Those of you who read my sample chapter on Janet (which was also published) have read the story of a PK (preacher’s kid) who experienced one of the worst things that could happen to a child. Her father urged her to pray to forgive the man who sexually abused her, something she was not able to do. This was a pivotal moment in her path to atheism.
Ah, the life of a pastor’s kid!
I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota – a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches. My father was (and still is) pastor of a small church. My mother volunteered to support Christian missionaries around the world.
I went to church, Bible study, and other church functions every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creation science. I played in worship bands. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the atheists over there about Jesus.
I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by Him to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.
Around age 19 I got depressed, But one day I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me and God delivered me from my depression.
My dad and I read lots of this Christian self-help stuff. We shared our latest discoveries with each other and debated theology.
I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers were postmodern, “missional” Christians: they thought loving and serving others in the way of Jesus was more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.
The seeds of doubt
By this time I had little interest in church structure or petty doctrinal disputes. I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.
What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?
These discoveries scared me. It was not what I had wanted to learn. But now I had to know the truth. I studied the Historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, the Bible, theology, and the philosophy of religion. Almost everything I read – even the books written by conservative Christians – gave me more reason to doubt, not less.
I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him. If only I could have faith! If only I could unlearn all these things and just believe. I cried out with the words from Mark 9:24, “Lord, help my unbelief!”
I tried. For every atheist book I read, I read five books by the very best Christian philosophers. The atheists made plain, simple sense, and the Christian philosophers were lost in fog of big words that tried to hide the weakness of their arguments.
I did everything I could to keep my faith. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to believe what I knew wasn’t true. On January 11, 2007, I whispered to myself: “There is no God.”
The next day I emailed my buddy Mark:
I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m lost and despairing and I could really use your help, if you can give it.
I made a historical study of Jesus, which led me to a study of the Bible, historical and philosophical arguments for and against God, atheist arguments, etc. It has destroyed my faith. I think there is almost certainly not a God…
I’m fucking miserable… I told my parents and they sobbed for 30 minutes. Can you help me?
As always, Mark responded with love and honesty. But he didn’t give me any reasons to believe. He said he believed mostly for the “aesthetics of belief” and his “somewhat mystical experiences of Christ.” He wrote, “In a way, I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there.”
I also wrote a defiant email to an atheist radio show host to whom I’d been listening, Matt Dillahunty:
I was coming from a lifetime high of surrendering… my life to Jesus, releasing myself from all cares and worries, and filling myself and others with love. Then I began an investigation of the historical Jesus… and since then I’ve been absolutely miserable. I do not think I am strong enough to be an atheist. Or brave enough. I have a broken leg, and my life is much better with a crutch… I’m going to seek genuine experience with God, to commune with God, and to reinforce my faith. I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. I do not WANT to live in an empty, cold, ultimately purposeless universe in which I am worthless and inherently alone.
I hope that I find a real, true God in my journey of blind faith. I do not need to convince you of that God, since you seem satisfied as an atheist. But I need to convince myself of that God.
Matt responded to my every sentence with care, understanding, and reason. But I still tried to hang onto my faith. For a while I read nothing but Christian authors. Even the smartest ones just made lots of noise about “the mystery of God.” They used big words so that it sounded like they were saying something precise and convincing.
My dad told me I had been led astray because I was arrogant to think I could get to truth by studying. Humbled and encouraged, I started a new quest to find God. I wrote on my blog:
I’ve been humbled. I was “doing discipleship” in my own strength, because I thought I was smart enough and disciplined enough. [Now] having surrendered my prideful and independent ways to him, I can see how my weakness is God’s strength.
I’ve repented. I was deceived because I did not let the Spirit lead me into truth. Now I ask for God’s guidance in all quests for knowledge and wisdom.
I feel like I’ve been born again, again.
It didn’t last. Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.
No matter how much I missed him, I couldn’t bring Jesus back to life.
I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him. I “came out” as an atheist to my family, friends, and church. They were surprised, but they still loved me. They were much more concerned when two elders of my church decided they were Catholic. I bonded with them briefly because the three of us were suddenly outcasts.
I had stubbornly resisted my deconversion, but these days I am excited to accept reality, no matter what it is. I remember when I finally realized the problems inherent to my precious Libertarianism. I was not dismayed or resistant; I was thrilled.
This comfort with truth unleashed my curiosity about Christianity and religion in full force. In my studies I uncovered lots of false facts and dishonest arguments from Christians and atheists. Each discovery only deepened my hunger for knowledge, but also my realization that humans know very little, and with little certainty.
Looking back, I feel lucky that I left God for purely rational reasons instead of emotional ones. Indeed, all my emotions were pushing the other way.
But that’s probably not the norm. I bet most atheists today have lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons – or else they were raised as atheists. When I went to the premiere of Bill Maher’s Religulous – one of the few blatantly atheist films released in America – almost the entire crowd was gay. I remember thinking they were probably atheists because the church rejected them, not because they knew the logical fallacies of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.
But mostly I’m glad this is my story. Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer. I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart. I know what’s it like to experience his presence.
I know what it’s like to isolate one part of my life from reason or evidence, and I know what it’s like to think that is a virtue. I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.
I know what it’s like to think that what I believe, or what my loving pastor says, or what my ancient book says, is more true than what reason and evidence say. I know what it’s like to think faith is a strength, not a gullible weakness.
I know what it’s like to be confused by the Trinity, the failure of prayers, or Biblical contradictions but to genuinely embrace them as the mystery of God. I know what it’s like to believe God is so far beyond human reason that we can’t understand him, but at the same time to fiercely believe I know the details of how he wants us to behave.
That was my experience for 22 years, and I am grateful for it. Now I can approach believers with true understanding.
One of the things that struck me most reading this was when Luke wrote that he didn’t have the strength to be an atheist at first. This reminds me of two friends: one, a somewhat-religious Jew (read: looks for loopholes) told me that he would be an agnostic were he honest with himself, but didn’t want to be cut off from the community.
I reminded him that a) he had many friends and loved ones that weren’t religious Jews or at least wouldn’t shun him, and b) we weren’t living in the ancient Middle East when being shunned was a death sentence.
Another friend, who is superstitious and Catholic (talk about living a stereotype) told me once that it was harder to believe in God than to not believe. I said, “I love you, but you are just wrong! Of course it’s easier to go with the flow and do what’s expected of you. Do you know how hard it can be to go against the status quo, and how non-believers risk being hated? If it were easier to not believe, not many people would believe.”
Not My God is about the experiences of atheists in America because the U.S. is in the unique position of being a staunchly religious nation in the developed world. It’s part of what makes America America: having a gun in one hand and a bible in the other. As a result, atheists have it a lot harder here than in, say, France or Japan.
I recently spoke with a Turkish man who told me that, contrary to what I thought, it was easier to be an atheist in Istanbul than in the U.S! I still find that hard to believe, but it’s hard to deny it coming from him. I went to Istanbul for a short trip as a teenager and it certainly didn’t feel very progressive.
Even though Not My God is about the U.S., I always want to hear from our friends abroad. Especially since this puts American experiences in context. This is from a Scottish correspondent:
“I grew up in rural Scotland in the 80s and 90s, in a very small village, with an appropriately small primary school (for ages 4-5 to 11-12). When I was very young, it was the practice in my school for morning assemblies to feature a very christian theme. Prayers would be said before lunchtime meals, and visits by the local reverend were common. As a child, I had a very hard time following the words of these prayers (I had similar problems understand the lyrics in songs). One day, as we went into the tiny hall to eat our lunches, the dinner lady (a miserable, venomous personality) was leading the prayer as usual, and I started to wonder what would happen if, instead of struggling along pretending I knew the words, I simply said nothing.
“The result of this action was my being physically threatened and shouted at abusively by said dinner lady (her exact words during part of her tirade were “If you don’t join in I’ll wash your mouth out with soapy water”). Bearing in mind I was 6 years old at the time, and the thought of this filled me with dread, I did what any self-respecting 6 year old would do – I told my mother. Suffice it to say, neither of my parents are religious in any way, and had always encouraged me to think for myself. My mother took action immediately, and I was never harassed by that particular wretch again. Interesting how she felt the need to physically threaten a small child who could barely even comprehend what was happening.
“Soon though, another problem would surface. By age 10 I was healthily inquisitive, thanks to my father’s interests in science fiction, science/engineering and satire rubbing off on me (although before you make any conclusions, my father is a tradesman). Around this time the entire school was still congregating in the mornings for these christian themed assemblies. The tradition was to recite the Lord’s Prayer before assembly would begin – except that since I had no religious education outside of school (most other children went to Sunday school), I did not know the words. I also suffered from undiagnosed myopia, and could not read the words from where I usually sat. I had previously pretended to avoid trouble, but one day I decided to fight back.
“I was caught by the head teacher sitting, eyes open, saying nothing and looking entirely unenthusiastic during the prayer and was singled out and reprimanded in front of the entire school population. I believe this to be the pivotal moment in my journey towards total rejection of religious beliefs. I could not understand both their need to pray and their need to punish anyone who did not agree. I began to aggressively question ideas that others took as rote, and established a reputation as a troublemaker, an upsetter of the status quo. Not only that, but the idea solidified in my mind that I did not have God to thank for my achievements – only myself and those who supported me – and I tried as hard as possible to share these ideas with others. I know this may be a far cry from some of the more extreme examples where evangelism and Mormonism are concerned, but the running theme seems to be similar. Accept that a fictional entity is dictating your existence, or be punished.
“Later on, in high school, my religious education teacher (a Protestant) frequently opined that eventually I would understand better, and would subtly hint that I might be religious eventually. My father always said something to the effect that ‘people need religion in their lives because some essential part of their psyche is missing, or damaged, and you should be very careful with them – because their god figures absolve them of ethical responsibility in the long run.’ As I have travelled through life into adulthood, I have seen this demonstrated time and time again. I sincerely wish more people could have had parents like mine, for whom the concepts of mysticism, racism, sexism, homophobia et al simply did not enter the picture. As with religion, when I first encountered these similarly ignorant attitudes they were virtual unknowns to me, and quickly revealed their true colours.
“Thereafter I decided as a matter of principle to never again sit by the sidelines and listen, but rather to challenge the bearers of these ideas and test their convictions. I have only contempt in my heart for those who make the non-religious feel threatened and unwelcome in society.”
This is such a good illustration of what I think many atheists go through. What first struck me is that it reminded me of my mom and how when she was in school as a kid, they made all the students recite the Lord’s Prayer– and she was Jewish! I have no idea how “Christian” the school could possibly have been, since this was in Union, New Jersey, which was a fairly Jewish area.
Another aspect is “fighting back.” The writer (as a small kid, mind you) used forethought and deliberately resisted having religion imposed on him– even though he knew this would get him in trouble. How many of us had to sacrifice comfort or safety for what we know is right? How many of us could, either as adults or kids?
It is interesting that children are often able to see inconsistencies, such as those this writer saw in religion, that many adults would not see, particularly after a whole lifetime of indoctrination. From the mouths of babes, as it were. Many adults tend to think that children aren’t as “smart” as grown-ups, or don’t have the critical thinking skills (skepticism) that they will grow to have. Clearly, that’s not always the case.
That story about the Emperor’s New Clothes really captures a lot about atheism. Here we are, the kids, saying the Emperor is naked– and getting a mouthful of soap for our troubles.
Hi Diddly Ho Atheist-erinos,
Recently, I did a podcast on Chariots of Iron. Eli, Robert and the guys mentioned that I was their first female AND first Jewish guest. Fight the power!
We had an interesting and at oft amusing time talking about my book project, and among other topics, Alamo’s pedophilia charges, Mormon extremists and the issue of church-goers getting a discount at Denny’s. I know it’s the principle of the thing, but do we really want to go through all this trouble just to get 10% off at Denny’s? We’re not talking about not even getting seated here… on the other hand, the Jew in me says, a bargain’s a bargain.
I am getting many stories from people through my internetworking. Thanks to everyone who tells me about themselves. I am always interested in hearing from people.
Some stories illustrate how “letting go of god” can be a frightening experience. Here is an excerpt from a blogger on Atheist Nexus:
“I was raised by Christian parents and baptized in the Lutheran church as an infant. When I was about 10 years old, the church got a new pastor: young, radical, and energetic, he turned our quiet family church upside-down. He preached Luther and a literal interpretation of the Bible. He made my mom angry one Mother’s Day when he preached about the biblical mandate for all women to remain in the home and raise their children. He believed all non-Lutherans were deceived.
“In my childhood, church was just that thing we did every Sunday. It never occurred to me to question the existence of God; of course there was a God out there. Mom and Dad said so. My sister and I went to the children’s program and sang songs and learned all the stories. At home, my dad could always be found hunched over a Bible commentary or some sort of tome of Christian teaching, taking pages and pages of copious notes.
I just sort of rolled through my early years as a “cultural Christian.” At the age of 13, I went to a massive Christian music festival with my youth group and got “saved.” It changed me overnight. I began reading the Bible, listening to only Christian music, and shunning many of the things I’d once loved. It really annoyed my school friends, but they put up with me.
“In high school, I was very outspoken about my faith and would constantly bother others about the need to believe in Jesus and accept him as their personal Savior… I graduated, barely, with a C-average.
“Though I was still a teenager, I acquired something of a status in my church as a model Christian and became a Sunday School teacher and leader in the youth group. I was introduced to Pentecostalism around this time and was fascinated by the fervor with which the people of that group worshipped and spoke in tongues. I wanted that for myself, but I remained in my little church where I grew up.
“At the age of 20, feeling called to ministry myself, I entered a Discipleship Training School. I spent 3 months in intensive study of the Bible and evangelism, then traveled to India for a two-month evangelistic mission. That was the greatest experience of my life, having never been overseas. We traveled all over the country, preaching the Gospel and trying to save the lost souls of India.
“[My pastor at home] yelled out verses from the Bible condemning non-Christians and I was supposed to pass out the tracts to everyone who passed us. I couldn’t help but feel that this approach was wrong and I gradually distanced myself more and more from him. After an hour, he gave up and we returned to the church. I never joined him in street preaching again.
“In the news and on TV, I kept hearing more things that challenged my faith. Evolution, scientific advances in genetics, strange birth defects…where was God in all of this? My church attendance started dropping.
“I started to ask myself some scary questions about what I really believed. Would such-and-such make more sense if there were no God? Does evolution really explain this phenomenon? If God really loves us, why does this happen? Do I believe in fate?
“As I asked the questions, I began to see that all the things I grew up believing couldn’t possibly be true. There was a logical and simple explanation for it all: there is no God, no higher power watching over us. At first, the thought terrified me and I denied it. The more I thought about, the less I could deny it, no matter how much it scared me.
“I think I really became an atheist on Easter Sunday, 2006. I was sitting in my old church, with my old congregation, and we were singing a hymn when it occurred to me that I didn’t believe the words I was singing. None of it was true. I stopped going to church from that time on, unless I felt the need to appease my parents.
“I gradually came out of the closet online and to my sister, but out of fear of what might happen with my parents I have not told them that I am an atheist. My parents now attend a non-denominational church that follows the teachings of Rick Warren, the pastor who wrote The Purpose-Driven Life. They have become more fundamental in their beliefs. My mom is reading the Bible on a daily basis, which she never did when I was a kid. My dad still reads all the Bible studies he can put his hands on and takes notes for hours at a time. It bothers them that while they go to church on Sundays, I stay at home. They constantly ask me to go with them, but I always politely decline. Someday, I’m sure, I’ll have to tell them the truth: I am an atheist.”
Zachary Moore of Apologia posted the podcast on which I appeared at Apologia.
Thanks, Zachary. Let’s do it again sometime.
I’m following an Amazon discussion, “Non-believers– is optimism premature?”
One poster, David Miller, replies to another:
I’m particularly intrigued by the free publicity you have given to those of us New Atheists who are passionate about the ‘Save the Children’ theme.
I had just posted on this forum a couple days ago on the same point.
So, I thought you might be interested in one of the songs we New Atheists teach our kids; my own kids liked it when they were young:
Jesus hates us
This we know
For the Bible tells us so
Little ones to Hell he sends
He hates us
And we hate him.
Yes, Jesus hates us!
Yes, Jesus hates us!
Yes, Jesus hates us!
The Bible tells me so.
I think you know the melody.
This sort of thing gives old fogey Old Atheists like Angel White [another poster] a lot of heartburn.
But I thought you would find it interesting.
I like to have my kids associate with Christian kids, so that they can pass on tidbits like this: you know how kids learn from their friends!
It’s interesting to see how new atheist parents pass their values on to their kids. I think I would do the same if/when I have a child, and I love the song. How do the rest of you, especially those of you who have children, feel about this? I can well imagine that many people, atheists and theists alike, perceive this as another form of indoctrination that atheists hypocritically accuse religion of imposing on children.
One more thing: I have a background in psychology, but can anyone satisfactorly explain how some children are successfully indoctrinated and others are not? This goes for anything, not just religion.
Hi Diddly Ho Infidelerinos,
For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, I’m going to the Amazing Meeting with Andy, and I am performing stand-up at the talent show! However weirdly, I am performing in Las Vegas. When the TAM DVD is available, I’ll post the act. Poor Andy had to cancel our Penn and Teller tickets, as they conflicted with the talent show (d’oh!).
The article isn’t available online, but a shortened version of a chapter in Not My God, based on an interview with Sayid (not his real name) is in American Atheists magazine.
Although Not My God is about atheists in the U.S. since the religious atmosphere of my country persecutes atheists more so than most other developed nations, I always want to hear from people abroad– their personal stories, as well as their point of view about atheism and religion in the U.S. For example, In some ways, religion may present a greater challenge to many European nations than it does to us.
Sam White writes:
“I live in Northern Ireland and have been an atheist for a number of years now and proud of it. I’m also a life member of American Atheists. I read with interest every article published in the magazine, sent to me on a regular basis.
I was brought up in a strict Christian family, with a brother and sister. I went to church 3 times a week and 3 times on Sunday. I knew nothing else but god, Jesus, Christ, bible and holy spirit…….what a lot of baloney!!!!!! I was baptized as a baby, so-called saved at 7 and started preaching the word at 15. What a waste of my early years. I was not allowed to question anything, but I’ve certainly made up for it now.
The so-called Christian faith is full of hypocrisy and unanswered questions…..what is god, has anyone seen him, is god he/she/it, if he loves everyone, why is there a hell, where the hell is heaven???????etc.
One other question I have yet to get an answer to is: How was the world populated???? I can understand Adam and Eve and their sons, but that only makes 4. I can only assume that incest occurred…….sons and mum, daughters with dad and brothers. It’s all so confusing and no answers available, so why should I subscribe to that? The bible does not answer that for me and I’m sure no Christian could either.
I strongly believe that science has more answers for me than any so-called Christian faith.
I read your article about ‘Sayid’ with interest and conclude that my decision to become an atheist was the right one.”
Thanks again, Sam.
My sister site, Coming Out Godless, had a personal story from a woman with a fundamentalist Christian upbringing:
“I must confess that a big part of the draw was to learn how to better convert Jews. Don’t listen to what other evangelicals may tell you, we totally get extra points for the chosen people.”
I’m always interested in how fundamentalist Xians think of Jews in such matters…
“Instead of finding a community of people lost and empty in their own self-deceit, everyone seemed totally normal. What’s more, a lot of them were atheists, and no one seemed to have a problem with that.
I had been brought up to believe that ‘humanists’ and ‘atheists’ were under literal demonic influence and part of a vast evil plot by Satan to destroy humanity. Imagine my surprise when the exorcisms failed.”
After “converting” to atheism, the author goes on:
“I was 27 when my mother found out. she cried, fumed, prayed, and kept my atheism as her shameful secret. I led a double life to save face for her.
It seems to me that there’s some unspoken rule I had agreed to. That because I don’t have a g-d or imaginary elf associated with my beliefs, they’re somehow less important. That’s simply not true.
I do not need a g-d to validate me. I do not need a hell to scare me into being a good person. I handle that all on my own. I’m out, and I’m proud.”
Very well put.
Hi Diddly Ho Infidelerinos,
Thanks to all who participated in the Christian Kitsch Contest. It was so fun for me to take a break from the “gloom and doom” that makes up a lot of atheists’ personal stories (but you know I find them interesting!).
God Is Pretend and I will announce the winner next week. Remember– the winner gets a Scarlet A t-shirt!
Obviously, I can’t enter my own contest, but I couldn’t resist looking for some kitsch on my own. Take a look and let me know if you, too, are wondering, “WTF were the designers thinking?!” and “People actually buy that stuff?”
First, an old Daily Show clip featuring a little kitsch Christian shopping.
Nothing says “sacred moment” like this light-up inflatable nativity scene for your lawn.
Can anyone explain to me why Christians would want to hit golf balls with pictures of their saints? Is that a subconscious form of aggression?
Rarely do I see a non-tacky nativity scene, but there’s something about this kids’ picnic basket… (there’s something about the Virgin Mary?) Cherubic images of Mary and Joseph as kids strike me as creepy. Do adults think that makes kids relate to the characters better? I doubt it does more than confuse them.
To me, glow-in-the-dark is a can’t-fail kitsch factor. Try sleeping on this! Here’s another glow-in-the-dark item, so that you won’t forget Jesus as you try to go to sleep at night. (See masturbation reference below.)
Uh…I don’t know how to respond to this one.
OK, I’ve seen people with these plastic fetuses at rallies, but now I know where they bought them! Surprisingly cheap, and available in bulk. This falls under less kitsch, more tasteless.
It’s nice to find a product that’s maddeningly sexist as well. Be sure to read the description on God’s Little Princess Scepter.
I suggested this to Andy, who enjoys a more mainstream version of Guitar Hero. Andy, play this game or you are a coward! Christian rock hard!
These t-shirts are another one of Christianity’s lame attempts at hipness to appeal to teens and pre-teens. Can I just say that I love nerds, so calling Satan nerdy is not a turn-off, and in any case, I’ve never heard a nerdy description of Satan? Here’s another one, which strikes me as pretty rude for a Christian (saying “duh” always strikes me as rude). I’m a little surprised that Christian parents would buy t-shirts for their kids that are this subversive!
I’ve seen some sexy versions of the Virgin Mary, but this is by far the hottest Virgin Mary I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard a conservative pundit (not Colbert) bemoan that artists were all liberals. Clearly, he hadn’t looked around.
Not exactly kitsch, but…
I couldn’t find any sample cards for this board game for teens, but I suspect a lot of it has to do with abstinence. Girls, don’t let him do anything that will make him disrespect you. And guys, masturbation makes Jesus cry. I’d actually like to play these games with my atheist pals, just out of curiosity, so if anyone is in on that, let’s pool our resources and buy one. It’s good for the economy, so don’t feel too guilty about supplying the demand.
This game isn’t a product…yet. Can anyone explain to me Grand Theft Auto without the auto theft?
I can’t find it, but I remember seeing a glow-in-the-dark tombstone with a cross. D’oh!
Just one more thing about the Christian product market. Apparantly, people are willing to pay good money for dirt from the Holy Land (that’s Israel to you) to be buried in, or water from the Holy Land just for, well, just for the sake of holiness. I’ve lived in Israel, walked on the dirt and drank the water. I’ve also gone skinny dipping in the Kineret (that’s the Sea of Galilee to Christians). I couldn’t make that stuff up. If only I had the savvy to get a piece of this business…Mom, if you’re reading this, bring back about 1,000 vials of Jordan River water. Yes, I know it’s a schlep.
Hi Diddly Ho Atheisterinos,
“I have one, but I don’t have a picture so a description will have to do. I saw it at a funeral one time (hence why there’s no picture, there’s a time and place for everything and that was neither the time nor the place).
It was, you know how they have those flower arrangements beside the casket, usually on a tripod like thing, and there’s flowers usually in a circular pattern. Well, there was one of them, it was light blue, with blue flowers around it, and in the center was what looked like one of those Playskool rotary telephones, it was plastic, three dimensional, and the words written next to it were ‘Jesus Called.’ I’m not even joking.”
I think I could write a bunch of long blogs just on all the sex-related products I am seeing in this contest, but then when would I get to talk about the personal aspects of atheism?
One more tangent, though: I had the good fortune of seeing Dr. Richard Milner perform his one-man show depicting Charles Darwin, among other greats in the history of evolution. Dr. Milner is such a talent– who else would rhyme “mandrill” with “spandrell”?
Since you all know what a Christian enthusiast Mike Seaver is, you may have seen his performance (which I hear was pro-bono– you get what you pay for) as the lead in the film Left Behind. Well, I tried to read the first book of this very popular apocalyptic series, though I admit I wasn’t all that interested and didn’t finish it. Similarly, once I tried to read Revelations to find all the references for this stuff that I heard of, and couldn’t get through that, either. I still had fun heckling the movie, since I love to heckle anyway, and it was a pretty good target.
In the spirit of good (heh heh) faith, Andy showed me the book of Revelations on his iPhone bible. I skimmed and skimmed, and maybe a close reading would have turned up more, but I couldn’t find any references to stuff I’d heard about from Left Behind or otherwise. Lots of references to fire and brimstone (is that lava?), Satan, scorpions, horsemen and fornication…but I didn’t see anything about people ascending and leaving behind a pile of clothing, about the nation of Israel as we know it, about a holy war in which the Jews would ultimately be destroyed, Jews embracing Jesus, lakes of fire, etc. In any case, if the rapture were to happen, what would be the point of those left behind to embrace Jesus? Wouldn’t it be too little, too late? Do their ascended loved ones miss them…or are they up in heaven full of schadenfreude? “I told you not to whistle on the Sabbath.”
It’s hard not to make jokes when you think of literate, educated 21st century people believing that plagues of fire and scorpions will happen if we don’t worship the right way. Many Christians believe that the apocalypse will occur within the next fifty years. I’m guessing it’s *always* been going to happen in the next fifty years.
Where does all this leave atheists? I’m with the sticker that says, “Come the rapture, I’ll be down here stealing your car.” Perhaps more relevantly, where does this leave Jews? A Christian “friend” of mine told me, mincing no words, that he would go to Israel when the time came to join the eternal army and kill my people. “Your people will die.”
Maybe the Christian army has to kill the atheists to get to the Jews, or vice versa?
When does the apocalypse/rapture get personal to atheists or Jews? For that matter, why does the Christian apocalpyse have to be so catastrophic and hate-filled, as opposed to the nice happy messianic coming of the Jewish “end of the world”? Learn to have fun, guys.
I once heard a story about two rabbis who survived the holocaust. The first said,
“After what we went through, how could I still believe in God?”
His friend replied,
“After what we went through, how could I not?”
I would rather have heard the story with those lines reversed and the atheist having the last word.
I’m reading Dawkins’s Converts Corner on his site and there are so many great quotes– people have a lot to say about how significant, and often very difficult, it is to lose one’s faith. It’s so inspiring that, even though “conversion” may be painful, it can be so freeing and positive.
“The few arguments I’ve been able to hold onto for the existence of god (Parts of the Ontological and the Cosmological arguments) have been torn out, vivisected, and sterilized before my very eyes… and though it left me a little mentaly raw at first from having a belief I’ve been told I must have since I was a child cut open like a frog on a lab table, I feel that a large weight has been lifted off of my mind.
Drastic brain washing will take drastic deprogramming to fix, and I thank my luck that someone in the world had the stones to stand up and stop being polite about it.”
“I then came across a book that changed my life. It was the late Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (a book version of the famous television documentary series). I was an Atheist.
I then read Richard Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable and that nailed God in to the coffin as far as I was concerned.”
No wonder creationists prefer this version of Cosmos
“It is a humbling thought that we can look up into the night sky and feel so inconsequential on our little gem of a planet, but yet make such an impact on this world because of some courage, intelligence, and the support of millions of like-minded beings that we will never meet.”
It’s stirring how often I hear this sentiment expressed in the accounts I hear. One of the interviewees told me that one winter night, she and her husband were walking and she looked up and didn’t see heaven, but “just stars.”
One final thought:
“Thomas Huxley : Darwin’s Bulldog….Richard Dawkin’s : Darwin’s Rottweiler.
May I, arguably your greatest fan, lay claim to the title of ‘Dawkin’s Bloodhound’. Thank you so much for raising my awareness …I can now carry on sniffing out the truth, in true ‘bloodhound’ fashion.”
I think that makes me Darwin’s bitch. (Just kidding.)
Everyone, don’t forget to enter the Christian Kitsch Contest. So many great contenders out there…
Please check out my new Not My God submissions, link on the right. Thanks to everyone for sharing. I’m heartened by all the response I’m getting.
Here’s some of Matt’s submission:
“I’ve always had problems with dating. I am just a very different person. I was as a theist. I am as an atheist. I have had to go through public school with Asperger’s syndrome. In addition to that, as I said before, I’m very straight laced. The thing that is the real kiss of death with my dating is the fact that I don’t want children. I will not date a girl that wants children, because I see no point in setting myself up for failure. I’d like to get married eventually. It’s not on the top of my list now (I’m a college freshman), but eventually.
I thought I was successful last summer. She didn’t want children, and shared my moral uprightedness. She was a very deep and insightful person, too. But I knew that something wasn’t quite right at the same time. She was always very shy around me in person, in spite of being talkative on the phone when we were some distance from each other. It was almost as though she was a different person. She later admitted to being uncomfortable around men.
We ended up breaking up. I realize I’ve left some holes in that story. In a nutshell, her discomfort around me was becoming emotionally draining for her, so she figured it was better we weren’t together. I thought it a smart decision on her part, but of course I was still upset.
I later learned that when she was only seven, her own father sexually abused her.
My faith was put to the test in a way it had never been before. Why would God put such a nice person in the hands of such a horrendous human being?”
So many people on this site have had their faith tested when bad things happen to good people. After all, the tenets of religion pretty much say that if you’re a good person, god will reward you. Matt talks about this and also in the context of how challenging it is for him to find someone to be with… and then was his faith most challenged.
How many of you have been there?
One thing I wonder: how come no one ever seems to ask why good things happen to bad people?
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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