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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why Do You Believe or Not Believe?

Many "searching" people, or so it seems to me, are looking for a religion that does not stand in judgment of others and that does not tell them what to believe. What they are seeking is a religion that has no religious demands, a religion without authority and without condemnation of any type. But there is no such religion!

The primary definition of "religion" is a belief in a superhuman controlling power, i.e. a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship. Without this description, the word "religion" has no meaning. If individuals want to be free of the pressures to conform why don't they simply take hold of that precious freedom to think for themselves while it still exists? Religion, traditionally, is the institution that is said to give safety, peace of mind, and community which is what most postmodern people are seeking. If this is so, then I wonder why there is such misery, even among believers, and evil throughout this world.

The Unitarian-Universalist (UU) fellowships embrace people of all faiths and non-faiths. Their membership includes disgruntled or disheartened Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus, agnostics and atheists, pagans and Wiccans, humanists and Taoists, perhaps a few Muslims, etc. They come together without a unifying creed or theological interpretation to which members must subscribe. Attendees, ostensibly, are encouraged to freely and responsibly search for truth and meaning for themselves in their own way.

These fellowships, obviously, are not communities of wholly like-minded individuals. I once attended over a period of a few years a UU fellowship (and still do on occasion if the advertised sermon topic appeals to me). Even though I never signed their membership book, for the most part gathering with the UUs for Sunday services was a pleasant, educational experience. It served as a peaceful transition from orthodoxy as I struggled to come to terms with my growing unbelief. By then I had severed my membership in both the Worldwide Church of God and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Eventually and ironically, the UU meetings became too ecumenical for me as I became more familiar with the many different religious viewpoints in that fellowship. I was searching and trying to "pick brains," but not one person ever gave me objective reasons for their particular belief positions. Even though I met a number of nice people, they seemed somewhat threatened if I questioned how and why they came to adopt their positions. My experience with the UUs was little different from the orthodox church I had left after I started asking pointed questions about its doctrines and creeds.

I did not become an unbeliever because I was angry with any deity or human being, for that matter, nor because my life was filled with disappointment or anguish. My humanistic atheism developed gradually through intensive personal research and study over many years. I began my investigation of religion because I had so many questions about the Bible and what I was taught it means, what others of different denominations say it means, and why a presumably loving, all-knowing god allows evil to perpetuate.

In a recent Gallop poll, 60% percent of Americans say that religion can answer all of today's problems, while 26% say religion is old-fashioned and out-of-date. I don't know what the remaining 14% say. Perhaps they include the many people who are looking for a religious or spiritual high without the burden of religious or spiritual baggage. They want to believe in something without objectively investigating their beliefs. They want to be a part of a community that gives them a sense of security but doesn't require religious doctrine or rules.

As a sometimes-despised atheist, I know that the majority of people, especially in the United States, do not respect my stance. Religionists would much rather have nominal believers or even those who say they're agnostics in their midst. After all, they might say, there is hope for them.

I respect sincere, nonmilitant adherents of any religious faith even though I disagree with all of them. I do, however, have a hard time with those who want community and meaning from a "spiritual" group but don't even know the meaning of the word "spiritual." (Please see my recently published second book, The Homemade Atheist, for an explanation of my feelings on the subject of spirituality).

If you want community without religious attachments, then join a country club, the Rotarians, or a bowling team. But be assured that you can't be a member in good standing of an established church without at least an outward appearance of conformity to certain rules or commandments of the god or gods which church members say they worship.

Like a TV commercial for a popular cookie once advertised, "If you're going to eat a cookie, then eat a cookie." And I say, "If you're going to believe in god, then believe in god--but know objectively why you do--uncolored by emotion, fear, or bigotry.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thanks, Everybody!

It's been an interesting month, and I appreciate having been able to hang out with everyone here on PT Blog. I knew that some of the ideas I'd be expressing would be controversial, to say the least, but thanks for listening, and James, thanks for not censoring.

I don't know to what extent I'll be participating here in the coming months. I do have a business to run, private studies, and about ten hobbies in which I'm active. There is quite a bit of emotional involvement, and time and thought that goes into producing articles for a blog site, even as a guest editor. Anyone who can do this for an extended time period has my complete respect!

In the inimitable words of Porky Pig: "A ba beya ba beya, That's all Folks!"

BB

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prophecy?

I've got an old Iron Maiden song playing somewhere back in the caverns of my cranium as I visualize my Christian brothers and sisters running for the hills to avoid capture by Nero's soldiers back in the first century. Nero, by this point, was already soaking Christians in flammable liquids, and igniting them to warm and illuminate his lavish parties, a practice which would be difficult to visualize or justify if the life of Jesus Christ had been at that time simply a 25-30 year old bucolic legend based on the story of Mithra.

I know that many things fade with time. They certainly did for me. Also, there are things I'm now learning that I never knew. I thought I'd take some time and share some information, out of love, and in the spirit of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. We've entertained the theory that prophecy was written after it had already been fulfilled. There are some notable exceptions to this, and the case of Jesus would seem to be one of them. One resource we have during our own lifespans is proof of the relative intactness of the Old Testament scriptures, at least over a 2,500 year time span, because of the ways in which these compare to the so-called "Dead Sea" scrolls. So, any theories involving Catholic tampering do not apply. There are some fairly specific prophecies, part of the ancient Jewish literature, which pertain directly to Jesus Christ, and were written well in advance of His life, death, and resurrection.

First, lets turn to Luke 24: 44-45, where we read:

"He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."

There are two major Old Testament passages which describe and directly apply to the experiences of Jesus. Psalm 22, and Isaiah 52, and 53 contain some amazing descriptive language, and there are certainly others. Bible Scholars have identified scores of references in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms which foreshadow, prophesy, or describe Jesus Christ.

I'm going to highlight, or excerpt these chapters, because I know from experience that if I just list chapter and verse, most people will never look them up and read them for themselves.

Psalm 22:

1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

6. But, I am a worm, not a human being. I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7. All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8. He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.
9. Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me feel secure on my mother's breast.
10. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.

15. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18. They divide my clothes among them, and cast lots for my garment.

25. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly, before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him-may your hearts live forever.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship, all those who go down to the dust will kneel before him--those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn. He has done it!

Isaiah 52: 13 See my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness--
15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 53:
1 Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


He that hath an ear, let him hear!

In Christian Love,
BB

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Game

In view of some of the recent comments, I'm going to expose a certain stereotype for the purpose of discussion. It's a prominent and identifiable one, but what I'm about to share does not apply universally to everyone, so bear with me. I've noticed that this game has been played wherever our former religious experiences have been discussed. It starts with:

"Hi, I'm an atheist, and I'm just so intelligent! Let me acquaint you with the only logical method of determining valid information, and the only rational and acceptable way of interpreting it, and then you'll become an atheist, too, unless of course you are just plain stupid!"

Why don't more believers take this bait, and cross over? The fact is, people make benefit assessments in their lives, related to purchases, friendships, relationships, career choice, and even their faith. For some, faith provides benefits which non-belief simply cannot replace. In fact, it often acts as an all purpose solution, or a one-stop shopping center for a wide collection of needs and desirables, especially if one is raising a family. How can an evangelizing atheist replace these tangibles and intangibles with something of greater or equal value? He can't. All he has to offer is a vacuum. Nothingness. It's like a eunuch going to a dance club to try to pick up women.

Back when I built and rode Triumphs, there were always Harley guys who acted as if they were bigger and badder, had bigger dicks, and were more authentic bikers, just because they rode HD.
One of the lessons from life's school of hard knocks is that, no matter our talents, there is generally someone else who has greater talent. Name the criteria. If you start a contest, sometimes you're going to win and sometimes you're going to lose. What you have is what you have, and successful people learn to use what they have effectively. There will always be someone with a higher IQ, more wealth, bigger muscles, hotter cars or bikes, more lovers, better fighting skills, or more persuasive and magnetic personality. What is true is that often people will become jealous and resent formidably strong or obviously superior types. Idolization and imitation are not universal reactions by any means.

The WCG was a seeker group. The ministry was dedicated to attracting people who either had not thought much about belief, or were looking for solutions to some of life's more vexing problems. The church would seek and pick up whatever stragglers they could find, usually by pretending to provide special information which nobody else had, and to use this information to intellectually back prospectives into a corner, leaving them no other logical course but to join up. No matter that the vast majority of the people who heard the message simply tuned it out as being ridiculous. Many ex-members still have retained this methodology, and since it worked at one time on them, they use it in attempting to spread their new ideas, often with missionary zeal.

I'll concede the fact that many non-believers are indeed happier and better adjusted than those like ourselves who have had or are having a bad religious experience. However, for the most part, Christians have some pretty awesome coping skills, and quite a sense of community. Generally, they help one another, and humanity at large, sharing many of their talents and resources. And, yes you can find these qualities and sense of community elsewhere, if you know where to look. It's just that they seem to be concentrated in the Christian community. In terms of intelligence, interests, and abilities, believers mirror society at large, making it easy for anyone to find and form friendships. Friendship is also a very powerful motivating factor in keeping people attached to any collective group. It's one of the major adjustment problems many of the people who left WCG have cited in their lives.

Benefit assessment is the reason why happy believers do not succumb to the charms and persuasive powers of the "Elvis of Atheism" types. Just in case anyone happened to be wondering.

BB

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Future

One of the first things people seem to want to ask Christians about is what they believe may happen in the near future. Frankly, I'm not sure we know any more than does anyone else. It's not quite so important to fully understand in advance what God is going to do as it is to realize after the fact that He is always faithful in the fulfillment of His prophecies. But, prophecy was such a hot button issue for those of us who were exposed to the Armstrong problem, because "the end" was used first as a marketing hook to get us or our parents involved, and later as a fearsome cat of nine tails on members once they were inside, always whipping them into shape. Most of us, today, are tired of hearing about it in any form, because of the ways in which it was used to manipulate and exploit us. Oddly, I don't recall the spectre of the end times being raised by mainstream Christianity until the so-called "Jesus movement" of the 1970s. Yet, who hasn't heard of the "Left Behind" series these days? It would appear that "the end" has permanently entered the popular lexicon, and not only from Christian sources.

Politicians have jumped on this bandwagon, and although they are not quoting Bible verses, they are quoting statistics related to the accelerated rate of melting of the glaciers around the world, the accumulation of CO2 and destruction of the ozone layer, the radical changes occurring in the oceans, the destruction of the world's rain forests, and the near extinction of numerous species of animals. While these are all problems which may respond to scientifically oriented solutions, it is unlikely that man would be able to effectively remedy other problems, such as the anticipated reversal of the earth's magnetic polarity.

The news media also seems to want to weigh in on all of this, selling newspapers and boosting ratings as they go by fanning the flames of avian flu, "mad cow" disease, Ebola, the golden algae threat, the resistance to antibiotics of strains of diseases once thought eradicated, the growth of the atomic club, and other issues. Clearly, we have a growing number of existential threats, and everybody seems to want to audition for the role of Chicken Little.

Some or all of these problems or challenges will end up needing to be dealt with, while others will simply fade into insignificance, dying a quiet and natural death, becoming non-issues. In the intervening time, we can expect people to utilize these issues to mold opinion to their own agendas, whether such agendas be scientific, religious, political, or humanitarian.

I am not the type of Christian who claims to have all the answers, or to use information to manipulate people. I did not appreciate being kept on edge about many of these things, in a perpetual state of limbo by WCG, because this kept me from enjoying the peace, tranquility, and many blessings that Christian living is supposed to bring to us on a daily basis in the here and now. Of course, it could be argued very persuasively that we never were Christians, as WCG members, but it is not until we begin to experience some of the good and wholesome things which were obviously missing from WCG culture that we can fully appreciate their value. I don't believe that God intended for us to be continuously whipped into a state of anxiety over what we see around us. I believe that He wants us to trust Him and not focus on "the wind" (remember Peter's attempt to walk on water?). Conversely to WCG teaching, I also believe that God wants us to get involved in helping ALL people (not just members), and helping to minimize whatever societal problems we can. Christians, right in there, at ground zero, helping others, and helping them by example to make sense of it all! Isn't that what "let your light shine" is all about?

There are some general theories floating about, some of which may or may not have a bearing on our future. Though the ACOGs have largely missed this one, because they believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the "Great Whore" of Babylon, one could almost conceptualize a revival of the Roman Empire nations, doing the many things they say it will do, if another "Great Whore", (Islam) were to take root and become the dominating political force there. Jihad co-opting all of the might of Europe would not be a pretty sight. I never could see the Catholics attacking us, but I can most definitely see radical Muslims doing so.

There is also the theory concerning the prophetic sprouting of the tender branch, supposedly representing the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Now, the presence of Israel is actually required for the end time prophecies in Revelation to take place. If in fact this theoretic interpretation has validity, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the time period is linked to the "baby Boomer" generation, since Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948. So, for all of the younger people here, the baby boomers should nearly all be gone in about twenty years, placing a bit of a timeline on this theory. You'll know a bit more by then........or not.

The Christian community in which I participate is aware of possible end time scenarios, but is not hung up on them. We're more concerned with our daily Adventure with Father God, and the blessings and education we are experiencing. Building a "kingdom" skill set. In the past several years, I've participated in several high profile events where the focus has been prayer for a spiritual awakening, a healing and revival in our nation, and around the world, returning our nation to the largely Christian principles and practices on which it was founded. We believe that the current economic crisis has caused many people to turn to God, and frankly, considering the volatility of past decades, that in and of itself is counter intuitive. It is amazing that we are not experiencing massive civil unrest in response to the hardships people are experiencing. But, in fact, many of our core crime statistics are actually trending downwards.

We may be in the end times, or we may not. So, to me, the only way to live life is to do it in as ethical and loving way as possible. Frankly, that's good advice in any case. Be on the side of good, part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Think of each act in terms of its implications for those around us, be they individuals, animals, or other nations, or our planet.
I don't believe that we have any stupid people on these blogs and forums. Opinionated, yes. Stupid, no. Back when I was a non-believer, in a discussion about the end, I said something which I feel still makes good sense, and bears repeating: If the events outlined in the book of Revelation suddenly begin unfolding in an unmistakable or undeniable way, exactly as they are written, I believe that all of us, be we believer or nonbeliever, will at that point know exactly what is happening, and what to do.

BB