Posts in Religion

The True Meaning of Christmas (and Why I Embrace It as an Atheist)

Written By | November 30, 2015 | Posted in Atheist Life | 1 Comment

December 25th is a day of celebration of faith. It is marked as the birthday of the Sun in both Vainakh (Malkh) and Roman (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) mythologies. Other religious holidays that pass through today include Yule (originally a Pagan religious festival), Pancha Ganapati (a festival to honor Lord Ganesha by Hindus), and of course Christmas.

Christmas is actually a very culturally and spiritually intertwined holiday. While the original purpose of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day was picked as a way to pull in Pagan converts by conscripting *their* religious celebrations already going on that day. Choosing the day of the “birth of the Unconquerable Sun god” as the day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God was no coincidence. And it proved an effective marketing strategy, even if not an entirely spiritually-focused one. Much of what we do to celebrate Christmas comes from very non-Christian roots as well: Christmas trees come from the Yuletide Pagan tradition. Kissing under Mistletoe was a way to remember Baldur, grandson of Thor in Norse religions. Poinsettias were favored for their religious significance by the Aztecs. Even the giving of lavish gifts – something the “sell all you have to give to the poor” Jesus might have frowned on – comes from the various Pagan holidays originally celebrated this time of year. (more…)

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The Atheist Takes On Sin: Genesis 3

Written By | September 11, 2015 | Posted in Bible Study | No Comments

Genesis 3 is a pivotal text for much of Christian theology. The notion of a sinful fallen human nature, may not factor in much throughout the Old Testament but it is foundational to many of the beliefs developed in the New Testament. But as often happens when it comes to the Bible, what we hear from the preacher and what we read in the New Testament is a cleaned up version of the somewhat convoluted story we find in Genesis 3. Instead of moving through this text in a linear fashion, we will set the stage, take a look at its characters, and then do a wrap-up. Let’s dive in.

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God Experiences: Summary and What It All Means

Written By | September 4, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | No Comments

For the past couple of weeks, I have shared a number of experiences that I used to point to as evidences for the existence of the Christian god. I have also explained why all of these experiences eventually failed to stand up to critical thinking and reasoning as my understanding of statistics, psychology, and science grew over the years. I could have easily written another dozen blogs or so covering topics like supernatural intervention in job interviews and career choices, family situations such as having a special-needs child with successful a successful response to intensive therapy, just-in-time financial rescues, times where I legitimately believed I had used supernatural abilities, and so forth, but the basic themes would all have been the same. In the end, none of my experiences have had any defining characteristic that force a supernatural explanation. Sure, some of them seem to defy the odds, but in all cases the improbable turns out to be possible, and completely natural explanations exist. Attributing anything that happens to God is a matter of pure choice and will, ignoring the fact that similar outcomes occur for others regardless of religious background, and with selection bias leaning towards crediting the supernatural with good things and excusing or ignoring bad things. This perfectly describes the phenomenon of confirmation bias, which I have written about many times in the past. This means that by any objective standard, all of your personal experiences – and I mean every single one of them – is invalid in terms of proof of the existence of anything in the supernatural sphere. If you are in possession of any kind of evidence to the contrary, I would love to see it. And I’m not kidding or being facetious – I really, really would. But I suspect no one will step forward to provide it. Based on nearly three decades of searching and investigation, it’s just not out there.

So what? (more…)

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God Experiences: A Personal Relationship

Written By | September 2, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | 2 Comments

Setting the Stage

Like most kids, I had an imaginary friend as a child. His name was Friend Jason. He was identical to me in every way, except for the fact that he was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Growing up in an unstable home, Friend Jason was my confidant, someone who I talked to on a daily basis. When I went to Kindergarten, I took him with me. I was scared and needed someone to talk to, and he seriously – no joke – helped me just by being there in case I needed him. As Kindergarten wore on, however, and I started to make friends, I realized that I was needing Friend Jason less and less. I also vaguely remember comments made about big kids not having imaginary friends any more – possibly made by adults in my life (the memory is pretty foggy). As my need for him grew less and less, and the subtle pressure to “grow up” and stop having an imaginary friend became clear, I made the decision midway through Kindergarten that it was time for me to let him go. I remember it well: I brought him out one last time, my heart heavy and tears in my eyes, and I told him that I couldn’t play with him any more. I remember him being sad, but understanding as always. I gave him one last hug, and with that, said goodbye to the person who had been my best friend for as long as I could remember at that point. I knew he wasn’t real, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Whether or not he actually existed, I was losing a friend who had meant a lot to me, and the pain I felt as a six-year-old boy was very real. In fact, in recounting this story, I can still feel it today.

I was a kid that wanted to believe. (more…)

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God Experiences: Worship Music

Written By | August 31, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | No Comments

Setting the Stage

In the little church community that I grew up in, I seldom felt “moved” by God during congregational singing. Occasionally my family would attend a southern gospel concert, however, and I would experience emotions during the moving songs and testimonies that I clearly identified as the Holy Spirit. I would weep at the plight of the lost, marvel and praise God for the testimony of these men and women, and pray for a revival of God’s spirit to sweep across our nation like it was sweeping my heart in those moments. Otherwise, however, church music for me was a fairly non-eventful experience throughout high school. All of that would change dramatically when I went to college.

The college I had chosen (or, more accurately, felt led to attend) was Southwest Baptist University (SBU) in Bolivar, MO. I had selected this school to attend primarily because I felt it would help me strengthen my faith, sharpen my witness, and allow me to exercise my gifts in ministry through both preaching and piano playing. Nothing in my religious life, however, had prepared me for the experience of worship music on a regular basis. (more…)

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God Experiences: Supernatural ACT Exam

Written By | August 28, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | 1 Comment

Setting the Stage

I desperately wanted to go to college, but knew that my family would be able to provide little, if any financial support. My only hope was significant scholarships, and my best bets there were academia and music.  A sports scholarship was not in my future… :) And so, my junior year of high school saw me studying endless hours for the ACT. We had in-class prep in math classes, and after hours the computer lab was made available for practice exams. I spent so many hours going through them that by the time I was finished, I could score nearly perfect on most of the tests because I had seen every question in the bank multiple times. I was determined to do as well as I could – my brain was my ticket to freedom.

Also along this time, attendance at our church, and in particular my church youth group began to pick up dramatically. I was still an oddball among them, but found a place where I more or less belonged. We formed a puppet / mime ministry and named it “Friends Forever, Inc.” after a popular Michael W. Smith song. Feeling God’s call on my life to do more, commit deeper, and dedicate my skills to his purpose, I had also “surrendered into the ministry” with an emphasis on preaching the gospel. When I look back, I cringe at a lot of my naivety, but there were sustained moments of both personal happiness and a growing sense of God’s love and direction in my life. (more…)

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God Experiences: I Should Have Died

Written By | August 26, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | 2 Comments

Setting the Stage

If you were to listen in on conversations around the dinner table during my childhood, you would hear story upon story of miracles that were happening all around us, followed by thankfulness to God for the fortuitous outcomes. Examples of this phenomenon over the years include:

  • My grandmother nearly being blinded in one eye due to a seat spring, had it hit just a fraction of an inch differently;
  • My brother almost dying as a baby from some respiratory illness;
  • Various family members and friends involved in car wrecks that should have killed them, but didn’t;
  • Times of significant financial struggle where someone helped out, with just what was needed in order to get by;
  • And on and on and on.

Growing up and hearing these stories told and re-told on a consistent basis reinforced the idea that I was living in a world that was actively trying to kill me, and that God and his angels were actively engaged in spiritual warfare, intervening on my behalf in order to save my life and help me fulfill whatever plan God had for me in life. The way I was raised, there was simply no way to explain positive outcomes, plus survival of terrible experiences, without supernatural intervention. (more…)

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God Experiences: Saved from a Bully

Written By | August 24, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | 1 Comment

Setting the Stage

My life had taken a turn for the better when I realized that at least part of my isolation was self-inflicted. This did not, however, improve the bullying situation at my school. Maybe it was just a different time and place, but the amount of outright assault and battery that happened to me and a few other vocal oddballs, right in the classroom, right in front of teachers whose greatest intervention was “Gene, settle down…” staggers me as an adult looking back on it. I was a late bloomer and did not hit a significant growth spurt until about my junior year, so the guys that were pushing me around and worse were usually at least twice if not three times my size. It was also in this climate that I fully embraced the concept of Christian persecution in our society. A big part of what I was bullied about was just being a person who did not back down from what he believed to be right, and this included attacks on my or other people’s expressions of faith. I also had a protective streak and, just like I had done for my mom with my step-dad, I would step into situations to defend my younger friends who I felt could not defend themselves. Looking back, I wish the school system had been set up better, or that the teaching staff at my school had actively engaged with a zero-tolerance policy in terms of threatening or abusive behavior. But, I suspect, this was just seen as part of some accepted natural order: the short, nerdy, loud-mouthed religious zealot getting pushed around by the bigger, more athletic, less religious “rulers of the school” as it were. Frankly, if I were to be aware of one of my children being subjected to similar treatment today, not only would I directly intervene with the school and staff, I would likely file lawsuits against the school and the families involved if it reached that level. But I digress… (more…)

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God Experiences: Saved from Suicide

Written By | August 21, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | 1 Comment

Setting the Stage

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the moment of salvation did little to improve my home life long-term. Things escalated with my stepfather as I got older. I was a fairly smart kid with strong leadership traits, plus an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong. He was of average intelligence (if not a little below) and a bully. From a young age I found myself calling him on his behavior – in part, stepping into that role to defend my mom – and being punished in multiple ways as a result. The worst was when he figured out that by overtly befriending my younger brother he could get him to team up with him and ridicule me, behaviors for which he was rewarded. It was the only meaningful way my stepfather could hurt me, and it was effective. This intentional manipulation by him over the years created an emotional wedge between my brother and me that sadly remains in place to this day. The result was that I felt isolated, even in my own family. During this time, church became ever more important to me, and I looked for any excuse I could find to be there, and really, anywhere other than home. I took leadership roles in church plays, musical productions, and shared the gospel message with my friends. Everywhere else in my life, I felt different and out of place, but at church, my special skills were valued and appreciated. In many ways, it was the place where I found the most peace and happiness. (more…)

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God Experiences: Salvation

Written By | August 19, 2015 | Posted in Christian Beliefs | No Comments

Setting the Stage

I grew up in a lower-class family. My mom worked low-paying factory jobs in Lebanon, MO. We never went hungry, but often lived in low-rent apartments or in trailers parked on a grandparent’s farmland. I played baseball, but otherwise most activities (for example, Boy Scouts) were not options if they had any required costs. I don’t have many memories of my dad prior to the divorce other than a lot of fights. I remember that my dad slept in our room, and my brother and I slept in the “master” bedroom with our mom. I was five years old when we moved in with my grandparents. About a year later (my dates may not be exactly correct…), my mom remarried. His income was relatively high compared to hers, and as a result we were financially dependent on him. It was clear early on that he resented having to help pay for our childhood expenses. He was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive, and I was a frequent target. I try as hard as I can to look back on my early childhood and find happy memories, and while there were people and moments, for the most part I lived in a state of fear, anger, and the threat of abuse.

The one saving grace for me was church. (more…)

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