Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Evidence of God's Failure

New Testament critic TG Baker has written a logical proof which explains the exact problem I have with the ontological argument for God's existence and why it is inadequate as an argument for the existence of God. 

The problem with the ontological argument, I feel, is exactly like Baker describes when he states, "such statement as the ontological argument can only demonstrate the validity of its rationality and not the actuality of its claim."

Even if the argument is logically sound--it still lacks empirical knowledge to validate the logic. This is why I have always been suspicious of the ontological argument. Baker's claim, as follows, focuses on "capability" rather than omnipotence:

1) There is a possible world of only well-being (p).
2) A capable limitless good being (x) knowing of this world (p) would actualize (necessarily) it over possible worlds with evil and suffering (q).
3 )x necessarily would not allow q
4) p-->; not q
5) It is possible that god is x
6) q -->; not p
7) Our world=q therefore not p
8) not p
9) not p-->;not x
10) not x
11) god= not x

Our world entails there is no capable limitless good being. If there is a god he is not that being. Also a world of limitless well being would necessarily exist in all possible worlds. Since it does not do so in ours then it is not necessary and therefore is a choice of many worlds. A limitless good entity, god or such would choose the best to create. Since we do not live in that world no limitless good being/god actualized our world. 

The argument at least places the question as to whether our attributes of god which are in conflict with themselves show that they are really in conflict with his actual properties and therefore invalid or simply relative compliments of worship that are not literal but poetic. 

I personally see the ontological argument, my argument and other modal logic arguments to secondarily demonstrate the limits of logic in that such statement as the ontological argument can only demonstrate the validity of its rationality and not the actuality of its claim. I have attempted to ground my argument into the actual world and therefore allow it to meet empirical knowledge which I prefer to logical knowledge in many areas.

I couldn't have put it better myself. 

Until ontological questions can be anchored in reality by real empirical knowledge, and thereby demonstrate their claims, all they really amount to are fancy logic proofs. Not evidence. Evidence is the tangible part which all logical demonstrations require in order to be proved true. One who prescribes to Evidentialism need not necessarily dismiss ontological claims merely because they are without evidence--but minus the evidence we should be highly skeptical that the logical proof is anything other than conceptual.

Note: Here is a link to a useful PDF focusing on an introduction to Proof theory and modal logic. It's quite thorough--and recommended for advanced readers. There are easier essays you can find on Google Scholar if need be, but this one was so thorough that it has helped me refine my understanding of logical proofs. Even though I barely understand the processes of logic, I can now better make out what all the x's, p's and q's stand for and how they relate to each other.

In the end, greater minds than mine, such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant have already largely invalidated the ontological argument. Why theologians still rely on it I have no idea. Baker merely shows that the ontological argument can't even get off the ground in the first place--so there is no need to shoot it down.

Undercover Atheist

A friend of mine who I know from my Evangelical Christian days, and who I worked with at a leading Christian Bible camp no less, has been struggling with her recent change of heart and subsequent switch over to atheism. She has started a new blog Undercover Atheist in the Bible Belt to vent her frustrations anonymously.

You see, she's not free to express her true beliefs, because religion has encased her in a community of highly volatile irrationality. She cannot openly be atheist. If she comes out of the closet, she will likely lose her job, her friends, and possibly even her husband.

She lives in the Bible Belt--a literal hell for those who don't share the Christian faith--because as she reminds us on her blog--you are expected to go to Church. She tells us the harsh truth of the matter and the relentless Churchianity she endures, stating, "if you're not invested in the community... you're a bad person."

In other words, if you don't make a show of your Christianity and appear in Church, like a good little disciple, you will be viewed as a bad person. This is the harsh reality that closet atheists under the oppressiveness of religion face everywhere.

She's happily married, but she's married to a Christian. Nothing wrong with that... but it does raise some obstacles. Trust and acceptance can become hot topic issues when the person shares a dissenting view or opinion. Like I tell others, in my house we don't talk religion or politics--period. The only thing we fight about in the home is what television channel to watch. Luckily, both my wife and I are currently addicted to the American version of The X-Factor. 

Wanting to test her husband's reaction to atheism, to see what his acceptance of her new found belief system would be should she one day choose to come out of the closet, she told him she had a dream that she had become one of those rationally minded... what do you call them... oh yeah... atheists. She wanted his thoughts.

In her words:

I explained that I had a dream that I became an atheist and was wondering what he thought. He said "what would be the point in having children if we aren't raising them as Christians?" He even carried resentment and anger towards me for even asking the question in the first place.

What a let down. When I read this I was literally beside myself--picking my jaw up off the floor--and downing some Tylenol to numb the headache such religious retarded reasoning inevitably brings me.

Let me briefly explain why this form of reasoning is not only painful but intolerant and so hurtful.

What if were were to reverse the roles. What if she was the Christian hiding in the closet and her husband was the mainstream atheist? Would his reaction, upon her telling him that she had come to believe in Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior be, "what would be the point of having children is we aren't raising them as atheists?"

*Gasp--Christian children?! God forbid! I mean... no... cuz god isn't real. Uh... wait... thinking hurts my thoughts!

[Never mind that all children start out as atheists anyway! Religion is something acquired. You don't come out of the womb quoting scripture with preconceived theological considerations already fully advanced. No. First your parents teach it to you--acquisition--then they take you to Church--indoctrination--and then you get it reamed into you again and again every single week--inculcation. Eventually you come to believe it--most probably because you live in the Bible Belt where everyone thinks the same and have no one to challenge your beliefs--and God knows you certainly won't be doing it. Ignorance is bliss--but it's still ignorance.]

Okay, so her husband's reasoning is... well... nonexistent. There is absolutely no good reason to give up hope because someone else has a difference of opinion.

From my perspective, her husband is simply having an emotional reaction--and he probably doesn't even realize how insensitive of an emotional outburst it really is. He, in not so many words, said he wouldn't want to have children with her if she didn't think exactly like him. It's insensitive. Cruel even. 

But it's not her husband's fault--he's just not thinking--he was raised in the Bible Belt, after all. But the despair of having to be "unequally yolked" with a non-believer (as the Bible says) is exactly what I went through when I was still a raging Christian. It was the catalyst to my deconversion.

Still, I can't imagine getting the response my friend did and still feel like there is enough love between myself and my significant other to feel comfortable "coming out" and letting the world see the real me. I know why she has to be sneaky about it--she doesn't really have any other alternatives. 

Maybe she needs to invite a hardcore atheist like me over to dinner sometime so I can "soften" her husband up a bit. Hit him over the head with, oh... I don't know... a ton of rationality maybe? I just hope she keeps blogging--and keeps sharing her views and opinions--because unlike those zealots living in the echo chambers of their trumped up faith--in the civilized world we try not to reject and ostracize people for holding different worldviews.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Introspection Part 4: Crisis of Faith

Learning to respect other people's beliefs is often the catalyst which forces you to re-examine your own. It's only after you have stepped outside of your inherited worldview, and experienced a differing worldview, can you truly begin to see it for what it is. This can be a daunting task, because you may come to discover that everything you thought you knew was merely an illusion. 

A Lesson Learned in Japan
I arrived in Japan on September of 2003. It was my first time to Japan--and it would be my adopted home for one full year--while I studied Japanese language at Kumamoto Gakuen University.

Before I explain my crisis of faith however, I have to explain something equally as important. I have to explain how culture shock affected my worldview.

You see, you can't change your mind about your beliefs until those beliefs are challenged. Whether they are culturally derived beliefs, religious beliefs, or philosophical in nature--until you call them into question--your belief is naive.

Culture shock has a way of showing you that what you thought was the norm--is not necessarily true once you leave the comfort zone of your own cultural worldview. Culture shock basically is the experience of a foreign, or alien, culture to your own. One in which the norms are so entirely different--that you are shocked by the strangeness and dissimilarity of them. 

Neither worldview is right or wrong. They are just different. But because many people are only accustomed to their own worldview--their first reaction upon encountering a different worldview is to classify it as "incorrect." Therefore culture shock is necessary if you wish to get over your preconceptions and begin to learn to see things in a different light. Those who can't get over their initial culture shock usually return home--and only have negative impressions of the alien worldview they encountered. They refuse to open their minds--so the culture shock sends them reeling back--and they only close their minds even tighter.

Perhaps an example would help to illustrate what would become the most important lesson I ever learned.

In Japan they have public bath houses called onsen. The onsen is like a fancy spa fed by natural hot springs. Japan is littered with these hot springs because it is a volcanic island. Onsen are everywhere!

This availability of hot water bath houses all over the country has given the Japanese a 3,000 year old custom of communal bathing.

My first onsen experience was rather traumatic for me. It was my first major culture shock in Japan. Some roommates from the International dorm were headed out to the onsen one evening and I decided to accompany them. I had packed my swimsuit, and was excited to being going to the famous Japanese onsen!

Upon arriving we went into the changing room, and too my surprise it was full of naked people! Everyone was in their birthday suits! I instantly became embarrassed at the realization that I would have to be naked in front of all these people. What's more, I was the only white person--so it was the first time I felt like a minority--with everyone intensely watching me.

At first I worried about my Christian values--my sense of propriety was being put to the test--because I was raised under the Christian notion that you did not share "yourself" with anyone--ever--before your wedding night. I'm not talking about sex here--I am talking about the personal aspect of ones body--which Christianity teaches is a temple of God. I knew I was supposed to keep the temple sacred, and tearing off the curtains and revealing the inner sanctum of the holy of holies just didn't seem to be keeping with conventional Christian decorum and decency.

I didn't know if taking a bath with another person, in the nude, counted as a form of misconduct--or at the very least a risque and promiscuous deed. On top of these concerns, my Western social conventions were telling me it was just plain weird to be getting naked with other people--it didn't fit with the Christian value of modesty. In America, such an act would be viewed as taboo--even grotesque. Imagine the summer swimming pool full of naked children and adults. It's a shocking thought... because we would be alarmed to see other people's naked bodies--especially those of children and elderly people.

But that sort of thinking never even enters the mindset of the Japanese. Stripping bare and bathing is not about the temptation of flesh, but rather, the thought is to clean the dirt from that flesh--from your head to your toes. 

Stripping down was a humbling experience. But once I got in the pool, some older Japanese gentlemen started chatting with me. They wanted to know where I was from, why I had come to Japan, and afterward they even bought me a cold drink from the vending machine. All in all, the traumatic experience turned out to be a memorable one.

Crisis of Faith

Okay, so here is the sort of Christian I was, because it was who I was, it is how I thought:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, King James Version)

I believed it when the Bible said not to marry anyone outside of the faith. I believed it would be a sin to do so. I believe it would ruin my relationship with Christ.

Then I met this wonderful, intelligent, cultured Japanese woman named Sayaka.

My whole life I had been raised in a Church which taught that if I married a non-Christian, such as a Buddhist, I'd likely be corrupted by her ungodliness, be tempted to sin, and fall back out of grace only to end up in hell. If I managed to maintain my faith--I was guaranteed that I would be miserable, that my marriage would be unhappy, and that I would surely lose my wife after death--as she would be destined to suffer in hell and I would be whisked away to heaven to be with God. And in my piety I believed it.

After meeting Sayaka, and falling deeply in love with her, suddenly an eternity in hell seemed like a risk worth taking.

Like many fundamentalist Christians, I was raised on entirely conservative values, where my Pastor denounced premarital sex and called it lust and a temptation of the flesh, living together before marriage was shunned, and to even talk about one’s sexual identity was taboo. Abortion was seen as evil and homosexuality was a grotesque perversion of human morality. And I believed it all.

It was my religion. My religious beliefs were all I knew. There was nothing to challenge them. Until, that is, I met Sayaka.

She showed me there is more to people than unfounded stereotypes. She opened my eyes to other ways of thinking and taught me compassion and empathy for other people--no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or background.

Suddenly, nothing my faith held as conventional seemed to make sense anymore. It was telling me I couldn't love the woman of my dreams because she was an outside force tempting me away from my faith. My form of Christianity taught that I couldn't be with her, that if I chose to love this woman that I was choosing her over God--and betraying my convictions in the process.

My fundamental outlook wasn't compatible with a more multicultural and open-minded view of interracial relationships. I believed God was all loving, but only of his chosen flock. If she wasn’t a true Christian, then I’d be jeopardizing my very salvation by allowing myself to be led astray. If she couldn't be convinced of the truth of Christianity--then I was risking both our chances at salvation.
You see, according to my Christian upbringing, only Christian behavior and thinking was morally correct in my eyes--until culture shock changed all that. Culture shock gave me the tools to step outside my worldview and re-examine my beliefs. 

Finally, I had found someone who I loved and who loved me back. That’s not something I wanted to give up. Who would? 

Indeed, the more I learned from Sayaka about love, the more I began to see that the love and compassion of my faith was grotesquely inferior by comparison. I had to seriously start questioning my faith and what it taught.

Needless to say, I didn't want to be a lonely bigot preaching about the power of God’s love but know nothing about real love. When it came to devotion to my faith, or devotion to my future wife, I chose my wife over the religious ideology. 

It wasn't easy to do. But it was necessary. Like the culture shock I experienced at the onsen where I was forced to change my preconceived notions of bath etiquette, I also had to change my preconceived notions of love. It was all part of growing--a part of learning to open my mind to the world a little bit more. I was in the process of expanding my worldview. Realizing this only helped me to see that Christianity only hindered my worldview by limiting it to Christian rectitude--anything else, that is to say anything different, was destined to be wrong.  

Naturally, I realized I had to make a choice. A difficult one at that. Either I could keep believing in Christianity, because it was all I knew—It's what I was taught—or I could go back to square one and re-educate myself, find a new belief system--maybe even a better one--and become something new.

Ultimately, three events happened during the crisis of my faith. My beliefs, and my worldview, were challenged head on. Overcoming my initial culture shock taught me the critical skills required in order to re-evaluate my personal beliefs. And love changed me--when it showed me that my Christian ideals could, in fact, be inferior to non-Christian ideals. If I could be wrong about Christianity, I wondered, then what else might I be wrong about? It was the perfect blend of intellectual and emotional turmoil which lead to my crisis of faith and eventually my current skepticism.

Coming to Japan and meeting Sayaka was the catalyst that caused me to go back and re-evaluate my life--everything from who I was as a person, to what I believed, to who I wanted to become. But even with all the change going on in my life, I still wasn't fully willing (or ready) to relinquish my Christianity.

[In the *final* installment, Part 5: Deconversion, I will talk about the loss of faith.] 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Circumcision of Infants is Ethically Wrong. Period.

Nearly all religion is potentially dangerous. By dangerous I mean harmful to our well-being and often times with adverse side effects which don't help to improve the quality of life any. Well, maybe with the exception of a small few amiable religious faiths like Jainism--which is not harmful, but religions such as this are the exception and not the rule. Most world religions, it seems, are more or less dangerous.

When I say *all religion is dangerous, I don't mean all religion is evil. 
I feel I should clarify exactly what I mean by making an obscure Star Wars analogy. ;p

What I mean is... it's like the Jedi vs. the Sith. The Jedi and Sith both prescribe to the same religious belief in The Force , only the Sith follow their own emotions and desires, thus distorting the faith and corrupting it. But in the real world religion doesn't have a Jedi sixth sense. Religious acolytes can't tell when they are going over to the dark-side. Thus all religion is potentially dangerous.

[Note: Mainstream (i.e., Orthodox) Christians claim the Holy Spirit acts as their sixth sense, and guides their moral decisions, and helps them understand the will of God. Even so, there is absolutely no evidence for the Holy Spirit/Ghost as described by Christian theology. The Holy Spirit has never been proved, and until evidence is forthcoming it can only be treated as a Christian fancy--and hence imaginary.]

I should add that different religious values vary according to different religious modes of thought... so all religion is different in terms of scale of harm and threat.

To come back to the Star Wars analogy, people don't usually fear the Jedi council, because they act within reason. The Jedi work to serve the public. The Sith work only to serve themselves. 

Religion in the real world functions similarly. The religions which work to serve the people are more or less amiable. Whereas the religions which work to serve themselves grow corrupt and more often than not are extremely harmful--both to the individual and to society.

Not every religion will be harmful, I know. But even the harmless ones can have harmful elements, mind you. This is why Obi Wan is always telling young Padawan Anakin Skywalker to "Be mindful of the Force."

The moral Obi Wan is trying to instill in his novice apprentice is that if you take too many liberties with your religious beliefs--then you are distorting it to fit your needs--and this is when it becomes something dark and twisted. It is using religion as a means to an end--usually to fulfill your own desires--instead of following it because it is your desire to do so. 

Coincidentally, this is why I think people usually have a difficult time distinguishing between a religious cult and a mainstream branch of religious faith. Even religious people cannot usually tell how much they are following religion because it suits them or how much they are following it because it fulfills some other desire. 

If the religion seems to be fulfilling some other form of desire that is not approved by the mainstream religious orthodoxy, it is seen as a competing ideology. Usually these religious offshoots are decried by the mainstream as false religions. 

Just to cite one example, a Christian friend of mine who attends a Baptist church became offended when I cited that the cult of the Hephzibah House is a Baptist organization. I did not mean to offend her. I did not designate that classification. The Hephzibah House cultists call themselves Baptist Christians and the "school" is officially recognized by Richmond County, Indiana as a Baptist school. 

That cult is NOT Christian, she affirmed. They do evil things that aren't sanctioned by the Bible or God, she insisted. While all that may be true, most Christians do things that aren't sanctioned by the Bible or God. Most Christians eat ham at Easter and Christmas. Most Christians put up a Christmas tree every year, even as both of these activities are things which the Christian God explicitly prohibits. So simply stating a group isn't "Christian" because they don't adhere to the exact same guidelines of the Christian faith as you do is not evidence enough to claim they aren't sincere Christians.

Meanwhile, the Hephzibah cult practices and adheres to all the same doctrines and tenets as the mainstream Baptist faith. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that most cults add additional practices, rules, and regulations--in other words, they have done what Obi Wan has warned Anakin not to do--they have 
distorted their faith to fulfill their own personal desires, and in so doing have created something dark and twisted. 

The problem is, however, the cult derives its practices and ideologies from the very same doctrines and tenets as mainstream Christianity. Its the ideology which is harmful. Because minus the ideology there would be no ritualized practice to derive from religion--therefore all religion is, at minimum, potentially dangerous.

Its only when religion has a negative impact--on the individual or on society--that we can say it has crossed the line. The problem is, religion always crosses that line--and most religious people habitually turn a blind eye to it either 1) out of devotion to their faith, or 2) because they don't feel it's causing any real harm, or else 3) because they don't equate any of the negative aspects with their particular branch of faith. It's not our religion that is corrupt, they'll remind us. No, indeed, it is the very ideology behind it which is.

Recall that I warned that even seemingly harmless religions can prove to be harmful. I want to examine one case to help crystallize the seriousness of the risk religion as an ideology poses. In the real world, not eating pork isn't a harmful religious practice in and of itself. Nobody was ever injured because they abstained from eating pork (as far as I know).

But circumcision--for example--is injurious. It's a form of bodily mutilation, and if done incorrectly it is entirely damaging. Babies die from Herpes when it is done, even in the 21st century. This just boggles the mind at how such a grotesque and odious religious practice can be continued for reasons of faith when it is known to kill hapless infants! However, just because Jews and Christians practice circumcision doesn't mean the people themselves are evil. They're not.

But they are misguided, if not entirely deluded. 

Misguided because they think they are entitled the right to continue to practice a harmful religious custom precisely because it is an inbuilt part of their faith! That sort of reasoning is not okay.

They are deluded because the believe that this secures a covenant between them and their God. Which supplies them the excuse to inflict this kind of harm and believe it is okay to do so. Like I said, this sort of reasoning is not okay.

Circumcision is a religious practice with hardly any proven medical benefit (at least not enough to warrant infant circumcision). The obvious danger is the act of actually hacking away at a child's genitalia and thereby cutting the flesh off of his or her reproductive organ. 

Think about this for a moment. 

To actually sever the flesh off of another human being without their full understanding or permission--because God wants you to show your faith in such a way--is a blatant act of harm against another human being--usually defenseless infants and small children. This not only makes religious circumcision entirely harmful--but also ethically wrong.

The only reason religious people practice such traditions in the first place, however, is because it is built into their faith--as a covenant with God (the revealed religion part). Without this peculiar religious belief though, it stems to reason that this practice of severing flesh from the human body for no good reason would not likely exist.

So even good, well meaning, religious believers can still be enacting great harm on others because of their peculiar religious held beliefs without even realizing it. 

That's why I feel almost all religion is harmful, for all of the above and similar reasons also.
[Note: Notice I say religion, singular, as in a religious system of belief and not religions, plural, as a cultural form of observance predicated on those prescribed to religious beliefs. Jainism as a belief system, and so too a cultural observance, is quite harmless. The same cannot be said of religions which practice circumcision, or other weird rituals, such as honor killings, stoning and caning as punishment, arranged marriages, withholding their members a proper education, withholding their members proper health care, disavowing their children because they are gay, disowning family members because they adhere to a different belief system, etc. etc. Even though many religious people are themselves good people--their religious practices can often times prove to be harmful.]

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Introspection Part 3: Spiritual Warfare

Part 2: Indoctrination

Part 3: Spiritual Warfare

Darkness came--it hung over me like and impenetrable shroud--and then, in the hollows of nothingness, an uncontrollable feeling of despair topped with horror came over me. Trembling--I feared for my life. 

With a hiss like that of a panther's, the demonic voice quickly turned into a growl as it spoke to me. I remember trembling--looking around for a trace of light--but nothing. I felt motion in the air, but the blackness was thick, and I couldn't see a thing--I could only hear the demon's terrible voice.

It was no nightmare. I had barely begun to fall asleep, I even recall that the television was still on, but suddenly I was transported to a spiritual dimension--an astral plane. Then silence. Blackness.

The hideous voice shot fear laden chills down my spine--or what felt like my spine. My ears were ringing with the shrill sound of it's voice. Then back to the demonic taunting--the cruel words--the deep rattle in its throat.

I know what you're thinking--it was all in my mind--a delusion brought on by guilt and disgust for myself, for my bad habit of abusing myself, and the understanding that I would never amount to more than a depraved sinner basking in his own bodily juices--how could I be a man of God and a sinner? It just wasn't possible. 

In my moment of weakness--the demon descended upon me. Began choking the life out of me. I felt as if I was levitating, as if I could feel my physical body back in reality being yanked into the air, my back arching, as if something had reached into my body and tried to rip out my very soul.

"You think you're special? You think you're God's little soldier--don't you?" it snarled.

I refused to engage it. Instead, I began praying out loud to Jesus--the son of God--the Savior--the Lord on high. I prayed to Jesus, invoking his name, that he would save me from the clutches of this darkness. Every time I said the name Jesus the demon growled and hissed angrily. 

"Don't say that name!"

"Jesus, I accept you," I cried, "please heal me, please take this burden of sin from me. Please, Jesus... protect me from this evil." I pleaded, and prayed, and cowered.

Suddenly, two streaks of light flashed by. They sounded like fighter jets buzzing overhead--powerful--fast. A loud earth-shattering THOOM suddenly shook the very ground beneath me. Then the demon began shrieking for its very life. An even louder KRA-KOOM! And the terrible voice ceased.

Before me stood two enormous and magnificently powerful figures--with wings. They had elaborate golden laced armor which shone hot white with heavenly light. They looked at me and a wave of fear, even greater than with the demon, came over me. Raising my hand to block out the brilliant light, I closed my eyes to deter the hot pangs I felt from the extreme radiance of the light. From the distance, a masculine yet soothing voice came forth, and said, "Do not be afraid, my child."

Opening my eyes again, I saw one of the guardian angels pointing past my shoulder. I spun around. Hovering in the sky, like Superman, was Jesus Christ. Stretching across his shoulders and rising into the sky were what appeared to be two giant wings--but I have never heard of Jesus having wings. No, not wings. I squinted hard forcing my eyes to focus. They weren't wings--but rather two enormous battalions of warrior angels all decked in the same radiant armor as my two protectors.

This was the Christ of Revelation leading his army, preparing for the return, where he would overthrow the old Devil, Satan, and take his proper place at the head of the Kingdom of God--to be established here on earth.

Unexpectedly, the glowing visage of Christ transported down to where I stood, abruptly materializing beside me. We had a long conversation--although I cannot remember what was said. Only that I felt soothed as a flood of love came over me and washed the darkness away.

That's when I woke up. Tears streaming down my face. What sort of dream was this, I asked myself. No, not a dream, but a vision.

Lesson 5: Don't believe everything you see on the broadcast station of revelation.

In Retrospect
Now before you write me off as a crazy person--just know that many religious people, of various religious backgrounds, experience "visions" and "nightmares" of the sort I am referring to. When you are under the control of religious thinking--all of this phantasmagoria seems real--and your brain interprets it as real. 

Such visions often have real physiological and psychological effects. The person experiencing them cannot always tell the difference between the vision and reality. Like Saul of Tarsus (before he became known as Paul the Apostle) on the road to Damascus, you fall down onto the ground convulsing, cowering in the dirt at the visions of light which dance in your mind. You fear the voices and heed their warnings. These strange voices are not your own--because you couldn't imagine anything so terrifying and life changing as this--no dream is as vivid--no nightmare as realistic. It is the spiritual realm you have experienced. 

Of course now I know better, because I know the scientific explanations for what I experienced. I know about both the physiological and psychological responses and the stimuli which triggered them. I know about migraines and seizures and the way they can trick your senses into perceiving reality incorrectly. I know about false memories and the psychological burden of religious indoctrination and years of programming. I know about the side effects of anxiety and stress. I know about the amped-up hormonal drug induced dreams which become hyper real--in fact it is these very same hormones that make a young man's wet dream such a pleasurable experience can also cause him to have the most terrible nightmares imaginable. 

But back then, none of this was known to me. What I experienced--it was as real to me as anything. And the only way I could come to terms with what I was experiencing was via my religion--precisely because I lacked the real scientific explanations.

For weeks after the experience I had to sleep with my bedroom light on. Imagine that, a fifteen year old boy who is active in sports, gets decent grades, does school newspaper (even on the weekends), is the top artists at his school, plays four different musical instruments in brass band as well as being the lead soloist in jazz band, and manages to get up at the crack of dawn to jog and do weight training everyday before classes--suddenly, and for no apparent reason, developing an unhealthy fear of the dark.

Indeed, the very thought of it is preposterous.

After that experience, I began having visions regularly. I spoke with angels--I was certain I was seeing demonic forces prowling the streets--as my visions started coming even while I was awake. Waking dreams. This religious experience confirmed what I already knew--from what Christianity had taught me--there was indeed a spiritual war happening right under our very noses. Most of us, however, are just not aware of it.

At my church my pastor began talking about the youth that would lead the next generation of Christians in preparation for Jesus's return. He spoke of the visions they would have--and the chosen prophets which would arise among the Christian ranks. Even as he assured us this would come to pass, I was too timid to share with anyone my experiences--the visions--for fear that they would merely think I was mocking them by having a bit of rebellious fun and pulling their leg. It wasn't until years later that I told my mother of the experience, and she broke down crying as she told me that she heard me waking up screaming almost every other night for several weeks and simply did not know what to do. So she prayed for God to alleviate my anxiety and fears and continue to diligently watch over me.

A few years later, when I had graduated high school and was halfway into my college education, my mom would take me to see a rabbi, or rather, Messianic rabbi--or Jews for Christ as they are commonly known. He would put his hands on my brother and I and pray for the Lord to shield us from the evil that always seemed to be nipping at our heels. 

Shortly after that, I did a student exchange and came to Japan. While in Japan, the visions stopped. The horrible boughts of fear relinquished. And I felt a calm peace come over me for the first time in my life. I believed God had healed me--he had answered my prayers!

Soon thereafter I met Sayaka--the woman who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would become my future wife. 

[In Part 4: Crisis of Faith, I explain the events which lead me to begin questioning my faith, and which would ultimately prove to be the catalyst for my loss of faith. Indeed, it was the turning point which would send me on the path toward skepticism and eventually... atheism.]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Introspection Part 2: Indocrination


Part 2: Indoctrination

According to the dictates of my evangelical creed, the one thing I wasn't permitted to think about was sex, but sex was all I could think about.

Christianity teaches a very simple, black and white, doctrine. We are all fallen from grace and therefore destined to be born as sinners. Sin, as I understood it during my days as a devout follower of Christ, was something such as a morally reprehensible action or thought which (unfortunately) had dire spiritual consequences. 

Basically, according to the underlying tenets of Christian faith--if you sin once--your soul is forfeit. Christianity has a place for sinners--it is called Hell. Hell is not to be desired--for in its nightmarish depths it holds unfathomable suffering, anguish, and despair. All of which are specifically reserved to be inflicted on the faithless infidels, nonbelievers, and Godless gentiles by the unforgiving adversary of almighty God, the fiendishly deceitful and duplicitous Devil himself.

Luckily, there is a remedy for such an ailment--and that remedy is Jesus Christ! Like most Christians, I too viewed Christ as my personal Savior--for it is said, "Christ Saves." As a Christian, I knew in my heart, that the very fate of my everlasting soul depended on whether or not I accepted Jesus Christ into my life--and gave myslef over to him completely. He couldn't save me if I didn't want his "saving." I had to relinquish my ego--and give myself over to the Lord.

So at age fourteen, I became a born again Christian--born again in the body of Christ!

Phallic Prophet Larry the Cucumber
My entire teenage life revolved around my desire to be a vessel of Christ--but my lofty devotional goals kept getting interrupted by worldly temptation. Things with the potential to turn me away from my Christian calling and threatened to take my mind off of Christ and veer dangerously away toward the path of sin and corruption.

I viewed sex as the supreme vice, and indeed, the very idea of sex is detested by Evangelical Christians. It represents that perpetual temptation which always lures the devout away from Christ. But sex, I would later discover, is not a metaphysical temptation the devil uses to trick you into betraying your faith based convictions, as I once thought. Instead sex is a biological condition of being human. Even so, I was completely unaware of this at the time. All I knew was that I should be disgusted by the very notion of sex.

It was time for a retreat. A revival of sorts. Along with my fellow youth group and my church Pastor, the seven of us packed into a van and headed back out to Seattle. We were going to Jesus Northwest. For those that don't remember, Jesus Northwest (now defunct) was exactly like Creation Northwest--showcasing popular Christian singers and bands and inviting numerous popular Christian speakers.

It was 1994 and we were there to ignite our spirits with the Holy Spirit and rekindle our flame for Jesus Christ. I had just read Josh McDowell's apologetics work A Ready Defense, collecting his best essays defending the Christian faith. I distinctly remember my excitement at hearing that Josh McDowell would be the special guest speaker at Jesus Northwest. I had highlighted the bajebus out of his book and I was really looking forward to hearing his lecture. 

While we waited in the stands to see McDowell appear on stage--the large video screen lit up and the adorable Veggie Tales character Larry the Cucumber came onto the screen and did a "Silly Songs with Larry" segment. Singing and dancing vegetables are certainly the opposite of controversy. What's more, Larry the Cucumber was genuinely funny. It was priceless.

After the video McDowell ran out, then proceeded to lecture the attending audience on the "sin" of masturbation for a half hour. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. But at the same time I grew terribly frightened. For at that age, I had begun to discover my body--and what hormone amped-up teenager hasn't tried it just once? Here we were--wanting to grow closer to God--and to Jesus--and after a giant talking cucumber we were told not to wank off.

Our very thoughts about sex were deemed "sinful" and we were chastised for it. But I admired Josh McDowell for wanting us to walk the road of righteousness and be honorable young men.

In retrospect, however, it was quite humorous when you stop to think about it--if not downright ironic--dare I say prophetic (?) that a giant singing cucumber should segue into an anti-masturbation diatribe. I remember thinking to myself, "There might be a silly song in here somewhere." 

On our return trip home, I vowed to myself that I would never masturbate again. It only threatened to take my mind off of Jesus. Little did I know that this vow would ruin any potential I had to get a date, find a girlfriend, or just have a normal relationship with a girl. In my mind, distorted by a sexophobic creed, women were all relegated to temptresses. However, because I was a hormone raging teenager--I couldn't avoid having sensual thoughts about women. Every single day--the thoughts just appeared in my mind's eye--and the more I was convinced the Devil was using lust and the temptation of flesh to distract me from my mission.

Falling in Love with Summer 
A year later, two churches out of Seattle came to my small town in Montana to share a Interfaith-exchange. One church was Lutheran and the other was Assemblies of God like my own denomination.

Since I was one of the youth leaders, my mother volunteered to house four of the kids from Seattle. To my astonishment they were all girls! Lovely young women, most of whom I am still in contact with on Facebook--believe it or not. 

One morning they came into my bedroom giggling. I was about to get up anyway, but as I slept in my boxers, and wasn't expecting anyone to burst into my room--they had caught me totally off-guard. Suddenly I found myself being pulled out of bed. Tumbling onto the floor, in nothing but my underwear, I heard the retreat of the girls--as they ran out into the hall laughing hysterically.

Not only was I horribly embarrassed, but I was furious at myself for not having worn pajamas or at least a T-shirt knowing that there was company staying under the same roof. At any rate, we had set up several events, workshops, Bible studies, and various activities to get the local Christian youth sharing and exchanging ideas with the new faces--hopefully making new friends--or brothers and sisters in Christ, as we called them.

One of the girls from Seattle was a gorgeous auburn haired girl named Summer. She was the leader of the other Seattle group--and she was angelic. One evening in the lobby of the school gymnasium, she shared her personal testimony. She had come from a family of scientists and she was the only Christian convert. Tears streaming down her face, she told us how much she feared that they would not share the eternal love of Christ with her in Heaven--because they didn't believe in God. Her testimony shook me to the core. I felt for this girl--and I wanted to support her anyway I could.

My new sisters in Christ intuitively picked up on the fact that I was crushing on Summer, and they began to tease me about it. Although, this seemed to work to my advantage, because they caught Summer's ear and she came over and talked to me. I was besides myself! The next three days went by without a hitch.

The final day was a camping trip at a nearby lake. I remember that evening well. Everyone was sitting around the campfire chatting, laughing, and amid the glow of orange embers and soft yellow flames, I watched Summer talk to the other girls. Time seemed to slow down and I had the distinct feeling that I was destined to be with this woman. It wasn't fate that had brought us together, it was the power of God, it was a miracle.

Finally, a girl of like mind--a godly woman--who I could feel comfortable asking out. Sure, I knew it would be a long distance relationship--but I wasn't concerned--I knew that if it was God's will then it would all work out somehow.

The day Summer left, we exchanged mailing addresses, and then we said goodbye. I would receive only one reply from her of the seven or eight hand written letters I wrote--after which I never heard from her again.

Little did I know, but that small seed of guilt began to grow into a massively paralyzing fear of intimate relationships. After Summer moved on, there were no other seasons for me, no other women. I decided to become a veritable monk--and ignore sex altogether. But that only made it worse--the more I tried not to think about it--the more I couldn't resist thinking about it. 

Nightmare World
Every night I was rubbing one out to the thought of pretty high school cheerleaders or girls I wanted to ask out but felt I would be straying from my path as a good Christian to do so. The fact that I couldn't even approach a girl meant I would fantasize about them even more. It became an addiction--I couldn't stop. Suddenly I was feeling darkness surround me, I was disgusted with myself, I felt weak and pathetic--like a loser. All my friends had girlfriends.

I kept telling myself that the Lord would provide. That if I stayed true to his cause--I would be blessed. The only problem was I didn't expect God to go out of his way--not for some masturbating sex crazed delinquent. I was conflicted--but I didn't see it as a response to the guilt my faith forced me to live with--but rather--the problem was that I was a sinner.

Now more than ever, I believed that I needed Jesus in my life.

At about that same time I started having vivid nightmares. Usually it involved a succubus who would seduce me, then as we were having sex, she would turn into a demonic monster and attempt to choke me to death. The dreams were so real though that I didn't know that I was dreaming. I would wake up gasping for air--my heart pounding.

Eventually girls from my school were appearing in my dreams--and they too would turn into demonic succubi and stab me, tear my flesh off, and devour me alive. One night I woke up screaming and woke my family up.

Silly thing for a teenage boy to be afraid of women--let alone have nightmares. Things only got worse, I'm afraid. Soon, everywhere I looked, I felt a dark presence out to get me. Every night before bed I would clutch my Bible to my chest and pray out loud to Jesus--asking him to send his guardian angels to watch over and protect me from the demonic attacks.

I felt I was being attacked because Satan wanted to derail my walk with God--and obviously I was succeeding--or he wouldn't be trying so hard. I knew the Devil was out to get me--so I armed myself with the sword of Holy Scripture. Memorizing entire verses--ready to fend off the snarling whispers of crazed demonic henchmen waiting to strike.

The final showdown was imminent. It was only a matter of time before I would have to face my worst nightmares--for real.

[In Part 3: Spiritual Warfare, I talk about my battle with the demonic forces and my struggle to maintain a personal relationship with God even as I was convinced I was failing--because I couldn't get a control on my sexual fantasies. Was I destined to be dragged down to Hell--or would I be guided by a Saving Grace toward forgiveness? The battle begins in part three!]

Quote of the Day: G.W. Foote on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

"Evolution shows that the design argument puts the cart before the horse. Natural Selection, as Dr. Schmidt appositely remarks, accounts for adaptation as a result without requiring the supposition of design as a cause. And if you cannot deduce God from the animate world, you are not likely to deduce him from the inanimate." --G.W. Foote (Dean Stanley's Latest, August 1881)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Introspection Part 1: Inculcation


Part 1: Inculcation

Little did I realize, I began attending Church service before I was ever born.  

I was born into a Christian family and raised in a Christian home. Shortly thereafter I was baptized--probably to seal the deal. Little did I realize, but I had begun attending Church service when I was still in my mother's womb. That spring I was born, baptized, and inculcated into the faith of my mother. That's how I came to be a Christian. In fact, that's how most people acquire their religion(s).

My parents divorced when I was only five years old. It didn't traumatize me. Although, perhaps it should have. My little brother was too young to really know what was going on. It never really dawned on me that my parents were splitting up. I was more upset that we had to leave the family dog behind. Her name was Pogo. She was a beautiful German shepherd and my best friend. I would sleep with her in her dog house on rainy days.  

Little did I suspect that I would be reunited with Pogo ten years later, although she didn't seem to recognize me. To be fair though, she was 14 years old (69 in dog years) and I had long since faded from her memory. I remember crying that day--a decade after my parents divorce, all because my old German Shepherd had completely forgotten who I was. My hope was that I lived on in her dreams. A little four year old boy cozily snuggled up on her warm furry belly.

That was the innocence of my youth.

Lesson 3: Always remember where you came from--but never cease to keep your eyes fixed upon the horizon.

Sunday School

Church hopping became a big part of my early life. My mother took us from church to church. We moved out to Seattle for a while. My mom said she wanted to get away from my dad. But he was already over 300 miles away from where we lived and I only got to see him every other weekend. I don't know why--but my mom had her reasons. 

While we church hopped, my mom decided it was time I was re-baptized. At the time we were attending some upstart mega-church. I don't recall the name--only that is where I was almost drown to death.  

The day of my second baptism, I was waiting nervously in the wings. This particular church had a fancy baptism pool which was at the end of a small catwalk. The front of the pool had a plate glass viewing panel, like the sort of an aquarium,  so the entire church congregation could witness the children being dunked. It was a spectacle for sure.

Lesson 4: Learn to swim (if you don't already know how). You never know when such a skill may come in handy.

Somebody ushered me out and then the minister was babbling some sort of prayer, kept mentioning somebody named Jesus, and then placed his warm hand on my forehead. I was waiting for him to count to three or something so that I would know to hold my breath. Suddenly he pushed me under.

It was so unexpected that I gulped in a huge reservoir of water. I came up hacking and gagging--looking all pitiful like a wet cat. Somebody took me by the arm and yanked me out, then I was ushered out the back and handed a towel. Nobody even told me what the entire baptism thing was important for. Little did I realize my mother was trying to secure the eternal salvation of my immortal soul (since being dunked in water three times somehow turns your mortal soul into an immortal one--never mind how that works--I was told to take it on faith).

All I knew was that I had almost been drowned. 

A week later I was in Sunday school. It was the same church. It was such a massive place, and I was new to the area, I had no friends, and I didn't know any of the teachers. My mom just dropped me off at Sunday school, like one would drop a kid off at daycare, and went on to listen to the main sermon.

It wasn't even five minutes into class and, squirming in my seat, I raised my hand. "I have to go to the bathroom."

The Sunday school teacher waved at me that it was alright to go and one of the TA's took me out into the hall and asked if I knew which way the bathroom was. I said no, and she pointed down the hall and said to take a right at the end.

Following her rather vague instructions (remember I was only five at the time) I went down to the end of the hall, alone, and turned right. It merely opened up into another hall. No bathrooms. So I walked a bit further to the end of that hall too, and it went through some swinging doors, and into a lobby. But still no restrooms. At the end of the lobby was a there was a fork which lead into two more halls. It was a veritable labyrinth. Quite ridiculous really--as almost all mega-churches are. I turned around and went back the way I came.

Upon sitting back down in my seat I had the horrible sensation that I was going to wet my pants. I stood up and said out loud, "I need to go to the bathroom!"

The teacher stopped mid speech and gave me a stern look. "I thought you just went."

"I couldn't find it," I replied.

To my chagrin, the Sunday school teacher walked over, grabbed me roughly by the arm, and then escorted me to the bathroom himself. All in front of kids I didn't even know. Needless to say, after that little display, nobody wanted to be my friend.

Welcome to Sunday school! I never wanted to go back. 
Soon thereafter we left Seattle and moved back to Montana.

Time Slip
Jump ahead ten years and I would be helping to lead an Interfaith ministries between my Montanan Assemblies of God church and several other Evangelical churches out of Seattle. I was on fire for Christ--and loving it.

Slowly, but surely, my faith began to define me. I was on a mission from God to spread the "good news." How did I go from that small boy afraid of wetting himself in Sunday school to a bold and daring young Christian leader? The funny thing is--I can't really say. 

When I turned fourteen my mother entered a serious bout of depression. She stopped socializing--severed all ties with the outside world--and stopped going to church entirely. But for some reason, after years of inculcation, stopping cold turkey just seemed wrong somehow. So I decided to go back to church on my own accord.

Luckily, many of my high school friends were attending a new youth group service. We would meet at my friends parent's houses, have a meal, then sit around in the living room talking about God. The appointed youth leader (a youth minister in training) from our church would arrive shortly thereafter, and we'd do some formal Bible study. It was a relaxed atmosphere--and this time I had friends to share my thoughts and experiences with. It also came with a free meal--and what teenager in his right mind would pass up free food? Certainly not I. In fact, I showed up to every one of those meetings that year. Not just for the food either--but a girl I had developed a huge crush on was also in my youth group. Incentive enough for a young teenage boy, I think you'd agree. 

Soon afterword I would become the veteran in my youth group. The other youth leaders had all graduated from high school and went off to bigger and better things. Most of them trucked off to college. Only a handful of us "regulars" were left, and somehow I involuntarily found myself voted into the position of the "unofficial" youth group leader. 

My pastor took notice, called me to his office one day and told me that I was a natural born leader. After our meeting he invited me to share the position of youth pastor with one of my other good friends. Without hesitation I accepted. Now instead of simply attending the discussions and Bible studies--I was leading them! I was spreading the Gospel word--teaching people about the saving power of Christ--I was doing the work of God! I felt God working in me daily and I prayed he would guide me according to his will. 

I was a true Christian--there was no denying it. By this time I was attending Church nearly five times a week. Three times during the week and twice on weekends. You might say, I had become possessed--by the Holy Spirit! 

My entire world revolved around my Christianity--it defined me as a person. Moreover, it defined how I lived my life. My faith was my culture, my religious identity was analogous to my personal identity, and everything was rainbows and sunshine. I felt blessed. My life was good.

You might be asking yourself--how in the world did this fine young Christian man become a hardened skeptic and an atheist? Well, this is the story of how my faith failed me and why I became a nonbeliever. I hope you will continue to read my journey from belief to nonbelief.

(Next time, in Part 2: Indoctrination, I will talk about my pubescent experiences growing up as a "born again" Christian--and the horrible guilt of maturing sexually in an atmosphere which shunned anything remotely related to sex or the very idea of sex, which in turn compelled me to become even more pious in my faith.)

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist