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Entry 7 – WWJD?

September 28, 2009

I think Jesus (or least the person that the Christian Gospels speak of as ‘Jesus’) often gets a much undeserved pass on hell, fire, and brimstone discussions. By that I mean Jesus is often cited as the great peacemaker; one who demonstrates pure love to the world, turning the other cheek both proverbially and literally. Rarely do you hear someone talk about the dogmatic Jesus, one who says people will be tormented in Hell for their evil ways.

I have come to view the figure of Jesus after rereading the New Testament, and taking into account all of his purported statements, as quite an unhappy, disturbing figure. I hope in reading further this post people will at the very least truly investigate all the verses in the Bible critically, and think about the complete picture of Jesus, not just the peace, love, and happiness parts.

The New Testament of the Christian Bible has many passages where Jesus speaks directly of the terror that awaits those who don’t believe in Him and his Father. For instance, Jesus tells people to cut off their hand or foot, or gouge out an eye if it causes them to sin for it would be better for a person to be maimed and avoid hell than to enter into hell fully membered (Mark 9:43-50). In Matthew Chapter 10, Verse 28, he states, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Or if that language isn’t strong enough for you, apparently the author(s) of Luke was/were able to provide a little more fearmongering, if you will, than Matthew and Mark’s author(s). In Chapter 12, Verse 5, Jesus says, ‘But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.’ There are many other statements about Hell attributed to Jesus, but I think you get the point. Jesus doesn’t shy away from talking about hell. In fact, he seems to be particulary interested in it.

Jesus also appears to have really had it out for fig trees. He used one as a teaching device in his ‘Faith 101’ class to the disciples whereby in Matthew 21:18-22 he simply tells a fig tree ‘May you never bear fruit again!”. And in the next verse the tree is purported to have withered right there on the spot. Being an avid gardener, and one who loves plants, I do think cursing of fig trees a bit much.

I have come to view Jesus as such a sad, confused character so as to have lost all interest in worshipping him. Someone who would incite such fear in his followers about an unseen world where people are tortured for eternity, or who goes out of his way to curse trees to prove a point really has some serious issues in my book. I’d rather spend my time learning more about the great scientific discoveries that were occurring around or before the time of Jesus with the Romans or the Greeks. Seems like a much more interesting read.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Jesus’ purported statements on peace and family are particularly egregious to me. Matthew Chapter 10, Verses 34 through 37 read as follows, ‘”Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (New American Standard Bible translation). I’m sure there are many who would try and interpret these verses metaphorically, but even so, think about the shock value of someone uttering these statements in a democracy such as ours in the United States. Family ties are irrelevant and it’s pretty clear that Jesus is backing his followers into a corner and saying that you are either with me or against me.

Now in all fairness to Jesus, he does talk about forgiveness and compassion, especially in his parables. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is especially touching as it deals with one human’s compassion for another despite cultural norms that forbade such niceties. The irony of the parable is that one need not turn to a supernatural power to explain how the Samaritan comes to help his fellow human being in need. Such compassion is innate in all human beings regardless of religious, cultural, or gender identies. Do we really need Jesus to tell us to pay attention to someone suffering on the side of the road? Even Chimpanzees and Baboons have the ability to help their fellow chimpanzee or babboon, respectively, out of harm’s way. These same animals are also known to do the opposite and harm their fellow animals. Sometimes we human beings do the same thing. I would venture though that most of us if put in the situation to help someone in need would respond in kind to help that person. People who do help these people suffering are not necessarily athesit or theist, they may be equally likely to be either. They are simply being human beings. We have learned over time that to help someone makes not only the person in need better, but it makes the person helping better too. It is something that keeps our society functioning, this helping one another simply because we are all going through life together on the planet Earth.

So the next time you see a ‘WWJD’ (What Would Jesus Do) T-Shirt or bumper sticker, maybe you will give it more of a second thought. I have already decided that to look for answers to my moral dilemnas from someone like Jesus would definitely put me at a disadvantage. If I want to reduce ethical quagmires, I think it best to ask yourself what would you like to have done to you if you found yourself in a difficult situation. Probably you’d like to have someone help you. Well, there you go. Problem solved. Go out and help others who are in need. Secret to life right there. You’ll feel better. The person you help will most likely feel better and you will have started a chain reaction of helping others that maybe, just maybe might work its way around the world.

For next time, I’d like to talk more about why a number of people still think we need to go to the Christian New Testament or other ‘sacred’ texts or church for that matter to determine our morals and ethics.

Until next time, thanks for stopping by,

TRC
the.recovering.christian@wordpress.com

Entry 6 – Labels

September 18, 2009

I often struggle with labels and which one I should attach to my recovering as a Christian, besides the obvious, “The Recovering Christian”. Should it be ‘Heretic’? ‘Heathen’? Worse yet, ‘ATHEIST’!

It’s really just been in the last few years that I’ve actually even begun considering giving myself such a label as “atheist”, although most technically, I’m more “agnostic” than “atheist”.

Quick little aside…I recently learned that the word “agnostic” is a “coined” term that T.H. Huxley employed in the late 1800’s to encompass his belief that you couldn’t prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural, all knowing, all powerful being. He put together the Greek word “Gnosis” meaning knowledge, and added the Greek prefix “a” meaning “without” or “not”. Interesting. So whether I say I’m an “atheist” or an “agnostic”, the end result is the same; I am someone who does not look for the supernatural explanation of things in life any longer. I always look for naturalistic, scientific explanations.

I think words carry a lot of power. The two I just mentioned, “atheist” and “agnostic”, have incredibly negative connotations in our current culture. The former carrying way more negative gravitas than the latter. Even today, I find myself still cringing when I say it to people. I also haven’t forgotten my days in the church where it was trumpeted from the Jewish and Christian sacred texts that atheists are ‘fools’ (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, respectively).

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.”

I have to be honest and say that I completely reject these two verses in their logic. The verses are very shortsighted, and incredibly dichotomous in their treatment of human beings. Atheist = Fool = Corrupt = Abominable = Doeth No Good. There is very little room for middle ground in these two verses. Sure there are people who reject God because of something bad that happened to them, and some of these same people do bad things to others. But there are other people who reject God based on what makes sense to them, and their own review of the evidence in the natural world, and they end up doing good things to and for others. I like to count myself in this latter group.

Now what I am about to say has taken me a very long time to get comfortable with, and I imagine for others in my same situation it will have been equally difficult.

Here goes…

If there is a God (I can neither prove nor disprove this), and he/she/it cannot allow latitude from the human beings that he/she/it created to not believe in him/her/it, then I frankly prefer not to serve such a God. Let me say that again…I would prefer NOT to serve such a God.

I used to not feel quite right about making such a bold statement against God. I wasn’t fully prepared for the consequences spoken by Jesus, yes, Jesus, on numerous occasions in the New Testament that someone like me is doomed to spend an eternity in Hell. Fortunately, I have moved past this hesitancy and fear.

We’ll get into the places in the New Testament where Jesus is not exactly espousing loveable peacemaker language next time.

Until then, thanks for stopping by!

TRC
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com

Entry 5 – Recovery Road paved by Science

September 15, 2009

I posed the question in my last entry about what it was that started me on the road to recovery.

It’s actually quite hard to pinpoint exactly. But, I think one part of my recovery was due to meeting a lot of different people in a lot of different environments who were not Christians. Some were religious, some were not. All were doing good simply because they thought it was the right thing to do.

Another part of the ‘tapping out’ if you will (see previous post) was learning not just about science and the many wonderful scientific discoveries that have occurred over the course of our human history, but more importantly how science is done. I learned first hand how messy and elegant science is during Graduate School Part III where I was actually doing my own research and carrying out my own experiments. Science is unapologetic for the information uncovered about our universe. It simply tries to get at naturalistic explanations for the things that we see, and the things we don’t. I find that incredibly beautiful.

My first love was a tall blonde in high school, and my last love was a striking brunette that I married, but I have to say my longest love is the natural beauty of science.

I would like to say too that I don’t presume to know for sure that there is no supernatural world complete with supernatural beings. I don’t presume to know anything for sure, and I am skeptical of people who proclaim that they do.

I don’t think anyone can know anything for sure.

In the same way I can’t prove that there is not a supernatural world complete with gold streets and shiny happy people praising God 24/7 up in the heavens, neither can anyone else prove that there isn’t a Puff the Magic Dragon flying around in outerspace looking to return to Earth and clear his good name from the drug allegations of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song of 1963.

For next time, I’ll get into the nasty label of ‘atheist’ and/or ‘agnostic’.

Thanks for stopping by,

TRC
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com

Entry 4 – The 4,000 days

September 14, 2009

So…let’s dive into those approximately 4,000 days I talked about in my last entry.

Life in my 20’s was part extremely challenging, and part extremely exciting. I moved from my home in South Carolina far away to a city in the western U.S., where I knew no one, to start graduate school (Part I) when I was 23 years old. This is the first 365 days of the 4,000 mind you. The “Part I” moniker will make more sense in just a bit.

The year before I started graduate school, I met a young philosophy major from my undergraduate school that I fell in love with, and subsequently spent the next four years together in various states of relationship bliss. Graduate School Part I lasted about 2 years, and ended with no degree, only coursework in various scientific disciplines. I basically ran out of money, and needed to put higher education on hold to enter the work force, full time.

Fast forward a year from there, and I’m 26, employed full time for a bank, and contemplating a move to another western U.S. city to follow same young philosophy major as she has decided to move to said other city to pursue her own graduate career. I take a huge risk and complete the move to said western city. The relationship abruptly ends soon thereafter,and I reel for the remainder of that year.

A number of job mishaps follow, and I end up coming back to the same city I started Graduate School Part I to start Graduate School Part II. I’m now about 1500 days (about 4 years) into my 4,000 and I make up my mind to finish the degree I started. I finish Graduate School Part II with an incredibly fortuitous St. Patrick’s Day party I throw at my new apartment. I meet the woman of my dreams, the woman I eventually marry 2 years later.

Fast forward another two years, and I am extremely happy in my relationship with my new wife, but quite miserable with my education and career outlook. I decide to go back to school with the support of my wife. It is now almost 3,000 days into the 4,000, and, mind you, this is right after we got married.

Important Safety Tip (thanks, Egon!):

If you contemplate marriage and going back to school at the same time, let me spare you the hardship. Don’t! Release the urge to multi-task in this way. Unless you are very lucky, this scenario has a high likelihood of not ending well.

I was lucky as my wife and I somehow managed to stay together during Graduate School Part III. It was a huge risk to take on additional schooling in my early 30’s, but in the end I think it paid off. I now am in a career that I love and I still have a wife that loves me. We have a child now, and I sit on the precipice of 40 feeling like things are going in a decent direction.

The point of all this recounting is simply to provide a basis that life presented some serious obstacles to me in those 4,000 days.

Things could have ended up very differently during that span of time. Some situations I handled well, others not so well. In the process though of figuring out how to live my life, I was also, although not aware of it so much at the time, letting go of my supernatural world views that I’d stored up over the first 23 years of my existence, and on the road to being a recovering Christian.

This “storage” if you will is in no way a ‘dig’ on my parents, or any of my upbringing to age 23.

Without the years leading up to 23, I would certainly not have been able to ‘weather the storms’ that came. My point is that my 20’s and early 30’s provided the “lab”, if you will, for rapid development as a human being because I HAD to make my life work. I wasn’t at home anymore. I had purposely taken myself out of my comfort zone of family and friends, and wanted to prove to myself that I could do something entirely on my own (i.e. Graduate School Parts 1 through III).

A final caveat is that I think regardless of whether I’d left home or not, I would have had experiences that tested my resolve. A lot of people have these kinds of tests in their 20’s and 30’s, and sometimes the resolve tester comes even earlier if you consider victims of war and the like.

So what was it during this 4,000 day experience that began tapping out the supernatural thinking in my grey matter, that started me on the road to recovery, you ask?

We’ll get into that question next time.

Until next time, thanks for clicking on me,

TRC
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com

Entry 3 – Whittling down 14,000 days

September 10, 2009

It’s really hard to know where to start when talking about lofty topics such as worldviews, faith, God, and the like. What I have gone through for the past nearly 14,000 days (approximately 39 years) on the planet Earth is to me a very special journey that I would not trade for anything.

Each day, each event, each person I have come in contact with over that span of 14,000 days has changed me. And it would take far too long to try and recount all the things that led me up to the point where I finally let go of supernatural explanations for things, and began embracing the natural. Maybe some day I will bore others to tears with the entire goings on from early childhood to childhood, adolescence to late adolescence, and early adulthood to adulthood of me, a recovering Christian, but for now, let’s let a quick synopsis suffice.

What I’d like to do in the next few posts is focus on my time here between age 23 to 33, approximately 4,000 days. This span of time began my swing toward what some of my loved ones like to refer to as, the “dark side”. I like to think of this time as movement toward enlightenment, but for now, I’ll indulge the absence of light metaphor. And I’ll also ask you the reader to indulge me for a few posts to tell the brief version of this time in my 20’s and early 30’s.

More soon on these 4,000 days.

Thanks for stopping by,

TRC
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com

Entry 2 – Losing my Lunch

September 9, 2009

Last year my Dad passed away due to cancer. Right before I was to catch a plane to go back to where I was living at the time, I had lunch with some of my family members who are of the Judeo-Christian faith. Somehow during the lunch, I was asked outright whether I thought my Dad was “in heaven”. I was, at first, a little taken aback by the directness of the question, and also a little confused because I didn’t have much time to go into the subject, and thought this an easy hour long discussion. But, in the split second I had to try and make up my mind as to how I was going to answer the question, I came up with a very bland, ultimately stoic, “No” followed by, “I don’t really believe in the supernatural”. That simple follow up statement steered the remainder of that 30 minute lunch conversation to life after death questions, belief in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the origin of evil.

The conclusion of the lunch went something to the effect of “How could you once believe in God, and now not?” I couldn’t really address all of the questions asked of me that day as my plane was about to take off, and I needed to go. But I’ve found myself thinking back on that day quite a bit. I think about how abrupt and brash my responses must have come across to my loved ones who do accept that there is a God, a heaven, a hell, a Devil, and numerous other supernatural elements in the universe. I think now that it might be worthwhile to qualify my response a bit more with something more thought out, more scripted if you will.

Entries for the next coming days will address this lunch topic, and I hope will be something that might help my loved ones understand where I am coming from in terms of letting go of the notion of God, heaven, hell, a Devil, and every other supernatural element in between.

Of course, as soon as you tell anyone with faith in the supernatural that you don’t believe in anything supernatural, you immediately open up the door to having to explain how you can have anything to live for, and any way to be “good”; the “Why wouldn’t you just start killing people if you don’t have God or Jesus to answer to?” approach. I want to address these two fundamental questions first, and more specifically, I want my family to know how I still find meaning in this life without a supernatural power telling me the story of the universe, and how I specifically fit into it. I also want my family to know that I am still “good” without being told by said same supernatural power to be “good”. I actually think the question of meaning and the question of goodness are really one in the same. If you answer one, you answer the other.

For my next entry, I’ll go into answering these questions. Until next time, thank you for stopping by.

Sincerely,
TRC
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com

Entry 1 – Out of the Garden

September 7, 2009

Welcome to my first foray into sharing my experiences as a recovering Christian. It took me the better part of about 10 years to completely separate from the ideas of original sin, salvation through grace, and the historical Jesus figure. And while many in my family consider me a heretic, blasphemer, and ‘Most Likely to go to Hell in a Handbasket”, I would like to share with all who will listen my personal journey out of the Garden of Eden so to speak and into just an ordinary garden, no talking snakes, displeased deities, and forbidden fruit, just plain, common sense approaches to life.

I consider myself an agnostic, but for the majority of my memory during the first 23 years of my life on the planet, I was a fundamentalist Christian. I have mostly been hesitant to talk too much about this aspect of my life.  Repercussions of discussing such a “sacred” topic include, at best, family and friend ostracization (already has occurred), and worse, hospital time and a date with the morgue (luckily hasn’t occurred).  Now though, through the anonymity of the internet and sites such as this, I can hide somewhat behind the cloak of 0’s and 1’s labeled “Anonymous”.  I feel a bit more empowered to ‘type my mind’ so to speak in this kind of forum (typing in the keyboard sense, not categorizing). I hope you also will feel empowered to ‘type your mind’ in the comments; be it agreement or disagreement. All comments are welcome.

Thank you for stopping by.

Sincerely,

TRC (The Recovering Christian)
the.recovering.christian@gmail.com