Thursday, May 27, 2010
As mentioned before, the level of my religious experiences could fill many pages. So, while there is much more to be said, most is going to be skipped for now. I am just going to touch on a five main areas of why Christianity lost its hold on me.
1.The age of rocks on the Earth and the amount of time it takes for light to travel through space couldn't be rectified with text in the Bible. The best answer I received was, “God put all the things there when he created The Universe.” This seemed like a very poor answer. I never accepted it. There are other Christians that have issue with the reality of “light flight” and the Bible. Needless to say, you cannot reasonably believe the Sun is nine light minutes from Earth and that the Earth is 6,000 to 12,000 years old. These two facts are totally incompatible with each other. Please read The Greatest Show on Earth for a much better explanation of this idea.i One could always use the improper translation answer. That the word translated as to mean an indeterminate amount of time. This could work for some people, but the legions of literalistic adherents cannot have a day any more or less than 24 hours long. I really wanted to learn Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic at one time in my life. I was certain that if I learned those languages, I would be able to know the true scriptures and not have to deal with translating the text into English.
2.There was also the “Bible” answer; in Psalms 90:4. The verse says, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”ii This is one I liked a lot. It gives a believer basically any amount of time they wish. Prior to hearing about Creationism and Intelligent Design, I figured that the Earth was about 12,000 to 15,000 years old. [Don't ask how I figured that out.]
3.Followers of Jesus just didn't seem to get the idea to follow Jesus. It was amazing how someone, including myself, would know what to do, according to the Bible, and darn well not do it. The Bible has all sorts of rules and plans that you can use to guide your life so you can feel good about being a follower. Inversely, they can know something not to do and darn well do it. The knowledge that forgiveness of sins was just a prayer away can be a good way out of doing what one thinks is sin. There was a sermon that I recently heard where the pastor was saying that prior to being killed in prison, Jeffery Dalmer converted to Christianity. He went on to say that there were both Christians and secular people that decried his conversion since he had lived such a heinous life. He said that there shouldn't have been any problem with a person like Dalmer becoming a Christian since God's love could forgive all sins. I told him that I thought his sermon was giving people the license to do anything evil and use god as a way to justify it to themselves. He couldn't understand the relationship and said I was missing the point of his sermon, which I wasn't. He just failed to recognize that it is moderate preachers like him that help radical adherents who “whorenize” the Bible to people that they would otherwise have no concern about these radical issues what-so-ever.
4.In the past, I had participated in many door to door evangelical missions. I even led people to Jesus. [Sorry everyone.] What was so hard about following Jesus was trying to obey the seemingly impossible rules that were provided for a good godly life. It was truly a conflict with my human nature to try to follow these archaic rules. Of course, volumes have been written about this. One book I read many years ago was Hinds Feet in High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. But there are others and they are easy to find. The amount of Christian fiction fills several rows in just about any bookstore in America. Most of the stories make the point that “we” cannot know God's will and that it will all work out in the end. The worse part was to see the opportunity come and the adherents let them slip on by. This didn't have the effect that many presume. Instead of seeing it as a lack of faith or a weak spirit of the person, I saw it as the weakness of God's Holy Spirit to do what the Bible says it can do. Eventually, I began looking back over the areas of the Bible where I gave latitude in the inconsistencies. A world wide flood? Oh really? All people at one time all spoke the same language? What was that language and how do we know this for sure. When did this happen? Plus, what happened to that tower? So, the Earth stood still and then started up again just because someone raised their arms? Let me get this right? Just his arms? These must be some huge arms. I can only think about all the havoc it cause on the entire face of planet. Walls fell down due to the acoustic sounds of trumpets and people yelling? I don't think so. Walking on water? Turning water into wine? Healing the blind with mud? Dying for sins of others? Two of every animal on Earth on your boat?
5.This was a big deal in my escape from religion: If we are governed by freewill then God is either impotent or vindictive and cannot or will not help man. If there is no freewill then He is a liar, an antagonist, a provoker, arrogant, manipulative, sadistic, petty, uncaring, sexist, racist, murderer that should be the first to suffer the ills that the Bible claims are from his, so called, creation. Why? Because He creates humans with the full foreknowledge that he will be rejected and will torture us knowing we are helpless to fight His will. If not that, He is totally powerless to influence our lives as to the reality of His existence. In this case, He is not worthy of worship any more than a piece of dirt. Look, we have enough fairy stories that we can enjoy without them controlling our lives. We don't need to continue to look upon these fables as anymore real than Peter and The Wolf , Cinderella , The Iliad, Paul Bunyan, Hazel and Gretel or any other of the thousands and thousands of work of fiction. If faith means to believe in ridiculous stories, in spite of the real world evidence, that they are not real, then there is really nothing to believe in.
These are just five areas that touch on some of the topics I found that faith in the supernatural had lost any meaning to me in reality. I hope that if you still believe in God that you would think about these things so that you can move from the land of fantasy to the wide Universe of reality.
xi Chapter Four: The Greatest Show on Earth Evidence for Evolution By Richard Dawkins ©2009 Free Press
xii International Bible Societyhttp://www.tniv.info/bible/passagesearch.php?passage_request=Psalm%2090:4&tniv=yes © 2009 International Bible Society
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Other adherents will offer this option to me, “If you only would trust your heart, then you would know that God is real.” To this I say, “I have followed what I felt was the Lord's leading in my life for many things as surely as you feel that you are now.” This also includes for family, friends, in jobs, relationships, where to go for trips and much more. There is not a single area that I didn't try to “bring under” the power of God. Even my marriage. But the facts of reality must be faced and there is no reason to hold on to ideas that continually show themselves to be invalid and even harmful to follow.
During times of prayer, devotion and faith, I had many good times and made great friends. But I will leave discussion of that for another time and place. One highlight I want to touch on is prayer. Prayer seems to be central to almost all faiths; so I feel this is a crucial area to write about. As far as I know, there is no religion that doesn't, at some point or in some way advocate prayer. Therefore, this is the reason I am picking this as a common thread that runs through all faiths worldwide. I was a “prayer warrior” as the term is used. I prayed before every meal, in public, in private, with friends, with family, and everywhere. Who knows how many people I may have offended by my display of piety. I felt it was the right thing to do. Sometimes an older person would say to me when I was leaving a restaurant, “how refreshing it was to see a young man praying in public”.
Both The Navigators and COPWOC encouraged a good prayer life. With The Navigators, it was more of a prayer diary or prayer list, faithfully kept; plus taking time out once a week to focus your prayer life. For me, I usually took Saturday morning at a park or a restaurant. I liked parks more because I could actually walk around while I prayed. It was quite structured, as well. I would normally take about five minutes per topic and continue throughout the hour. I would use Bible verses. [I assume this was done to remind God what he said and let him know that I knew he could answer my prayer.] I used a standard opening, praising God and all his wonderment ; then for my friends and the family; spreading and sharing the Gospel of Christ. I also took a few minutes to pray for the government and work and all the things that affected my life. While this was normally done alone, a friend or two of mine would often go to the park. We would pick out different sides to “stake out” so we wouldn't interrupt each other or get distracted by talking about things.
By the height of my prayer life, I was probably praying about four to five hours a week, which to me was just part of the 16.8 hours I owed God for a tithing of my time. After all, if all things were from God, time definitely is one of the most valuable things that God can give us. So, I gave back to God time he gave me. This may be why I find the time spent in worship and prayer so wasted. Even if you,re reading a comic book, I feel you are better using your time, than wasting it on a God that can do nothing for you.
After I spent my hour praying on Saturday, it was usually time to have a meal. When I was attending Kansas State University, we often had weekend get together that included grilling and games of either volleyball and/or Frisbee. Saturdays were pretty fun days, normally speaking. It sure was a point of secret pride, when I mentioned that during my quiet time I received a certain insight from the Lord. Being able to share a spiritual message was vital to being in the loop of The Navigators group.
With COPWOC, [Cathedral of Praise World Outreach Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma], the focus of prayer was more like the way that you prayed, having a prayer language, speaking in tongues, creating an actual prayer closet so you could be left alone while you prayed. Of course the content was important, but not as important as letting the Holy Spirit move you to follow its lead in your prayer. The prayer language was one that was not needed but greatly moved you into the higher levels of the pentecostal and fundamental churches. I attended the A.C.T.S. Group at COPWOC and before the Monday night service, they had a smaller meeting of the more devout. This was where people could show their stuff. I quickly found out that my way of praying was something that made me stand out. I was able to clearly think and speak the dogma of calling down blessings and binding the various spirits that we tended to bind with our ineffectual words. It was always odd to me to bind spirits, such as fear, weakness, timidity, pride, along with the spirits of cancer, mental illness and other actual sickness that needed medical help, not a prayer. But I believed, so I did it. After all, if you believe, you'll believe just about anything. I guarantee that if the President of the Mormon church or the Pope of any other charismatic religious leader said they saw their dead brother turn into a wolf, their follows would believe them. But if Alvin, the Poncan Indian says it, people think he is nuts. I see both ideas, again, equally valid.
It is not something that I really supported, but having people pray for the sick was often painful for me to watch. I would, of course, pray for the sick. But I couldn't ever get over the idea that God made doctors for a reason. While prayer is OK, the best medicine is a reliable treatment from proven methods. God can do His healing anyway he wishes. I would never encourage anyone to leave the treatments of their doctors for a healing of the sick by prayer. Even the theology of that idea is weak, because the faith of both the one healing and the one receiving the healing “must” be strong to accept it, according to the dogma. To me, that left too much to risk.
Oddly, my public display of belief was put to the challenge when I was in the Army. In the chow hall, several other men knew I was a devout Christian who would pray before they would eat. The first one or two things they would say following prayer, would be about how they had just met a girl and had sex with her. Or, they would use curse words about a topic they were discussing. I felt that this was a horrible witness for Jesus and wished they wouldn't even pray before they ate. I never had the courage to speak to them about this issue. Who knows, they may have done it just to offend me. I would never do that personally. I may think to myself, “I hope the food isn't so bad you have to pray you survive the meal.” I have been known to make the “raspberry” sound if I happen to catch people doing that. But that is more out of reflex, not really trying to make fun of them.
Part of my prayer lifestyle included writing down what I was praying for and then writing the results of that prayer. I kept extensive prayer lists with dates, people, names and needs. Like I said earlier, I spent an hour every Saturday, for years, going to a “quiet place” to pray , in addition to the daily prayers I did throughout the rest of the week. Unlike when a person had a need and you or a person may sympathetically say, I'll pray for you, and then not. This was something I asked many of my friends about, at that time. Most agreed they had failed to actually follow up and pray. My answer was, why wait to pray later, take them by the shoulder or hand, bow your head and pray right there on the spot. Wherever you find the need to pray, make the time to pray. That was my modus operandi. I found that doing this not only showed the person I actually meant what I was saying, but it also usually made them feel a bit better. It gave me the right to ask about the topic of the prayer, next time I saw them, if they didn't bring it up. Most of the time, they didn't bring it up, because prayer doesn't work.
The guilt I felt, over seeing a person with whom I promised to pray for and failed, too soon went away. If for some reason I was not able to pray, I would write it down and add it to my list. Some things were easy to have an answer for: jobs for friends, someone needing money for a conference, car needs to be repaired. To be honest, if you're are praying for things that are common to have in our society, the likelihood for success is greater. People actually need things like jobs, cars, clothes and food. Other prayers were not so easy, such as: hoping that a family member would turn to the Lord; praying to have a girlfriend or boyfriend as the case may be, or, dealing with sexual temptation. I am sure many of you reading this have family or friends praying for you now. Or if you are a believer, you may be praying for someone to come to some sort of faith, more than likely, a faith similar to yours. But isn't that prayer just a selfish to make them be like you, instead of letting them be the person they want to be. Even if the person is on drugs and cannot function, you need to take care of them, not force religion down their throat. Ask any relapsed addict. They are just as likely, if not more so, to blame God for their relapse than if they were treated in a reasonable method that allows for failure. They will blame God for failing them or blame God for letting them fall back. Then the likelihood of getting them back into your faith is all but gone.
Or if you have come out of the religious experience, you may have prayed for others as I have. Like me, I am sure they thought that the power of prayer would have some real effect in your life. As the list got longer as to what I was praying for, the answered side was very empty. I got to the point that I began to use hash marks to count repeated prayers to save space. Even with clear evidence in front of my face, of the ineffectiveness of prayer, I still held to my faith. The answered prayers must have only been about 15 to 20 percent on my prayer lists. [See comments on prayer in the Mormon Mission section]. Of course, some prayers I had no way of knowing if they were answered. But the ones I could find out, that is ask someone about, were well under the 50 percent mark.
I just concluded the possible answers that typical apologetic use to justify the failure of prayer to work. There is the “God did answer the prayer” answer, then the “God said 'no' to your prayer” answer and everyone's favorite “God said wait” answer to your prayer. It is really a no loss situation for God, with those answers. If only I could have those options when I was in college for my exams, I would have been the valedictorian.
One thing I would like to point out about my comments up to this point. What I have been talking about is the reflection of reality upon the cloudiness of religion and dogma. I often include the word Dogma and adherents for this simple reason. Many people say they don't believe in religion, but believe in God. They do not have a standard or regular church they attend or even want to attend a church, but have a societal view of the meme of the religion of their community.
Because of this, there will inadvertently come areas that can be attacked or seen as weak in my topic. This is, of course, expected and I do have any problem with that. I make no claim that what I am saying ties up all the loose ends that have taken thousands of years to develop. All I am saying is that if you are willing or able to look for the errors in the book, please continue that into every other book you would read or any other source of information you would allow the privilege into your mind. So feel free to rip my words apart if you feel the need, but be sure to use the same standard for reality reflection in your religious documents, too.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
MY MORMON MISSION part five
When I recently visited a Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints in Ponca City, Oklahoma, this was shown not to be the case. To give a little background, before I proceed, would be helpful. While I was serving in the Army, one of my roommate’s was a Mormon from Idaho. I think our commanding Sargent thought it would be a “good” idea to put the more outspoken religious believers together to make sure they wouldn't mess with the men that wanted to go out, party and have girlfriends, while their wives were back in the United States. Or so, that is the conclusion we both came to. We also thought that we wouldn't get along since we had different beliefs. If that was their hope, they were sorely wrong.
We actually became pretty good friends, more than happy to talk about our faith and beliefs. I wish I could recall his name, but we usually referred to each other by our last names in the service, so I will call him Watson. Watson came from Idaho, which come to find out also has a large Mormon population, as does Utah. He served his church in the two year mission that Mormon males do. I believe he did his mission in England. From what he told me, the missionaries are never from the place that they are from. For example, a missionary from Chicago will not serve in the Chicagoland area. Also, the two missionaries are unknown to each other, prior to mission training. I am not sure why this is but when it comes to religious rules you really don't even need a reason.
Watson shared that his church had a living, real life, prophet in Salt Lake City and a series of twelve apostles. I also learned that women are not able to be “saved” regardless of how much of this dogma they believe. Women have to get married to make it into heaven. Plus, when this little family unit dies and goes to what they call heaven the reward they get is not only eternal life but a whole new universe of their own.
Mormons believe that each man that follows their teachings not only gets to live forever with his family, again living past ones own death, they get to take their family and become gods of their own new world or universe. I have heard it both way, so I am not sure which one they get. According to Watson, the church still believes in the principles of polygamy, but their prophet was told that they need to obey mans law concerning this issue. I guess the threat of jail is a powerful motivator even for a god.
I also have background knowledge of Mormonism involving getting their book and talking to member of the Reformed LDS back in 1984. Yes it is true, the Mormons have had splits in their church as well. They have since dropped the “reformed” moniker and gone with a more mainstream name. They now call themselves the Community of Christ. These are a group of Mormons that think the LDS from Salt Lake City are too liberal. They say they follow the leadership of Joseph Smith III, as the one true heir of the Mormon founder, instead of, let's say, Brigham Young.
That was my first exposure to the teachings of The Mormon religion. I found their book to be quite rudimentary and lacking in what might call inspiration, not to mention the 1381 times the phrase, “And it came to pass”, was used in the book. I have looked into that phrase. I think it comes to about one in six verses begin that way. That in itself shows a total lack of creativity. As a practice, most writers try to avoid reusing the same phrase over and over. It can create a parody of itself, and distract from the subject that is being discussed.
Another idea about Mormonism I learned in my discussions with Watson is the concept that humans are “alive” in some pre-birth form. That is to say, as sentient beings, each and every human that enters into the phase of life, in which we are know as human beings, they also existed as pre-humans in some sort of heaven or place. I recently heard a song about this when I attended a service at an LDS church. I have not found the name of the song, but it was quite strange to hear such dogma in a children's song.
To go on, Watson and I had many long discussions about my dogma of Fundamental Christianity and his view of Mormonism. Through these, I felt I had a fairly good understanding of how the church began, as well as how it struggled and grew in the 19th century in America. I learned stories of the gold plates; the travel across the nation and the persecution in various towns as they made their way west. I also heard the idea that Independence, Missouri is the location of the Garden of Eden. I am sure this was news to Harry S Truman, who was from Independence. I am sure he liked his city just fine, but have you actually been to Independence? It is a nice enough Midwest town, but I have been to far nicer places that I would have an easier time calling The Garden of Eden.
However, it may be more of an ironic name, similar to Greenland, Iceland and Garden City, Kansas, not to mention the more accurate names like Dodge City, Kansas.
At my visit to the LDS church in Ponca City, there was a small group of us that attend. Eight of us, included Elder Rock, Elder Palmer, the missionaries, Rocky, Alvin, the teacher, two women and myself. It is quite humorous to attend the “basic” Sunday School meetings as if the people in them have no prior exposure to the ideas of religion in the United States. It is possible and happens from time to time, but it is not that common. The first verse they used to “show” evidence of God was John 3:16. They asked everyone to turn to it. I said, “I have it memorized.”
It was during this time that Alvin, a Ponca Indian, mentioned that he or his wife had seen three dead relatives in their home. He told us of the experience. Of course my initial reaction was to laugh, but I decide that it might be good to pretend that he had as much validity as these people do. Which he does. The two missionaries looked puzzled at him. The teacher went on to the verse and read. What I liked about Alvin was not so much that he disputed what they were saying, but he just had his own stories to add, that they couldn't disprove either. I am not sure if he was doing that on purpose to mess with him or not. I saw him later that day but I was unable to go back and talk to him. It would have been nice to know if he was just messing with them.
So back to the lesson. The teacher read the verse, and in case you all do not have it committed to memory, or heard it many times it is: God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever would believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The first question went something like this after the verse was read; So how do you think you would feel if your son had to die? If you have a son. Of course I reject the premise of the statement That is, if this was the son of God there is no way in The Universe that his son would have to die if this God is an “omni” God. And if this is not an “omni”i God then there really isn't any reason to follow it in the first place. So a God that:
• cannot prevent harm to his own son is weak.
• cannot change the actions of his creation is weak.
• would create sentient beings that would knowingly act in conflict to his will, that god is masochistic.
• any God that would love his World and yet allow pain suffering and the ultimate eternal punishment to fall upon the World he loves is psychotic and a psychopath.
• any God that thinks it can offer eternal life without offering even the least proof of it's existence is petty, cruel and hurtful.
• any God that would put his innocent son in place of what he views as guilty mankind is surely a sadomasochistic, unjust, evil, father.
These are just some of the attributes of God from one of the most famous verses from the so called holy book, The Bible.
If people were more willing to look at the evil that is done in the name of God and the words of his books that are credited to him, they would have to run away in droves, using their time and money to fund schools and hospitals and build homes feed those in need, promote education to show what good mankind can do in spite of this pervasive evil dogma of religion that not only fills the society in America and the Mideast but the entire world where more than three people live.
And this was just the first verse the Mormons used in the Sunday School lesson. I would have continued talking about that verse, but it was that insistence that we are just explaining what we believe and it is up to you to decide. “We are not trying to convince you of what we believe.” Elder Rock would say over and over. “ We are going to let you pray and let the Holy Spirit convince you.”
I decided to let them talk about their faith. So they went in to a discussion of the Priesthood. They said something that only men can be priest in their church and of course that set off another series of question in my head. About this time, Alvin made a comment about his Uncle turning into a spirit dog or wolf and I just turned and let him speak. I wanted them to hear his stories and hear it clearly the wild stories he was telling with as much respect that I was giving their stories. I was actually hoping that one of them would say something condescending to him. My reply was going to be, “His story makes just as much sense to me as yours does.”Alas, I didn't get that chance. They might have sensed I was willing to stick up for him.
The reason that they gave me for men not being able to be priest was that “So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him.” But of course they failed to include the rest of the verse, “male and female He created them.”ii Which changes the word man to mean male and female. No difference and according to Webster man can mean mankind as it does in that particular verse.iii The teacher of the class goes on to say that Jesus appointed the twelve disciples or apostles, which ever you wish to call them. These twelve, according to the leader, were all men. I guess he hadn't heard about the school of theology that placed at least Mary Magdalene among the apostles. There were also other women that many church leaders said had full authority as the men including Martha, Phoebe and others, were leaders in the new religion.
The missionaries and the teacher didn't want to discuss that point, they just wanted to talk about their faith and how men where the only ones that made decisions about their dogma.
So they asked if they could use a verse from their Doctrines and Covenant iv book. I said, sure, I haven't read that book yet.
Maybe it had the key piece of information I needed to put all this together and finally see the proof of a deity supernatural being in the sky. [Play song, Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum here]
But isn't faith really a lot like evolution in that respect. I mean, if you had never heard of the idea of a man being born of a virgin or walking on water; turning water to wine or walking on wine. Oops I got that mixed up. Anyway as the story goes, Jesus threw a really nasty curve ball in the temple. Who says Jews can't be good at sports? And the raising the dead, healing the sick and feeding the thousands with some fishies and pita bread. Where is the Humus, Jesus?
Anyway, the stories go on and on and can lead us to the ones in the Hebrew Bible aka Old Testament which we have the rivers turning to the blood of Christ or something like that and the water splitting on the Red Sea or Reed Sea, not sure which, but it is really cool. Not to mention the 400 years of slavery that no one has any evidence of, outside the single story of the people that claim it happened to them. Of course there are many other cultures at the time that dealt with both cultures during that time period, yet fail to mention any slaves of the Hebrew people.v, vi
But enough of the set up. You hear these stories over and over again and you see people acting like they are true, including spending their money on tie clips with fish on them and even building multi-million temples to the ones that preach this story. Then the story begins to come together. Well if Jesus had his ministry and the twelve disciples then it makes sense he would have been a bit of a pain in the butt to the Temple Priest. He really didn't want people to so much go to the temples but to love God wherever they were. Then he had all these low life sinners hanging around him, which he forgave, just like God would do if He were here Himself. And sure enough, soon you find one or two of these things that makes sense and you run with it totally deluded to the facts of the story.
So what is the similarity between this and evolution? Glad you ask, take a seat. The factual changes that occur in natural selection happen over time and only when such changes are able to manifest themselves. But each change in the DNA sequences can cause other attributes to occur that are not related to the change. This is the idea that is reflected in the numerous stories of the religious dogma. The stories are like the many sequences of dormant DNA that do not manifest a physical change until the “trigger” DNA makes it activate. However, the main difference is that the sequence of DNA are real and the stories of dogma are for the vast majority, unfalsifiable and myths.
The teacher and the missionaries are continuing with their dogma of how they have faith in this or that idea. They use examples of a cop having authority similarly granted by those in power to pass it to them. They fail to recognize that the police are given authority by the people of the government and are actually responsible for laws that protect people.
The priest are just a bunch of the people that agree to play the same game and pretend that it is real. There is no proof of the pre-birth heaven for kids; the multiple heavens where the dead Mormons go to make their own worlds, or the evidence of the gold plates of Joseph Smith, and so on and so forth. So the cops have actual authority and the priests have only make believe authority. No more valid than the dungeon master of a Dungeons and Dragons game, prior to it being played on video form.
Needless to say, the missionaries really didn't like all my questions and it looked like Elder Palmer was getting a bit mad. Especially when I laughed that Peter, James and John came back to New York or wherever Smith was at the time, to make him the new person to restore the priesthood. Well of course my next question was, if they could come back to restore him why can't they come back anything and restore anyone they want to. They didn't know that other than it was, “God's will”. Or by the way John the Baptist came back to anoint Joseph Smith as well. Or so Elder Rock says.
My Mormon friends that read or hear about this book, please do not take this as an attack against your religion. In your faith you are well suited for having someone like me coming in and asking pretty much any question I want. I view your religion with the same lack of validity as every other one. In my view, all religions are equally useless.
v An “omni” God is omniscience; all knowing, omnipotent; all powerful and omnipresent; at all places simultaneously.
Friday, May 7, 2010
To this statement, [Assurance of Salvation] I can already hear the devout and the faithful saying that I must not have been truly saved or filled with the spirit. First, one cannot say that according their own belief system. They cannot know my sincerity and willingness to know more of God. Also, I was one of the most devout and on fire believers that one would come across. But it will be said, never the less.
One of the main reasons that I went through the process of covering my background was to answer what many believers say to me, “If you only really experienced the Power of God you would know He is real. Just open up your heart and let God speak to you.”
During this time of my more profound adherence, I wouldn't have thought the ideas of science and faith were in conflict. I did start to see some incompatible ideas with the literal translation of the Bible verses and science. But the idea was more one of understanding the Bible. I used to actually think that all the answers of The Universe could be found in the Bible. It was just a matter of study to find them compatible with science.
For instance, I knew that the Earth was not six thousand years old. But, I found a verse in II Peter 3:8 that said, “Nevertheless, do not let this one fact escape you, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” With this verse I was able to either literally expand the “six” day creation of the Earth or add an indefinite period of time, even billions of years. So, still there was not a conflict with science and faith. But there started to be some things like the idea of water to wine. I knew there had to be an actual reason for these miracle. Even God had to obey the law of nature that he established.
We are not talking about a movie or comic book, but the physical Universe. Every miracle had to have a physical reason, even the “five fish and three loaves of bread.” To me, the only way this “fish story” was true was if fish were really much bigger than the story would lead us to believe. Let's say, for instance, five full sized tuna fish. That would have been a lot of food to spread among the people. Then feeding 5,000 plus people would have been easy. I was one of those that accepted the miracles of Christ, but didn't know how He did them, yet.
There was a reasonable answer; I just had to find it. I really didn't accept the idea of ghosts or other ideas like that. Angels were a tolerable idea to me, but not one that I felt that comfortable with. To me the main objects of religion were the God team of the trinity and Satan in his disguises. Maybe a few more spirits were out there, now and then.
Why on Earth would I not want to know God? If there was a god it just made the most complete sense to me to learn all I could about him. This is the heart of the matter, isn't it? If there is a God, one would have to be delusional not to believe in it. I would whole-heartedly agree. Plus, the more you knew Him, the better you could serve His purpose. One would have to be insane, not wanting to follow God. The truth of the matter is, each person has his or her own reasons for the level of enthusiasm they follow or don't follow a god. Many feel their level of commitment is just enough to live a good and productive life in society. “Go along, to get along” would be that perspective. Each person has their own reasons how, where and why they follow the religion that they believe.
While this is testimonial, I can say with much certainty that there were few that were on fire for God the way I was. There is little that any follower of Jesus can say to me, that I have not read or studied concerning faith and dogma of the Christian faith. With my level of study, I am sure I could have been ordained as a pastor in some churches. This was never the path I sought, though.
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.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Somewhere between my curious nature and my desire to interact with my environment, I looked critically at the world. So as a child, when my family went to church, I really had no idea what it was about. I liked the children sermons given at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. It was fun to go in front of the sanctuary and sit with the other kids beside the pastor, since he seemed to be the reason everyone was there.
When I was a child my family attended this church in Durant, OK. It is Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. It was my first time to be exposed to anything religious. The sanctuary looks nearly the same as it did when I was a child. I remember that the cross was quite impressive and I would stare at it endlessly, enjoying all the colors and shapes of the tile artwork.
Some things I recall about church at an early age involves a lot of people that I didn't know. We shared Sunday School classes with kids that were not in my regular school. When singing songs, the words in the hymnals were not sung in the same order as a book is read. You got dress up in nice clothes when you went to church. The buildings were nice and had a lot of cool stuff to look at. Plus, we usually went out to eat on Sunday after church. These were a few of the reasons that I liked going to church.
This was the first church I ever attended of my own choice, Bethel Baptist Church in Ardmore, OK. It was just a few blocks from my house so I walked there most every Sunday morning. When I was staying with my Grandmother the Sunday School teacher, Don Ray Thomason, would come out in the country to pick me up. It was a very nice and friendly place.
A few years later my family moved to Ardmore, OK and the family pretty much stopped going to church. Strangely enough, I was the only one in my family, for a long time, that went to church. It started when I was ten years old with a Vacation Bible Study. I told my Mother about the church; we visited the church; she checked the place out and decided that the people were OK. At the VBS, I remember one of my favorite things was working on the arts and crafts, wanting to make them as good as I could. But I thought the stories were nice, too. This began my personal journey with God and Christians.
At church, during the sermon, I would listen closely to the words the preacher would say and read along with the Bible. When a verse was given, I would start ahead and read after it. I knew that would give me better understanding of the context of what was being said. I knew from growing up reading The Hardy Boys book series and other books. One has to read the whole story to know what is going on in context. I enjoyed the challenge of learning about what was being preached and taught in the church. So, I was in church almost every Sunday. I went to Sunday School, the service, and when I could, the Sunday and Wednesday evening services, too. If we had evening visitation at the nursing homes I would attend.
To me, this was one of the first things that I did for myself, outside my family. Besides going to school, living in the small town didn't provide a lot of options for activities. So for me, church became my hobby. I actually went there so often that I would show up on Saturday to help mow the lawn. I quickly learned many of the stories and words of the Bible. It wasn't long before I could say the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation forward and backward.
This was also the time when I learned to read aloud. It was a skill I was quite proud of. I had received the King James Version of the Bible, so I felt that reading those “odd” words as I was speaking was doing well. It was the only Bible I had honestly ever read. It was odd that it was not written as a paragraph, but in separate verses, one at a time. I actually liked reading the Bible. The stories seemed so odd to me, but it sure was good when a story came up in church that I had already read. As I was familiar with the story, the message was easier to understand. Plus ,it made it better when I reading the verses aloud in my Sunday school class, because I knew what the story was about.
It was, at times, excruciating to hear others my age and even older, struggle with words as they read. Especially the Hebrew names and cities. Of course, I just said them the way I was taught. I had to correct some of the pronunciations, as I learned how to say them when I got older.
Recently, I went back to visit Ardmore, OK and took the pictures of Bethel Baptist Church and reconnected with my first Sunday School teacher. Don Ray Thomason was a very important influence in my life as a young boy. As one that believes in God, he is a good example of someone who tries to live the values he professes. At the time I attended the church, I would often ride with Don Ray as he picked up people for church. He is still doing that Today, however, the church now has two vans so Don Ray doesn't have to use his personal vehicle.
To me it was important to visit them. [Don Ray's wife is Betty Jo, whom I also knew at the time.] They are a good example of living a good life and applying the principles of the life of Jesus, without a strong persecution aspect. I would say that to me, Don Ray and Betty Jo represent the prototypical positive image of what a southern Baptist couple should be. If it was only based upon how someone lived their life, they indeed provided a good example.
However, there is more to life than just a sterling example of behavior. There is the reality of the Universe and the way cause, effect and logical principles apply to life. At this point, many people are more than willing to accept a good life and live blissfully in the limited knowledge of what they have learned. But, that was not the path I chose.
One of my early joys was attending the adult Bible study on Wednesday nights at Bethel Baptist Church. I had my own study guide. In the days proceeding class, I would read and fill in the answers according to the text listed in the study guide. I recall the first one I had was on the book of Acts. Of course, this really is not much of a study of the Bible, as there are often more than one answer that can be derived from the text and your understanding of the text. Until you go to the class, you don't know which one is “right”. But the idea that I was a kid and doing the same study as the grown ups was pretty cool.
This is the interior of the Bethel Baptist Church In Ardmore, OK. With very little exception the sanctuary looks the same it did in 1976 to 1978.
I was like a newly hatched chick in a nest. I just wanted more and more of this stuff. I still didn't really understand why but my adherence to Christianity surely impressed many of the older people in the church. I often received compliments about my attendance and participation. This is also when I was told, strangely enough, “That God has something special for you in your life, Thomas.” This always seemed odd to me for several reasons. First, what could this special thing be. And second, how could this person have an idea like that? How could they possible know? But it was just another of the anomalies that I came across with religion. I smiled and said, “thank you”.