Tag Archives: church

I’d never seen one in real life

Before Sunday, I had only heard of sermons explicitly preaching strict rules regarding sexuality and marriage. I had seen YouTube videos, and I had heard stories of people affected by these sermons; but I had never actually witnessed one myself.

That all changed on Sunday. I was invited to attend a church service in town by a reader of this blog. I originally had planned to attend three weeks ago, but an emergency made that visit impossible, and last Sunday was my next available date. Funnily, the person who invited me thought I might just be pulling her leg all along.

Nonetheless, I showed up at the evangelical church at 11 a.m. on Sunday, found my host, and sat in the pews. After the obligatory worship music (how I loathe worship music), the sermon began.

The lesson of the day was the second installment of a two-part series on marriage, and it focused primarily on Hebrews 13:4, which reads:

4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Pastor Jason McConahy also invoked 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads:

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

As you can imagine, the service was really about guilt. How the topic of sex is muddled by guilt. How we all feel guilty about our past sexual sin. McConahy adamantly reminded us that sex was to be regarded as positive and beautiful, but the real message was clear: if you stray outside of the Bible’s restrictive views on sexual morality, you should feel guilty.

After the service, my host asked me what I thought. I tried to explain that I base my morality not on the words of an antiquated book but on shared values, considerations of harmed, and learned norms; and that therefore I strongly disagreed with the message preached. We discussed these ideas and more – why believing in the Big Bang Theory is not equivalent to believing in God; how I distinguish between atheism and agnosticism; the absurdity of the cosmological argument; even a debate in which I participated last year (apparently a debater on my side committed an “argument fallacy” when he equated belief in gods to belief in magic). I wasn’t surprised by her questions, and I don’t believe that she was really very interested in my answers.

What I did notice was a strong disconnect when it came to the burden of proof. I let her lead the conversation where she wanted it to go, making sure to challenge her point-by-point, but my host constantly demanded that I provide evidence for my lack of belief. No matter how many times I highlighted holes in her belief system, it was obvious that she wanted me to prove to her that her god didn’t exist – an obviously impossible task.

I used to attend church services weekly as a non-believer. The reason why I stopped was pure boredom above everything else. Most church services are remarkably similar to each other – rarely does a pastor introduce anything new. Repetitive close-mindedness is burdensome, and this service was a harsh reminder of just that.

1 Comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Lent and the Unthinking Child

Today I would like to talk more narratively and less analytically. I’d like to share a piece of my story and demonstrate how it shaped who I am today. As the observance of Lent begins tomorrow, Feb. 13, I would like to go back to a time when I was earnestly seeking a religion to adopt – a time when external pressures, rather than internal navigation, shaped my beliefs.

For most of my younger years, religion provided a sense of community and belonging rather than any sort of spiritual fulfillment. My parents raised me in the Church of Christ Science (a nomenclature possessive of such hilarity that it is only exceeded by its treachery), where I soon discovered that I resided in the boondocks of mainstream Christianity. Indeed, my school-yard friends were occasionally fond of teasing me for not being a “real Christian.”

I maintained the faith barely into my double-digit years, when I finally succumbed to the prospect of joining the ranks of my normal Christian friends: those who didn’t say things like, “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter.” When they encountered illness and injury, they didn’t attempt to “know the truth”; they went to the doctor immediately. (I was fortunate to have moderate Christian Science parents and received necessary medical attention. I am grateful that they have since completely shucked the absurdity of the Christian Science doctrine.) Ironically, I was seeking a group of people who I considered “more faithful” – I too began viewing Christian Science as a phony faith.

Willing to let me explore outside of the religion, my parents allowed and even facilitated for me to attend different services. I sampled Catholic, non-demoninational, Baptist, Mormon, and Lutheran services (marvel at the diversity!), and found a home with the Lutherans. The primary reason for my choice? The music, of course. Weary with the monotonous hymnals of Christian Science, I devoured the contemporary music of the Lutheran church. The drums, the bass, the guitar! That stuffy old organ finally gave way to something that resembled the music to which I listened on my own time.

Of course, I figured my parents would deem such reasoning illegitimate, so I created additional justifications. I connected with the message of the sermon. The creed of the church aligned with my beliefs. Hell, this church was God’s choice for me!

I did genuinely enjoy the youth atmosphere in the church. My introduction to the church came by way of a friend who already attended, and with him I enrolled in the church’s confirmation program. I immediately attached myself to the vibrant pastor (a man whom I still respect), and was eager to ingrain myself in the faith – to finally become a real Christian! I participated in all the extracurricular activities and for awhile truly enjoyed becoming a stronger Lutheran.

When the season of Lent arrived, I assumed that Lutherans sacrificed something as did the Catholics. After all, they were all part of the “in” faiths, those that I deemed normal. Surely their practices were pretty similar as well. So, when pizza was the meal for a youth night, I was nothing but proud to announce to the youth pastor that I had given up pizza for lent.

How quickly my “beliefs” changed when I discovered that Lent did not involve such sacrifice in the Lutheran religion. If Lutherans did not demand that I forfeit an earthly pleasure for the season, then of course God didn’t make any such demands either. I grabbed a slice of pizza.

Richard Dawkins describes one of the objectives of his book The God Delusion near the beginning: he hopes that we stop describing children as having faith but rather being the offspring of faithful parents. His point is pertinent: many children, dare I say most, who subscribe to a religion do so only because they have been indoctrinated into said faith. Even the young, curious religious explorer like me isn’t capable of evaluating such choices. That is not to say that all young believers are insincere – simply that understanding the implications and foundations of faith requires critical thinking beyond the capacity of nearly all children.

The act of engaging in Lent is likely the least of the worries we should have for the children indoctrinated into the Christian faith. The unthinking child is to be protected, nurtured and taught to think critically – it is simply too often that religious leaders instead elect to exploit the fresh minds of their youngest followers.

4 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Forcing the Issue

Sarah Chantal Parro, blogger at Evangelical Outpost, has a solution for the inherit monotony of religion: Just force it.

Do you ever feel too tired, or too busy, or too lazy to pray? Do you sometimes feel like you’d rather sleep in than go to church? Or do you ever find that you’re in church, but your heart really isn’t? I am guilty on all counts. For whatever reason, my personal spirituality is the most difficult for me to maintain.

Might it be that deep down she sees the pointlessness of it all?

When it comes to most important things in life, I think “easy” is overrated; at least, I think it’s dangerous to believe that if something is right or worth doing it will always be easy.

What Parro doesn’t seem to realize is that religion is the easy path to take. Life is wrought with difficult questions – some that we may never be able to answer. Filling in those gaps with a convenient invisible solution is just plain lazy. If Parro isn’t finding fulfillment in the mundane routine of a religious life, I’d suggest thinking outside the church for answers.

Parro continues:

My husband once put it this way: “I have to remind myself that when I don’t want to pray, that’s the part of me that wants to go to hell.”

I think we’ve found the root of poor Parro’s problems. Nothing motivates a person to repeat that which they might otherwise question like the threat of physical torment. And that is precisely the service that the concept of Hell offers. “Sure, tithing and praying and attending church and fasting seems pretty silly to a rational adult, but remember that if you forget to do any of these things you will burn for eternity.”

I hope that one day Parro stops beating the dead horse of her faith, but such is the destiny of the person who refuses to think independently.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

An Atheist in Church

Last year, I did a funny thing. I spent almost every Sunday waking up early and attending a new religious service. I stuck with this experiment for approximately six months, and I visited a lot of churches (a couple mosques, synagogues and meditation meetings as well). Why did I do it? Well, as an atheist, I think that understanding religion and the faithful is important. I encourage every non-believer to read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon – any religious text they can find. Forming a well-rounded argument is impossible without knowledge of your opponent.

During my weekly exchange, I met with a number of religious leaders and members of their congregations and engaged them in discussion. Some of the dialogue yielded new understanding between those involved, and some led me to wander how certain people navigate their way out the door in the morning. The interaction was to what I looked forward the most though, and for the most part I was happy I took the time.

That same concept is now being put forth as a group effort, spearheaded by Kile Jones, a student at Claremont Lincoln University. Jones has started an effort called “Interview an Atheist at Church Day,” for which he is asking for willing pastors and atheists to agree to talk openly at church services about faith and non-belief.

Image credit: Facebook

According to the group’s Facebook page, the effort is “aimed at bettering the understanding between atheists and religious persons” – certainly is a worthwhile effort. For many believers, “atheist” is just a concept rather than a real human to whom they can put a face. Part of the incredible mistrust of atheists in the United States is probably due to the simple fact that many people don’t know any atheists. So bringing atheists and believers to have these discussions is an important component of increasing atheists’ visibility in mainstream America.

Will Jones’ project be successful? That depends on the willingness of its participants. If you are interested in helping, and you are an atheist or a religious leader, contact Jones at interviewatheists@gmail.com. You should also like the Facebook page and let Jones know that you support what he’s doing.

3 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Westboro Baptist Church to Join Forces with Pro-Life Group, 40 Days for Life

40 Days for Life…no, wait, Westboro Baptist Church protesting.
Image credit: Allison Long, Kansas City Star

Not known for their outreach efforts, the members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., have announced a plan to team up with anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life. 40 Days for Life, which will begin its bi-annual 40-day vigil on February 13, has expressed excitement at having the opportunity to work alongside one of the United States’ most vocal religious leaders.

“These guys know how to get the attention of the American people,” explained David Bereit, National Director of 40 Days for Life. “If there’s one thing we care about, it’s getting known – oh, and of course saving the lives of the innocent.”

The two groups apparently first met in October of 2012, when their protesting schedules overlapped in Knoxville, TN. Westboro was in town to protest the funeral of Shan Lively, a medic with the Army 844th Engineering Battalion in Knoxville, when Shirley Phelps-Roper, spokesperson for the Westboro Baptist Church, mistook protesters outside the Cherry Street Planned Parenthood in Knoxville.

“They were all holding up signs with bold letters and shouting mindlessly at people nearby,” said Phelps-Roper. “I thought the protest was supposed to be the next day, and for a second I thought I’d missed the memo!”

Lisa Morris, a leader in the Knoxville chapter of 40 Days for Life, recalls the encounter.

“This woman walked up to me, and I thought I recognized her,” said Morris. “For a second I thought she was going to start arguing with me, then she said, ‘Thank God for killing abortion-enabling, fag-loving soldiers,’ and I knew we were going to be friends.”

The two groups anticipate an exceptionally cohesive campaign, and leaders from both groups think the other will complement their efforts.

“We’re both about tormenting people in the lowest points of their lives,” said Shawn Carney, Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life. “We look forward to the notoriety Westboro will bring to our cause.”

Despite the high spirits at the prospect of the campaign, some Westboro members have expressed apprehension at joining forces with 40 Days for Life.

“I think this is a great idea; I just hope I don’t have to hold up any signs with pictures of dead babies,” said Lee Ann Phelps, member of Westboro Baptist Church. “That’s just in bad taste.”

 

 

*Note: This post is satire, but it almost seems like it could happen, doesn’t it?

4 Comments

Filed under Atheism/Religion, Politics

“Heaven Just Gained Another Angel”

Posting from my phone here, so I’ll make this one brief.

We see this saying a lot when people die (which has been painfully frequently as of late). To me it’s a curious statement…one I find desperately hypocritical.

Here’s the thing: in life, we are quick to pass judgement on our fellow humans. Nobody is ever good enough. This behavior is hyperactive in religion; especially in religions for which faith is the utmost of human virtues.

These religious people are constantly told (and telling each other) that nothing that they do is good enough. No amount of charity or goodwill can save them from the wrath of their god unless they truly believe.

Often, their criteria for belief is abnormally strict. You have to believe the right way. People of different faiths are eager to condemn those who don’t share their viewpoints, even when these people are their friends.

I’ve asked a few of my religious friends what they think will happen to me when I die. Many of them don’t shy away from responding that I’ll likely end up in Hell unless I redeem myself through faith. They also don’t balk at the idea of their friends of separate faiths spending eternity in the grips of Satan.

So why are they so sure that the recently deceased are in Heaven? After so much doubt and condemnation during the living hours, why are the religious so quick to confidently predict the whereabouts of the departed?

To me, this demonstrates the real purpose religion serves for most people. It’s a matter of comfort and convenience rather than a conviction of knowledge. Religious belief, like many beliefs concocted by our complex brains, serves to make sense of what is around us in a way our brains can manage.

Religion is not the result of divine inspiration or divine revelation; it is the trickery of our brains as they try to appease their foolish possessors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Why wasn’t this movie up for Best Picture?

A friend alerted me to this gem of a motion picture today. It’s called “Last Ounce of Courage,” and it’s a good ol’ fashioned ‘Merican movie. My hopes aren’t high – it’s got the production value of a porno and it features Bill O’Reilly as himself at some point. Still, I’m going to try to find it and watch it, but I doubt I can find it at any popular retail outlets. Maybe I should check my local Bible Superstore?

And, because I know you were wondering – yes, it is endorsed by Chuck Norris.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics