Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Story Continues

So, you remember the post I did on "The Story", right? At the time I didn't embed their Flashy doohickey because I didn't want to violate their Terms and Conditions. I did, however, send them a little note. It was... let's go with "glib". It was glib.

I've decided NOT to believe things without evidence, so I'm going to continue being an atheist. But I'm delighted to embed this Story into my religion-hating blog so people can understand exactly how miserable you want 'em to feel about themselves, in order to accept the "free gift" of submission to an imaginary god. Have a great day!

(Fine then, how do you define glib?) Of course, then I saw the T&C and decided to just use a link for my commentary (found HERE.)

But I've gotten email responses to my submission. I wasn't expecting a response, and certainly not the very thorough one of the two. I've shortened these and my responses for content and length. (I'm wordy.) I got his letter first, so we'll call him Christian Guy #1. (Anonymity can be a kindness.) He gets major credit for doing his homework, and actually reading my post on the topic. (How often do theists send you off to read a million things, when they've never finished reading that one book they claim is all important? It's annoying.) Okay, Christian Guy #1.

I received your reply regarding And, I took the time to carefully read and consider what you wrote on your blog. I hope you find this response is fair and kind.

For what it's worth, we have absolutely no problems with people who are not Christians posting "The Story" on their website. And, we recognize people disagree with the Bible for a variety of reasons and with differing degrees of sentiment. We're not offended by those who disagree with the message of the Bible. At some point, every Christian has disagreed with the Bible in word or else do we become Christians unless at some point we were non-Christians?

In regards to our terms, you may be surprised that our desire was to dissuade those who proclaim to be Christians, yet promote a message inconsistent with the view of the bible. Good examples are those from the KKK whose message is "God hates anyone who isn't white" or those from churches who pick-and-choose what God hates the most (ie "God hates fags", "God hates Democrats", "God hates Republicans", "God hates..."). Certainly, throughout history, there have been atrocious acts (the Crusades, etc) done in the name of "Jesus", but I can find no evidence in the Bible that Jesus supported those false claims. How can some "Christian" Americans really
believe the God of the universe wants to "bless the USA" more than anywhere else on the planet? How crazy is that? But, haven't there been plenty of atrocious acts (Hitler, etc) in the name of "no religion" too? So, it would be equally unfair and untrue to say all atheists want to exterminate anyone who believes in God. Our terms were meant to protect our organization from being associated with those who would modify the bible for some sort of hate revival...all in the name of Jesus.

We think the Bible is clear that God hates sin, but God loves sinners. And, it also seems clear that God is just and cannot allow sin to go unpunished (similar to our judicial break a law and you go to jail...unless Johnny Cochran is your lawyer). Most would say, "then why is there 'hell' if God is so loving?" My response is what kind of loving God would allow murder or child prostitution to go unpunished? Most agree that crimes should be punished. Few agree on the extent of the punishment. God's punishment is death. However, instead of punishing people for their sins, the God of the Bible chose to punish Himself. God, the Judge, exchanged his judicial robe for the death chair (the Cross) so that even a murderer could
be given a new life. On the one hand the bible's claim is that hell is for sinners. On the other hand, heaven is for sinners saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That should humble Christians. And, it should change our worldview if we believe this is true.

Reading some of your other posts...I, too, share your negative view of those who use Jesus as a shield and excuse to parade around arrogantly and hatefully with signs. It's hurtful. And, it's inconsistent with how the Bible says we're to live. On the other hand, I don't think Christians own the market on hypocrisy, hate, and hurting others. As an example, no one had to teach me as a child to disobey my parents, be selfish with my toys, and be mean to my younger sister...I figured it out on my own. I didn't become a Christian until I was 15. To a lesser degree, I still wrestle with disobedience, selfishness, and being mean. It's just that as an adult, I've become better at disguising them.

After reading your post about "The Story", I disagree with your understanding of the Bible as it relates to what took place in the Garden with Adam and Eve. There is much debate over the Garden among theologians. On the other hand, there's much debate amongst those who hold to the Theory of Evolution. We've easily had 100+ theologians and pastors critique and approve the content. That's not to say they all would've chosen the same words we chose, but they all agreed we did not communicate things inconsistent with the Bible. Certainly we don't think what we've created is "perfect". Rather, we see no evidence in the Bible that necessitates a
change to what's been paraphrased in "The Story".

I know you believe there is no God. Therefore, anything I communicate about God is most likely foolishness to you. So, I realize my response is at the risk you will completely dismiss my motives, because you think I'm trying to pick a fight or haven't done my research to understand your point-of-view. I realize the Christian message is offensive to those who hold a different view. I do not apologize for our message, because I believe it's true...just as I'm sure you do not apologize for your message, because you believe it's true. Instead, I apologize for those [Christians] who feel the liberty to offend and dismiss the views who of those who disagree with them. It shows just how little we love our neighbor, and it shows just how much we need a Savior. If adding "The Story" to your site helps your cause, then I encourage you to add it with no malice or discontent on our part. I can
only hope you will agree with me that if everyone lived the way Jesus lived/commanded ("love your neighbor as yourself" as an example), the world would be different and I'd like to think better. Looking in the Bible at Philippians, Chapter 2, verses 3 thru 11, as well as Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, I think these passages accurately capture a biblical view of how Christians are to posture themselves in the world.

Christian Guy #1
Spread Truth

PS I offer a few books you may want to read (they disagree with your worldview, but I think they explain the Christian worldview clearer than I ever could).
"Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis (a former atheist)
"New Evidence Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell (a former atheist)
"More than a Carpenter" by Josh McDowell
"The Prodigal God" by Tim Keller

And... my response.
Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful letter. I'm going to try to reply in kind, and largely refrain from the pith and sarcasm that are hallmarks of my blog writing style. I understand that those are effective tools for conveying my message to some, but are not the best methods for a constructive conversation.

Ephesians 2 was my very favorite verse of the Bible, during my teen years as an inner city missionary. I loved going into the homes of the bedridden people we delivered hot meals to, and praying with them and reading that passage in particular, because it helped to bridge a racial divide between the volunteers and the people we served. Clearly you are the kind of Christian who values grace over the law, love above judgment, and charity over power. Those are commendable traits and I largely agree with them. In terms of our daily lives, and the morality we use in those, I'm willing to grant that we are probably quite similar.

Since you converted as a teen, I can understand a little better your question "how else do we become Christians unless at some point we were non-Christians?" Frankly, if everyone waited until their teen years or later to make their religious choices, I think there would be much less fundamentalism, and much less child abuse in the world. Unfortunately, religious parents often (usually) don't wait. There's considerable social support of certain actions which declare a child (or even infant's) affiliation with the religious beliefs of his/her parents from an extremely early age. When I was still a Christian, just a few years ago, I baptized my son as an infant. In second grade I won a state-wide Bible Bowl competition, against students from every other Christian school in Florida (which has rather a lot of them). I had zero choice about being a Christian. I was BORN a Christian. And if I'd stayed a Christian, my son wouldn't be given a choice now either. The first book I ever read, at three years old, was Deuteronomy 28. So as much as I love the message of Ephesians 2, I can't quite shake the presence of Deuteronomy 28 in the same book.

A little background: I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist faith healing cult. It's only been in the past few years I've begun to realize how different our beliefs were from mainstream Christian doctrine. However, I am extremely aware of various Christian denominational beliefs. Throughout my life I was a regular member at seven different denominations, ranging from Vineyard Christian Fellowship and Episcopal to Baptist and non-denominational charismatic. Sadly, when someone says to me, "I'm a Christian" I really have no idea what they believe, what they value, or how they live their lives. It's a word that has become so broad it is practically meaningless. I have a friend who attends church maybe three times a year, reads her Bible a little more often, smokes copious marijuana, and considers herself a Christian. My grandmother who led a cult that led to the deaths of dozens of kids, some in her presence and some not, also calls herself a Christian. The Pope recently said that anyone who is not a Roman Catholic is *not* a Christian. No one agrees on the word, but everyone behaves as if we do.

My objections with moderate, liberal Christianity are simple. (When I say "liberal" that's in opposition to fundamentalism, rather than conservatism or political party.) I think that as long as you subscribe to the same religion and book, then fundamentalism is always a risk. The book itself is hateful, vile, and misogynstic. I recognize that there is some beautiful poetry, some good common sense advice, and some cool stories, and I understand that you think this is a good guide for how to lead a moral life. But the toxic elements are there, and until you liberal Christians change your name and compile a new Bible that doesn't give rules for slavery, that doesn't tell the rapist how many shekels to pay the girl's father in order to marry her after he's raped her, then I think you're part of the problem. As long as the book says a woman is not permitted to teach a man, then it doesn't matter how many progressive churches employ female pastors - these things go in cycles. In another generation, the liberal churches of today might be totally fundamentalist. All the ingredients are in the book you call Holy.

My second objection is that you provide cover for the atrocious actions of other Christians. It's great for you to tell me you don't agree with them, and that you loathe the hatred and inhumanity spread by some Christians. But I don't hear the moderate Christians enough. Where is the loud Christian counterpoint to Jerry Falwell? There's ten highly-paid (tax free!) bigot televangelists, but where are the ten moderate reasonable guys (or women)? Until I see Christians minding their own flocks, I can't possibly let the moderates of the hook. You ARE your brothers and sisters keeper. Clearly God isn't interevening from heaven to prevent the words and actions of the 9/11 hijackers, Pat Robertson, or Fred Phelps. So if moderate Christians can accept that these things are bad and that God isn't going to stop them, then you should. (A simple start: Sign the petitions on my blog to increase children's rights to health and safe treatment.)

When liberal Christians let the extremists set the policy and the laws, we end up with situations like the death of Harrison Johnson, who died of 400 yellow jacket stings and medical neglect. His parents spent seven hours praying for him, rather than getting him medical attention. He died - he was 2. It was tragic. I used to babysit him. And his parents got away with it. You can kill your kid, if it's for a religious exemption. The CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1978? I believe) details what constitutes medical neglect of a child, but allows that if some form of "religious or spiritual treatment" is being offered instead, then that child isn't being neglected. Never mind that demon exorcisms don't cure cancer, and that dozens of American kids die from religious neglect every year. Christians keep these laws on the books, because they value their own rights to religious expression above the rights of children to live and not be abused and neglected. And that's inexcusable and immoral, and well meaning, kind liberal moderate Christians sat by and did nothing while my grandmother warped my mind and *killed* babies.

You made a comparison between the hypocrisy of some Christians and the misbehavior of yourself as a small child. You said, "No one taught me to" do those things. I don't think the analogy follows, because someone specifically taught you *not* to do those things. Since Christians and their churches claim a moral high ground, and many claim that God/the Bible is the author of morality and that a person *can't* be moral without these, it would be awfully nice if you would teach each other NOT to hit your sisters, or your kids, and not to disobey your parents or the law. A friend of mine runs a blog that is nothing but links and links of stories of clergy sex scandals, child rape, and other minister/clergy offenses. He has over twenty news stories a day on average. I want Christians to quit claiming that being "forgiven" makes you in any way better behaved. And when other Christians stand up and claim those things, I want moderate Christians to tell them why that's wrong or inappropriate or not Biblically sound. I don't want you to sit back and let them do all the talking. They are jerks - we both agree on that.

It sounds good to say that God loves sinners, but he hates sin. Until you start to ask yourself, "Why make us sinners from birth?" As you read in my post, I think the entire concept of the Christian creator God is immoral. The Garden of Eden was a trap. As a small theologically-inclined Christian child I used to wonder what would have happened if Adam and Even hadn't eaten the apple. If some other person did, six or seven or seventy generations later, would the Fall have just been delayed? Of course, since I think this is a story in the same vein as some of my favorite Greek mythology and Egyptian lore, my interest is more theoretical than practical. In practical terms, the story is obviously not true.

All the humans on earth today are not the direct decendents of two humans named Adam and Eve. The earth is over 4 billion years old. We got here through evolution, and you and I have the same number of ribs. But even if the whole story was true, was the set up God designed actually moral? Is an action moral because God said so, or did God declare it so because it is inherently moral on its own, without his will? You said you disagree with my understanding of the passage. Can you please elaborate on that so I can better respond? Thank you.

Regarding hell. I'm a pedophilia survivor, so I think my opinion may have slightly more weight in this. That might just be an appeal to emotion, though, I don't know. But as much as I detest the man who violated me, and as much as I think we should greatly increase the sentencing for child abuse of all kinds, I wouldn't want him to be in hell forever. He was undoubtedly mentally ill. He almost certainly didn't have the social or economic resources to get the help he needed and maybe it wasn't something he even knew how to get help for. I'm certainly not excusing it. I support chemical castration for child rapists, which isn't legal yet because it's considered cruel and unusual punishment. But even I wouldn't torture him forever in hell. It was a finite crime - it deserves a finite punishment, even if that's every day until he dies. Once he's dead, he can't hurt me or anyone else. The threat of him is removed. That's the real purpose of incarceration - to protect the public from the actions of someone who won't play by the rules. The purpose isn't to punish them because we're angry, although that's often how the media seems to cover child abuse stories. I think we should use that anger to change things here on earth - to increase sentences and increase funding for mental health services to poor and indigent people. Imagine if we helped people when they were only thinking of raping a child - got them on medication, had them in therapy, whatever. - instead of just mopping up after someone gets victimized. It's because I can think of better options, or at least have ideas that aren't so black and white that I believe I'm more moral than the God of the Bible. This man hurt *me* personally - a lot more than he hurt some deity, real or imagined. But I wouldn't want him to suffer *forever*. Therefore, I am more loving and more merciful - I have shown more grace - than the God you worship.

What's more, the Bible doesn't say hell is exclusively for pedophiles. Apostasy is the one unforgivable sin - blasphemy of the Holy Spirit! According to the book you call Holy, I'm going to hell forever. I'm getting a worse punishment for not being able to lie to myself, because no one chooses what they believe - you either do or don't, I'm getting a worse punishment from your god for not believing than I would give the man who destroyed my innocence - and you think he's GOOD?

I'll back off now. I realize that's a lot of very strong emotion. I tried to reign myself in, but frankly I'm used to writing for a sympathetic audience so that's affected my communication some. I'm also just kind of horrified about how much I didn't understand of what the Bible actually says for all the years I was a believer. I have a tendency to want to shock people out of it, because for me, knowledge led to atheism and atheism has led to a much, much, much better life.

I don't in any way think that you are trying to pick a fight :) If I have any assumption, it's that you're trying to show "the love of Christ" to me, and I can appreciate that good motive even if I disagree with where that kindness originates, within yourself or a god.

I have a different view of Jesus of Nazareth than you do, so I'll have to agree with you under some limitations. I agree that if everyone adopted an approach to society and social interaction that promoted positive outcomes for the most people, that valued fairness and justice, and provided for those in need, then the world would be a fantastically better place. I agree that if religious wars and religious persecution - of Christians, atheists, or anyone else - were stopped, the world would be better and infinitely safer. I agree that if people behaved in a civil society, and recognized that my rights end where yours begin, that I'd be happier leaving this world to my son. That's why I've adopted the secular humanist lifestyle and ethical philosophy. I think it's something that most liberal or moderate Christians can support, wholeheartedly. You don't have to be an atheist to be a secular humanist, and the ideals of secular humanism are very in-touch with the kindest messages of Jesus and the Bible.

I hope I've informed more than offended. I appreciate your permission to use The Story embedded on my blog, which I will do in the near future. I hope you and yours have a safe and happy month ahead.

Take care,
Angie Jackson

ps I've read and own Mere Christianity and Evidence. Josh McDowell is a former atheist like I'm a former Wiccan. What? I tried it out for three weeks in high school!

pps Here are some recommendations of my own. Just as there is no one Christian worldview, there is no one atheist view. But here are a few books that support my worldview :)

"God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens
"Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris
"Escape" by Carolyn Jessop (victim of the FLDS cult that all the mainstream Christians allow to operate illegally).

On the origin of man, check out Talk Origins
If you're feeling very brave, go check out Why Won't God Heal Amputees?
Yeah, I know - I forgot to debunk the whole "Hitler did it for his atheism" garbage, mostly because it's so obviously untrue. (Seriously people, all it takes is ten minutes on Wikipedia to be less of a dumb ass than you are right now.)

The secular humanism angle is a new thing I'm going with. Frankly, I want and need to get the moderate theists on my side, for some of the legislation I want passed and some of the structural social changes I want enacted. Reverend Barry Lynn does immensely more good than harm. His fierce efforts to protect the First Amendment have not gone unnoticed. I'd rather have a few million like him than a few million like Sarah Palin.

If we can get them to drop the name "Christian", and to quit claiming that the Bible is holy, inspired, good, moral, and perfect, then they can keep their god-belief and their happy fuzzy feelings about hippie Jesus. But until they do that - as long as they say the Bible is the Word of God and it tells us how we should live our lives, then they get to be smeared with all the filth of the Catholic church, Ted Haggard, Tim Hagee, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ken Ham, and all the rest. You align yourselves with them - with their source of justification - and you get painted with that brush. Here's where Christian Guy #2 jumps in to claim being a follower of Jesus Christ is somehow different than being religious.

Here's Christian Guy #2
I hate religion also.:) But I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Thanks for looking at our booklet. "The Story" is a short meta narrative. It covers the basic plot line of the Bible. I know that at this point if your life you are an atheist, but I would love to have your thoughts on what you believe is the "meaning of life". I am not trying to sound like a "Bible Banger", but I do believe that the story of God to be true. I believe that it is rational and based on historical evidence. It is the only story I know that gives answers to the basic questions that all of us have. What other meta narrative provides answers and at the same time provides hope? Hope your willing to continue the discussion!
If you hate religion, why be religious? (Also, not all atheists hate religion, though I most certainly do.) Here's how I responded.
Hi Christian Guy #2,

Do you consider yourself a Christian, or an adherent to the Christian religion or faith? I was just telling someone earlier today that I think it would be swell if all the moderate, non-fundamentalist Christians would re-brand (with an edited book to exclude the atrocities) and a new name to distance themselves from the crazies. I would completely support you in that, but as long as you call yourself a Christian, sadly, you get the burden of the group as a whole. That may sound glib, but I do think there are actually several distinct religions operating under the name "Christian", and so the word has lost some of its ability to define beliefs, attitudes, and practices.

In the broadest sense, I don't think there is a "meaning of life". I don't think a divine deity plotted out the course of my existence, or that this world or our species came to be in any supernatural way. (Because there is simply not enough evidence to convince me.) In the individual sense, however, my life has tremendous meaning and purpose, to me and the people who love me. Raising my son to be a kind, thoughtful, self-sufficient, freethinker with good health and a good education is a lot of my life's meaning at this point. :) Alerting people to cults in our midst, teaching people how to use critical thinking skills and logic to provide a framework for reality, and drafting petitions to Congress to increase the protections of children in the United States also keeps me pretty busy. And, of huge importance to me right now, I'm taking on the project of writing my autobiography, about being raised in a Christian fundamentalist cult and the dangers of continuing to allow churches to self-police. Too many churches hide sexual abuse of children; too many Christians allow religious exemption laws for child medical neglect to remain on the books. Those are the things that give my life meaning. I want to make the world a better place for children today and tomorrow than it was for me.

What gives your life meaning?

I would like to know on what grounds you consider the Bible to be rational or based on historical evidence. I have done a lot of study over the past several years, and have not found this to be the case, so I'd be interested in hearing what evidence you've discovered.

I don't think that the Bible does provide all the answers - it just provides non-answers that create new questions. How can a loving God tolerate hell? Why won't God heal amputees? Why won't God stop false prophets and pedophile priests? Why did God allow the 9/11 hijacking to occur? How do you know you've picked the right god or the right religion?

Even if it did purport to have all the answers, they doesn't mean they're true. They need to be investigated before they can be believed, and the more outlandish the claim is, the more extraordinary the evidence required. I can't choose to believe the earth is flat and I can't choose to believe the Bible is true. All the evidence points otherwise.

Oh, and the Koran proposes to do all the things you claim the Bible does. As does the Book of Mormon, and I'm sure several other holy texts besides. Claiming to have all the answers is a big staple in religion :)

Best wishes,