer. It got me thinking about my all-time "Big Issue" with religion - medical neglect of children.

About a month after my hip first fell out of joint, a 2-year-old boy I babysat was stung by 432 yellow jackets. He and his parents were visiting with staff of Home In Zion Ministries, my grandmother's group. She was also there, and told his parents he didn't need medical attention. So they prayed, gave him a bath and a glass of milk, set him in front of the TV. Seven hours later they called 9-1-1, after he'd been dead for half an hour. The parents were charged with

In the news right now is the story of Daniel Hauser. He is a 13-year-old boy with a learning disorder and a cancerous lymphoma. He was diagnosed in January and recommended 6 rounds of chemotherapy. After a single treatment, his mother stopped getting him medical attention. She insists she can treat him through "natural cures" such as herbs and vitamins, and cites religion as her reason. A Minnesota judge ordered her and her husband to treat the child with chemotherapy (as doctors say he has a 95% chance of recovery with it, and only a 5% chance of life without it). Now? She's skipped town and took her cancer-ridden, mentally challenged son with her. The FBI is looking for her across this country, and has issued a warrant for her arrest.

Man, when is this crap gonna end? I'm so sick of kids dying for their parents' faith. These children aren't martyrs - they're victims.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

I watched Daniel Dennet's presentation at TED recently, and was struck when he mentioned that "Every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain".

This can be very useful when studying. In college I would carry a single small notebook in my purse, and jot down practically every single word one of my professors would say. Once I got home, I'd recopy these notes into separate notebooks for each course. Each weekend, I'd review the notes for each course, and as exams approached, I'd go over them once again. For classes which required a lot of memorization of specific facts or definitions, I'd also make flash cards, and keep these in my back pocket to review while standing in line or between classes or at red lights in traffic. I made repeated copies of the information in my brain, so that I could recall it with ease in the high-pressure setting of an exam. I would know the right answers, because I had drilled myself on them so many times.

I got to thinking about what this meant in terms of religious practice. As a child, prayer was woven into the fabric of everyday life. We prayed over meals, in the mornings before traveling, and at night before going to bed. We went to church every week, at least once a week, and sang the same songs over and over every year. We made copy after copy after copy of these ideas in our brains. Perhaps this is exactly why so many religions emphasize the importance of daily devotions, bible studies, offices of prayer, and weekly church attendance. Each of these activities acts as a form of memorization, embedding the ideas more and more thoroughly into our minds, so that they occur to as the "right" answers, much as the notes I studied before exams.

I quit attending church services regularly after my son was born. For one thing, I was tired all the time. He was sickly as a young child, and I was nursing him, which was difficult when the church wanted me to leave him in the nursery, where he wouldn't be a distraction during the service. I also didn't fit very well in my "Sunday best" anymore with the addition of baby weight, and happened to break my ankle when my son was only a few weeks old. The combination left me at home a lot of Sunday mornings. As time went on and I could reasonably have begun attending services regularly again, I had begun to appreciate the heathen thrill of sleeping in, or lounging around in my pajamas, on a Sunday morning. I didn't quit attending church because I didn't believe in God, but as I failed to go to church, my belief waned. I'm not sure it would have been as easy for me to disbelieve as it was, if I'd been hearing the counter-message "God is true, God is real, God is here, God loves you, God cares inordinately about your sex life" every single weekend.

Many former believers I know talk about still having fears of hell, or dreams about church attendance, long after they leave their faith behind. I think this concept of "making another copy in your brain" may be the root of it. There are some things I learned in college I doubt I'll ever forget, like the principals involved in the "Corrupt Bargain of 1824" (when John Quincy Adams stole the election from Andrew Jackson). In the same way, I don't know that I'll ever forget the words and sign language to "Jesus Loves the Little Children" which I must have sung a thousand times in my early years of life. So when thoughts of God or Christian songs pop into my head, I don't need to give them any more credibility than the memories that they are. I was taught a myth as truth for over 20 years; it seems reasonable to believe, it may take some time before these ideas fade. In the meanwhile, I can study and drill and read and write over and over again the things I know ascertain to be true - the universe is a weird and wonderful place, no more designed for me than for the influenza virus. And I'm going to enjoy every guilt-free moment of the brief life I have in it.

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Monday, May 11, 2009


What is $cientology?
$cientology is a cult practicing in the US, Europe and South America. It was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. The doctrinal text of Scientology includes the book Dianetics, as well as other writings of Hubbard (who is known within the cult as simply "Ron"). The basic premise of Scientology is that humans have a "reactive mind" that responds to stimuli and that this mind needs to be "cleared" for happiness. Through a series of courses, members travel along a "bridge to total freedom" to become "clear" and are promised all kinds of neat powers like telepathy and perfect memory recall once they've accomplished this. Scientologists believe in reincarnation, rather than in paradise or heaven. A great resource for general Scientology information is

How Does $cientology Recruit?
Members are usually brought in through one of their many front groups, through the book Dianetics: Science of the Mind by founder L. Ron Hubbard, or through the stress testing and personality testing $cientologists do at their orgs (organization centers) and on street corners. On my university campus we had an outdoor "market" two days a week that had a lot of student religious groups, the atheist group, $cientologists, military recruiters and a few actual vendors. $cientology claims that is compatible with other religions, meaning you can be an atheist $cientologist, a Christian $cientologist, a Jewish $cientologist, etc. This isn't really true, but it gets people in the door.

What Happens Next?
Next the new member will take classes and participate in "auditing" sessions. The classes are in actuality mind-control sessions where the member is put into a susceptible state of mind. Once in this state, they're taking to a registrar's office to purchase more courses and auditing sessions. Auditing involves the use of an "e-meter", basically a primitive electrometer lie detector device. The member will be asked question by a $cientology staff worker. The member will be required to relive a traumatic event over and over again, will be asked about their feelings on $cientology, and will be encouraged to have a "past life" experience.

Control of Information
$cientologists are not allowed to freely use the internet. They are not allowed to speak to any "Suppressive Persons" or "SPs" including journalists, psychiatrists, psychologists, from Church of $cientology members, or anyone who speaks out against Scientology. Children of $cientologists most frequently attend Scientology schools, where they are drilled on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and deprived of a decent education.

Disconnection and Family Life in Scientology
$cientology has a policy of "disconnection" - if you leave the Church, none of your friends and family who are in, including your spouse and children or parents, are allowed to speak to you, or they risk being declared Suppressive as well. Children attending $cientology schools on $cientology compounds and properties are often forced to do extensive manual labor such as rock hauling, construction work, etc. Entire families are pushed towards entering the Sea Org, the elite staff of $cientology. Sea Org members sign a 1,000,000,000 year contract, promising to work for almost no pay for the rest of this life as well as future ones. They are paid about 50 cents per hour and given maybe 2-3 days off per year. Children as young as 12 years old are putting in 100 hour work weeks, maintaining grounds and doing administrative office work and sometimes being Auditors.

$cientology (often written with the dollar sign by critics like myself) is all about money. In addition to paying their staff nearly nothing, $cientology charges them for food & board, and of course for the auditing sessions and classes, which are part of the Bridge to Total Freedom. In order to move to higher levels on the bridge and within the cult, you must pay. And pay. And pay. To get to the highest level of Scientology, OT8, a member will spend about half a million dollars. If a member runs out of money, and cannot beg, borrow, or steal anymore (which they are encouraged to do), they are put out on the street and no longer cared for, no longer housed or fed, and no longer allowed to see or speak with any of their friends and family still within the Church.

Medical Neglect and Death
$cientology hates psychiatry. This may be due to the fact that L. Ron Hubbard was diagnosed with Narcissitic Personality Disorder (freaking common as hell for cult leaders) and had a personal aversion to psychiatry. Propaganda videos within $cientology claim that the Nazi holocaust was brought about by psychiatrists. Members are encouraged to go off all forms of medicine while in the church, and to rely on vitamins and saunas for health. Stories of epileptics, schizophrenics, and diabetics dying as a result of this regimen are frequent and sadly preventable. There's also the infamous case of Lisa MacPherson. Lisa was a $cientology member at their spiritual headquarters, the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida. In 1995 Lisa was involved in a minor car accident. When EMTs arrived she stripped off her clothes and began rambling. She told one EMT "I want you to think I'm crazy so you'll help me." They took her to the hospital where she was to be held for psychiatric observation. Church of $cientology members picked her up from the hospital, claiming she did not want to stay because of her religious affiliation and objection to psychiatry. What happened over the next 13 days is disputed and unclear. On December 5, 1995 Lisa was readmitted to the hospital, DOA. She was severely dehydrated and covered with bruises and insect bites and had lost 30 lbs in the intervening days. A memorial site covering her life and death, including autopsy photographs (graphic and sad) here:

Litigation and "Fair Game" Policy
$cientology employs a team of lawyers, almost all of whom are member of the Church. Any time someone speaks against the Church, attempts to sue for their life's savings back after leaving the Church, or sues for any other reason, $cientology will pursue them relentlessly. They have stalked journalists at their home, calling one St. Petersburg Times (of Florida, a neighboring city of Clearwater) journalist's husband to tell him she was having an affair. They have passed around fliers of outspoken critic Mark Bunker to his neighbors, claiming he was a pedophile and "religious bigot". L. Ron Hubbard endorsed this fully, in a Church policy originally named "Fair Game" which states:

The homes, property, places and abodes of persons who have been active in attempting to: suppress Scientology or Scientologists are all beyond any protection of Scientology Ethics, unless absolved by later Ethics or an amnesty ... this Policy Letter extends to suppressive non-Scientology wives and husbands and parents, or other family members or hostile groups or even close friends

In one case an author critical of Scientology was framed for murder. You can read more about "Operation Freak Out" (the name this plot was given within $cientology internal documents) here:

Help at Last - Anonymous
Fair Game policy and its league of lawyers made criticisms and lawsuits against Scientology difficult and dangerous. Over the past few years an army of internet activists have banded together in opposition of the slave labor, child abuse, medical neglect, and mental and emotional abuse of its members, as well as other illegal behaviors of the Church of $cientology. Known simply as "Anonymous" this group of protesters wear masks and gather in large groups for safety when picketing outside of $cientology orgs. To find an Anonymous group near you and join a protest, Google "scientology+anonymous+your state". They are separate groups, so I can't provide links to each.

Here's a video by Anonymous telling $cientology exactly what they think:

Also this BBC special - Scientology: Inside the Cult (a journalist goes under cover to join Scientology) is excellent

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rapture Ready

I called my senile former-cult-leader grandmother today, to wish her a happy Mother's Day. We spoke about the weather, about my son, and a few other neutral topics for about ten minutes. Then she let me know she had to get off the phone to go attend a discussion group in her nursing home - an Armageddon Preparedness Group. I was rather crushed.

My childhood was colored by her obsession with the End Times. She firmly believes that Jesus will return - Rapture, Tribulation, and all - during her life. Since she is in her late 70s now, it seems like it must be just around the corner. Having studied American history, I know that even just in this one, relatively young country, apocalypse predictions have prevailed time and again, without the event itself ever showing up. It is some sort of extreme arrogance to believe we, the individuals alive in a given generation, are so important that the end of life itself will occur for our viewing pleasure.

I also think that intense focus on the destruction of humanity - often a gleeful focus - is inherently "soul-crushing". It's what reminds me that Christianity is, in the end, a death cult. We can all agree that the Heavens Gate cult members were odd in their anticipation of leaving their "containers" (bodies) behind, and their mass suicide. We can probably all agree that they had mental problems, and that their beliefs were irrational and unhealthy. So why is rapture readiness considered okay? How is it any less ludicrous to hope for the end of your life because you're a Christian? It's the opposite of life-affirming; it's suicidal ideation.

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If the Bible was True: A Case for Christian Fundamentalism

My family were true believing fundamentalists. In fact, we looked at churches like Saddleback and thought "Pff! They aren't TRUE Christians." Frankly, we didn't have much respect for people who didn't take their faith seriously enough to entertain the notion of drinking a little poison now and again or handling venomous snakes. I mean, come ON - the Bible says if you really have faith you can do it and not be harmed!

Christians and atheists all seem to agree on one thing: My childhood was wacky. Christians say it wasn't the "right" interpretation of scripture, and atheists say it's further evidence of the madness religious teaching can lead to. This reaction from Christians has always bothered me a bit.

See, I tried the whole mainline Christian thing for a few years. Churches where they let parents take their kids to doctors, or where women were allowed to speak, and no one wore funny clothes. My youth group invited Christian "hardcore" bands to play at the church, and my pastor and I actually had an outreach ministry to the dancers at a nude bar (he sat outside and talked with the bouncer while my mom and I went in to tell the ladies about God's love and grace). But the whole time I was being a "moderate" Christian, I was worried about that lukewarm verse, Revelations 3:16 "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." I worried that being a lukewarm believer was worse than rejecting God outright.

My grandmother (Carol Balizet, leader of Home In Zion Ministries cult) put a lot of focus on the promises Yaweh/Jesus made. If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, if God only speaks truth, then the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, and God made these promises in the Bible, then the promises are true. (Yeah, I realize now exactly how many "IFs" are in there, but I was young and ignorant.) So what are some of these promises?

- If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain by commanding it and "nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20) (Also, a mulberry tree in Luke 17:6)
- You can stomp all over snakes and serpents and demons and "nothing will injure you" (Luke 10:19)
- You can handle venomous snakes and drink poison safely, and you can heal people through the laying of hands (Mark 16:18)
- Life and death are in the power of the tongue, of your words (Proverbs 18:21)
- If you believe in the biblical story and accept christ as your savior, you'll enjoy paradise in heaven (John 3:16)

These are the verses I lived the early years of my life by. Frankly I don't see the POINT of moderate religion. If all the IFs above are true, then why NOT live the crazy fundamentalist lifestyle? I mean really, he says you'll be known by your ability to handle snakes, drink poison, and heal people. Why *would* Christians go to doctors or lock their front doors? Why start a savings account, when God promises to provide for all your needs (Jehovah-Rapha, I will provide, somewhere in Deuteronomy I think)? Why live a balanced, reasonable life if you've got the ultimate Ace in Hole?

Now I've come to the conclusion that the IF statements above are all false - no god, no true bible, etc. But if they WERE true, why not have crazy faith? Why not TRY to move some mountains? How many Christians do you see trying to move mountains? Or fix the economic crisis? Or just pray away world hunger? No, they live small lives because they have a small god. And I have no use for a small god. Once I learned the hard way that the big God I grew up with was a myth my grandmother told me, I had no need for any kind of god at all. Who would anyone settle for something so paltry as the American Christian god?

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