Thought for the Day…President Jimmy Carter

I know, I know, Jimmy Carter was not the best president for the United States, but I have always thought that he was a most upstanding person. This is not new news, but I find that his spiritual search often follows my searching. For him, also, the Southern Baptist stand against women caused him to question the tenets of the Convention and ultimately lead to his decision to part from the SBC. Not only does that take personal courage to leave an organization that has been pounded into your head from the beginning, but he has made these statements publicly.

I have great respect for President Carter. His revelations give me hope when he speaks out as a Christian for equality for EVERY human being, not just those who walk a very specific line and don’t deviate from these tenets.

I would also like to live openly as a non-believer, but my family members, both close and extended are Christian and many are evangelical. Because we really don’t discuss religion, everything is usually just basic conversation–nothing deep. I have relatives who are preachers, so declaring openly that I am a non-believer could make for a very long, emotional day and right now, my emotions are pretty raw. I must walk this road by myself for a while, so this blog helps me to release my emotions and deep distrust against the conservative, evangelical Christian religions that permeate the state where I live, Texas.

So, that said, I present two articles: the open letter that President Carter issued to the Southern Baptist Convention and a recent article from the Atlantic on a Q&A with President Carter. I wish him only the very, very best in his life. He is a man of convictions and a lover of equality for all people on this earth. He doesn’t just preach equality, he lives it.

Losing My Religion for Equality, by President Jimmy Carter

‘There’s an Awakening in Our Country’: A Q&A with Jimmy Carter, from The Atlantic, by John Meroney, July 13, 2015

Jesus Loves You…

Worship

Courtesy, http://www.adventistreport.com/2013/07/obedience-fruit-of-revivallesson-5-july.html

I was told time and time again in the church that I had to attend AT LEAST three times a week–and often many more times–that Jesus loves you and wants you to accept him as your personal savior and you will be guided by him and he will tell you exactly what he wants you to do in life. Give your life to Christ.

So I tried to. But I got nowhere. I prayed and prayed and prayed and cried and cried and cried and felt–nothing. While all around me, people were constantly crying and praying and giving their lives to Christ. And within this frenzy of emotion, I began to feel that these people, my family and those around me, were in a different universe than I was in.

Their universe was one of an emotional high, brought about by the personal testimonials from the lay witness movement. This is a movement that began in the United Methodist Church in the 1970s and had to be addressed by the church because of its popularity. (See Guidelines: The UMC and the Charismatic Movement.)

As this movement swept through the small congregation that we attended, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable just being in the vicinity of the church. Even though I had some friends at the church, they were not the people I cared to socialize with in my community. In fact, some of them really creeped me out–especially the preachers who would put on this Texan, folksy, humorous façade. By the time I would leave the church service, my creep level would be in the red zone. The whole church experience for me became highly disturbing for me. I was constantly begging my parents to not make me go to church. The standard answer was that we were going to church, you HAVE to go to church.

Having extremely low self-esteem, this was just another in a very long line of things that were wrong with me. From my very angry father, I was incapable of doing anything right in his eyes. The pastor would preach that God loves me just as my father loves me. Well, that wasn’t happening; in fact, I wanted nothing more than to get out of high school and get out of the house for good where my father was incapable of showing love. I was confusing anger for hate.

I loved art and theater and from my parent’s eyes, these were just hobbies, nothing to take seriously, so I was not being “called” by Jesus to be an artist or to act, although these activities were the only things that I loved and that took me away from the miserable town in which I lived…so, you can see the mixed signals that I constantly received from my family and the church simply put me in a constant mode of fear and self-preservation. I simply could not reveal the real person that I was without fitting into these molds that my very specific society was trying to put me in.

My greatest desire was to simply leave and attempt to be the person I really wanted to be. Then there was college at Texas Tech and all of the Baptist bullshit that accompanied the university in Lubbock.

My resulting reaction to all of this was to shut down–for decades.

As I finally began to awaken from this fog that was thrust upon me (to my parent’s credit, they were only trying to do what they thought was right for me…they really knew nothing else but this brand of religion), I began to not only explore what made me happy, but I began to analyze why I was so angry and disturbed by the evangelical Christian religion in which I was simply–placed. I realized that I had ABSOLUTELY no interest in continuing with my religious upbringing.

So many Christians believe that a person leaves the church because they are angry at God. In fact, this is the only possibility discussed when reaching out to the non-believer. And when a person angry with God, then Satan must be the resulting culprit who is lead the person astray.

None of this has happened to me; in fact, nothing is further from the truth. I am not angry with God. I am not influenced by Satan. I don’t believe that God exists–and especially not in the form that is presented in Christianity today–so I cannot be angry with something that I do not believe exists. The same goes for Satan–I don’t believe in Satan, so I cannot be influenced by something that does not exist. It is a simple as that.

I’ve also realized that for so many people who grow up in the church, there is no choice to not believe. Therefore, Jesus loves you whether you believe or not and whether you like it or not. Because there is no option that Jesus does not exist. The same is for Satan; there is good and evil in the world and if God is good, Satan is evil. I live in a world that is not black and white; it is a world of nuances and all of the colors of the rainbow in between black and white. It is a world of reality. I cherish reality and loathe the black-and-white world of religion–the stronger the religious conviction, I find, the more black and white the tenets are.

Is there something spiritual in the universe? I really don’t know. I am a very CONCRETE person and I am not interested in big, emotional productions that accompany religious revival-type services. I know that this environment works for many people, but it does not work for me.

If something spiritual in the universe exists, then I will find out about it when I die. Otherwise, I’m not going to accept the ancient, magical stories of the Bible as the way it is, because it’s just…well, absurd.

 

 

 

Caitlyn Jenner + Ed Young, Houston Southern Baptist Preacher Anti-LGBT Community = Interesting Situation

Caitlyn-Jenner

Courtesy of @EdYoung and Charisma News: https://twitter.com/EdYoung and http://www.charismanews.com/us/53984-what-happened-when-bruce-caitlyn-jenner-showed-at-pastor-ed-young-s-church

Here’s an interesting mini-blow-up in social media today. Apparently, Caitlyn Jenner attended the yearly Houston Second Baptist Church’s Christmas Pageant. The junior Ed Young tweeted (@EdYoung) this photo of the Senior Ed Young–LONGTIME Second Baptist Church Pastor–with American’s most currently most famous transgender, Jenner.

See LGBTQNation’s post: Caitlyn Jenner prays with Fervently Anti-Gay Preacher.

Whomever wrote the LBGTQNation’s article (very, very poor journalist practice, guys, to not attribute your author) is chastising Jenner for continuing “to engage in questionable behavior.” [Also, this piece is an unattributed editorial. It should really be labeled as such–as are ALL blogs, including this one.] Reading the comments on this post prove that the subject is explosive. A large group of those posting comments think that she is acting like a rich, white conservative man who should not be representing the LBGTQ community, while a few others are applauding her courage to show up in a congregation which will, on the surface, act as if she is completely welcome, but behind her back, will pray that everyone in the congregation will “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Look, I understand this. Perhaps for the Southern Baptist, Caitlyn’s showing up to Second Baptist Church is a positive sign that she will begin to see the error of her ways and begin to fervently pray the “gay away,” or the “transgender away,” or…well, whatever (and the answers to the junior Ed Young’s tweets make this idea perfectly clear). With enough prayer and help from god, she will see that she has sinned against god and will go in for sexual-re-re-assignment surgery. On the flip side, the LGBTQ community is completely sick and tired of being bullied by the white, male conservative fundamental Christians in this country, especially the Souther Baptist Convention, and yet, on the other hand, does not want to be represented by a media-hogging celebrity.

But I see this situation differently. Whenever two people meet each other at a human level, they might, just might, begin the process of understanding each other. For the entirety of this nation’s existence under white male-dominated fundamentalist Christian rule, the LGBTQ community members have had to live lives of complete falsity, hiding in the shadows (and the closets) and playing like they are the same as everyone else, while self-destructing on the inside. The strict, Puritan roots of our ancestors have precluded that we live unquestioning lives of quiet servitude to the tenets of the church, with no variation.

What changed? I think it had to do with the complete valuation of EVERY human being. Sinclair Lewis wrote The Jungle to highlight the plight of the lowly immigrant worker. It’s message was to bring socialism to America, but instead it began the labor union movement and began the demise of the oligarchical robber baron class in the U.S.A. In the same vein, outspoken women such as Emmeline Pankhurst in Britain and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the United States helped to bring the vote to women at the turn of the 20th Century which eventually lead to the feminist movement toward gender equality. Likewise, leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. decided that the world of Jim Crow was completely unacceptable for his fellow Afro-Americans and became part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The LGBTQ community is only the most recent group in a long, long line of down-trodden people to rise up and say that enough is enough and it’s time to accept us for who we are and stop trying to change us.

The progressive Christian church has often been a part of this revolution, but the fundamentalist, evangelical side of Christianity has played its part in doing everything it can to maintain the status quo and keep second class citizens, frankly, second class. Members of our own families and friends who have decided to stop living lies and start living openly as our LGBTQ bothers and sisters are responsible for the changing attitudes towards the LBGTQ community. I shall discuss the trends in a future blog…but they can easily be found on the news and with respected groups that study social trends, such as the Pew Research Center.

The Jenner/Kardashian brand is not one of repenting of sins and sitting back and taking the criticism of who they are and what they represent. Jenner showed up at Second Baptist while filming her reality show, I Am Cait. There should be nothing surprising about this move…those who run the Jenner/Kardashian brand may appear to be lame, Valley Girls, but, I assure you, they are as media-astute as those running Fox News. I predict the Southern Baptists of Second Baptist Church in Houston will be represented as who they are–fire-and-brimstone evangelical Christian apologists who use bullying tactics to attempt to change people to be just as they are. I will also predict that it will show that Caitlyn Jenner might be Christian and white and Republican, but she will not be bullied by Ed Young. Sr., or Second Baptist Church or the Southern Baptist Convention. Only time and the producers of I Am Cait will tell.

Don’t be surprised if Caitlyn Jenner becomes a spokeswoman for LGBTQ rights and actually moves the group forward while constantly being vilified. It also will continue to expose fundamentalists, evangelical Christians as the elitists, racists homophones that they are.

Start the conversation. Educate. Question. Never Ignore.

 

My Church is Legit, Your Church is Shit…

Although I normally would take the high road when it comes to language, I could not resist this title.

I find it endlessly amusing that someone whose faith moves them to believe in miracles, virgin births and bringing dead people back alive would trash another person’s faith.

As I discussed in my blog entitled Fact versus Faith—The Virgin Mary, Christians are called upon to believe in things that, in the real world of physics and nature, simply do not occur. These events—the virgin birth (gods mating with humans to create demi-gods), directly raising bodies from the dead, unseen spiritual forces that judge humans on earth—require belief and faith to be a part of Christian communities. But then you have church leaders who actively denigrate other religions, even religions under their own umbrella. I experienced this first-hand when my Baptist friends in college told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Methodist. I discussed this topic at length in my blog entitled How the Southern Baptists Helped Me to Stop Believing.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

There are two organizations that proclaim to be religions that are truly American in origin. Mormons and Scientologists. They bring together the same type of beliefs in faith that the standard denominations, with the promises of eternal life and rewards on Earth. They just take faith and belief to a different level.

I first encountered a Mormon while in junior high school in west Texas. Her name was Janice. She and I were gangly early teenagers in that really awful, full mouth of braces, unruly hair kind of way. We were never accused of being popular and pretty. When I visited her home, she showed me the family’s stash of canned goods and freeze-dried prepared meals, enough to last seven years. Then she slowly began to explain to me about her religion. But our friendship didn’t last very long. Texas is known for its iced tea, complete refreshment on a hot day. We drank iced tea day and night, winter, spring, summer and fall, with or without sugar—my mother bought that horrible instant that was so popular in the 60s and 70s; it was abysmal, but we drank it like there was no tomorrow. One day I decided to introduce her to iced tea in the school cafeteria. She always picked lemonade. I told her that she needed to try this fabulous drink—just take a sip. You will love it. I think a couple of other friends also tried to get her interested in trying the tea. But she refused. Her faith did not allow her to drink caffeine. Moreover, she began to avoid me like the plague. On one level, I understood her response. On another level, I felt abandoned over a silly little glass of refreshment. Our friendship was over.

Mormonism has its mainstream and its evangelicals, just as do all religions. Its roots date back to Joseph Smith and 18th Century North America. It was charismatic in experiences with leaders of the organization considered prophets with direct links to their god—not unlike Old Testament prophets. There’s also that thing about Jesus Christ coming to the native Americans after his death to minister to them as told by Smith’s Golden Plates. Smith, it is said, received the plates from the Angel Moroni in 1827, then politely gave them back to the angel after translated the Golden Plates from some unknown language into the Book of Mormon. Mormonism has been brought to the forefront of politics with the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Before he was the Republican candidate, the GOP faithful fought within itself as to whether Mormons were Christians or not. The Mormons themselves answer this question: Mormonism: Christian, Cult or ???

mormon3

Source courtesy of Another Christian’s Blog by Travis Berry

The religion itself is fascinating and is very open about its beliefs, as opposed to groups that set themselves up with secret information, privy only to the believers. See Mormon Research Ministry.

BannerOfHeaven

To get the seedier side of Mormonism, pick up Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Mainstream Mormons decry his tome for some factual issues and how it focuses on the most radical, evangelical leaders in their organization–especially Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Professor Max Perry Mueller explores the questions raised by Krakauer in his essay, Mormonism and the Problem of Jon Krakauer. Suffice it to say that as SOME particular members of religious organizations become more “radicalized” in every faith and denomination, very angry people can do considerable damage with violence against those they take umbrage against its beliefs–in other words, destroy the messenger so that the message against the beliefs cannot get out to the public.

Then there’s Scientology. Created by the science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s after publishing his book, Dianetics, Scientology took off like a rocket. It is also a very wealthy and secretive organization which uses electrical monitors to “audit” the mind. Granted, as crazy as ALL religions sound to the non-believer, Scientology really does take its beliefs to the stratosphere as only a science fiction writer can do. L. Ron gets an “A” for effort and creativity. I don’t have the time, space or inclination to even begin to blog about what this group believes. Suffice it to say, the internet will be your best guide.

GoingClear

And thanks to the internet, Scientology seems to be imploding. Central to the Scientology experience was that everything was kept secret. New York Times reporter and author Lawrence Wright changed all of that with the publication of his book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Then, HBO upped the ante with its documentary based on Wright’s book, also entitled “Going Clear”.

GoingClearHBO

I would absolutely recommend watching the HBO special; it is mesmerizing to me: “Going Clear” trailer by HBO.

As Sophie Gilbert masterfully writes in The Atlantic in her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Scientology,” the group “has put a premium on controlling the flow of information—an increasingly impossible enterprise in the Internet age.” See “It’s Not Easy Being Scientology” by Sophie Gilbert. Once those crazy ideas get out, people start asking too many questions and start questioning the very premise on which the group was founded.

Sound familiar? This is what non-believers begin to do when they look at the religion in which they were brought up and begin the process of questioning everything they were taught in that religion.

An organization, religious included, can only continue to exist as long as it has believers who do not (at least outwardly) question its basic tenets. It does not matter whether the religion is basic mainstream, as the Roman Catholic Church–considered the first Christian church, or home-grown religions such as Mormonism and Scientology.

No matter if the faith-based organization has been passed on from generation to generation, or whether it sprang from the fertile American minds of its originator–Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard–the organizations require you to believe in specific mystical events that could never, EVER happen in the natural or physical world.

And isn’t this the basic argument of faith? Your beliefs are right, no matter how ridiculous and impossible those beliefs are, whereas the other guys are false religions with false gods and fake legitimacy. It’s simply one way to convince the faithful to stay in that particular denomination and, for that matter, that particular congregation. If too many people begin to question the legitimacy of the faith, the preacher, the congregation or the denomination, the congregants go away and they take their money and their support with them. This is then the death of that group. And if people begin to question the basic tenets to begin with, then doubt and unbelief can easily follow.

No one wants to admit that they’ve been duped by false information and beliefs. But if those beliefs are simply impossible, then the rational person who finds faith impossible and unreasonable may never, ever rejoin the fold. They will take their spiritual nature elsewhere.

 

What About Christmas?

What could be more fraught with anxiety for a non-believer that Christmas? Frenetic activity—spending money like it’s water (we’ll put it on credit and pay for it “later”), you HAVE to be with your loved ones. No wonder so many people dread the holiday season. Just read what Consumer Reports published in 2011 about the most popular things that people dread about the holidays:

Americans’ top holiday dreads—being nice makes the list

Just as EVERYTHING ON THIS EARTH evolves, so too, has Christmas.

Well known in history is the evolution of Christmas from pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnium and Juvenalia, as well as the birthday of the ancient god Mithra on December 25. Eventually, the pagan holiday was supplanted by Christmas, the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, not mark his actual birthdate.

Throughout the last 2000 years, Christmas took on many different shapes and levels of debauchery. By the time the Pilgrims sailed to the New World they wanted nothing to do with Roman Catholic holidays that were not specifically mentioned in the Bible. That’s right, the Pilgrims did not have a first Christmas in the New World because they did not recognize Christmas.

(Explore the reasons why the Pilgrims rejected Christmas in this well-written and correct post by CBN reporter Paul Strand: Why The Pilgrims Declared War On Christmas)

The modern version of Christmas comes right from the Victorians and the advertisers of Madison Avenue.

The Victorians of the late 19th Century England shaped our modern world in so many different ways. They gave us the Industrial Revolution, along with its ever-increasing emission of CO2.

One of the greatest authors to ever live, Charles Dickens, gave us A Christmas Carol, influencing the British at the time, and all of us since, to be more generous and giving for the holiday season.

Victorian Christmas

Courtesy, A Victorian Christmas: 

http://www.avictorian.com/christmas_victoria.html

It also gave us the Christmas tree. Before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the German tradition of the tree to England, thus cementing our affinity for the grandly decorated tree that crosses our thresholds every year. I remember heated emails a few years ago, insisting that the tree in your house was a Christmas Tree, not a holiday tree!!! The debate still rages, along with the War on Christmas and the War on Christianity—I’ll comment on those in a later post. So why did people bring trees into their homes before Victoria and Albert began the boom in Christmas trees? Because it was a pagan ritual, ushering in the winter solstice so that the community could look forward to spring and the planting of crops. Without the spring, or the promise of spring, many human beings starved to death. So the tree came to symbolize the renewal of life. Pagan—nothing more and nothing less. And now our communities grapple with inclusion by calling the tree brought onto the town hall square as a holiday tree, while the Christians cry “foul,” it’s a Christmas tree and it’s another example about the War on Christmas and you’re ruining Christmas for us by calling it anything else. Sigh.

Santa Clause

Courtesy, The Saint Nicholas Center:

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/

Santa Clause is derived from the 4th Century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, a town now on the Turkish coast. Associated with gift-giving through the ages to children, these traditions flourished throughout Europe for centuries. But it took Madison Avenue artists, including N. C. Wyeth, introduced us to the roly-poly, jolly old man whom we all see in the malls with screaming children on their laps. That visual honor goes to Coca-Cola and the artist Haddon Sunblom in the 1930s. The United States is in depression and what could be more uplifting that a happy man in red who brought you your heart’s desires?

1622Gerard_van_Honthorst

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds 1622, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Courtesy Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_van_Honthorst

Want to gripe about another Christmas staple on the lawns of churches and–now, controversial on United States government property (from Washington D.C. federal buildings to the municipal community center), the Nativity scene. How did this tradition get started? If you remember, the Nativity scene or the Creche involves animals, as well as the family of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Men, thrown in the mix. History’s own Saint Francis created the manger scene in the charming town of Greccio, in the Lazio region of Italy in the year 1223. St. Bonaventure describes the creation of the manger in this post by The Catholic Education Resource Center:

Saint Francis and the Christmas Creche

So Christmas itself is a combination/mishmash of various and sundry traditions that span the last, roughly, 1700 years. And keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew; if he existed, he would not have celebrated Christmas–at all.

(Looking for a quick and dirty history of Christmas? Try this link from The History Channel: History of Christmas.)

 

 

A New Way Of Seeing The World

photo

A revelation can change your whole perspective of the world. That’s what happened to me my senior year in high school.

Still, I signed up for a class on the great mythologies of the world—or it might have been about the great literature of the world or the great religions of the world; I really don’t remember the exact wording of the class. But I do remember it was the 1970s in a public school system in Texas. The class might have been through the English Department or perhaps the Sociology Department. But, interestingly enough, in conservative west Texas, this class existed.

Our teacher presented us with different mythological writings and teachings throughout many different cultures. I expected literature about the raven and the bear from the Native Americans, the stories of the pantheon of gods interfering with man from the Greek culture and the tales of the god-pharaohs from ancient Egypt. I did not expect to be confronted with the stories of Jonah and the whale, Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel from the Old Testament. As I looked at so many of these stories with the fresh eyes of literary discovery, I realized that they were myths—myths that had been passed down from generation to generation.

Even more importantly, a light bulb went off in my head. These stories were passed on in the same way as the stories from the Bhagavad Gita or the tales of Homer. All are equally fantastic, filled with super heroes and impossible human acts.

This got me thinking even more—if these specific stories of the Bible are myths, then what else is mythology that I have accepted as reality? What has my church and my family been propagating on me as fact, when, in fact, the stories are grand tales?

Education is dangerous. It opens your mind and engages you to think, to question and, ultimately, to explore. Education has always been dangerous to religion. A population that does not question can much more easily be contained and led. History has shown us that time and time again, dictatorial leaders from Adolf Hitler to Mao Tse-tung to Pol Pot begin their reigns by removing the intelligentsia, the thinkers, the university professors and administrators. These are the people who would question not only their ideas, but also the motives behind those ideas.

Knowledge is power and it has the power to end the promulgation of ridiculous, religions stories that are passed off as reality.

Insight Does Not Happen in a Vacuum

I did not just wake up one morning and decide that there was not a god, or that the way our spirit world may work is NOT the way it is portrayed by our major earthly religions. I came about my beliefs by constantly reading the pros and cons about religion in general and specific beliefs as proclaimed by different Christian denominations.

One of my revelations came to me when I began to work on my Masters degree and learned about peer-reviewed writing. Peer review is more like the scientific method of reality. A theory is presented, but must be backed up by data that can be replicated by your peers. For example, in 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published his studies in the British medical journal, Lancet, that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine caused the spike in autism diagnoses. The only problem with this paper is that no one could replicate his findings and his paper was retracted. He refused to retract his findings and the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom took his license to practice medicine away. (see a recent Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/20/andrew-wakefield-father-anti-vaccine-movement-sticks-his-story-305836.html). Here is the perfect example of many people wanting to believe that something is true, when, in fact, the evidence does not prove that it is true. Now future evidence might prove that vaccines cause autism, but Wakefield’s methodology and data will not be the path to this proof.

In my vast readings toward my degree, I learned that there are two ways to study religion—the faith-based way and the scholarly way. And just as it implies, the scholarly way relies on peer-review and the vast amount of past publications that have been handed down through academia throughout the ages. The faith-based way to study religion is based on the way that you FEEL or the way that your BELIEVE while studying the books on which the religion is based. This is also where science and religion tend to butt heads. Science demands proof and replication, which is in one word: evidence. Faith is just that—faith. For the most part, that faith will be shored up by only one source: the Bible for Christians (then add the Book of Mormon for Mormons, etc.), the Torah and Talmud for Jews, the Quran for Muslims. In scholarly writing, the academic begins with the “holy book,” then looks at the writings of the time, the historical context, the socio-economic situation, who is ruling whom, and a myriad of other factors. Simply reading a verse out of context from any “holy book,” then applying it to today without a complete explanation of the history of the time is not only irresponsible, it leads to misunderstanding of the text and often to wholesale anti-Semitism against those who are simply different from the congregation. Such beliefs have lead in the past to the propagation of slavery and the in the present to the continued attempt to treat the LGBT community as second-class citizens.

Two books that I have enjoyed reading are Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God and Reza Aslan’s Zealot. Both of these books give us an historical and sociological perspective on how religion evolved and developed. Religion itself is often forged during a period of upheaval. Take Christianity, for example. If Jesus Christ lived, he was not a Christian; he was a Jew during the violent Roman occupation of Palistine. Christianity and its cult formed after the death of Jesus or whoever was the model for Jesus (keeping in mind that Jesus might be more than one person or a creation of a very fertile mind). There are many books such as these that explore the creation of our religions. These are just two that I would suggest for the reader who is seriously questioning his or her religious foundations. These are not books of faith; rather, they are books that look at the historical evolution of religion and of a religious figure.

Here are two interesting interviews with the authors to give you an idea about their research on their books:

Richard Wright on the American Public Media program On Being with Krista Tippett

Reza Aslan on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Faith is faith. If you have it and you want to keep it, then that’s up to you. But if you are questioning your faith in general, then your answers do not lie in what your preacher says; they lie in educating yourself so that you can decide for yourself what is real for you and what is fantasy and mythology.

Fact versus Faith—The Virgin Mary

IMG_0318Madonna and Child from the Mimara Museum, Zagreb, Croatia

I am a very, very concrete person. I take reality seriously. Some things can actually happen in this world, while other things simply cannot happen.

This is where faith and I part ways. Let me give you an example…

In order to be a Christian and to have faith, one must believe in some fundamental tenets of a religion. Those tenets are outlined in several creeds. These creeds are often repeated Sunday after Sunday in most major denominational church services. I shall present the creed that I repeated for several decades.

The Apostles’ Creed

(Traditional Methodist Version)

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

These words contain every bit of faith in order to believe in Christianity—or certainly the Christianity as presented by the United Methodist Church. The only problem with this creed is that it contains impossibilities on earth. Specifically, those impossibilities are being born of a virgin woman and the bodily raising from the dead.

Let’s take just one aspect of this creed—the virgin birth. I have often heard from people who live in the United States and who do not study ancient religions, that there was only one time when a woman was pregnant and was a virgin. Well, guess what? That’s not true. Ancient religions throughout the centuries often spoke of gods or demi-gods impregnating human women. Such a story is found in the original monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster was said to be born of a virgin. The Greek and Roman religions contained a pantheon of gods who cavorted with humans and created demi-gods. In Egyptian mythology, Isis is the equivalent of the Virgin Mary. Just look all of these up on your own. The bottom line is, no woman on this earth can or will ever be impregnated by a god. It has never happened and it never will happen. This is simply reality and just because you want it to be so does not make is so.

Such mythologies evolve around gods because gods are our super heroes. We want our heroes to heal us, to perform miracles in our midst when we call on them for help and redemption. What is the best way to worship a super hero? Make sure he was created by a god and birthed on earth by a mother who was “pure.” This gets into the ideas of women and male dominance very quickly and that’s another very long, drawn-out discussion.

Faith can cause us to believe some really hair-brained schemes. One of those schemes is that of the virgin birth. One can only believe in the virgin birth through faith alone, because it is impossible on earth. But repeating such sentences as “…born of the Virgin Mary,” cements into your psyche that this is real, that there is no reason to question the process because we repeat it over and over and over and we have faith that it is true. Just because you repeat something over and over again does not make it true if it is impossible. And it is…impossible—one of many impossibilities in Christianity and in any religion based on faith and super heroes.