Information Processing in Fundamentalist Christianity

So this happened on Facebook last night.  FBStrBX2
It was a link my aunt shared to this article about the Starbuck’s CEO’s announcement in 2012 of the company’s official position in support of same-sex marriage.  Except the article misconstrues what he said.  The article was posted by Jesus Name News, a oneness pentecostal blog (the same oneness pentecostal that Kim Davis is).  The article says that the Starbucks CEO said that people who support traditional marriage are not welcomed at Starbucks.  One of the comments she made after the post refers to me: she said I “Snopes” everything.  That’s not exactly true, but I have called her out a couple of times on the obvious falsities she has posted.

After she checked Snopes, she commented that the article was true.  So I checked Snopes and posted the link to the article that says it is not.  I feel a bit sad that I had to explain the difference in what the article said and what the CEO actually said.  Thankfully, she finally understood… I think.

So why is it that fundamentalists like this have a hard time understanding information?  Does fundamentalism cause an inability to understand the printed word, or is it that being unable to understand the printed word causes people to be taken in by fundamentalist doctrine?

I don’t really think either is causal, but they are definitely related.  For instance, the oneness pentecostals claim the only right way to perform a baptism is when the words “in jesus name” are said while the person is being dunked under the water.  They take that doctrine from Acts 2:38 and misunderstand the usage of the word name.  It refers to the power or authority behind the name and not the actual name being said, as shown in Acts 4:7.  There are many other instances of misunderstanding the printed word in their doctrine, views of the bible, and apparently modern information sources as well.

I don’t want to appear to be saying that all fundamentalists have an inherent problem understanding what they read, but it’s obviously a problem with many of them.  From my personal experience it is an issue.  I think this speaks to the great need in our education system for a renewed focus on teaching people in our society, especially our children, to understand and interpret information accurately, as well as to understand the sciences and social sciences.  We would all (fundamentalists included) be a great deal better off if as a nation we were more adept at understanding information.

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Leaving the Fold, Exercise 5.1

I started reading Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Dr. Marlene Winell.  I had seen it referenced by several others, but recently I’ve been stressing about some of the feelings I’ve been having as a result of moving on from christianity.  Being one to look for answers, I came across this book again, so I decided to give it a go.

Throughout the book are exercises that the reader can complete in order to clarify his/her thinking on a number of issues that are discussed in the book.  Following is my response to Exercise 5.1.

Take some time to review your own reasons for deciding to leave your religion…

Reason 1: Early on it was cognitive dissonance.  When I left home to join the Army, I realized that many the things my church preached against were not all that bad.  I had my first drink of alcohol and the world didn’t fall apart around me.  I had relationships with women, some sexual, most not, and the world didn’t fall apart around me.  There are other things that continued to give me cognitive dissonance throughout my adult life.  Whenever the church said something and the facts didn’t match up with what they were saying, I kept the faith, but eventually these distinct items piled up so high that I left my original church in a rather heated way.  In the book, Winell related the story of a man who was asking questions of his pastor, and the pastor had no logical response.  The pastor finally told him to face the fact that his asking these sorts of questions were nothing more than sin, effectively cutting him off from further questioning.  This is very similar to how I left my original church.  I started asking questions about the specifics of the oneness pentecostal doctrine that set it apart from the rest of christianity.  I sent a letter to the pastor asking him to clarify or justify some of these specifics according to the bible.  After a series of email exchanges, he finally said the following at the close of his last email:

I will say again: you are making a huge carnal-minded human-will motivated mistake. No Child of God, truly submitted to the will of God, would have taken the steps away from Truth that you have taken. You’ve made decisions that, in time, your family will regret; they could even lose confidence in and respect for you.

Again, cognitive dissonance: My family seems to have more respect and confidence in me than ever before.

Reason 2: Facts and information.  After leaving that church I started trying to find the right version of christianity; you know, the one that is completely in line with the bible, as close to the original church as is modernly possible, and has a direct connection to the original church.  What I discovered was that there are way too many versions of christianity, and all of them differ in meaningful ways, and most of them reject the others because they aren’t teaching the truth.  As this search continued, I found books about the problems with the transmission and writing of the bible, the historicity of the biblical accounts, and the archaeological finds that disprove biblical accounts. These books lead to other books about the problems with christianity itself.  I realized that christianity doesn’t hold up when examined point by point.  After learning all this new information there was no way I could continue to call myself a christian or believe in any of its tenets.  I think it is important to point out that I wouldn’t have gone down this road if it weren’t for my incessant need to be “right”.  All I wanted to do was find the truth.  My main goal was to find the right church so I could be right in god’s eyes.  Now from the other side of this experience, I see the real irony in it all; I was trying to find god, and in the process I lost him.  It’s not that I really believe that I lost him.  The truth is, I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a supernatural being of any type, and especially not the one portrayed in the christian bible.

Reason 3: Christian love.  The more I think about it, the more I realize how truly unhappy I was with the relationships I had with fellow christians.  They were all very flat; they were surface-level relationships with no real substance.  After church, shaking hands with people I remember all the hugs and “I love you, brother”s, but when it came down to it, none of them were really interested in me as a person or my thoughts or feelings.  All they cared about was what I could do for the church.  After leaving both churches, only a small handful of people even checked in on me in a meaningful way.  And the causes they supported weren’t really doing anything good in the world: “Let’s send missionaries to Africa to starving, homeless people, not so we can feed and clothe them, but to convert them to our religion, because their eternal soul is more important than their physical suffering…” Total BS!

There are other things I could write about that caused me to leave, but I think these were the big three.  The cognitive dissonance lead me to try to learn as much as I could, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  And all of this was underpinned by a need for deeper, more meaningful relationships with other people, not the flat relationships I had in the church.  It’s a lot easier to see these things looking back.  At the time, I was mostly feeling a great mental and psychological stress and even went into a serious depression for a while.  To this day I still deal with the lingering effects of that depression.  Hopefully reading this book will help me work though these issues and get me on track to get on with life.

That is all.

Sordid Stories From A Former Life

With this whole Kim Davis (the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses despite a supreme court order) situation being in full swing, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to enlighten the viewing public on her version of christianity.  I, myself, was raised in her particular version of christianity, oneness pentecostalism.  When I was old enough to leave home and do things for myself, I became a member at a church which belongs to the same denomination that Kim Davis currently belongs to.  I think I have an understanding of her and her church’s mindset, since I was raised in it and fully bought in to it until my mid thirties.

The following are true occurrences from the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) that I attended, and still have a few contacts with, mostly through my wife, who has occasional friends who still attend there.

The pastor of the church has two daughters, daughter 1 and Carla.  Daughter 1 is married to son in law 1, who is the brother of Patrick.  Patrick used to be married to Carla.  They were married when Carla was still in high school by the pastor’s mother, who was the former pastor of the church.  Her words, upon the announcement of this marriage were, “It’s better to marry than to burn.”

After giving birth to a son and enjoying a few years of wedded bliss, Patrick and Carla divorced and Patrick left the church for a little while to regain his composure, or whatever.  Eventually he returned and got involved once again in the church.  A while later, Patrick married Wendy, who is the daughter of Judy.  Judy is the second cousin or some close relation of the pastor’s mother, so there is a family connection there.  So Patrick and Wendy get married and Wendy gets pregnant.  Shortly after Wendy gets pregnant, she finds out that Patrick was having an affair with a coworker, who ends up pregnant as well.  They get divorced.  So now Patrick has three sons from three different mothers, and two of the sons are within a month or so of each other.

All while this is happening, the pastor’s personal assistant and the official church decorator, Donna, decides to divorce her husband, who is also a faithful member of the church.  I’m not sure of the details, but the rumors are that they hadn’t been happy for years and were waiting for both of their kids to grow up and leave home before they split.

I have no real evidence of this, but it’s my opinion that the pastor and Donna might have been/currently are having an affair.  One night (several years ago) at a youth function in the gym, I was showing a guy from another church around the facility.  He asked to see the sanctuary of the church, so I took him through the back door to the platform.  The pastor was sitting at the piano, playing softly, while Donna was sitting on the piano bench by his side with her stocking feet up on the bench and her arms curled around her legs.  The lights in the sanctuary were low.  As soon as I walked in, I felt like I had invaded a special moment.  I let the guy look around and quickly ushered him out.

Donna was still married to Mark at the time.  It wasn’t until after I left the church that they divorced.  I don’t know the current situation with Donna, except that she is still a very central figure to the happenings at the church.  However, I do know about her husband, Mark.

After the divorce, Mark married Kerri.  Kerri had previously been married to Brian, who has been the bass guitar player for the church since before I was going there.  Brian apparently had some alcoholic issues so he and Kerri divorced, then remarried, then divorced again.  And now Kerri is married to Mark.

Brian, meanwhile married Alisha, who is the brother of one of the former ministers in the church, Chris.  Chris, who had been married to his wife since they were young and in love, recently divorced his wife and went off and married some “tattooed, pierced floozie”, as one of my wife’s friends called her.

Back to Patrick and son in law 1-  Their dad, or step dad, or whatever he is, several years ago indecently exposed himself to some kids and was sent to prison for several years and is now a registered sex offender.  I recently went to a party held at Judy’s house in honor of Wendy’s son.  Patrick and son in law’s dad was there and everyone just treated him like he was part of the family; no worries about the kids or anything whatsoever.

The weirdest part of this whole situation is that ALL of them refuse to find another church.  They all insist on continuing to go faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday to sit near their former spouses, etc. and hear “the word of god” as preached by a pastor who claims that none of the other churches in town have “the truth”.  I recall once in a sermon he said something to the effect of: “If you want to hear preaching that makes you feel good about your sin, go to the church down the street.  But if you want the truth, and to make it to heaven, you have to stay in the boat.”  And by boat, he meant his church.

If this is not the definition of a cult, I don’t know what is!

That is my experience with the kind of church Kim Davis attends.  Now you know what she means when she says that she’s an “apostolic” christian.  I’m not saying this goes on in every UPC/ apostolic church, but if the one I attended is any indication, there’s a good chance that it does.  No wonder Kim Davis has been divorced three times, yet still, in defiance of the supreme court, refuses to issue marriage licenses to those who she disagrees with because her pastor taught her to disagree with them.

Such a strange situation all around.

Shadows of a Former Life

So this crazy woman, Kim Davis, who is the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, the one who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of our gay brothers’ and sisters’ marriage rights, is a believer in the same faith that I escaped from.

When she first made the news I thought her hair style and manner of dress were a bit peculiar.  After a little research, I have confirmed my suspicions that she does, in fact, attend a UPCI church “whenever the doors are open”.  All of this sounds so familiar-  “we are a peculiar people”, “whenever the doors are open”…

Looking at the situation as it develops, from the original video where she denies a couple their marriage license up to this past week’s happenings, I can say that I am SO FUCKING HAPPY that I am no longer mixed up with that utter bullshit.

That’s it, folks.  Short post.  I just wanted to give you an example of what I once was and no longer am.  In the words of the old spiritual: “I once was blind, but now I see”!

A Worldview that Makes Sense

One of the biggest, most important questions I had during my last several years as a christian was “what if the brand of christianity I’m in is wrong?”  This question haunted me for quite a while, and finding the answer to it (although it wasn’t necessarily the answer I was looking for) was essentially what caused me to leave my faith behind.  I posted recently about the multiple versions of christianity that are vying for acceptance by the masses.  My knowledge of these different traditions and their mutually exclusive (in many cases) paths to heaven was a problem for me.  The search that lead me out of christianity was actually a search for the right version of christianity.

You see, I wanted to be right with god.  I wanted my family and I to be in line with his will.  I wanted to make sure that the way we were worshipping him was the way he intended for us lowly humans to worship him.  My search of over six years lead me and my family out of oneness pentecostalism and into a more mainstream version of pentecostalism.  But my search didn’t end there. I kept looking at other traditions to see if they were more in line with the bible than the others.  I considered methodist, episcopalian, catholicism, orthodox christianity, baptist, and many more.  I compared their beliefs with each other and the bible.  I even studied the evolution of all the different faith groups to see how they each emerged from the previous one to figure out which was the oldest and closest to the source.

A guy we went to church with left the pentecostal church for the new anglican movement because of a massive amount of study he and his brother had undertaken.  His brother and parents actually left pentecostalism around the same time for the orthodox church.  He recommended a book to me called Thirsting For God in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin.  After reading Matthew’s story of a lifelong dissatisfaction with protestant denominations, I actually started to empathize with him.  His story is similar to mine in that he was also searching for the right version of christianity.  As I read his words, I saw myself in his sentiments about not being satisfied with the biblical-ness of a certain faith tradition, then switching to one that seemed more correct only to find himself in the same situational over again.  That was exactly where I was with my search for the right version of christianity.  As I finished his book, I was almost certain that orthodoxy was probably the most correct version out there.  But I still had questions that remained unanswered.  What about all of the versions of christianity that were earlier than orthodoxy?  I mean, when Constantine took over the church and called the councils that wrote the creeds, he fundamentally changed christianity into something that it wasn’t prior to that point.

It was around this point that I had read some of Bart Ehrman’s books along with several others.  They opened up a new line of reasoning for me: what if all of the versions of christianity out there were wrong.  After following this line of reasoning for a while and reading many more volumes about the various aspects of christianity, I finally had to admit to myself that my original question was the wrong question.  There wasn’t “one right version of christianity”.  The reason that there are so many versions is that they are all based on a book that IS easily interpreted in a myriad of ways .  The reason that they don’t agree is that their source material is inherently flawed.

Now that I’ve left christianity, I don’t have any of the questions floating around in my mind about the differences in the faith traditions.  I don’t worry whether I’m wrong that the Earth is 6,000 years old or several billion.  I don’t worry about whether baptism is properly done by springing or dunking.  I don’t worry about whether the correct mantra to say when baptizing someone is “in jesus’ name” or “father, son, and holy spirit”.  I don’t worry about whether once you’re saved, you’re always saved or if it’s possible to lose your salvation.  I don’t worry about whether women should be ordained as ministers.  I don’t worry about whether this or that is a sin.  And frankly, at this point, I don’t even care.  None of these issues that bothered me for most of my adult life no longer matter in the least to me.

Most importantly, I no longer worry about whether I’m right with god in case he happens to come back tonight.  That always seemed to be my biggest worry.  I remember those thoughts lingering nearly constantly in the back of my mind: “Am I doing everything that god wants me to do?”  “Am I living in his will?”  “Am I living up to his expectations?”  “Will I make it to heaven if I die right now?”  But now- I have mental freedom from that constant anguish of worrying.  It doesn’t bother me in the least any more.

When I was a christian, my worldview was always a question.  I was so unsure of anything.  Now, I see that a life without a mythological god to please is so much more satisfying.  There is no weight to bear as to all of these questions that I had been trying to find the answer to most of my life.  No, it didn’t happen overnight.  No, it didn’t come easily.  I have struggled with some of the bigger questions since I’ve admitted to myself that I no longer believe in a god.  But now, when these questions pop into my mind, I think back to all of the disunity in the christian faiths and quickly recover my sense of reason, and along with it my peace over these questions.

This worldview makes so much more sense.  Science provides answers that are reasonable.  If our understanding changes, so be it.  Our understanding of the universe is constantly becoming more clear, so a change in scientific understanding is always a change for the better.  But you don’t have multiple traditions of science arguing over fifteen different ways to be saved or how to be baptized or whether you can or can’t wear a certain article of clothing.  This is the way it is, so says our observation and testing of the situation.  That makes so much more sense.  That is real answers.

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There’s a scripture where jesus is quoted as saying “come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” or some such.  Now that I’m out of it, I realize that the burden christianity places on the minds and lives of its followers is a very heavy burden.  Leaving christianity was a pretty massive burden.  It wasn’t easy or light in the least.  However, once I came to terms with my lack of belief in biblical mythology, that burden is gone.  The “light and easy” burden of christianity is gone as well.  Ain’t no burden here, my friends!  I’m free!

Everyone’s “Right”, but Everyone’s “Wrong”…

I remember wondering at several points in my life why it was that I was born into the right religion, or version of christianity, and not into the wrong one, or the version of christianity that had their theology wrong.  When I was in elementary school, I remember a girl on the playground making a comment about how she had been saved that Sunday at church.  I remember thinking something to the effect of, “You couldn’t have been saved.  You don’t go to my church.”  This thought reemerged many times over the years in many different situations.

One particular situation that always made me have this thought was when I would watch television preachers.  They always seemed a bit odd in their theology to me, and I could never quite specify why that was.  Well, except for the obvious examples like Benny Hinn.

This week my family was on vacation, and while staying at the hotel we were at the mercy of cable TV with no menu to look through and choose what to watch.  So while I was sitting there one evening flipping up to the next channel and watching for a moment to decide if that’s the program I wanted to stay on, I came across a TV preacher and for some reason I let it stay there and watched for a few minutes.

This TV preacher, pastor Bob, or Bill, or something like that was talking about prayer.  He mentioned that he had prayed for some lady in the hospital and now she was able to sit up in bed for a minute at a time.  I wondered why she wasn’t completely healed, if prayer had any power.  But that’s another issue altogether.  He also asked for the viewers to call in and make a donation, to “sow the seed into this ministry” so that they could stay on the air.  I wondered why, if they were in the will of god, didn’t he “just make a way.”  But that’s another issue as well.

While watching, these thoughts of why I was born into the right version of christianity popped up in my mind.  Except this time, it was from the outsider’s perspective.  It was a completely different version of this thought.

I realized that everyone who is a christian must have a version of this thought at some time in their lives.  After all, why would you stick with a particular belief if you didn’t think it was correct belief?  So essentially, everyone who believes has to discredit in their own mind any number of others’ beliefs.

It reminds me of the statistic that there are over 40,000 different versions of christianity.  Many of these versions are mutually exclusive, meaning that if you adhere to, for instance, baptist theology you cannot accept the adherents of catholicism as true christians.  The one I know personally is that if you adhere to oneness pentecostalism, you have to think all christians from other sects are going to hell.  Essentially, every christian thinks they are right while at the same time thinking there are myriad other christians who are wrong.  I was not the only one thinking this.  I would venture that if you got an honest answer from 99% of christians they would tell you this is true, although there are some that are more accepting of other sects, but most are a little more tight on the reigns.  So while I was watching this TV preacher thinking he had his beliefs wrong, if he really knew me (when I was a believer) he would think the same thing about me.

The big picture shows a more telling story than the individual picture.  Get out of yourself for a moment and imagine the 2.4 billion people who claim to be christians.  Every single one of them think that they are absolutely right and a large percentage of the rest are absolutely wrong.  Yet they base these views on the exact same texts (with a few exceptions).

Now imagine this scenario from god’s point of view.  Which ones are right?  Which ones are you going to let into heaven?  They all claim to be following your will.  But at the same time they think most of the rest of them are not.  And why didn’t you, as the “omnipotent”, “omniscient” creator of not only them, but of the very texts that lead them to you, be a little more specific as to how to get to you; how to be the right kind of christian?  But alas, I don’t think we are ever going to be able to answer these questions from within the context of christianity.

From the outside, where I sit now, it all makes perfect sense.  That TV preacher’s message seems a bit off for the same reason that my own previous theology seemed a bit off: they are both based on beliefs that have no grounding in fact, common sense, or reason: thus, the cognitive dissonance that I have felt all of my life when relating to others who had a different perception of what the christian faith entailed.

I once had a boss who like to say that “perception is reality to the perceiver.”  In customer service that is true.  But in the christian faith it is only true on an individual level.  When you look at the big picture you see that perception is a set of blinders that keeps believers from seeing their faith for what it really is: individual opinion of what is right and wrong, subjective reality that keeps the christian faith segregated into mutually exclusive denominations.  Now that I see the big picture, I am glad I am out of it.  This side of reason makes so much more sense.  Not only that, this side of reason lacks the cognitive dissonance that I had to deal with for most of my life.  This side of reason is much nicer on the brain!

Coming Out as a Non-Believer to my Brother

I had a great visit with my brother and his family this weekend.  He came through town and spent the 4th with us.  The next morning, he and I were the first up, so we sat on the deck with our coffee and had a conversation about the way things are.

He’s actually the one who started it.  Since it was a Sunday morning, and my wife had already left for church, I think that’s what prompted him to talk about it.  He mentioned how much more time he has now that he doesn’t regularly go to church.  A few years ago, he moved from the west coast to the northern limits of the South and started attending my uncle’s church.  My uncle is a dyed-in-the-wool oneness pentecostal who still holds to the “holiness standards”, while my brother is a pretty normal guy.  They had a falling out over a lot of things, but mostly my uncle’s attitude toward other people, especially other christians.  The easiest way to describe it is that my uncle’s stance is “they’re all going to hell because they don’t believe the way we do.”  That didn’t sit well with my brother who is a lot more willing to let all kinds of christians into heaven.

After that, they started going to a small independent church that used to be baptist, but some of the ministers there made my brother reconsider.  My brother got into this “hyper grace” movement (I think as a result of the spat with my uncle), and some of the ministers at the new church didn’t teach that.  My brother finally stopped going regularly about the same time that I finally realized I was no longer a believer in the supernatural.  His wife decided to continue going until the current season of AWANA is over, since she is in charge of it.  The last he told me about his situation is that they are thinking about just having a small circle of friends start a house-to-house fellowship on Sundays instead of doing traditional church.

But in the midst of this conversation, I started talking about my own journey.  I reiterated a few points I had already told him about in phone conversations in the past.  I mentioned the archaeology issue and some of the scriptural non-agreement issues.  Then I started talking about John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith and it’s inherent points.  I then told him that this lead me to the point thatI needed something to hold onto about the faith that would make it real.  “The prophesies of Jesus as messiah in the Old Testament” I told him “were the only thing that would keep it real for me.  But when I started studying them, they broke down too.”

Then I told him that I no longer believe any of it.

He almost didn’t react at all.  He just kind of nodded and kept on talking, as if he had already figured that out about me.  No fireworks, no “A-Ha!”, no crazy shenanigans.  Just my brother and me having a conversation.

I really think it’s kind of dead for him too, but he just doesn’t want to go as far as I have.  He still holds on to the love of god.  His Facebook feed is full of posts from Danny Lee Silk, who is all about loving others, and a couple of other hyper grace preachers, who are very similar to universalists.  Back in April he even posted an article about why homosexuals are good for the church, and it’s a positive slant on that issue.  In our conversation he said that he just wants to make the world a better place by being a good person to everyone he meets.  But he didn’t even relate that to being good because of god or religion.  I really think he’s lost his faith in christianity, but hasn’t seen enough evidence in the right places to make his give it up entirely.  As John Loftus says, “Most people won’t find their faith improbable until they find it impossible.”  I think that’s where he is.

The evening before, he mentioned off-hand that while they were living on the west coast they had gone to a market night and were sitting in front of a cafe having a cup of coffee.  While they were sitting there an atheist group started setting up their awning and display for the market night.  My brother said that he got up and helped them finish setting up.  Afterward, one of them asked if he was an atheist, and he said, “No, but you looked like you needed help.”  After a bit more conversation he started to leave.  He shook they guy’s hand and said “God bless you… Just kidding.”  I’m not sure why he brought that up, but I’m sure it had something to do with our conversation the next morning.  I’m still processing it all.