May 24, 2016 § 1 Comment
It wasn’t easy being the weird outsider creative kid growing up in the Fundamentalist church. I constantly berated myself for being an “over-analyzer” as though this was a fault rather than an asset. I struggled to conform to the unified whole, but was always left with the same person hiding inside my head. Secretly, I knew that the only path to my complete self was through diversity—of thought, of lifestyle, of culture. I knew this, though everyone around me kept saying over and over, “Be in the world, but not of it.”
I began drawing obsessively from about the age of seven, and by my teens was doing figurative paintings in oils. People were often impressed by my work, yet the feedback I most remember is, “These are beautiful, but when are you going to start bringing glory to God?” I took this to mean that if I wasn’t painting scenes from the Bible, my art had little value. This was the basic concept of what an artist should be. The entire back wall of the church was covered in tacky oil paintings depicting the life of Jesus.
I was trained to mistrust everything outside of our tightly woven sub-culture. I not only looked down on people who were not Christian, but I feared them as well. I absorbed these lessons of conformity, and though none of it felt right, I was afraid to ask questions. A question meant doubt, and doubt could result in my family, my friends, my church, my school, rejecting me. It was a narrative I had observed before, and one I was to experience to some extent later on.
These memories came up strongly for me as I did research from two books written by Christian writers—Art For God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken, and State Of The Arts by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. The two authors seek to “educate” the reader with a call to reclaim art for their faith, as though art should not be determined by the artist, but by the establishment. Ryken begins by observing the issues within the church for artists, with words that ring true to what I experienced:
“If anything, things are even more difficult for Christian artists. Some churches do not consider art a serious way to serve God. Others deny that Christians in the arts have a legitimate calling. As a result, Christian artists often feel like they have to justify their existence. Rather than providing a community of support, some churches surround them with a climate of suspicion (Ryken, 9).”
The individual artist is not only underestimated in their role, but also feared in their ability to examine and critique the system. The church is leery of this type of behavior since their ideology is based on faith rather than fact. From his fair assessment, Ryken’s treatise quickly devolves into a derailment against the art world, and the two writers—Ryken being strongly influenced by the work of Veith—go on to display their lack of education on modern art, and their inability to explore the work beyond face-value:
“In many ways the art world has become—in the words of critic Suzi Gablik—a ‘suburb of hell (Ryken, 13).’”
Along with sweeping generalizations of the non-believing artist:
“It has always seemed to me a great evidence for the Christian faith that those who reject it acknowledge, if they are honest, that without God they have no hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). Great unbelieving artists generally do not pretend that the absence of God in their lives is in any way fulfilling or a cause of rejoicing. Lacking God, they express their own emptiness. Looking outward, they probe and find that everything—other people, their society, nature itself—is a sham and a cheat. Is not their experience exactly what the Christian would predict (Veith, 210)?”
Veith’s observation here is a classic projection of his own beliefs onto those with an entirely different set of values. He holds assumptions about their worldview and their experience, concluding that they must be depressed and confused. I can’t comment for other artists, but since I am an unbelieving artist with greatness left to be determined, I take offense to Veith’s view. The only sham is the idea of God itself. With a bit of historical research, it doesn’t take much to understand that all gods pass away. The people who have created them, however, continue on in their formation of ideas.
Personally, when I first realized that God does not exist, I suddenly understood the concept of self-responsibility. There is no outside source directing my course. It is all on me—my choices, my initiative, my discipline. There is no one to blame for a misstep but myself. This redirection brought a sense of presence. I became more of a problem-solver. Fully embodied in nature, I no longer found it suspect. Rather than looking beyond this existence, I found the enormity of the present. There was nothing empty about this experience, and it improved my work as an artist.
“But whatever stories it tells, and whatever ideas or emotions it communicates, art is true only if it points in some way to the one true story of salvation—the story of God’s creation, human sin, and the triumph of grace through Christ (Ryken, 40).”
If a believing artist chooses to fall in line by directly promoting the church—as the church so often requests—their art degrades into propaganda. The general viewer is not interested in an art show as a form of religious proselytization. Rather, the audience seeks metaphor and examinations of established ideas. When a power structure uses the artist as a vessel for the promotion of a prerogative, the artist is subtracted down to the role of artisan. Yes, under a patron the artist may toy with the limits of their role, or use their artistry to go above and beyond, but the subject matter is typically chosen for them. Before the Renaissance, artists were generally viewed as artisans, and they received little respect in society.
Through many centuries of power, the Catholic Church understood the sway that art could have on their congregation. They staked their claim on visual artists, funding them and commissioning major works of art. Since most people could not read, the art served as the narrative. Though this set-up has changed drastically since then, the view that the church should direct the course of the art, still persists.
During the Reformation, as early Protestants sought to differentiate themselves from Catholicism, they destroyed many works depicting saints, and their fervor led to a general mistrust of art as being idolatrous. As a result, artists in Northern Europe faced a shortage of patrons for their work, and suddenly they had to paint of their own accord, without a commission directing their course. Subject matter shifted from religious and mythical depictions to scenes from everyday life.
Inadvertently, this rejection of visual art by the Protestant church led to the artist as a free agent. As the ideas of Humanism developed, art evolved as an ever-shifting landscape, wide and varied. It went beyond the limits of “beauty” and became a process of experimentation and exchange. When the individual is given value, there are no borders on creativity. We now benefit from the conceptual artist not only in art itself, but also in science, technology, and so many other aspects of contemporary life.
The problem between Christianity and art lies in the essence of both. Christians are told to not ask questions by accepting the mythical as being true. The artist is instructed to examine the details of every concept, and dissect the visual down to its basic elements to build it back up again.
It makes sense that everything I wanted to express as a young girl was in opposition to the limits imposed on me. In response to being instructed that a woman must be submissive, I painted strong women that I wanted to emulate. In order to work through my fear that the “darkness” would consume me, I dove right into it, and found that if you face it without fear, it has no power and does not even exist. I wanted to understand what made the world evil, and all I found was a world full of stories that only make sense when you listen, when you search, when you read from start to finish.
The thing is, even when you make these realizations, you still have to live in a world inhabited by people who think that myths are true. I have let go of my anger enough to have a dialogue with the people who tried to make me something that I was not. And since I am not a Christian, I can ask as many questions of believers as I choose. I keep them on their toes, and we have all grown for it. Every day, I lose another piece of the fear that I was raised with. It turns out, that being an “over-analyzer” was my greatest strength, not my greatest weakness.
December 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
My parents had some talks with their pastor about my views, and I’m wondering what they told him. I’m an Atheist—that dreaded word that no Fundamentalist Christian wants to hear in regards to their offspring. On top of that, I am writing a book about my views, and even worse, delving into the history of how religions grew, which reveals that ideology is as fragile as a house of cards.
My partner and I love to debate with my parents every time I uncover some new piece of research. I get excited about my project and love to share what I’m working on. Michael, on the other hand, struggles to understand why my parents believe. He has a high opinion of them, which doesn’t match up with his low opinion of their bizarre faith. In response to our queries, my parents offer up quotes, though we keep hoping for words that come straight from their own thoughts. It never happens. Instead, they run through the usual church-approved clichés of Pascal’s Wager, the fiction of science, and “don’t believe everything you read,” which can easily be used against their literal belief in the Bible.
So Pastor Lee gave my parent’s some guidance on how to counter my arguments with “evidence.” This led to two books by Josh McDowell—77 Faqs About God And The Bible: Your Toughest Questions Answered and The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. Though I wasn’t interested in borrowing the books, somehow I was sent home with them anyway.
McDowell’s bio reads like the usual bag of tricks lifted straight from the pocket of C.S. Lewis. He was a 19 year-old agnostic who wanted to prove faith wrong. With five more years to go before his frontal lobe was fully developed, he found evidence for faith. From there he attended all manner of Christian universities to become the big-time Christian author that he is now. He has 115 books to his name, many of them co-authored. That’s at a rate of about 3 books a year.
The first book I was given, 77 Faqs About God And The Bible: Your Toughest Questions Answered, had me at the title. It’s important to note the spelling chosen here—not Facts but Faqs—either way it’s ridiculous. Each chapter begins as an apologetics question followed by an “answer.” But that’s the problem—there are no answers to be found. There are opinions, suppositions, feelings, but nothing founded on fact or even research.
My favorite example is, “Does God have a gender?” According to McDowell, God does not have a gender based on the scripture where Jesus refers to his followers as a brood of chicks that he wants to protect like a mother hen. Therefore God is both paternal and maternal.
McDowell is missing the big picture. This is mainly because I’m sure he’s part of the crowd that believes the world is only 5,000 years old. The invention of patriarchal Abrahamic religion—which evolved from the Indo-European religion of the Storm God—was a direct attack against Goddess-centered beliefs and matriarchal societies. Over the course of thousands of years, beginning in the Neolithic period, women slowly began to lose their rights as the god of war succeeded the gods of agriculture. Eventually women went from being landowners and traders to becoming the property of men.
Gods always have a gender. Man is the author of the current god, and that god is most certainly male. He began as the Father God, and within Christianity, he is the father and son in one. It is now forgotten that the Mother Goddess birthed him, and that she was once the head of the trinity. The mysterious Holy Spirit now holds her place at the table.
Lets move on to McDowell’s magnum opus, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. In this book he claims that since all ancient cultures have a story about a massive flood, the story of Noah must be true. McDowell missed the course on metaphor. I’m sure there was a massive flood at one time, and this natural disaster spawned many legends. Legends grow, and legends evolve. Every culture had a different hero in the tale and a different version of the story. These cultures thrived on myth—the spoken word tales were both an entertainment and a cautionary tale. Ideas spread throughout the globe in the same way they do today—just a lot more slowly. The beliefs of Ancient Mexico share similarities with the beliefs of Ancient Egypt. It is absolutely incredible that distance makes no difference in the spread of legends and beliefs. This does not make the Bible factual. It is not meant to be—it is a religious book after all, and nothing about religion is based on facts. It’s based on politics, power, and control wielded through the weaponry of fables.
McDowell also shares that since several historical sources mention the existence of Jesus (Josephus for example) the story of his life must be true. Existence and story, however, are two different things. All you need to do is read a celebrity gossip magazine to understand this truth. What people say and what really happened are two different things. None of McDowell’s sources verify claims to a virgin birth or a resurrection—claims that were also made around all other savior gods in history, some who “lived” thousands of years before Jesus, displaying all the same signs of divinity that he apparently did.
Reading McDowell’s vague allusions brought up some anger issues that I thought I had fully worked through three years prior. For every Atheist argument, McDowell claimed that the research—which was directly quoted from the Bible—was taken out of context. This was all he could come up with. Perhaps what McDowell is really saying is that it’s taken out of the context of being in an obsessive relationship with a violent and jealous god whose misdeeds are ignored in order to fantasize that he’s all-loving and all-forgiving. Since I am no longer in a relationship with an imaginary deity, I can see the contradictions clearly, and in truth believers see them as well, they simply choose to ignore them.
Emotionally, those two books brought up all my fears about being trapped in stupid. My nightmares came back—the ones where I can’t escape Christian high school and I can never get out or grow up or have my own views. At least this time, I had the strength to say, “I don’t belong here.” After about a week, I wrote my feelings down, and the dreams went away.
The problem with McDowell’s books is that they only make sense to believers, which is of course his target audience. Christians say that those who don’t believe are sinners, but I say that not believing is the ethical choice. Growing up, I always knew it was wrong that we looked at outsiders as fallen people who couldn’t help themselves. I always knew it was wrong that as a female I was less than. I knew it was wrong when I was told not to ask questions. Looking back, I can’t imagine how my superiors actually succeeded in getting me to believe that the Bible was true. Sure, I wondered why stories like that didn’t still happen today. Religion is a game of pretend—seek and you shall find smoke and mirrors.
My parents are never going to let go of the hope that I will come back to God. Though we communicate our feelings and views openly, it still feels like I’m barely ever heard. My mother used to condemn people for their superstitions. She didn’t realize that she was at all superstitious, but that’s what religion is. I wish that they could see it. Maybe it’s just enough that religion ends with me.
October 8, 2014 § 2 Comments
We have a friend who stays with us intermittently between foreign travels, hiking trips, and constant moves. He enjoys shedding life belongings to experience the freedom of living out of a few packs. In between hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and moving to Washington DC, he left a couple of bags of stuff here and a few cameras. One bag had been sitting in the corner for a week, so yesterday I finally pulled it out. Underneath a nondescript pair of grey sweatpants, I found his most abhorrent belonging – a bottle of mezcal with a dead viper biting onto a scorpion inside.
I am a big fan of mezcal, but not of the dead things people put in it. Dead animals completely nauseate me. I used to cover for my husband at the old building we managed, and picking up dead rats off the street made random heroin needles and used condoms seem like a breeze to clean up. Trying to shake off the blood, guts and gore; the weight of a two-pound dead animal in my garbage bag after placing it there with gloves and paper towels – it was enough to ruin my day.
The bottle of mezcal was bothersome. First off, I wondered about the process of killing the animals inside. Does it occur before or after they’re bottled? Who handles the deadly creatures before they’re dead? Having dead animals in the house was nauseating (curiously, my preserved butterfly art piece has never given me this feeling). On top of that, the bottle seemed like a sick form of hoodoo that I didn’t want around.
Dizzying things kept happening throughout the rest of the day. My husband started moaning from the bathtub, asking me to pull a piece of glass out of a cut in his foot. I refused to dig into the gash, but obliged in holding up a flashlight for him to see more clearly. Then after that, he vomited up his lunch – he has an incredible reflex for removing any tainted food from his body. I made a delicious roast chicken with herbs, but afterwards, I couldn’t digest properly because Michael was so stressed over the non-responsive Internet.
It all came to a head as we were watching ‘The Strain’ – which includes more nauseating things like preserved organs in formaldehyde, and zombie creatures that suck blood with their enormous lurching tongues. It seemed like my day had been steamrolled by the bottle of dead things. I thought longingly of my beautiful time spent editing, out in the square in the sunshine, when everything felt right and wonderful and full of Umbrian chocolate squares next to Americano’s.
“That’s it!” I said, getting up in the middle of the show. “I’m getting rid of that bottle. I don’t even want it on our balcony or in our storage unit or anywhere. I feel bad, but it needs to go. I don’t like people leaving things here when I don’t even know what’s in my own home.”
With that, I grabbed the bottle which Michael had put outside in a grocery bag, and stormed down to the first floor, through the long garage, out to the street, where I gently tossed it into the trash bin with the garbage man idling behind the bar next door. My mezcal hand buzzed with wacky energy. It wouldn’t stop for ten minutes. Then after a half an hour, all was well with the world. Michael was amazed by my sudden bout of sensitivity.
“Okay,” I admitted, “so I had a moment there where I became my mom. So what.”
“A weird superstitious moment. Though that thing really was disgusting.”
Beyond the dead viper instilling an extreme ick factor in me, it was the intention behind it that bothered me – whatever that was. I don’t believe in religion, but I believe in intentions – if people believe something strongly enough, they are bound to make it true for themselves and affect the people around them too. I couldn’t trust what the intentions were behind the bottle (though it was most likely just a novelty item). The sight of it was enough to make me not want to dig that deep – a leftover instinct from my superstitious upbringing.
As a young Christian, I really thought that all of that stuff I was told was real. The devil was always in the bushes, waiting for my weak moment so that he could claim me. God was always judging everything that I did, though I barely ever actually heard his voice – the voice in my head that told me I would escape doom and destruction. The end times were coming, and the mark of the beast was on everything.
There are such things as hexes and energy vampires and wigged out people in cults. Yet still, after all that I’ve seen and experienced – the miracles, the covens, the energy sucking, the Santeria space cadets in white, the voodoo packets left in people’s houses, the full moon rituals – I still find that now I no longer believe in good and evil. To a great extent, there is quite a lot of fakery that goes on. This leads to belief, which spreads intention. The mind begins tripping on itself, and tripping others up in its wake. Fear plays a major role in all of this. Buying into extremes of good and evil can drive people crazy, and has caused more wars and deaths than we can count.
The idea of “good” is just as faulty as the idea of “evil.” What is good for one person is horrible for the next person. There is no one size fits all in goodness. Even one person’s form of love can be humiliating and suffocating to the next person. “Goodness” is often a cultural badge of customs and traditions, and a way of seeing outsiders as evil. Goodness comes from the Middle English word godness.
Likewise evil is an idiom for devil or Satan. Our language is built on Christian mythology. Evil is most often used as a label for cultures or people groups we don’t understand. The villains in stereotypical action movies all have vaguely Arabic names and features, or in ‘The Strain’ for example, the enemy is a Nazi German who gained immortality through the Master – a Satanesque creature. In film – the hero so often bears a square jaw, corn-fed muscles, and symmetrical features, while the villain bears a prominent nose and olive skin. Evil is an idea that is ingrained in us from the time we’re children – beginning with the propaganda of popular films.
In politics, when a country counters by arming in the same way that the U.S. continues to do, that country is looked on as “evil.” There is no thought involved in how all of our bombs must make people in other countries feel. Instead, it becomes a war of egos – any country with an ego as big as ours is a threat of mass destruction. Yet the truth is, the U.S. is responsible for more mass destruction internationally than any other country, and it’s not hard to see why we receive threats and attacks from Al-Qaeda and now Isis. Our attempts at “rescuing” other countries are something that Americans have seen as “good” while those who have lost their homes and families see as “evil.”
Religion causes these ideas of “good” and “evil” to be magnified into an international battle of spiritual warfare. In this mindset, we are not dealing on a human level, but in a demons against angels level. In other words – life doesn’t exist in reality, it exists in a blockbuster Marvel movie. Differences are magnified rather than what we commonly share. There is no seeing the issues from the opposite point of view.
It’s true that we’ve seen a great deal of dictators in the past and present that seem to be “evil.” They often got to their position of power through deep-seated psychological issues that became magnified as their position increased. The more power you have, the more you can get away with. The more people fear you, the more it becomes difficult to empathize from on high. Mega-church pastors are susceptible to the same course as they gain more and more power over their congregations. Watch how quickly they fall.
Good and evil are two categories that lack honesty and are rooted in myth. What I want to know is how did that person go from point A to point B and what caused their need for that trajectory and the actions that followed? There is a story behind everyone, which doesn’t make them less guilty of crimes, but explains the situation through critical analysis rather than through basic archetypes of heroes and villains. If we’re all honest with ourselves, we play both the hero and the villain on a daily basis.
When I was a Christian, deep superstitions were ingrained within me so deeply that I couldn’t see outsiders for what they really were – people just like me. Instead, I saw them as wicked creatures lurking to tempt me or take advantage of all my weakness. If you weren’t a Christian, you spent your life in a bar, abused your family, and ended up in prison. It’s amazing that I actually thought this. If I had looked around my own neighborhood for example, I could have seen that non-Christians were not slaves to vice, but hard working people just like my parents. However, I was only exposed to outsiders on a very limited basis. My Christian school, my church, my home – these were the places I lived. There was barely a window with a view.
On one hand, it’s embarrassing to think of my extreme reaction to the dead viper biting the scorpion in the bottle of mezcal. It reminds me of the way I thought under the myths of good and evil. When we hid in the basement on Halloween from the frightful creature people asking for candy; the dolls I couldn’t have because they might be possessed by demons; the way my mother cheered when she saw that a Psychic’s hut had burned down on the way to the Six Flags Amusement park.
The bottle also represents a culture I don’t understand – a sense of machismo in dead deadly things; a last laugh; a who is the victim now; a power trip against the dangers of nature. The bottle holds a reality that I am sheltered from in a northern city with only rats, fleas, and fruit flies.
Snakes are a shiver-inducing animal. The way they slither; the way they eat their prey whole; their sinister existence. Cold-blooded animals are foreign to us – the opposite of our species. Lacking in bonds and solitary in their daily aim to sleep and kill and be on the move. They are difficult to understand. And though I spent one summer fascinated by the garter snakes that swam in the backyard pond, I was sickened by my own obsession and had nightmares that the snakes were slithering all over me in a sea of grass.
Before I ever saw real snakes, I was obsessed that one would slither up through the toilet and bite me in the ass. For a long time after I was potty trained, I made a habit of washing my hands before flushing the toilet, so that I could run out the door and escape the snake if it should come up.
Maybe my issue with snakes comes from some Freudian issue surrounding toilet training. Who knows. I am as much fascinated by the way they move, as I am horrified. Nature is wide and varied. Our response to certain animals has a lot to do with self-protection. If you see a snake in the wild that is something beyond garter, it’s best to get away. A healthy dose of revolt is built into our DNA. Even snakes, though at times our enemies, are not evil. As much as I think living rats are cute, someone needs to eat them to keep the population down – snakes are very good at that – and there’s no flattened, bloody rat carcasses to clean up afterwards either – the beauty of eating your food whole.
August 27, 2014 § 4 Comments
When I first began writing my book on how religion keeps us from being happy, I couldn’t even open my Bible without feeling a deep-seated sense of disgust. Simply removing the blue leather clad book from the shelf made me ill. I couldn’t wait to put it back again. The Bible represented years of pain and depression. It reminded me of all the friends that disowned me when I left; all the love that wasn’t there; tricksters under the guise of miracle-workers; control freaks; condescending misogynist leaders caught with their pants down; shame; hatred for outsiders; and lies that spread fear.
A year later, and the Bible is on my work table all the time. I love digging in to find the specifics of every story I’ve heard so many times that it’s surprising to find each one is completely different than I remembered. Instead of having to read it in order to believe it, I can now read it in total shock that I once believed it, and be amazed by that insanity. I love the Bible more now than I ever did as a Christian. It was a chore to read it in my place of belief because it never felt completely alive. I no longer have to fight that feeling. It is now simply an interesting piece of literature.
What I’ve learned through writing books is that the place where you start has zero resemblance to the place where you end up. The issues I write about still make me angry, but the anger has transferred from my own life, to the lives of others. I see now, that what I’m writing can help people. In talks that I’ve had with those who are struggling, I see that it helps them to understand they are not alone in their misgivings – the conclusions that they come to are their own journey, and I am just there to present a different point of view.
The history of world religions is a fascinating story of thought patterns that spread like a virus. When at its most insistent to spread, dogma pounded down the dissidents, and bloodbaths followed. More people have been killed for the sake of, or at the excuse of, religion than any other motivating force. This result usually first takes place a few hundred years after the religion is first born. The initial phases of a new belief system are a golden age of love and community. When that era is long enough in the past to become mystical, power-hungry individuals turn those teachings into a means of furthering hierarchy. This results in conquest of other people groups, a stamping out of other religions, and the intertwining of church and state. All of these issues have had detrimental effects on societies, wiping out advancements in philosophy and science with the destruction of thousands of books, cultures, and people groups.
The finest moments of history have been in eras of doubt – Greek philosophy and science, the Renaissance, and even the era we now live in. The heretics of yesterday are the heroes of today. Even within religion, those who experienced doubt were able to advance ideologies on a different route, though they were first viewed as Atheists. Buddhism developed out of Hinduism as a rejection of the deity structure. Zen expanded from Buddhism into the enlightened path of the individual. John Wycliffe was an early dissident of the Catholic faith and called for the separation of church and state. His body was exhumed after his death and he was burned at the stake. The early Christians were the Atheists of their day in the rejection of Roman paganism – a religion that furthered the state rather than the individual.
I am on the path of doubt. Which might be viewed as negative to some, but to me, my life is open to philosophy and closed for business to dogma and illusion. My parents were over for dinner last Sunday, and for the first time, my dad actually noticed the bookshelf full of research for the religion book. He said, “C.S. Lewis is swimming in a sea of negativity.” I replied, “I don’t need the books on Christianity because it’s all in my head. It’s the entire education you brought me up in. And I really don’t like C.S. Lewis.”
I continued on, explaining what some of the books meant for me. How Karen Armstrong revealed the entire history of religion, how Sue Monk Kidd woke me up to patriarchy, how Christopher Hitchens made it okay to get really angry, which led to the first steps of my recovery. I didn’t mention that the reason why I don’t like C.S. Lewis is that I found his arguments weak and that it seemed as though he rejected Atheism in favor of peer pressure (Tolkien was instrumental in his conversion). It was also a way to return to his childhood self after the loss of his parents – what Freud would call the juvenile need for God.
It’s true that the entirety of Christian thought will remain inside my mind for life. No one needs to remind me of it, or recap something I might have missed. For the hard facts, I am just like a Christian – I need no other books besides the Bible to explain what the Bible actually says. What is written there is completely different from what Christians say in the books they write.
A year ago, writing the religion book seemed like an insurmountable feat – like climbing Mount Everest. There was so much information to wrap my head around, so many books to read (and still read), and so much excess baggage of writing to get to the good stuff for a final draft. If you look at the entire project all at once, it seems impossible. But broken down into bits of chapters, week by week, it grew. It’s still growing.
There have been times where I was so sick of this topic that I wanted to give up and start writing a novel. Every time I tried, I bounced right back into the current book. I also had to deal with some resistance from a guy in my writer’s group. Overall, however, the group has been invaluable, prodding me in the right directions, asking questions, pointing out the spots that needed filling out.
I’ve been asked many times, “Why are you writing this book?” There are many reasons. I find it important to fight against dishonesty. That dishonesty has harmed millions of people. It’s created shame where there should be none. There is nothing flawed with the way that we naturally are. We are organisms within the scheme of nature, not spiritual entities trapped inside of bodies, battling between good and evil. I’m writing this book because I’m tired of seeing the same things happen to people I love that happened to me fifteen years ago. At some point, a negative cycle must be broken.
At the end of the Bible, in the prophecy of Revelation, God decides to break his negative cycle as well. He realizes that creating the earth was a disaster, and the only thing to do is destroy it and cry, “Do-over!” He bids the angels to torture humanity, then begins the mess by throwing people into a giant wine press, where their blood flows up to the height of horses bridles for 180 miles. He turns the oceans into blood and kills everything that swims, and uses the sun to scorch those who remain. Then he shuts the lights off completely. Satan is a mere pawn in the escapade that gets locked up for a thousand years. When the dragon is released, he spurs the resurrected into a war across the four corners of the earth (the world was still flat), and is then tossed into sulfur and destroyed.
In the end, every character is a pawn – from humans to angels to the devil himself. Victims of a stage play that ends as a tragedy. Rather than a story of love, the Bible ends as a series of abusive relationships. And what does the next world look like? There is no mention of improvements that will be made or how a very flawed God will fix himself to make things right. Will he do away with his insane need for affirmation, his explosive jealousy, and his desire for puppets rather than humans? I would love to read the sequel to this gripping piece of fiction. And no wonder why, as a Fundamentalist Christian, I was scared to death of even living life.
May 17, 2014 § 4 Comments
In the book The Question of God – C.S. Lewis And Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, And The Meaning Of Life by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., it is obvious that the author takes the side of Lewis with his mention of a lifelong fascination for the transformative aspects of faith. He presents Freud as a floundering pessimist, while it appears that post-conversion Lewis has all the answers. Nicholi’s title suggests that Lewis and Freud actually did debate, when in reality they may have never met, and Lewis wrote his points against Freud several years after Freud’s death.
The two men share some common themes – both based their atheism on a pessimistic worldview and lived in a time when there was less evidence to support a godless existence. The main difference between the two men is that Freud was a Jew and C.S. Lewis grew up as a Protestant. Protestantism never left the core of Lewis, and his friends (including Tolkien) hounded him through his atheistic years, discussing issues of faith late into the night. His peers played a major role in his conversion.
I’ve always questioned why an Atheist would become a Christian. In reading this book, I realized how limited the range of knowledge was just a hundred years ago. Lewis never actually believed that God did not exist. He only wished it. He had as much faith in that as a Christian has for the existence of God.
According to Freud’s theories, this wish correlates with the strained relationship Lewis had with his father resulting in a desire against authority figures. It’s no surprise that after the death of his father in 1929, Lewis converted to Christianity just two years later in 1931. Perhaps his unresolved issues led to a wish for a sense of authority over his life. Strangely enough, my father also converted just shortly after his father’s death, leading me to believe that this might be a common reaction to the loss of a parent.
“The very idea of an ‘idealized Superman’ in the sky – to use Freud’s phrase – is ‘so patently infantile and so foreign to reality, that … it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never rise above this view of life (Nicholi, 36).”
I haven’t lost either of my parents, so it’s hard for me to understand the need to find an imaginary replacement figure. But I will always remember, as clear as though it’s happening in the present, the months after my mom lost her mother. I was only nine years old, but somehow, from that time forward I began to feel that I was the mother and she was the child. It was a strange flip-flop that confused me and left me feeling overwhelmed.
To pre-conversion Lewis, since God allowed terrible things to happen, it seemed better that God not exist at all. This is an extremely weak argument, having more to do with the character of God rather than whether or not he exists. In the end, Lewis felt that his own knowledge of good and evil proved God’s existence. But does it?
In religious thinking there is the belief that morals are something separate from us. We don’t know how to behave unless God shows us how. Except that we do behave as long as our needs are met. It’s the same with all primates (because, yes we are primates) and all other species of animals.
As long as food, sex, and land isn’t hoarded by alphas, and as long as the population doesn’t get out of hand, there is no need to commit crimes or start wars. A friend just told me a story of an anthropologist who married a Venezuelan woman from a far-flung tribe in the jungle. They had a child together, but six years later, she couldn’t take it here anymore, and she went back to her village. She felt isolated in the States, and she missed the close-knit community and tight network of support in her village. Togetherness was the root of her happiness.
“‘The idea of a universal moral law as proposed by philosophers is in conflict with reason.’ He writes that ‘ethics are not based on a moral world order but on the inescapable exigencies of human cohabitation (Nicholi, 60).'”
Values differ between cultures according to the needs of the community. A culture that subsists on nomadic hunting and gathering would be disturbed by our obsessive need to hoard property and our lack of community within a massive population. However, according to Lewis, there is a universal moral order that does not change much from culture to culture. This imperialist attitude reflects his own shortsightedness and lack of education on the outside world. A master on the literature of Western Civilization, the stories he loved to read didn’t exactly fill in the gaps on world cultures.
Nicholi relays the change in Lewis post-conversion: “It happened when he was thirty-one years old. The change revolutionized his life, infused his mind with purpose and meaning, and dramatically increased his productivity; it also radically altered his values, his image of himself, and his relationships to others. This experience not only turned Lewis around, but turned him outward – from a focus on himself to a focus on others (Nicholi, 77).”
New Christians exhibit the changes of a person who is in love – but since the love object is imaginary and apparently all-powerful, the experience is heightened by fear, unworthiness, and the joy of escaping everyday reality.
When my mom first converted, no one outside the church really wanted to deal with her. She wrote her Catholic father that he would go to hell unless he converted. She answered every phone call with, “Hello, Jesus loves you!” and posted a yellow sign in the back window of her minivan that said, “Smile if Jesus Loves You!” It was all very in your face, and her siblings still struggle to forgive her for her actions. I’m amazed that my parent’s marriage survived through the eight or so years that my dad wasn’t a Christian.
Today, my mom is much more mellow, but still likes to put in her two cents. Nature is not at work – no, it’s always a miracle. And to her, an Atheist could never win a debate against a Christian. She is enmeshed in faith, and is happy with the blinders that block out the rest of the world. I love her, but it’s always bothered me that this faith, or the way that she chooses to live, keeps her locked in a fantasy. Overall, this has been my experience of churchgoers (and I lived among thousands of Christians in numerous denominations through the first half of my life).
Though Freud had many insights into psychology and is known as the father of psychology, he wasn’t the greatest example of a human being. He had a difficult life, faced life-threatening anti-Semitism, and partially because of this his ideas were met with a lack of acceptance. There was war and many deaths of loved ones. He suffered from depression, and found that small doses of cocaine lifted his spirits.
Nicholi uses Freud’s struggles to show that his life was a failure without the comfort of faith. But why should a Jew convert to Christianity in the first place? And why is Christianity the only faith given here as an example?
According to the Christian faith, it’s the only religion that transforms the believer from the inside out. I’ve never seen this to be the case. Instead I’ve seen people trying desperately hard to be good even though their impulses are testing them otherwise – the emphasis on avoiding “evil” makes the “dark side” ever more enticing. I never encounter this sort of obsession with non-believers, and everyone is much more relaxed and well adjusted.
To post-conversion Christians, just as in a relationship, that initial feeling of being in love evolves into a more stable steady love. The lover still behaves, but hidden away from the people who judge the most is a sea of inner desires. To share how you really feel is to run the risk of losing family and the community at large. The more that is hidden, the more it grows, becoming distorted and almost impossible to get a handle on. I don’t know of a Christian who hasn’t gone through some form of inner battle, and the best survivors are those that are control freaks. There is not much there in the way of pure honesty, especially regarding the self. In fact, when I first left the church, I was on a high of honesty for years, not caring how much I shocked people. It was just so freeing to be completely honest.
Throughout my years as a Christian, C.S. Lewis was the ultimate intellectual authority on Christianity. He brought issues concerning faith to the forefront of his stories and discussions. He took his beliefs beyond theology, and made it seem more like philosophy. Unfortunately his arguments don’t hold up since there was no room for facts. He was the perfect candidate for Christianity precisely because he was easily swayed by the emotions he felt through great pieces of literature.
He was always a Protestant – the fifteen or so years that he rejected it were not as much rejection as a wish against and avoidance of what he felt to be true. In his words, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself… (Nicholi, 105).” Once again, our feelings, experiences, and morals are seen as something apart from ourselves and separate from nature.
“… Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend that ‘Christ promises forgiveness of sins. But what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned (Nicholi, 73)?”
What exactly is this law of nature and why wouldn’t natural beings that are of nature be privy to it? Putting nature into submission of a purported law is silly and egotistical. Lewis is not much next to the extreme power of nature. The fact that he was mortal is the first clue in this. Nature had little regard for him, and has little regard for all of us. Nature and religion are two very different things. Religion is a manipulation for order. Nature is a balance between supply and demand. The truth is, there would be fewer problems in nature if there were less of us living on the planet.
I think it’s very difficult for most Christians to understand that Agnostic Atheism is not necessarily a pessimistic worldview. I know that it is for some, but for me personally, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel that it’s the most realistic worldview there is. I have an ultimate respect for the grandness of nature, and the fragility of existence. I have no desire to exist forever as a spirit, or reside in an uneventful place like heaven – I’ve been in many beautiful mansions, and all they are is lonely. I feel empathy for other beings because I see that we are all as one. Since I love myself, I know how to love other people. It’s not that hard to figure out. And as for God, I’ve never seen any evidence of his existence, and it’s certain that I never will. That’s not to say that I don’t think there might be other beings in the universe. Wherever and whoever they are, they are nothing like the controlling egomaniac that humans have fashioned for themselves.
It is obvious that earth is a place meant for growing, and not things that are made out of magic. Ancient people groups had no way of understanding existence without the assistance of myth to soothe the masses. I find it unbelievable that people are still choosing to live that same way today. Faith is presented as a comfort, but compared with what is actually written in the Bible, it should be sending believers into a tailspin of fear and frenzy.
I wouldn’t wish a belief in God on anyone. Far from being “perfect” – he’s presented as jealous, insane, bloodthirsty, ready to ask his followers to commit genocide on the drop of a hat. The concept of God and what he demands is in total rejection of all that we naturally are. To believe in a being that is so contrary to us as a species is to make life much more difficult and full of conflict than it ever has to be. The idea of God can make anyone go crazy – and it has on occasions too numerous to count. All you have to do is mention the date “9/11” and religious extremism presents itself loud and clear. Extremism has been a dominating force for centuries.
I’ve been told that I should question why I write about religion, and whether or not it’s honorable to cause people to question what they believe. I see nothing wrong and everything right with asking people to stop believing and start seeing with their own two eyes. For one thing, rational thinkers make for rational societies. Losing faith and analyzing it for what it really is was a painful and necessary process for me. Without that, I would have never found my own wellbeing. I like to spread that happiness.
Overall, though, I think that most of the readers who enjoy these posts are people who think as I do. I find it difficult and painful to read books that speak from the opposite point of view. For this fact, reading The Question Of God was not easy. Freud certainly had his hang-ups, but I didn’t enjoy how the author constantly pitted him against Lewis, presenting one man as the winner and the other as the loser. And all the while, Freud’s theories rang loud and true for me. Not to mention, they are the groundwork for which the author has based his life career on as a professor of psychiatry.
January 16, 2014 § 5 Comments
Tonight, my sister’s family is boarding a plane that will lead them back to Wewak, Papua New Guinea. They have been doing their work there for eighteen years, and on this furlough, they were home longer than they have ever been – a year and a half – due to a new policy of needing full financial support before returning.
They are Wycliffe Bible Translators – trained in linguistics to use the blueprint of the Roman alphabet to produce a written language for a small village known as Pouye. This is one language of the 1,000 languages in PNG, out of the 6,000 languages in the world.
At the start, my sister and brother in-law learned to speak Pouye, then determined which letters are used in the language. After this map, they comprised the written language, taking into account cultural differences. Then they began the process of teaching the people to read and write, and of course, instilling them with their faith.
I could tell numerous stories about their time there, but I’ll never know what it’s really like to live the way they do. Each time they are preparing to go back, I keep hoping that they won’t go. And each time they come home, I watch patiently as they go through culture shock. It literally takes them a full year to reacclimate and catch up to all that they have missed.
Because my nieces are often so isolated, I didn’t really think that my oldest niece, Cynthia, would become a full-on teenager. But it’s happened – she’s fifteen and begging for a new phone every year. In that phase where she’s not fully present, rapt over social media, selfies, and games on her phone. Half young woman, half slightly awkward – but next time I see her, she’ll be eighteen, and that last half will probably be gone.
I was so amused, this time around, that the girls are at the age where they’re developing their own opinions. Mom and Dad are no longer the ultimate end-all be-all. They had journals of secrets and a complex magic club. Cynthia told us, “There are more pros than cons to the witch doctors where we live.” Being a super herbalist healer myself – due to years of no medical insurance – I had to agree. Though you wouldn’t want to be the unfortunate tourist who purchased the wrong kind of wooden statue – the one with a hex on it to keep the tourists out. The only way to reverse the hex, she told us, is by burning the token.
I’m trying to hold it together as I think about all of the memories I have with my nieces. All the times they spent the night and we ate ice cream and pizza, made paintings with watercolor and gouache, went to the museum where Cynthia pointed out the blonde voodoo doll that looks just like Leah, shopped at my herbal store where we bought pestles and mortars, toured a historic boat that functions as a hotel, went to the zoo, or the park. There is so much more I wish we could have done.
Since Cynthia is in high school, when they get back she’ll be going to a boarding school at a mission base on the other side of PNG. It makes me feel a little uneasy that she’ll be so far away from her family. Being the youngest sister myself, I relate a great deal to Leah. She often feels like the underdog, though she is talented and witty with an incredible imagination. My older sister left home when I was twelve, and now Cynthia is leaving when Leah is almost twelve as well. I keep seeing history repeat itself.
Being apart, they will change a great deal. Leah will come into her own and feel less overshadowed, but she’ll also feel lonely without her sister. Cynthia will become more independent, focused on making her own decisions, forming her own thoughts through her love of writing and art.
If this is the last term for my sister and brother-in-law, I also wonder what the next phase of their lives will be. What will they do? Will they teach? My sister has shown that she can acclimate, and has been working as an assistant Spanish teacher. But my brother-in-law seems more uncertain of his place outside of missionary life. He is known there as a leader, but here, he hasn’t had the opportunity to establish himself in that way. It seems important that he find his footing here in the states, eventually.
All four of them have kept moving so constantly that gypsy life is ingrained in them. They all fear the idea of staying in one place for more than a year. In that constant movement, there is little chance for a complete life to take root. I only say this, because for a long time, I lived that way as well. It’s the “Hello, Goodbye” lifestyle. We’re never able to completely work out our issues because there is never enough time together.
I get nervous being one on one with my sister. I attempted to have lunch with her once – the second time we were alone together since she got married. Her silence makes me want to fill the air with words. I wonder if she expects me to ask her questions, but I don’t know what questions to ask, and I prefer that she fill in the blanks without my prodding. She told me that I talked too much. I am an open book, and she is a closed one – she knows me so much better than I will ever know her. I have no idea how to solve her mystery.
There are many things we never say. We never bring up the fact that I didn’t become the Super-Christian that she so wanted me to be (including the time that she tried to send me to a rehab camp in Texas for straying Christians). They’ve read some of my writing, but no one ever brings it up. And we never discuss that I have mixed feelings about what they do for a living.
In Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond, the course of our evolutionary development is traced through the conquest and spread of civilization. His book offers a total education in how human society functions through the game of winners and losers. At one point he asks, “Why was proselytizing religion (Christianity and Islam) a driving force for colonization and conquest among Europeans and West Asians but not among Chinese (Diamond, 419)?”
As countries, empires, languages, and people groups have come and gone, China has remained Chinese, with an unchanging language and power structure for longer than almost anywhere. It is an insular large land mass, and though as a culture they have made leaps and bounds in technology and invention, an absolute leader has always stalled the process, causing a sort of catch-up game hundreds of years later.
In Europe, however, there are many small countries with open communication. If one leader is not buying a concept, another one will. If the concept is successful, the other leaders have to adopt it or risk getting swallowed up by the more successful country. This model pertains not only to countries but to corporations, organizations, governments, and religion.
Christianity is a conquest religion. First come the missionaries, then comes the government. The big businesses are drawn by untapped resources and cheap labor, which leads to total cultural take-over.
In the past eighteen years, a lot has changed in Papua New Guinea. Its resources have encouraged development – and if you want to rent a home there, $4,000 a month is on the low-end. I wouldn’t be surprised if land gets bought up right from under the feet of the natives. It’s the same old story.
In the 1970’s, the highlanders had been farming with stone tools for thousands of years while those in the swamp areas existed on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Before humans ever arrived, large mammals existed there, but since then, there has been so little protein, that cannibalism existed until modern Australians threatened the human-eaters with guns. Society there developed in utter isolation from the original Asian population that first founded it (certain people groups that looked much different back then than they do today).
“… difficulties of terrain, combined with the state of intermittent warfare that characterized relations between New Guinea bands or villages, account for traditional New Guinea’s linguistic, cultural, and political fragmentation (Diamond, 306).”
This fragmentation and geographic isolation kept New Guinea from developing as a civilization, though until three thousand years ago, it was actually more advanced than Australia, the islands of Bismarck, and the Solomon Archipelagoes.
To most Papua New Guineans, technology is “white man’s magic.” Western medicine and an encouragement to decrease warfare has improved the population. Is it patronizing to ask that a culture remain untouched so that we can enjoy the Stone Age from afar? Is it patronizing to take over? Rather than answers, there is the inevitable progression of globalization.
Quickly, the old traditions disappear, replaced with our customs, our food, our business, our religions. The first thing they are given to read is the Bible. Not their own stories, but the stories of a once tiny tribal religion that began in the Fertile Crescent – a place so raped of its natural resources that it is now only a dessert.
Within my family, there are eight different people with differing life experiences, belief systems, and lifestyles among three different generations. Maybe all of that difference keeps us balanced. When we come together, it can be a challenge. There is always an awkward moment, or the thing that someone says that makes me angry. In a sense, we understand more fully who we are when confronted with the opposite point of view. It seems to work for us – the small groups with mostly open communication that create innovation – kind of like Europe, or Microsoft, or Capitalism. In all of that difference, we find success.
July 4, 2013 § 4 Comments
A recurring dream I’ve had for the last three years – I am forced, for unfinished reasons, to return to my alma mater, a small Christian University. I am told that I have to think a certain way, act a certain way, go to Chapel and pretend that I believe when I pray. If I don’t do all of these things, I will not be allowed to graduate into adulthood.
I am a 34-year-old agnostic atheist. The dream would not be so terrible if it wasn’t for this fact. It would even seem kind of fun to go back to school. It wasn’t a bad place, and I really enjoyed my time there, especially my studies.
A friend of mine said, that it seems like most people that are raised in the church eventually wizen up and leave faith behind. Quite the contrary. Judging from what I have seen in my Christian high school and college, I would say 5% have left the church. I have no way of knowing if they have grown out of faith altogether, and on that count, it may be more like 1% (I might even be the 1 of that percent). I am intrigued to know if there are any others.
The theology of my education was indoctrinated into me from the time I was born. It began with my mother who was at the height of her “Jesus Freak” phase, when I was “miraculously” conceived after years of trying for a second child. My young life was immersed in Bible stories, songs, memorized verses. Then Sunday school, Vacation Bible school, Praise Night, tent revival meetings, Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, The Gospel Bill Show, Tammy Faye Baker on the PTL club, Christian school from third grade through my senior year of college. I was not allowed to go to a Buddhist friend’s house, I was spanked for asking what the word “witch” meant, and Disney movies were all of the devil. Every influence around me was a Christian influence. There was nothing else.
From my religious perspective, as a child, it did not seem strange, or even wrong, that God supposedly commanded the Israelites to commit genocide at Jericho.
It seemed normal, at least in the Bible, for Lot to offer up his own daughters to be gang-raped, protecting his houseguests from a similar fate.
And when Noah’s son Ham saw his father’s drunken nakedness, and told his brothers about it rather than covering him up right away, it was normal for God to condemn Ham’s descendants to be “The lowest of slaves (Genesis 9:25).”
In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, he writes, “Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfill, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David (Dawkins, 120).”
In a study of 168 Israeli children, the kids condoned the well-known story of Joshua’s act of genocide. But when all the names and places were changed, they condemned it.
“Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early. The Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man,’ … In more recent times, James Dobson, founder of today’s infamous ‘Focus on the Family’ movement, is equally acquainted with the principle: ‘Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience – what they see, hear, think, and believe – will determine the future course for the nation (Dawkins, 206).”
Though religion was ingrained in me, at school I often wanted to ask questions. But there was an unspoken rule that it was inappropriate to ask. If you asked questions of the Bible, your faith was faltering, you were weak, you were a failure, you lacked virtue.
“Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings (Dawkins, 346).”
The idea that question equals failure permeated my entire consciousness to the point that I was afraid to ask questions in all of my other subjects as well.
Judgment was a huge fear for me. Everyone was always watching. So rather than falter in front of them, how about, just do nothing at all. Sit in a corner, and pretend you don’t exist. For eighteen years, that’s exactly what I did. I was not an exemplary student, to say the least.
Women barely exist at all in the Bible. I clung to the stories of Ruth and Esther for dear life. They were all I had. Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly wasn’t worthy of admiration. She is described as being more like a vessel than a person. Jesus treated her poorly. He directed his followers to leave their families behind to join his hippy movement. Reading the Bible, it’s difficult to figure out where “Christian Family Values” came from.
When I was twenty-one, I chose to walk away from the church. I decided that I no longer wanted to battle against my own human nature. I longed to fully accept who I was so that I could find happiness. I didn’t think about my departure much beyond that basic need. For the next ten years, I avoided the concept of faith and religion completely.
Instead, I spent that time doing the basics. I had to rebuild my life and deprogram my brain (not an easy task). I put myself in uncomfortable situations so that I could learn, grow, and figure out my own path. I went through an inter-faith phase, and had a year or so of being enamored with mumbo jumbo, third eyes, magickal practice, and shamanism; but I never explored what I came from.
Three years ago, I was finally ready to face all of my fears surrounding the culture of faith. At first, when I started my research, I was horrified by the realization that all of my life I’d been lied to by people who actually believed the lies they told. I was extremely angry. I couldn’t pick up the Bible without feeling disgusted and repulsed. I expressed my rage in some of my past blog posts which (going viral) attracted the ire of some very hateful Christians. One accused me of wanting to be gang-raped by five guys on a pagan altar. When you come from Bible culture, this is not an “out there” thing to think.
As a woman (according to the Bible) I am a descendant of Eve (no matter that so are all men). Therefore, I am an evil temptress who can’t be trusted, and I need to remain under the protection and the thumb of my husband or father, who will keep me in line. I am not a man’s equal (since I come from his rib, and he was there first after all), so it’s okay to take me down a few notches and skewer me as a sexual deviant to take away the blow from my viable arguments against religion.
You can teach a normal, healthy human being the practices of religion, but the fact that they subscribe to blind faith makes it positively unhealthy. The more extreme the faith and the acts behind it, the more the rewards in heaven multiply. Thus, suicide bombers abound.
I had a good talk with my brother in-law last week. He and my sister are Bible translators in Papua New Guinea, though they are home on furlough. He gets sick of being judged that he is going to act or feel a certain way on the basis of his beliefs. I get sick of being judged by Christians that I am selfish and evil simply because I do not live by faith.
Unlike the Christian faith, I don’t believe that we only subscribe to morals for fear of punishment or hope for rewards. I don’t believe that I am a hopeless, fallen soul with no control over myself. I take full responsibility for all of my actions, for my well being, and the well being of those around me. I don’t believe my dreams will be handed to me on an answered-prayers-platter. I believe in working hard to make my dreams a reality.
A friend was visiting not long ago and said to me, “I forgot that you are an atheist, because you are just so spiritual.”
I’m not sure what this means exactly. I am in awe of the universe. Is that spiritual? Is my spirit separate from my body? There is no evidence that supports that.
Scientists believe we have discovered the origins of the universe. Though the theories make a great deal of sense, I wasn’t there, and I will never know what actually happened. And that’s okay, because I am merely a collection of matter, ever-changing, and living on this marvelous stage of life, lucky to be here, honored with the magnificence of it all, never ceasing to be intrigued and amazed by my journey through art, life, words, loves, dreams, and actualizations.
Could it not be, that we have come into existence by the actualization of atoms, which create the same feats in our own lives? From particles to beings, from beings to mass movements. If you believe something enough, it will come true. That is why I still believe that prayer actually does tend to work. In prayer or meditation, you have set your mind to something, and will (hopefully) lay the groundwork to fulfill that need.
I no longer feel angry when I pick up my Bible. For the first time in my life, I can enjoy it simply as a piece of literature. Well, on second glance, maybe not. That is wishful thinking in my case. It could only remain as a piece of literature to someone who was not affected by its life consuming goals. Such as, the way I was not affected personally by learning about Greek mythology. No one ever told me I had to live by the commands of the great and all-powerful Zeus.
In Philippians, Paul’s words remind me all too well of what I have left behind:
“… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-3:11).”
According to Ignatius, Paul was eventually decapitated as a martyr under the rule of Nero. He is not the first martyr or the last. He is not the first to give everything up over his lame powers of perception – believing in the great white light, spirits, visions, what have you. As I read the words now, I feel sorry for his loss. I admire that he lived his life with passion. But his blind love cost him his head. It also cost him the chance at finding truth and happiness in the one life he lived.
June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I am feeling vulnerable. The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book. It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.
Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure. I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.
In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong. “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”
I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life. The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion. Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).
Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.
“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”
I first began writing because I wanted to end my life. It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one. I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be. Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance. I would be fallen, lost, going to hell. I did everything to make God real to me. But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.
In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it. Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.
Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy. The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling. What really changed my life was writing.
“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression. Which basically leads to suicide. Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”
At first the writing was not good. It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language. Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.
I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s. If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded. Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.
We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously. But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope! Sorry Lauren!”
The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment. But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.” I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.
“For the poet, the lover becomes the world. The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”
Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell. Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say. But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.
To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security. But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way. My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met. When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works. I literally did not doubt this one iota.
In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors. Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much. Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.
“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”
The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time. But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents. I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life. Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person. They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview. I am the reality that they find hard to face.
“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write. There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”
Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past. To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.
“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”
At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago. I realized, that they feel the same way about me. They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes. They have frozen me in time. I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.
“You are not doing it all alone. You are standing on the shoulders of the dead. You are writing love letters to the grave. The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”
I’m in those last years where you can be considered young. But I don’t feel young at all. I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life. Ideas keep popping into my head. I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop. To live, I must write.
January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
A picture was posted on Facebook, “Twins in the Womb – Hey Brother! Do you think there is life after birth? Do you believe in Mom? – Nah! I’m an Atheist, I mean, have you ever seen Mom?”
This analogy literally makes no sense. First of all, we don’t leave our bodies when we exit the womb. The mother is also a physical body and everything she does directly effects and is experienced by the fetus – Walking, talking, dancing, listening to music. Not only are the twins physically inside of her, but they are also consuming what she eats through an umbilical cord. Both mother and fetus are a part of and joined in nature. But the idea of ‘God’ is not.
In Nature, Man And Woman, Alan W. Watts explains, “The architectonic and artificial style of Christianity is nowhere clearer than in the idea of God as the maker of the world, and thus of the world itself as an artifact which has been constructed in accordance with a plan, and which has, therefore, a purpose and an explanation. But the mode of action of the Tao is called wu-wei, translatable both as “non-striving” and “non-making.” For from the standpoint of Taoist philosophy natural forms are not made but grown, and there is a radical difference between the organic and the mechanical (Watts, 39).”
Western man would like to measure, categorize, explain, experiment, and use every last inch of our earth. If he probes deeply enough into our insides he feels he can explain our bodies as mechanized objects. In this way, existence is only used as a method for profit and gain. And though we have come into an age of a more secularized society, the brain is still programmed from religious thinking to be on the outside of nature looking in. In this way, life is experienced as a bystander, irresponsible and apart in a perceived isolation, separate from all other creatures.
As a person who grew up in the church, it was exhilarating to first experience the freedom of my natural self without guilt or shame. I was surprised that I felt no guilt, but for me, it was like an escape from a prison that I had been in all my life. I had struggled to make my belief real. But it was dead and I was left hungry and thirsty for real life and the riches of gritty experience.
“For in identifying God, the Absolute, with a goodness excluding evil we make it impossible for us to accept ourselves radically: what is not in accord with the will of God is at variance with Being itself and must not under any circumstances be accepted. Our freedom is therefore set about with such catastrophic rewards and punishments that it is not freedom at all, but resembles rather the totalitarian state in which one may vote against the government but always at the risk of being sent to a concentration camp (Watts, 133).”
I think it is obvious to everyone that merely having belief in principles does not make you those principles. A person who lives by belief must also wear a mask, because what is occurring on the outside and what is being thought on the inside are two entirely different things. And the more you try to be ‘good’ with all your might, the more its shadow twin ‘evil’ is increasingly prevalent from the denial of it.
Christians like to say that their belief is not about might. They say that Jesus will change you from the inside out. If you believe that enough, through the power of self-hypnosis and faith, yes, you will change to some extent. But you will still have all the same feelings you had before. Feelings that are now associated with a sinful nature.
“To give free rein to the course of feeling is therefore to observe it without interference, recognizing that because feeling is motion it is not to be understood in terms which imply not only static states but judgments of good and bad (Watts, 93).”
Allowing our feelings to guide us is the only way to be truly happy and centered, to break out of isolation and connect into the flow of life. “… Confucius felt that in the long run human passions and feeling were more trustworthy than human principles of right and wrong… (Watts, 177).”
Christianity has a long history of denying the spiritual that we experience in the physical. In denying the body we deny life. And fear of experience becomes worse and more consuming than the actual experience. In pain we learn the possibilities of ecstasy and pleasure. In sex we find spontaneity and transcendence. In expressing emotion freely, we are released and connected with other human beings. The full spectrum of physical experience moves us forwards into spiritual growth.
I had a friend in college that I love very much. She goes to a questionable church that I used to attend. They believe in punishing the unfaithful by disassociating with them, which is probably why she doesn’t talk to me anymore. But we had also grown apart, and the last time we saw each other, it felt slightly forced and awkward.
I first fell in love with her when we were on a student trip to Europe. We were in Salzburg, and we all ordered Wiener Schnitzel with currant sauce and lemon. It was succulent and delicious. It was so good that she began to cry. I had never seen someone so moved by the pleasure of eating. She lived out her pleasures in the most beautiful ways, and I have always admired the joy she takes in the simple things.
She has alluded to a sexual sin in her families past that resulted in an excommunication from a church. This seems to have shaped her fear of intimacy, beyond basic morals. She believes in waiting for marriage, and has denied herself the sexual experience of being with a man.
It is obvious to everyone who knows her well, what a truly sensual, and beautiful person she is. Her greatest repression has become her ultimate mission. She goes out with her church group at 3am to help prostitutes by talking to them about God and giving them toiletries. Her passion is to help stop sex trafficking. But I find it ironic and strange when such a difficult repression is used to fuel a passion. I am always happy to hear that someone is helping people, but I also worry that it can be patronizing to the less fortunate tiers of society.
“… Profound love reveals what other people really are: beings in relation, not in isolation (Watts, 199).” A coward’s life is in isolation. But the lover’s life is in relation. I see my friend as a lover who is only allowing herself a fraction of what life has to offer. In my opinion of this, of course, I am making the judgment of an observer. But it pains me to see how religion can limit a person’s experience of life, where feeling is repressed beneath doctrine and dogma.
“… a God to be grasped or believed in is no God, and that a continuity to be wished for is only a continuity of bondage (Watts, 116).”
January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
After my sister was born, my mom was told she couldn’t have any more kids. Six years later, I was her miracle. She always told me I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t intervened. So I guess it’s kind of ironic that I no longer believe in God.
The writer Christopher Hitchens passed away last week. In Vanity Fair he openly shared his struggle with cancer over the last year in his column. His death brought him to life in my mind, and I knew it was time to read his book, God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything. I had suspected this all of my life, but never had the words to fully formulate what I felt.
Over Christmas I felt agitated by the fact that my parents are not able to accept that I am not a Christian. They gave us a book entitled Dinner With a Perfect Stranger about a modern day businessman who has dinner with Jesus. On the back flap is a direct quote from the character of Jesus, “… You’re worried about God stealing your fun, but you’ve got it backwards… there’s no adventure like being joined to the Creator of the Universe.”
I think my parents feel that this is why I left the church – because it wasn’t fun enough. My mom kept telling stories about people being transformed when they were ‘saved.’ I just had to say it, “Actually, for me it was the opposite. I was depressed when I was a Christian. I am finally healthy after breaking down all those old mental patterns.” Immediately my dad leapt over from the coffeemaker and held my shoulders in his hands, “Never stop searching Lauren.”
“I never do.” Of course my search does not lead back to where my dad would like it too. I am a creative thinker, and religion does not like either of those things. I was in Christian schools from 3rd grade through college. I was taught to be afraid of everything that had to do with “the world.” But this only made me want to understand exactly why I should be afraid. I began to have a lot of questions. But if you question faith, you are a weak believer. Questions equal failure.
Towards the middle of college I decided to put it all in and really discipline my life to God. But the more time I spent praying and meditating the more delusional I became. I started to have visions of absolute destruction that I would somehow manage to escape. Then there was the night in my dorm room, being taunted by spirits. I looked in the mirror and had the distinct sense that I was no longer in my body.
It felt like I was in a life or death struggle. A poltergeist. If Jesus wasn’t inside of me, the spirits would take me over and I would be obliterated. I really believed this. All the fear I’d been brainwashed with, and all the guilt, and my complete split personality was driving me mentally insane. I’d been severely depressed since the age of nine and had been suicidal for ten years. But it was really just the need to kill the side of myself that wasn’t me at all. It was the side that everyone around me wanted me to be. I felt so much pressure. I can remember my disbelief going back to the age of five – but all that time fear had ruled the roost.
After college I began the long, arduous process of retraining my brain how to think outside of the false concepts of religion. I went to extremes, breaking the old self through pleasure. Eventually, I grew numb to all of my devices for forgetting. It took me ten years to finally be ready to face what I really felt. And then I began to feel a great deal of anger.
I don’t blame my parents. I love them and I support them in the way that they feel. My mom was very extreme when I was young, but I blame all the people that she was susceptible too.
More and more I began to see that pastors and leaders in all faiths are simply people hungry for power. They like to preach that if you love God, you will get rich. But if bad things do happen, never question God, and never question the pastor because his words come from God. Of course, power and libido are made for each other. I witnessed the downfalls of many pastors, usually due to a secret sexual life that leaked.
Then there is the issue that religion and the concept of God are completely man-made. “God did not create man in his own image. Evidently it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization (Hitchens, 8).” If you take the Bible literally (which many Christians are taught to do), God comes off as a complete mental case and a reflection of the lunacy of man. And religion is responsible for more lunacy than anything else in the history of humanity.
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience (Hitchens, 56).”
It seems lazy to never question religion, or explore all the evidence against it. But it has more to do with fear. When you are infiltrated with a belief system from birth, and told that everything else is wrong, and everyone you know is within the faith; if you leave, you have nothing at first. You have to build a new life. You have to change the way you’ve been trained to think and die to the old self to be reborn an individual.
People will always try to explain the universe. And the more unbelievable it is, the more people are apt to believe. “It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct, and their wish, or perhaps their need, to be credulous and to be fooled. This is an ancient problem. Credulity may be a form of innocence, and even innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities (Hitchens, 161).”
For a while I explored other belief systems – Buddhism and concepts of Hinduism, Shamanism and Wicca. Anything mysterious seemed like it might be the thing. But it all turns out to be the same. An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes.
Religion is only made real by the minds that believe it is real. And religion will exist as long as there is fear – fear of ourselves, fear of death, fear of each other. Religion thrives on fear. And powerful people take advantage of this. They have always done their best to silence anyone who questions. “All religions take care to silence or to execute those who question them (and I choose to regard this recurrent tendency as a weakness rather than their strength) (Hitchens).”
The claim of all religions is that you will be freed from pain and suffering if you believe. But I have not found this to be true. In fact, my experience with Christians was always just the opposite. Repression equals depression. And as Christians look down on other people, it makes them feel just a little bit better. On one hand they function as a servant to God, on the other the ego is served through a God that cares about their minute details. At my college it was a common occurrence for a boy to approach a girl he’d never spoken to before and say, “God told me that I am to marry you.” How wonderfully self-serving!
I believe in a universal connective energy between us. I feel that other dimensions do exist. But none of it has anything to do with simplistic notions of good and evil. I am not a child who needs rules and boundaries and bedtime stories. I am an adult who is open to the full experience of birth, life, death, and what lies beyond.
Life after religion is a gift of happiness. I speak my mind, and question, and gather information and always remain in awe of the fact that the universe is full of inspiration in its own right – overlapping layers of time and existence, a beautiful and heroic place made even more amazing without the existence of a man-made God and dictator. I am at peace with the unknown.