Category Archives: Uncategorized

What is Tim Reading?

Just finished Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem: How the Bible fails to answer our most important question–why we suffer

The book was intended for a popular audience and not a scholarly one, he says in the beginning.  He explains that a dissertation style journal is available on his website or through his people. It seems reasonable to assume any gripes I have with God’s Problem might be answered in that journal.  I haven’t read it.  Plus, I don’t have gripes.

Bart Ehrman did a fine job drawing together different outlooks on suffering and its various causes throughout the narrative of the Old and New Testament.  Sprinkled into the historical context of the Bible are references to modern day disasters and the relatively recent horrors of World War II for the sake of perspective.

Ehrman excels as a gripping author with a staggering grasp of ancient literature. He holds a PhD in New Testament studies and his familiarity with various Christian traditions (secular, conservative, fundamentalist, catholic etc.) allows him to be very precise in ways Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins failed.  The latter two men made mention to Christianity’s history with an obsessive focus on Catholicism and European influences.  After railing on Catholics for several chapters Hitchens or Dawkins would interject something about Rick Perry or Sarah Palin or George Bush and the American South’s Christianity.  This was only a minor flaw if one at all, but nonetheless I personally prefer the accuracy with which Ehrman goes after targets.

The book seems for the most part very academic but very personal at times when he recounts a teen committing suicide (a member of his church decades ago) and other instances in which his faith in God’s goodness was challenged.

I give the book five stars because its breadth and readability make it perfect for the serious skeptic who might want to understand how Christians defend God allowing disasters.  It’s too easy to just call Christians stupid and blind.  Ehrman shows compassion and respect for the learned faithful who are loyal to their interpretations of  God’s goodness.

Shame on my ego for thinking this, but I wish I could debate some of these authors and play Devil’s advocate.  (I capitalize God so I figured I would capitalize Devil there).  I suppose that would be playing God’s advocate.  Many of the secular advocates I have read or heard in person would do well to spar with me.  It’s not that I am some kind of wunderkind genius theological mind, but rather my life has made me into a walking junk drawer of Biblical tedium.  I am not an expert in any one Biblical area but as a whole I feel like I might have been able to combat Ehrman’s main premises.

Ehrman shows how suffering is understood by prophets and laypeople in Scripture.  He talks about the prophets and even Jesus by the end and always tries to keep the focus on their individual circumstances and context without appealing to later interpretations.  I wish he spent more time on the Isaiah 53 and 58 comments but it’s a small drop in the bucket.

Definitely worth reading.  His conclusions are very thought provoking.

Happy Holidays

I got to spend some great quality time with my son Liam today and will again tomorrow.  Enjoy the times you get with your kids regardless of their age.  My son is super clingy and affectionate since he hasn’t seen me in a while.  He is six.  We had a great time watching “Walking with Dinosaurs” in 3D and then we had a long car ride.  I did my impression of Pops from the Regular Show until he couldn’t breathe…just laughing so hard. It was great.  So whether you do a tree and the whole Christmas thing or not, make sure you celebrate life and love this week!  And not just because it is Christmas time, do it because it is right and fulfilling.

I also got an early present from Tory…a great cologne called Real.  I have used it over the years and nothing has turned me from it.  Not even Eternity by Calvin Klein.  Tory has a great nose for these things and I love the gift, even if it pales in comparison to the touching letter she wrapped it in.  She even had some artwork on it.  Overall, this is shaping up to be the best Christmas in a long time 🙂

Not Just Me

Besides the Dallas Cowboys, there is only one organization whose constant ridicule makes me smile.  That would have to be Focus on the Family.  I won’t bore people with the reasons I don’t like FOF but sometimes sites like theirs are useful to me.  I get to peek back over the fence.  I challenge my memory of fundie Christian thinktanks.  Turns out I am still on target.  My article I published yesterday about Duck Dynasty got a few new readers and I figured I owed them this great link.  Please read this AFTER the below article, if you haven’t read it already 🙂   There is a great admission by its author Mr. Daly who feels attacked by GLAAD for insinuating that true Christians cannot be homophobic.  http://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/jim-daly/archive/2013/12/19/duck-dynasty-is-controversial-so-is-the-gospel.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JimDalyBlog+%28Blog%3A+Jim+Daly%29 

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Shooting the Messenger, brought to you by GLAAD and your Facebook friends

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The comments on homosexuality by Duck Dynasty patriarch (and Osama Bin Laden doppleganger) Phil Robertson have caused quite a ripple.  I came across it on yahoo.com and reddit a few days ago. The shitstorm brewing on Facebook and elsewhere seems a little late to me, but I am not always on top of news.  This is hardly news, and frankly I would rather follow updates on Miley Cyrus’ shorts or Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s crack-fueled adventures (can someone make this into a movie?)

What burns me up about the Robertson drama is near and dear to my annoyed heart.  I believe, for reasons explained in my book, that the Bible is filled with socially repugnant ideas.   Some of these ideas get tossed into larger conversations on shows like Piers Morgan or Jon Stewart.  The jokes are predictable now.  They go something like “yeah, the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin but it also says bacon-wrapped scallops are a sin.”  Cue the big laughs.  Har har.  The Bible says a lot of silly outdated things in the Old Testament and millions if not hundreds of millions of people still revere the Bible and profess a faith in its terrible God.

There is a casual understanding that some things in the Old Testament are simply done away with.  There are so many posts on Facebook right now with some humorous renditions of these sentiments but only scathing comments about Phil.  The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has done some terrific things for the LGBT community but their response to Phil Robertson’s GQ comments about gays really left me disappointed and wanting more.

The response from GLAAD included not one but two phrases about how Christianity was being disgraced by crazy old Phil.  Christianity is pro gay and always has been, was the implication I got.  GLAAD is delusional about Christianity because the anti gay material in the Bible Phil quoted was from the New Testament–NOT THE OLD.

It makes me feel a little sick inside when the good guys, like GLAAD, shoot the messenger but fail to address that Christianity is the main opposition to gay rights in the world.  Islam treats gays a tad worse in places where they are hanged or shot for being effeminate.  Still, Christianity is rife with sentiments that are not only anti-gay but also disparage pre-marital sex (referred to as fornication) and even asks men and women to be abstinent if humanly possible.  The Apostle Paul asks this early and often in his letters.  Other letters written attributed to Peter ask us to “put to death the desires of the flesh.”

Hell, Paul was against women wearing jewelry for Christ’s sake. What would he think of Adam Lambert or Elton John?  Think on that for a second.

I said earlier that Christianity floods the culture with repugnant ideas, but they come in two categories.  One of these is the failure of interpretation.  Perhaps there is some political issue boiling over in America and a Pat Robertson starts quoting verses about what America should do.  This is an opportunity to either hit the nail on the head with some spot on Biblical commentary but because our cultures are so different–this could more likely be a disaster waiting to happen.  It’s a chance to misinterpret God’s word because of the vast culture anachronisms and language evolution. 

Now forget about that category and never invoke its lessons when discussing Kirk Cameron or any other celebrity who dishes on our naughty bits and how they fit.  The other category, is fair game however.  That category relates to Biblical precepts which are integral to Christian living.  Christianity is about forgiveness and tolerance, yes, but you can’t have forgiveness without an offence to forgive. What’s to tolerate?

Since I am fairly straight at the moment, I asked my gay friend Christopher for his opinions on Christian tolerance.  He was brilliant in his quick response.  “I don’t speak for everyone here, but I know don’t like the word tolerance, because the goal of any civil rights mission is to gain equality.  I don’t want to be merely tolerated, like a nuisance.  We tolerate things that we don’t like for a greater good. That is not what LGBT people are asking for.”  While liberal, weak-tea Christians will make the right headlines for their pro-gay messages (which I applaud) they would be hard pressed to provide Biblical justification for those ideas.  Jesus’ call to forgive and love people never negated the laws of God’s word.  Jesus even said in Matthew 5 that the slightest, most trivial expectations of God’s word were not to be negated. As for the funny references to bacon wrapped scallops?  Those laws for Jews during the Old Testament time and Jesus’ death ushered in a new covenant with mankind in which Jews and Gentiles would stand judged on the same grounds.  Homosexuality was never one of these dietary rules or rituals.  Women were told to stay in a separate camp during their menstrual periods during the Wilderness time (as read in Exodus.)  This rule is not for today.  Joel Osteen might want his scary wife and her scary eyebrows to stay away from him if she has PMS but he wouldn’t invoke Biblical authority to exile her from the house.

Homosexuality is called an abomination to God in numerous places, whereas murder is only called that in Proverbs, which is a book of, you know, not laws.  The evils of homosexuality are explained in Romans chapter one, which is strictly New Testament ground.  I am as pro LGBT as they, er, come.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t want the United States to toss gay people in jail but I do want a revival of intellectual honesty.  I want the liberals of the GLAAD to see the light.  The Bible is not the victim.  The Bible is the problem.  It isn’t being misused, it isn’t being manipulated.  The liberals need to stop saving the Bible and putting words in its hateful mouth. The Bible can be used by liberal faith groups claiming to be Christians but when they edit the supposed “very words of God” out to make God more 21st Century and more politically correct, they risk damnation described in the book of Revelation.  Editing the Bible is serious business.

Feelings about editing the Bible divide Christians who approach the Bible from a place of humble obedience to the “Vice President God” who wants to help God out.  This Christian wants to work as as a PR consultant for God and help him out like a handler combing Paul McCartney’s hair before he goes on Ellen.  The Christians defending Phil Robertson are not in that group, surprise! They believe that God is God and he knows better.

WHY ARE PEOPLE DEFENDING PHIL ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

We live in a world of fakes. Like Bruce Jenner smiling at Khloe kind of fake.  And then some.  Millions of fundie Christians who do read the Bible and defend its atrocities are not offended by Phil’s views on homosexuality, because Phil is the messenger.  People who worship the Bible like an idol on their coffee table are not going to take offense when a celebrity quotes it in the godless GQ magazine.  They see Phil as being a true Christian.

Everyone from Eminem to Michael Vick thank Christ for their gifts when the microphones are nearby.  Phil Robertson looks like the real deal.  Maybe he is a hateful, real deal.

IS PHIL HATEFUL?

We can’t know for sure.  As a former fundie myself, I hated homosexuality but loved the homosexual.  I lived a very compartmentalized life enabled by years of indoctrination and religious experience.  It is possible to live with high levels of cognitive dissonance.  It is possible for Phil to think he loves homosexuals and he might be convinced of that.  He might get anal (pun intended) about the syntax of his interview and the word order.  He might argue he didn’t even compare homosexuality to bestiality.  What he actually wrote was a suggestion that homosexuality was like a domino falling.  In the future, because of the popularity of LGBT rights, he believes sexually aberrant and abhorrent behaviors  will gain traction.

THE BOTTOM (pun) LINE

Christians who believe the Bible is true and are not offended by its views on sex are naturally upset that “perverts” like Lady GaGa have a platform to be controversial and build trust with her fans while Phil is unable to do so.  Christians will feel that A&E is biased towards liberal agenda activism and knee jerk discipline.  These same Christians (not many, but some) feel like they love gays and would give them the shirt off their backs.  They simply don’t want to condone sin.  And homosexuality is a sin in the Bible.  It’s inarguable, to any rational reading of the Bible. Forgiveness?  Yes.  But as an atheist humanist, I don’t think homosexuality is something that NEEDS to be forgiven.

The insincere love of modern, liberal Christians sounds a lot like, “I don’t have the right to judge gays because I am a sinner too.  My sin is just as bad.”  Ouch.  It probably comes from a good place in their heart but a terrible place in the brain.  It hasn’t been thought through.

So this Christmas, my wish is that GLAAD and Christians motivated by superficial gains in popularity will stop muddying the waters. Mark Twain, Voltaire, Christopher Hitchens and thousands more have pointed out that the Bible is a mess, so let’s stop crucifying Phil Robertson for a moment and remember that he is only the messenger. The message hasn’t changed.  I refuse to live in a world where Piers Morgan kisses Rick Warren’s ass and wants to kick Phil Robertson’s.  Phil Robertson risked this public shame by being a genuine follower of the Bible.  Other Christian leaders and celebs like Tim Tebow should side with him or publicly state that their approach to the Bible is like a trip to the buffet salad bar.

It takes no courage to pile on the criticism of a shamed star.  Phil is done.  Stick a fork in him.  It does take courage to stand by one.  Robert Downey Jr. asked the world to forgive Mel Gibson. That took some big won tons.  Again, I am asking for Tebow and the rest of the Christian darlings of the media to come out and admit they carry the same book to church on Sunday that informs the Robertson family values.  Like the sharks on facebook, I am pretty passionate about this debacle.  Unlike them, I am not being overly simplistic.  If anyone thinks I am being too cut and dry on this, please feel free to write a comment as long as you please.

To me, it appears Phil Robertson doesn’t just pick and choose which precepts and integral teachings of his faith to follow.  He may never recover the fame he had, but he has the respect of die hard Christians–and if only for his misguided loyalty–this hard core atheist.  Fuck Duck Dynasty and A&E.  I wouldn’t watch the show if it were hosted by a naked Megan Fox.  The point is, your buddies on Facebook are wrong and the Bible is coming out of this shit show smelling like roses.  That’s what makes me sad.

And here’s a final note to people who are in the LGBT community.  Christianity and its influence has contributed to more hate towards your past, present and future than anything else.  Much of this has stemmed from cultural influence and ignorance, but those things are like a fine layer of snow over ice-covered stairs.  We can brush it away and there is still a very slippery hazard.

And remember, nothing makes a good stocking stuffer like a copy of Preacher Boy, that great book everyone is talking about.

http://www.amazon.com/Preacher-Boy-University-Graduate-Farewell-ebook/dp/B0065LI3FW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387511252&sr=8-1&keywords=preacher+boy+short

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The One Thing I Expected to Hear After the Zimmerman Trial but Didn’t

Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.  How many times have we heard this from the NRA and people loitering Fox News’ studios like, say, Ted Nugent?  After Colorado was devastated by James Holmes,this question was asked all the more.  Following the Newtown shootings that claimed the lives of six and seven year old children in Massachusettes, the question was introcuced (or reintroduced) to the “should teachers have guns?” debate.   David Weigel (Slateand others have been fair to the question and have interviewed experts on both sides of the argument.  

In between the Aurora and Newtown incidents, there was of course, the Trayvon Martin slaying.  I don’t think I can add anything to the coverage of the verdict that hasn’t been said numerous times by numerous sources elsewhere, nor do I claim to have any inside information worth sharing.  The healing time for the Martin family and to a lesser extent, the Zimmerman family, has begun.  

However, I have a burning question for gun enthusiasts:  Why haven’t we heard anyone suggest on national television that black teens should have guns?  They say teachers should have guns and mailmen should have guns.  Taxi cab drivers should have guns. Liquor store clerks should have guns.  Gas station attendants should have guns.  

Almost everyone should have a gun, you would think, if you were to follow the logic of the NRA and the Ted Nugent types of the world.  I have listened to thousands of soundbites from the Zimmerman trial but at no point did anyone suggest that Trayvon should have been carrying a firearm. With lots of racially charged elephants in the room, this one might have been stomping the loudest in my brain. 

The company line of conservative talk shows has resolutely asserted that tragedies could have been prevented if only the innocent white man or woman had the foresight to bring a loaded weapon to school.  I heard one interviewee suggest that the children of Newtown could have saved their own lives if they had access to guns.  The idiocy of arming six year olds with little or no concept of death is obvious.  But what about Trayvon?  He was seventeen.  He knew what death was.

No big blog today…just thought it was interesting to point out that (in my opinion) if Trayvon had been white, the news coverage might have been peppered with those kinds of hypothetical questions about an armed victim turning the tables on his aggressor. Perhaps that is the difference everyone is hinting at if the races had been reversed.  

I have read good pieces on the innocence of Martin but was challenged recently at http://www.anncoulter.com who (I know, I know, I know, I know! Dammit already, I know she’s a bitch and no, I don’t endorse her at all 99% of the time) shared some information I found relevant to George Zimmerman’s motives for following Martin.  

Please let me know if you find a soundbite of someone saying that black teens in Florida should be encouraged to carry a loaded weapon.  Even Ted Nugent won’t go that far. And I think we all know why.  

 

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Messianic Imagery In Man of Steel ?

I just had the joy of watching Man of Steel.  As films go, this was a spectacle and I would relish a chance to view it again.  I am more of a drama fan, you should know I am more likely to watch films like Capote, The Squid and the Whale or a steamy erotic piece like The Dreamers by Bertolucci or Swimming Pool by Ozon.  

I do make some exceptions for superhero flicks.  I am not a Fast and Furious kind of guy and I loathe shoot em ups.  Superheroes are interesting to me because they tell stories rife with philosophy and even theology–if you pay attention.  

Did you catch the similarities between Jesus and Superman in this film?  

1.  His father sent him to a strange new world knowing that his son’s life would be difficult and he would be misunderstood.  

2. He has two fathers.  He lives on earth with Jonathan Kent and comes of age, realizes he has a greater purpose.  Jesus, at age 12 tells Mary and Joseph “didn’t you know I must be about my (real) Father’s business?”  Jonathan Kent tells Clark that he has “another father who gave him a different name.”  Christians must be tingling when they watch this scene…especially John Elderedge fans.  Elderedge is the author of such books as Wild at Heart and Epic.  In the latter, Elderedge entices his young male readership with very fanciful analogies in the attempt to imbibe their lives with purpose and meaning.  He explains that the young Christian has a real name, and a real father in Heaven.  Young Christian men are kind of like the awkward hero in any true hero’s journey.  Think of young Frodo Baggins or hell, even Shaggy and Scooby. The jist is, you can do it!  Even you, dammit! 

3.  Clark Kent tells Lois in the end of the film that he is 33.  He then attempts to save the day but not before she reminds him he could die.  Obviously, he is 33 and (to the best of his knowledge) giving his life for the good of the world.  Just like the 33 year old Jesus.  Why 33?  Why not 32?  Why not 34?  Why not 29?  Hmmm.  We may always wonder.

4.  Jesus and Clark Kent have a very tender sentiment for their earthly mother even though neither woman gave birth to them. 

Some might argue that these similarities are not super, rather simply superficial.  Maybe they are coincidences.  They could be correct.

Still, hundreds of church groups are co-opting the release of this film for the purposes of converting teens to Christianity. Facebook banners, even on my page, pose the question “Was Jesus a Superman?”

I would say from a philosophical standpoint that Jesus and Superman are very different in major ways.  While they are both fictional characters with great hair, I notice some grave differences.  

1.  Superman is not indifferent to suffering of any kind.  Superman watches with empathy and grief for those less fortunate and he always tries to save the day in ways that correspond to actual states of being.  He tries to do good in commonsense and relatable ways we can understand.  Superman isn’t able to save everyone all the time, but he does his best.  Can you imagine this incarnation of the film Superman standing by and letting a guy die and not trying to help?  No.  Superman would cease to be Superman if he did that. Suppose Superman let a bunch of people die and said, “I work in mysterious ways.”  What if Superman stared blankly on as Lois plummets to her death.  “It was her time.”  

We love Superman because he represents an ideal of good we can comprehend.  Suppose Superman approaches a school bus of children and commands them to worship him or suffer at his hands for eternity.  Is Superman this insecure?  NO!  Superman is content to be mild mannered Clark Kent and work a 9-5 job.  Clark Kent is secure in who he is.  He is not jealous and angry that perhaps Aquaman shares the limelight once in a while.  

The figure of Christ in the New Testament is a compelling one but as a fundamentalist Christian would point out, is still God.  Jesus is not chronologically exempt from the moral monstrosities of the Old Testament. He is not God 2.0.  He is not God The Animated Series.

Superman would never tell someone to kill children or elderly.  If Christians really want a Biblical parallel in this awesome film, they needn’t look any further than the disturbed villain of the film, the power hungry General Zod.  

General Zod (spoiler alert) tells Superman in the end of the film that his prime directive is to look after the needs of the Kryptonian people, whose extinction has already come to pass.  His single minded dedication to Krypton leads him to attempt a takeover of all earth and even change the planets gravity and environmental characteristics.  

His obsession with his own people and their prosperity reminds me of a certain war loving God of the Old Testament named Yahweh.  Yahweh’s moral injunctions such as a prohibition on murder and stealing goes out the window when he commands his own people to murder the surrounding peoples of the Middle East as they pursue a future in the Promised Land.  The Jews were allegedly slaves of Egypt for 400 years.  They suffered, kind of like the Kryptonians suffered through hardships.  Moses, much like Zod, sought to deliver them into a new era of unprecedented success.  This entailed a sense of entitlement to the Promised Land, currently inhabited by the Caananites.  The solution was a barbaric one.  The creative God who made bread (manna) fall from the sky, who made the Red Sea part for pedestrian use, who made miracle after miracle occur with great predictability was out of ideas for how best to take the Promised Land.  The end game was ultimately to simply kill everyone and take their shit. 

You may recall that coveting was also a sin in the Ten Commandments.  Entitlement allows for an alternate understanding. The Jews were not coveting the land, if it was truly promised to them, right?  It wasn’t murder, per se, it was more like taking out the trash and only because God commanded it.  

General Zod is not moved when Superman tells him that his plans include genocide.  Zod replies, “everything I did, every act of cruelty and violence was for the greater good.”  Yeah, greater good for Krypton. Not earth.  Everything God does in the Old Testament is for the good of his people.  Who cares if we kill everyone on the way to the Promised Land?  You cannot have an omelet without breaking some eggs! 

Superman is, and always was intended to be a picture of humanism devoid of selfishness.  Superman tries to promote peace and justice and the very secular American way.  He is tolerant and he is kind, he is patient and slow to anger.  He is what the Bible purports God to be.  The differences are what I am thankful for.  Superman is a utilitarian moral agent.  His motivation is to eliminate suffering and comfort people. He wants to inspire the world, not just Americans or white people or Kryptonians. He is universal in his appeal.  If you don’t believe me, wait til the overseas box office receipts are counted.  And watch Superman. It was awesome. 

A Shorter Fence Around Comfort Zones Rewards the Brave

fenceThere was this cute girl at Liberty University in 2004 who introduced herself to me as an orphan. She even had a cool orphany name.  Patches.

Patches was a sweetheart to everyone at school and for whatever life threw her way, she seemed stronger for it.  She struck me as an old soul, someone with a good sense of perspective and maturity.  Maybe she had a tragedy or a crisis in her background that afforded her a little bit of a cool head.

She flattered me of course by purchasing my book, Preacher Boy late last year.  She had some questions for me which I promised to answer, of course.  However her list of questions did not hit my radar until I posted something in the vein of “I believe in core values like humility, grace, mercy and love, empathy etc.” on Facebook.

As a well-read, educated Christian she might have been surprised to see me using their words, kind of like a white rapper using homie or the dreaded combination of NGGIRE (which can also spell Ginger, for all you redheads)

Her question is as follows. Hey Tim! So, I have a couple questions that I find would be best asked in a message, not a post. 
If too personal, I understand a “skip” for an answer. 

1. do u feel like ur personal struggle(s) was so great and the “church” so judgmental and condemning that it left u vulnerable and angry? 

The church is often the scapegoat for atheists.  One has to be careful in assigning blame.  John Loftus, Dan Barker and others have written numerous titles in which they blast the church for being a misanthropic, bloodsucking social scene that ruined their lives and wasted their time.  I don’t feel that way.  I thought I made it clear in Preacher Boy t hat the church was not to blame.  Ignoring me on that point is helpful to defend the Bible, the source of my problem with Christianity. When I was an evangelical I was rigorously trained in the art of defending God.  “I know the church let you down, dude…but Jesus loves you! The church is a group of flawed people and sometimes we screw up, but God! But Jesus! But the Bible! But, but but!!!!!”

It was never God’s fault. It was never because the Bible is an antiquated book of lies, nonsense and useless as a mesh condom.

I am using this correspondence as an example of a loving, sincere and wonderful girl asking a loving and sincere question. Patches is not some succubus, screeching bitch, guys. Patches is someone who would go to the ends of the earth for an absolute stranger. Her questions are coming from a good place in her heart that many atheists lost touch with in their quest to become ivory tower, iconoclastic and condescending pricks.

But even though Patches is a total sweetheart, her question implies an accusation that could possibly be used to rationalize away my intellectual problem with the BIble.  She mentions that I am angry and hurt.  I said in Preacher Boy that a famous mudslinging tactic of the church is to paint the atheist in the ABC light. Angry. Bitter. Confused.  I wonder if Patches is (with the kindest of intentions, mind you) trying to spin the wheel and see which letter I am on. I assure you, I may have been somewhat angry and a tad bitter, even a little bit confused but I don’t feel any of those feelings apply now nor should they affect the veracity of my book or message. The church taught a rather moronic worldview that has secret compartments for hate and intolerance, recessed into a veneered paneling.  Very modern, very sleek and bulky. Not like the obtuse 80’s hate and bigotry.  The 2013 fundie crowd is like an iPod to your Pioneer boombox from Montgomery Ward that collects dust in your gramma’s house.

2. As an atheist, when u speak with words like compassion, grace, love, etc….from where do u determine these derive?

This is what you call a softball. This is a question I would strongly consider paying someone to ask me at a public speaking engagement.  But before I answer this, I must dispel a notion that irks the hell out of me.  Imagine the following exchange.

CHRISTIAN:  without God, how can you have morals?

ATHEIST: what? you mean without believing in your sky daddy I have no reason to be good?

Stop stop stop stop and please for fuck’s sake, stop it.  This is a terrible debate I see on facebook and tumblr and reddit all the time.  The Christian is not saying morality is impossible on the part of the unbeliever. The stupid atheist need not get his or her panties in a bunch and get offended.  We can rephrase it with more respect to the difference between ontology and epistemology thusly.

CHRISTIAN: We both believe in morality.  We try to be good.  I think that potential in humanity comes from God. We are made in his image, and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s how I account for morality.

ATHEIST: are you saying I’m not moral?  Of course that wouldn’t make sense.

Now I borrowed this observation from another blogger with an article called “how christians and atheists can understand each other” or something similar. I don’t mean to plagiarize.

It was written by a Christian, actually, which makes me happy.  It is true nonetheless.

Now to answer Patches question without being a dick and getting offended. Patches is not saying I am not moral or incapable of grace.

DEAR PATCHES–  Grace is undeserved benevolence in regards to our understanding of herd morality or social contract.  Mercy is withholding some negativity.  Mercy is, going easy on someone by choice. Humility allows both of these.  Compassion is the essence of all of them.  Those are my core values as a spiritual humanist. I find it odd that a God who has commanded genocide, slavery/human trafficking and in technical terms, condoned all out rape and abuse throughout multiple escapades in the Old Testament should be viewed as the author of mercy and love.  He is disqualified from being Anselm’s “most perfect thing of which anything could be thought” simply because of the glaring problem of his temper.  He is a God of a short fuse who tells his people to cut off a woman’s hand and show no mercy, to stone children for disrespect, to kill atheists and homosexuals without trial.  Just stone the fuckers to death.

As a Christian these impediments to social progress never bothered me because I cared only that these laws were “not for today.”  End of conversation. End of thinking about it.

But what if there were a terrible regime like Saddam Hussein’s Bath Party in power today.  Suppose they are nice.  Would it be satisfying to hear them denounce the atrocities of te 1970’s and 80’s ?  What if Saddam Hussein said, “these ways are not for today.”  It is not enough to just say God’s horror show in the Old Testament was for a bygone era and now we do something new.  One must say that what God did in the Old Testament was objectively wrong.  My moral rubric is based on human wellbeing and I do make assumptions about what is self-evident.  When you and I talk about morals, I am talking about what is good for the wellbeing of sentient creatures (Sam Harris, the moral Landscape) and you are talking about the whims of a genocidal, invisible person.

I can live with my “faith” in my definition of morality.

To paraphrase Harris, Patches, I liken morality to health.  I don’t know what should be on your plate to the exact mg of sodium per se, but I know that a salad is healthier than a Big Mac and a Big Mac is healthier than a donut and a donut is healthier than cyanide capsules.  We have an idea of health and maybe I don’t know all the answers but I know enough to make informed decisions for me and help others. How fast should a person run? How fast should a 78 year old man run? Or a baby? Health is relative to the individual but we as a society understand what we mean by health.  The same goes for morality, or so I think. I know that marrying 9 year old girls is not good for 9 year old girls.  I know having sex slaves (concubines) is not good for society.  I know genocide is not good for the children and elderly, pregnant and mentally disabled people who were knifed to death in Jericho, Moab and etc.  The fact that God doesn’t want you to stone a gay man to death in 2013 is well and good.  The fact that God said it was ideal 5,000 years ago is a problem.  A problem that the church has whitewashed. And it’s not just the gays. It’s the straight boys and girls who want to have sex outside of or before marriage. They got in a heap of trouble, if I recall, falling under the condemnation of the King.

3. Why or what caused you to look around at others (life experiences, etc) to determine the truth or existence of God, as opposed to the other way around?
Thank u for taking time, if u do, to respond. To be clear, I am not seeking to “win u back to Christ”… I merely want to further understand u. So, I may state some thoughts, if this conversation continues beyond the questions I’ve posed, but I will not preach at u with Lu bubble jargon or biblical facts u probably already know. Just wanted to clear that up so that we were on the same page. Hope to hear from ya, friend!

Experience is subjective.  If someone tells me (and believe me they try everyday) to tell me that God talks to them, they are positing an objective truth assertion about the existence of God based on a personal sensation.  If experience is everything, than my experience should cancel theirs out when I say God is not real. As a Christian I fucked around with the psychosomatic, emotional and trancelike powers of prayer and meditation and scripture memorization. I felt the buzz. I felt the brain chemicals juicing the Holy Spirit through my vains. It felt good. I would be at a prayer service and feel like my heart was about to burst out of my chest.  The problem, Patches, is your typical Christian isn’t moved by the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon or Siek having similar experiences.  A typical Christian isn’t going to listen to a devout Muslim about how a prayer was answered.  At that point, the Christian argues towards a singular meta-narrative about the existence of God and how answered prayers are at best a product circumstance or coincidence.  I was a Christian who had ruled out all other Gods in favor of the Abrahamic God. I wasn’t a Jew.  I wasn’t a Muslim. That left Christianity. I know not everyone who believes in Christ is a Jerry Falwell type, but again, it wasn’t the method by which Christianity was delivered to me, or the style in which it was portrayed.  My problems are with the source material.  Not the wording of a verse or two. The concept of the evil God of the Old Testament and the evidence of God today.  It is no comfort to believe in a God who sits on his hands while little girls are circumcised in Africa.  It is no comfort to believe in a God who lets women in Detroit get raped on a public sidewalk.  God just allows terrible things to happen every day and then we go to church and I have to listen about God intervening in the events of human history, rending time and space to help someone get his tax return a day earlier than expected. A woman asks God to help her with a common cold while sitting next to a man who has no legs.  I am sick of the church and a tad bitter because of ridiculous bullshit like that, but don’t wag the dog by the tail. It was the Bible itself, God’s supposed love letter to white Republicans that turned me off.  Not his people.  Those are diseased cherries on top–with a notable exception–you, who are the epitome of patience and grace and who exudes friendliness so effortlessly.  You are a good person and I don’t want to see you post anything on your facebook wall about how you are some kind of worm that needed forgiveness and “why does God love me” kind of stuff.  Everyone should love you.  You don’t need to be forgiven. You don’t need to be validated. You have worth because you are a human being, and a damn good one at that.  You are not more interesting to me because an invisible hand guides you through your life. You are precious in your weakness and frailty because we are all weak and frail and our love for each other makes us something we could never be alone.  You needn’t sing worship songs to a God who nukes people in hell for being, I don’t know, a Catholic.  Love is pure and there shouldn’t be strings attached. You needn’t love a God who commands you to love him and worship him while listing a litany of threats if you don’t.  My mind is free of this sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick character in my imagination torturing me and making me second guess myself.  So my advice is, live a life marked by grace like the atheist Bill Gates who spends bajillions of dollars on malaria research.  Be marked by compassion.  Those things are accessible to all human beings.  We don’t need a God to have them, and their existence is not incumbent upon the existence of a God who for the majority of human history doesn’t seem to know their meaning.  So Patches, who would you burn in hell forever. Whose prayer for protection against a sexually abusive parent would you ignore.  Are you starting to realize that your own frail sense of morality is much kinder and altruistic than God’s? Are you ready to stop viewing his ways as so superior to your own? Which fatal car accidents would you allow and which ones would you stop?  Oh yeah, I forgot God works in “mysterious” ways. I am hoping against hope that 500 years from now someone doesn’t excuse Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot with such drivel.  The only thing mysterious about God is how smart and kind, beautiful girls believe in him and his asinine stories about talking animals and misogynistic supermen.  Short out.

From a Friend

The following blog entry was heisted, with permission from a very inspiring friend of mine from North Carolina.  She has been through a great deal of petty nonsense at the hands of the religious, but has also suffered some serious mistreatment as well.  Please feel free to leave a comment and I will see that she gets it 🙂

Here is her blog in her own words:

 

My first husband was a manic-depressive alcoholic.

If you have never experienced the manic side of a manic-depressive vying for your affection, you have missed out.  I had a partner who was focused on nothing but building me up and who enthusiastically promised me everything.  He followed through on that promise for a time, and it was a bliss I had never known.  The gullibility of my early 20’s left me unprepared for the fact that this situation could be anything other than the truth for eternity, even though my friends and family were baffled at my obviously poor choice.  They didn’t understand him like I did.  It was us against the world.  We were in love; we got married in Vegas; we had tattooed wedding rings; we moved two states away with no jobs, no plans, and no regrets.  Thankfully, I immediately got a very good job that I kept for years.  We were ready for “happily ever after”.

If you have never experienced the depressive side of a manic-depressive no longer vying for your affection, you have missed out.  And thankfully so.  I had a partner who was focused on the fact that I was the provider.  He was never able to hold a job for more than a few weeks (or days) at a time.  He thought the tables should be more balanced, so he tore me down with just enough truth that I started believing the 80% of lies and awful names hurled at me on a daily basis.  He escalated to threats of violence.  He followed through on those threats a few times (gotta love those whiskey nights).  My world crumbled.  How could this be my reality?  I made excuses for his behavior: maybe I provoked him, maybe I deserved it, maybe I could forgive him and he would be grateful (and change) and it would draw us closer together.  My gullibility, shame, and desire to believe any hope of reconciliation prepared me to accept each apology as a promise of reform, of better times ahead.  I had chosen him.  I had made vows.  We were married, for better or worse.  I had faith in him, and in us.
After nearly two years and one night of particularly irrational behavior, something snapped in me and I left.  I reached out to my estranged parents and they dropped everything in their lives to come rescue their prodigal daughter.  It was only through their overwhelming help and support that I was able to leave that marriage behind.

My post-divorce apartment came with a roommate who had also known an alcoholic’s abuse.  She had been involved with Al-Anon, a version of AA for those who have been affected by alcoholics in their lives, but were not alcoholics themselves.  She suggested I join her at a meeting, and I did.

My first, and only, meeting overwhelmed to me.  One woman’s words have stuck with me to this day.  She told of her alcoholic father with gut wrenching clarity.  His behavior was awful, manipulative, controlling, and pathetically transparent.  Each point ended with: “but he only does it because of the alcohol… he really actually loves me very much”.  There was a part of me that related strongly to her emotions, and to the crippling control that was applied by her father’s threat of “never speaking to her again” if she didn’t give him money for booze.  All she had to do was say no.  It was the healthiest option for both of them, but in their current conditions it would have crushed them both.  Even having lived through a much shorter version of this woman’s hell, it was still hard not to urge her to “just say no”, and “just set this single healthy boundary”.  Just do this seemingly trivial action that is, in actuality, not small and not “just” an isolated action.  It’s messy; it wrenches apart entire families; it “just” changes everything.  It’s still the healthiest choice.

That’s what happens when we live in a community where our reality is wrapped up not only in ourselves but also in those around us.  Anything that challenges that reality is never just as simple as applying a healthier outlook to our individual daily routine.  Our lives often aren’t the only ones affected by changes like this.  Now, after a decade of time has passed since that segment of my life ended, I face a new end with its own challenge.  This one has been a part of my reality for the entirety of my life.  Christianity.  Better put, my rejection of Christianity and religion as a whole.

For those who have never experienced this as part of your defining reality, you will likely not understand why I can’t “just” be out as an atheist.  I fully understand your criticism of me in this regard, and I heap it on myself in big dollops of internal judgement.  In my head I know the logic of this action.  I know that the gut-wrenching fear I have at the social losses it could possibly mean is (thankfully, somewhat) irrational.  Such a simple and healthy thing it is to be honest about one’s view of the world.

Like a manic-depressive’s lover, the religious highs and lows are utterly rapturous and completely depraved dichotomies as well.  You’ll hear Christians talk about basking in the warmth of a loving god; of complete reassurance in times of suffering because god is in control and has a purpose for their life; of the power of prayer.  They matter in a supernatural way, for a divine purpose of universal significance.  This is promised as truth for eternity.  You, feeble outsider, will never understand god without first accepting him and becoming a “real” Christian.  You don’t understand god like they do.  They are set apart from the world.  They have made professions of faith.  God’s name is written on their hearts, and he loves them.  Heaven is the promise of “happily ever after”.

When the lows hit and the world of the faithful is crushed by circumstances or doubt or personal failings in a way that leaves them feeling alone, they will reason desperately to make their faith fit their circumstances.  It must make sense.  There is a desperate focus on rejecting anything that challenges faith, because this is challenging a Christian’s entire world view.  They become an expert at focusing on any scrap of “truth” and goodness in faith and holy scripture as the overwhelming evidence that it simply must be real.  Even when faced with mounting evidence, it does not immediately convince someone to reject the myth, it often compels one to re-evaluate and criticize the evidence itself.  Because it is natural for a lover who desperately wants this eternal bond to be true to be hesitant to let that myth go.  In the eyes of the believer, god (like any typical abuser) is off the hook for any inflicted injuries, because he does it (allows it?) out of love.  Their pain, therefore, must be either deserved or justified, somehow, by a righteous love we will never understand.  Our human brains can’t see the fullness of it.  Sometimes we provoke his holy wrath by being too proud or self-reliant.  “Bride of Christ” takes on a personal meaning for me in this regard.  You, dear outsider, are likely baffled at the obviously poor rationalizations of the faithful.  But you don’t understand him like they do.  It’s them against the world.  They are promised better times ahead, in heaven.  They have chosen to accept the gift of salvation.  They have faith.
For those like me, who have taken a step back and truly evaluated the evidence on its own merits and have reached the conclusion that religion is not in line with reality, atheism becomes a state you find yourself in despite your best efforts at wishful thinking.   Somehow it still takes a conscious effort to convince your logical side to not only accept that this is true, but that this new-found truth is not some choice.  It is, rather, an acknowledgement of a reality that has always been there.
I have been lucky to be surrounded mostly by Christians who live in the “love thy neighbor” realm of moderate Christianity.  The handful of people who now know of my atheism have, more or less, reacted well.  While my parents technically know, the word ‘atheist’ has not passed anyone’s lips yet.  So far, not a single Christian I have shared this with has viewed my revelation as anything other than a phase I am going through.  I wonder daily if things will continue to go this smoothly once I am fully out, fully vocal, and fully reflecting on those closest to me.  What nasty things will people say about my parents for rearing, and my husband for remaining married to, a *gasp* atheist?  What prayers will be prayed?  What pity will they provide?  What gossip will they spread?
I have much more respect for those who have come out despite a family who rejected them outright since they now reject god.  They often lose relationships entirely, and their world is forever changed.  Their overwhelming bravery in the face of what they have lost makes my insecurities seem petty.  But it’s still a process for me, much like being comfortable with the stigma of divorce.   Even though I knew it was the healthiest option, it didn’t make the steps much easier to take, and it was still a long time before the shame left and the baggage was fully unpacked.
So if you don’t quite understand why I can’t “just” be out, please be patient with me.  It’s important, I know.  I think the best way we can show the world that atheists are a completely normal, moral, and let’s face it, fairly mundane and typical occurrence is for more of us to come out.  I’ll take those final steps soon enough.
And if you are a closet atheist, understand that you are not alone and you are not a necessarily a coward.  This is a big deal, and it is right to be cautious about the state you find yourself in.  As I read in a blog (here) recently:
“although I won’t be totally free until I come out of the closet, I can still experience freedom in my mind and heart, which are now, for the first time in my life, all mine.”

Afterglow and Ways to Bask In It

Friday afternoon I arrived in Lynchburg and ran into a very special friend of mine, some years my junior, called Victoria.  I later rendezvoused with my terrific friend Mary, a few years my elder.  After picking up some 3×5 cards and notebooks (I knew I would not use these) at Staples, I went for a walk around Liberty University.  The fresh faced freshmen were everywhere, giggling and honing the schtick that becomes the stuff of inside jokes for lifelong friendships.

I saw some balding 28 year old seminary stereotypes, not so fresh faced.  They looked like the lonely virgin strawmen I am known to prop up for my own rhetorical uses.  The stress carried underneath these mens’ eyelids seemed to tell a story that would concur with my most condescending sentiments.

Notwithstandng, the students were friendly, affable and predictably better dressed than myself at any era of my life past or future.  Bibles were carried with care and the racial diveristy seemed ready made for photo ops.  Every group of friends could be posing for a McDonalds application cover shot.

Victoria is a freethinker at a place where thinking is anything but free–in fact her freethinking has carried a cost more often than not.  Lonely and without her supportive boyfriend (who graduated some years ago and lives far from Lynchburg these days) Victoria just soldiers on through classes and the drudgery of campus life.  Her memory of her first wine colored months in her relationship at Liberty might be well accompanied by the song “Have you Forgotten?” by the Red House Painters.  A line in the song says plainly, “that’s when friends were nice.  Thinking about them made you feel nice.  I still can’t believe all the nice things you did for me.”

Most people who have gotten to know my friends like Victoria and Mary are quick to see the common denominator in the people who influence my heart so consistently.  They have big hearts.  They are unselfish.  They are honest and speak their mind.  They are low key and humble but never to the neglect of their passion for learning and living.  They are the winds of change in my life I needed when I was depressed.  I think of my friend Tommy Kiger whose innocense was wounded by numerous tours in Iraq.  He is a humble man and a startling intellect.  My best friend and hetero-soulmate Joe Dickinson remains the needle of my own moral compass.  My wife Laura gives me love and works hard as the provider in the family, since her job pays much better than mine.  The sun rises and sets in my son’s smile.  At five years old he teaches me more about life in a single moment of affection than the 22 years I lived before he was born.

Laura and I love each other but in my selfishness I am sad to think she may love me for the residue and faint shadow of the person I was at Liberty.  Victoria and Mary, Tommy and Joe and the beautiful people at the Lynchburg Secular Humanists association seem to approve of the person I am now.  They like me for who I am truly, the person I am simply not allowed to be around others.  My mother for instance, bruises rather easily when I speak.  Regardless of how much euphemism I employ, no matter the vagueries I use to soften my opinions.  She is a Tea Party Christian Baptist.  I am a tree hugging bleeding heart liberal with a soft spot for the Bill Mahers and Lewis Blacks of the world.  Many of her opinions offend me and mine hers. I love her and she loves me though, and it is a special love a mother can have that allows her the irony of it all.

So…to the point and to explain the title in some fashion.  I am basking in the afterglow of  3 days of adventure.  I was stretched as a person to speak at Randolph College and bare my soul in front of a video camera.  I opened up more than I had planned.  There will be consequences for the statements I made. I can never take them back.  The cat is so far out of the bag, and I set the bag on fire to ensure the cat’s future safety.

 

I must learn to accept the love of my mother and my wife on their terms.  Many others love me on mine.  Sometimes letting people love you is the hardest thing to do.  I love my wife and mother while not agreeing with many of their values but hypocritically cry foul when I think of their love for me.  I insist they agree with me and validate me.  That may never happen.  But I hope I can mature in the kind of man who can appreciate their attempts to cherish me.  How selfish am I?  I am afraid to consider the extent, truthfully.  I do know this, I burned bridges at Liberty and lost a great many friends.  While I ate cheesecake at Barnes and Noble with my friend Sheila, a businesswoman in Lynchburg–and my buddy Paul Young from LU–I felt like I had a home in their hearts.

Victoria’s shy smile betrays her hopeful heart and blows her cynical cover like a bad poker tell.  She loved reading Preacher Boy and my wife hasn’t read it at all.  Paul Young wouldn’t darken the door of a place I am speaking as he is a church going Christian.  Some of my friends are just facebook acquaintances but it is amazing how much happines they bring me with their sincere support.  My emotional mosaic is made up of all these people’s smiling faces and kind words. Like any mosaic, maybe I just need to take a big step back to allow the real picture develop before my eyes.  I shudder to think what a beautiful picture it will be.

tims poster.

This Saturday it all goes down//There is such a thing as a stupid question.

I am going back to Lynchburg Virginia this Friday as I plan to address a crowd at Randolph College.  It will be my first formal book signing.  Preacher Boy has been edited and is available for sale on amazon.  There is a small chance that orders placed this week will not apply to the newly edited format.  That said, I take with me 100 paperbacks of the new edition ready for sale.  I invite all Liberty students and really anyone who wants to come for an afternoon of comedy and philosophy and political commentary.

Keeping my emotions in check will be key for me as I tour the campus after being away for a few years.  Much has changed at LU but their commitment to their stranglehold theology of fundamentalism is intact.  The fervor of Right Wing passion never burned hotter, as evidenced by Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump being on campus today.

I know my talk will be a small blip on the radar for this town but I hope I can encourage someone while I am there and make a few dollars on book sales to help me get through the challenging year. The new book is coming along and I think it will be a fun one.

I am a little disturbed by the onslaught of anti-atheist books coming out and one I picked up recently really got me steaming.  It is called, “The Delusion of Disbelief” and it is a miserably conceived book.  The bulk of it seems to be nitpicking Dawkins’ take on whether or not America is founded on secular ideals. Also the author, David Aikman, rightly points out that Christopher Hitchens’ knowledge of Deism was off base.  That point is valid but the book leaves the reader wondering, “so what?”

I think I have an inkling of an idea why books like these are supposed to be effective.  In the Christian world, the Biblical faith is impregnably and infallibly perfect.  Nothing gets past the guards of the faith.  When finding fault with Dawkins or Hitchens works, the Christian jumps up in euphoric rapture because he feels the thread is coming unspooled.  Nonsense.  Hitchens and Dawkins never claimed to be perfect.  They never claimed to be theologians.  Their grasp of Scripture isn’t always right on.  But they are right more than wrong and the chinks in the armor do not cover vital parts of their overall argument.  Christians convinced their faith is perfect feel like atheism needs to provide a comprehensive and complete worldview like Christianity with an answer for everything.  Atheism is not a worldview, only a descriptor of many worldviews.

A man asked me, “on atheism, why is murder wrong?  In view of evolution, why is murder and rape wrong?”  This must have seemed to him a good question when he heard his pastor say it a hundred times as a rhetorical question while beating up a strawman atheist.  He thought he would pluck it from his repertoir of inane questions and lay it on me.  Bad idea.

Evolution is not a worldview.  It is not a religion. It is a science.  Even if evolution is false (and it is not) it is not meant to be a monolithic metanarative of human morality.  One can be a Deistic Evolutionist.  One can be any kind of evolutionist he chooses.  Evolution and atheism are not worldviews!

I asked him, “on electromagnetism, why is grand theft auto bad?  On plate tectonics, why is lying bad?  On gravity, is masturbation healthy?  In light of thermodynamics, is capital punishment good for deterring violent crime?  From a gynecological worldview, does divorce help kids perform in school?”

The question was a terrible one.  “On evolution….”  if you still don’t believe me, just exchange words for their helpful definition and repeat the question.  “In light of evolution ( the theory that complex life forms share ancestry with less complex lifeforms) how can it be argued that murder (wrongfully taking a life) is wrong (not right).”  The word murder implies wrongness in the first place, but aside from that….the question is simply a poorly conceived question and perhaps the reason for that is becase the people asking it probably never thought of the question on their own.  Perhaps they did think of it but made the mistake of asking a slick preacher for a canned answer.  In either case, the question is rarely asked with even feigned sincerity.

 

 

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