For Those Who Absolutely HATE Church

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Courtesy, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-church-architecture

I do not like going to church. I do not like preachers. I hate church music. I am so glad that I can choose to not go to church as an adult.

These statements are sacrilegious to so many Christians. Why would you not enjoy going to church? In fact, is not liking church an actual option in life? How could someone admit this hatred of their christian upbringing?

Growing up, I would not ever consider making this statement. Not only was it not expected to come out of anyone’s mouth, it was not expected that you would even consider the possibility. But from the time that I was in junior high school, I realized that this institution in which I was expected to attend multiple times a week and in which I was to take an active role was one of the main problems in my life, not one of the main solutions.

I’ll break each of my statements down and explain myself.

I do not like going to church. It’s true. I do not like the physical act of getting ready for church by dressing up (which we used to do until the 1970s). The “going” took hours–one hour to get ready; 15 minutes to drive from the house to the appointed house of worship; one hour of Sunday school in which I sat around with the same kids every week, then completely ignored or was completely ignored by the rest of the time (well, not in all cases, but in most); then, one hour sitting in hard pews, quietly sitting, then standing, then praying, then singing, then listening to a crap choir, then listening to some guy tell us that we were sinners, that we needed to give more money to the church, that Jesus loves us, that God loves us, that God will tell us what he wants us to do, then get all emotional and go down to the altar and give our life to Jesus while the audience drones on with, “Just as I am without one plea….” Repeat at least one other time during the week and, often, multiple times. For me, there was nothing intellectually stimulating about this continued exercise that I had to repeat over and over and over again. By my calculations, from the time that I was two years old, when we moved to this dusty west Texas town, until I was 17 when we stopped the insanity, allowing for two weeks of vacation, at an average of three times per week, I showed up at this church 2,250 times and wasted AT LEAST 12,937.5 hours of my life going to this building and listening to all of this crap that I felt was less and less relevant to me the older I got.

I do not like preachers. That’s right; I don’t like preachers. And we have numerous ones in the family. There is a very particular way that MOST preachers preach. Each denomination has its own preacher-type. They can be almost a caricature at the podium, with a speaking rhythm all their own. This has, of course, changed over time. I grew up in the era of the fancy-haired, slick talker. You’ve seen them–full head of coiffed hair, rather like Donald Trump.

Clockwise from top right: Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson

Most do not preach prophesy, as do the televangelists. but their sermons are designed to scare you, keep you in fear, and make sure that Jeeeeeezus comes into your life so that you can begin to experience MIRACLES all around you–all the time–every day, prayers answered. Or, maybe your prayers are not answered because we don’t know the Lord’s ways. He (always HE) remains mysterious to us, but you MUST believe that you are being blessed, even when your prayers are being answered, OR when your prayers are NOT being answered. Wait, WHAT? That makes no sense. It is not up to us to understand HIS will, so we are just going to accept the consequences and agree to this rather bizarre arrangement? Why do bad things happen to good people? Because it’s God’s will. Wait, WHAT? No. That’s frankly stupid. Oh, and by the way, we need 10% of your money to do the continued work of the church. I don’t want to be here in the first place, so why do you want me to give you MY money to perpetuate something I loathe?

I hate church music. When my sister asked me which music I liked the most, I told her–rock. She said that I really needed to like church music the most. Then everything could follow from that. But I don’t like church music. It is bleak and sad and is like a child asking an adult if the adult would just please love them and tell them what to do. The music we sang was usually written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley. Charlie was prolific in his hymn writing. Charles Wesley was the Bob Dylan of his time. Who among us cannot wait to belt out A Charge to Keep I Have or Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus. So we sang the greatest hits of the 18th century church over and over and over again, always standing up at attention, facing the pulpit–sing, sit down. Over and over and over again. Then there was Fanny J. Crosby, the most prolific songwriter of all time. Fanny J., though blinded an an early age, cranked out over 8,000 hymns in the 19th century, which, to me, spoke of whining, childish calls to give your life to Jesus, over and over and over again. Nothing can give me an earworm like Blessed Assurance and Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior. Over and over and over again. Then there was that Sunday evening church favorite, The Church in the Wildwood. For the evening service, the preacher could take music requests and the teenage boys would suddenly become crazy-animated. “We want The Church in the Wildwood!!! The preacher would be so pleased to get that tune rolling. The chorus has a riff that all the bass sing, that goes, “Oh, come, come, come, come, ad nauseam. Yea, those guys couldn’t stop singing about “come.” Well, you get the picture. Then the older kids would tell us to take the title of any hymnal, and put, “between the sheets” after the title. So, you see what was going on. It was bad enough to be a teenager listening to something that I did not believe in, then playing stupid hymnal games to pass the time so I could get the hell out of there as soon as humanly possible.

I am so glad that I can choose to not go to church as an adult. That’s right. As an adult, I can look at my life and understand what and where I derive joy and pleasure. I LOVE learning and being at an institute of higher learning. It is stimulating. It is thrilling and it is not church. Well, not unless you are at a religiously-oriented “university” where school is basically an extended version of vacation bible school and/or Sunday school. When the bible is taught as fact and reality, the environment simply becomes a larger cluster of church buildings, filled with preachers masquerading as professors. I LOVE traveling and meeting people from all over the world. I also enjoy learning about the native religions of a country. The way religion and spirituality develop in a country can help to understand the culture of the country. It is fascinating and insightful. I enjoy the academic study of religion–why it developed, how all types of religion have evolved over time to attempt to stay relevant. I also enjoy exploring the archetypes of individual cultures and how they are similar in so many cultures that may or may not have ever had contact with each other. This is much more interesting to me that spending hours listening to the standard droning-on of preachers trying to justify the superheroes that they worship and the miracles that such superheroes are said to have performed. Finally, I find the arguments of why we must believe, in the form of the apologists for each religion, fascinating and delusional. Feel free to believe that your god, your superhero, your deity defies gravity, physics and death itself, but don’t expect me to buy your impossible story.

And just like so many people who decide that they are atheists, I realized that I felt…nothing. Nothing from all of this weird expression of emotion, this mystical hour where we were suppose to get all emotionally and spiritually worked up, then pray and pray until the answers magically came to us; when Jesus would reveal how much he loved us. No magical answers ever came to me. And the original premise was simply too unrealistic. Maybe you need that mysticism in your life; I don’t. It does absolutely nothing for me.

I hear it all the time: you have to have faith in God. No I don’t. I don’t have to believe a word of this, because it is unreal, unrealistic and, frankly, just too bizarre for me–not just bizarre, but highly, highly disturbing.

So this is one of the many reasons why I just stopped believing. Who wants to be somewhere that makes you miserable? I don’t. So…I won’t.

 

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 ???

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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.

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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.

 

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.