I just received in the mail a hand-written letter from Aurora Baptist Temple regarding my visit to their church on Feb. 27. I don’t know about anyone else, but I place a special significance on hand-written letters. The practice of actually writing on paper represents an investment of time that you don’t often see these days when it’s so much easier to type out an e-mail or send a text message. To that point, not that many people make phone calls anymore. I know I’m guilty of it myself.
Anyway, it’s a very nice letter and I’d like to transcribe it here, at the risk of presuming falsely that ABT would be happy to have it shared.
Thank you for visiting Aurora Baptist Temple. We hope you felt “at home” and experienced the presence of the Lord. We believe God has commissioned us to reach out to touch the hearts and lives of the people in this area with the Love and Gospel of Jesus Christ. We hope you will come again when you can.
Sincerely, [Name Withheld]
I’ve sent an e-mail (not a hand-written letter) to Pastor Burch asking if he’d be willing to do an interview to talk about (not debate) his faith and the church’s doctrine. I’m hoping to hear back from him soon.
When did “you weren’t there” become a valid argument against something for which there’s ample evidence? Why are religious people still using this worn-out, ridiculous meme to try and disprove the Big Bang, abiogenesis or evolution? Let me break down why I, personally, think it’s (I’m not going to mince words) stupid.
Your Grandparents You weren’t there when your grandparents were born, yet you accept it as fact because your very existence testifies to the event necessarily occurring at some point. This, of course, isn’t direct and verifiable evidence because all you have is (possibly) a paper trail and word-of-mouth testimony.
Your Parents You weren’t there when your parents were born, yet you accept it as fact for the same reasons as above. You accept that there’s sufficient evidence to produce a working explanation of your descent through your parents and grandparents and you really don’t feel the need to question it a whole lot. You’d never really consider arguing with your parents about these things, using the “you weren’t there” rebuttal, would you?
What would happen if you found evidence that shook the foundations of your knowledge as to your origin? What if you were adopted or conceived via artificial insemination? In this case you’d be mistaken that your parents are actually your parents. Would you re-evaluate the evidence and adjust your understanding/beliefs to fit the facts as you know them? Would you do more research to understand why you were originally mistaken? It makes sense that you would.
Conclusion Having used the “you weren’t there” argument against scientific concept x, why are you doggedly arguing for a god’s creation of the universe, or the Great Flood, or the crucifixion or Armageddon? You realize that you weren’t there, right? You further realize that the authors of the Bible weren’t there either, right? How is it that your rebuttal “works” against science but not against your own unfounded beliefs? Seriously, what’s the deal with that?
Since your creation myths and outlandish tales of huge, supernatural miracles that left no trace behind seem so implausible — and you’ve been given massive amounts of evidence to explain how these things have come about (just do a search and see for yourself!) — why would you not re-evaluate your beliefs and adjust accordingly? I’m not saying you have to blindly accept whatever some scientist(s) says, but you can’t declare yourself informed while ignoring everything that contradicts what you believe. And you certainly can’t justify using “you weren’t there” to refute scientific theories that have withstood harsh scrutiny from the global scientific community and a barrage of purposely ignorant fundies.
Educate yourself! Learn something! Open your eyes to facts!
Genesis 5 is simply a chronology of people getting it on and having babies. Genesis 6:1-8 tells us a very little bit of the back-story leading up to the Great Flood. We’re going to have problems with this story, so let’s dive right in.
Problem 1: Wickedness So far we’ve learned of two crimes in the history of mankind: disobedience and murder. After the Cain and Abel incident there is no mention of any significant problem with the population of the planet. We can probably assume the humans were doing human-like things and since getting kicked out of the Garden they probably took a few liberties they wouldn’t have before. Nevertheless, god says (out loud to nobody in particular; I suppose he’s just musing), “My Spirit will not contend with man forever…” Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Only evil all the time? Really? If they were having children and raising them, there had to be some love and basic morality. I find this claim to be absolutely stupid. I can’t put it any other way, it’s really just stupid.
There also seems to be a very real lack of specificity as to what these wicked humans were doing, aside from being human. Knowing that these verses lead up to a very drastic act on god’s part, I’d like to know just how horrible you have to be in order to earn that kind of wrath. I get the feeling that this is a lot like a tantrum that a child throws when his sibling is irritating him. It goes something like this:
Child: “Dad! Billy hurt me!” Dad: “What did Billy do?” Child: “He hurt me!” Dad: “Did he hit you?” Child: “No.” Dad: “Did he kick you?” Child: “No.” Dad: “Did he bite you?” Child: “No.” Dad: “What did he do then?” Child: “He was being mean!” Dad: “What was he doing?” Child: “He was being mean to me!” Dad: “Go away.”
Can you honestly punish Billy for being mean when nobody will tell you what Billy did? Not really. This problem certainly doesn’t undermine the whole story, but it doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence in god’s judgment when we notice the trend in his crime-to-punishment ratio so far.
Problem 2: Lifespan In Genesis 6:3, god muses, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” I find this statement odd because we already learned that man would not live forever when they got kicked out of the Garden. God already knew that man was mortal and he already knew that they weren’t going to live forever. It’s obvious he wasn’t imposing strict limits as to how long man could live but we know they were dying because the Bible tells us that a bunch of people died. So…what’s the problem? And how many people do you know who live to be 120 years old? Not many.
Anyway, prior to this observation humans were living for a gazillion years. OK, not a gazillion but a really long time. Here’s a list of old people:
Adam: 930 years
Seth: 912 years
Enosh: 905 years
Kenan: 910 years
Mahalalel: 895 years
Jared: 962 years
Enoch: 365 years (poor guy, god took him early)
Methuselah: 969 years
Lamech: 777 years
Noah was 500 years old when he started having kids and is said to have lived a total of 950 years. No mention is made post-flood as to how long Noah’s descendants lived. I’m assuming none of them got past 120 years…
Problem 3: Nephilim Humans were having babies left and right and some of those are coming out female. Apparently the female babies were nice-looking and the “sons of God” took them as wives. They just married any of them they chose! Imagine the audacity! Anyway, these “sons of God” appear to be either angels or the offspring of Seth depending on who you ask. You can read up on it and decide for yourself.
When the “sons of God” had children with the daughters of man, those children were called “Nephilim,” described by the Bible as “heroes of old, men of renown.” They were supposed to be giants who were alive prior to the Great Flood and also afterward (a problem for my next post).
My major problem with the Nephilim is that they seem wholly irrelevant to the story unless god is specifically mad at them. God seems to have major issues with the humans, but this interjection about the “sons of God” mating with human women seems to suggest that it’s these “sons of God” who are the real problem. Perhaps angels were strictly prohibited from having contact with humans, I don’t know. In any case god ought to acknowledge to whom the blame really falls and if the “sons of God” and Nephilim aren’t the issue then I’d really just as soon have them left out of the story. They’re distracting me and my ADHD can’t handle it!
Problem 4: God Admits a Mistake Genesis 6:6 says, “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” How could a perfect being be grieved that he had done something? He purposely made the humans and knew exactly what was going to happen when he kicked the humans out of the Garden but for some reason he’s surprised at what’s going on? No, I’m sorry, this just doesn’t make sense at all. God showing remorse for his own actions constitutes a mistake, and a perfect being cannot make a mistake. This story’s falling apart.
Problem 5: Over-reaction! Genesis 6:7 says, “So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.'”
Remember how in the last verse god said he regretted making man? Well, now he’s extending that to every living being on the planet – he’s an equal opportunity regretter. So now the animals are going to suffer because the humans screwed up. Don’t you hate that? It’s like when you lose your recess because that one kid with the B.O. who doesn’t raise his hand yelled out an answer in class! Damn that Stinky McStinkypants! In this story, humans are all Stinky McStinkypantses and the animals are now pissed off that they’re missing recess. Do you still maintain that your god is a just and loving god? I don’t.
Conclusion What have we learned from this story? That humans were horrible, wicked creatures that all deserved to die with no chance of repentance or vicarious salvation? Well, not really. We never really learned why the humans were so wicked and we’ll learn later on in the Bible (SPOILER ALERT) that god actually does have a plan for redeeming humans without having to destroy them all wholesale.
You want to know what I learned from this story? God flies off the handle at everything! Seriously, it’s like he’s got no self-control whatsoever. Not an attractive quality in an all-powerful deity, wouldn’t you say? So far, the Bible doesn’t have a single story that a level-headed person can read and say, “That makes perfect sense without having to squint or do any kind of mental gymnastics at all!” Not one. Stick around for the Great Flood…
Moving on to Genesis 4, we learn about Adam and Eve’s two sons: Cain and Abel. As if the story of the “fall of man” didn’t seem like it was written by an underachieving sixth-grader, we’re now going to dumb things down so all you fourth-graders out there have something to read. As expected, this story has problems and I’ll tell you just exactly what some of them are.
Problem 1: Reproduction As you may or may not recall from my last blog post, Adam and Eve were damned and thrown out of paradise because they were purposely created too ignorant to understand what disobedience and sin were. Along with being banished, they were commanded to make more of themselves! Yes, that’s right, the most perfect being in the universe was so angry with these two sinners he told them to immediately go out and start breeding like rabbits. I’m not making this up. So Adam and Eve started breeding and popped out two sons: Cain first and then Abel. Presumably, the boys made it to their teens without any more brothers and sisters (or the documentation was pretty shoddy at this point).
Problem 2: Favoritism Cain was a gardener and Abel was a shepherd. At some point, the boys got to talking and decided to bring the best of their best offerings to god to show him just how much they loved him. Cain, of course, brought fruits and grains in this bundle of healthy, fiber-rich hippie food. Abel, on the other hand, brought leg of lamb and a big tub of lard that would clog the arteries of even a deity who worked out at the YMCA every day…and took Lipitor regularly. I’ll tell you something: god is not a vegetarian. So god, who loves everyone equally, told Abel that his offering was awesome and Cain’s sucked. That’s bound to piss anybody off, right?
Problem 3: Divine Nonsense Cain was mad. He had put a lot of work into gathering his hippie food for god and got the cold shoulder. So god, in that incredibly sensitive way he has of comforting people, told Cain to suck it up and stop being such a goddamned baby. Not only that, but he told Cain that if Cain did what was right then he’d always be accepted. So…was offering the best of what he had to give not “right?” Silly carnivorous god!
After he imparted that glaring contradiction, he told Cain that sin was crouching at his door (the Bible doesn’t mention that these people had made houses at this point, so I’m not even sure if Cain knew what a door was) and he had to “rule over it.” Cain, at this point, was probably like, “OMG, WTFSRSLY?”
Problem 4: Murder? Cain asked Abel to go chill with him in the fields and was still so angry (and confused from what god just told him) that he killed his brother.
Now, here’s where things are a little fuzzy for me. Christians keep telling me that our moral code is derived from god’s 10 Commandments and that without them we’d be raping each other and stealing each others’ baseball cards and eating too much. I don’t agree (I will always eat too much regardless), but if we granted them this premise then at this point the 10 Commandments didn’t exist. How is it then that Cain, without a moral code, should have felt guilty about killing his brother or should have been punished as though it were a sin? After all, he was really pissed off. God never told anybody that killing was wrong. In fact, god’s plan was to murder anybody who ate the knowledgeberries. Remember those? What kind of example does that set?
So while this is an issue for Christian sticklers of 10 Commandment-based morality, let’s take a humanist approach and say that we all inherently know that killing other humans is bad. Cain murdered his brother and god found out (again with this “finding out” stuff! Doesn’t god already know this?) and cursed Cain and took away his gardening skills. Bad Cain, no granola for you!
Problem 5: Spontaneous Humans! God told Cain that he would drive him from his home and he would wander the Earth restlessly (can you restfully wander the Earth?). Cain felt overwhelmed and asked god for mercy because everywhere he went, people would try to kill him.
What people? So far as we know, Adam and Eve were the first humans created and when they got kicked out of the garden, they had two sons and one of those was now dead. There are three friggin’ people on the planet. Of whom is Cain afraid?! Nobody knows, not even god, because god told Cain that he’d put a special mark on his forehead so nobody (whoever this “nobody” was) would kill him and Cain started his restless wandering…restlessly.
Problem 5: Sex With Your Sister Cain went into the land of Nod and made love to his wife.
I think I just skipped something, let me see here: Genesis 4:16 says Cain wandered into Nod and Genesis 4:17 says Cain made sweet love to his wife. From where in the frick did this woman come? Where is Nod? How many people lived there? Were they all Cain’s brothers and sisters or were they magically conjured up from dirt? The Bible doesn’t say.
We have to assume that these people were all products of the original mating pair of humans but there’s a problem with that:
Problem 6: Timelines Adam and Eve had another son and named him Seth. When Seth was born, Eve said that god had given her another son to replace Abel since Cain killed him. It seems to me this is still a fresh wound and this verse would suggest that Seth was born while Cain was wandering. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that not that much time had passed between Abel dying and Seth being born. However, just for sake of argument let’s call it a full generation (~30 years). If that was the case, then Adam and Eve would not have had time to have enough children between Abel and Seth for them to have grown up, migrated, and started settlements (like the land of Nod). This means that Cain would have entered the land of Nod prior to its being inhabited. Do you see the disconnect, kids? I do.
Conclusion What have we learned from this story? That god is a meatatarian? No. We’ve learned that god’s purposeful creation of ignorant beings with no moral compass led to the first murder and incestuous relationship ever recorded and that the Bible was unfortunately written before the invention of clocks and calendars.
Now, again, some may argue that this story is allegorical and that we’re merely supposed to learn a lesson about not killing your brother and sleeping with your sister or something but no matter how you slice it, it’s got problems from a moral standpoint.
First, god says he loves us all but he clearly shows favoritism. That’s bad. Second, god purposely created ignorant knuckleheads and never told them not to beat each other to death and was surprised to see that one of the knuckleheads beat the other knucklehead to death. That’s ridiculous. Third, god’s punishments always seem disproportionate to the crime – not only was Cain banished from his home but he was cursed so that he’d never be able to grow any food again for as long as he lived. That’s cruel, although it doesn’t seem to have affected Cain much since he went right out and made whoopee (does anybody say that anymore?) with some spontaneously-generated chick. I’m amending “cruel” to “bull crap.”
Stay tuned for the next installment! New blog time, same blog channel.
Comments on a recent blog post of mine prompted me to do a thought experiment. Seeing as how the Bible has been fragmented, pieced together, translated, interpreted and altered is there a better way than the written word for god to have disseminated what could be considered the most important information in the history of the world? I think so.
I’m running with the standard model of the Biblical god for this example meaning he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipresent. He is perfect and unconstrained by time and space. Consider this:
When a child reaches the age of 12 he or she is considered by god to have the capacity to understand the concept of his existence and Jesus’ sacrifice for their eternal salvation. On each child’s 12th birthday, god visits them in a vision. During this vision, the child is locked in a trance state where no stimuli other than god can be experienced. In the vision, god reveals to each child that he’s their Heavenly father, he created them because he loves them, and that they have the choice to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. He reveals this in their native tongue without using parables or vague language. When the vision ends, the child is released from the trance state feeling refreshed.
At this point, the child has the choice to use his or her free will to either accept the vision as truth or reject the vision as a delusion. They have the choice to accept the gift of salvation or reject it as nonsense.
Here’s the rub: the vision is the same no matter the culture, language, or dialect of the child. A child in India can compare their vision to that of a child in Zimbabwe, Chile or Canada and the description will be identical. Some will accept this for the miracle that it is and rejoice. Others will consider it coincidence or mass hysteria and dismiss it out of hand. Others may take years to decide what they think but no matter what the message was clear, concise, and cannot be misinterpreted.
Would that not be (at the very least) a better solution than a vague book full of magical stories and parables? It certainly beats the telephone game of the oral tradition.
Here’s the question: what problems do you see with this approach?
The Christian story of the “fall of man” is a tale of magnificent power, poor decision-making skills, cunning linguists, and problems…lots and lots of problems. I’ll give you the ones that immediately spring to mind. This takes into account the literature from the Bible in Genesis 1:26-31, Genesis 2, and Genesis 3:1-19.
Problem #1: Ignorance God creates human beings with free will – although he never gave us a choice as to whether or not we wanted free will or even to be created at all. As Christopher Hitchens says, “Of course we have free will; we have no choice!” What god does not create humans with is the knowledge of good and evil – that is to say, they had no sense of right and wrong and no way to tell if disobedience was a sin – or even what “disobedience” or “sin” were. I doubt their vocabulary included such complex words. They were completely innocent.
Problem #2: Temptation God creates the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (sounds like a metaphor, right?) right smack dab in the middle of the ignorant human beings’ living space. This tree produces delicious-looking, aromatic fruit (not apples though, they’re more like “knowledgeberries”) so – of course – god tells the humans not to touch it. In fact, it would probably be best if they didn’t even look at it. Perhaps just forget it’s even there…even though it’s in your living room. Oh, and it’ll kill you.
Problem #3: Clarity God instructs the humans not to eat the fruit and tells them that the day they eat the fruit they’ll die, right then and there. He didn’t give them a definition of “die” and from everything I’ve heard, the humans at this point had no experience whatsoever with death because everything was perfect in the Garden and nobody ate meat…not even the meat-eating predators. One could argue that telling someone who has never seen or heard of death that they’re going to die doesn’t really have the impact that you’d expect. Anyway (SPOILER ALERT), the point is we’ll see later that god bent the truth on this one because the humans didn’t die the same day they ate the fruit and, in fact, lived on to bear many children.
Problem #4: Outside Influence God creates a talking, ambiguous serpent and sets it loose in the Garden, fully aware that the paths of the humans and this serpent would cross and that the serpent was a tricky little guy who derived pleasure from messing with people’s heads (or at least, it would seem). Now, one could argue that setting up a scenario like this is a test. I would argue that this scenario is nothing short of a masterful chef’s no-bake recipe for disaster. Either way, it displays a woeful lack of foresight on god’s part.
The talking serpent convinces the woman (oh, of course it’s the woman because they’re weaker than men, right?) to just have a taste of the knowledgeberries because she’s most likely misinterpreting what god is saying and should actually be listening to what his words mean. Now, I don’t know how things worked in the Garden but if I were confronted with an eloquently-spoken Gecko accosting me with persuasive arguments, I’d be inclined to buy his insurance.
Problem #5: Nonintervention Anyway, the woman exercises her (coerced) free will by eating the fruit and convinces the man that he also misinterpreted what god meant so he eats it as well. God is chilling somewhere else at this point. Maybe he was in the shower or something. Of course when god gets back and finds out (didn’t he already know?) he damns them and all of their descendants for all time. That includes you, bub.
Conclusion What have we learned from this story? It’s best not to make decisions on an empty stomach, right? No. We’ve learned that god is a sadist who intentionally created humans ignorant so that he could have the pleasure of damning them forever after laughing at their decision to save 30% or more on car insurance (they didn’t even own a car!).
Now, the creation myth is said to be allegorical by some and literal by others but no matter how you slice it, it’s got problems from a moral standpoint.
For one, god gives humans free will but keeps them completely ignorant of right and wrong and therefore the consequences of their actions. That’s pretty bad. To make things worse, he puts the innocent-looking device that will cause their destruction within their arms’ reach. That’s horrible. Let’s not stop there though, because we haven’t yet introduced the cunning serpent who gets created with the powers of speech and convinces the humans (who don’t know right from wrong) that it’s OK to set the doomsday device off. That’s detestable! But wait, there’s more! Next we’re going to damn the humans for making a choice that was a product of their god-given free will combined with their god-induced ignorance. That’s disgusting! Don’t stop there, though. While we’re damning people we may as well extend the punishment out for eternity, applicable to every descendant of the humans without exception. That’s just pure, unfettered evil.
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:
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?
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!
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!
I have several problems with the concept of a soul (or spirit, or whatever you may choose to call it). Aside from the argument for lack of evidence, there are issues facing a person who claims that humans have souls that are created by God and that outlive the body on a separate, spiritual plane of existence. I’ll outline these issues as follows:
IF I HAVE A SOUL, WHY DO I NEED A BODY?
This first question stems from the idea that God creates human souls (I’m not sure when) and implants them or attaches them to the fertilized egg at conception so that the bundle of cells becomes a viable human. Never mind that 25% of these “viable humans” will be naturally aborted or miscarried without intervention from humans. What I don’t get is this: God’s ultimate plan for everybody is that their souls reside in Heaven with Him eternally and that we are all happy, healthy, and free of sin. So…why do I need a body? If my soul would be happy in Heaven then why can we not forego all of the formality, suffering, and nonsense and just get right to the end goal? If God cares nothing at all for my body and only wants my soul, then He should have just created my soul in Heaven directly. It’s reasonable, it’s simple, it’s loving, and it accomplishes the goal with zero room for error.
WHERE WAS MY SOUL BEFORE I WAS BORN?
Since we’re assuming that God creates souls, but don’t know when He does it, we might assume that He created my soul a long time ago and was waiting for my parents to find each other and conceive the body into which He would ultimately place my soul. This begs the question(s): how long was my soul around before it was joined to my body, and where was it? If my soul was in heaven with God waiting to be transplanted, then I find it particularly disturbing and despicable that He wouldn’t have just left me there. After all, Heaven is where He wants me to end up, isn’t it?
If my soul was not in Heaven with God, then where was it? What other existential plane is there on which my soul may have sat in wait for a body? The flip side to this question relies on the idea that souls don’t exist prior to being joined with a body and that God creates them at the point of conception (kind of a chicken-and-egg argument, in my opinion). This brings us to my next question.
WHEN DOES GOD CREATE SOULS?
If, statistically, 25% of all pregnancies end in natural abortion or miscarriage then we have to question when, exactly, God is creating these souls. Is there a period of time during which the bundle of cells is under observation and in a probationary period before God deems them worthy of being joined to a soul? If not, and God joins the soul immediately at the time of conception, then why does He deem some souls lucky enough not to have to undergo the suffering of mortality and get a “Go Straight to heaven” card? Is He showing favoritism, or is He just shooting dice with these souls and they happen to hit the jackpot? If these souls were destined to end up in Heaven without having to struggle through life, then why did He bother with their conception (obviously wasted energy and resources for nothing) and bonding of their souls at all? He would have already known where they were going, because they never got to exercise their free will (a central tenet of religions which I find incredibly contradictory).
WHY IS GOD STILL CREATING SOULS?
God presumably knew prior to creating the first human soul that He would have to mourn their poor decisions, deal with sin, and eventually sacrifice His son for their forgiveness. The question then arises: why did God – angry at Adam and Eve for sinning – command them to go out and make more sinners?! To whom does that make any sense at all? Not to me. So perhaps my biggest question is why God is even creating souls at all. If I were in charge, I would have just let the two sinners die, send their souls wherever they needed to go, and call it good enough – an experiment that turned out poorly and from which I can learn a valuable lesson.
WHY DOES MY SOUL NOT DEFINE ME?
If we have non-corporeal souls that outlive us, then whatever defines who we are should be contained in that soul. That is to say, our personality, our compassion, our jealousy and anger and greed should not simply be a product of chemical reactions in our physical brains, but should transcend our bodies on the spiritual plane. If we have these souls, then they would not be affected by drugs, social pressures, local culture, or trauma. Regardless of what was happening to our bodies, we should always be exactly what our soul defines us to be. We know this isn’t the case. Brain trauma sometimes causes an irreversible shift in a person’s personality to the point where – behaviorally – they would be unrecognizable even to their own family. Drugs cause personality shifts and behavioral changes where people will do things and say things they would otherwise never do or say. It can be argued that moving to a different geographical location or immersing oneself in a different culture causes fundamental shifts in behavior and personality as well. We tend to change ourselves to suit our surroundings if we are unable to change our surroundings to suit ourselves.
How could this happen if we have an immortal soul? I don’t think it could, and I have yet to come across an argument convincing me that this question isn’t valid.
IF I HAVE A SOUL, WHY DO I NEED A BRAIN?
Even if my soul doesn’t define my personality, then it is said that it is what gives me life. Religious people often claim that our brains are so complex and amazing, it couldn’t possibly be reduced simply to electrical impulses and chemical reactions – an argument from incredulity. But why, if I have an immortal soul that gives me life, do I need a brain? Why doesn’t my soul do that work? Why isn’t my soul more actively and apparently involved in my living process? This may be the weakest of my problems with the soul concept, but it’s still a problem.
IF ANIMALS HAVE NO SOULS, HOW DO THEY LIVE?
It is commonly accepted and stated as fact in religious circles that only humans bear a soul. Animals don’t have souls and they don’t go to Heaven or Hell. It seems odd then that animals have identical living processes to humans – that is, brains, hearts, digestive systems, etc. Why do we look the same as animals on the inside if we’re so much different? Why are we made up of exactly the same material? This makes absolutely no sense. If humans have souls, then animals must also have souls because we can find no fundamental difference between animals and humans (who, as we all know, are still animals). I find it frustrating to think that any religious person could hold to this idea and even go so far as to construct some type of elaborate defense of this position that defies all logic and reason.
I HAVE NO SOUL.
Given that these questions are never answered, I have to operate under the assumption that I have no immortal soul. As such, I am not in any terrible danger of ending up in Hell and I have no reason to make myself subservient to an oppressive deity on the off-chance I might make it to Heaven. Instead, I’ll act as though this life is the only one I get; that I should be kind to my fellow humans in the hopes that it will propagate to all and we’ll live in peace; that my happiness here on Earth is my ultimate goal, so long as I don’t harm others in my attempts to attain it; that I should not waste a single moment of my life bowing and scraping to an invisible person who doesn’t care about my mortal existence anyway. I’ll just be the best human I can be. Is that so bad?
In response to this post by Bakersdozen2, I want to comment on the idea that a child died, went to Heaven, and was returned to a quadriplegic body to be on a respirator for the rest of his life.
The 6-year-old child is said to have gone to Heaven while in a coma for two months after a traumatic car crash that left him paralyzed due to an internal decapitation. His father was talking on the phone while driving and was ejected from the car, escaping all injury. Praise the lord! The father even wrote a book about it that spent some time on the bestseller list. Hallelujah!
In recounting his experience, the boy tells of how he was in the lap of Jesus in the most amazing and wonderful place imaginable. This place was filled with happiness, there was no pain, he was able to speak with angels, and he came to think of it as “home.” Then, coming out of the coma, he was returned to his non-functioning body here on Earth to live out the rest of his days not being able to move or provide for himself and needing a respirator for at least part of the time. The child even told his father that, even though he’s not depressed, he can’t wait to die and go back to Heaven because he doesn’t feel like this is “home” anymore.
Isn’t god good? No.
You tell me what kind of malevolent being you would have to be in order to give this poor child a taste of the most perfect place imaginable, dangling it in front of him like a piece of candy, and then yank it away to put the kid back into a broken body where he’ll go through his life being fed either by a caretaker or through a tube and have his ass wiped by someone else because he’ll never even be able to do that for himself. Does that sound like love to you? Why bring the child to Heaven only to send him back? And why call this a miraculous story?
You know what would have been a miracle? If god would have stopped the car crash! Wow, that would have been amazing! Just imagine what would have happened if the crash hadn’t occurred and this boy got to just go on living his life like everyone else! What a concept…
It seems to me that people who really want to believe in god’s power pick up on stories like this without really thinking through all of the nuances involved. Instead of wondering why god couldn’t have returned the boy to a miraculously functional body with a message of hope for the world, they blindly accept that their notions of Heaven have been confirmed and that it’s proof of god. Instead of wondering why god would allow something like this to happen to a 6-year-old child, they mindlessly praise god that the child is still (basically) alive. Instead of questioning god’s logic, they vomit canned responses like these:
#1. God’s purposes surpass our temporal comfort #2. There is a place that far exceeds their greatest imaginings.
So we’re to believe that the promise of an awesome place justifies god having his way with us however he wishes? That’s like saying I opened an incredible college savings plan for my son but in order for him to get it he has to let me beat him and tell him he’s a piece of trash until he turns 18! I’m not OK with that, and you shouldn’t be either.
I was unaware until this morning that the only reason we have days is because god is bringing them to us.
I wonder, from where is he bringing these days? Is there a day warehouse and every morning god walks the rows and rows of shelves looking for just the right day that he can bundle up in his arms and bring to me? Is the day he brings to me different than the day he brings to other people? If so, I find that very odd. It really appears that everybody is having the same day, albeit in different time zones.
See, the thing is, up until now I was under the impression that each day was the result of the Earth’s rotation on its axis and its orbit around a huge ball of nuclear fusion that we call the sun. I suppose that could still be the case and the reason all of that is in place is because god brought it to us. But then why not say, “God brought you the sun. Make the most of it?”
My point is this: if we know of a natural explanation for phenomena such as days, nights, and seasons then why can’t we forgo all of the superstitious, magical stuff and enjoy them for what they are? I’d love to reach a point where comments like this (and the ensuing “Amens”) are relegated to history and we can all laugh about how we used to believe in invisible beings.