Whatsoever Ye Ask

As a Christian I believed that my prayers were not only heard by god but that my prayers were important enough to initiate action.  As with any Christian, my basis for believing this was not grounded in reality but in scripture:

John 14:12,13
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Clearly, the quotes attributed to Jesus define prayer as a sort of tangible, telepathic request which (in Jesus’ name) will be heard and granted if the person praying has even the slightest bit of real faith.  Jesus describes the amount of faith necessary in Matthew 17:20 as a mustard seed (long considered the smallest seed).  That’s not a whole lot of faith, by anyone’s standards.  However, if this amount of faith is attainable why aren’t more prayers answers and more miracles performed/observed?  The answers to these questions don’t come easy (to a rational mind) but I’ll detail the Christian thought process — or, at least, the thought process as I understood it while I was a Christian — and give my best answer.

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Good Enough For Me, Part II

Inn a previous post I discussed the “good enough” mentality that most Christians have regarding their faith and the infallibility of the scriptures.  That post aimed broadly at the Christian faith overall but there’s a sinister implementation of this mentality I’d like to address now.  This post pertains to the “good enough” mentality regarding the Theory of Evolution.

Christian Descent of Man
"If any monkey pick up his cross and follow me..."

Above is a Christian parody of the Descent of Man illustration from a fairly well-written Revelife article on the Christian misunderstandings of evolution.  You may want to take a minute and read it.  This post will still be here when you get back.

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Family Ties

One thing religious people cannot stress enough is that they’re all about family.  Their organizations even have names like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association (branded a hate group out of MS).  For the most part I find this to be true so long as everyone’s keeping the faith and maintaining the status quo.  I can say from my upbringing (aside from corporal punishment and having no say in church attendance) that our Christian family was very tight-knit and we spent a lot of quality time together.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was far better than a lot of other families I’ve seen.  Now, to clarify, some of these not-so-happy families I’ve seen are religious as well so it’s not as though they have a corner on the market.  I’m just speaking to the Christian view that family is important.

As I said, religious families are close-knit and happy so long as everyone’s keeping the faith.  They don’t say, “The family that prays together stays together” for no reason.  It’s literally true.  I found this out myself when I started to upset the status quo of my family and I was made to feel like an outcast.  My family’s treatment of me was mild compared to what some people endure at the hands of their religious parents, grandparents, and siblings.

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Lowering the Bar

Whenhen I was a Christian it seemed like everything I saw pointed to the truth of god’s existence.  I had the Bible, my parents’ word, my Sunday School teachers and preachers, any number of books and pamphlets, and nature itself bolstering my faith.  I felt like I had good reason to believe what I did and I didn’t even have to look for evidence: everything was evidence!

That is, until I actually started examining my beliefs and my reasons for holding them.  What I found was not that the evidence for god was strong, but that I was willing to accept pretty much anything as evidence so long as it adhered to my preconceptions.  Those things that didn’t conform to my beliefs were simply ignored without any thought at all.

Christian evidence
Christian? Evidence? Hmmm.
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Who Makes the Rules?

I was always taught as a child that god was in charge.  He was the ultimate authority, the first and last word on any subject, and the law.  He took orders from nobody and had nobody to whom he had to answer.  God made the laws of nature and he could break them any time he wanted.  There was absolutely nothing he couldn’t do.  Then I read the Bible.

At many points in the Bible god is seemingly forced to take some kind of drastic action to intercede in his creation and at every one of these points he chooses (or must choose) the most elaborate, ineffective, and sometimes flat-out silly means.  It seems that every time he has to step in and take action he’s constrained by the Hollywood villain code of monologuing and setting up a trap that’s just way too complex to work.  Here are some examples:

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Debunking Myself!

I was emptying out a three-ring binder yesterday and found a paper I had written on August 3, 1999 for a Philosophy 1100 class at Webster University.  I still considered myself a Christian in 1999 and it wasn’t until the following year that I even entertained the idea that I might be agnostic or an (gasp!) atheist.  I’ll continue to document that journey through my regular posts, but I wanted to take a moment to  transcribe this paper and show that even I, on the verge of a huge shift in worldview, could cling to the most outrageous and fallacious arguments in the hopes of retaining that failing grasp on a faith that had, for most of my life, defined me.  In a strange and somewhat satisfying twist I’ll address my own faulty reasoning and debunk myself.  Enjoy!

Debunking for Dummies

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In the Beginning…

S everal times during my childhood I heard a pastor preach on the creation story in Genesis.  While I was still a Christian I thought it was just about the coolest story I’d ever heard — every time I heard it.  Here’s the run-down:

In the beginning there was god.  God got the urge to create stuff so he fashioned a planet with land and water and light so he could put plants and animals on it.  In order to make this his crowning achievement he then placed humans and a talking serpent on the planet.  The habitable area on this planet was constrained to a garden, in the middle of which was a tree that god had created knowing that it would destroy the humans someday.

Genesis Chapter 1
In the beginning, GOD...

Pretty awesome, right?  Well, kind of.  When I was a Christian I followed along in my book while the pastor read and never asked questions.  This is how the sermon almost always went:

Genesis 1: 1 — In the beginning, GOD.  Now, that’s all I need to know.  This tells me that god was always there, is there now, and will always be there even after I die.  Praise the lord!”

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The Tithe That Binds

There’s a very strange movement in some Christian circles called “The Prosperity Gospel” that posits some kind of supernatural investment scheme where the more money you give to god (read: churches and/or pastors) the more material wealth god will give to you.  While most Christian denominations denounce this theology as false or even blasphemous most of them also have their own, more subtle versions of the prosperity gospel whether they know it or not.

 

Becoming a Millionaire God's Way
God wants you to be rich!

The churches in which I grew up always passed the offering plate/basket around during services expecting members to give at least 10% of whatever they had.  This is standard practice for Protestant churches under a doctrine of tithing.  Some churches go as far as asking (“asking” is a funny word since the whole thing is done with an air of, “if you don’t, god will know”) the congregation to make pledges as to how much they’ll give for the year.  This helps the church make a budget but it also very clearly shows the churches are just businesses.

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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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Washed in the Blood

There’s a very popular Christian hymn titled, “Are You Washed in the Blood?”  It’s catchy enough to be stuck in my head now that I’m writing about it.  Here, have a listen:

I used to love this hymn and now I really can’t stand it.  The thing I hate about this hymn is that it trivializes the brutal concept of vicarious redemption via the slaughter of an innocent.  When I was a Christian I thought it was a great song (and even better when my uncle would sing it because instead of “washed” he would say “warshed”) but when I was a Christian I also didn’t think too much about the concepts being presented.  To me, Jesus’ death was simply a gift from my creator because he loved me and wanted me to be with him forever, avoiding the punishment and suffering I deserved, just for having been born.  This made perfect sense at the time.  Here’s what I missed:

 

Jesus on the Cross
This is what god does to his children.
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