“Stop Trying To Figure Things Out and Just Believe” ~Joyce Meyer

I’ve only recently begun to read and listen to Atheists at the forefront of the Freethought Movement. One might think that, as a new atheist, I’d devour the writings of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins. With just a few exceptions, I haven’t been doing that until recently. For good reason…

Leaving Christianity meant I had to learn to think for myself and therefore, reclaim myself. The last thing I needed was to dive into Dawkins or Hitchens works using my old methods of learning and digesting information. Until I could break old patterns and replace them with healthier methods, I needed space. At least for a little while.

Reflections on my life of indoctrination led me to conclude that I needed time to wake up more fully before exploring the works of atheists. 

For children, indoctrination is a relatively passive exercise. But for the adult, it requires some work. I did the work.

To give perspective: My ‘relationship with Jesus’ really took off at the age of 17 when I was baptized in the holy spirit. Because I was a ravenous reader/studier, I practically set up house in our local Christian bookstore.

All my books had highlighter markings on Bible highlighted and marked up.jpgpage after page with notes in the margins. My bible was fat with dog-ears and underlined with color coded pens. I saw it all through my God glasses.

When a controversial topic popped up, I’d turn to trusted Christian leaders to find out what they were teaching about it. I’d read their books, listen to their tapes and, ultimately adopt their belief as my own.

As I grew and matured in the faith, I began teaching bible studies and prayer groups. Preparing my material typically consisted of a Strong’s Concordance, 2 or 3 bibles of different translations, and 3 or 4 books by authors our church trusted that covered the topic at hand. From there, I’d piece together my own rendition.

Many Christians know that this is the process by which many believers gather and disseminate doctrine and dogma. Most bible studies or sermons are nothing more than re-writes of someone else’s beliefs and teachings, made personal.

sheeple.jpgIt took massive amounts of mental gymnastics to make nonsense make sense throughout my Christian experience. But milling about in the sheep’s pen made it MUCH easier. I learned within those fences how to regurgitate the dogma and bleat with all the sheeple.

I’ve had to face the fact: I was a full participant in my own indoctrination as a member of the herd.

Now, at nearly ten years out of Christianity, I feel like I have enough distance from all of that to indulge in the writings of knowledgeable atheists without pulling the wool over my own eyes.

I’m not kidding myself… I’ll never achieve 100% objectivity, but I’m certainly more up to the task than I ever could have been as a Christian.

The beauty of where I am right now is that for the first time in my life, I’m wide open to possibilities. I’m reading new authors from all kinds of backgrounds with an aim to see something new. To put a fine point on it: I’m not reading Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, or Dan Barker to learn how to think like an atheist… that would completely miss the point of free thought at its core and further rob me of thinking like MY SELF. And the fact that I see that is amazing.

I’ve already found myself at odds with a few atheist authors on some points along the way. It could be that I don’t yet know the scientific data but when I do, I’ll change my position. Maybe I’ll see the data differently and stick to my guns. The difference is that now I don’t have 10 foot high walls around me. I actually welcome being proven wrong so I can further grow and understand. This is TOTALLY counter to any Christian training I’ve ever had on how to think and consume information.  Whatta wild ride!

This may sound childish to a whole lot of people adept at critical thinking. You’ve been enjoying the wonders of your brain in ways I never did because I was discouraged from doing so. But there are ExChristians who will relate. We were trained to ‘die to self’ and just believe. Joyce Meyer said it perfectly in this terrifying tweet:

Joyce Meyer Tweet.jpg

As I round the corner toward my 10th year out of Christianity, I’m acutely aware of how my thinking continues to evolve. I think differently today than I did just one year ago. As my oldest son put it recently, “The farther away I get from Christianity, the more ridiculous it all looks.” And I feel the same.

But I’ll add; the farther away I get, the freer I feel to think outside the God box I was stuck in for so long. And now… NO box will do. Believe me, this is Way Past Due!

 

“Everything Happens for a Reason” Is A Dangerous Lie

When something is true, it’s fact, accurate, correct and verifiable. That truth may change with knowledge, like learning the earth is over 5 billion years old as opposed to 6, 000, but in that moment, best as we know, it’s true.

A truism is an obvious truth, a self-evident truth that often results in a cliche’. Although, not all cliche’s are truisms and not all truisms are cliches, truisms tend to have staying power. It’s truth that grew legs.

Christians like cliche’s. They’re handy little pat answers to complicated or unanswerable questions or dilemmas. Many of these sayings are said by Christians and non-believers alike. But they aren’t necessarily true.

Here’s one:  America was founded as a Christian nation.

Charlie 1 copyThe fact is, America was founded on the principle of religious liberty.  Here we can worship or not worship the god of our choice and freely practice or not practice that religion out from under the thumb of a governing authority. (Within the confines of the law, of course. No human or animal sacrifices allowed!)

Over time, I grew weary of our beloved Christian sayings. Why? Because I learned that most were not only untrue, but dangerously untrue.

Being in ministry for so long, I not only heard a ton of cliches but I used them. And I grew to dislike them. I am particularly bemused by the cliche: Everything happens for a reason.

In a Christian context, it implies that everything happens as a result of divine orchestration. Everything.

The word everything would include but not be limited to: incest, child abuse, domestic violence, sink holes, lottery winning child molester, women who murder their boyfriends, mango flies, malaria, toenail fungus, genital mutilation, rape, schizophrenia, Jared Fogle, spina bifida, zika, and a host of other tragedies, illnesses or misfortune … all of which, ‘happened for a reason.’

Great. This’ll come in handy!

While in ministry, I knew a woman in her 30’s who’d been incested by her father up into her adult life. She was a psychological train wreck. When she went to see Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, she ended up in a fetal position in tears out in the hallway. Took an hour to talk her out to the parking lot. She was diagnosed with multiple mental issues but hey … I’m sure she’ll be relieved to know it happened for a reason.

While in ministry we buried a raging alcoholic who hanged herself in her basement after 30 years of praying, repenting, sobering, falling, pleading, and begging god for deliverance. Her family suffered for three decades as she fell deeper into her disease. But I’m fine with that because … everything happens for a reason.

A decade ago, a member of my family became the victim of domestic violence. Her husband flew into a rage and broke her jaw. She faces yet another surgery and lives with chronic pain. When she’s been up all night dealing with the throbbing ache and brutal headaches, I remind her … everything happens for a reason.

While in ministry, I prayed and cried with a woman whose young son had been molested by a neighbor. His therapist is hopeful that he’ll develop normally with continued counseling. He’ll need it for an indeterminate span of time. She fell apart in my arms, so I told her …

Everything happens for a reason. 

Oh … and monkeys with bibles flew out of my butt, too. stunned monkey

Clearly there’s a danger to slapping a cliche on a serious, potentially life altering or threatening situation.

It was a cliche I heard during a TV interview that made me stop and examine each and every Christian cliche I’d ever heard or used. It was for me, the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.

And I use that cliche to say this before I tell you about that: There were lots of straws on my back right up to the moment I heard the TV interview. This one thing in and of itself wouldn’t have been enough for me to react so strongly. But things do mount up to a breaking point. And this was mine.

I was about three years into the four year period of coming out of Christianity. Sitting in my living room with a morning cup of Joe, I turned on the news. On the screen was John Mark Karr, the man who claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey.

The local news covering the story showed up at the courthouse and thrust a microphone in the face of JonBenet’s aunt and asked, “How do you feel about the apprehension of JonBenet’s killer?” And she replied with …

God’s timing is always perfect. 

I flew out of my chair and began ranting at the TV.

Perfect? How could god’s timing possibly be considered perfect?

It’d been ten long, agonizing years for the Ramsey family. They endured murder, world wide accusation, rumor, loss of their business, cancer, and subsequent death of Patsy who died before she learned what happened to her little girl. And that is somehow perfection?

As it turned out, he didn’t do it. So where’s that leave god in this equation?

That day, after I calmed the hell down, I sat at the computer and banged out every Christian cliche and catch phrase I could think of. Then I thought about them critically. Pragmatically. And not one held up under honest scrutiny.

God never gives us more than we can handle
When God closes a door, he opens a window
It is God’s way of telling you [fill in the blank]
God is in control
God needed another angel
God loves each of us as if there were only one of us
If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it
God will provide
We can do all things through Christ …

Here’s one I found on Twitter a minute ago.

gods plan

Let’s share that good news with the 12 year old girl who got sold into sex slavery and pimped out at the Stupid Bowl. Would that message have been a comfort to one of Jared Fogle’s victims during the assault? And how about this … is it part of god’s divine plan for me to write this post that utterly denies him? 

Prayer Changes Things … In Surprising Ways

Last week I saw a friend’s Facebook post that said, “I don’t pray to change the circumstances but to align myself with God’s will in the circumstances.”

This is a great example of the mental gymnastics needed to make the Christian concept of prayer actually work. If you re-define the purpose of prayer to something intangible, you’ve diminished the probably of disappointment.

Now, I don’t want to presume I have the first clue how my friend arrived at that concept. What I can speak to is I had a similar coping mechanism back in the day … and I can tell you exactly how it developed.

ID-10095434I was what Christians call a prayer warrior. I studied prayer, (my favorite author was Richard Foster). I taught prayer, wrote bible studies on the topic, was the leader of our prayer team and practiced prayer daily. If you’d have stopped me on the street and asked for prayer, I’d have grabbed your hands and ushered you into the throne room on the spot.

I was as close to the 1st Thessalonians cry to “pray without ceasing” as I could’ve gotten.

With that type of life style, where everything is bathed in prayer on a daily basis, one is sure to experience disappointment. Big ones, small ones, confusing ones and tragic ones. And one must learn to cope and still keep God faithful.

As the leader of our prayer team, I learned something critical early on: There’s a difference between private prayers you utter when no one else hears VS prayers the whole group prays out loud together.

prayer1There’s accountability when people pray together. And when a group has corporately gone to God seeking help, intervention, comfort or whatever, then the group members begin actively looking for His answer. When someone comes back to the group claiming to have seen His answer, the group will confirm it without further vetting. Praises and hallelujah’s will follow.

But when God has seemingly ignored our prayers, we face a dilemma.

And THIS is where the quote comes in handy: “I don’t pray to change the circumstances but to align myself with God’s will in the circumstances.” 

At the beginning of my tenure as prayer team leader, I could oft be heard saying, “Prayer changes things.” Toward the end of my time as prayer team leader seven years later, I’d adopted the idea that while God does indeed change circumstances sometimes, the real point and purpose of prayer is for God to change US. His children. “Circumstances we can handle,” I’d say, “the REAL benefit is how prayer changes us from the inside.”

ID-100350267Unanswered prayer over time was beginning to wear me down. It wasn’t just the 7 prayer team years … but those years were especially difficult because the members of the team looked to me for guidance.

Week after week we met together and when faced with a prayer-failure, we’d work to create valid reasons for why it wasn’t actually a fail but instead, God’s will in the circumstances. 

Most times, we’d simply tell each other that God’s answer was, “No.” That ended any doubt and further conjecture. We could go on believing He was still actively hearing our prayers.

But how long could I continue to ignore the facts? How long could I continue to fabricate excuses for God’s incessant “No’s”?

It’s ironic, too in that the phrase I’ve quoted is simply not biblical. Jesus said to ask whatever you will and he will do it. The book of James promises that the prayer of faith will save the sick. These promises were made. But what do we do when these promises are left unrealized?

Not praying to change circumstances but only to change our will is nothing more than a cop out.

I’d be untruthful if I said that I believe prayer is completely ineffectual. Even though I am no longer a Christian, I see that prayer may help people concentrate and focus on the desired prize and therefore, it may help them more easily attain certain goals. After all, you tend to hit the target you’re focused on.

But that’s about the mind, not a spiritual force at work. Meditation could serve the same purpose, so could a vision board, for that matter. Which in my opinion would be a healthier view of the world around us. 

It would appear that my Facebook friend faced disappointment and disillusionment with prayer. This may be his way around doubt and disbelief in the same way that it became mine.

Prayer can certainly change things. But in surprising ways. If you don’t pray to change circumstances, then you aren’t dismayed when God doesn’t change them. If you only pray to change your attitude, you have the power within you to answer your own prayer. And you probably will if that’s your aim.

You Can’t Ace This Bible Quiz

In my little Christian corner of the world, the bible was referred to as, “The Word of God.”

bible-1089968_1280The bible was god’s authoritative Word. His ‘love letter’ to his people. We considered the bible to be god- breathed, inerrant, and the infallible truth of god. It was good for preaching, teaching, rebuking … a veritable roadmap for living the Christian life. 

I peeked at my old church’s current website yesterday and they say almost exactly those words to describe their beliefs about the bible. Not much has changed with them, I guess. In fact, most Christians I know still hold to those beliefs. Although, I’m beginning to observe some changes here and there.

I had a conversation with my teenage son yesterday.  He put into words the very thing I’d been thinking on when I first started working on this post. He said, “Technology is chipping away at archaic beliefs.” He went on to tell me that his Christian friends say they consider the book of Leviticus to be pure garbage.

I did not feel the freedom as a young Christian to dismiss any book of the bible as trash even if I read it and was repulsed. But I also didn’t have a computer to run to for deeper evaluation. Because information was harder to come by, claims about bible inerrancy or infallibility went unchecked. We just trusted. Call it faith. I accepted even the repulsive stuff.

nina-leen-books-580x723That doesn’t mean I didn’t do my fair share of digging for answers as best I could because, frankly, I WAS often repulsed. (If you’ve not read my page, Why I Left: The Short Version, it might help you get the big picture).

Without a computer, my process for study would begin with the bible (usually several versions) and the help of a Strong’s Concordance. If that didn’t suffice, I’d drive to the Christian bookstore and find a book … or ten. If I was still left wanting, I’d talk to a trusted authority. All of which was bathed in endless prayer. Duh.

Today, forget all that work. Now we just Google. Kids my son’s age have resources I didn’t have. People in his generation will have the ability to see the bible in a different light than I did at their age.

Take the claim that there are no contradictions in the bible. This was a common belief among Christians in the ’80’s. At first blush, it appeared to me to be quite the daunting task to disprove that claim. The bible is like, what, a bazillion inches thick? Might as well be War and Peace. I know now that a simple comparison of the gospels would have done the trick. But as a new Christian in the faith, I didn’t know that then. I just saw a huge book and heard a trusted authority telling me it was so.

But I was a student at my core, and curious to a fault. Over time, I DID stumble upon contradictions. But by the time I started putting two and two together for myself, I’d been a bible-defending believer for YEARS. It was yet another quandary in the faith … did all those bible teachers just not know?

Try telling a kid today the bible has no contradictions. She’ll prove you wrong within a few keystrokes.

Recently I stumbled upon a quiz I found online that asked the question, How Much Do You Know About The Bible? And I thought, well, damn. I know a lot. Let’s take that quiz!

Know what I scored on that test? 0%. Zero. Nadda. It’s the perfect illustration for how the bible trips all over itself with contradictory information. Took me years to figure out that it wasn’t the reliable source I’d been led to believe. Take the quiz for yourself to see how you do:

THE QUIZ