Monday, May 3, 2010
In both of science and religions areas of my life, I have many more experiences that added to both my understanding of the natural world and understanding about Christianity and religion. In high school, I was fortunate to take almost every science class that was offered. I even became a science proctor, [that is a teacher's aide or assistant]. The classes I took included: General Science, Biology,(two years) Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics, and Zoology. The only two classes I didn't take that I could have were Geology and Botany. During my time of taking all that science never was the concept that science was incompatible with religion come up. Of course there was the part in Biology about the disproving of spontaneous generations using the concepts of frogs being “made” from mud and that rotten meat produced maggots. But through careful study and experimentation these concepts which were in support of creation soon were proven incorrect. Frogs hibernate in the lake and stream beds and come out n the warmer weather and if you keep meat covered and flies away from it, it will rot but no maggots will be produced since the flies cannot lay their eggs in it.
It was during this time, Easter of 1982, when I became what some call “born again” or “saved”. A person I met invited me to their church and I decided I wouldn't mind going. The pastor’s sermon stirred me deeply. I felt that while Jesus was hanging on his cross he was thinking of me personally and gave his life for my actual specific sins. It was the emotional appeal of the message that moved me more than the logical presentation of the evidence. I mean, after all, there really wasn't a logical appeal to the sacrifice of Jesus. It did really strike me as reasonable plus I did have a motivating desire to posses the “insight” that my other friends from church had. It was about time I got me some Jesus in my life to.
It was truly a euphoric feeling. I felt that a sacrifice like that from Jesus was enough to make me believe in Him and accept Him as my personal savior. While it was by no means a straight path forward in my religious education, I was certainly on the way. No hard proof was offered for my conversion. I accepted the anecdotal story as sufficient proof for me to accept this story as totally factual and reliable as any other fact in the world. After all, these people couldn't all be wrong, could they? There were so many of them.
I was in high school at the time I was saved. As I said before, I took most of the science classes that were offered. For 13 consecutive weeks, while studying physics, our class would go to the library every Friday and watch the most amazing science show I had seen: Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Journey. Until this point, none of these concepts had been presented in such a clear and understandable format. In addition to science in the classroom, I attended field trips to the Kansas Cosomosphere, Wichita Omnisphere, Lake Afton Planetarium, Kirkpatrick Planetarium and other museums. This all comprising a strong background of the natural and physical world.
It was during my junior year in high school that I helped to start the science club. All my friends were either science or math geeks. We spent much of our free time talking about science and matters of logic and reason. I even bought and read the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 62nd Edition, for leisure. Those familiar with the book should have seen me lugging that book around. But, reading that book, I learned about some of the similarity of the chemical structures and the process of naming molecules. Also , I learned about some of the characteristics of the elements and so many more concepts.
A humorous view of the world was disguised as a science-fiction radio play, in The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. That made for some great thinking while listening to the radio, alone late at night, at the age of 13. Adams had the knack for making the reasonable seem curious and the unusual seem common in his stories.
It was a story that remained with me. I purchased various versions as I came upon them, including the books, the audio books, the TV show and movie. I seriously doubt that if it hadn't been for his tangential humor, I may not now look at things as oddly as I tend to do now.
Unbeknownst to me, these two world views would not agree with each other. I felt at the time, like I am sure many do, that these two world views were totally compatible with each other. Nothing in my religious education was clearly stated as being at odds with the world of science. The same can be said about my science education. We live in the physical world. What could be incompatible with the ideas of the God that made The Universe and the science that explains it?
In college I didn't study too well, on my first attempt. After three semesters, I found myself out of school and needing a job. This opportunity lead me to the Air Force. I did my job skills test and scored high. I decided I wanted a vocation that would provide me with a skill after I got out of the service. So, I selected a plumbing job. It was actually the job that had the highest score requirement and would allow me to start right away without a college degree or spending months in training.
After going through basic and advance training, I was stationed at Tinker AFB, near Oklahoma City. This is where my intense Christian training began, with a Christian group called The Navigators.
Being a typical 19 year old airman, away from home, with plenty of money, I had enough free time to do other things. I had a few girlfriends; went out with the guys; went to concerts, and did my job. One Monday in the summer of 1985, there was a knock on my door. Two young men stood in my doorway and asked me about my relationship with Jesus. The first question they asked, was, “If you were die Today, do you know for sure that you are going to heaven?” [Where was my knowledge of logical fallacies then?] I said yes. I did know and that I would go. So began my association with The Navigators. From then, on every Tuesday at the base religious education building anywhere from two to twenty people would gather to sing some songs, have a Bible study, and then go out to eat. [I think it is vital that an organization have food at their gatherings in order to get followers.]
During this period, I learned much about Christianity and memorized many scriptures. I must have gone to at least a dozen conferences and retreats, in a three year period. Some were as far as 600 miles away. My primary church at that time was the Air Force Base Chapel. Most of us, in The Navigators group, attended the Chapel, too. Even though the group was made up of enlisted and officers, we had the overall connection with Christianity, and the fraternization policy was largely overlooked. There were even enlisted and officers dating in the group. After a year or so, our Navigator leaders advised us to go to our home churches off base. The reason, for this, was to be an influence in our home churches. I guess it seemed that we were becoming too much of a click. But, looking back, it seems that they were trying to spread their influence to more denominations and infiltrate, looking for people that might be willing to take a leadership role in the various denomination. The main slogan is, “To know Christ and to make him known.” So, each man or woman was asked to work with three other men. One would be his mentor; one would be his peer and one would be his student. This involved an elaborate structure of different areas; each under a higher leader until reaching the district level, to the head of The Navigators, who at that time was Lorne Sanny.
I met several Christians who referred to The Navigators as a cult. Their term, for what they called what they did, was “sheppardship.” To be quite honest, decisions usually quite personal, such as: who to date, where to work and what to buy would often come under the discussion of The peer or mentor, if not a small group of fellow Navigators. Just like Jeff Sharlet describes in his book, The Family, these discussions were about how to make Jesus more real in your life and to pray without ceasing. The purpose was to bring more men into the group. Women were welcome, but not that common. The nickname for the group of guys I ran with was The Neverdaters, as a play on the name of the group The Navigators. Few of us ever had girlfriends or dates. The mere logistics of getting a girlfriend in the group was a wrenching process. You couldn't go out as a single, one-to-one, male-to- female, for the first few dates. Outings had to be group dates. Keep in mind, we are referring to adult men and women, in their early to mid-twenties. Yet the restrictions we placed upon ourselves were worse than what most parents do to their Junior High and High School children. Man what a happy group.
While the men involved in The Family are usually older, I could definitely see parallels between the two groups. I do wonder how much time these men in The Family actually spent trying to study the Bible, as opposed to just “knowing Jesus.” It can be a very scary thing, following the Bible to get your beliefs, but to leave the Bible behind and become a “follower” of what you think Jesus is, only to become disconnected from reality. Could also be their goal? Nothing a person can say or reveal to the “followers” of Jesus , that would have any weight with how these groups perceive the reality of the world, are able to change their beliefs, though they will say, every step of the way, is all part of the will of Jesus. That is to say that their beliefs will overcome the facts of reality.
My “home” church was the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I began going to that church in Midwest City, OK. However, it didn't seem to fit in with my view of how I now understood scriptures. The dogma of that church seemed to misinterpret the Bible, according to my beliefs about what the “facts” of scripture taught. I spoke to the Pastor. He confirmed my perception and soon was looking elsewhere. I felt there was a clear case for salvation, to be assured, but the Lutheran Pastor told me that a person was able to loose their salvation. I felt this was in error and used my scriptures to support my side; just as he used his scriptures to support his view. In the end, I chose a different Church to attend.
While I was going through my issue with the LCMS, most of my Air Force friends began attending the Covenant Community Church, located about 21 miles away from the base. I attended that church a few times, but didn’t feel like I fit in. On the other hand, I liked the local Christian Rock radio station, KOKF. Their songs and programs captured my attention and personal perspective. This was part of my self-imposed, separation from the secular world.
One time, KOKF had a contest. I called in with the correct answer and won the prize. When I went to pick up my prize, (I do not recall what it was), the General Manager, Greg Griffin, said I had a good voice. I asked him if I could volunteer, should they need help. He agreed. I began the next weekend as a prayer counselor and assisted the on-air DJ. This radio station was affiliated with a pentecostal church and I started attending that church's singles group. Soon I was attending the church's regular Sunday services that hosted the singles group. One could say at that point I was deeply involved with religion and moving up fast.
I was soon engaged with my full duties in the Air Force and going to the far side of the city to do my radio shift, on the weekend. During this time, my “home” church became the pentecostal mega church, Cathedral of Praise World Outreach Center. The pastor, Ron Dryden, owned the radio station. It made sense to make it my weekly spiritual home. I really enjoyed the people at the Cathedral of Praise World Outreach Center and quickly got involved, where I was growing in standing and respect. I am certain, if circumstances would have been different, I might be writing a Christian book instead of an atheist to me Today. I am quite pleased to be writing what I am.
The church encouraged speaking in tongues, or a prayer language [a biblical loophole for speaking in tongues], as well as spiritual and physical healing and all manner of expressive worship to display the power God really manifested in the actions of the people. Dancing in the isles was as common as getting a hamburger at McDonald's. It was not the Holy Spirit that moved the people though; it was their desire to be a follower of Jesus and express what they felt was his power in their life. Each Sunday, the service went through very predictable cycles. After the time passed for the service to start, the “worship leaders” [aka singers] would grab their specifically colored mic and begin to sing. One used a tambourine while the musicians accompanied them. The words of the music would politely be put on the overhead screens for those that didn't yet know the words. Normally, by the second verse, people would begin dancing in their aisle with neighboring congregates. Soon, one or two people would slip out and go up to the front of the auditorium and begin dancing. There seemed to be a hierarchy of dancing. Certain people had an implicit leadership role; they would dance out in the open first, then others would follow. Rarely during this time would anyone bother to speak in tongues, which occurred after the music began to slow down. One of the church leadership would take the stage for announcements or some sort of greeting, “in the Lord,” as they would say.
When I spoke in a “tongue”, it was not under the power of the Holy Spirit. It was to be like the other people in the church whom I associated with. Peer pressure was a powerful thing in this group. The sounds, the colors, the lights and the feeling of being together for the glory of God is a powerful feeling. It is a delusional feeling, but a good one none the less. I remember recalling trying not to sound like the other people that repeat the same sound over and over again.
“Everyone can tell that isn't really a language of any kind,” I would think to myself. I at least made sure my speaking in “tongues” sounded somewhat like a language.