Information Processing in Fundamentalist Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaving the Fold, Exercise 5.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is all.

Sordid Stories From A Former Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a strange situation all around.

Shadows of a Former Life

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

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

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

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

Coming Out of the (Non-belief) Closet to My Younger Sister

When I got home this evening my wife was on the phone with my little sister.  I haven’t talked with her in a few weeks, so I grabbed the phone and we spoke about life and kids and all kinds of typical long-distance sibling stuff.  Somewhere along in the conversation, she asked me about how church was going…

I said that I didn’t know.  She reacted in a questioning manner.  I figured that now is the time, if ever it was.

So I told her that I haven’t been to church in several months.  Then I proceeded to explain why.  I explained that the last six or seven years of my life, since leaving oneness pentecostalism have been a search for “the ultimate truth” of god and which version of christianity is right.  I gave her the whole spiel about 40,000 plus versions of christianity using the same source text, but disagreeing over what true christianity is, so there must be some flaws in the source text.

She asked if I had prayed about all of this, and I told her I had done more than my share of praying.  I also told her that I had read the stories of others who had gone through the same things that I had gone through and prayed, and when they got to that point, that’s when they realized god didn’t answer their prayers.  I went through the whole spiel about 90% of prayers aren’t answered, but christians chalk it up to “god working in mysterious ways”.  She said that he also says “no”.  So I asked her how she knows that he actually says “no”.  An answer from silence isn’t an answer at all…

At some point in the conversation, I actually used the phrase, “when I was a christian…” referring to something about praying.  At that point, I knew for sure that it was all or none.  I basically told her that I didn’t believe any of the christian myth anymore.  I said something to the effect of “40,000 versions of christianity disagree over what true christianity is, even while using the same source text, so there must be something wrong with the source text.  And god doesn’t actually answer prayers, except when it’s coincidental, so either there isn’t a god or he doesn’t really care about us.”

I then said something to the effect of “I know you don’t fully understand this or support this or agree with this decision, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.”

What happened next really surprised me.  She actually said that still loved me and didn’t want anything to come between us as brother and sister.  I returned the sentiment.

I am very surprised in one way that she didn’t blow up or go overboard, but in another way I’m not.  Her Facebook persona is a lot more ultra-right wing religious fanatic than she is in real life.  Or maybe she is a lot like me and wants to avoid a confrontation at all costs.  Or maybe (and this is the one I like) she really meant it.

Hopefully it stays this way and she won’t hound me or become negative like so many of the stories I’ve heard from others who have become openly secular with their families.  Obviously this recounting of events is a paraphrase and I’ve left a lot out, but overall, I am more than pleased with how it turned out, considering the horror stories I’ve heard from others about the same situation.  I’ll keep you updated when new things happen in this story.

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.

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.