atheist – Page 2 – The Wayward Willis Podcast

Who Do You Believe?

Sitting in Sunday School and church, you’re constantly confronted with the idea that man’s knowledge is not only flawed (a point with which I wouldn’t necessarily argue) but foolish.  For example, 1 Corinthians 3:19 states:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”

Whenever this comes up in a lesson or a sermon you always hear a resounding, “AMEN!” from the congregation.  While I was a believer I never really thought about the implications and I doubt that many believers really do.  In the light of debates over evolution, the Big Bang, and the ever-narrowing god-shaped gap in our knowledge it’s nice to be able to point to a verse and say, “See?  The things you think you know are utter nonsense in the face of god’s wisdom!”  The Bible is a never-ending source of derisive rebuttal to anything even remotely logical.  That’s why I loved it so much as a kid.  No matter with whom I was talking, I could always feel confident that my god considered them fools and I was right.

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Opportunity to Help!

Brother Sam Singleton is trying to produce a professional DVD. He’s got a Kickstarter project set up and is taking donations. You can give as little as $1 but you can also skip one trip to Starbucks and donate $5 instead. If you’re familiar with Sam Singleton then you know this is entertainment worthy of your time. If you’re not familiar with Sam Singleton then you need to head on over to his YouTube channel.

Sam’s Kickstarter Project

Atheist Predation

A Web site named Eternal Earthbound Pets claims to offer a service for the pets of Christians who will be raptured. For a fee, these people (atheists) will come and get your pet and care for it in the event of your rapture to Heaven. Kind and caring, right?

NO!


Indifferent cats are indifferent.

These atheists are preying on credulous believers who have been convinced they’ll be whisked away to Heaven and are concerned for the safety of their pets. It’s akin to trading someone a nickel for their hundred dollar bill because you can convince the other person that metal is worth more than paper. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’m seriously upset at these people and would love nothing more than to have their customers victims’ money refunded in full with an accompanying written apology. One of the big problems I have with this con is that, as atheists, these people have no reason whatsoever to believe that anybody will ever be raptured and are therefore selling a service that they fully intend never to have to provide. That’s dishonest. I could probably sell crocosaurus insurance to someone gullible but I wouldn’t. You know why? Because I have ethics!


Look at the size of them snappers!

To make things worse, their FAQ page touts their morality:

Q: How can we trust that you’ll honor your service agreement, afterall, you ARE atheists.
A: Being an atheist does not mean we lack morals or ethics. It just means we don’t believe in God or gods. All of our representatives are normal folks who love and live for their family, are gainfully employed, and have friends of varying beliefs. Some of us are married to believers. Many of us volunteer our time at food banks, animal shelters, meals on wheels organizations, etc. We fully endorse the “Rule of Reciprocity”, also known as “The Golden Rule.” We just happen not to believe in God(s). Belief in God does not ensure righteousness, nor does non-belief imply immorality. Jesus understood this. Please reference Luke 10, re “The Good Samaritan.”


ORLY??

So, as moral and ethical atheists who believe in the Golden Rule, you not only endorse but personally practice taking people’s money for services you’ll never provide and preying on their insecurities and irrational beliefs? How nice of you. I’m sure that given the opportunity to be someone else’s victim you’d jump on it, right? Do you even know what the Golden Rule is?

Another big hole in your scheme is that not even the vast, overwhelming majority of Christians believe that the rapture will be occurring on the 21st of this month – or anytime in the next 10 years. Nearly every Christian knows that this numerological woo-woo is the raving of a mentally deficient individual and you know it. Since you know that, offering this service also means that your entire business model is based on a false premise and cannot be considered anything other than fraudulent.

Regardless of how transparent this scam is, they appear to have at least 250 victims so far. At $135 each, these assholes have collected $33,750 (not to mention that people with multiple pets will pay an additional $20 each). While I feel that the people who have paid for this service are idiots and undeserving of respect I have even less respect (read: none) for the atheists running this site.

I’ve got an idea for you guys: go fuck yourselves. I actually am a moral atheist with ethics. You’re giving atheists a bad name.


Go fuck thyself!

Your Home is Not Your Castle

OK, this is going to be a little bit controversial but I want to assure everyone that my opinion wouldn’t change even if the subject of the story were a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Martian. It has less to do with being an atheist and more to do with being an American and a human.


That’s Wachs, yo!

Ellenbeth Wachs is weird.
However, she has the right to be. She had apparently just come home from having chemotherapy and was trying to rest while a neighborhood boy (10) was playing basketball outside of her house. She asked the boy to stop. When the boy refused to quit, Wachs allegedly made moaning noises simulating sex, calling out, “Oh John!” from inside her home and was arrested on a charge of simulating a sex act in front of a child.

Now, I’m no expert but noises from inside a person’s home – even if the windows are open – shouldn’t count as a sex offense. What gets me about this is the precedent it sets. If Wachs can be convicted on this charge, then virtually every parent in the world could be arrested as sex offenders and have their children taken away for the same thing. I know my kids have heard my wife and me having sex before. Think about it, you put them to bed and tuck them in and you close their door. They don’t really want to go to sleep so they lie awake for a while. You close your door, get naked and it’s business time (I mean, come on, when you’re married you have to seize opportunity by the gonads)! I don’t care of what material your doors and walls are made – if you make a peep or your bed frame squeaks, you’ve just become an offender. Hell, a large portion of kids have walked in on their parents having sex. Not only is that traumatic to everyone involved but it raises the bar on the type of offense!


Mommy, daddy, make it stop!

Secondly, bringing this back to atheism, I feel that things like this are a setback in our campaign for acceptance. A lot of religious people already think atheists eat babies, dance naked in the woods, are addicted to pr0n, do lots of drugs and might be child molesters since we don’t have that Moral Compass™ their deities give them. A story like this only gives these people more fuel for their fire, allowing them to wag their fingers at us and say, “See? We told you so!” I don’t like it. The problem with prominent atheists being involved with something like this as compared to prominent Christians is that there are relatively so few outspoken, prominent, public atheists that one of them getting nabbed represents a significant percentage. When a Christian trips up, there are 4 billion more to minimize the effect.


Watch that first step!

What do you think? Do charges like this make sense? Is Wachs a sex offender now? Should you be able to do whatever you want in your own home?

Born Christian?

I was indoctrinated into Protestant Christianity from birth and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior at the ripe old age of four.  I don’t remember much about my childhood but I still remember that evening and the place of worship in Panama we called “The Home.”  It wasn’t a formal church and I imagine it was more like what you would have seen in the Apostle Paul’s day where believers gathered in homes to praise god together through song and prayer.

A quick aside: on my blog I’ll never capitalize the word “god.”  It’s not a proper name.  If I use a proper name like Jehovah or Jesus or Allah I’ll capitalize it as per English grammatical rules.  However, since I commonly refer to “god” you can assume I’m speaking of the Biblical deity known as Jehovah or Yahweh.

Almost as sweet as forgiveness.

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What is Hate? Baby Don’t Hurt Me!

OK, so I’ve been accused of “committing hate” by another Xangan and I just want to take this opportunity to clear something up: I don’t hate anybody. I told this Xangan that I would create a post for them to showcase my hatred because it was, at the time, muddying up someone else’s perfectly good blog with a bunch of nonsense. Here it is, in all its glory!

Hatred is a very strong word that carries implications far exceeding displeasure or dislike. Honestly, if you just dislike something or someone you should just use the word “dislike.” Hatred should be reserved for those things you wish to destroy. Like, literally obliterate, never to be seen or heard of again. I can’t think of a single thing I want to completely destroy. I’m guilty of disliking a bunch of things. Actually, I’ve become quite curmudgeonly lately and there are probably more things I dislike than like.

So let’s examine some reasons why I might be accused of hatred:

  1. I’m an atheist.
  2. I’m not a liberal.
  3. I think Glenn Beck is a sensationalist idiot.
  4. I called someone a troll.

Now, let’s break these down and see just what kind of hatred I’m bandying about.

1. I’m an atheist.
Actually, this is almost too stupid an accusation to address. However, since it is the opinion of this other Xangan that atheists – by definition – are filled with hatred I suppose I have to explain. I don’t hate Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Pastafarians, Rastafarians, Buddhists, Jews, Baha’i, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, or Scientologists. I typically don’t even dislike them, though I make exceptions for the more abrasive members of all religions. I simply have a fundamental disagreement as to the truth of their claims regarding the supernatural and the unprovable/unfalsifiable. I speak out against what I view to be falsehood and/or dangerous ideas and sometimes I get riled up when I see that the effects of these ideas are causing people harm. Far from hatred, that shows a love for my fellow human beings who are being harmed. What I dislike about religion is its pervasive nature and the weaseling of religious ideas and “values” into every aspect of our lives whether or not they’re welcome. I don’t go knocking on people’s doors at dinner time to spread my hateful atheist message. I wouldn’t mind if people just stopped believing in gods and I try to tell people why, but I’ve never hatefully tried to force someone not to believe.

2. I’m not a liberal.
I was accused of being a liberal by the same person who says I resort to calling names. This, in itself, wouldn’t be a big deal even though it’s false. Some of my views are liberal; others are conservative. I consider myself a moderate and I am absolutely in no way affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. However, since we have to consider the source of the accusation I think it’s fair to say that this was a definitive insult. The person accusing me of being a liberal holds the view that liberals are destroying this country, want a socialist state, like to bitch about their rights being taken away while lobbying for others’ rights to disappear, continually whine about things not being fair, would like nothing more than to see all Christians tarred and feathered, and don’t know their asses from their elbows. If I’ve missed anything, I’m sure this person will correct me. That being said, how would I see the accusation of being a liberal as anything other than a blatant insult? Maybe I’m just too liberal and being a whiner.

3. I think Glenn Beck is a sensationalist idiot.
Yeah, I really do. That doesn’t, however, mean that I hate him. If I were to meet him I’m quite sure I could have a civil conversation with him…until he calls me a socialist Nazi or whatever. He and I obviously disagree on nearly every issue (except he also thinks Birthers are distracting people from real issues) but that doesn’t indicate hate. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about most things and that he probably doesn’t even believe a lot of what he says. That doesn’t indicate anything except that we’re two different people with different backgrounds and different philosophies. Big deal.

4. I called someone a troll.
This is damning. Well, it might be damning…or not. Calling someone a troll is not akin to telling them you hate them. In fact, sometimes trolls are very entertaining! On the Internet, a set of irritating behaviors displayed with consistency will normally get you labeled a troll. For instance, when someone comments on your blog posts in opposition (not a crime) and continually redirects the comments to slightly different topics (annoying) while refusing to answer direct questions in rebuttal (dishonest) and eventually claiming persecution (trollish), I’d call that person a troll. It has no bearing on my feelings for that person. It also doesn’t indicate that I think the person is ugly or stinky because I’m not calling them a literal troll, I’m calling them an Internet troll. There’s a difference, just so you know. Yeah, I realize that this post is sort of feeding the troll, but I’m bored.


This is a real troll.


This is an Internet troll.

In fact, let’s get something straight: people on the Internet are not important enough to me to have any real strong feelings toward or against.

Quit flattering yourself and thinking you’re important enough for me to hate. You’re not. At the very most (and this might even be a stretch) you annoy me. At the very least you amuse me and help my day go by more quickly. So there you go, I don’t hate you or anyone else. I’ve not “committed hatred” (whatever that means) and life goes on.

An Atheist Goes to Church: Episode 2

Preface
Aurora, a town of around 7,500 people, is the home of Aurora Baptist Temple (ABT). The church sits off of a well-traveled route through town in a tall but unpretentious building with a smaller gymnasium and activity building across the parking lot. Pastor Nathan Burch leads the congregation in a down-home, friendly atmosphere that is fairly typical of Baptist churches in the Midwest. The congregation is made up of people from all walks of life and nobody makes a fuss over who’s wearing what. Visitors to the church are greeted at the main doors by kind ladies and gentlemen who smile, shake your hand, and encourage you to fill out a visitor card. As a bonus, I got to keep the pen I used to fill out my card. Yay, schwag!


Now I can write letters to Jesus!

The large auditorium is just inside the main double doors to the right. A stairway to the left leads you to the Sunday School hallway, where coffee is available. The church has its own Web site (linked above) which offers downloadable sermons, although none seem to currently be available. ABT supports over 70 missions abroad and a local pregnancy care center whose statement is that life begins at conception.

My friend, Joey, attends ABT and invited me to come and visit with him and his family on February 27, 2011. I met him for the main service which begins at 10:15. Looking around I could see that the age range was wide, with a good number of young people mixed in with a good number of people who were only young-at-heart totaling somewhere around 250 in attendance.

Chapter One: The Music Service
The praise band consists of a piano, drums, three guitarists, a brass section and a saxophone, and about four female vocalists. I was pleased when they started playing traditional hymns and could sing along from memory, although two large projector screens up front and one in the back prominently display the lyrics for everyone to see. The band is coordinated well and sounds good although the acoustics of the auditorium are not that of a concert hall. Some of the vocalists seemed somewhat bored at times but it could have just been that the music we were singing wasn’t super peppy. Regardless, there was only one song I didn’t know and I really enjoyed being able to sing along and harmonize during the music service.

Between the first two songs everyone was encouraged to shake hands and greet those around them. Some of the people eagerly sought out people to hug while others, out of ritual, turned to the people in their immediate vicinity and shook hands while waiting to be able to sit back down. This was always my experience in church growing up and it doesn’t seem to have changed much.

Chapter Two: The Offering
Prior to the offering being taken, the pastor spoke to the congregation about giving. ABT has what they call a “Faith Promise,” which is a member’s weekly or monthly (maybe even quarterly or annual) pledge that the church can budget. The pastor encouraged those who had made these pledges to keep their promise to ensure that the church’s work can continue. He spoke at length of the missions they conduct abroad (they have at least two families that they send to at least two countries every year) and here I registered my first objection.

The pastor said, “There is no better way to spend the church’s money than on missions.” I disagree. If the church’s goal is simply to win the world over to Jesus Christ then I can see how the pastor can hold this view but there’s so much work that could be done locally that could yield tangible, immediate results. People are without jobs, without food, and without homes in this area. There’s obvious need for assistance right under your nose. I’m not saying that ABT doesn’t do these things; I’m saying that if ABT does these things, then I’d more likely agree with a statement like, “There is no better way to spend the church’s money than on ensuring the livelihood of the people in our community.”

In conclusion the pastor said, “God isn’t after your money but he wants to reward your faithfulness.” I have to ask…would god reward your faithfulness if you didn’t give any money at all but helped people in your community instead? This is a point on which I’d like to get clarification. It seems to me, with the standard offering plate ritual in every church across the country (and around the world) that there is more of an interest in money than actual contributions. But that’s only my opinion.

Chapter Three: The Message
Pastor Nathan delivered his sermon over Hebrews 10:19-21, focusing on the power of Jesus’ blood. He emphasized his distaste with some churches for diluting the message of sin and salvation through sacrifice, saying that the message goes soft if you tiptoe around people who are offended by the concepts of sin and blood. He said that Christians need to be bold about the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and that Jesus’ blood gives believers that boldness. He added, “God is not a wuss.” He said that Job had that boldness in his trust in god, but here I again disagreed with what he was presenting.

Job didn’t know about Jesus’ blood…or even Jesus. The blood wasn’t the source of Job’s boldness or his faith, so the example seemed a bit awkward and tangential to me. Regardless, everyone can concede that Job was bold in his faith in god.

The pastor then said that Christians are set apart by the blood. Christians are consecrated by the blood to be as close to god as the High Priests were in the Old Testament. He spoke of the Holy of Holies and about how the only people allowed to be in god’s presence were the High Priests and I got a chuckle out of the next part because I had fallen victim to the apparent urban legend involving this Old Testament knowledge (I believe it was my dad who told me this when I was a kid): it was not the custom to tie a length of rope around the High Priests’ waists or ankles in case they were struck dead.


Kinky.

Anyway, the new High Priest is Jesus Christ and believers have a direct line to god without any ropes or curtains. Having spilled his blood for us as the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus did away with the Holy of Holies and now intercedes on our behalf.

The pastor then said that our sins are covered by the blood. He maintained the standard Baptist line of reasoning where we are to turn away from sin but that in the event our weak human nature gets the best of us, god provides forgiveness through Jesus. However, he then made a statement that I wasn’t prepared to hear:

There is no sin too great to be covered by the blood; not a single one.

What about intentionally deceiving and leading people away from god? What about denying the Holy Spirit? What about rejecting god’s gift of salvation? Presumably, the point is that the blood will cover everything only if you’ve already accepted Jesus as your savior and ask for forgiveness. It is, however, possible that someone could be a born-again Christian (I asked Jesus into my heart when I was four years old) and still reject Jesus later or cause other people to reject Jesus by your words or actions. So what happens to them? Are they covered? I need clarification on whether ABT’s doctrine is that of once-saved-always-saved.

I could tell when the sermon was winding down because of the typical lowering of the voice and the segue into talking about acceptance of Jesus’ blood. This was something I always listened for when I went to church as a kid because it meant it was almost time to go home, eat my mom’s delicious cooking, and run around the woods for six hours until the evening service. Mmmm, now I’m hungry for pot roast!

Chapter Four: The Invitation
The invitation was given to the traditional invitation hymn, Softly and Tenderly, which I love to sing. It brings back memories. Plus, it has great harmony parts! Anyway, as is the custom, the pastor urged those who don’t know Jesus to come forward and accept him and those who feel like their walk with Jesus is slipping to come forward and renew their commitment. After the music played out, a prayer was said and the service was dismissed with the pastor and his wife heading to the main doors to shake everyone’s hands as they left.

Epilogue
Going to ABT was a good experience. Everyone was very friendly and the service brought back memories for me because it was so much like the churches in which I had grown up. The music was nice and the building was clean and orderly. I had intended to have a sit-down with Pastor Nathan after the service but there were scheduling conflicts with some church activities and I was told that he’d love to talk to me but it would have to be some other time. I’ll be in touch with my friend, Joey, and Pastor Nathan to see if I can set something up soon. That makes two interviews I need to schedule now. When am I going to get the time?

My thanks to Joey and his family for having me along. Stay tuned for episode 3!

Archive:
Episode 1

An Atheist Goes to Church: Episode 1

Preface

Nestled on a quiet road in Republic, MO just off the main thoroughfare is a 13,000 square foot warehouse that houses the operations of Destiny Church.  Pastor Chad Blansit, a young and trendily-dressed man leads the congregation which is made up of what I call “real people.” The people that come to this church aren’t dressed pretentiously in an outfit they save only for weddings, funerals and church on Sundays; these people come as they are, knowing they’ll be greeted warmly and accepted into a community of like-minded believers. The church itself puts on no pretense with its storefront windows and corrugated aluminum siding. One doesn’t seem to need to jockey for position in the parking lot since the church’s two Sunday services probably split the congregation into manageable sizes. Through the front doors you’ll find yourself in a foyer with a coffee bar, information center and bulletin board. The auditorium is straight ahead and is furnished with rows of chairs instead of the traditional church pew. Lighting in the auditorium is controlled by a board in the sound booth and an overhead projector displays a presentation throughout the service. Destiny offers a Facebook profile, a blog, a podcast (available on iTunes), and several “Life Group” programs tailored to age, gender, and marital status.

My friend, Vicki, attends Destiny Church and invited me to come along when I had expressed interest in attending churches and blogging about my experiences. I accepted the offer and met up with her bright and early to make the drive out to Republic, my 24-year-old NIV Bible in hand.

When we arrived at the church, she pointed out the pastor and some other staff members to me and after I got a cup of coffee we headed into the auditorium and sat down in the chairs, which are padded well enough to be comfortable for the duration of the service. Looking around, I could see that the median age of the congregation was probably somewhere around 30 with not too many children younger than middle school. In attendance I estimated about 60-65 people (but my estimation skills are woefully lacking sometimes so I could be off by 200, for all I know).

Chapter One: The Music Service

The eight-person church band – five men (three guitars, drums and a keyboard) and three women (all vocalists) – took the stage up front and the lights dimmed as the timer on the presentation screen expired. The auditorium exploded with an energetic, contemporary anthem at a volume that was, in my opinion, appropriate for a rock concert but a little overwhelming for a church auditorium of this size. The acoustics aren’t great. The lyrics of the songs were displayed on the screen. The band plays well together and their voices blend into a smooth harmony. The music, while foreign to a “traditional” church-goer, makes you want to tap your toes.

I have mixed feelings about music in churches. While I feel that the traditional hymnal music tends to be a little boring, it’s easy to harmonize and fun to sing along because everybody knows it. After all, the hymnals have contained a lot of the same songs for hundreds of years. One of the things I enjoyed about church when I was a kid was singing with my family in four-part harmony. Ah, the good old days.

While the contemporary music is more energetic and up-to-date, it always leaves me feeling flat because I don’t really feel like I can participate as much. By the time I’ve figured out the melody and whatever lyrics may be repeatable the song is pretty much over. However, I can see where people who attend regularly and become familiar with these songs would find them immensely enjoyable. In fact, one man in attendance was belting out his version of the songs from the back of the auditorium with glee.

During the music service everybody stands, although nobody explicitly asks you to and it doesn’t appear as though anybody would care if you remained seated. Unlike what I’ve called “yo yo churches,” you are not asked to sit down and stand up over and over between songs.

Thankfully, this isn’t one of those churches where people are convulsing in the aisles and jumping around. That stuff makes me nervous. However, there were quite a few hands raised in the air for the duration of a song which I’ve always found to be a sort of strange practice. I’m not entirely sure what the people with raised hands feel they’re accomplishing (because I don’t know of a scriptural basis for the gesture). Perhaps they have a question?

Chapter Two: The Introduction

When the last song had been played (I remember four songs total, none of which I knew) the outreach director, Keith, took the stage and addressed the congregation with an introduction that I feel was a bit rambling but ultimately served as a segue into the pastor’s message. Keith illustrated god’s accessibility to humans by telling the story of the temple veil that was rent from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:51). He said that prior to the veil being torn, nobody could stand in god’s presence because they were sinners and god’s presence would kill them instantly. Here’s where I registered my first objection.

God made mankind in his image and loves them. Sure, they’re all sinners and god doesn’t associate with sin but he really wants to commune with humans. Now, this presents two issues for me:

  1. Priests were allowed into the presence of god in the Holy of Holies behind the temple veil. Priests are human and therefore sinners. Why didn’t the priests instantly die? To somewhat counter this issue, the Bible does speak of ropes being tied to the priests’ ankles so they could be removed from the temple in case they were struck down but it doesn’t address the core issue because I would presume (safely, I think) that not 100% of the priests who entered the Holy of Holies died. Could you imagine the shortage of priests?
  2. God appeared before Abraham (Genesis 17:1), Moses (Exodus 6:2-3), Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11) but none of them were killed instantly. It’s obvious that humans can stand in the presence of god without dying, so I’m not sure what the temple veil business is all about. Maybe god just really dug on fabulous window treatments.

Anyway, the point was that when Jesus died god tore the curtain down as a symbol of his new fatherly relationship with humans, who now benefit directly from communion with the Holy Spirit. So now we’ve posited god as a really great father who is there for us. This registered my second, perfectly irrelevant objection. Doesn’t “God the Father” destroy what Christians call the traditional family by being a single-parent household? I mean, I hear objections from Christians all of the time about unhealthy upbringing when there’s no mother or no father in a child’s life. Doesn’t it seem weird that Christians claim to have a Heavenly father but no Heavenly mother, and that’s perfectly healthy? That’s a total sidetrack! Bad ADHD, no cookie for you.

So when it came time for the offering, a brief explanation was given as to how the church uses a little bit of the money to pay bills but puts larger amounts toward programs in the community (programs which are documented and seem worthwhile, like food banks). Two ushers carried cloth-lined wicker baskets down the aisles without lingering too long at any one row and before you could sing a whole verse of “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” (which I’m prone to do spontaneously from time to time) it was over. Very painless, no begging involved. Kudos to Destiny Church!

Chapter Three: The Message

Pastor Chad took the stage – well-spoken with good projection and a warm humor – and briefly recapped the series he’d been presenting for the last few weeks: “MASQUERADE.” The series deals with how our imperfect world and sinful nature lead to us having problems in life like alcoholism, abuse, unintended pregnancies, addictions, etc. He tells us that we’ve all developed ways to hide these problems and mask the pain by putting on a façade. The goal is to strip away this mask and hand our problems over to Jesus.

Now, here’s where I register another objection: he says we ought to hand our problems (all of our problems, big and small) over to Jesus because, “We’re not smart enough to fix our problems on our own.” Now, I can think of plenty of problems in my daily life that I’m smart enough to fix. Some people choose to pray for help finding their car keys and I guess that’s fine, but what happens to your argument when someone finds their car keys without praying? What happened there? Some people overcome addictions after praying but other people do it without prayer. I’m not objecting to this because I find it offensive that he’s saying we’re not smart. Rather, I’m objecting because I know it to be false because I’ve seen how things work in various circumstances for various people.

The next point he wants to make is that these problems we’re having are ultimately our own fault because of our sinful nature. He illustrates his point by saying, “God didn’t make evil in the garden.” Again, I register an objection. First, god created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (a.k.a. The Tree of Death!) with beautiful, tasty-looking fruit and planted it right smack dab in the middle of the humans’ home where they’d walk by it every day. Second, he created a talking serpent (it’s been debated among theists whether or not this was actually an embodiment of the devil or if it was just your everyday, run-of-the-mill talking reptile – I submit that it was Barney. That’s an evil, talking reptile and I would disobey god just to shut Barney up!) and gave it free roam in the humans’ home. Third, he expressly created the humans without the knowledge of good and evil, which means even if they were to do something wrong they wouldn’t have known it without someone telling them after the fact that it was wrong. Keep in mind, god knows everything so he must have foreseen the calamity waiting to happen – kind of like giving a redneck a case of beer, a gas can and a lighter. So yeah, I disagree with his assessment.

Continuing on, Pastor Chad reads the scriptural basis for the message, Psalms 34:18-20,22. Right away I’m put in a position where I’m not sure if he’s taking this scripture literally or figuratively. The Destiny Church Web site says the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant and I’m assuming this includes the Book of Psalms. I’ve always taken issue with using Psalms as the basis for any kind of truth because it’s (presumably David’s) personal, emotional poetry. I don’t have a problem with poetry, but I don’t try to use it to prove anything (see my blog post on Psalms). Anyway, if we’re taking this scripture literally then it already fails. Verse 20 says, “he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” Do Christians break bones? Yes. It’s one thing to wax poetic on how god can heal your heart, but to claim that a righteous person will be spared all injury is pushing it. Perhaps – and I’m just speculating – this gets explained away because Paul says, “There is no one righteous; not even one. (Romans 3:10)” Well, of course you can get injured, you’re not righteous! If that’s the case (and again, this is just me thinking out loud) then there’s absolutely no purpose to even include Psalms 34:20 in this message because it doesn’t apply to anybody listening.

If we’re using Psalms figuratively then we have an illustration as to how god can help us overcome our woes…if we’re righteous…which we’re not. Yeah, I’m not even sure where this is going. Moving on!

Next up is an explanation as to god’s love for us. Pastor Chad uses Romans 8:39 to tell us that nothing can separate us from god’s love – and in this case, he’s talking about our problems that we’re hiding. The verse says that absolutely nothing, nothing in all of creation can separate us from god’s love…but what about sin? Or rejection of the Holy Spirit? Or Hell (which is an absence of god)? I’m not sure this verse is as dead-on as I’d personally like my scripture to be. But that’s my opinion, we’ll move on.

Chapter Four: The Invitation

Wrapping up the message, Pastor Chad invited everyone to use the back of the bulletin to write down the hurt they’re hiding. He urged us to “expose those wounds and expose that hurt” to turn it over to Jesus.

This is where I started to get a little uncomfortable with the tactic that I perceived was being put into play. As I looked around the auditorium I noticed some people crying and I’m thinking, “This isn’t the way you conduct a psychiatric trip down trauma lane.” I got the idea that Pastor Chad was preying on people’s pain and insecurity to elicit a strong emotional response. One of the ways in which you can instill dependency in people is to break them down and tell them you (or Jesus) can rebuild them. Anyway, he suggested to us that writing down our hurt and getting it out would be a good start to healing. I tried to think of something and honestly couldn’t. Honest, I’m OK. I promise.

He told everyone to look at the people next to them and look into their eyes. “You can see their pain,” he said, “and you can see that they’re wearing a mask to hide it.” I didn’t see anybody’s pain. Well, except the people that were crying but that wasn’t even a challenge. I think they forgot their mask, because they were pretty much broadcasting the pain. I’m not making fun of them, I’m just saying.

After citing various examples of hurt (child abuse, sexual trauma, obesity, love of country music…OK, I made that last one up) Pastor Chad asked everyone to close their eyes and in a soothing, hushed voice asked those people who are hiding hurt to raise their hands. Guilt, anyone? Do what the nice man says and raise your hand – you know you’re hiding something. Then he asked all of those with their hands raised to come down front while he led the congregation in prayer. Several people went to the front and waited while Pastor Chad finished praying. Then he asked the rest of the congregation to come on up and pick somebody and comfort them while he made his way around the semi-circle of hurting people to pray for each of them one-on-one. It was a touching display, and it reinforced the idea that the biggest benefit people get from religion is comfort and community. I could tell just by watching these people that they genuinely cared for one another. It was pleasant.

When all of the praying was done the band got back on stage and did a closing number, which was one of the songs they had already played at the opening. I don’t know its name. It was contemporary Christian music and therefore forgettable.

Chapter Five: The Bonus

Throughout the service I had a visitor card with me that I had filled out with some basic contact information. There were some questions to be answered like, “Which of these most describes your current situation?” The answers were all things like, “I don’t feel strong enough in my walk with god” or, “I’m looking for a new church home.” Since none of the pre-printed answers applied to me I had to pencil in my own:

  •  Χ  I’m an ex-Christian atheist.

I put my e-mail address on there and would be more than happy to be contacted. Anyway, the bonus is that I was told to take the card to the information center after the service and I would get a free gift. I’m thinking a pencil or a bookmark (which are cool when they’re free) but I wasn’t prepared to get a $5 Starbucks gift card. Score a raspberry white chocolate mocha for Jon!

Epilogue

Going to Destiny Church was a good experience. The people were friendly and real, the facilities were nice and the audiovisual presentation was helpful. The community programs the church runs are worthwhile and from all indications the church’s finances are transparent for anyone who cares. Because I intended to go to a Springfield Freethinkers brunch afterward I didn’t stick around to chat with the staff so I feel like I kind of missed out on an opportunity to raise some of these concerns directly (and it’s probably not entirely fair that I merely blog about it) so I’m thinking I’ll definitely have to get in touch with Destiny and see if I can schedule a time to go in and have a sit-down with Pastor Chad. I’m sure it would be insightful – Chad seems like a great guy.

My thanks to Vicki for allowing me to tag along with her. Stay tuned for episode 2!