Transformational Thinking

The Human Consciousness Programm perhaps could be compared to the personality, but the HCP also includes all of the autonomic stuff, like sensory processing. I was playing with this a bit today while walking. I do a 2 mile loop most days with my dog, Diogee. While we were walking, I was playing with my sensory perception functions. Like switching awareness to the visual: Focus on that for a while, and notice how I can focus on different things, and how other things fade into the background when I do so. Similarly, switch my awareness to my hearing, and notice how I can focus my attention on a bird. Or there! That’s Diogee walking beside me. Or the sounds of my own footsteps. Or the sounds of my own breathing. And now switch to the emotional state. Ahhh! I have some anxiety going on. What is that about? OK, I need to pay some bills.

Again, thinking about thinking, as broadly as possible, and especially if I include things like emotions and sensory awareness in the generic term “thinking”. All while engaging the “Watcher”, or unbiased, nonjudgmental observer, as the yoga crowd likes to call it. The part of me that can observe myself.

I was pondering how similar this approach is to Christianity in many ways. For example, while I utterly reject the idea of sin, listening intently to my own thoughts makes me acutely aware of my own dysfunction. I definitely know that I am far from perfect, which is certainly consistent with the idea of sin. Also, the act of reprogramming is very similar to repentance. After all, the Greek word translated as “repent” in the NT literally means to turn down another path, or to change your mind. Repentance never really worked for me very well, though. I have analyzed why it didn’t, and near as I can tell, due to the cultural issues within Christianity, I was focused on the wrong things. Like sex, once again.

I was immediately told after I got saved about how bad sexual lust is, and how I should never, ever masturbate. This from all of my male Christian single friends. I, like the lemming I am, immediately take a solemn oath with my buddy to never masturbate again, ever. Broke that one within 24 hours, with great condemnation. This thing had me balled up for years, during which I made no real progress spiritually. All this negative energy about masturbation and male heterosexual desire, generally.

Eventually, I figure out that all of my male single Christian friends were masturbating just as much as I was, and were all just as condemned. And the message from the pulpit only made it worse! I was actually invited to seminars where I could be set free from masturbation!

Of course, that’s all bollocks. Masturbation is something I should keep private but certainly not condemn myself for. It is a harmless and healthy release, after all. And sexual desire is a great thing overall. I wouldn’t be here without it! So deciding that a basic autonomic response like sexual desire is somehow “sinful” doesn’t help me at all. Although I have no doubt that my male single Christian friends were well-meaning, they were obviously just as deluded as I was, and the culture was keeping them just as immobilized. This example is one of the most glaring, but there were many others.

In order to help me spot things that are broken inside me, I basically set up a watcher to keep track of my emotions and to tell me if I am feeling anything negative, like resentment, sadness, sullenness, loneliness, or fear. Once I spot that, I go after what’s driving it. Generally, given enough time and thought, I can figure it out. Almost always, there is some form of selfishness or greed behind it. Like insecurity over Ruth leaving me. That’s really my selfish little greedy desire to keep her with me. Fear over the impact on my life if she were to leave me, etc. Not wanting to have to endure the pain, discomfort and stress of a break-up. And so forth.

Solution: Understand and accept that Ruth can leave me if she likes. She is perfectly free to do so, and there is nothing that I can do to directly prevent it. I do not own her, regardless of what the Marriage contract might say. Would it be painful if she left me? Definitely. Would I survive? Very likely. Would it make the slightest difference in the lifespan of the universe? None at all. And, after all, I don’t even know if I am going to take my next breath. So how does creating a stressful emotion like insecurity help either me or Ruth? Am I not simply detracting from both our joy, peace and happiness by surrendering to a parasite emotion like insecurity?

And it’s all about stressing about the future, anyway. Which, again, does not exist. Worrying about the future is meaningless. (Not to say that I do not need to be responsible and make plans: I do. That’s different from fear, worry or stress, though.)

How then shall I live? First, by loving Ruth as unselfishly and purely as possible, I will be a person she wants to be with. My insecurity and persistent need to be constantly reassured sure as *&^# won’t do that! Instead, I will cultivate an attitude of quiet, humble confidence. I will aspire to be a person who will lend to her joy, peace and happiness. I will enjoy the present moment that I am spending right now in her presence, and cherish the journey that brought this amazing creature to me.

So, by carefully and methodically listening to my own thoughts, I am trying to become a better person. Inherent in that process, though, is a sense of humility. The more I get inside my head, the more aware I become of my own imperfections and need to be more empathic. How broken and selfish I am. And, hopefully, I make some progress in the quest to become more selfless and empathic in the process. Again, a similarity to taking on the mind of Christ from the Christian perspective.

Of course, there is no end state. This process will keep going on for the rest of my life.

More later.

Evolution

I have discovered evolution. I spent many years when enmired in Evangelical Christianity as a creationist who believed that life began in the Garden of Eden. I now know (if I know anything) that life evolved. I have studied this one extensively, and the evidence for evolution is everywhere, if you look for it. For example, I am now burning my way through The Moral Animal by Robert Wright (the author of The Evolution of God, one of the most transformational books I have ever read). Robert Wright is an evolutionary psychologist. That is, he believes that the phenomenon of human consciousness can be explained in evolutionary terms. I am finding this thesis very convincing.

I had a personal experience which demostrates the role of evolution recently. I take my dogs, Diogee and Napoleon, for a walk almost every day, weather permitting. Typically, we go for a 2 mile walk in the middle of the day, as close to solar noon as possible so that I can be exposed to natural UV light, which is really good for my health. More on this later.

I observe my dog Diogee (actually my wife’s dog, but I digress). Diogee has a behavior which Napoleon does not have: He scratches the ground after he does his business. He does so almost invariably, and he did not have to be taught to do this. He knew how to scratch the day I met him (and he was a very small puppy at that point). At the age of 10 (70 doggie years in other words), he still does this. So where did this behavior come from?

Viewed in terms of evolutionary psychology, it makes perfect sense. This behavior is the expression of a gene which Diogee has and Napoleon does not. At some point in the evolution of the dog (which is actually a wolf), there was some adaptation which caused the animal to bury his / her droppings. Possibly there were prey animals which used the droppings to identify the location of predators. If so, then burying the droppings would be a desirable trait. (In evolutionary terms, “desirable” means that the animal will be more successful at reproducing, and thus expressing this particular gene.)

Eventually, scratching after doing your business no longer had any significant benefit. Certainly, after humans took over the job of deciding how the canine species evolved (an event which happened in the mists of pre-history), the presence of dog droppings did not help prey animals to avoid being eaten. The archeological record is replete with evidence of how devastatingly effective a human hunting party was, when accompanied by a pack of domesticated wolves. All the humans had to do was use the dogs to drive the prey animals into a difficult area, like a swamp or a stand of canes. Once the prey animals were trapped by the dogs in an area which made movement difficult, the humans moved in to finish the prey animal off using spears. In this manner, after the dog was domesticated, humans were able to bring down huge animals like wooly mammoths, elk, moose, and the like.

Anyway, this particular gene was selected by evolution at some point during the development of the wolf. Later it became irrelevant, but it did not harm the ability of the animal to reproduce. Thus, the gene persists at least in some dogs. It is not being selected for anymore, but neither is it being selected against. Thus, Diogee has the trait, but Napoleon does not.

In The Moral Animal, Wright investigates the role of evolution in the development of human sexuality and marital relationships. One phenomenon which is pretty much universal is the so-called “Maddona-Whore Dichotomy”. That is, men tend to sort women into two sets: Those who are appropriate for casual sex and those you marry. The difference is the sexual promiscuity and libido of the woman involved. In terms of long-term relationships, as Wright amply demostrates, men actually prefer women who are relatively non-sexual, and have to be wooed and coaxed into having sex. Why? Simple. Human beings are a type of species referred to as having high “male parental investment” (MPI). Thus, a man is driven by his genes to foster the success of his offspring, and will expend a great deal of effort doing so. This is true in pretty much every human culture in the history of the world.

This is in turn driven by the nature of the human species itself: Our babies are born at a very early stage of  development relative to other primates. Bonobos infants are capable of clinging to their mothers from birth, an essential trait given that bonobos monkees live in the canopies of trees. With humans, the female is typically completely devoted to the care of the infant for at least three to four years after birth. In order for this to be feasible, the father really needs to hang around and provide food, protection, shelter, etc.

In the sexual dynamic, the interests of the female and the male are in conflict: The female’s interest is to attract a male to invest in her offspring. The male’s interest is to avoid having the female mate with any other males, as that would make his investment worthless, in terms of expressing his genes. Thus, the value of virginity in females is a virtually universal human trait. The effect of cheating is different for each gender: For a male, a cheating wife is devastating: He can no longer ensure that the offspring will be his. Hence the extreme response of human males to infedility which can, and does, include violence. Female response to male infedility is very different: What threatens the female is not sexual infidelity. A bit of casual sex can be tolerated, and almost always is in many cultures. The threat to the female is emotional infidelity, because it threatens the male’s continued investment in her offspring. If the male becomes emotionally bonded to another female, he may abandon her for another family. This can, and often does, happen even in very primitive cultures. Hence the classic stereotype of jilted females sitting around commiserating about their unfaithful husbands and concluding that all men are scum.

The difference in libido is dramatic as well: Male humans have an insatiable sexual appetite compared to females. Why? Because for a male the mating opportunity presents another chance to spread those genes! A male human can mate hundreds of times a year, assuming he can get enough females to cooperate. This has actually happened in very polygamous ancient cultures like Judaism where kings like Solomon had so many wives and concubines that he could have sex with a different woman every night of his life, and not repeat for years (and possibly never repeat at all, given the acquisition of new wives and concubines!). On the other hand, a female can only reproduce about once per year (and that’s pretty aggressive), given the huge investment required by the female to bear and rear the child. Thus, once a female has mated once in a year, that’s good enough. She would rather find something to eat or catch a nap. Reproduction is not that important to her, as long as she can find a male to mate with often enough, and that does not need to be very often. The way females ovulate is very telling: Other primates have an explicit form of ovulation so that all males around her will know that she is fertile. Human females have no such cues. In biology, this is referred to as obscure ovulation. This means that the female is able to mate pretty much anytime, neatly fitting into the massive sex drive of the male. Since the male cannot tell if the female is fertile, he happily has sex with her, in the hope (at least in evolutionary terms) that she might be fertile. In the process, the emotional component of sexual love is enhanced, further ensuring the male’s parental investment.

You get the idea. Many of the characteristics which define us as a species can be explained quite well in evolutionary, Darwinian terms. I find this enchanting.

More later.

The Law of God

My friend Ray and I have been having an interesting discussion on the Old Testament law. You see, the Christian gospel relies upon the OT law to establish the standard of sin. The basic elements of the Christian gospel are as follows:

  • God exists, has a personal interest in each of us humans, and also has a standard of behavior which He has prescribed for us, commonly known in the bible as the law (in Greek usually the word logos, and in Hebrew almost universally the word torah).
  • Because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in violating the law of God, sin entered into mankind, and we fell. Sin is defined as missing the mark, i.e., meaning failing to meet the standard laid down by God, again the OT law.
  • Jesus Christ is the solution to this problem! God the Father decided to sacrifice his own son, Jesus, so that the OT law could be abolished, and we could enter into a relationship with God, free from the constraints of the law.

There you have it. Note that God must meet three requirements in order for this gospel to be true:

  1. He / She must exist. I actually do believe in God most of the time, more on this later.
  2. He / She must be capable of communicating with us humans, and care about our affairs. I refer to this as God being personal. This is not actually as trivial as it sounds. Many intelligent folks (including Thomas Jefferson, for example) have long believed in a God who exists, but is not capable of communicating with us. Christians generally ascribe all sorts of human-style emotions to God. (God is grieved by the state of moral decline in our country, etc.) Other religions frequently consider Christianity to be a form of idolatry for this reason. More on this later. Many physicists believe that if God does exist, He / She would be completely outside of our normal space / time. Thus, the likelihood of something that great having concern for us is not a trivial question, like I said. Nonetheless, Christians do believe generally that God has intimate concern and awareness of our every action, including our thoughts.
  3. He / She must have an opinion about human behavior and morality. I call this God being moral. This one is a big stretch, actually, but if you buy the general idea of God having a standard of behavior for us humans, then you have to deal with the core issue of this post, which is:

Does the law of the Old Testament qualify for something you would regard as divinely prescribed?

And this question is very important to Christianity because, again, the law is the standard which is raised by God in order to define the concept of sin. As Paul pointed out, without the law, there is no awareness of sin. Also, of course, the Old Testament is replete with praise and adulation for the law. (Many examples could be cited, but Psalm 119 pretty much says it all.) Thus, certainly, most conservative Christians would agree that the law as laid down in the Old Testament is the standard of God which defines the concept of sin.

Thus I propose to examine the Old Testament law and determine (at least in my own mind) whether it qualifies as a candidate for a divinely prescribed law. I will begin with the law of rape, which is contained largely in Deuteronomy 22. Here is the basic gist:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV)

OK, let me get this straight. A man rapes a woman who is a virgin and not engaged. For this he has to pay her father 50 coins and then marry her? In other words, a woman is required to marry her rapist, and live with him for the rest of her life?

No wonder rape is not included in the proscriptions in the 10 commandments. In the Old Testament law, rape is simply not considered to be a very serious crime!

So there you have it. Do you consider this law of rape to be divinely prescribed? Would you live in a society in which this was the law?

As usual, comments are welcome.

Reasonable Christians

I met a reasonable Christian today. It was a bit weird, actually.

My wife wanted to visit a local Anglican church where my Christian friend Ray and his wife attend, and I thought: Sure, why not? So we went. There you have it. I actually set foot in a Christian church today. And I have no doubt that many of the Christians in that room would be offended by the things that I say on this blog (although I would certainly love it if they would read it).

Be that as it may, I was immediately drawn to a young woman when we arrived. You are probably thinking that this was due to my (admittedly) heterosexual nature. But, no, in this case, I was not attracted to this person in that way at all. For one thing, she was dressed in a very traditionally religious manner, which is about as sexually unattractive as it is humanly possible to be. And she had done absolutely nothing to make herself attractive, as that standard is described in our current culture. (Not that I find that necessarily attractive either: More on that later.) It was not that she could not have made herself attractive in our terms, had she tried. She simply did not care to try.

What drew me to this person was her absolute, visible and obvious rebellion against the direction of our modern culture. As soon as I started talking to her, she explained to me about how the Anglican church we were in was “officially a mission of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. You see, the Rwandans decided that America was an evil, secular, and godless place that was in need of evangelizing. So they planted this church.”

I still cannot tell if this statement was dripping with irony or not. If so, she delivered it very well, and very straight. She had me immediately.

I confessed that I was an extreme theological liberal, and told her about a bit of my journey. How I had made a terrible mistake: I decided to read the bible as a work of human literature, and put my faith on the shelf for a while. As a result, my belief systems traumatically collapsed and left me as you see me here: A spiritual wreck. Of course, the irony in my case was more obvious.

Interestingly, she understood. Turns out that she is studying the New Testament at a major university in Israel. (A very interesting place to decide to study the New Testament.) She said she had been through a similar journey. She was, as she put it: “Aware of the difficulties.” That is, she has a place at the conversation because she is at least familiar with the material concerning the origins of Christianity, the bible and the rest, and is not simply deluding herself, as many Christians do. The good news, she said, was: “You can make it through this to a better place.”

I did not get to continue the conversation past that point, although I would like to. Is it possible for a person who does not even believe in Hell, or the concept of sin (as in failing to meet the standard set out by God in His law) to be a Christian in some way? Perhaps it is, so long as it is clear that I am also a Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim. As well as an agnostic, and in times of deep despair, possibly even an atheist.

But the Christian might be the better part of me.

One thing my friend Ray pointed out to was the 10 commandments, as a part of the standard raised by God. Unfortunately, I was not persuaded by that very much. If I had to come up with a set of human laws to live by, I would have created a very different list than these. Especially when you put it in the context of the rest of the Old Testament law. Like the commandment against adultery. I would certainly not condone the form of marriage described in the law of Moses, which was, as I have pointed out frequently, polygamous, blatantly discriminatory against women, and fundamentally a form of slavery. I would have certainly added a commandment against rape. (Want to get your hair raised? Read the laws in the Old Testament on rape.) And I certainly would have added a law encouraging compassion and empathy towards every human, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Which is obviously missing from the Old Testament law, as it is completely bigoted in favor of the children of Israel, and against the rest of the human race.

So there is the challenge: Can a man like me fit into a community of Christian believers? Not sure. I guess we’ll see.

More later.

Selling God

I watched the documentary Selling God last night. (This is also streamable on NetFlix.) While I did not find it perfect, certainly (at times it seemed a bit over-the-top), I did resonate with the overall message concerning the dominant form of Protestant Christianity, commonly referred to as Evangelical Protestantism. I have a lot of experience with this particular brand of religion. I was a member of what I commonly refer to as an “LRO” (Large Religious Organization) for about 9 years in Chapel Hill, NC. It was during this period that I performed the maneuver that I refer to in this blog (reading the bible, not as a sacred religious text, but as a work of human literature) which resulted ultimately in the traumatic collapse of my belief system. But I digress.

OK, Selling God. I guess the thing I really liked about this movie was that after showing these butt stupid Christians (like Greg Laurie of Harvest Ministries, one of the most annoying, offensive preachers I have ever seen, and believe me, I have seen some doozies), they would show some Christians who were actually not too bad. Pretty good, actually. I particularly liked this guy who had this very nuanced view of the part of the sermon on the mount which Evangelicals refer to as the “end time prophecies”. You know, how there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and so forth. His point was that these were not to be taken as signs of the times (as has been the case for generation after generation of Evangelicals, all of whom believed that they were living in the “last days”). Instead, he said, that Jesus was saying: “The Kingdom of God is like this: There will be wars. (When in human history have there not been wars?) But with My help, you will still overcome. And in the overcoming, My Kingdom is there. And there will be earthquakes. (When in human history have there not been earthquakes?) But with My help, you will even overcome that too. And in the overcoming, My Kingdom is there.” And so on for each form of natural or man-made disaster.

I find that a much, much more satisfying explanation for those verses than anything I had ever heard before. Certainly, a much, much more interesting interpretation than the typical Evangelical view. This was a very positive picture of a very intelligent, sensitive, and compassionate Christian. Which is surprising, for a movie which is billed as being basically about simply bashing Christianity.

The thing that I found compelling and familiar about Selling God was the idea that modern Protestant Evangelical Christianity has become simply a big business. There is certainly an enormous amount of money being made here. (Interestingly, although I can find the GDP percentage for just about every form of human activity, I cannot find it for religion. If anyone has this, I would love to know about it.) It is certainly the case that most of the current crop of Protestant Evangelical churches are simply a form of capitalism. And the product that they are selling is, from all appearances, invisible, without substance, and completely internal. If they would admit that they are selling anything, they would say (per the title of the movie) that they are selling God, or possibly selling Jesus or salvation. (Not completely far-fetched as one of the evangelists in the movie had run the numbers and figured out that after costs he had been able to “save a soul for 47 cents”. Effectively buying salvation.) In my view, though, what they are really selling is not really salvation, per se, but rather a sense of significance, purpose and meaning. A feeling that your life matters, and that you are part of a loving community.

Interesting, in that Jesus preached against just this sort of thing, as Selling God points out.

Having said that, I have come to believe that there is a form of Christian religion that is actually not bad, possibly even good. If a Christian church produces what they claim to produce (a truly compassionate, loving community), then it can be wonderful, as I myself have experienced at various phases of my life. The aggressive form of Protestant Evangelical Christianity definitely does not fall into that category, though, at least in my view. The entire time that my wife and I were at the last LRO we belonged to, precisely one family (lead by my Christian friend Ray) reached out to us. And Ray and his wife are no longer members of that LRO either. Otherwise, the folks in the LRO were among the most deluded, unconscious people I have ever known. I became involved in the Christian 12 step program there, and I had several moments of stunning clarity when I looked around the room and asked myself: “Do I want to be like these people?” To which I responded with a resounding: “No!” With the exception of Ray and his lovely wife, my Christian friends were largely intolerant, insular, bigoted, misogynistic, and closed minded.

I heard a piece on NPR that resonated with me. The woman being interviewed had written a novel and was describing the main character as: “A middle-aged Christian, white, southern, heterosexual, married, Republican man who thinks he’s good, but isn’t.” The main reason this man was not good was because he was only empathetic with people like him: I.e., folks his own age, religion, race, geographic region, sexual orientation, gender, and political view. He had no empathy for liberals, the young, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, people of color, feminists, and, most of all, gays.

That was me. At one time, I fit that description perfectly. But no longer: I have flipped in many of my views from my fundamentalist religious days. As I told my friend Ray: I have woken up, and to a large extent, that cannot be undone. I may engage again with the more positive forms of Christianity, but I will never again believe that the bible is the inerrant “word of God”. That’s over for me now. And I have developed deep, abiding empathy and compassion for all human beings at this point. Even those who do not agree with me. That’s for sure!

More later.

Faith

What is faith? The bible describes it as:

Faith is the now the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

I will actually accept that definition with no problem. It says exactly what I believe faith to be, what it has been in my own life: Believing passionately things for which there is no physical evidence, and which may actually violate the laws of the physical universe. These things we believe are not provably untrue, mind you. They are simply profoundly unlikely.

Now, how is it that really, really, really believing stuff which is really, really, really improbable makes you a better person? I just don’t get it. Does it, like, spruce up the old brain cells somehow?

Please help me out here.

Stephen Hawking

My wife just posted this exceptional quote by Stephen Hawking:

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

In the context of religion, this statement is very compelling, at least to me. I have been awash in knowledge about doctrine, theology, and all the rest, for much of my life, and all of it seems to be illusion to me now. I thought I was so intelligent and well educated, when actually I knew nothing. Now that I know that I know nothing, I am much happier, oddly.

I asked my wife an interesting set of questions last night:

What if you could simply decide that the things that happen in church buildings on Sunday morning are precisely the same thing as going to the Durham Performing Arts Center to see the Nutcracker Ballet? What if you could simply decide that it is all simply a human invention, and nothing more? What would that mean? Wouldn’t you then be able to stop believing what another person (generally a religious authority figure) told you, and instead start believing whatever seemed real, meaningful, and comfortable for you?

Hawking is famously an atheist. I have read several books by Hawking, and he has been instrumental in my understanding of modern physics, a subject about which I am very passionate. While I respect his position as an atheist, I do not share it. I may blog more on why I am not an atheist at a later time.

Doubt

I had a random conversation with a guy named Josh yesterday. This occurred at Devil’s Pizza in Durham on 9th Street. I wandered in there while I was on 9th Street shopping. I was hungry so I ordered a slice and sat down. Josh was sitting on the next table over, and was facing me. He proceeded to engage me in a conversation. He brought up the issue of religion, and told me that he was attending a big Evangelical mega-church near where I live. I have been to this church. It repels me. I find this form of religious expression to be simply a form of entertainment and nothing more.

I suppose he tweaked me. Also, he was quite insistent that he wanted to have a conversation with me on the subject of religion. Every time I tried to turn the conversation away from religion, he turned it back. Eventually, I surrendered to the inevitable, came over, sat down with Josh and told him the truth.

Bottom line: When Josh walked into Devi’s Pizza yesterday, he was a Christian. When he walked out, he was not so sure. Not that he abandoned his faith at that moment, but he was absolutely sure about what he believed when he met me, and when he walked away, he was filled with doubt.

Here is the thing: I really like doubt. I think doubt is great. It keeps you humble. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know much. What I did in that man’s life was to demolish myths and shine the light of doubt into his heart.

When I was a Christian, doubt was considered a bad thing: We were to do everything possible to root doubt out of our hearts and lives. Now, I embrace it. Interesting. Josh, if you are out there, I would love to hear from you, and how you are doing. Let me know how that doubt thing is working for you. It works for me, that’s for sure.

More later.

Strange Doctrine

In my previous post, I rather crudely described a painful experience I had with Christianity early on. As a divorced man, I was invited by my Christian friends to become a totally non-sexual being. I apologize for my rude language on that post. Generally, I try to keep things nice here, but of course that one got the better of me.

In this post, I would like to more thoroughly explore why it is that many Christians (including myself, in times past) believe some manifestly ridiculous and absurd notions, including the whole sex / divorce thing. I need to nuance this though: I have readily admitted on this blog that Christianity also probably saved my life. Certainly, I received lots of love and support from other Christians during my early Christian experience. (Later on, not so much.) So my experience with religion has not been completely negative. OK, let’s move on.

Why is it that Christians often believe very unlikely things? Simple: It comes from an obstructed view of the bible. I will use myself as an example. While I was enmeshed into the system of Christianity, I viewed the bible entirely through the lens of Christian theology, as shown in the following graphic:

Strange Doctrine 1

Note that I unified my approach to the entire bible: Like any other Christian, when I was is reading the bible, I attempted to reconcile the various books of the bible with each other. Thus, I approached the bible as a single work by a single author, because that is what I believed it was.

Also, notice that I looked at the bible alone. If I read anything other than the bible (and there were many years when I read nothing else), they were works by Christian authors that basically trumpeted the Christian point of view, quoting heavily from the bible in the process. Not very helpful in other words. I certainly did not consider the bible in the context of the culture in which it was written. (Heaven forbid!)

This approach worked for me for a while, but eventually I found it very frustrating. The contradictions were simply too numerous to count. I also found myself believing propositions which frankly are mind boggling. More on this later. Once I became aware of these issues, I considered the following idea: Whatever else the bible is, it is certainly a work of human culture. So why not simply approach the bible in that manner? This required me to remove the lens of Christian theology from my view of the bible.

In the process, the bible became deconstructed into its various books. Of course, once I ceased to approach the bible as a single unified work, I became aware that the bible is simply a collection of ancient documents, nothing more. I ceased trying to reconcile the author of the Gospel of Matthew (who was undoubtedly a Jewish Christian who believed that you must follow the Law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved) with the author of the Gospel of John (a gentile believer who was deeply influenced by pagan Greek philosophy). The following graphic illustrates this approach:

Strange Doctrine 2

Now for the final step. Once I had deconstructed the books of the bible, and approached them individually, and simply as works of human culture, I then began to investigate the other works of human culture (especially literature) which were contemporaneous with and adjacent geographically to the books of the bible. These works amplify and illustrate the books of the bible in a manner than simply cannot be replaced any other way. The final graphic shows this approach:

Strange Doctrine 3

This is, of course, the exact approach used by academics who study the bible and other ancient documents as their profession. Eventually, I discovered academics like Richard Elliott Freidman, Karen Armstrong, and the like, and those have certainly helped me on my way.

Now, let’s examine the process whereby my Christian friends concluded that I, as a divorced man, would never be allowed to marry or have sex ever again. This is based upon a very literal and restrictive reading of several passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Timothy 3:2 which reads:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,…

This passage describes the qualifications for an overseer (Greek: episcopas), which includes the injunction that he must be the husband of one wife. Given that Christians hold a theological position that God’s plan for marriage is for one woman to be married to one man, and to remain faithful to each other their entire lives, their interpretation of this passage is colored by this doctrine. It is manifestly obvious, once you look at the context of the culture of the times, that what was being referred to here was that the overseer could not be the husband of more than one wife simultaneously. That is, he could not be a polygamist. Before you react, bear in mind that polygamy has been by far the most common form of marriage in human history. To this day, many cultures are polygamous. Only in the former Roman Empire and colonies of powers which were previously part of the Roman Empire (such as the US), did monogamy prevail as the norm. In the case of 1st century Palestine, of course there was widespread polygamy, including among Christians. What the writer of this passage is saying (it is rather unlikely that the author of this passage was Paul, so instead he is generally referred to as pseudo-Paul) is that an overseer must be a monogamist. That is not to say that polygamists were not welcome in Christian churches. They were, and we know this from abundant contemporaneous literature from that time. But pseudo-Paul was simply expressing the prevailing Christian view that monogamy was best (as a result of the influence of Roman paganism, from which monogamy emerged).

Now, in my case, this very restrictive reading (again in the light of the Christian theology regarding marriage) meant that we had to read polygamy out of the passage: That is not what that passage could possibly mean, because we know that God would never countenance polygamy! (Never mind that every single patriarch in the Old Testament with the possible exception of Isaac was a polygamist, including Adam.) If we read the passage in the light (or darkness!) of this strange doctrine then the reading becomes obvious: In order to be an overseer, you must be the husband of only one wife in your entire life.

Now, how do we get from this to an injunction against anyone becoming married for the second (or third) time. Simple: God must want us all to be able to qualify as overseers. It is therefore God’s will that we maintain the highest standards of excellence, especially in the area of sex. Thus, I was told: You can get married if you want, but that’s not God’s will for you. If you pray hard enough, you will eventually learn to live as a eunuch for God.

Never mind that I am aggressively and stubbornly heterosexual, and deeply passionate. No problem. God will give you grace. Eventually, you will become able to bear this burden.

Hence my FtS reaction in my previous post. I simply refused to go along with this absurd notion. In the process I was attacked physically once, and was pretty roundly persecuted for a while. But eventually, I found my amazing and wonderful wife, Ruth, and we discovered each other. The rest is blessed history.

This is not the only ridiculous notion that I allowed myself to believe for many years while living as a Christian. Others included:

  • Evolution is a theory, nothing more.
  • The earth is only a few thousand years old.
  • We all descended from two individual humans who were miraculously created by God.
  • The entire universe was created by God in seven days.

You get the idea. Once you remove the lens of Christian theology, these will eventually fall away. At least they did for me.

More later.

No Sin

I have told the same story twice today: Once to Susan Powter, one of my dearest and oldest friends, who I talk to about once a decade, and the second time to my once-estranged, but now forgiven, daughter. Apparently, this story was important to me.

It was about my experience as a “baby Christian”. That is, just after I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. In fact, my wife left me for this reason. It seemed that she preferred a drinking buddy to a Christian husband, so she split. After I dealt with that loss, my Christian friends (i.e. members of my religious community) informed me that:

  • I could not have sex outside of marriage.
  • I could never get married again.
  • And, oh yes, I could never masturbate.

In other words, I could never have a non-spontaneous ejaculation for the rest of my life. At the age of 28, I was done. I call this solution: No Sex.

It’s simple: Just don’t have sexual feelings of any kind. Just try that for about 60 seconds. OK, there now. I think you see the problem.

This was my first rebellion. At that time, to Christianity I said: Fuck that Shit.

More later.