Friday, June 8, 2007

So, Now I Can Be an Axe Murderer, Right?

Now that I don't believe in any religion any more . . . it's ok to be a serial killer, right? Cheat on my significant other and go on a binge of debauchery, right?

That sort of thinking reminds me of when Paul the Apostle finished explaining the liberating implications of grace in the book of Romans. Now that grace frees the Christian from the Law, we can do whatever sins we please, right? That way . . . grace will just heap up higher and higher!

Paul's response was: God forbid!

But does lack of religious belief necessitate an immoral standard?

God forbid!

I asked myself once . . . why did I resist sin when I was a Christian? Hell sounded like a really, really bad place . . . so, you know . . . I was trying to avoid going there! But, why, for instance, didn't I cheat on my significant other? Would I cheat if I knew I could never get caught?

I decided that I would never cheat even if I knew I could get away with it. Why? Love and loyalty. I didn't want to hurt my lover in that way. I can't do it. My heart sank thinking about it.

But, maybe I'd skip church or miss a few tithe payments if I know I could never go to hell.

But what about not hurting God?

"Because the Bible said so" isn't really the best motivator. Nor is hell, in my opinion. Love should drive our actions. Sharing and helping. Recognizing that all people are unique, yet still share in the common human experience.

I decided I wanted to follow God's word because I didn't want to hurt Him.

But, sometimes God didn't seem like he was there. Hard not to hurt someone that you've never physically met or seen visibly. No audio confirmation ever came from they sky or anything -- it all came from within the inner ear. Who can really know if that's God or myself telling me what I really wanted to hear inside my own head?

Much of my morality was really just love for my family, friends, and fellow man. The teachings of my mom and church played a big role -- yes. But, in the end, these were only influences and guides. My sensitivity to my own conscience and common sense ultimately prevailed.

All else was just fear of hell.

So, I can see why someone would just lose all morality if they lost their religion -- assuming that hell is the only deterrent someone has from premarital sex, adultery, or even killing someone. With that mind set, you'll consider those acts more freely if you ever conclude hell doesn't exist. But, if you love and respect your fellowman regardless -- hell never matters -- whether you're religious or not.

An article came out in the NY Times about the evolution of morality in primates -- hey, aren't we humans called primates?

Anyway -- chimps are found risking their lives to save each other. Older primates scold younger ones when they break social rules. Expressions of empathy and concern form on their faces when they see another in constant pain. Especially if they feel like they've caused it.

Besides, if our laws came from God and He's "no respect of person", then why can King David have several wives and I can't. I do not wish for multiple wives. But if I ever did, I'd be considered an immoral polygamist, nowadays.

Or, a Mormon, perhaps?

Remember, also, that the US Constitution separates Church from State. Sure, US law may resemble Judeo-Christian morality. But, the Constitution clearly expresses that the law is made by the Congress. And Congress represents the people's will from their various 50 states within the Union.

If this really were a Christian nation, we'd have a Pastor . . . not a President. We'd have a great Congregation -- not a Congress. And, we wouldn't have the Constitution, we'd have the King James Version of the Holy Bible for our law book.

Many freedoms would become illegal. Prohibition would rise again. Forget about that beer on the weekends after a hard week of work. Unless . . . our US Pastor were Catholic! Just think . . . one night the police might kick in your door because you missed church last Sunday. Getting ex-communicated or disfellowshipped could mean getting deported to another country! You would become a sex offender if you simply had premarital sex with another consenting adult. Don't even mention homosexuality!

The Flavor of Love and all of it's spin off variants couldn't air on TV anymore.

Hey . . . wait . . . maybe that would be a good thing!

Are there things that should be legal in our "free" society that aren't today due to the religious moral right? Think about it.

Church and State are separate. That's the law. Maybe that isn't what's done in practice, but those are the ideals that our Founding Fathers agreed upon -- regardless of what any of their religious orientations were.

Religion and morality are separate, too. Not true? Why aren't only the religious people good? Non-religious people can be quite moral and good. It's just as easy for a non-religious person to be moral as it is for a religious person to be dirty and rotten.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Proof of the pudding . . .

For the fundamentalist Christian, the inerrancy and infallibility of the scriptures is a given.

No debate about it.

The Bible contains no errors and is completely factual– to be taken literally and is the chief authority over Christian doctrine. The Bible is God's Word handed down by Him through inspired men who would never dare alter His message. God protected His Word miraculously as people copied and translated it throughout the ages.

That's the heart of Christian fundamentalism. And if you don't agree with my description, then you're not a fundamentalist.

What would disqualify the Bible from living up to the expectations of fundamentalists? A mistake? An unclear passage or interpretation? Contradictions found within the text?

A fundamentalist won't consider the possibility of a mistake or contradiction within the Biblical text. This is an impossibility to the fundamentalist. Even if you presented hard proof, the mind of the fundamentalist will reject it. For in their world, such proof cannot exist in the first place.

But, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Or, in the modern shortened version, the proof is in the pudding.

A contradiction is at best a conflict of ideas. Two concepts that cannot happen at the same time and both remain true simultaneously. At the worst, a contradiction means that one or more sources are totally wrong. Maybe even one source has embellished or lied about it's information altogether. Maybe all sources involved are wrong. People contradict themselves and each other all the time. Can God be afforded this characteristic of human behavior?

How many times does the Bible need to contradict itself before it becomes fallible?

Twice? Three times? Four or more?

Once?


If the Bible has contradictory material, then at least one of the two passages involved must be uninspired and totally man made. Otherwise, God inspired flesh and blood to write contradictory material to be added into his prefect Word. For a fundamentalist, this cannot be so. The only other option is that the scriptures have been tampered with.

Imagine that.

For the Christian who is liberal, or non-fundamentalist, the Bible does not need to achieve infallibility in order to remain “reliable”. The Christian liberal will acknowledge the contradictory elements in the Bible and accept them – even embrace them.

Yet, liberals feel the Bible still has enough weight to validate Christianity as God's way. So to the liberal, it is left up to us to review tradition, history, culture, and our own conscience to decide what parts of the Bible are reliable for doctrine – as opposed to what parts are ancient myth and legend, cultural leftovers, and just plain hogwash.

I have a problem with both fundamentalism and liberalism.

With liberalism, one ultimately determines for himself what is right or wrong within the Bible.

Christianity gets just like Burger Kinghave it your way.

What criteria do you use to decide the reliable aspects of scripture from the less reliable parts? And why bother at all if the tenets of your religion are left up to you?

In that case, it's now against my religion to get up early on Sundays for church services. Oh, and I'm keeping that ten percent of my income for myself now. I've found that my rent is more important than the mega-church building fund project we pledged ourselves to. Oh – and I'll start keeping my freewill offerings, too. I've grown tired of contributing to the pastor's new mega-house mortgage equipped with an elevator and a closet full of custom made suits.

And that new luxury car he now drives.

Wish I could have a Jaguar.

Ah, the fun of growing up fundamentalist! See what happens when you believe the Bible is inerrant? You tend to believe your clergy is inerrant, too. Then, you mindlessly do everything they tell you to do and make them rich in the name of God.

So now, you can see that I no longer accept fundamentalism. For me, some major contradictions have finally come to light concerning the Bible.

One contradiction is enough to soil the Bible's infallible image. Oh, but don't worry – the Bible seems to have a few really good ones.

But for now, I'll share only one with you.

I was hoping to bolster my faith in my search for Biblical infallibility.

No dice.

One contradiction hang in the back of my mind for years -- long before I could have ever thought my faith would be in danger. I dealt with this contradiction by just telling myself, “I don't understand enough about God's word to figure out why this looks like a contradiction. One day . . . God will show me.”

Boy, were my eyes opened, alright.

In most Bibles, the word “lord” is rendered in mainly two ways: Lord and LORD.

And?

Every time we see LORD in all small caps – we are seeing the divine name of God rendered in English. God's divine name was represented in Hebrew with the letters: YHWH. Of course, here, I'm still using the English equivalents for these letters. But to protect themselves from defaming the name of God, the Hebrews printed the name of God without the vowels. His name was actually spelled and pronounced: Yahweh. But, that's not how your Bible does it. Your Bible uses LORD, instead of YHWH.

Also, keep this point in mind – most translators transliterated Yahweh into Jehovah. So, those two spellings are interchangeable. So, when you see “Jehovah” – substitute “Yahweh”. When you see LORD, substitute YHWH.

Don't believe me? Read the preface and translation notes in your Bible's introduction (before Genesis). If your Bible doesn't have one, find a Bible that does. You'll see that most Bibles use this translation convention.

And? So, what?

Well, all throughout Genesis, you see LORD – or better stated, you see YHWH. So, substitute LORD with YHWH and count how many times you see it.

Ok, don't really try to count how many times. You'll be counting for days.

Think about how Abraham, the friend of God, names a place Jehovah-jireh (Yahweh-yireh), which means YHWH will provide (Gen. 22:14). Think about how the Bible says men called on the name of the LORD (not Lord). They called on the name of YHWH. Abraham's son even evoked the name of YHWH (Gen.26:22).

Then . . . look at Exodus 6:2 and 3.

Ok, ok, I'll quote it:

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH (YAHWEH) was I not known to them.


How can generations from the beginning of time evoke the name YHWH but not know it?

Exodus just claims that Moses was the first to know the name Yahweh / YHWH. But Abraham knew it according to Genesis. Many other people seemed to know that name all through the days of the patriarchs.

That contradiction alone was enough for me. People had a hand in writing scripture. People have political agendas. People lie. People can be misinformed. People just repeat what they hear without finding out for themselves. People make up folk tales.

Want some more proof for a few other contradictions?

I'll give you a resource – Darrel G. Henschell's book The Perfect Mirror: The Question of Bible Perfection.

I admit that I don't agree with each and every single contradiction he cites. But, again – how many contradictions does it take? Because, for any single “false” contradiction one could discover, two other undeniable contradictions can be found -- contradictions that carry serious implications.

To me, this problem with infallibility and inerrancy proves the Bible's origin is from mankind alone.

A fascinating book to follow up with after checking out Henschell's The Perfect Mirror, would be Richard Elliott Friedman's The Hidden Book in the Bible. If you want even more after that, you can also read his title The Bible with Sources Revealed.

With no Bible to stand on and a faith system that I have to determine for myself, I simply decided to do away with my Christian practices altogether.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Vodou & Pentecostalism Have in Common

One day while channel surfing, I ran across a televised pod cast on Current TV about Vodou.

Nope, not the traditional voodoo stuff I was used to seeing from Hollywood like sticking pins into dolls, putting roots into peoples shoes, or invoking spells and hexes to alter luck. Instead, the author gave a close up look at the religion that was prevalent in Haiti.

At first impact, the worship services looked way different from what I was used to seeing. However, I sensed something familiar about the way they bucked and danced around with their eyes rolling back. I felt a lump in my throat as I watched faces glaze over in a trance-like state and people falling out under the influence of other spirits – welcoming the possession of some other presence or spirit to take control of them until some miracle, divine message, or euphoric experience finally happens.

On the surface, Vudou looked really strange. But deep down inside, Vodou looked quite Pentecostal.

Seeing that similarity bothered me. Such behavior was too close to what I witnessed under Pentecostalism. Sure, I saw overt differences in the Vodou worship services, but the similarities were more frighting than the oddities.

So then, what made my experiences as a Pentecostal any different? The God I chose to invoke – is that why my experience was supposed to be genuine and all others fraudulent? The particular spirit I evoke makes all the difference?

But what if that doesn't matter? What if all those feelings and all that euphoria was self imposed? Ancient cults had tongue speaking as well . . . so not even that was a unique feature of Pentecostalism.

Are we simply psyching ourselves out with self-hypnosis?

This became my next concern when my faith first started to crumble. What was making me have all that euphoria during worship and praise? Where did the ecstatic speech really come from?

I saw an episode of Is it Real? on the National Geographic channel. In a particular scene, a Martial Arts teacher caused his students to “fall out” through the power of his qi. The response of the students looked very similar to being “slain in the Spirit” in the world of Pentecostalism. The idea is that God's presence is so heavy upon you that you just faint physically. But, mentally and emotionally, you are basking in God's presence.

That was an eye opener to see! I thought that only we Pentecostals did that!

The bad part is: for many Pentecostals, these kind of experiences serve as the all important evidence that God has accepted you as a believer and is involved in your life. To see someone call on the name of some other god or to use some other energy force to produce similar supernatural events was unnerving for me. Why? Becasue it undermined my deity. My deity was supposed to be unique.

Yeah, yeah, I remember the big showdown between Moses and Pharaoh. And, I remember Elijah and the priests of Baal. Their wicked counterparts could produce similar miracles and signs. But, the wicked only produced counterfeit signs that only the Almighty can trump.

But, I have little faith in the accounts that the Bible gives about those two "showdowns”. Especially after reading The Bible Unearthed.

All the arguments brought up by skeptics finally started to congeal into one major front against my faith. For if the Bible wasn't a true representation of history, then without question the pre-Jesus god-men are now a serious problem for my faith. Mystery Religions could very well be the true breeding grounds of Christianity. One part Mystery Religion, two parts Essene. And now with viewing the Bible as largely legend, I can't believe that the universe was created in the fashion that the Bible expressed. So, now evolution and the Big Bang theories start to sound quite reasonable.

And what about all those supernatural experiences? Now they can easily be explained away by self-hypnoses and trance like states of the mind caused by deep concentration and meditation.

But . . . what if The Bible Unearthed was wrong? What if the Bible really was infallible and inerrant? Maybe then I could recover my faith.

So, I started to take a closer look at whether the Bible was truly inerrant or infallible. If the scriptures could prove to be such, then I could trust them again. Maybe then, I could stop feeling like Vodou and Pentecostalism had more in common than I wished to admit.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Archaeology – the CSI of the Past

I'm astonished at how science and logic enables someone to piece together clues that can unveil the unknown. I started trusting science much more after realizing this. Upon this realization, I also began to notice a correlation between my level of trust in science and the weakening of faith concerning my religious beliefs.

Years ago, I saw one of the many episodes of America's Most Wanted where a man had avoided the law for quite a while. The FBI only had very old photos of this certain fugitive. This fact contributed to the fugitive's success in staying on the run. Since law enforcement couldn't post current images of the fugitive's face, the public wasn't able to contribute any tips to the FBI or police.

But, guess what? The FBI put together a team that examined the skeletal structure of the man's face from the older photos. Then, they applied age progression techniques to figure how he might look in the present. With these techniques, the experts generated a photograph and a bust to present to the public.

When the man was finally captured, I was utterly shocked at the resemblance between the fugitive and the bust made by the FBI. Experts seemingly predicted how he looked in the present by using pictures which were decades old.

The bust pinned him down with razor accuracy.

So, when I saw Nation Geographic do a bust of King Tutankhamen, I trusted the work. I couldn't forget what happened on America's Most Wanted; I was too impressed by the previous work from other experts to believe that King Tut's bust was a sham.

Then, later, I saw a bust of Queen Nefertiti done by Discovery magazine online. I will point out however that this bust does looks quite different from ancient busts made long ago. Then again, the mummy found may not actually be Nefertiti. But still, I'm fascinated at how today people could make a life-like bust from the bone structure of a photograph or from ancient remains.

Here's a question . . . if you walk into any given room in your home and find red marker scribbled all over your wall . . . and let's assume you have children living with you . . . who did it?

Well, you should look at the evidence before jumping to conclusions. I did say children . . . so you have to conclude which child did it – or if all of them were in on it.

One child blames the other sibling(s) and boldly proclaims he or she isn't guilty.

However, the child who is proclaiming innocence has red marker smeared all over his or her hands. The other child or children don't, however. Also, the marker gives off a distinct fume that is all over only one child – the one with marker smeared on the hands; however, still claiming innocence.

So then, who “dun” it?

The little lair standing in front of you.

The more I watched shows on the Discovery, Science, and History channels, the more archeology started reminding me of the CBS show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. I enjoyed watching people from the world of archeology take bits of evidence and piece together the past and uncover more realistic ideas about what really happened in history.

I started respecting archeology.

So, then, I wanted to read more about it concerning my faith. Surely, if my faith is true, archeology will prove it. Especially since my Thompson Chain Reference Bible had that huge archeology section in the back.

So, I started with a title that I hoped would really prove it all for me – The Bible Unearthed.

I won't dare try to review The Bible Unearthed here. Check out reviews on Amazon or better yet, buy it and read it!

I'll let you decide for yourself if you trust it as a scholarly work.

But for me, that book shattered my faith into splinters. It was the final blow that penetrated my hard shell religious beliefs.

The Bible Unearthed demonstrates through archeology that Israel's Judaism evolved from other ancient folk religions. Israel never left Egypt to come to Canaan according to The Bible Unearthed. The Israelites developed as a people and culture from and among the Canaanite culture already surrounding them.

Follow the implications of that idea and you can see why my faith failed under a crushing, fatal blow.

If Judaism never happened like the Bible says it did, how about Christianity?! After all, Christianity is deeply rooted into Judaism – why it hinges on it!

Oh man, the thought! You mean to say that Yahweh did not personally hand Judaism down to Abraham and Moses?! You mean that Judaism evolved from the Canaanite culture instead?!

If this is true, then the Bible is nothing more than a series of literary works by mere men – so much lower in status than being the inerrant Word of God.

Would an inerrant God issue out his Word in a text that contains errancy, myths and legends?

If God would do something like that, please explain to me how or why.

Such an explanation would clear up a lot of important things for me.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Blackened

Science seems to really be the the mortal enemy of faith. Many Christians try to marry faith and science, but they just don't go together. Faith is trusting in what hasn't come to be yet. Sure, maybe you have a promise from God, but that's all you have – trust in his track record from the Bible, from your life experiences, and other people's faith testimonies.

Science needs proof. Test it. Research it. Touch it. Observe it. Record it. Run the numbers and see if there really is a significant difference. Then, maybe you can call it a theory.

Then after that, check back with us . . . we'll let you know later if we think it's true . . . after we test it some more.

Many Christians don't like to follow through with the full implications of science, yet they want to use it when it suites their point. And don't forget about logic. Logic is akin to science – perhaps the heart of the scientific method itself.

Christians use logic when it suites, too. But following the full implications of logic is contradictory to faith. Faith, again, is trusting in what hasn't had any direct evidence. Logic seeks truth through weeding out weak arguments that have no foundation. What gives an argument a true foundation?

Evidence. Hard cold evidence.

That's why people always say that God works in mysterious ways and that his ways are beyond finding out. His ways aren't our ways. In other words, God doesn't work in the realms of logic all the time. That's why we need faith – to trust the things that God does and allows which sometimes seem quite illogical, contradictory, confusing, and unjust.

History slapped me in the face again much like in my previous blog post. But this time, Science joined in, too.

It was like a nasty pimp-slap.

Galileo asserted that the heavenly bodies – including Earth – were all round and that the sun was actually the center of the solar system.

Well Duh!

Well, duh, nothin' . . . . 'cause back then, that idea was heresy. Galileo's observations and mathematics backed his claims with solid evidence. But publishing his findings only earned him house arrest during the latter years of his life. And his arrest was enforced by the Catholic Church!

Say what?!

The Church world back in Galileo's day was the authority on faith and science. And, the Church world said that the Earth was flat* and was the center of the Universe! Why? Because the church world of that time period thought the Bible said so!

Was Christendom wrong to believe the Bible inferred a flat Earth?

Biblical cosmology becomes more and more of a fantasy as we learn more about the physical world, the laws of physics, and the Universe around us.

Physics tells us that the universe must be older than the Bible declares. Either physics contradicts itself or the Bible does. Take your pick.

Admittedly, being raised as a Christian, that was not a hard choice to make at the time.

Clearly, science was wrong.


But, I always wondered how Satan was able to take Jesus to that high place and show him all the kingdoms of the world in a single moment.

Maybe somebody thought the Earth was flat.

So then, the “circle of the Earth” – as Job called it – wasn't a globe after all. It was a flat pancake!

But . . . but . . . but . . . the Bible wouldn't ever imply that! God made the world! He made the Heavens and the Earth. He knew what he was doing! He knew the Earth wasn't flat when he made it.

He knew what he was doing when he took the firmament and partitioned the waters of the ocean from the waters above in the sky.

Pay attention to that description in the first chapter of Genesis. Read it again, slowly. The Earth was a super dome! A flat area for the land. The dome of the sky was covered with a firmament that allowed rain to drip through from the waters above.

Say . . . if you didn't know that the sky went to outer space and that the sun's light reflecting off of our atmosphere made the sky look blue . . . . what might you think about all that blueness?


Did you say, “water”?

I heard a small child ask once, “can lightning hit the moon”?

Sounds silly until you realize that a child has no accurate perception of the heavenly bodies. At least, not until they finally start school and take physical science lessons. But why shouldn't lightning hit the moon? From a child's mind the moon is embedded in the firmament of the Earth – just like the sun and stars.

That's how the ancients thought. Mankind generally saw the Earth and sky in those terms until men like Galileo came along.

Ooohhh . . . so that's why Revelations says the stars will fall to the Earth like figs from a tree! The ancient world thought the stars were in the sky like low hanging fruit on a tree! The perspective they had allowed for the stars to fall from the sky and litter the ground.

The sky can peel back like a scroll. The dome of the Earth can be yanked back like a cover or torn away like an ancient parchment scroll.

Jesus can ride the clouds and every eye can see him. However, not because all the news channels of the world will report on this awesome spectacle. Because, when you live on a flat Earth – everyone can look up at the same time and see him in the sky!

Man, if we just could've kept building that tower of Babel, we could have burst through the dome of the Earth and saw God, touched the sun, and tickled the moon and stars. That's why God had to stop all of their fun.

But, now we know better. All of the heavenly bodies are so very far away. None of it is mounted within our atmosphere or "firmament" like the Bible declares throughout it's text.

This was quite problematic.

How could scripture misrepresent the nature of the world if the Creator divinely authored the Bible?!

Then, all the arguments of the skeptics started caving in on my faith. I had to put forth a conscience effort to brace my beliefs and hold them in place. I didn't give in just yet, but boy oh boy, I sure had some more investigation to do now!

And speaking of the heavenly bodies . . . lets take a look at our sun. An awesome display of power and energy. And through science, we now know how to apply the same principles that make the sun glow.

Nuclear weapons.

The sun is a gigantic nuclear reactor. Hydrogen fuels it just like our hydrogen bombs – which are wimpy and picayune replicas of the sun – in principle at least. That's why you had better wear that sunscreen this summer! That radiation will burn your skin. That's why we have the Aurora lights in the sky. The radiation of the sun is bouncing off of the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere. That's the other reason why astronauts wear space suits; Space is radioactive. But why doesn't the sun explode into a huge mushroom cloud like our little baby sun-bombs? The sun generates a massive magnetic field that keeps it all from going off like a huge intergalactic nuke! So, the sun is a nuclear reactor keeping itself in a tight furnace-like ball.

The scientific community estimates that the sun started out with enough Hydrogen to burn for 10 billion years. Our bright beauty seems to have about 5 billion years of juice left.


So, in about 5 billion years from now, the sun's core will run out of Hydrogen and flare up in a final burst. The sun will start to balloon and scorch the Earth – eventually swallowing it whole and melting it away. Then, our solar system will forever be covered in night as the sun snuffs out like a candle smothered by melted wax.

Regardless of whether Metallica meant nuclear war or the sun's apocalyptic burn-out, their metal song, Blackened is frighteningly backed by science. You can click the link and check out the lyrics or hear the song on their official web site.


But, the Bible also says that the Earth will be melted away with a fervent heat. Maybe that proves the Bible is prophetic. Well, they've got the “scorched Earth” part right. But not because of prophesy. Physics gives us hard evidence of what's in store for the Earth's future.

Sounds morbid, huh? But I'll tell you this . . . I'd rather be nuked once and for all by the sun 5 billion years from now than to live out eternity in a smoldering bottomless pit that flows with a lake of fire.

* Since this post, I've come to realize that people in Galileo's day did know that the Earth was round and not flat. However, they still thought the Earth was the center of the solar system as well as the Universe. And that still got Galileo into a whole lot of trouble.

I cannot say the same for the Biblical writers, however. They really seemed to believe the Earth was flat.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Who the Heck is Gilgamesh?

History has a way of bringing about rude awakenings. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one such history lesson that can blast preconceived notions out of the water – at least for those who never heard of him before.

Who in the heck is Gilgamesh, anyway?!

The story of Gilgamesh has elements that are eerily familiar to the story of Noah. I won't dare try to recount the story here. Look it up and check it out for yourself. But for me, a pre-Noah story contained in the Gilgamesh Epic was problematic for me as a Biblical fundamentalists. One of the oldest recorded pieces of literature unearthed from one of the oldest recorded societies in history has a flood story that predates the Biblical manuscript. At first I thought, “So what? Many cultures have a flood story”. But, the dating of the Gilgamesh Epic kept begging the thought that Noah's Ark was a retelling of certain parts of the Gilgamesh Epic.

But for a die hard Christian like I was, I told myself that Gilgamesh was simply confirmation of Noah's trek across the flooded earth. Civilization simply had perverted versions of the true story concerning Noah. The Gilgamesh Epic just happened to be the oldest version written down on a stone tablet. Age didn't make Gilgamesh right or true.

But, I still didn't like knowing that this bit of archeology existed. What a bummer!

And I didn't like reading about a fellow named Sargon, King of Akkad. Before the Exodus story of Moses could have happened, Sargon was floating down the river in a basket. His mother secretly sent him down a river and he was drawn out and raised as someone else's son. And, well, I suppose he became royalty one day, since he's called King of Akkad.

A thread was forming; Stories in the Bible were mirroring older non-biblical narratives. I didn't want to say it, but the Bible looked like it was copying from other works in history. Legends and folk tales appeared to be passed around from culture to culture. Other god-men, other flood stories, other babies floating down the river – all older than the Biblical text.

Maybe those archaeologists and scientist just don't know how to date things. They don't really know what they're doing. Besides, the world started off with two people. We all have the same history and ancestry. It just all got perverted over time as our various cultures developed. This stuff means nothing!

At least, that what I said to myself at the time.

I hung in there. At least now, I better understood the skeptic. I could understand why they were so stubborn in their disbelief. I was starting to realize that you really had to know your stuff to witness to a skeptic.


However, the more I learned . . . . the more I started to feel like a skeptic, too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The God-men

I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work at understanding the how the skeptic thinks. Why did the skeptic seems so confident in their disbelief of Christianity?

The first concept from the world of skepticism that I encountered was the “god-men” problem. This was all new to me and my mouth gaped open as I read claims that many Divine god-men came along before Christ claiming to bring salvation. I was shocked! But, I took all these claims as blatant, unfounded lies and trickery from demonic forces whose only purpose was to cause people to stray. Even if there were other “god-men” types who came and taught similar teachings to Jesus prior to 1 AD, these men in my mind were clearly counterfeit. So, eventually I dismissed this material. I didn't believe the claims. So, there . . .

Until, I came across an interesting website entitled – The Pagan Origins of the Christian Myth. This website referenced many of the former claims and materials that I read which were often referenced by skeptics. The idea was the same: Jesus isn't unique because so many other god-men came prior to him teaching and claiming similar things. And sometimes these god-men even used speech frighteningly similar to that of Christ's sayings in the New Testament. You could say they were copying Jesus, except that many of these guys came before Christ! I won't try to list them all here. Check out the link above and read all about it for yourself.

The author of POCM used an interesting analogy that caught my attention. He compares religion to soda pop. All soda pop share a few basic ingredients which is the essence of soda pop: carbonated water and sugar for starters. Now, the names are different on the cans and each brand may throw in some of their own unique flavorings. But, in the end, soda pop can't get too different as you go from drink to drink. So it is with religion; religions have a few basic ingredients that they all share: God, worship, sin, atonement, judgment, afterlife, miracles, scripture texts, clergy, and so on. And particularly during Jesus' time, a series of religions known as the Mystery Religions were prominent. These religions had rites of passage and inductions (baptism), symbolic meals (Communion), teachings with hidden meanings (teaching only the believers understand), and Divine expressions of the Godhead as a human being – just as Jesus is the divine expression of God in a human body.

Another idea that stuck with me was the challenge he gave at the beginning of his site: All these other god-men came before Jesus, and claimed to do many things like Jesus. However, we don't believe in them; we don't believe they ever performed the miraculous or made good on their claims at salvation. Nor, their claims to be God in flesh. Why then, do we believe in Jesus who isn't unique when compared to his predecessors?

Again, this didn't de-convert me; This information by itself wasn't enough to move me.

But, the skeptic's argument is long and has a cumulative effect. Later, my eyes opend to some additional ideas that caused the "god-men" problem to become a very serious problem for my faith.

You know something I don't?

I always had trouble understanding why the skeptics that I personally knew were so confident in their disbelief of Christianity. Why couldn't they see the power of God? Why couldn't they seem to hear him knocking on their hearts? Some unbelievers I knew were cool and calm about their disbelief. They had this quietness with nothing to prove. They were settled. I felt like they knew some secret that I didn't really know.

Then, there are others who are vehement. They aren't just unbelievers but they have a strong dislike for Christianity. Seething anger about the influence of Christendom throughout world history and more specifically, in their lives as individuals pours out when they talk about church and Jesus. Yes, many unbelievers like this were Christians or at least went through the motions and practiced Christianity because their parents raised them so. Often many hurtful things and unnecessary sacrifices were forced upon these people during their time as practicing Christians. But, they too, seemed to know some secret that reached beyond their hurt and anger. Almost as if the hurtful events they endured under Christendom were only a catalyst to their unbelief – not the cause in and of itself.

Either way, I still puzzled over how they could be this way when the Bible was so plain and so true concerning Christ. He was so real in my life. The excitement and power I felt during worship and prayer times. Being free and being cleansed from sin! Why couldn't they feel it, too? Maybe their hearts were too cold or maybe God finally decided to leave them alone to become reprobate.

That's what I thought, anyway.

But, they were the “Lost” . . . and shouldn't we try to reach them? So now my endeavor had a goal higher than the dismantlement of any “evidence” that could disprove my faith. Now, I needed to understand the skeptic. That way, I could better witness to him or her.

I had already learned one thing about skeptics really, really quickly. You cannot come to them with scripture to prove a point. I couldn't figure out why at the time. So, I hoped that understanding why skeptics didn't accept the Bible as authority would be the key to reaching the skeptic – a group of people I often felt powerless around when trying to be a witness to them.

More than my “pride” was at stake in this fateful triple dog dare. More was at play here than proving my faith and saving face. Now, I wanted to overcome the obstacle that kept Christians from being a powerful witness to the skeptic . . . that person who will flatly tell you that they just don't accept the Bible as the Word of God.

How ironic that in trying to understand them, I became one of them!

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Double Dog Dare

So, I keep insisting that I was a strong Christian before my doubts about my faith set in. If that was true, how could I become weak in faith and walk away?

Ever have someone dare you? Ever have someone double dog dare you?

Triple dog?

If you've got a lot of passion about a belief and then someone double dog dares you with the challenge that your faith can be proven false – why, it's on, baby! Bring it! Let's go, chump! Who is this uncircumcised Philistine – cause Goliath is fixin' to go down hard and get a beat down!

That's basically what happened to me. I inadvertently came across a documentary trailer for The God who Wasn't There. Most of the trailer just glazed over my mind; It was all junk to me. Why listen to it? But, somewhere in all that stuff I heard:

People continue to believe in Christianity in spite of the evidence against it, not because of the evidence for it.


Huh? What did that guy just say? Did he just say there was more evidence against Christianity than for it? Oh, no he dih-ent! He just basically said that if I knew the real truth, I'd have to lie to myself to remain a Christian!

Did he just double dog dare me?!

Nope. That was a triple dog dare!

Just like David didn't back down from Goliath, I wasn't going to back down from this slanderous accusation against God's Word.

Christianity was solid enough to withstand the harshest criticism. I was ready for the challenge.

"The Bible is true”, I told myself. The only possible outcome is for the Bible to win this challenge.



Right?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Leaving the Sandbox

So . . . what kind of Christian was I and why did I leave my faith?

The process didn't happen over night. This de-conversion took place gradually over the course of two years in all.

I was raised Baptist during my early childhood and adolescence. During my late teenage years, I followed after the Pentecostal persuasion until my de-conversion. While I'm not over the hill yet, I'm no spring chicken, either. So, I spent many years in tight adherence to Pentecostalism. After years of mindlessly following the tenets of my faith, I started to question the traditions that didn't seem Biblically founded. Some traditions even seemed contradictory to the Biblical writings! At that point, I wanted to weed out those things that were from people and nurture those things found in God's Word.

I hungered for authentic Christianity and determined I'd search for it. I wanted to live out what the Bible taught instead of just following what people said. My goal was to strengthen my faith and make my faith true. Little did I know my endeavor was the beginning of the end of my Christian faith.

How can that be?! How can a Pentecostal zealot even walk away from the Faith? Doesn't the speaking in tongues experience validate the Biblical writings? Tongues, man! Why, that's experiencing the miraculous, right?

Again – little did I know I was headed for where I am now. My search was to come closer to God. My honest desire was to be real and earnest concerning my faith in Christ. I would fast and pray often. I would read my Bible and attend church quite regularly. Yes, I had moments where I got off track, but I was involved and dedicated. I committed my life to Jesus Christ.

Unequivocally, I was a strong Christian.

That's why I wanted to better understand my faith. Once I realized the Jewish roots of Christianity, I became fascinated by the early church. I wanted my faith to look more like the way the early church behaved. One year, I wanted to celebrate Good Friday by having the Lord's Supper in the way that the first century believers might have done. Then, I was going to do an intense Bible study from Good Friday into Passover. That's when I noticed in this specific year Easter Sunday fell out of sync with Passover; I did not see Passover in the same month as Easter that year. Why?! After all, Passover is the foreshadowing of Christ's blood being shed for sin, right? How could Passover ever be out of sync with Easter?

Church tradition has a slightly different schedule from Passover's schedule because the church wanted to make sure Easter always fell in a certain range of weeks each year -- regardless of whether Passover fit the schedule or not. So . . . now and then . . . Passover and Easter get out of sync.

Inevitably, other questions started to surface. Why did we file down the aisles for a small wafer and tiny cup of grape juice or a tiny gulp of wine during Communion? The Lord's Supper was clearly a meal where believers ate a Passover-like meal together to commemorate the death and Resurrection of Christ. The Apostle Paul's description of Communion in I Corinthians 11 strongly suggest that the early church had Communion as a meal. The Last Supper was most likely one of many smaller ceremonial meals that Jews had leading up to the main Passover celebration.

So, why are we doing it so differently?

A deep passion rose up in me about these things. Ideas about how we could practice our faith more like the early church started bubbling out of me. But my ideas and my passion started making other Christians around me a little nervous. Pointing out the Jewishness of the Christian faith seemed unsettling for other Christians. “Don't rock the boat” formed on people's expressions when I started bringing up these type issues. Or else, eyes would just glaze over out of disinterest. Or, my ideas just were not making much sense.

Not my fault Passover and Easter get out of sync from time to time.

Oh well . . . why does it matter? Just don't worry about it.

So, that's what I tried to do.

Then, other odd issues started to come up. Why did I have to pay tithes, again? If the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ and I'm not to keep the law to receive or maintain my salvation – why do I have to perform the Jewish law of tithing?

Isn't that like going back to circumcision?

Boy, I really got dirty looks for that idea! But, why should I get dirty looks? I'm trying to live under “grace”. I'm still trying to live my life by the rules the Apostles and Jesus left us in the New Testament. I'm still trying to take Old Testament writings and learn from them and apply their meaning within the dispensation of grace. What's wrong with that? The book of Galatians really comes to mind right now. Basically, Paul is asking a group of Gentile believers why they are letting pockets of Jewish Christians insist they must practice parts of Judaism to be fully Christian.

Sounds like tithes would fit into that category quite nicely.

But, discovering these things didn't shake my faith. Nor did the lack of concern from other Christians.

What did happen, however, was this – I left my little mental sandbox for the first time. I was actually believing in Jesus Christ because the Biblical text said to do so; I had started placing my trust in the Bible. So, I left the sandbox of tradition to allow my faith to be molded by the Biblical text – not people's opinions.

So, if my faith was growing so strong, why did I lose it? Because, leaving the status quo trained my mind to accept new ideas. This laid the foundation for me realizing that dangerous possibility: maybe something other than my beliefs were true-- making me totally wrong about my core beliefs.

Talking through the closet door . . .

I'm a closet ex-Christian. There. I said it. I've been so afraid to tell my Christian friends and family members that I've lost my religious beliefs. I've hid this for almost two years now. But now I'm desperate to pour out my thoughts about my changing beliefs. Yes – this is my dirty little secret. I can't keep it to myself any longer. But, I can't tell this to the believers still in my life. I don't want to injure their faith. I don't want to infect them with the doubt that I've contracted. I don't want to drive a wedge between me and my Christian friends and family members.

But, so much is bottled up inside of me and I have to let it out somewhere!

Maybe I'll be safe here. I can be anonymous and say what I really think and feel and still avoid fallout from my Christian friends and family. I'll confess now . . . I'll talk! I'll talk! But only from behind my closet door. I'm not ready to come out and be seen just yet. But, I can't keep quite any longer!

I'm walking away from practicing any religion – not just Christianity. I would share the reason why with my Christian loved ones, but I fear that I might shake their faith just as mine was shaken.

Ultimately, this blog is a release for me – a journal of my evolving beliefs.

Ah . . . and the Internet is so big; I'll be very surprised if anyone even visits here. But, if someone should, feel free to comment, share or even argue against anything I post; just be civil about any argument you post. I agree to let people disagree with me. An open mind opens one to the world. And few things open the mind like listening to a difference in opinion.