Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Process of Conversion

So today I'd like to discuss another of the lovely UCG booklets - this one on "Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion". This lovely little pamphlet explains how you know whether or not you (or more likely your neighbor) are a "true Christian" or whether Jesus will say "I never knew you". As a once-thoroughly converted Christian and current happy apostate, I'm eager to begin.

First, readers are told that conversion is
a miraculous, lifetransforming process - a process that is impossible without the direct, active intervention and participation of God.
Then we get the "free will" argument (that God values our free will more than he values our salvation, or preventing us from spending eternity being tortured in a hell he created) presented thus:
Although He clearly encourages humans to "choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19), God does not force anyone to make the right choice. But, as we shall soon see, the consequences of our choices are enormous.
Ah, the "mercy" of Gawd is evident all around us. Now we get to the heart of the matter - an introduction to the step-by-step process of conversion, and the end result.

The process beings with God's calling, followed by the key steps of repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - finally climaxing witht he return of Jesus Christ, when the dead in Christ are resurrected to immortality and given eternal life. That is the ultimate transformation, being changed from a mortal to an immortal being! (emphasis added)

Repentance is a big favorite in Christianity, because the entire theology is based on the presupposition that we are all guilty of something which requires forgiveness (or atonement, or death, depending on your denomination's interpretation of Scripture). And of course baptism gives the clergy early inroads into the lives of their follower's children. The oddest thing about baptism to me is its early roots in death and drowning (which is why some groups still prefer a good ole fashioned dunking to the sprinkling of infant baptisms). I myself was baptized in a swimming pool when I was 7, after begging my mom to let me do it. My sister had been baptized in the lake behind a friend's house the summer before, and I was definitely jealous. Looking back, that doesn't seem to be the best of all possible motives for a baptism, but hey what can you expect from a 7 year old?

As for receiving the Holy Spirit, I gotta say I tried my hardest but the damn spook just wouldn't show up. I cried and prayed, fasted, read my Bible, yadda yadda. Basically none of my rain dancing for Yahweh yielded so much as a drop of spiritual renewal. I was quite relieved to discover that the non-existence of the Holy Spirit probably had more to do with this failure than any lack of faith or effort on my part.

But the mortal -> immortal aspect is one that wasn't taught in any denomination or church I belonged to. In fact the exact quote that was used (ad naseum) by my grandmother was, "We're all gonna live forever. Somewhere." So the idea that only converted Christians will experience immortality kind of flies in the face of the hell doctrine, don't it just? I think here's one the Mormons would really disagree on. (See Chatting with Mormons 5 for a discussion on the eternal nature of man from an LDS-persepective!)

After the introduction, we get warned that not all Christians are True Christians(TM).
Most groups that profess to be Christian represent themselves as having a "calling," as being the "chosen" of the Lord. Even many non-Christian religious groups regard themselves as divinely chosen.
I love the absolute conceit - wow even non-Christians think they're chosen by god! Of course they do. What religion would anyone take seriously that claimed to be NOT chosen by their preferred deity? Who would attend the church or mosque or synagogue that advertised "God doesn't visit here"? The authors reassure readers that we can discern which groups have it right, "If we are willing to take an honest look at the facts and accept the truth revealed in the Scriptures". sadly, accepting scripture as truth, and taking an honest look at facts, are inherently antithetical propositions. The "facts" put forth by the pamphlet are
Jesus Christ is real. He was resurrected. He is alive. And His impact on the world has exceeded that of every other man who has ever lived.

Wow - all the unsupported claims you can throw a stick at! (Is this a Southern-only phrase? I happen to love it, in part because it makes so little sense.) Okay, so as my atheist readers have surely yelled at their monitors by now, yes of course, none of those are proven "factual" at all. I don't personally care if Jesus existed as a historical figure or not, but the mere fact that it is unprovable is interesting.

Now we come to an example of the inherent contradictions of the gospel message.
God's desire is to give salvation - eternal life - to all mankind. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17)
Sounds groovy, right? Eternal life seems cool (till you think it through) and a benevolent god that wants to save us all sounds rather giving as well. Oh, but wait! There's a bait-and-switch up ahead.
To become acceptable to God, all must recognize and accept God's Word as the main source of truth.
Hmmmmmm... So, he wants to save you, but only once you've become "acceptable" by taking a bunch of really outlandish supernatural and scientifically and statistically improbable stories as your main source of truth. Since the Bible gets a pretty large FAIL grade on Science, I'm gonna have to stay unsaved.

Regarding the need for repentance, our author reminds us that
Peter explained that every human being bears responsibility for Christ's death - not just the Roman soldiers or the small group of Jews who arrested and brought Jesus to trial.
Peter almost sounds like as much of a dick as Paul here, doesn't he? I've got a 3 year old. He's responsible for a lot of mayhem in my life and my landlord's - flooding the bathroom, coloring on the walls, throwing food off his high chair - but he certainly bears no responsibility in the public execution of a possibly fictitious rabbi thousands of years ago. That's a bit of a heavy burden for such a small guy, and it continues to be preposterous as we age. But hey - when did religion make sense?

Satan is credited with a whole host of accomplishments.
Satan has wielded tremendous - but not absolute - power over humanity (2 Corinthians 4:4). His role in shaping our world's entertainment, education, politics, advertising, and moral standards has been enormous.
Kind of makes God seem neutered, doesn't it? I'll never again comprehend the position of an all-powerful God getting his ass kicked on a daily basis by one of his own creations. (And then there's the whole, why doesn't he just annihilate Satan already?) Now we get into the issue of repentance.
When we repent we stop doing what is wrong and start living in harmony with God's ways and laws... Repentance should include a sense of sorrow and shame, but genuine, heart felt repentance is much more than simply an emotion. Our lives much change.
This is probably why I was such a shitty Christian. Sinning is just way too much fun! Besides, sorrow and shame are pretty crap emotions to have over the course of years. I can't tell you how many Sunday mornings I spent crying in church over the fun I'd had the night before.

The next section of the booklet, "What is Sin?" will clarify for my readers exactly why I enjoy sinning so very much. According to UCG's pamphleteers, sin is
[God] says that sin is trangressing His holy, spiritual law (Romans 7:12-14). Breaking that law - crossing that divine boundary, that limit God set for us - is sin.
God has a lot of laws, according to the Bible, including how to treat your slaves (but no prohibtion against owning other people), when to stone your children (when they don't obey you), how to treat rape victims (force them to marry their rapists!), and the penalties for working on the Sabbath (you guessed it - death, unless of course you're Jeezy Creezy).

A comment box within this section attempts to answer "What is Wrong With Our Human Nature?" by proposing
  1. Our fleshly desires get us into trouble
  2. We look for ways to justify our wants and actions
  3. "We have a natural tendancy to resent having our fleshly desires limited by rules"
I have to say I thoroughly agree with the third point. I mean, I know I sure as heck resent when theocrats try to impose their rules on my desires, like my desire to have sex or not get stoned to death for getting a divorce or working (or sleeping in) on the Sabbath.

Next we get to baptism. Here the death-yen of Christianity becomes apparent.
[Baptism] represents death, burial and resurrection - both of Jesus and ourselves. Baptism shows that we accept the shed blood of Christ for our sins and pictures the death of our former life in the baptismal grave.
Cheery stuff, eh? Kind of thing you want to expose your children too, right? Their need to die to become acceptable? Yeah, me neither.

Finally we get to the Holy Spirit - the missing part of my own conversion. (Side note: I first said the sinner's prayer in my grandmother's bedroom at the ripe old age of 3, and after responded to at least 20 alter calls I can distinctly remember at revivals, Bible camps, youth events, and church services. Yet the spook never showed.) Now the UCG folks apparently aren't believers in the Trinity Doctrine. The booklet author points out that the word "Trinity" doesn't appear in the Bible, and states
One cannot prove something from the Bible that is not biblical. The Bible is our only reliable source of divine revelation and truth, and the Trinity concept simply is not part of God's revelation to humankind. The Holy Spirit, rather than a distinct person, is described in the Bible as being God's divine power.
Huh, so maybe I really was saved! Oh wait, duh, never mind. So, rather than being imbuing Christians with one third of God's own self (like I was taught, as a good little Pentecostal), the Spirit supposedly
  • Keeps us in contact with God (and maybe the Tooth Fairy, while he's at it)
  • Makes sense of the Bible (oh come now, no one can do that!)
  • Makes all things possible (how about hiking the Mariana's Trench without gear?)
  • Produces Godly fruit (see my thoughts on Spiritual Fruit here)
  • Provides comfort (but not food for starving children in third-world countries)
Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I can get by just fine without the big HG, as God's power or as one aspect of a triune godhead. Either way, I'm cool as is.

In conclusion, the author urges us to read our Bibles. Now I honestly don't know any Christians who read their Bibles as faithfully as your average atheist. And a lot of former-Christian atheists like myself will point out that reading the Bible is exactly what led them to disbelief in the first place. Bible contradictions can be found here, here, here, and here. And that was just with one Google search. If I had more time (and didn't need to pee) I'd include more.

So once again gentle readers, we find that propaganda requires no proof, and claims of "facts" go unsupported.
And here is the rest of it.


  1. "There is no god, no supernatural healing, and no logical reason for the kind of faith you are proposing." from proudatheists, I'd like to discuss more if you don't mind.
    Anyway very intersting post, please give time to read.

  2. I’ve spent a part of my life to scorn pseudo-Christians and the religion hypocrisy (Croisade,inquisition and holy war) as I left the Catholic church I’ve been before since my childhood. And in the long run I realize that what my neighbor false christian does, shouldn’t have any implications of what I think what is right and what I stand for, so I started the process of re-conversion (not back in church though).

    How can you see the unseen spooky ghost since you don’t even know what Holy Spirit is, Spirit has no form or shape, it resides in human faculty that’s why philosophical works are said spiritual like reflexive critics and choices. (Greek didn’t even know Christ.) That’s apart the Pentecost external signs (fire and speak in tongue) but no remake since then.

    Paul once said “we are all Christ’s slave” but I remember that Jesus said “(..) I will call you my friends” John 15:14. Why some Christians are aware the others not; knowledge, memory, are from the Holy Spirit (John 14:26); a PhD graduate is no different than an African illiterate if the Spirit doens’t work in him and it will not fall like rain if you are not thirsty for it. How can I accept a priest praying for soldiers who are going to a war, a Tsahal soldier who reads the pocket version of Talmud before massacring Palestinians if my God is a God of love, the same as theirs. People’s behaviour(bad) is unrelated to God existence but can be the results of spiritual inactivity. Anyway Silvia Browne got explanation about the kind of visible spookies if you are tempted to read . (it’s not a propaganda)

    I got a response about “acceptable”: what is truth is more complex than we think.
    Eternal life consitsts of knowing the Father, the sole real God (other Gods exists)
    Whose who obey his words will never taste death: listen and practice
    John 8:31-32 "(...) you will know the truth and the truth will set you free"

    What is the truth is the crux of the matter, if the Bible is true then Jesus had no need to come to the earth to proclaim the truth. Who is God the Father first, the plural Gods in Genesis(Elohim), Yahveh, Jehovah, El-Shadai, Allah ? …..and people won’t find answer if they follow the church system. To be Anti-Theist or Christian or Muslim or Mormon will not change nothing; to be able to proove the Bible scientifically or to scoff at Coran’s idioties is not the question . The question is: we can not accept that our life can be summarized by working 8hours a day, having children, eating a bigmac with our 3yo kid while watching TV showing Iraqis children died from the bombing by our government’s army which works by the tax we pay. And making all the best to pretend that if we die old or in a car accident that doesn’t matter coz we’ve enjoyed every second of our pathetic life, which is false. (if U can redirect me to Atheists’death issue). Conversion is personal, it’s not from parental molding nor priest’s endoctrination.

    What is sin, as a former Christian you may have read John 16:8 “And when he comes, he will prove that they are wrong about sin and about what is right and about God’s judgement. They are wrong about sin because they do not believe me (…)” Bible contradictions make you aware to seek deeper, you will never find truth if you don’t know what if false, elementary logic.

    From a Christian who believe in God the Father and spook.

  3. Hi fanantenana. Your comment was a bit hard to decipher, but I'll do my best to respond. (I clicked your name and see you are posting from Madagascar, so this is probably a simple language issue.)

    You say you scorn religious hypocrisy and reject Catholicism (I think). Yet you still embrace underlying Christian themes, such as the existence and divinity of Biblical characters Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

    I heartily agree with you that the HS has no form or shape; in fact, there is no evidence that such a being exists at all. I like to point out here on my blog the various differences among Christian denominational beliefs, not to say that any one is more credible than any other, but rather to point out that there is NO clear consensus among the millions of self-claimed Christians on who or what God is, what his character is like, and how he should be worshiped.

    I have to tell you that my "thirst" for the Spirit was like the thirst of a man in the desert. I really wanted it to be true; I believed it was true. But despite years of prayer, fasting, reading the Scriptures, etc. I had no manifestation of the Spirit (I spoke in tongues, sure, but never "felt" the Spirit, and never had the life-changing experience believers describe.)

    You say that bad human behavior can be related to spiritual inactivity. I would argue that many bad actions are taken because of intense spiritual activity. Atheists are never suicide bombers.

    You suggest that living life without faith is meaningless. I guess I'd ask you to explain this more. I personally believe that nothing will happen to me after I die, because "I" will no longer exist. While conversion is often personal, if you are indoctrinated as a child, you don't have enough options to make a conscious choice - you do the only option you've been told is worthwhile.

    Reading the bible contradictions led me to believe that the bible is a book composed by bronze age men with very little understanding of the world around them. I see it as a book of myths, not a dictation of an eternal living god. Thank you for your kind tone in your comment. Best wishes for you and your nation's prosperity.

  4. I am currently listening to " Missquoting Jesus" and Mr. Erham sums it up nicely saying," There are more variances in the New Testament text then there are words."

    How can anyone claim any text is the inherent word of God when we do not know what the text actually says?

  5. Thank you, I think this issue is cross-cultural, and in a country like mine where poverty can be added to the religious confusions the task isn't easy, i mean seeking the truth.
    Yes, I took issue with mainstream religion and still keep embrace Christian themes as you said(apart Trinity coz I'm not yet convinced).What I want to point is that if a bishop or a Rabby(New Jersey) is convicted in mafia business or an Anglican priest who abuses a kid, so what, it doesn't mean that believing in God is the cause.

    Suicide bombers are fanatics, there is a big difference, they reject any dialogue and think that there is no other truth than theirs.You'd better stress on Jihad movement more interesting and very political !

    Your life is based on not believing I suppose, but don't you think that being Antitheist is already a faith because your practical life is based on the knowledges who saved you from "the fool believers". The fact that you made this choice is already the fruit of the Spirit (Holy or..); and when facing Biblical contradictions you choose to discard faith rather than keep seeking the answers of you many "whys".I give you an example, Jews said that the Messiah will never die but Jesus died, who is Jesus then ?Jesus's reply about this issue was "you still have light follow it before the darkness caught you", nonsense you may think. This is the kind of condradiction that should make Christian thirsty.Negationism is I think not the solution.

    But on the other hand you share your knowledges by blogging and it is already a form of spiritual work, hoping that your ideas will touch the others.

    Death is the state of non-existence you said then death shoudn't exist, don't you think that it's weird.Or would you elaborate the death issue. So you don't cry or feel any pain if one of your dearest persons sudenly pass away ?

    Hope to hear you soon.Thanks

  6. I agree that believing in God is not what made the NJ rabbis launder money, or makes a Catholic priest rape an alter boy. But it is what makes a Jehovah's Witness deny a life-saving blood transfusion for their kids. It is what makes some uneducated people decide to homeschool their kids, and doom them to a life of minimum wage ignorance. It is what makes people treat their fellow man intolerantly, and demand that followers of other faiths (or no faith) or people who are gay or of a minority ethnic group or whatever, should be treated as "less than" the dominant religious group. It is what led Crusaders and Jihadists, and what had the Catholics and Protestants (both groups of Christians themselves!) to kill each other for 700 years in Ireland. It is what led David Koresh and the Branch Davidians to hold a standoff with US federal agents.

    And even in the cases where belief didn't lead them to their bad action, it didn't stop them either. Religious people (and in the US, Christians in particular) like to claim they have a higher moral authority, or that they behave better. But they don't. Belief in god doesn't improve them over people of other faiths or no faith.

    I comment on whatever faith strikes my fancy that day, but since I live in a majority Christian country, I tend to write about Christian denominations the most. I can see that posts on Muslims might interest you more, living in Africa.

    My life isn't based on not believing. It's based on being a loving mother, a contributor to my community, and a supportive friend. I have many hobbies, including swimming, reading, debating, blogging, and yes, watching TV. I also play computer games with my son, or build skyscrapers out of blocks, or walk around our neighborhood looking at bugs and flowers. Those are the things my life is based on. Arguing against the silly beliefs and atrocities committed because of them is just one aspect of my life.

    You say I made the choice, but honestly, belief is not something you choose to do. I realized, after much thought and prayer, that there simply wasn't enough evidence or reason to support continued belief. God seems so unlikely from this side, and it would take extraordinary evidence to persuade me that a god did exist (although I would have no choice but to belief if overwhelming proof was provided, so that wouldn't be a choice either).

    You ask who Jesus was? Either a somewhat heretical rabbi, or a myth. Not the messiah and not resurrected. There simply isn't enough evidence for ANY supernatural claim for me to go back to believing in such a thing. My thirst for answers led me to atheism. It may do the same for you.

    I blog because I care. I was deprived of a healthy childhood because of my family's religious beliefs. Children are raped, beaten, and deprived of proper medical care every single day in what is supposedly the greatest nation in the world, all in the name of god and faith. I cannot sit by and say nothing, for I am a both a mother and a survivor myself.

    What I was trying to say about death: I do not believe in a "soul" or any immortal or eternal part of us. So I think that once I have died, I will no longer "be" anywhere (heaven, hell, hanging out here in white sheets with chains). Of course I hurt when a loved one has died, even more because I do not think I will see them again. Once they are gone, they're gone, and all I have left is memories and their legacy. Life is short and so I think it matters even more that we are kind to others, and protect children who are in harm's way.