Why I Am Not a Christian (anymore)

*If you’re reading this and don’t agree with the assessments that are presented, that’s fine.  I’m not trying to convince anyone.  However, a simple Google search will take you to countless references to all of the concepts that I have presented in this post.  I will post some links at the bottom for those of you who would like to do further research, since I don’t present a complete case for any of this.  There are references to informative books throughout the post as well.  My intent with this post is not to present a case for anything, but to detail my own experiences.

 

One of my favorite memories of my time in the United Pentecostal Church is when I didn’t shave for about two weeks.  I let my beard grow a little and went to church that way, knowing that was against their “holiness standards”.

I had already done my homework.  The pastor, had distributed copies of some Bible software that allowed us to search the Bible for specific search terms.  This was before smartphones and Bible websites.  His intent was to allow us to study the Bible more easily and efficiently.  Little did he know that it would lead to some in his flock finding the actual truth.  I had been having misgivings about the holiness standards for a while, so I started searching the Bible for what it said about beards.  I found the story about one of the kings being anointed with oil so that it ran off of his beard and the section of the law that said not to round the corners of your beard.  I figured that you would have to have a beard not to round the corners…  So I stopped worrying about their made-up rule and let mine grow.  The second Sunday I came to church like that, one of the assistant pastors called me into one of the empty rooms and told me that Pastor Sheppard had asked him to speak to me about the standards and my facial hair.  He reminded me that “if you are in a leadership position, you are expected to follow the standards.”  At the time, I was “in charge” of the sound booth and media team.  Anyway, he then tells me, “We both know there isn’t a scripture in the Bible that forbids men to have a beard, but the Pastor was put in position by god, and he doesn’t want leaders in the church to wear beards.”  The scripture they used to justify this was “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”, so logically, if the pastor makes up a random rule, you have to follow it or you’re going to hell.

That’s the reason this is my favorite memory.  The pastor’s favorite minion admitted (in so many words) that this beard rule was made up.  Sure, it’s pretty much universal to all of the UPC, but it was still made up.  What really cracks me up, looking back on it now, is that he didn’t have the balls to come to me himself.  He sent his lackey to do the dirty work.

So this got me to really thinking about the other holiness standards and all the other doctrinal teachings specific to the UPC and Oneness Pentecostalism.  If the beard thing was a sham, who’s to say the rest weren’t?  So I really began to search the Bible and commentaries in earnest.  What I discovered is that every issue that sets the UPC apart from main-line Pentecostalism is a sham.  The dresses, the make-up, the “oneness of god”, three-step salvation plan, the way they use scripture to justify these doctrines… all a sham.  Even a casual reading of the scriptures they use to support these doctrines shows that they are using them out of context to keep people in line, and thus in fear of going to hell no matter how well they follow the rules.

At this point in this journey I ordered the book Christianity Without the Cross by Thomas Fudge.  Dr. Fudge does an exemplary job of explaining the origins of the Pentecostal movement, and in doing so, he shows their weaknesses.  After much research, even at the UPC archives, he discovered that of the group of men who started this movement (Pentecostalism in general, not just the UPC), only one had any college education.  He didn’t  finish college.  Most hadn’t even finished high school.  If I remember correctly, two or three had graduated high school.  Here’s the significance: if they didn’t have an education, specifically training in areas that are relevant to understanding ancient texts for their intended meaning, how could they understand the ancient languages,  historical context, grammatical context, exegetical analysis, and other important skills necessary to properly understand what the Bible was saying?  I propose that they couldn’t have.  But they sure made up a religion based on their misunderstandings of the texts…  and I was in it.

It was around this time that I quit the UPC.  We searched for a church and started going to one of our local Assemblies of God churches.  At first, I was relieved to be able to come to church and not be stressed out by all the drama.  I enjoyed the services.  I started feeling refreshed.  But after a short time, I started hearing things from the preachers that still didn’t seem quite right.  I apparently still had unanswered questions.  And so my research and studying continued.

One day out of the blue, I ended up at a book store and started rummaging through the religion section.  I came across Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.  This book blew me away.  He shows how the Bible has been changed throughout the centuries.  He gives examples from the ancient manuscripts that survive and shows how there are actually more differences in these manuscripts than there are words in the Bible.

It took me a while to fully grasp this and its importance, but I finally accepted that the Bible is a work of men (not god, as I had previously been told) and it contains mistakes.  In many cases, we do not know what the authors really said, although modern analysts are still working on it, trying to figure out what were likely the original words.

In a subsequent book, Forged, Dr. Ehrman shows that many of the books in the new testament were not written by who we commonly attribute them to.  For example, we do not know who wrote the four gospels, and thus the book of Acts, since it was written by the same person who wrote Luke.  All of the gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus, so they cannot be accurate, as they were written from memory.  More importantly, they were written in Greek, which makes it unlikely that they were written by eyewitnesses to the life and teachings of Jesus, since all of his followers were uneducated, Aramaic-speaking Jews who did not have the capacity to learn to write with such an educated style as is represented in the gospels.  So the significance of this is that we do not have any eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, and the accounts that we do have, decades removed from the actual events, contain contradictions of not only the original manuscripts, but also the thoughts and intent of the various authors.

After reading Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted, I sent an email to Dr. Ehrman asking if he could recommend books that dealt with the old testament similar to how he wrote about the new testament.  One of the books he recommended was Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman.  This book shows how the Pentateuch came to us, and how flawed it is.  Although we usually consider Moses to be the author, it turns out that it is a compilation of at least three earlier works (that contradict each other) that were then combined and edited by a fourth author.  All of this gives us a mishmash of the oral histories, traditions, and myths of these three combined works, which when taken together seem to lose their deeper meaning and significance to the people who they originally came from.  The writings from the northern kingdom of Israel lose their context and significance when combined with the writings of the kingdom of Judah.  The priestly writings show the struggle for political power that was taking place between the different groups of priests after the kingdoms were combined.  Then the edits made by the redactor seems to wash out every other point of view but that of the priests in power at the time of Ezra, who won out to all the other groups seeking to control the kingdom.  It is the redactor’s story that stands, while the stories of the other groups are lost among the chop suey of what is left.

I find it interesting that most run-of-the-mill Christians say that the Bible is perfect and without error, since it was divinely inspired, yet the four accounts of the birth of Jesus have very different details from each other.  The four accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus have different, contradicting details.  The two accounts of the creation have different, contradicting details, and the two accounts of Noah’s ark have different, contradicting details.  The two versions of the ten commandments are even different.  But when most run-of-the-mill Christians are faced with these facts, they either argue that they are not contradictions because “the Bible contains no errors, so those aren’t errors (which is circular reasoning), or they just don’t know what to make of it; “I’ve noticed stuff in the Bible like that before, but it doesn’t shake my faith.”  But that seems to be the Christian way; the verse says, “lean not on your own understanding”, so hey, let’s not use our reasoning to think about this verse that directly contradicts this other verse, and follow the logic that ends up that there is an error in the “holy” scriptures.  We wouldn’t want to do that now, would we?  But it seems that with so many authors throughout the centuries, what we have left is a collection of works that were written by many individuals, and in many cases added to and revised, that are from many points of view, and as expected of any such collection, it contains contradictions, different points of view, and errors.

After reading Friedman’s book, I came across The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein, which gives an overview of the modern archaeological studies of the Levant that are relevant to the history of the Jewish people, and thus the Bible itself. As it turns out, modern archaeology cannot find any evidence from many of the great biblical stories that are supposed to be historical events, according to Christianity.  The great flood, the exodus from Egypt, King David, and King Solomon are just a few of these biblical events and persons that archeologists have found no evidence for, and in fact they have found disconfirming evidence that shows these events, as portrayed in the Bible, could not have happened.  Evidence shows that Jerusalem was a small village for much of its biblical era history, so Kings David and Solomon would not have been as powerful as depicted in the Bible stories, and whether they even existed or not is still up for debate.  Further, archaeological evidence from other lands such as Egypt and Babylon, many times, also show that the Biblical stories could not have happened as depicted in the Bible.

From reading these books and learning the valuable, mind changing information within their pages, I started looking at other versions of Christianity than the Pentecostal church.  After all, the pentecostal church was created just over 100 years ago by some guys who had a dream.  I figured that a church with more historical ties to ancient Christianity might be closer to “truth” than what I presently had.  Although my faith was wavering, it was around this time that I started calling myself an agnostic Christian.  I still had faith, but it was definitely not the same as it had been before all of this new information had come to me.  I was pretty sure we couldn’t prove or disprove the existence of god, but I still believed.

I read books about the Episcopal church and the Orthodox church, among others, along with uncountable articles and reference pages about them.  What I eventually came to conclude is that Emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity and subsequent power positioning of the clergy fucked up Christianity for all time.  The practices from the Orthodox church seem to come to us from the time when Constantine put the clergy in favored position.  Looking at the writings of church fathers from this time you can see the arguments that were occurring among them about what “true” Christianity was.  Earlier, even the author of James (which probably wasn’t James, the brother of Jesus) disagrees with Paul over doctrine, and this carries over to the time of Constantine, when the clergy had the power to decide which version of Christianity became official, and which numerous other versions would be quashed and their propagators killed, exiled, or imprisoned.  It is most certain that the doctrines held “untouchable” by most of the church originated from this time when the original creeds were formulated and codified in order to express what constituted orthodoxy, and what was blasphemy.  It seems the winners always get to write the history books, and the church fathers who won these argument got to write the church’s history and forced a different version of Christianity on the world than had originally existed, if there even was such a thing as “original” Christianity.

So it seems Christianity was on it’s last leg for me.  But there had to be something that Christianity could hold on to that would make it still believable.  I knew there had to be something.  Even in this new liberal version of the Christian faith that I had come to adopt, there had to be some evidence that something about the Christian faith was worthy of holding on to it.  For a while, I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Then it occurred to me that the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel pretty much cement the deal.  Or did they.  I needed to bone up on my old testament prophets.

As it turns out, Daniel was written far after the time most Christians claim it was written, and the prophecies about Jesus  being the messiah were actually written in reference to Antiochus Epiphanes.  King A.E. was the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel wrote about.  Isaiah does prophesy a messiah, but it’s not Jesus.  It’s someone who would be born in the time frame of the events written about in Isaiah.  When he prophesied that “a virgin shall conceive”, etc., he was speaking to King Ahaz about the messiah that would save Jerusalem from the attack of King Rezin and Pekah.  In addition, there are problems with the translation of the original Hebrew word that has been translated as “virgin”.  In addition, Isaiah is generally accepted by scholars to have been written by at least three different people during three different time periods.  A lot of Christians get upset and say that you have to read the scriptures in context.  But it seems that they are leaving out the historical context, the grammatical context, and the context of the work being read and it’s origins and provenance.

There are many, many more examples of discrepancies that I have found in Daniel and Isaiah, which altogether show that they could not have been prophesying about Jesus.  It seems that those who wrote the new testament works scoured the old testament for anything that could be remotely linked to Jesus, then made the old testament verses fit.  Some of the new testament authors apparently didn’t understand what they were reading from the old testament, but made it fit anyway.  Take for example Matthew’s two donkeys that Jesus rode into Jerusalem simultaneously, among many others.  Most telling, I think is the reasons Jews give for not accepting Jesus as the messiah.  He doesn’t fulfill all of the requirements as laid out by the old testament… and who should know better than the Jews?

So where did that leave me?  I belonged to a religion whose ancient supporting text had no provenance, was full of errors, discrepancies, and contradictions.  Archaeological evidence didn’t support its claims, and even its own ancient supporting text didn’t support its claims.

Moreover, I had been questioning a lot of other things about the religion.  Prayer, for instance.  The Bible has several verses that outright say that if you pray for something, it will happen.  Jesus himself said, “ask anything in my name, and I will do it.”  This has never been the case in my life.  Whenever I pray for something, it nearly never happens.  The few times that something does happen, it’s not the way I asked for it, and it usually appears to be more coincidence than divine intervention.  The author over at Why Won’t God Heal Amputees covers this topic in more detail than I care to.  Needless to say, I took this point of view into consideration.

I found several other websites with thought provoking information.  Some of the most useful were Truth Saves, God is Imaginary, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager, Danizier, Errancy.org, and the article on Why Jesus could not have been the messiah at Debunking Skeptics.  After much reading and studying and comparing these and other authors’ arguments to the Bible and what Christian apologists have to say, I was pretty sure that Christianity is about as dead a religion as Mithraism, Roman mythology, voodoo, and all the others.  It seems that those offering the argument against Christianity make sense and base their arguments on logic and fact, whereas the Christian defenders base their arguments on the Bible (which is, as we have seen, not reliable), and circular logic: “The Bible says it, so it’s true…”

At this point in my journey, I wasn’t comfortable with the term atheist.  I’m still not sure I am.  But I had stopped going to church.  Just as it was when I left the UPC church years ago, not a single person has inquired as to why I’ve left.  Only one single person has sent me a text message asking how I’m doing, but other than that, out of sight, out of mind.  Personally, I think this is because Christians, deep down, know there is something wrong with the church they go to, as well as other Christians.  So when someone leaves, it’s OK because everyone is in denial that there is anything wrong, and no one wants to upset the status quo: “Jesus still loves them anyway”, or “This church is full of good people, so I’ll stay despite the faults”.  Very few actually want to look into the real reason behind why so few stay satisfied with a church very long.

A short time ago, I wound up in another book store on a Sunday morning, and started browsing through the religion section again.  I came across the book The Outsider Test for Faith by John W. Loftus.  Some of Loftus’ writings are also presented on his blog, Debunking Christianity.  Loftus presents what he calls the outsider test to determine if your religion is “the one true religion”, or even worthy of following.  The premise behind the test is for followers of a religion to take a step back and view their own religion as if they didn’t believe in it; a stretch by no small means.  But now that I didn’t believe, I was able to see Christianity as it looks from the outside.  Amazingly, I realized how silly it all seems: talking bushes, talking snakes, a virgin birth, a god-man who comes back from the dead after spending a few nights in the realm of the damned.  As an outsider, these ideas seem as improbable as the many armed gods of India, Thor’s hammer, the sun chariot of ancient Greece, and the flying horse of Islam.

Loftus also makes a good point about the cultural basis of religion.  We generally accept the religion of our parents and never investigate to see whether it makes sense or not… not really.  If we do examine it, it’s from an insider perspective, which always makes our own religion make sense.  But why do we reject every other religion?  Because they don’t make sense.  And from my point of view, Christianity doesn’t make sense.

So there you have it.  The short version of why I am not a Christian.  The evidence for christianity not only doesn’t stack up, but the evidence is in piles against it.  There’s one more thing Loftus said that sticks with me.  He said that most Christians will not consider their religion improbable until they realize it is impossible.  That’s the way I went.  I searched for every last shred of hope that Christianity was possible.  It wasn’t until I had exhausted every possibility that Christianity was not a lie that I could admit to myself that I didn’t believe in it anymore.  I held out hope to the end, but the evidence just doesn’t do anything to make Christianity believable.  I can’t do it anymore.

Does this mean I’m an atheist?  No.  I’m still holding out hope for a god… or maybe this is just nostalgia.  I think I like the term agnostic.  I can’t prove god’s existence either way, so until he/she/it gives me reasonable evidence to believe in  him/her/it, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing: using my brain and logic to figure out life as it comes along.

 

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No More Mr. Nice Guy and Hank Hanegraaff

So I met with the psychologist and discussed setting up an ongoing counseling regimen.  I was supposed to call back on Friday to set up the initial counseling appointment, but after a few rounds of phone tag, I started wondering what I was doing.  I realized I was tired go being depressed and I started questioning why I had let myself get that way.  I went back and reviewed No More Mr. Nice Guy, with made me realize that I was falling back into my toxic shame.  That’s what this was all about.  I had forgotten to follow the rules that Dr. Glover specifies in the book.  I was slipping back into the old mindset.  So I went back to rule #4- I am the only one on this planet who is responsible for my desires, wants, and happiness- and started repeating it to myself.  This little mantra seems to be working.  I suppose it takes a while to internalize a healthy mindset once you’ve been coddling an unhealthy one for so long.  I still have a long way to go, but I’m back on the mack Truck, baby!  Get the hell out of the way!

In other news, I finished the Hank Hanegraaff book The Apocalypse Code.  He does a fantastic job of explaining why the dispensational views of the “end time” are not particularly good for christians to adhere to.  First of all, John Nelson Darby, the father of modern dispensationalism, didn’t introduce the idea to the world until the 1800s.  No one in the church taught dispensationalism until Darby came along, then when the Scofield Reference Bible became popular, it disseminated the dispensationalist teachings throughout the English-speaking world.  All of the fundamentalist christian groups, such as pentecostals and baptists bought in to it, and the rest is history.  If you really look at the Bible, as shown in Hanegraaff’s book and on the Raptureless.com website, you will see the truth about the “end of the age”.  The end of the age was the end of the old covenant and the mosaic law.  The “tribulation”, as the dispensationalists call it, already happened in 70 AD.  Which explains why Jesus said in Matthew 24 that some of them standing with him would not die until all of the things he mentioned would happen at the end of the age would transpire.  It also explains why Daniel’s “70 weeks” don’t have an unexplained 2000 year gap between the 69th and 70th weeks.  It also explains why we have no business, as christians, going back and trying to follow old testament laws: they’ve all been fulfilled by the “completed work” that Jesus did on the cross.

On a side note, it also solidly puts the nail in the coffin of the oneness pentecostals and their dress codes and other teachings.  I had a conversation with my brother about this very thing.  I made the observation that when you’re in oneness pentecostalism, they talk about how they have true freedom because they are following their silly rules.  They always say that “as soon as someone backslides, the first thing to go is their ‘holiness’ (dress code).  But we know that by following the holiness standards, we are pleasing to the Lord and that’s how we have true freedom.”  But It’s not… It’s a prison.  Their dress code has nothing to do with holiness, and by relying on it, they are reverting back to the old law and not accepting Jesus’ sacrifice to be the fulfillment of the law.  They are trusting in what THEY do to make them holy, and not what God did so they could be holy.  Ironic, isn’t it!

Hanegraaff’s book also does a good job of explaining the injustice and outright evilness of christian support for the zionist movement based on God’s promises to Moses.  He notes the conditional aspect of the promise; if you do what I command, then you can have the land.  He goes on to show how most Jews are not following God’s command, and how historically they haven’t.    He also shows where those promises were already fulfilled under the rule of Solomon.  He also shows how God’s intention is for us to love everyone, as shown in several places in scripture, and how persecuting and killing non-Jewish palestinians to get their land and homes isn’t a very christian, or even moral, thing to do.

Overall, I think it’s a well-written, clear presentation of the case.  This book, the book on Raptureless.com, and several other writings available on the web have convinced me that I’ve had it wrong all along.  I’m so glad the truth is out there.  I just with it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover it.  Maybe, though, it will be more valuable to me now that I’ve had to work so hard to get it.  Wasn’t it solomon that said to “buy the truth and sell it not”?  Someone said it, and I kind of feel like that’s what I’ve been doing; buying the truth.

I started reading another book, So You Thought You Knew by Josh Tongol that looks to be right in line with where I have come to.  Mind you, I’ve only read chapter 1, so I can’t speak for the rest of the book, but what I have read seems to be some of the most enlightened thought I have come across in a while.  It seems to bring everything I have been learning in the last few years down to the “now what does it all mean” level.  I’m hoping that when I get to the end, I’ll have abetter answer than I do now.  It may take a while, though.  I have a lot of school work to get through in the next few weeks, and seemingly little time to get through it.

Deliverance

In church this past Sunday the pastor made a call from the pulpit that “anyone who needs deliverance- whatever the situation may be: financial, healing, addiction, trouble in your marriage- Just come to the altar and God will deliver you.”

I’ve heard this same line, or some version of it, for most of my life.

After I left home and joined the Army, I picked up the habit of smoking.  A friend of mine offered me a cigarette one day on a whim and urged me to try it.  So I did.  I nearly passed out, but I realized why people smoke.  Nicotine makes you feel great.  But when it wears off, it leaves you wanting more.  So I slowly developed a pack-a-day habit.  I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I tried to limit how much I smoked.  I even tried quitting several times.  Before we shipped off to Saudi Arabia, I told myself that I was going to smoke all of the cigarettes I had before getting on the plane, and never smoke another one again.  I did that.  but then when we got to Saudi, they still sold cigarettes.  They even had bidis, which were pretty cool to smoke.  They were smaller than cigarettes, but were little leaf-rolled “cigars”, for lack of a better term.  So I kept smoking.  But I didn’t want anyone to know, so unless I was around my friends or alone, I didn’t smoke.

After I met my wife, we talked about it, and I tried to quit, but I could never completely get it under control.  So I would smoke while at work.  I would “need to go out to the store” for some random item so I could sneak in a smoke.  I don’t think she ever knew, but she always would mention that I smelled like crayons.

So I would quit for a few months or a year, then start back up.  Then I would struggle for a while, then quit again.  That’s been going on all of adult life.  I actually quit for about three years.  Then my mom died, and that set me off again.  At some point, I unconsciously realized that smoking made me feel better when I was stressed.  So I would always turn to that when I got down.  After mom died, I finally got it under control again, and have actually not smoked for about two years now.  Since then, I have only smoked on two occasions: one day during the middle of my latest bout with depression, and a few weeks ago I got the urge for a cigar.  Both times, I realized exactly why it was important to quickly discontinue smoking; it makes me feel like shit, mentally and physically, once the nicotine wears off.  And I can’t stand the way it makes me smell and the way my mouth tastes afterward. Ugg!

So I said all that to say this: during the worst of my battle against addiction, I would hear the preacher say to come to the altar for deliverance, and I would come.  I wouldn’t get the deliverance promised by the preacher.  “This kind only comes out by fasting and prayer” was another line they would serve up.  I fasted religiously for years- one day a week.  Still, no deliverance.

The reason I quit this last time was because I forced myself to think rationally about the situation, then I stopped smoking out of mental clarity and fear of what it was doing to my body.  That has kept me from smoking for about two years now.

After leaving the oneness church, I started looking at it all a little more rationally.  One of the main things was the realization that I was suffering from “Nice Guy Syndrome“.  Once I read Dr. Glover’s book, I very quickly stopped having the need to constantly bombard my mind with other stuff to quell the doubt, discomfort, and hatred of who I was.  I did not like myself, and I had to distract myself from who I was with self-destructive behaviors.  Once I figured this out, and I decided to like myself (change who I was in order to like myself), I didn’t need to distract myself from myself any more.

For me, THAT was deliverance!

Now, I realize there were other things I had been doing all along for this very same reason.  All of it was because of my Nice Guy Syndrome: the smoking, the drinking, the procrastination, the disconnect from others- all of it.  And the ultimate deliverance came not from going to the altar- not from fasting and prayer.  It came from understanding what was wrong with me, understanding the human psyche, and finally knowing how to fix it.

But why doesn’t the church’s method of deliverance work?  In a nutshell:

The church says that you have to put yourself last and serve others.  Dr. Glover details why that it is one of the Nice Guy’s biggest problems.  I had to learn to not only like myself, but to please myself and make my own needs a priority.

The church says to submit to God.  We don’t have any power in and of ourselves.  The godly way is to let the Holy Spirit work through us.  Dr. Glover makes it clear that we DO have power, and only by reclaiming that personal power are we ever going to overcome the crap that keeps us from living up to our true potential.

The church says that we should live our lives for God and work to serve his purpose.  Dr. Glover makes it clear that only by living the life you want- on your own terms- will you ever break free of the mental prison that is Nice Guy Syndrome.

So there it is:  The church’s method for deliverance never did work for me.  And it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I remember several times in my life thinking that I wasn’t praying enough or fasting enough, so I would ramp it up to the next level.  I would pray more and read my Bible more.  At one point, I was fasting three days a week.  None of it worked.  But when I read No More Mr. Nice Guy, I almost immediately found deliverance from these “demons” that have haunted me most of my life.

When my pastor made that request to come to the altar this past Sunday, all I could do was cringe.  Then I giggled to myself a little.

Love and Beer

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  That saying has been attributed to Ben Franklin.  I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of it all, but I tend to agree with it.

I was raised in a strictly non-alcoholic family.  Anything above .01 proof was a sin.  If you smelled the vanilla extract a little too long, you might open the door to hell itself and start sliding in.  Of course, I’m exaggerating a little, but I didn’t even taste an alcoholic beverage until I was about 20 years old.  Back up… I did taste a Bartles and James wine cooler at a friend’s bachelor party when I was 18.  But it wasn’t until I was 20 that I actually drank a beer.  I don’t remember the scenario, but I’m sure it was one of the guys that lived down the hall from me in the barracks.  There were two friends of mine, Damon and… hell- I can’t even remember the others name now.  Anyway, they always had a fridge full of Bud light- maybe Miller light.  That was probably my first beer.  I don’t remember it.  That’s light beer for you, right!

I do remember the first time I got drunk. Another friend was going to the class six (that’s military for liquor store) and asked if I wanted anything.  I gave her a few bucks and asked her to get me a small flask-sized bottle of “any good whiskey”.  She brought me Jim Beam.  I took it to my room in the barracks and proceeded to drink it.  I even took notes on the experience for posterity’s sake.  I’ll have to dig around and find those notes and post them here sometime.

Over the years, I have been drunk more than I care to admit.  I hid my drinking for a long time.  About ten years ago or so, I finally started drinking at home in front of my family.  My wife was OK with it, since she was raised in a home that was OK with drinking (even though she was UPC- she wasn’t raised in UPC).  Somewhere along the way- maybe the last five years or so, I realized how crappy most beers are.  Budweiser, Coors, Miller… weak, flavorless, and less than satisfying.  I think tasting a Guinness or some other good beer was what made me realize this.  I started tasting other beers.  I even tried my hand at home brewing.  I have been extremely busy with some other projects these last two years, and haven’t brewed anything lately, but I plan on getting back into it.  It’s a lot of fun.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to talk about beer.  I like beer!  but only good beer. My absolute favorite is IPA, followed by a good stout or porter.  I generally don’t care for lagers.  I’ll drink them, but I prefer ales.  My favorite beer (of all time) is Good People‘s IPA- fantastic!  I love micro brews.  We recently went to a restaurant that had some 150 beers available, and I tried a few.  It’s interesting to see how different brewers interpret the same style.

For many years, I felt convicted (that’s oneness pentecostal talk for feeling like shit when you do something they tell you is wrong) for a long the about drinking in general.  But somewhere along the way, I started researching the topic of drinking and what it says about the subject in the bible.  From this study, I realized that in our canon, all of the verses about drinking fit into one of three categories: drinking is a normal part of life, alcoholic beverages are a gift from God (or at least to be celebrated), and drinking too much is bad.  Check it out yourself (Here is a great rundown of what the Bible actually says). There is no verse in our canon of scripture that even remotely hints that wine, beer, liquor, or drinking of them are a sin.  There are plenty of warnings against drinking too much, although I’m not even convinced that these verses refer to having too much to drink in one sitting.  I won’t make the argument, but it appears to me that most references in the Bible to drunkenness refer tot he state of perpetual drunkenness- making it a lifestyle and a controlling feature of your life.

Either way, I have no problem having a beer in public now.  Beer is good, and anyone that says otherwise is ignorant.

In the words of the psalmist,

“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.

Cheers!

Agnosticism, Peace, and Doubt

For a while, I have been questioning my spirituality, my religion, and religion in general.  It started back when I left oneness/UPC around 2009 or so.  Since then I have spent quite a bit of time studying not only scripture, but anything I could get my hands on that might help me figure out my place in the universe.  There are a lot of ways of thinking that look great on the surface, but when you start digging deeper, they have flaws.  My thinking since childhood was that I was in the one right and true religion and nearly everyone else had it wrong.  I remember thinking on occasion, “How did I get to be so lucky- to be born into a family that has the Truth…?!?”

Once I came to realize that the truth I had wasn’t very true, I felt the need to find the truth.  I have looked for it in a lot of places.  I have looked at the Orthodox Church, which has its appeal in that they claim to be the true descendants of the apostolic church, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, who broke away from it.  But they have the same problems of corruption and scandal that most other churches do.  I looked at Islam for about a second before realizing they have the same foundational problems that the Mormons have.

I mentioned in a previous post that I currently consider myself to be an Agnostic Christian, but I’m not so sure about the Christian part right now.  Let me explain a little before I come back to Bart Ehrman.

As I understand it, agnosticism is not defined as “not being sure if there is a deity.”  It is best defined as its name implies: not being able to prove or disprove the existence of a deity because of lack of knowledge.  The greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge, preceded by a, meaning without: without knowledge, or to clarify: we mere humans have no way to know for sure if there is or is not a god.  The more I considered the evidence, the more I realized that all of the arguments for the existence of a god were lacking proof, and all of the arguments against the existence of a god were also lacking in proof.  So I came to the conclusion that there is no way I can know if there is or is not a god.

But that’s not the same question as “Do you believe in god?”  When I consider the arguments for the existence of a god, I see how they make sense to a point.  Why shouldn’t there be a creator who, through his benevolence, created life, the universe, and everything?  It’s a nice idea.  But then I consider the evidence that the universe came to being through the manner proposed by science.  That actually makes more sense.  I have also considered the idea that God, in his infinite wisdom, set the universe on its course of existence and created in a way that it would become what he intended through the mechanisms he set into place that can be explained by science.  That is the most appealing, sense-making explanation I can come up with.  It satisfies my desire for an answer to “what caused the big bang?” and it also satisfies my wondering of where God is when we need him most.  After all, if God is perfect, why wouldn’t he create a perfect universe from the beginning that would take care of itself?  I am still waiting on proof-positive that he intervenes in our world or has anything to do with us on a regular basis.

What about Christianity?  A while back, I realized that in Jesus’ last prayer before his crucifixion (as recorded in John 17), he asks the Father to make all of his followers “one”.  As we see from history, that has not happened.  There are more Christian beliefs that any other religion in the word, it seems.  This seems to be the case from the very beginnings of Christianity, even as shown in some new testament scriptures where Paul or another warns those to whom he is writing to watch out for those teaching “another gospel.”  So here’s my premise for doubting the authenticity of christianity: If Jesus can’t even get his prayer answered, what chance do we normal humans have?

Not to mention the irony of Christianity.  Here’s what I mean…  The center of all of the religions of Moses (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is Jerusalem, which literally means the Foundation of Peace.  Paul refers to “The God of Peace”.  Yet who has perpetuated more hatred, hostility, death and destruction than anyone?  Those who claim to follow this god of peace.  Let me give some examples: the crusades, the inquisitions, the holocaust, the current state of hatred of muslims, the hatred of gays, and the list goes on.   All of these situations caused be christians in the name of god.  I’m not saying that I disbelieve in the God of the Bible, I’m saying that we have an interesting way of serving the God of Peace; hatred and death and destruction.

I decided on all of that a while back.  I came to the conclusion that we humans have screwed up a lot of shit in the name of god, but that doesn’t prove or disprove his existence.  I was raised a christian, so that’s what I was comfortable with.  And the tenets that Jesus taught were worth trying to emulate.  That’s how I came to regard myself as an agnostic Christian.

But then I read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book, Jesus Interrupted.  In this book, he provides evidence and examples of the discrepancies in the Bible (specifically the new testament) and the human element in the writing, transmission, and interpretation of the Bible.  All of these things point to only one thing for me: the Bible is not infallible, inerrant, or perfect.  If my belief about the religion I was raised in can be disproven with fact, why not the very foundation of that religion as well.

What does all this mean?  I’m not sure.  I finished the book late last night.  When I went to church this morning, I kept superimposing a mental image of the prophets of Baal (from 1 Kings 18) on my fellow worshippers: doing everything they could to get their god to pay attention, but never making any headway- No answer, but a lot of trying to get one.  No wonder they are always preaching about keeping the faith; that’s ALL they have.  I suppose if you want something to be real bad enough, you can eventually make it real for yourself.

As of now, I will continue to claim agnosticism.  I can’t prove or disprove the existence of God.  I would like there to be a god, but it appears that if there were, he keeps his distance from us.  The God of the Bible is looking less and less like the true god.  I would like him to be, but the evidence seems to be stacked against him.

Edit 1-14-14:  I don’t mean to say that I do not believe in God- even the god of the Bible (I think that agnosticism leaves room for belief).  It’s just that all of the evidence against any reliability in the historical accuracy of the Bible makes me wonder how accurately the Bible portrays God.  I mean seriously: a lot of the Bible is myth, we don’t know who wrote most of it, we don’t have any of the autographs, what we do have has been changed in many places and for many reasons over the years, so we can’t even be 100% sure of what it originally said, and even if we did know all these things, no one would agree on it any way!

The more I think about it, the less I have a problem with the god of the Bible; I do have a problem with his “followers”.  They can’t agree on anything- they are the antithesis of unity, they have caused more harm than good, they argue with everyone else, they hate anyone not like them, and I believe the world would be a much better place if they would all shut up and quit pushing their (unbiblical) agenda on everyone else.  I don’t want anyone to think that all christians are like this, just the ones in my family and most of the ones I know.  In addition, it amazes me how little most christians know about the history of their religion.  I include myself in this, since I don’t know that much about it.  I am trying, though; and isn’t it interesting where learning about my religion has lead me…?

People Whose Views Have Influenced Me

One of the reasons I am writing this blog is to encourage others to critically question their mindset.  That’s how I got out of the toxic theology known as oneness pentecostalism.  If it weren’t for information and a critical mind, I would still be sitting fat, dumb, and happy (so to speak) on a oneness pentecostal pew and nodding “amen to that” whenever the preacher connected some ill-interpreted scripture with some stupid reason to make myself feel even more like shit than I already did.  It’s been a long journey coming out of oneness, and there have been many authors, bloggers, and internet posters who I have read that have influenced me in one way or another.  There are too many to name them all, and frankly, I’ve forgotten some of them.  I want to credit those who have helped me along in order that some other poor soul will possibly read this one day and be helped in turn.

One of the earliest works I read was Josh Spiers’ site, whyileft.org.  Josh’s testimony about leaving the UPC was extremely encouraging to me.  His responses to the different “holiness standards” were also very helpful.  He explains most of these issues in a way that makes it easy to understand why they are not only unnecessary, but unbiblical.  Thanks, Josh!

The guy who writes the website Experto Creed, whoever he is, also had a great influence on me.  His testimony and explanations of why the UPC and oneness doctrines are less than biblical helped me realize even more why I needed to get out.  His tale of the goatee rebellion and spiritual blinders really resonated with me.  I, as well, have always questioned the facial hair bit that the UPC holds on to.  It makes no sense, even when you accost it as truth.  Because of EC, I was able to understand what spiritual blinders are and remove them from my own eyes.  Thanks, EC.

Brian LePort’s story at Near Emmaus was also helpful and encouraging.  Thanks, Brian

The testimonies at Spiritual Abuse were encouraging as well.  Thanks, Spiritual Abuse.

The Studies for Pentecostals that Buddy Martin has put together were like water to my parched soul.  He also has some great studies in the Hebraic Foundations section that helped me understand a lot and make some important choices for myself.  Thanks, Buddy.

One of my favorite pastimes was to read and post on the oneness forum at CARM.  If you want to see the oneness mindset in action, go read a few posts.  The lack of logic and twisting of scriptures will be readily apparent to anyone with half of a brain.  CARM also has some great articles on heresies and other things pertinent to any discussion about oneness.  Thanks, CARM.

Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus, lead me to a better understanding of the scriptures, and how to read and apply them to my life.  I know this probably wasn’t his main reason for writing this book, but it opened my eyes to some realities that oneness people will never admit, and probably don’t even know.  Thanks, Dr. Ehrman!  I’m planning on reading his other book, Jesus, Interrupted soon.

One of the biggest influences on me was Thrice Holy’s Answering Oneness.  Talk about big guns.  If you can read all of this information and not want to get out of oneness, you’ve got bigger issues than I want to know about.  It will take a while to read through all of this great information, but it is well worth it.    Thanks, Thrice Holy!

These are the most important resources I have used I my journey out of oneness.  There are many others that I have read and viewed.  There are several books that I have read, some of which I mentioned here.  Hopefully, if you are struggling with your oneness beliefs, these resources will help you come to the understanding that oneness is not biblically sound doctrine.  The only way to truly break free of this toxic mindset and theology is understanding.  I know I don’t understand everything yet (and probably never will), but I know enough to know that oneness is not biblical.  If you get out without understanding, you’ll probably end up with a case of “Talihina Syndrome” and continue to be mentally dominated by their toxic mindset.

Hopefully, these resources will help you understand where I have come from and what I have gone through.

 

Talihina Syndrome

Kings of Leon put out a new record a few months back and one of the songs on it got a lot of airplay on the radio.  I had heard of Kings of Leon, but I wasn’t familiar with any of their music.  For the last few years (since I split the UPC) I have been trying to catch myself up on all of the good music happening in the world (there is a lot of it!) and Kings of Leon was one of the bands I needed to know more about.  Supersoaker starts coming on the radio, and as I typically do, when I find something that interests me, I read a bunch of stuff about them and learned enough that I could say “I know who Kings of Leon are!”  I mentioned KOL to my brother-in-law, who in turn mentioned Talihina Sky.  He told me a little about the history of KOL, and that they were raised UPC.  My interest peaked, and I decided that I needed to watch this movie.  When My brother came to visit for Christmas, we watched it.

Awesome movie, but I felt sad at the end; Sad for the guys in the band-  So it turns out that they were raised in the UPC, believing a lot of the same theology as I was raised on.  Their dad was a traveling minister, an evangelist, who carted the family around the southern US preaching for churches.  It turns out that he was a closet alcoholic and eventually divorced the guys’ mom.  This prompted them to quit the church, get a record deal, form a band, learn to play (in that rough order) and then become world famous stadium rock gods.  Cool story, but they didn’t seem happy.  What I got from the film is that they were out of the UPC/ oneness movement, but they all acknowledged that they still held on to those beliefs, and considered themselves sinners.  If I remember correctly, one of them made a statement something like, “we’re all probably going to hell.”

The problem, as I see it, is that they rejected the toxic teachings of the UPC, but they didn’t have a justification for rejecting them other than “we don’t like it.”  I think in order to completely divorce one’s self of toxic a theology/ mindset such as that of oneness, one has to have a rational justification based on information and knowledge, rather than just knowing there is something wrong, but not knowing what that is, then quitting over it.

Thinking back on my own experience, I knew (somewhere in the back of my mind) for a while that there was something wrong with the theology and mindset of the oneness movement, but I couldn’t identify what that was.  For me, that alone wasn’t enough to justify quitting.  I didn’t want Talihina Syndrome (yeah, I just coined that term!) like the guys in KOL.  I read theology.  I read the bible.  I read anything I could get my hands on to learn as much as I could about the whole situation before I made a decision to quit oneness.  When I left, I knew why I was leaving!  I didn’t know everything (still don’t), but I had enough of a knowledge base and understanding that I could not only quit physically, but mentally as well.  And that, I think, is what the guys in KOL have not done.  They are still checked in mentally.  And that might be even more toxic than just giving in to oneness.