Welcome Me Back (ish)

Hey all.  Sorry I’ve been out for so long.  Life has taken its due course, and I’m doing OK.  I have been busy with life, my job, my GTA position, my dissertation, and trying to have a family life that is sort of normal.  Here’s a sort of update on the last year and a half or so…

Months ago, I asked my wife why she gave money to an organization (her church/ my former church) that contributed to the denigration of LGBTQ people.  By way of explanation, the church in question is an Assemblies of God church, and their stance is that “gays and those other unnatural sexual deviant people should be burnt in hell for all eternity.”  She has a few friends who are gay.  When I asked her the question, she really started to think.  Since then, she hasn’t given any money to the church.  She hasn’t gone to church on a regular basis.  But she still manages the nursery desk once a month.  I think she still hasn’t given up on the idea of a “god”, but she can’t wrap her brain around the evidence that there isn’t one.  Childhood indoctrination is a bitch!

In other news, I started restoring my foreskin.  WHAT?!?!

Yes.  That’s an actual thing.  One of the podcasts I listen to (I don’t remember which, but it was either Scathing Atheist, The Thinking Atheist, The Friendly Atheist, Cognitive Dissonance, or Everyone’s Agnostic) had an interview with a guy who was talking about the harmful effects of circumcision.  When I realized that this is the only elective surgery that is performed on children who have no consent… This is the only surgery that removes a perfectly natural part of the human body… That this is the only surgery that fucks up a boy’s sex life more than anything else… And I had no say in that enormously important part of my body being cut off without my say so… I was a bit mad (and by a “bit”, I mean quite a lot).

After doing some online research, I came across a few sites that talked about foreskin restoration.

What?!?!  I can get back the sensitivity, feeling, naturalness, and bodily intactness that I never had (but I didn’t know I was missing).  Yes.  Yes I can.  A simple Google search on “Foreskin Restoration” will reveal ample results to start a man on his way to regaining his penis parts that were removed without his consent because of his parents’ religion.

So far, I am two months into the process.  I have been using a DTR device and it has been an amazing change.  I have also started using just the bell to “tug” with an elastic strap to my lower leg for the past week.

I started with barely enough skin on my penis (dick, johnson, bald bishop, royal guard minus the furry hat, etc.) to cover the head when flacid.  Now, I can cover my glans and retain the coverage overnight with a piece of medical tape.  (unless I get a nocturnal erection, which causes me to wake up, and then I remove the tape to free willy.)

It is a lot of work, but once it became a part of my routine, it seems natural.

I want my body to be whole.  I want to experience all of what nature gave me to begin with… Even though religion denied me that.

Seriously… If you found out that part of your body had been removed without your consent, then learned that you could get it back (sort or, but mostly)… wouldn’t you do it?

When I read about it, I was like, “obviously”.  No question about this… Let’s do it!

 

Sorry to be so graphic about my genitalia, but if I don’t say anything you might never hear about this.

And if you are a soon-to-be mom or dad, please don’t cut off part of your son’s dick.  If he wants to do that later in life, when he is mentally capable of making informed decisions about his body, that’s fine.  But please don’t screw him out of a normal, un-mutilated body.

Thanks for reading.

 

All the best.

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Back to School/ Separation of Church and State Follow-Up

After my last post, I contacted Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  They replied within a day and got the ball rolling.  One of their lawyers sent me a reply and we worked out the details of the previous post and the constitutional violations apparent in it.

They will be sending a letter to the school district informing them of their violations of the Constitution and asking them to reconsider these actions in the future.  At least that’s what I gathered from the email conversation I had with them and their record of resolving situations like this without litigation.  All seems promising at this point.  I will continue to post on this issue as news comes to me.

Talking to Dad about (the problems with) Christianity

My Dad came to visit for a few days this week on one of his whirlwind trips across the country.  It was nice to be able spend some time with him, considering all that he’s been through these last few years.  While he was here, I knew I wanted to discuss all of these things I’ve learned about the problems with Christianity and maybe even get to the real point and “come out” as an atheist to him.

You have to know a little about my dad.  He was my pastor from about the time I was 14 until I left to join the Army at 18.  He is on the board of the oneness pentecostal denomination (small though it is) that I grew up in.  Whenever you ask how he is, his response is usually, “I’m blessed in the Lord.”  EVERYTHING about his worldview is based on his “relationship” with Jesus.  But at the same time, he is very resilient when it comes to any kind of personal or religious issue, and he is very accepting of others in a way I’ve almost never seen of any other person, let alone a oneness pentecostal minister.  As an example, years ago when it was revealed that my brother’s fiancé was pregnant, all my dad did was hug him and tell him how much he loved him.  Another example of my dad’s acceptingness of others’ differences is the interfaith minister’s group my dad attends in his hometown.  He is good friends with baptist and catholic ministers, etc., and even calls them his “brothers in Christ”; not a common traits for the closed-minded, “we’re the only ones with the truth” oneness pentecostals.

So dad came in on Monday, and I wasn’t sure how he would react to “the news”, so I decided to wait.  On Tuesday we worked on a project together, which took nearly all day.  That night, my wife asked if I had talked with him about “important things.”  She was worried about the reaction when she and the kids left for church on Wednesday night and I didn’t go with them.

So on Wednesday, Dad and I went out to breakfast.  I started the conversation with a line of reasoning from John W. Loftus’ OTF.  I started with the Religious Diversity Thesis in my own words.  “I read that there are about 40,000 Christian denominations in the world.  Many of them are mutually exclusive of one another, meaning that one group would send the other group to hell for their beliefs and vice versa-  Since they can’t all be right, how do you know which one is the right one?”

His response was something about the basics of christianity and knowing in your heart that you had a relationship with god.  So I set a little groundwork and explained that the reason I left the UPC church was that I realized it wasn’t biblically right (he agreed with me) and that I had been looking for the “right” church for the last six or so years through much study and research, so I could know which was the right way to worship god.  After all, if god is a “jealous god” and Paul said to not fall for those who taught “other gospels” then there must be only one “right way” to worship god.  And with 40,000 extant ways, many mutually exclusive, there are a lot of people who have it wrong.  He said it had to do with “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  So I restated that it’s basically up to your own interpretation.  He sort of agreed with me.

Then I shifted into John W. Loftus’ Religious Dependency Thesis.  “You know that most people stick with the religion they were born into?  If you were born in India, you’re probably going to be Hindu, and if you were born in Japan, you’re probably going to be Buddhist, and if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’re probably going to be a Muslim- and if you were born here, you’re probably a Christian of some sort.  Most people don’t really look at the religion they were born into to see if it’s right or not.”  He responded that his grandfather was a Methodist preacher until he saw the “light of Jesus’ name”  (BTW, that’s oneness pentecostal code for “we reject the trinity concept and as a result, when we baptize people, we say ‘in Jesus’ name’ instead of ‘father, son, and holy spirit'”).  I told him that I didn’t think that was a good analogy, since the pentecostals originated in the methodists, and they’re very similar anyway, not to mention that was a common thing at that time since that’s how the pentecostals came about.  Then I told him that there are some people who do switch religions, but the majority stick with their culturally inherited one.

Then I asked, “If your version of Christianity is culturally inherited, and there is no right version because its a matter of personal interpretation, how is one ever going to figure out which is the right one?  THAT doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.”

I brought up the differences in opinion of the early church that are extant in the new testament.  I showed him Romans 3:28 and the surrounding verses and James 2:24 and surrounding verses where Paul said that “a man is justified by faith apart from works”, and “James” said that “a man is justified by works and not faith alone.”  He said he’s have to look at his commentary to see what the original language said.  So I pulled up the verses on the Blue Letter Bible website where you can get to the Greek dictionary.  Sure enough, they use the exact same Greek words to express opposite versions of how one is justified.  My next question was “if the men who wrote the Bible can’t even agree on how one is justified, how are we to know how to be justified?”  He responded that he never had a problem with this.  He said that either way, he felt that he was justified. He went on to talk about how they were really saying the same thing, and that works will follow your salvation regardless.  I gave him the analogy that if Hitler was on his deathbed and “believed” with all his heart then died that Paul would say he was saved, but “James” wold not, since “faith without works is dead.”  He saw my point, but didn’t necessarily agree with me.

We spoke on and off most of the afternoon.  I brought in textual criticism, archaeology, and a bit of science.  I could see his wheels turning with frustration, but all he could answer was that none of this had ever bothered him because he was sure in his salvation.  Finally I replied with, “Well, it does bother me.”  I told him that I had spoken with my (former) pastor and he couldn’t provide any answers other that to recommend a book that brought up more questions and didn’t make Christianity look very good since it used untruths to make its points.  I also told him that I had been corresponding with my cousin (a pastor) who couldn’t answer any of my questions, but only define the religio-philosophical problem that I was giving examples of.  I told him that I had important questions that needed to be answered, and no one seemed to be able to answer them.

Then my wife came in and asked if he was going to go to church with her and the kids.  He decided to stay with me.  I think that’s when it hit home.  He said, “Well, I can see you’ve lost faith in the church.”

I said “Yes.  And Christianity too.”

He asked if I still had faith in god.  I said, “I’m still holding out for god.”

What I didn’t tell him is that I do not, in fact, believe that the god of the Christian faith exists as claimed by Christians, but I would like there to be a god, because that’s where my comfort zone is.  I’ve always believed there’s a god, and that’s a hard thing to let go of.  But considering the evidence, I can’t believe.  It’s one of those things that you really can’t unsee.

I think this conversation will continue, but I don’t really think he will be the one to bring it up.

The Case for Christ

So it’s been a few months since I actively stopped going to church.  One night, My wife and I have a conversation about it.  I basically summed up my arguments as to why I could no longer go to church with “It’s all bullshit”.  She thought about it, and a few nights later she told me that she had come to grips with a lot of this when she started attending the UPC church years ago.  She basically said that she realized her baptist grandparents were saved, even though the UPC church says they’re not.  She then went on to say that she even considers her dad OK, even though he is a member of what he calls the one, true religion, “non-practicing Catholics.”  She said that he is more of a Christian, by his attitude and actions toward others than many of the active Christians she knows.  I have to agree with her.  He is one of the best people I know.

So since I’ve quit going, the music minister sent me a text asking how I was doing.  I replied that I was well.

Then two Sundays ago, I get a call from one of the men in the church, who I used to ride motorcycles with.  He left a message asking me to call him back.  I put it off until Tuesday night.  He called back and we talked for a while.  I tried my best to lay out what I had been through as quickly as I could.  He expressed his worried disapproval and finally concluded by asking me if I had ever witnessed a miracle.  Well, no.  I never have.  I’ve been told by others that they knew someone who heard someone else say they had witnesses a miracle.  For all intents and purposes, I think most situations that people call miracles are coincidences.  And I also think it’s interesting that the closer you get to the third world, the more miracles you see.  And isn’t it interesting the near lack of modern medical equipment that could confirm a miracle claim in the third world…  But I digress.  He went on to tell me about a miracle that happened to him.  Apparently his dog was hit in the head and his son said the dog was dead.  He called the pastor, who proceeded to pray for the dog, and he was healed.  I think he made my point for me without even realizing it.  But he asked if he could pray for me that I’d witness a miracle.  Sure.  What harm could that do?  I’d love to see an actual, verifiable miracle.  Wouldn’t you?

Then a couple of days later, my former pastor sends me a text asking if we could talk.  So I called him and we set up a breakfast meeting for last Saturday.  Over the course of an hour and a half, I laid out most of everything I had learned, and concluded by telling him that I no longer believed.

One of his concerns was that I had mentioned that Matthew had mined the Septuagint for his “prophecies” concerning the messiah and had misunderstood it, and therefore pictured Jesus riding two donkeys into Jerusalem simultaneously based on his misunderstanding.   My former pastor proceeded to tell me that the Septuagint wasn’t written when Matthew wrote his gospel.  OK…

Then he told me that he thought that “my searching” was a good thing, since it showed that I was looking for the truth.  In fact, I had told him several times that that was the whole reason I had started questioning Christianity in the first place: I wanted to know the truth.  I had even said that I thought it was interesting and ironic that my search for the truth had lead me out of Christianity.  But even so, I’ll grant him that my search is definitely not over.  There is always more to learn.

So he concluded by asking if I would be willing to read a book.  Sure.  I’m always open to reading a good book.  So he orders me a copy of The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He also orders me a copy of The Case for a Creator, also by Strobel.  I was a little anxious to see if these books might contain that one thing that I might be able to pin my hopes on that Christianity had some sliver of hope left.  After all, he is a pastor, and he has to know something about these books and the knowledge they contain.  Maybe, just maybe, he knew something that I hadn’t looked at yet.  So we said our goodbyes and promised to meet again in a few weeks time to discuss the books.

The next day, as I was running around town doing errands, I stopped by the local bookstore.  In the religion section, they had a copy of The Case for Christ.  So I sat down and started reading.  Very quickly, my hopes dried up.  It’s written on quite a low level, and is dry: that formulaic, leading kind of dry that so many Christian books are written in.  I got about half-way through the first chapter and had to quit.  I skipped to the end of the chapter and realized there were “study questions”.  I’d been had!  This wasn’t a real book about facts and serious inquiry, it was a Christian self-help book.

So I looked up some reviews of the book online to see what others had said about it.  Not surprisingly, all the Christian reviews were glowing.  But then I came across a couple of  blog-length critical reviews of the book.  I also found one for The Case for a Creator, which I am nearly finished with reading.  It is over at the Daylight Atheism blog on Patheos.com.    Apparently, my initial assessment was correct.  These books are nothing more than self-help books trying to keep those Christians with little or mild doubt in the pews.  When you actually look at the claims made in these books, it’s easy to see that they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Frankly, I am quite disappointed that my former pastor would recommend these books.  Either he thinks they are that good, or he doesn’t realize how tenacious and thorough I have been with studying this stuff.  Yes… I know it’s taken me a long time to finally put two and two together and realize that not only is the emperor not wearing clothes, but that there is no emperor at all, but at least I did figure it out.  Now to convince my former pastor that I’m done.

I still do intend on reading at least The Case for Christ, but I had already ordered Loftus’ The Christian Delusion.  If you have not read this book, you need to.  It puts all of it together in a way that makes it easy to comprehend, and is written by such a high level of authors that there is really no arguing against it in a meaningful way.

Original Sin

According to Mary Magoulick, Professor of English and Rhetoric at Georgia College, there are several identifiable characteristics of a myth. Those characteristics follow:

1. A story that is or was considered a true explanation of the natural world (and how it came to be).

2. Characters are often non-human – e.g. gods, goddesses, supernatural beings, first people.

3. Setting is a previous proto-world (somewhat like this one but also different).

4. Plot may involve interplay between worlds (this world and previous or original world).

5. Depicts events that bend or break natural laws (reflective of connection to previous world).

6.  Cosmogonic/metaphysical explanation of universe (formative of worldview).

7.  Functional: “Charter for social action” – conveys how to live: assumptions, values, core meanings of individuals, families, communities.

8. Evokes the presence of Mystery, the Unknown (has a “sacred” tinge).

9. Reflective and formative of basic structures (dualities: light/dark, good/bad, being/nothingness, raw/cooked, etc.) that we must reconcile. Dualities often mediated by characters in myths.

10. Common theme: language helps order the world (cosmos); thus includes many lists, names, etc.

11. Metaphoric, narrative consideration/explanation of “ontology” (study of being). Myths seek to answer, “Why are we here?” “Who are we?” “What is our purpose?” etc. – life’s fundamental questions.

12. Sometimes: the narrative aspect of a significant ritual (core narrative of most important religious practices of society; fundamentally connected to belief system; sometimes the source of rituals)

Somewhere along the way I realized that the creation stories (yes, both of them) in Genesis are nothing more than myth.  They have many of the characteristics mentioned above.  For instance, #1 is obvious; both of these myths are about the creation of the world, although many fundamental Christians take them as a true account of the beginning of Earth. #2 is pretty obvious as well, exemplified by God and the talking serpent.  #5 is also exemplified by the talking serpent, but also by the speed at which the creation happened.  I’m not going to go through the whole list.  You can do that yourself.  It’s pretty easy to see how the creation stories are characteristic of myths.

In addition, we have tons of evidence from the sciences that point to an earth, and even human beings, that is much older than 6500 years, or however old fundamentalist Christians say it is.  Not only do we have the remains of people that have been carbon dated to be older than that, we also have the writings of ancient civilizations and other archaeological evidences that provide positive proof that people have existed longer than the creation myths in Genesis claim.

The Venus of Hohle Fels is a 40,000 year old statuette, predating the claim of the genesis myth by over 33,000 years.  In 2009 Professor Nick Conard discovered some 42,000-43,000 year old bone flutes in Germany.  In Sulawesi, cave paintings have been dated to at least 35,000 years ago.  9,000 year old stone masks have been found in the Judean desert.  The Dispilio Tablet, found in Northern Greece is the oldest example of writing.  It dates to 5260 BC.  Which means our ancestors were writing over 7200 years ago, several centuries before the creation of the world, according to Genesis.  All of the things that we typically consider as things only humans do, such as art, music, and writing, have existed long before the creation of the world as recorded in the Genesis Myths.

Another interesting point is that the two myths recorded in Genesis do not agree with each other.  They give different orders for the creation of things as well as have different names for the god who does the creating.  In the first myth, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, the god Elohim creates the Earth in six days culminating with the creation of mankind.  In the second myth, in Genesis 2:4-2:24, the god Yahweh creates mankind first, then follows up with the rest.  These two accounts are irreconcilable, although many have tried.

So this leaves us with two different accounts of creation that are obviously myths based on their characteristics, and science that provides a better explanation of when the world was created and when we came along.  So here’s the main question.  After pondering this evidence, do you really believe that Adam and Eve existed in the garden of Eden? Sure, you can deny the obvious facts and continue with your cycle of circular logic: “It’s in the Bible, so it’s true.”   Anyone with any shred of self-confidence and self-respect would admit that this is all all a big falsehood and that the Garden of Eden, along with its inhabitants, Adam, Eve, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the talking serpent never actually existed.

And now we can get down to brass tacks!  If the Garden never existed, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil never existed.  If the talking serpent never existed, then there was no one to tempt these first humans into eating of the fruit of the tree.  And guess what?  If no one ate that fruit against god’s will, THERE WAS NO ORIGINAL SIN!  Follow the logic with me:  If there was no original sin, there never was a need for Jesus to come and die on the cross to redeem us from our sin.  No sin means no need for a savior.

So there we have it.  More discrepancies of the Bible with itself and scientific evidence, not to mention logic and sound thinking.

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.

 

Revelation(?)

I’ve been busy and off on other tangents for the past several months; which is why I haven’t been updating. I think the reason I write is to sort things out for my self, not to mention the catharsis of putting my thoughts down on “paper”. As always, this blog is all for me, ultimately, but those of you who happen to read along, you are more than welcome to glean from my experiences or laugh behind my back.
In my ever present search for “truth”, I have read several books, including The Bible Now by Richard Elloitt Friedman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein, Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman, and So You Thought You Knew: Letting Go of Religion by Josh Tongol. All are impressive works, and I recommend anyone searching for a bit of truth to take some time and read these.
I have been ruminating over the information contained in these books for some time, and I’ve been pretty satisfied that I was at a good place in my “understanding” of “truth”. I thought I had it all figured out. That’s mostly what I haven’t been updating this blog; no reason for the catharsis of writing down my thoughts.
But recently, I have started questioning things again, and got started on another search.
The one thing that I keep coming back to was the prophecies in the Old Testament about the branch and the “stone not made with hands” from Daniel. These kept me hanging on to the idea that there must be something of value in Christianity. So I started searching and came across several websites that made a lot of sense and , for the most part, answered my questions about these prophesies. godisimaginary.com, rejectionofpascalswager.net, and debunkingskeptics.com all put together the research from other sources that I have previously read and clarified it to the point to where I can pretty confidently say that I don’t think that what we refer to as the bible is the inerrant word of god. But I still feel like there has got to be something of a god out there. I’m pretty sure that christianity doesn’t have all of the answers, and is a flawed belief system, but the anti-christian bias of these sites was a bit off-putting.
After more searching, I came across danizier.wordpress.com and I have to say that it’s probably the most informative, convincing work I have read to this point. Not only does he make the case that Christianity is flawed, and not the “only way to God”, he brings up several well-thought-out points that I haven’t had the intelligence to consider on my own.
One brilliantly fantastic point he makes is that the Apostle Paul and Jesus were presenting two opposing teachings. I intend to do my own research into this and read their viewpoints for myself, but everything he said on the subject makes perfect sense in light of all of my previous research.
One thing that I particularly appreciate about the author, Davis D. Danizier is his attitude toward christians, and all religions, for that matter. He is the epitome of a loving, considerate person as evidenced in his writings. I have read his entire site and probably will go back to it many more times. He has apparently published a book that is an expansion of the information on his site, and I might purchase that just to get more information.
Anyway, as it stands now, I’m not so sure that I can call myself a christian, although I do still believe that the teachings of Jesus were of value, and maybe even god-inspired, but I have no way of proving or disproving that. I do believe that Jesus’ teachings are worth emulating, and if more of us were to take them to heart the world would be a better place. Maybe that’s what faith is… So i suppose, until I find a better nomenclature, I’ll still call myself an agnostic christian. A very liberal agnostic christian, but one, nonetheless.