The Wayward Willis

I know that a prominent Xanga atheist has already done this so it seems like I’m just being a copycat but I’m going to be minimizing my activity on Xanga in order to pursue another venture I’ve entitled The Wayward Willis. I intend for this new blog to chronicle my experiences growing up in a strict Christian home, accepting Jesus into my heart and eventually losing my faith and rediscovering my true atheist nature.

I think I’ll still try to finish my commentary on the Bible here on Xanga but I’ll be devoting the majority of my blogging time on my (old) new site. Feel free to drop by and let me know what you think of my stuff! Comments are always welcome.

– Jon

Is Religion Camera Shy?

I’m trying to put together a one-on-one interview series with people of all different faiths and so far I’ve contacted two Christian pastors, a Mormon, a Buddhist, and the administrator at the Jewish temple in Springfield. I let them know that I’m not interested in debate but want the opportunity to ask some probing questions about their religion(s) and give them the chance to give as detailed answers as they want. In every case, I was told that they’d be happy to talk to me but would not be willing to be recorded either on video or audio. What gives?

I’m wanting to discuss their religion in a candid, open format with no argument or ridicule and none of them are willing to go on record? What good is a religion if you’re secretive about it? How do you expect other people to understand you and your beliefs if you’re not willing to open up to an audience? This would be a great opportunity to dispel some misinformation, explain some myths, and relate to people why you believe your religion is based on truth. I just don’t get it.

I’m wondering how I can get believers to open up and help me with my educational project. I’m really hoping to someday be able to gather a representative sample of the world’s religions and put together a nice series of videos that can bridge some gaps. I just don’t understand why there’s so much resistance.

Where should I be looking?

God Hates Japan

In the wake of the hateful, spiteful, and ridiculous comments made by compassionate, intelligent Americans a new Web site has been created called God Hates Japan. It’s not what you think. Apparently a guy named Alejandro Suarez put it together to counter the terrible statements of the faithful that god is punishing Japan for attacking…I dunno, his chosen people or something, back in 1941. It sounds too stupid to be true, right? Think again. There are tons of morons out there claiming this as the truth.

It almost makes me sad to be a human with these idiots. Anyway, the site has two links to two secular charities – Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross. I suggest you take the time to donate whatever you can to help with relief. Japan came to our aid during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, but nobody really remembers that.

Give until it hurts!

My Family Might Hate Me

My mom has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis. It’s eating her from the inside out and she’s powerless to stop it. There’s no cure, no reversal, no relief. It’s just us watching her slowly and uncomfortably crawl toward the end of her life. Having lost the ability to move herself around (even if she had a wheelchair she couldn’t get from point A to point B without help), she relies 100% on my dad for her care. It’s inevitable that she’ll die relatively young (she’s just now 60 but her mom is still alive and coming up on 90). It is this truth that causes me grief, but not for the reasons you might think.

I have grief over my mom’s impending death because I don’t want to go to her funeral and my family will undoubtedly hate me for it. You see, I understand the concept of death and I don’t need closure, nor do I need someone patting me on the back telling me she’s in a better place, etc. When she dies she’ll be gone forever, I get it. I’ve come to terms with that fact and I can be at peace with it when it happens.

I’ve only been to one funeral in my life and that was because it was a high school friend who died while I was a sophomore. It was also while I was a Christian. I cried over my friend’s death and prayed to god for understanding into why she was taken so young. I felt so sad for her family and I felt her loss in the hallways at school. I wondered if she was in Heaven or if she was – god forbid – suffering in Hell. The possibility of her soul in torment ripped me to shreds. It was a bad time for me and god never found the time to get back to me and offer something in the way of comfort or understanding.

I didn’t go to any of my grandparents’ funerals. My family was upset when I refused to be a pallbearer at my grandfather’s (my mom’s dad) funeral. I simply didn’t want to carry a box containing a corpse – is that so bad? Regardless of whether or not the corpse was my grandfather it was still a corpse. No thank you. I have fond, happy memories of my grandparents that aren’t muddied by death. I think the experience of being at the funeral would have changed that for me.

As an atheist I find it much easier to cope with death. It’s a part of life and it happens to everyone irrespective of their beliefs. I’m not completely numb to the loss of a loved one, I just find more joy in my memories of them alive than grief in their loss. Instead of thinking they live on in some ethereal plane of existence I allow them to live on in my mind, just the way I want to remember them, and I find that this keeps them closer and dearer than believing that I’ll see them again.

I don’t want to remember my loved ones wearing makeup in a coffin. What good is that going to do me? What possible joy can I find from that? Why would I allow my love and memory of them to be stained by some grotesque* ritual?

Everyone keeps telling me that the funeral isn’t for the dead, but for the living. I don’t agree. I think every day is for the living. Every single day I can give support and comfort to the ones I love and help however I can if they need it. I don’t need to designate one special day to do this. What makes a funeral day so special? Why are condolences and hugs confined to a couple of hours on a specific day in a specific location? Why not have them available all the time?

Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of the family. Just because I don’t want to attend the funeral doesn’t mean I don’t love my mom. To be honest, once it happens my mom isn’t going to care if I’m at her funeral or not. Neither will my dad, my brother, my sister, or anyone else when their time comes (assuming that I outlive anybody at all).

Some people take this attitude as a slight. They think it makes me cold and callous. While I don’t agree, they’re certainly entitled to their opinions. I’ve already explained that I’d rather have their life than their death in my memories and it’s very sound reasoning to me. I’m happy with it. I just know from past experience that this will garner me negative attention from my Christian family members and I’m not looking forward to it. If I can respect their beliefs and their desire to have a funeral for my mom, why can they not respect my beliefs and my desire not to go? I hope I’m wrong about it, but I fear I’m not.

That being said, I’m reasonably certain – barring major obstacles – that I’ll travel up to Iowa to be there for my family after the funeral (maybe even before, but not during). I’ll share stories of how funny and intelligent my mom was and how much I loved her. I’ll tell the story about how she (unintentionally, I’m sure) threw me down a flight of stairs for calling her an “old hag” and we’ll all laugh about it. And life will go on. Is anything wrong with that?

Do your views on death conflict with your family’s? Do you have any beliefs that your loved ones condemn?

* I find the funeral ritual to be grotesque but I realize not everyone does. Please realize this is my opinion only and that I do not condemn those who find it useful for the mourning process.

Billboards: What Would You Attempt…

Driving from St. Louis to Springfield this morning I passed a billboard that I’ve passed many times before and that has always brought up questions in my mind. It goes like this:

“What would you attempt for Me if you knew you could not fail? -Jesus”


A similar billboard in Kansas City.

Undoubtedly the billboard text draws from Matthew 19:26 which states, “with God all things are possible.” Naturally, I got to thinking about this proposition and some things immediately came to mind. If I knew I could not fail, I would:

Fly
 

Have Olivia Wilde’s babies
 

Start a business
 

Climb a mountain
 

Enter (and win) motorcycle races
 

Swim to the bottom of the ocean
 

I know, all of those things are stupid. But if I couldn’t fail why wouldn’t I at least attempt them? Of course this completely misses the point. The billboard isn’t asking what you would do for yourself, but what you would do for Jesus. So let’s examine this proposition in greater detail.

First, what does Jesus need? Since Jesus is supposedly god that means he’s perfect. Since he’s perfect he doesn’t need anything. And since he’s god, anything I could possibly do for him would be so pitifully insignificant it wouldn’t matter anyway. For that reason I can’t even imagine why Jesus would ask a silly question like this.

Second, if the only thing Jesus wants me to do for him is to tell my friends and neighbors (and little tribal pygmy people in the jungle) about him and win their souls for god and Heaven then why didn’t he make sure I didn’t fail when I was witnessing to everyone as a teenager? Why was it that every time I witnessed to someone out of love and concern for their eternal soul, I was met with failure? Why did they never accept Jesus when I said everything I could think of saying after having prayed over it and asked for help? Apparently even the small stuff like talking to people isn’t guaranteed to succeed.

I can only assume, therefore, that this is an empty promise from a book that is full of empty promises and the billboard is just another attempt by Christians to parade their air of superiority in front of the largest number of people possible. This billboard isn’t the only one along the Interstate between St. Louis and Springfield so I can only imagine how many more there are all over the U.S. (let alone the rest of the world). I’ll review others as I come across them in my travels.

One last question: since there are so many Christian billboards along the Interstates and I have yet to see a single atheist, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, or Scientology billboard why in the heck do Christians get so bent out of shape when they see an atheist bus advertisement? Are Christians really that shallow, petty, and selfish? Grow up!

All Aboard the RV (Rapture Vehicle)

Everybody knows by now that Family Radio has pinned the rapture down to May 21 and the official end of the world to October 21 of this year. Led by Harold Camping (89), a man who failed in 1994 to predict Jesus’ second coming, the organization has launched a “Project Caravan” crusade wherein teams of believers drive across the country proclaiming the end of the world and the need to repent. Several members of the caravan have left behind jobs, family, friends, and responsibilities to drive these RVs until Jesus comes back to whisk them away to be with their Heavenly father.


CNN’s story on the caravan

Even while these faithful followers are so certain of their Biblical knowledge, other Christians (who read the same books) talk about them like they’re lunatics. They cite Matthew 24:36 where Jesus says nobody knows the time and place, not even Jesus himself. This gets me thinking:

If Bible-believing Christian “A” can call Bible-believing Christian “B” a lunatic (or, in kinder forms, “flat-out wrong”) for believing Biblical numerology and Christian “B” can call Christian “A” a lunatic for believing that the Great Flood was allegory and never happened, then what makes one crazy and the other sane? Are they both out of their minds?

I, of course, have my opinions on the matter but I can’t claim to know for sure whether or not Family Radio is wrong about the end of the world. I only know that I’ve seen absolutely no compelling evidence, nor have I heard any compelling arguments that would make me believe that this is probable. And while I would side with Christian “A” in the above paragraph it certainly doesn’t mean that I think Christian “A” is any more justified for believing what they do than the lunatics in the RVs. I only know that I fear for the safety and well-being of these people’s families that have been abandoned in order to spread the far-fetched news about something that was foretold to happen 2,000 years ago, didn’t happen, and hasn’t happened since. I hope god is taking good care of them.

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

My Favorite Food Group? Bacon

I view bacon as its own food group at the top of the pyramid. It cannot be compared to other meats because it’s just so much better than anything else out there. It’s obviously better than fruits, veggies and cheese, duh. I’d even say it’s better than chocolate — and anybody who knows me knows that really means something.


Yes, that’s chocolate-covered bacon.

I would gladly give up all other meat if I could still have bacon. In fact, I’d give up all other food if I could still have bacon. I’m sure that would be short-lived (meaning I’d almost certainly die soon thereafter) but I’d be happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? I think so.

So anyway, I semi-regularly do bacon experiments either for my own amusement or for social occasions. My first adventure was a bacon explosion. It’s amazing. It’s like eating an entire pig, for real. It’s a pound of bacon-wrapped sausage, filled with bacon! It turned out to be everything I had hoped for and more.


Bacon-filled pig wrapped in bacon. What’s not to like?

My next, smaller venture was brown sugar-coated, bacon-wrapped Lil’ Smokies. Again, amazing. The sweet taste of the caramelized brown sugar alongside the salty decadence of the bacon and smoked sausage is almost enough to put you in a coma of bliss…or cholesterol. Whatever, it’s damn tasty and I’m not going to apologize.


Lil’ Smokies, how I love thee…with bacon.

So I was thinking, “I’ve got these hot dogs in the fridge, buns in the pantry, and a plentiful supply of bacon. What do I do?” Bacon-wrapped hot dogs, of course! This one didn’t go so well. I don’t know if I’m just not a fan of the hot dogs I used or what, but it can’t possibly be the bacon’s fault. Regardless, after eating BBQ sauce-glazed, bacon-wrapped, Kroger brand hot dogs I developed horrible indigestion. I belched throughout the night — rancid, face-melting belches that had no right to exist. I’m not doing this again.


I’m getting a stomach ache just looking at you, evil hot dogs!

Do you experiment with bacon? Do you even like bacon? If not, are you even human?? Let me know!