For Freedom

The best part about leaving religion is the freedom.

Religion controls.  Dictates.  It doesn’t come up to you as an advisor.  It claims authority over you.  Religion doesn’t try to convince you of the virtue of its path.  It tells you to shut up and get walking.

And the control runs deep.  It doesn’t just ask for outward obedience, it wants to rule your thoughts.  Thoughtcrime is all over the Bible.  It’s a sin to lust in your heart.  It’s a sin to want something your neighbour has.

And Christianity takes it even further.  It’s a sin to think evolution is true.  It’s a sin to be attracted to people of your own sex.  It’s a sin to think any religion other than Christianity is legitimate.

That’s the really devil of religion.  It claims control over your thoughts.  It reaches it’s gnarled finger deep inside you as far as it can go, all the way to your inner, unspoken voice and it tells it what to say.  It’s a nasty, malicious son of a bitch.

But, Oh! the feeling of tearing that thorny finger out of my chest.  Suddenly air rushes in to parts of my mind and heart that I never knew I had.  Scary at first, because I had thought these new ideas had been demons.  But now that the light could get in, I could see that they were beautiful and true.  My only regret was that I hadn’t done it sooner.

It’s like Jesus said, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  Well, truth isn’t what the pastor says.  The truth is something you need to figure out on your own.  And the only way you can do that is with your mind.  And your mind can’t work when it’s shackled up.

For freedom Christ has set you free, right?  So think as free people!

Christian Smallness

A Christian friend on Facebook recommended this link.

It’s written by a young missionary in India who encounters a five-year-old prostitute in India.  The piece is moving and visceral.  It ends with a scene of the missionary watching the five-year-old she befriended lead a customer down the alley.  And the missionary feels helpless.

The girl is a captive, of course.  A sex slave, like countless others, owned by the worst kind of people.  The missionary asks permission from her local contact to take some action.  He tells her to pray.

And that’s it.  The article ends.  The child gets raped.  The owner gets paid.  The missionary prays and blogs about it, hoping that God will let her go to law school so she’ll be able to help girls like Anala.  Because, I guess, they just need some lawyers to explain to the Indians that you don’t sell children as sex slaves.

What the actual fuck?

This is the exact kind of small-minded uselessness that started me wondering if Christianity wasn’t just a club.  The Christian is the strange sort of person who travels over land and sea to find the most heart wrenching stories imaginable, take a picture of it and share it at the next missionary breakfast.  The kind of person who writes a blog about rape, slavery, and pedophilia in order to get people to do more religious duties.

For all the radical, society-shifting things Jesus and the apostles said, Christians do a whole lot of fuck all.  Jesus said to love your neighbour as yourself.  What do you suppose you’d wish the nice white lady from America would do if you caught her watching while you led the next customer to a doorway where you can get a tiny bit of privacy while you were forced to suck his cock?

Yeah, pray.  That’s it.  Gosh, I hope the white lady prays for me.  And I hope I don’t get sores all over my mouth like my friend Irum.

And the funniest thing is, I can understand if the lady doesn’t want to help.  It’s awkward dealing with extreme suffering.  I get that.  You don’t want to do something rash in a scary and unfamiliar country.  Sure.  But why the fuck are you pretending that you are passionate about helping Anila and others like her?

“There is a fire in my heart, and it won’t be quenched until I see justice.”

Bullshit.  You’ll be fine.  That fire will die out after a nice nap.

Lady, you don’t know what it’s like to have a fire in your heart.  A fire in your heart doesn’t sending hoping that God will allow you to go to law school.  A fire burns!  It fucking burns!  It rampages through fields and tears down the weeded hedges that choke the life out of the world.  It doesn’t move you to ask the guy running your centre if you can do anything.  It does something!  Like the prophet Jeremiah who could not keep the illegal message bottled within, spouting out his passions knowing full well it’d kill him.  Like Christ who followed the path of love that consumed him with such passion that it led to the event we actually call The Passion.  Like Gandhi who walked to the sea to make illegal salt.  Like Martin Luther King Jr.  Like Nelson Mandela.  Like Che Guevara.  These are people with fire.  They don’t ask what they can do.  They do something.  Because they are on fire.  They have no choice.  Do you really think Jesus would have looked as Anala walked away and decided to try going to law school?

And you reply, “But I’m not Jesus.”

You’re right, you really aren’t.

I’m sorry, and I really don’t want to discourage you.  I’m sure your heart is in the right place, whatever the fuck that means.  If you’re in India at all it’s probably because you want to help.  But it’s harder to help than you thought, and the vast majority of us who fly over there to help don’t actually do much more than give hugs and sermons.  Help is not praying for Anala.  It’s not blogging about Anala.  It’s not feeling nice to have her sleep in your arms.

Back when I was shopping around for what missionary organization to join, YWAM, the organization mentioned in the post, impressed me for being wild and radical and willing to do anything to get the message of Jesus out.  Handing out tracts on the streets of oppressive Muslim countries, preaching to strangers, upsetting locals form every country.  Many were thrown in jail and kicked out of the country having earn death threats for Jesus.

But do something that radical for a child sex slave?  Naw, that’s when we gotta pray.

And you wonder why people think your message is stupid?  It doesn’t do anything.

Coming out of the Closet

One day I’m going to have to let everyone know I’m not a Christian anymore.  it’s not healthy to go through life lying to people who care.  So I drafted a letter than might show up on my real blog someday.  I’ll post it here first, maybe some of you have some feedback or will at least find it interesting:

Journey

For most of my life I have been keenly interested in matters of the spirit.  I’ve often told people that I can understand someone not believing in God, but I can’t understand someone who doesn’t care.  I was raised evangelical, strayed from it for a brief time, then returned with a passion.  I went to an evangelical Bible College—which I still consider one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I was a preacher.  I was a street evangelist.  I was a missionary to Pakistan.  I made a bit of a name for myself in my own little circles.

Today, I am not a Christian.

I do not believe in heaven or hell.  I do not believe in a cosmic lawgiver who sends people to either one.  I do not believe the Bible is a revelation from God any more than any other book is.

I do not believe in a personal God.

I don’t know if this will come as a shock or not.  A year or two ago many of my friends started emailing me with concerns about some of the things I had been saying online.  I had been encouraging Christians to social action and quoting Christian leaders who, I didn’t realize at first, were the wrong kind of Christian leaders.  I was still an evangelical back then.

The online push back was so strong that I decided it was best to keep my journey to myself.  So while I stopped trying to stir things up on Facebook, I still searched and grew, and eventually I found myself in a place where I had to admit there was nothing left to allow to keep the name Christian.  So while this all may seem sudden, it’s really not.  I haven’t been a Christian for a long time.

Most of my friends will be concerned about this.  Five years ago I would have been more than concerned if any of my friends posted something like this.  And I’m not going to try to talk you out of your concern.  Of course you would be concerned.  From an evangelical point of view, I am straying from the right path.  From that point of view I am denying the Lord who bought be and am now either a backsliding Christian or someone who was never truly part of the faith to begin with, depending on how you view the Gospel.

But I do want to give out something as a reassurance.  And this is not an attack.  It’s just my story.

I’m happy.  All the time.  Oh God, I’m so incredibly happy.  I would describe it as having rivers of living water flowing from within me.  Ever since I started stepping away.

Since leaving Christianity my heart has exploded with free, unconditional love to everyone I met.  I rejoice during good times and bad.  I have the thing that I used to tell others they would get if they became Christian.  That thing I had preached about, but never experienced myself.  That thing I had worked so hard and prayed so long and abided in Christ so much for.  So please don’t think I’m in a difficult crisis or I’m trying to ‘figure things out.’  I love the road I’m on.

I know I’ll get lots of responses from this.  And I won’t try to convince anyone not to question me.  I’d love dialogue, in fact.  I just ask that you all remember where I have come from.  I have watched others slip away from the faith and I remember what I used to say about them.  The Bible verse I used to quote about them.  Lean not on your own understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no god.’  And I know how horrible it sounds to hear me say that I have chosen to rely on myself rather than God.  I understand that point of view completely because it was my point of view.  And I held more passionately than most.

I hope that you can understand me, too.  And if you cannot, please drop me a line.  I still hold to what I used to say: I can understand a person who believes or doesn’t believe in a God.  But I can’t understand someone who doesn’t care.  I still care about spiritual things more than I care about anything else.  That part of me will probably never change.  I look forward to a lot of great conversations about this.

To everyone who is working through doubt, I have a few things to say, too.

First, don’t worry.  Truth is more important than whatever social pressures you have.  Be free to trust your reason and your spirit.  Be wary of anyone who tells you not to trust your reason.  Remember, if the things you were taught are true, there will be good reasons to believe them.  If there are no good reasons to believe in a thing, you can either use some arbitrary faith to believe it anyway, or you can let it go and search.

Second, don’t judge people who push back against you.  It’s not persecution to face opposition.  Hopefully anyone who is trying to keep you on the orthodox path is doing it because they care about you.  Don’t fight them.  Don’t hate them.  But don’t submit to them if your conscience and reason won’t let you.

Third, remember the world is huge.  The things you grew up with are not the only ideas out there.  The universe is so huge and complex that there are countless metaphor to describe it.  Yours isn’t that special, really.  Oh, they’re all special.  They all have wonderful ideas.  The self-giving sacrifice and undeserved grace in Christianity.  The complex and infinite godhead of Hinduism.  The subtle mind-science of Buddhism.  They are all unique.  They all have value. Staying in the one you were raised is not a bad thing.  Neither is leaving it.  Whatever serves your mind and soul best.

Fourth, remember it’s all a journey.  I’m in a certain place right now—a place I can’t even define because by the time I get the guts to post this, I may be somewhere else.  Your mind will change as you grow.  If it doesn’t, you should worry.  Because there is something terrifyingly and blindly arrogant about being young and already understanding the cosmos.

Fifth, you are not a coward.  I was reading a book by a famous evangelical pastor about issues of hell and the emergent church.  He suggested that Christians who believe there is no hell are cowards and spineless (his words).  Frankly, that’s a dishonest attempt to scare people into orthodoxy.  There is nothing cowardly about leaving the system you were raised in.  It’s terrifying.  I should now.  It took me six months to post this stupid letter.

Well, that’s it.  That’s what I wanted to say—what I’ve wanted to say for a long time.  I desperately hope I don’t lose friends over it, and deep down I’m confident that the true friendships I’ve made with so many awesome evangelicals will hold without being shaken.  Because real love and friendship is stronger than confessions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

The Bible and I

I have a long and very complex relationship with the Bible.  I was raised on it.  I’ve read it through more than once.  It was the code I had once promised to live by.

The problem is, the Bible never presents itself as a code.  It never presents itself as a sacred infallible text.  It’s just a book, like the Qur’an, Pride and Prejudice and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Some of the stuff in the Bible is awesome.  Like, mind-blowingly awesome.  The Sermon on the Mount.  Many parts of the Prophets.  The Gospels.  But it’s not perfect.  There are factual and ethical errors strewn about it.  It claims the earth is 6,000 years old.  And that’s just stupid.  It commands parents to stone disobedient children.  And that’s just fucked up.  It records God’s command to commit genocide, rape and infanticide right alongside his commands to love and forgive.

When we suggest that the Bible is infallible, we force ourselves into a dangerous corner and end up submitting even to its darkest and most hateful sides.  Sides that suggest there is blessing for murdering babies of a certain ethnicity (Psalm 137:8-9)

Useful book.  But not something to build your life on.

How to Preach When you Don’t Believe

I was behind a pulpit last Sunday.  I’ll be behind it again this Sunday coming. I’m a preacher in fundamentalist evangelical churches. And I don’t believe.

I won’t be doing it forever.  Now that I view myself as officially gone, I’ll probably just fulfill my bookings and not accept any more.  I’ll miss it, kinda.  Public speaking is just about the funnest thing in the universe, next to sex.

Hmm, I wonder if there’s a place I can have sex while speaking in public…

So how do I open up the Bible, much of which I don’t think is true or good, and preach about it without hurting my conscience?

Stick to the good stuff, that’s how.

I preach from the gospels when I can.  Even an atheist can find wonderful things to talk about with texts like “Turn the other cheek” and “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”  The difficulty comes when the church you’re booked at asks you to preach on something else, like end times prophecies, or the book of Hebrews or some inane bit of the Mosaic law that only twelve people on the planet care about.

As screwed up as much of the Bible is, there is still awesome stuff in there.  Some people get confused when I only preach on the awesome parts.  “What about homosexuality?” they ask me.  “What about abortion or the liberal movement or creationism or the rapture?”

And as they ask me this, all I hear is “What about farknoggles?  What about boogeymen and invisible unicorns and important things like that?”

Friends, if you are religious, I don’t think you’re stupid.  Really, I don’t.  I know some very intelligent evangelicals.  And the intelligent ones don’t give a flying fuck about the rapture or creationism.  They follow Jesus’s real fundamentals: love, compassion, peace and understanding.

And since I believe in those things, I don’t feel guilty about preaching in fundamentalist churches.

Top Ten Reasons Why my Wife is More Worthy of Worship than Mark Driscoll’s God

So, I might have called Mark Driscoll an asshat in my last post.

My wife pulled me aside this morning to ask about that.  You see, I’ve always been irate when people throw around derogatory words for folks who disagree with them.  I didn’t like hearing it at the time, but I think she was right when she suggested I was out of line.

This blog is a place for me to be honest, yes.  But not careless.  I don’t really think Mark Driscoll is an asshat.  I’m sure any hats he owns are very nice and not ass-like at all.  But I do think the picture of God he worships is fucked-up.

When I was a Christian, I had this idea that humans had a deep, primal urge to worship.  Sometimes, I still think we do.  I used to worship Mark Driscoll’s hip, calvinist God.  Now, I think I’d much rather worship my wife.

Top Ten Reasons why my wife is more worthy of worship than Mark Driscoll’s God:

  1.  Mark Driscoll’s God (let’s call him Theos) brings most people into existence for the sole purpose of inflicting never-ending misery on them in hell.  And then he has the gall to turn around and say it’s their own fault for being in the wrong religion.  My wife, on the other hand, brings her children into existence for the sole purpose of lavishing every good thing on them that she can muster.
  2. Theos demands that his people serve him fully and sacrificially, threatening punishment for failure.  My wife would rather serve people, sharing whatever blessings she has with everyone freely.
  3. Theos rejects you when your opinions about him are out of line with how he’d like you to think about him.  My wife doesn’t care what you think of her, she loves anyway.
  4. Theos is a big, fear-mongering authoritarian father-figure.  My wife is a soft, gentle mother.  A sustainer and a creator, rather than a punisher or authority.
  5. Theos demands obedience before he offers life.  My wife gives life and nurturing aid regardless of how her children act.
  6. Theos demands that you worship and admire him.  My wife just wants to love, and whatever happens after that is alright with her.
  7. Theos gazes deep into my every action, calling all my struggles and good attempts filthy rags and useless works.  My wife accepts every weak and fumbling offering of love I give her and even transforms them into greater things through her own love.
  8. Theos promised that if I served him, he’d grant me ravishing joy.  He lied.  My wife made no promises.  But she ravishes me daily, without asking for a thing in return.
  9. Theos encourages me to fight against the reprobates he created, using every bit of religious malice I can muster.  My wife gently asks me if I was right to call a cruel man an asshat.
  10. Theos claims I cannot see his face and live (Ex. 33:20).  My wife’s face and body and words and spirit give life.

If Theos were a real person, we’d hate him.  Hell, we’d probably throw him in prison.  My new religion is love.  And my wife is love’s Devi.  The mother-wife goddess, restored from mankind’s oldest religions, called back from a time when we recognized the miracle of birth and nourishment.

All praise to the Devi.  May her love cover the earth as the waters fill the sea.