Lie to Me

You know the show Lie to Me? The main character (played beautifully by Tim Roth) is Dr. Cal Lightman, a famous scientist who has created a foolproof way to tell if someone is lying.

Now, imagine with me, please, that Dr. Lightman is standing in front of you, and he is holding a gun. Also, that gun is pointed at the person who is the most precious to you. If that is yourself, then that gun it pointed at you. Otherwise, it is pointed at your wife, daughter, mother, etc. Got it?

OK, Dr. Lightman speaks. He says: “I will ask you a question, and you must answer me honestly. I mean truly honestly. Remember that I will know if you lie. And if you lie, even just a little, I will pull this trigger.”

And here’s the question:

Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?

Ouch! A classic hobson’s choice: If you say yes (I have written previously that the virgin birth is highly unlikely, although certainly not impossible), then you are probably lying. Even most Christians have a dark corner of their soul where they doubt the virgin birth a bit. And so, the person you love the most is going to die.

On the other hand, if you state truthfully that you doubt the virgin birth, even a teensie bit, you stand a chance of losing your salvation. Salvation is by faith after all, according to many, many verses in the NT. For example, Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew 10:37 – 39

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

Suffice it to say, that the standard held up in the Fox’s Book of Martyrs is pretty high: You have to be willing to die for your faith. Thus, the standard of faith is absolute, unwavering, unquestioning belief, even in the face if imminent death to yourself or your loved ones.

After all, the folks who were persecuted by Nero in Fox’s Book of Martyrs were willing to die rather than simply place a pinch of incense at the foot of a pagan idol. The pagans did not even demand that the Christians cease to worship Jesus. No, their beef was that the Christians insisted that their pagan gods were not gods at all, but rather demons and such.

At the time I first read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I found these folks admirable. Now I simply find them stupid. Don’t get me wrong: I do not endorse or approve of the tactics of the Romans in the persecution of Christianity during the early centuries of our current era. (Neither do I endorse or approve of the actions of the Catholic Church during the period following Constantine.) But the pagans did have a good point, if a poor way of demonstrating it: Christianity is a pretty exclusive club. You are either in or you are out. And near as I can tell, the difference between in and out is in what you believe. Specifically, what you believe in terms of hard, specific historical facts like the virgin birth.

I did it myself when I was a Christian. I insisted to everyone I knew that the choice they faced was the Dr. Lightman choice. Jesus is the way, and the only way, to God. If you would be saved, you must surrender everything. You must buy it all, hook, line and sinker. You must be willing to die, or even to see your most beloved one die, rather than deny your faith. Otherwise, you are not a Christian at all. You are simply an imposter: A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A tear, waiting to be rooted up on the day of judgement and burned in the fire.

If that’s true (and I will admit that I sincerely hope not), I am royally screwed at this point.

Yeah, no kidding. I will burn in Hell. No doubt about it. If the Christian gospel is true, then I am damned.

Bummer.

The reason I say this is because I have looked at the hard, specific, historical facts that I am required to believe in order to be a Christian. In fact, I have made it one of my life’s tasks to understand the evidence (or lack thereof) for the truth of these facts. I have spent hundreds of hours of study in doing so. Certainly, there is no one that I have met who has studied this stuff as hard as I have, and few who have done nearly as much.

My conclusion? There is no way to know for sure. But the virgin birth is highly doubtful in my mind. Thus, I would be forced to answer Dr. Lightman truthfully: I do not believe that the virgin birth is necessarily true.

Now here is my final question, and the point of this blog: Because I have made a serious study of the culture, history, and language of the ancient world, so that I could better understand all of this, and because I have earnestly, and with all my heart, sought to understand this, and because I have concluded that I do not believe in the absolute truth of the things that religion claims, shall I then be damned by God?

I mean, what about the poor, dumb bastard who drifts through life with a vague idea of what is going on, but never bothers to question what he is told from the pulpit. Shall he go to heaven because of his laziness, while I burn in Hell because of my diligence?

Shall I believe six impossible things before breakfast, as Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland? Is that the price of heaven?

I mean come on! Is that fair? You tell me.

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.

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.

Many Senses

This post may be a bit technical for most of my readers. However, I am fascinated by the human senses, and frequently explore them within my own body. I have long maintained that there are far more senses than generally thought, and this post is about that idea.

First, let’s define what I mean by a sense. In my view, a sense has the following characteristics:

  • It allows us to gain information about the outside world. In that way, a sense is effectively a portal between us and the physical universe in some way.
  • Typically, a sense has a dedicated area of the brain to moderate its needs. In some cases, (such as sight), the sense is so complex that multiple areas of the brain are involved. Often, the use of different areas of the brain is a clue that a particular sense is separate from another sense. This is the case with the sense of touch (or what I call tactile sensation) and the related senses of body sensation and sexual sensation.
  • Senses generally result in sensations that we can experience consciously. That is, we are aware that we are experiencing this sensation. This is certainly true of sexual sensation, for example!
  • Frequently (but not always), a distinct organ of the body is associated with one or more senses. For example, the ears not only take care of hearing, but also balance.

In my own body see at least the following senses at work in my own life:

  • Sight (of course). This is undoubtedly the primary sense for humans, and I certainly rely on it heavily. It is far more complex than most people realize. More on this later.
  • Hearing (of course).
  • Taste (of course).
  • Smell (of course). Again, though, the sense of smell is a bit more complex than folks realize, and is certainly closely related to the previous sense, taste. Actually, most of the sensations that we experience when we eat are smells, not tastes.
  • Tactile sensation. Note that I do not call this sense “touch”. There are very good reasons for this. See the next sense for some reasons why.
  • Sexual sensation. Again, very distinct from what we normally call the sense of “touch”. However, sexual sensations are regulated by a completely different area of the brain from the normal sense of tactile sensation that we feel continuously throughout the day. Sexual sensation only fires if there is sufficient stimulation to cause the release of oxytocin, a neurohormone with fascinating implications for health.
  • Body sensation, often referred to as the sense of pain. Interestingly, the sense of pain is referred to as a sense, but is not typically included in the sense list which we learn in school. Odd. However, body sensation is definitely a separate sense, according to the definition above. Certainly, it uses a completely different area of the brain than tactile sensation. Oddly, the sense of body sensation shares much of the wiring (referred to as the parasympathetic nervous system) with the sense of sexual sensation.
  • Balance. This is a very interesting and complex sense. We definitely use a distinct area of the brain to handle this sense, and we also have an organ in the inner ear which assists with this sense.
  • Duration, commonly referred to as the sense of time. Again, this is often called a sense, but is left off of the typical “five senses” list we learn in school. Which is obviously incomplete, as we see above!

There is probably a spiritual sense as well, but of course I cannot prove that. I have certainly experienced the spiritual sense in my own life, though. More later.

Payoff

In my previous post, I talked about the notion that the bible (which is of course merely a collection of ancient documents) is the “Word of God”, and how this notion has become a critical component to Western European Evangelical Christianity. In several conversations with my friend Ray (who is Christian, of course), I think Ray and I may have teased out a possible reason why this notion became so central to this particular religion. One in which I and many of my loved ones have been enmeshed for so many years.

Ray calls it “Reading by Faith”. I have also heard this referred to as “Pray Reading”, and various other similar terms, depending on the religious context. The assumption is that the spiritual organ that lies within each of us, and connects us to the divine, gets turned on, and suddenly we are able to believe things for which there is no logical evidence. And the first thing you must believe, and for which there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, is that the bible is in some sense the “Word of God”.

Looking at this phenomenon from outside religion, of course, it appears to be very much like mass delusion. There is, after all, no scientific evidence to support the existence of a Human Spirit (at least not without serious questions). Thus, the act of believing propositions for which the evidence is seriously lacking seems, well, illogical.

Enter what I call Suspension of Disbelief (SoD). It is very similar to going to the movies, reading a book, or any other similar form of entertainment. You simply decide to believe what is presented to you, and you are good. You can only enjoy Harry Potter, Star Trek, and the like, by engaging in SoD to at least some degree. I am very good at this maneuver, actually. Anyone who has been to an action movie with me will laugh when they remember how agitated I can get during the fight scenes. This is because I actually lived in a fantasy world for several years (during the time my father was in Vietnam), and thus I have a very overdeveloped imagination.

Anyway, to become a Christian, you simply decide to believe. That’s it. The bible does say that it is “God’s Word” in several places (or at least you can interpret it that way). If you simply do the SoD thing (which, again, in the religious context can be called such things as “Reading by Faith”) then you can accept the bible, warts and all, as the utterance from the mind of God. Believe me. I know. I have done this very thing: I have believed this myself.

Now, the question: Why did I do this? Simple. There was a big payoff. In fact a payoff so huge that it could be said that it saved my life.

The payoff was love.

I was 28. It was 1983. My sister committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with a 38 caliber pistol. I got fired from my job and had basically no way to support myself. My wife was insane and abusive, as well as on her way to becoming a stumbling alcoholic. And I was joining her there. In the midst of all this stepped this older man named Frank.

Frank reminded me of my Dad, actually. I do not know as I sit here if Frank is still alive, although I have regularly tried to contact him. Frank, if you are out there, please let me know.

Frank was a Christian, and he took an interest in me, this young, intelligent, budding attorney who worked at the same natural gas pipeline company that he did. Frank took me under his wing. He offered me love. He offered me someone to talk to.

And he offered me the bible.

As I have said before, Frank was a very bookish guy. He seriously believed the proposition that the bible is the “Word of God”. And he dedicated an hour per day of his time to a practice based upon that belief: He read the bible cover to cover 4 times a year.

Now, of course, Frank was not reading the bible in the way that I do now. I read the bible as a piece of human culture, nothing more. Frank, on the other hand, used the same technique as my wife. I describe it above. Ray calls it “Reading by Faith”, which is the term I will use, or RbF for short.

The thing is, like I have said previously, most Christians only read about 15% of the complete content of their bible, max. And that’s the good stuff. Bear in mind that the bible is truly fabulous stuff at least 15% of the time. That’s the part that, for want of a better term, I call inspired (in the secular sense of course). The rest of the bible falls into three categories:

  • Appallingly violent
  • Miserably depressing
  • Crushingly dull

At least, it does for me. Your mileage may vary. Depending on your tolerance level, and your commitment to reading the bible. Which in the case of Frank, was very high.

During my long association with Frank, I noticed that he did not ignore the uncomfortable parts of the bible like other Christians did. He read it all. I imitated Frank, and read the bible cover-to-cover many, many times. In the process I learned a lot about the bible. And gradually I got a better picture. The way that Frank and I were reading the bible was driving us crazy. I certainly knew that was what it was doing to me, and I also saw a lot of the same thing in Frank. At the very least, this practice was giving both of us a lot of stress. I personally observed Frank tortured to some extent by one of the more difficult passages in the bible. The early history books like Genesis and Exodus are great for this. Just open one and read a bit. You almost can’t miss it. But one example that I will pick on is Genesis 19, a truly miserable story in the OT, and the passage that was bothering Frank one day long ago.

In Genesis 19 we have Lot, Abraham’s nephew, living in Sodom with his wife and family. Two figures described as “Messengers of Yahweh” (frequently translated “Angels of the Lord”) arrive to warn Lot to flee Sodom. Apparently, the people of Sodom are homicidal, sexually crazed maniacs. (I have never found anyone in my all of travels who remotely resemble the men of Sodom, but whatever.) The men of Sodom try to break down the door to Lot’s house to drag out these two total strangers “so that they could know them” (literally “have sex with them”).

At that point Lot has a startling response. He brings out his two young daughters and declares

No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof. (NIV)

Soooo, it would be “wicked” to have sex (presumably rape) with these two strangers, but it’s fine to rape my two young daughters to death? What is Lot thinking here?

Now, of course Frank had a strong response to this passage. Not only does it seem remarkably cruel, evil even, but it makes no sense. It does not seem to particularly move the narrative along. It just seems to be stuck in there.

The thing that really bothered Frank was that this was in the bible. He didn’t get it. With each and every verse in the entire bible, Frank was trying with all of his heart to extract meaning and significance. And despite years and years of trying, and accreting massive amounts of “insight” onto his understanding of the bible, many, many verses eluded him his entire life, at least up to the point I knew him. And he was fairly elderly then, so this practice had been going on for many years.

What I saw in Frank, though, was a man with a purpose. A man who stood for something. And, most importantly, a human being who was willing to expend energy on me, who was willing to take his time, and give it to me freely.

What he saw in me was a successful, very intelligent young man who was utterly shattered and broken, but who still had enormous potential. Frank invested huge amounts of his time in conversations with me. Over the course of my conversion, which took the better part of a year, Frank and I spoke for hours, many times a week. However, even at Frank’s inflated hourly rate (Frank was also an attorney) this investment was wildly profitable to the Christian Church (if such an institution can be said to exist). I have given wildly, profligately in fact, during my period as a Christian. Thus, strictly as a business decision, the contribution of Frank to my life was a good one. However, I seriously doubt that Frank thought about it in that way. To him, I was merely a young atheist who was in his life, and who he was working with to share his faith. He had done the same thing many times before, and did it after he worked with me. To Frank, it truly was a form of love.

Because of this, the offer that Frank made was completely irresistible. I was exactly what has been described by Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity as the ideal recruiting prospect for early Christianity: Isolated, lonely, desperate, and starved for human contact. It is possible that Christianity may have saved my life, as it did for many of the early Christian converts during all of the plagues in ancient Roman cities that Rodney Stark so eloquently describes. More on Rodney and his incredibly important contribution to my life in a later post.

The deal I made with Frank, which I suppose I secretly knew when I did it, was to receive access to a community, a support system, and most especially an emotional support system, in exchange for believing a few extremely implausible (but not provably wrong) propositions. Like that the bible is the “Word of God”. Which is, as I like to say, the Mother of Them All (TMotA). In terms of “foma” at least.

And why is that particular foma so important? Simple: Because it leads to all the rest.

If you believe, I mean truly believe, that the bible is the “Word of God”, then you will believe all kinds of improbable things. I have done it. Many folks in my life have done it. Entire doctrinal and theological card castles have been built around this initial single foma.

My daughter recently told me about some of the heated theological debates which were occurring in the Baptist church where she and her boyfriend sometimes attend. I suggested that she simply make the following statement during this sort of discussion:

You realize, don’t you, that the bible is a work of human culture and not the “Word of God” in any sense. Right?

At that point, all theological disputes should disappear. Because SoD will cease, assuming that this statement is believed. At least, that has been my experience. I was no longer able to buy the notion that the bible is the “Word of God” at some point in my journey (I have tried to figure out when this occurred, but so far it escapes me). My studies of the bible and the manuscripts upon which it is based eventually spilled over, and my faith in the bible as the “Word of God” simply collapsed. Once that happened, all of the other foma fell away as well. This included the following improbable notions, all of which I believed passionately up to this point:

  • Evolution is just a theory.
  • Marriage is an institution ordained by God in which one man and one woman live together their entire remaining lives and raise a family.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ is the only legitimate expression of God’s love on the Earth.
  • Your Hindu housekeeper is going to Hell because she has not accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.

More later.

Truth Believer

My wife is awesome. She is in the bathroom right now, singing her heart out with her headset on. It’s great. I’m sitting in our home office right next door and I can hear her going nuts in there.

We had a very significant talk last night. I made it very clear to her (as I will again) and wish to let all of my friends know that I am not trying to talk you into believing like me. (Well, maybe just a little.) Let me explain.

I do not want my Christian friends to stop being Christian, just like I do not want my Hindu friends to stop being Hindu. I had an employee a while back who was awesome named Shashi. Shashi is a great guy, and his wife Shree is also precious. Both of them are Hindu. When they found out that I was practicing yoga, they embraced me, gave me books, showered me with gifts, and the like. I would never ask Shashi and Shree to come to a Christian meeting, anymore than I would invite my Christian friends to go to yoga (unless I get a clear message that they are open to this).

What my wife has done is to cross over into a state in which she is very tolerant of people of other faiths. We talked about another friend (the wife of an aggressively Christian church friend named Gopal) who we will call Shruthi (not her real name). Shruthi was also a very wonderful person. She was beautiful, charming, vivacious, funny, and all that. She was also Hindu. Because her husband Gopal was aggressively Christian, he was putting enormous pressure on her to convert. He basically thought she was going to Hell. In fact, the prospect that his wife would go to Hell was driving him crazy. He proceeded to recruit other folks in the church (including my wife and I) to “witness” to Shruthi in order to convince her to “receive Jesus”.

My conversation with Shruthi was an absolutely pivotal moment for me: I realized that I no longer wanted Shruthi to become a Christian. I liked her as a Hindu. She told me that she was happy as a Hindu, that she regarded it as a path to God, and she did not understand why “you Christians” were always telling her otherwise. She was a bit annoyed actually. She made it very clear to me, though, that she was not interested in becoming a Christian and preferred to stay as she was. And I found that I agreed with her, and that I was happy to leave her alone in her Hinduism.

At that moment, I realized that I was no longer the same kind of Christian as Gopal. Last night my wife told me that she had an identical conversation with Shruthi with an identical outcome: She also did not believe that Shruthi was “going to Hell” and had no desire to convert her to Christianity. So I guess she did the same thing as me without realizing it.

Remember please that one of the cardinal points of the Christian faith (at least the aggressively evangelical Christianity that my wife and I were both involved in) is that anyone who has not accepted Jesus into their heart and dedicated their lives to Him is going to Hell, pure and simple. For this reason, we as Christians should try with all of our hearts to get all of our “lost friends” to pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus into their hearts. Implicit in this attitude is the idea that Jesus is the only valid and legitimate way to God, and that Hinduism, Buddhism, and all the rest are simply lies. Again, the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on the truth.

Given that I no longer wanted Shruthi to accept Jesus, I realize now (even more than I did then) that this meant that I no longer was a Christian, as my religious group defined that term. I was something different. I call this thing I have become a Truth Believer.

Move later.