Repeat After Me

Getting saved through Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit sounds like it would be a really big deal.  I mean, the sheer mechanics of opening up one’s heart and having the Holy Spirit move in like a college kid moving into the dorms is difficult to wrap your head around.  Oddly enough, Christians seem to think it requires nothing more than the ability to repeat phrases told to you by another person.  This applies mainly to children who are too young to formulate a sentence based on the premise that a person died for you thousands of years ago so you won’t go to Hell when you die.  It goes something like this:

Heavenly Father, I know that I have sinned against you.  I want to be a better person.  I believe you sent Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, that you raised him from the dead, and that he hears my prayers.  Please forgive me and let Jesus come into my heart and life.  I give my life to you, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

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Inferiority Complex

When you grow up in Christianity, one thing is made very clear to you over and over: you are a horrible sinner and deserve to burn in Hell forever.  This sentiment rears its head pretty early on, as soon as you’re able to understand and repeat the name “Jesus.”  The adults begin to prime you for the doctrine of salvation through grace.  In order to do this, you must first accept that you are undeserving of anything but the worst punishment imaginable.  Just to clarify, this punishment can be presented in a number of ways.  My family subscribed to the “lake of unquenchable fire, eternal torment and darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth” doctrine.  Other sects of Christianity view Hell as simply the complete lack of the presence of god.  Still others view Hell as obliteration (which, Heaven aside, aligns quite nicely with the atheistic view that once you die you simply cease to exist).

Hell
"Please, just a single drop of water!"
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The Missing Piece

Whenhen I was born my parents followed Old Testament tradition and typical American culture and had me circumcised.  I had no say in the matter and it irritates me a little bit now.  Obviously there’s not much I can do except blog about it and try to explain why I’m upset.  I’ll break it down for you so you can understand.

  1. The practice of circumcision is cosmetic and elective.
    While there are many confusing studies out there (do a Google search) the one thing on which professionals agree is that there are no definitive, positive health benefits for removing the foreskin.   A large portion of males are circumcised because the parents want the child “to look like daddy” or they think an uncircumcised penis is ugly, or their family has always held that circumcision was just the way it’s done. The American Medical Association has stated, “Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice.” 

    In addition to being elective, circumcision is a surgical procedure which means that complications can arise. The complications due to circumcision are most frequently seen in less developed countries where medical practices aren’t as regulated and hygienic as in the U.S. but are present nonetheless.

  2. The practice of circumcision is Biblically unnecessary.
    Unless you’re Jewish, you’re not subject to Old Testament law.  Jesus and Paul both preached that since his birth and death salvation is not exclusive to Jews adhering to the law — uncircumcised gentiles can be saved too.  Since nearly all Christians these days are not ethnically Jewish there is no reason for Christians to remove the foreskin from their sons’ penises.
  3. Circumcision is mutilation.
    There’s very little doubt that every Christian I know — including all of my family members — would agree that female circumcision (a.k.a. female genital cutting) is a detestable practice.  I also have little doubt that these people don’t realize there are different degrees of female genital cutting ranging from a pin prick to the clitoris to severely invasive removal of the genitalia.  Likewise, there are degrees of male circumcision where some or all of the foreskin is removed.  In my case, circumcision left a very noticeable scar with which I’ve never been pleased. 

    How is it, I wonder, that people so opposed to the maltreatment of female infants can be so flippant about male infants — even going so far as to view the mutilation of the penis a badge of honor for their god?  Cutting an infant’s genitals is cutting an infant’s genitals, regardless of their gender. Who doesn’t see this?

  4. Circumcision removes sensation.
    The foreskin isn’t just a flap of skin or excess material.  It contains bundles of nerves that add sensation to the penis.  The nerves in the foreskin are fine touch nerves like those on the palm of your hand. If you compare the sensation in the palm of your hand to the sensation on the back of your hand you’ll see the difference.
  5. Circumcision violates human rights.
    Performing a painful elective surgery on an infant without consent violates the infant’s rights and undermines their free will.  Since Christians are so big on free will, you’d think this would be a point at which they’d stop and think a little harder before slicing up their babies. If circumcision is to be performed, it should be performed later in life when the patient can give informed consent.
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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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You Can’t See My Balls

There are two men standing in front of you. One is holding a basketball and the other with just open, outstretched arms. The man with the basketball shows you the ball, describes its color and its size and how its shape and hardness change if you add or remove air using a pump (which he also shows you). He dribbles the ball, takes a couple of shots, and then sits down.

The other guy stands up and tells you he also has a basketball but you can’t sense it in any way and no tests you perform will ever reveal the kind of ball that the other man is showing you. He insists, however, that he has one and that it is, in fact, a basketball. He “dribbles” the ball and makes a couple of “shots” which he insists swished – nothing but net! Then he sits down.

basketball

As a theist/creationist you are choosing to believe the guy with empty hands. Sure, he can’t prove he has a ball but he is really nice, seems really skilled with his basketball, and he said it will make you feel happy if you believe him. Further, he promises that if you continue to believe him you’ll have a basketball just like his someday – but he can’t tell you when.

Let’s think about this for a second. In what area of your life, outside of religion, would you willingly accept this kind of scenario? Under what other circumstances could a person convince you to go completely against your senses and your experience of reality like this? You’re probably finding it difficult to come up with something and I don’t blame you. It’s typical for a believer to compartmentalize and show an unusually high degree of skepticism toward everything except their beliefs. Maybe that’s something on which we should work, yes?

I don’t know about you, but I chose to play basketball with real basketballs and it’s been a more enjoyable game.

Credit for concept goes to “speedjunkie13” from Gixxer.com. Used with permission.

Heaven is Real…First Glance

A while back (quite a while) I had come across a blog post here regarding the book “Heaven is Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.”

It’s the story of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old child of the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska (looks like they’ve only recently installed their WordPress site and not updated it), who during emergency surgery is said to have gone to Heaven to sit in Jesus’ lap and have angels sing to him until he was resuscitated. The book tells of the claims and observations made by the child while he was dead/unconscious that seem to defy logic and support the idea that the Biblical god is for real. So far I’m only 11 pages into it but here are my observations so far:

Colton, like me, was brought up in the church by a pastor and presumably indoctrinated from birth with ideas of Heaven and Hell, Jesus and Satan, angels and demons, and all of the cute little songs that kids learn in Sunday School. Whatever he did or didn’t see during the time when he was dead/unconscious would have been influenced heavily by this because it’s a cornerstone of his upbringing and the foundation of his family’s faith. He doesn’t have to think about Jesus or angels, it’s just part of his immature belief system.

The author (the father, Todd) states in his introduction, “Now, as a pastor, I’m not a believer in superstition.” I completely acknowledge that in this context he’s talking about superstition relating to “chills” or “bad feelings” about a road trip, etc. – the kind of superstition that drives baseball players not to change their socks or whatever. However, Todd most definitely believes in superstition. He believes that the ritual of praying will affect the outcome of an event. He believes that going to church on a regular basis will affect the strength of his faith. He believes that reading the Bible on a regular basis will affect his relationship with god. These are all ritualistic, superstitious practices. If Todd began wearing the same pair of socks whenever he preached because he thought it made his sermon better, it really wouldn’t be a stretch above and beyond what he already believes. The only difference would be that it’s not prescribed by the Bible.

Colton says that while he was in Heaven sitting in Jesus’ lap the angels were singing songs to him like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” That’s a nice thought, but doesn’t it seem a little silly and maybe too convenient that the angels would just happen to be singing the Sunday School songs Colton knows? I know this seems like a weak objection and I’ll readily admit that, but think about it: angels are ethereal creatures who live on a completely different plane of existence. They would presumably have the capability of singing songs to this child (not even the child, but the child’s soul) that would comfort him. Perhaps “Jesus Loves Me” qualifies as such, but “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho?” Really? That just seems ridiculous to me…and by that, I mean it’s merely my personal opinion that nobody else has to adopt.

Obviously, I’m skeptical to the claims this book has made and will be making. It’s no secret I don’t believe in Heaven or god. However, I intend to continue reading this book with as open a mind as I can muster and give it due consideration. I’m really curious to see why there’s all the buzz over it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it all stems from the fact that people who already believe in this find that it provides the sort of evidence that they not only accept but latch onto in order to bolster their beliefs. I doubt this story would do much to convince someone who didn’t already believe before they started reading the book but like I said, I’m only 11 pages into it.

I’ll keep you posted.

All’s Right With the World

I was sitting behind a car at a stoplight today and it had a huge sticker in the rear window:

I had no clue what this was so I looked it up. Apparently it’s from an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion. I guess NERV is an organization that fights angels…? Someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Regardless, that’s not the point. I got to thinking about the statement being made.

“God’s in his Heaven, all’s right with the world.”

First, I guess there isn’t a single place I’d rather that god be – if a god exists. The implication I see is that if god were somewhere other than Heaven, all would not be right with the world. I mean if you look at what happens when god starts messing around on Earth, it’s pretty safe to say that humans are better off when he stays home and calls in sick.


Second, you can interpret the word “right” in different ways. For instance, people have been asked to imagine what we would expect the world to look like if there were no god(s) personally involved. Natural disasters, murder, predation, diseases, not enough habitable land mass…that kind of thing. If that’s how you’d expect the world to be without gods then it’s reasonable to say that everything is, in fact, right. The world is working exactly how we’d expect it to work, so god must be in his Heaven and staying out of trouble.

Now, if you were to interpret the word “right” as how you’d expect the world to work if there were god(s) involved then I think you’ve got a strange concept of the purpose of a personal god. If your idea of a personal god is one who designs a world purposely so that more than 70% is uninhabitable by humans inside of a universe that is more than 99.99999999999999999999% uninhabitable by most anything then your god must be a prankster or a child. If you believe in a malicious god or an immature god then I guess everything’s fine for you. Carry on.

I, for one, feel that because I think most definitions of gods are detestable or ridiculous it is much better for everyone if those gods just stay their asses in Heaven and don’t interfere with what’s going on down here. We may be brutal, selfish, and ignorant animals but from what I’ve seen we’re capable of righting more wrongs in more effective ways than any god. If I were the praying type of person, I’d probably pray something like:

Dear god(s),

Thank you for staying out of our business down here. We’ve got it pretty much under control.

Amen

So aside from all of the god stuff in this post, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that my life is great and all really is right with my world. Have a great Monday, everyone!

God Made You Wrong

I’ve been involved in some discussion about circumcision and recently read a review of a TV show on “Praying the Gay Away.” Discussion on either of these topics can get pretty heated but there’s kind of a theme to it all. In either case there’s this strange kind of admission by theists that god made a mistake when he made you. That is, you either have more penis than he wanted you to have or you’re attracted to people to whom he’d rather you not be attracted. Doesn’t anybody find this odd?

In the Old Testament god laid out his provision for slicing up infants’ penises for some reason even though god supposedly creates each male in the womb and adds the foreskin to the little guy. If god finds the foreskin to be such a problematic piece of anatomy why didn’t he just omit it in the design? What’s with the genital mutilation? And why has our society come to accept that it’s anything other than an archaic, barbaric, religious practice and made up lame excuses as to the usefulness of circumcision in hygiene, AIDS prevention, and fertility? How come none of these people making these excuses would advocate elective cosmetic surgery of any other type on infants? That’s what circumcision is, after all.

The struggles of a homosexual in resolving his/her identity with his/her religion seem to be illustrative of the most painful mental torture one could undergo. You realize that your attraction to the same sex is not a conscious decision so you must have been made that way but you realize that your god hates it when you entertain your natural desires. In order not to displease your god you must deny your nature – which, presumably, he instilled in you when you were created. Yet there are religious homosexuals out there struggling on a daily basis to suppress their true selves in favor of pleasing an intolerant deity. Why??

When you say that god needs you to remove your foreskin or that he’s not OK with you being attracted to the same sex, you’re admitting that god makes mistakes! Not just one or two mistakes, but millions and billions of them! Is your god perfect or not? Is your god loving or not? Seems to me the best way to resolve this conflict is to admit that it’s your own personal bias causing these dilemmas and that your god is imaginary. Get on that, m’kay? Thanks.

Actually, consider this: instead of your god having made you wrong…maybe you made your god wrong.

Billboards: Nothing’s Too Hard…

Billboards abound in Springfield bearing the words of the “Nothing’s Too Hard For God” campaign.


This guy needs help because he’s not god.

Well, duh! God’s supposed to be omnipotent! Are Christians the masters of pointing out the obvious or what? But what does this mean for people who aren’t omnipotent? It’s almost like a slap in the face.

Having financial troubles? If you were god you’d be able to blink them away. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Having marital problems? If you were god you’d be able to make yourself a new wife/husband. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!

Are you lonely? If you were god you’d be able to create some friends. BUT YOU’RE NOT GOD!


BWAHAHAHAHAA!!!!

Yep, that’s right. You are powerless to change your circumstances, you aren’t smart enough to handle your finances, and you aren’t good enough to maintain meaningful relationships. You’re dirt and unless you call on god to fix it for you, you’re totally screwed. So what are you waiting for? Get to praying!

The problem is, praying doesn’t really do anything. It might give you some time to quiet your mind and reflect on your situation but it’s not going to make your troubles magically disappear. It’s only after you’re done praying and get off your knees that something will actually get done. So get off your knees and get to work!

Again, I have to ask why these billboards are so incredibly sensible and allowable but something like this symbolizes a detestable oppression of cherished ideas:

 

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