Within the past couple of years I’ve discovered the joy of photography and adopted it as a hobby. I’ll lighten up the mood in the chapel for awhile and share an abstract photo with you. I’ll reveal what it is later.
– the chaplain
You may recall that I closed a recent post, Morphing Martial Metaphors, with this quote:
The potential consequences of such metamorphoses make me very uneasy and give me yet another reason to look forward to the demise of theistic religions.
A few weeks earlier, I said:
Any religion that requires people, particularly children, to despise their humanity is utterly inhuman, inexcusable and intolerable. Until such religions are rejected, I will weep for all of the children who are victimized by their spiritual leaders.
The Deacon finds those statements a bit “hard-edged” and has chided me that, even though we have legitimate criticisms of Christianity and religion in general, in all fairness, we should not overlook all of the good things that churches have done and continue to do.
I will begin by noting that, consistent with the statements quoted above, my rejection of religion is not identical with my distaste for churches. I unapologetically reject any and all religious dogma. I do not, however, reject the useful social functions that churches serve. Having said that, I don’t believe that churches are the only venues in which such functions can or should take place. I also think that, if humanism is to successfully supplant religion, humanists must devise means for fulfilling some of the roles that churches play in believers’ lives, three of which I will discuss now.
The first social function that churches have accomplished historically, and continue to do rather well today, is the building of communities. Churches do this by providing an array of activities for people of all ages and by providing venues in which these activities can take place. People look to churches to run these activities because they provide venues in which believers are assured that they will be joined by others with beliefs and lifestyles similar to their own. Moms and Tots clubs provide fellowship, often including snacks, with other mothers, as well as babysitting and games for young children. After school clubs provide crafts, outings and other activities for schoolchildren. Choirs and worship bands provide creative expressive outlets for musicians of all ages. Sports leagues provide recreational opportunities for men, women and teenagers. Name almost any recreational activity and you can be sure that some church, somewhere, is doing it. All of these and more are in addition to worship services, prayer meetings and Bible studies.
The second social function that churches do well is the marking of life transitions. Church leaders have long known that certain life events mark pivotal turning points in people’s lives and they’ve developed elaborate, meaningful ceremonies to acknowledge those times publicly and to pledge their community’s support of those who are undergoing these changes. Teens and young adults are welcomed as adult community members via adult baptisms. Babies are welcomed into the church via infant baptism and young children are confirmed during their elementary school years. Churches are the sites of most weddings, which mark the formation of new families, and pastors console mourners when death forces families to reconstitute themselves yet again.
The third social function that churches do well is the provision of material and financial assistance to those in need. Sometimes the needy are members of the congregations that are helping them. In these cases, congregations believe it is incumbent upon them to care for their own members, just as they care for their families. Often, assistance is offered to people regardless of their religious affiliations or lack thereof. Generally speaking, there are at least two motives behind Christian good works. First, churches often hope that, by being good neighbors, they will attract people to their congregations. Sometimes testimonies and invitations to church services and activities are offered along with the material or financial goods. Rarely (I wish I could say never) is assistance contingent upon acceptance of such invitations. Second, many Christians simply believe that Jesus commands them to care for their neighbors and communities. Even though many good secular charities exist, one cannot deny that many charities are funded and operated by religious organizations.
I believe that social functions like these tie people to their churches much more strongly than beliefs do. If that is so, then simply encouraging people to abandon their superstitious religious structures will not be enough to move many of them. Indeed, many will not be able to discard their creeds until they are confident that they will be able to replace their cozy communities with enriching alternatives. Our challenge as humanists is to learn from what the churches do well and to start doing it better.
– the chaplain
Before you say anything, Exterminator, I know that Sunday is not the only day on which humor is allowed. Shoot, we’re atheists, we don’t have any rules! It happened that I just came across this video by Edward Current and knew it would be perfect for those who gather at the chapel for prayers, devotions and other forms of inspiration and stimulation. Obligatory disclaimer: the preceding statement does not indicate that a presumption of prurient interests applies to those who attend the chapel. I respect and accept all of you just as you are. Honestly. For real. You can take it to the bank.
You can’t blame a chaplain for taking a tip from Phillychief and using sex as a hook to reel thousands of people into the chapel. On a personal note, I must shake my head and sigh: where was Edward when the Deacon and I needed him to take up our burden and teach our sons about sex?
– the chaplain
Yesterday at De-Conversion.com, in a wonderful post entitled, How To Discover Counterfeit Christianity? some comments were cited from a blog called In Defense of the Gospel. The comments pertained to a young man who is questioning his beliefs and has been visiting De-Conversion to acquire some food for thought. Lou Martuneac, the author of In Defense of the Gospel, exemplifies a fundamentalist Baptist mindset. In his post of January 5 he draws his readers’ attention to the young man’s questioning of faith and he calls for the young man’s religious employer to intervene.
LM’s post is a prime example of spiritual abuse. Such abuses take place in various ways within fundamentalism and a good portion of evangelicalism. Rather than communicating quietly to the Rev Wilkins, LM publicly spotlights the man’s alleged sin of independent thinking and questioning and calls for his readership to pray and intercede for the young man, whom he identifies by name. Such open outing and spotlighting are tools of the spiritual abuse process. In addition to being used to humiliate the person being highlighted, they are also used to discourage others from coming anywhere close to engaging in similar behavior. Further, those who may agree somewhat with the person being highlighted are implicitly discouraged from speaking out in defense without putting their good names and reputations on the line.
Similar “interventions in Christian love” take place in fundamentalist and evangelical congregations and colleges across the country. Students and congregants who have alleged complaints frequently “intervene in love.” I am not in position to question the motives of particular practitioners, but their actions certainly create pain and heartache. Often, the complainants have shared “confidentially” their concerns with two or three others under the guise of seeking their prayer support before approaching the person. It is not uncommon for those two or three individuals to then share “confidentially” with an additional one or two people.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a person or two to ask at a prayer meeting for prayer for the individual in question. Even when few details are given, enough information is hinted at to give rumor mongers fodder for a wide range of speculation. Sometimes prayer is sought by outlining the situation of an unnamed “a friend.” Therefore, before the “intervention in Christian love” actually occurs, rumors frequently have been quietly whispered.
If the person being confronted does not immediately “repent of his or her sin,” the interventionist often takes the news of the alleged sin to a wider circle. There are pastors and church leaders who will openly do on a Sunday morning what LM has done on his blog.
The justification for the practice is Jesus’ instruction that, if a brother or sister offends you, go to the person quietly to talk about it. If the matter is not settled at that point, then one is to go to a spiritual leader, who will then meet with the complainant and the alleged offender. The third person is intended to bring balance. As it is possible that the complaint may be unjustified, the third party is in a position to listen to both side before speaking on the matter. The third person is to keep in mind that it is possible that one or both parties, or even neither party, may be in the wrong.
Those who point to Jesus’ teaching to justify their actions have themselves disregarded the process. They have become the complainant, judge and executioner all in one. These interventions have thereby become part of a control system, a means to force a person, sometimes subtly and sometimes strongly, to conform and “repent.”
A faculty member at a Christian college once noted that one of the worst phrases on campus that any student can hear are, “in the love of Christ I need to talk to you.” I would extend it further, it is a phrase that it is one of the worse phrases in the Church and more often than not signifies that the person is being abused.
“Thinking outside the box” is a current buzz phrase in North America. Common Wisdom has it that people who succeed in business are those who can think beyond their usual boundaries and imagine possibilities that their peers don’t conceive. Thinking “inside the box,” in contrast, is considered stale and uninventive, a sure recipe for fiscal disaster. In this post, I want to consider the notions of thinking inside the box, outside the box, and finally, about the box itself.
I first learned to think outside the box about ten years ago, when I taught an undergraduate course in Human Relations, which typically covered such issues as racial, ethnic and gender discrimination. I was an evangelical Christian at the time, snuggled cozily inside my spiritual and intellectual box. I was comfortable with my worldview and, until that point, had experienced little difficulty in fitting new ideas into my old box without changing much about the box itself. My mission in the Human Relations course, as a graduate assistant I had little choice but to accept it, was to teach undergraduate teacher education students to think outside their boxes. This entailed, of course, that I could learn to think that way myself. Fortunately, my faculty supervisor and fellow graduate students taught me how to think outside of my conservative, evangelical Christian box.
An example of the kind of thinking I mean is this: the most difficult Human Relations concept for me to grasp was the notion of “white privilege.” It took me months to understand how, as a white person in American society, I enjoyed many hidden privileges. For example, when I walk down the street, people don’t cross the street and walk on the other side as they sometimes do when they see a black or Hispanic man coming their way. The implicit trust extended toward me, simply because of my skin color, was something I took for granted. I assumed such trust was granted to everyone who walked down the street, but that was not true. Once I grasped this concept, and other related ones, everything I had ever learned about human social intercourse took on new meanings. I finally was able to a) think outside of my old conceptual box, and b) build a new and better box for myself.
In hindsight, I now realize that this initial experience in thinking outside the box was a significant step in my de-conversion. As I learned to consider and understand race and gender issues in new ways, I had to re-define my theology. I had to build a new theological box so that I could add the new content to it and dispose of some of the old junk that couldn’t merge with the new stuff. As time went by, the new box became comfortable and I settled into it until it became my regular box.
Over the past few years, as I viewed the world from within my box, I gradually became aware that it was getting tight and stuffy in there, with little room for new materials. When I hit the crisis period of my de-conversion, I climbed outside of my box and, instead of merely thinking outside of it, began examining the box itself. After several weeks of looking at that box and its contents, I discovered that I could no longer carry around many of its contents, primarily those related to Christianity. Upon further consideration, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the idea that it is time for me to set aside all religious boxes, for none of them will ever fit me well again.