Category Archives: spiritual abuse

Deliverance Is Evil

I came across a harrowing post at Thoughts in a Haystack the other day, and followed John’s link to an even more harrowing item. You’ll be thrilled to learn that Pentecostals can no longer be regarded as a one-trick pony. No, sirree, Bob. Not by a long shot. Now, in addition to speaking in tongues, Pentecostals have a lock on the ministry of deliverance: exorcising demons. Unlike speaking in tongues, though, which any spirit-filled believer can do, deliverance requires special training in a field called Spiritual Warfare.

Where and how, exactly, do Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance education take place? Is such education available via correspondence or online courses, or is on-campus class participation required? Are such courses offered by Pentecostal Bible colleges? At all of them, or just a select few? Or – here’s another possibility – are courses in Spiritual Warfare and/or Deliverance offered in weekend seminars held in church basements? When a candidate completes the training course (can it be done in one course, or are multiple courses required?), does he or she receive a certificate or degree? Can one get certified in Deliverance only, or must one be certified in the field of Spiritual Warfare in general?

How does one become a Spiritual Warfare and/or Deliverance educator? Are instructors certified? Do they hold collegiate or advanced degrees in these fields? Are there entire degree programs devoted to the field of Spiritual Warfare? Is Deliverance a sub-field of Spiritual Warfare, or a discipline in its own right? Can you imagine attending college and enrolling in the Deliverance program because what you want to do for the rest of your life, more than anything else, is exorcise Homosexual-Causing Demons from gay people? My God, is that the stuff dreams are made of or what? Quick, show me where to sign my name!

This deliverance stuff would be hilarious if people weren’t being hurt by it. Unfortunately, some lunatics who take these ideas and rituals very seriously are tormenting others. Consider Kevin Robinson’s story:

The prophet placed her hands on Kevin and began to pray over him. “Come out, come out!” she shouted. “In the name of Jesus, I command you to come out! You gonna free him right now!”

Kevin closed his eyes, thinking to himself, “There’s something wrong with me; I need to change.” A part of him believed this prophet could do what no one else had been able to do during previous deliverance attempts—make him heterosexual. But the prophet was loud and she looked at him with disgust and contempt as her chants became more and more belligerent. Even now Kevin can’t bring himself to repeat the most hurtful things she said. He soon began to cry. And then, with the prophet still exhorting the demons in him to depart, he blacked out and collapsed. When he regained consciousness, he stood up and returned to his seat. His shame was turning to rage. He searched his mind and thoughts and found he was unchanged—he was still attracted to men. In the past it had been family members—his mother, his aunt, or his uncle, the church’s pastor—who performed deliverance on him. This time it was a stranger, and she had pushed him beyond the breaking point. Never again, he decided, would he allow himself to be treated this way.

It was, by Kevin’s count, at least the 10th time since he was 16 that he’d subjected himself to gay exorcism.

Every time I read that passage, I can’t decide whether I want to cry or cuss out the stupid “prophets” who tortured Kevin. If you have a queasy stomach, you may want to skip Peterson Toscano’s account:

Peterson Toscano, a gay Christian activist, underwent three exorcisms before coming to terms with his sexuality. One took place in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, another in an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan owned by Joanne Highley, who runs L.I.F.E. Ministry. During the latter exorcism, Highley had him lie down on her bed, then she sat beside him and began to press on his body, commanding the demons to exit through his mouth and rectum. Before the rite was complete, Toscano, who says he felt increasingly violated by Highley’s actions, stopped the ritual and left her apartment. Highley did not respond to requests to be interviewed, but she has previously stated that her process is to “cleanse and bind demonic powers . . . out of genitals, of course out of anal canals, out of intestines, out of throats and mouths if there’s been ungodly deposit of semen in those areas—we cleanse with the blood of Jesus, and we cast out the demonic powers.” Some practitioners of deliverance believe that a demon has a physical as well as a spiritual form and can be purged through the orifices—thus an exorcism can be judged successful if the subject vomits, coughs up sputum, or, in rare cases, evacuates his bowels.

These are rituals that require specialized training? How does this work? Does one complete supervised professional internships in verbally berating and physically assaulting people in order to be acknowledged and/or certified as a Deliverer or Spiritual Warrior? Can one who is especially skilled at this continue on to post-graduate studies? The mind boggles.

Is behavior like this any more civilized than that of African witch-hunters? I think not. Is it coincidental that many of the Africans labeled as witches and many of the Americans undergoing deliverance are minors? I think not. Minors are emotionally, psychologically and intellectually vulnerable, often physically weaker than their tormentors, and easily victimized; they’re easy pickings for bullies. American exorcists may wear silk instead of cotton, but they’re just as deluded as their witch-hunting counterparts in Africa. All of them are equally willing and eager to take out their fears on those who are least able to resist them.

Defenders and practitioners of deliverance insist that the ritual is an act of “love and care” aimed at delivering gays “from the clutches of the Devil.” But some people, including some Pentecostals, wonder if deliverance rituals cross the line into abusive behavior. Duh! Gee, ya think? There haven’t been any cases “challenging gay exorcism in the United States to date, nor, apparently, has there been any research into the psychological impact of the practice, without which prosecution remains unlikely.” All that’s a convoluted way of saying that, until someone formally studies Deliverance and issues a scholarly declaration that it may be problematic, religious nuts will continue getting free passes on activities that would be deemed unacceptable, and probably illegal, in non-religious circumstances. Given the USA’s traditional kowtowing stance toward Christianity, authorities won’t pay any attention to this stuff unless people start dying during or shortly after deliverance rituals. Even then, it would probably take multiple deaths to spur any action; one death would simply be dismissed as a tragic anomaly. In the meantime, people like Kevin Robinson and Peterson Toscano will continue suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to love them the most.

— the chaplain


Helloween is Almost Here

Here in the northern hemisphere, the colorful, falling leaves of late October remind fundogelicals to put on their holy underwear armor and fight the forces that corrupt our culture every year with the wickedest holiday of all – Halloween! Offhand, I can think of three tactics that fundies employ to protest this evil evening.

1. Some people refuse to participate in any Halloween events at all. They don’t dress in costumes and they don’t distribute treats to neighborhood children. They either lock their doors, turn off their lights and pretend they’re not home, or they arrange to be somewhere else (such as church – I kid you not) on Halloween night. They also refuse to let their children participate, even going so far as to keep them home from school, lest the little tykes be tainted or tempted by Halloween festivities in those secular (read: sinful) environs.

2. Some churches launch a counteroffensive in the form of Hell Houses. Rather than corrupting children’s minds with the obviously fake, fun and funny “terrifying” sights and sounds of Haunted Houses, fundogelical churches opt to – literally, they hope – scare the hell out of kids with their own twisted spectacles of horror.

Hell Houses are a relatively new evangelistic technique used by many hundreds of fundamentalist and other evangelical churches in North America. One intent is to proselytize the unsaved public. Another is to promote certain conservative Christian beliefs, such as:

  • That abortions kill human persons;
  • That sexual orientation is a matter of choice, is changeable, and that God hates same-sex behavior;
  • That everyone who is not saved will go to Hell when they die. They will then be eternally tortured without any hope of mercy or release;
  • That underground Satanic cults engage in widespread sacrifice of humans.

Some hell houses are disguised to resemble conventional secular haunted houses. The customer only realizes that they have a religious theme after they have bought their ticket and gone part of the way through the scenes.

Typical scenes are:

  • A phoney reenactment of the murder of Cassie Bernall, a teenager victim at the Columbine High School in 1999-APR. She was allegedly asked whether she believed in God, answered yes, and was murdered on the spot. The incident never happened. But the story has taken on a life of its own. She is frequently referred to in conservative Christian magazines, books, and radio programs as a Christian martyr.
  • A person being sacrificed during a Satanic ritual. The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) web site warned of Wiccan rituals and stated “… evidence persists that some Satanists and voodoo groups offer sacrifices — usual animals, but, possibly, human babies” at this time. Satanic Ritual Abuse was a widespread hoax that was commonly believed during the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Women undergoing very bloody late-term abortions, complete with screaming, lots of blood, and particularly insensitive, uncaring health providers. Some of these scenes have been partly abandoned in recent years in favor of a portrayal of guilt and depression arising from Post Abortion Syndrome.
  • Gays and lesbians being tortured in hell for all eternity because of their same-sex behavior while they were alive on earth.
  • The dangers of “dabbling” in the occult and becoming demon possessed.
  • Personal tragedies arising from pre-marital sex.
  • Disastrous tragedies and loss of life resulting from drunk driving.
  • A man having an argument with his wife and is later seduced by his secretary.
  • Witches pressuring a depressed teen to murder his fellow students.
  • A 9/11 ground zero scene.

Look at the bright side. Once Halloween is over, the Fundie PR machine automatically switches over from the Scare the Hell Out of Kids message to the Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men message. We and our children just have to get through one more week with our wits intact. We can do it!

3. Some people skip the expense and bother of Hell Houses and just tell kids straight up that, if they celebrate Halloween, they’ll go to Hell. That message, which was circulated in the UK recently, is more direct than this one, which I saw this morning:


The sign is not about Halloween, but its message is compatible with Hell House pageants and You’re Going to Hell flyers.

Churches! They steal sheep from each other so that they, rather than their competitors, can have the privilege of scaring them senseless. In the meantime, I’m sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out whether this stuff is sordid or sidesplitting. Right now, I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both.

UPDATE: A good old-fashioned book burning may be tactic #4, if it’s not a POE. Does anyone know if this is serious? The holy rollers at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, will counter Halloween’s evil effects by burning lots of non-King James Version Bibles, as well as “Satan’s music,” and “Satan’s books,” which were written by heretics like Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, James Dobson…. On the one hand, this smells like a POE, but, on the other hand, the church’s belief statements look like true-blue, far-right, wacko Christian fundamentalism, minus snake-handling and poison kool-aid (as far as I can tell).

— the chaplain


Posted by on October 25, 2009 in religion, society, spiritual abuse


Couldn’t Have Said It Better

TXlife Got this via James Moore, at Huffington Post (go read his piece, it’s really quite good).

This, my friends, is fundogelicalism in a nutshell.

— the chaplain


Posted by on September 11, 2009 in humor, indoctrination, religion, sex, spiritual abuse


Shoe on Other Foot is Still Poor Fit

You may recall that some churches held what they called a Pulpit Freedom Sunday during last year’s presidential election. Many bloggers – including me – decried this as an inappropriate intrusion of religion into the political arena. People had similar concerns when Saddleback Church hosted a presidential forum.

It seems that the shoe is now on the other foot. Yesterday, On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama held a conference call and a webcast with over 140,000 religious leaders across the USA to urge them to encourage their congregations to support his health care plan. I am calling this out as an inappropriate intrusion of politics into the religious sphere. I say this even though I support health care reform and have no affection for either religion or religious institutions.

These two events are opposite sides of a coin, or mirror images of each other. Religious leaders should not use their pulpits as forums from which to preach their political preferences, and presidents should not use their office as a forum from which to push their policies as religiously correct positions.

Yes, religious people vote their consciences, as do non-religious people, but they should not let the religious foundations of their positions dominate public discourse. They should appeal to the public on secular grounds, not religious ones. Similarly, presidents should not appeal to the religious sensitivities of a select contingent of their constituents to garner support for their political positions. They should appeal for support of their policies on secular grounds alone. President Obama (in what can only be construed as an act of political desperation) committed an egregious act of spiritual abuse yesterday by implying that religious adherents who don’t support his plan may not be acting according to the dictates of their religions.

Perhaps those religious people who supported Pulpit Freedom Sunday and other intrusions of religion into electoral politics will now have a better understanding of why those behaviors were wrong. Just as importantly, I hope that President Obama – who, as a Constitutional scholar, clearly should have known better – will also learn, sooner rather than later, why his behavior was wrong. The ill-designed shoe of religio-politics fits both feet equally poorly.

Update – I’m disturbed that the conversation with Jewish leaders (and arranged by them):

…was supposed to be off the record….

Why keep the conversation “off the record?” Did anyone really think a conversation involving approximately 1,000 people would remain a secret? Obama’s conversation with Christians, which was initiated by a Christian organization, was publicized beforehand.

A rabbi who participated in the “private” call wrote this on his blog:

The role of religion in advocating political policy is an area in which I am both interested and concerned…. As I understood the intent of the call, the point for Obama was to have community leaders sympathetic to his agenda correct “misinformation” about his health care plan or the larger need for health care reform, in particular for use in their High Holiday sermons…. I do not know to what extent the President sought out religious leaders or the religious leaders proposed the audience with the President. In either case, I find the blurring of church and state to be disconcerting….

Another report of the “private” conversation notes:

…The prayer he recited is thousands of years old, he said, and yet the suffering it describes – people dying before their time, by plague and by famine – still persists.

“We have the opportunity to quench the thirst and ease the hunger of those who are suffering here in America,” Mr. Obama said, according to one rabbi. (Participants were asked to keep the proceedings confidential; some described the call on the condition they not be quoted.)

Many religious leaders prefer not to make overtly political pitches to their congregations, and one rabbi asked Mr. Obama how to reconcile the sanctity of the high holidays with the partisan politics of the health care reform fight. The president responded, another participant said, by framing it as a moral rather than a political question….

Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman, said in a statement: “There will certainly be rabbis and congregants on all sides of the debate, but one thing common to all Jews is Tikkun Olam – the commitment to making the world around us a better place – and today no issue is more central to that work than making our health care system work better for all Americans.”

Some other things President Obama told his listeners:

“…this debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people….”
“…I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform…”
“…tell the stories of health care dilemmas to illustrate what is at stake…”
“…we are God’s partners in matters of life and death….”

— the chaplain


Evangelical Strings

Dominic Mapstone, a Catholic social worker, wrote a post I want to highlight. Here are some excerpts:

When you order a meal you expect to be asked some junk like “do you want fries with that?” But what if you are homeless and you line up for a feed and someone starts trying to tell you about what church they go to or what God they worship?

If you don’t know how running a homeless service and running a church could possibly relate to each other – you have not been homeless. Street life and homelessness involves putting up with evangelization. There is no way for ‘the great unwashed’ to avoid it.

It makes me question the true agenda of some Christian service providers.

I wonder if some of these services are just a disguise and the principal agenda has nothing to do with what homeless people want, but what the religious group wants.

Are service providers that allow or even encourage evangelization to the homeless chasing sexy souls? Are they abusing the significant position of power they have? I’d say yes to both, and think it’s a disgusting abuse of power.

Those with power often believe their world view is right and should be shared by those without power. Institutional and structural power has long been abused in this way. Credit to those with the humility to know better.

Today, homeless people in many countries are evangelized to, treated as ignorant sinners who if only they turn to God ‘x’ and attend church ‘y’ then all would be OK. Some are pressured or even forced to attend church services if they want welfare assistance. This is wrong and should not be tolerated.

If you are a Christian like me and aren’t sure how you feel about this post, think for a minute if an Islamic service provider was given the same funding and license to provide services to homeless people and evangelize to them that many Christian service providers are given? What about a Church of Scientology service provider? Would that be an abuse of power? Is it okay for your vulnerable countryman to be taken advantage of and pushed around by any religious group?

Point is it’s not about the religion we belong to or don’t… or the church you or I go to or don’t. When service providers use their position of power to recruit people to their religion it’s an abuse of power and not right….

The first thing I want to say about Mr. Mapstone’s post is that there’s quite a lot more to it than I’ve excerpted here – I encourage you to go over and read the entire post (after you’ve read mine, of course). The second thing I want to say is, I heartily applaud Mr. Mapstone for having the courage to call out his co-religionists on this issue. The third thing I want to say is that I hope Christians will take his message to heart. He’s not speaking as a non-believer, one who has obvious reasons for not wanting to listen to anyone’s gospel – he’s speaking as a believer who is sensitive to power dynamics, a believer who is humble (a characterization based on this one post, I admit), and a believer who recognizes that a charitable organization’s mission should be to meet needs that people identify as theirs, not needs that would-be helpers assign to them.

In contrast to Mr. Mapstone’s gracious attitude toward the needy, I present another Christian’s response (July 20 entry) to Mr. Mapstone:

My friend fired me an article that slams homeless evangelism…. It basically argues that Christians attach strings to their service…..

My quick defence is that when you go to play softball your team-mate doesn’t think she wants to hear the gospel (though deep down everyone wants peace and fulfilment only found through the gospel, so they DO WANT the gospel…). And yet you give it to her. When you go to the restaurant your waiter doesn’t think he wants to hear the gospel. And yet you give it to him. And so on…

Compartmentalisation as suggested in the article apparently doesn’t recognise that salvos want to evangelise anything that moves, in season and out, appropriate and inappropriate, dignified and undignified, friends and strangers, including teammates, waiters, doctors, and homeless people.

The article’s argument makes sense in a conventional paradigm. For those of us fighting in a revolutionary paradigm (read: salvos, amongst others) it seems irrelevant.

Ugh and Double Ugh! Whereas Mr. Mapstone’s post makes me want to give Mr. Mapstone a hug and a big, sloppy kiss, the second post makes me want to slap the author upside the head a few dozen times. What utter arrogance! He’s sure that, no matter what the need, his gospel is the solution. Moreover, his disrespect for those he would “win for Christ” is infuriating. He doesn’t care whether people want to hear his message (he assumes that they do, but they’re just too lost in sin to realize it), he just wants to go ahead and “evangelise anything that moves” in any manner possible, at any time possible. And people think atheists are militant! If Mr. Aggressive Evangelist had his way, non-Christians would have to don Kevlar vests and arm themselves with Uzis just to stand their ground against his full-on assault!

The full extent of Mr. Aggressive Evangelist’s delusion of grandeur is revealed in his final sentence. Mr. Aggressive Evangelist is “fighting in a revolutionary paradigm.” Oh, sure – that makes it okay, then. He’s free to ignore words of caution from other Christians, because those hopeless saps are living in the wrong paradigm. Their paradigm, a conventional one, is irrelevant. The only paradigm that matters is the revolutionary one that Mr. Aggressive Evangelist has erected in his mind. Excuse me while I roll on the floor and laugh out loud.

If I met Mr. Mapstone on the street, I’d probably take him to Starbucks and pass an enjoyable hour or three chatting with him. If I met Mr. Aggressive Evangelist on the street, basic human decency and compassion would compel me to counter-evangelize him with some choice bits from The God Delusion. What could possibly be more appropriate for the occasion?

— the chaplain


Posted by on July 20, 2009 in humanism, religion, spiritual abuse


How Religion Ruins Relationships

Max knows that he will be dead before the end of the year – probably no later than October. That’s about the time that doctors expect his cancer-riddled body to lose the fight for life. Max, who is not a Christian, is the manager at the branch office of a Christian business. His boss, Mr. Stanley is deeply concerned about the fate of Max’s eternal soul. In addition to soliciting prayers for Max (particularly his soul) from other employees, Mr. Stanley sometimes visits Max at his office. They chat about business, life in general and, eventually, Max’s “need for salvation.” Last week, Mr. Stanley took a chaplain, a fellow named Raymond, along with him to visit Max.

Max shared with me a few things about last week’s pastoral visit. He began by saying, “I love Raymond. He’s a really great guy. So is Mr. Stanley. But, sometimes I don’t hold my tongue very well when they start talking about religion. I just don’t want to talk about it. And Mr. Stanley doesn’t always hold his tongue very well, either, so our conversations can get heated.”

After we chatted some more, Max said, “Mr. Stanley wants me to fly out west to spend time with my sister. I said I’d take a couple of days for that. Mr. Stanley said, ‘No, I want you to really take time and be with your sister.’ I don’t want to do that. I haven’t told her how bad my condition is because she’ll get on the religious stuff even worse than Mr. Stanley and Raymond. A couple of days of it is all I’ll be able to stand.”

As we wound down our conversation, Max said, “Mr. Stanley keeps telling me that he’s praying for a miracle for me. I just tell him it’s not likely to happen. I enjoy visiting with Mr. Stanley and Raymond, but I wish that sometimes they’d come over just to chat and joke with me.”

That last sentence makes me want to cry. It’s haunted me for two days. Max has six months to live and all he wants is for the people around him to accept him. He wants friendship, not evangelism. How often do Christians become so concerned about someone’s soul that they overlook all of the stuff that comprises a person’s life and personality? Mr. Stanley and Raymond genuinely like Max, but he’s also something of a project for them. Their primary concern is to get him saved before he dies. Their prayer requests on Max’s behalf invariably include the idea that “Max needs to come to know the Lord before he dies.” I don’t want to denigrate their concerns, because I understand all too well how deeply felt and sincere they are. But, their passion for Max’s soul is robbing them of the opportunities to appreciate Max just as he is and to enjoy his company in its own right. They’re so busy focusing on what they see as his eternal future that they are shortchanging the present. Max’s sister is making the same mistake and the consequence is heartbreaking: Max can hardly stand the thought of spending more than a token amount of time with his only living relative. Mr. Stanley, Raymond and Max’s sister all believe they have relationships with a god. What they don’t realize is that their belief that Max needs a similar experience is seriously straining their relationships with him. Religion is ruining, or, at the very least, damaging, precious human bonds. I find that very sad.

— the chaplain


The Theistic Me vs. the Atheistic Me Before I present the meat of this post, please indulge me while I make a brief announcement. If you scroll down my sidebar (Not now! Later, after you’ve read the post!), you’ll see a big link for Another Goddamned Podcast. The podcast, which features a fine group of intelligent, articulate atheists, is posted every Tuesday. If you haven’t listened to any of their discussions yet, you may want to take some time to do so this weekend. If you can’t do that, you will certainly want to listen to this Tuesday’s (April 29) podcast, which will feature an extraordinary guest: Me, the chaplain, owner and host of An Apostate’s Chapel and relatively recent de-convert from Christianity, or convert to atheism, depending on how you choose to look at it. I recently joined the regular cast for a discussion of my de-conversion experience. I haven’t heard the rough cut yet, so I can’t predict exactly what you will hear. What I can tell you is that I had a great time chatting with the AGDP gang.

Okay. That’s this week’s plug for Another Goddamned Podcast: presented by a fine group of intelligent, articulate atheists, plus one. Check it out.


Spanish Inquisitor recently wrote a post in which he shared some interesting emails he’s received. An interesting question that arrived in my emailbox last week was this one:

What does the atheistic you miss, if anything, about the theistic you?

My initial, knee-jerk reaction to this question was, “Absolutely nothing.” Upon further reflection, however, I realized that one thing I do miss about my former, believing self is my idealism. When I was a theist, I sincerely believed in such Christian ideals as unconditional love, humility, sacrifice and so on. I can’t say how well I did with the humility thing. After all, bragging about one’s humility negates the claim, doesn’t it? I can, however, recall a number of times when I sacrificed, to the point of enduring really difficult circumstances, in efforts to live up to my unrealistic ideals (a sacrificial spirit is crucial to living a holy, Christ-like life), or to advance the Kingdom of God (another ideal that I took very seriously).

Right now, my understanding of those ideals is changing drastically and I’m much more skeptical than idealistic. For one thing, I’m not sure that Unconditional Love actually exists. The closest thing to it, in my experience, may be parental love, but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on that proposition. Maybe I’d bet a few pennies or nickels on it. Maybe I wouldn’t bet anything at all.

With regard to humility and sacrifice, I think there is value in both of these ideals, on the condition that they are not compelled. Healthy humility is learned via the school of experience. Every child wants to be the best at everything he or she does. Children quickly learn that wishing doesn’t make it so: they’re good at some things, sucky at others and fair-to-middling at most. As for sacrifice, people learn that it is often better for their group if individual members distribute goods equitably and give to others what they could otherwise appropriate forcefully. But this may be, ultimately, self-serving. The individual’s greater, long-term interest may lie in the realities of safety in numbers or interdependency. Individuals often gain a lot more by maintaining good relations with other group members than they do by going it along. Humility and sacrifice, understood in terms like these, are simply ways of dealing intelligently with human limitations and realities in a harsh, uncaring world.

On the other hand, common Christian teachings regarding humility and sacrifice are often used to administer “spiritual discipline” and keep people in their places. Greta Christina wrote a post recently in which she objected to the idea that “Everything Happens for a Reason.” Ordinary Girl also wrote a good response to Greta Christina’s post.

Some points Greta Christina raised are her objections to the notion that God Has a Plan for Your Life (check out the infamous Four Spiritual Laws, if you’re not already familiar with them; the tracts used to have really fugly covers in a color marketed as goldenrod)

and the facts that this notion readily allows people to evade responsibility for the things that happen to them (or that they do to themselves) and to avoid learning from their mistakes (or the mistakes of others that have ill effects on them). Ordinary Girl noted that, when good things happen to Christians, they often interpret these events as signs that God is blessing them and that they must somehow be deserving of those blessings. On the other hand, when bad things happen to Christians, they are told that God is teaching them patience or humility or selflessness or obedience or something else along those lines. Shit never just happens. To the contrary, Paul taught that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). It doesn’t matter if we can figure out what the hell that purpose may be. It exists. Accept it humbly and unquestioningly.

When Paul wrote that God works in all situations, he was basically telling Christians to suck it up and live with whatever circumstances they were enduring. For instance, he commanded them to be submissive to their religious and political leaders. (Romans 13:1 – “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”) Are your leaders corrupt or incompetent? Too bad, tough luck. God put them in positions of power, even though they know jackshit about governing. Live with it, “my country, right or wrong.” Are you a slave? Then be the best damned slave in the world; you’re a slave because God willed or allowed it. (Ephesians 6:5, our favorite NT author again – “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”) Are you poor? Then be grateful for whatever charity others give to you. Jesus himself allegedly taught that the world will always have lots of poor people (Matthew 26:11 – “The poor you will always have with you”). Live with it. The world is the way it is because God made it so, or (if one buys Original Sin and Free Will) allowed imperfect, corrupt human beings to make it so.

Conservative Christian leaders often tell their followers that they shouldn’t rock the boat, they shouldn’t make waves, they shouldn’t disrupt the status quo, they shouldn’t question their leaders too deeply, they shouldn’t doubt what they’ve been taught, etc. (to their credit, more liberal Christian leaders encourage their followers to fight for social justice, to ask lots of questions and so on). The conservative teachings I’ve noted are dehumanizing and patronizing to those who are wronged, and self-serving for those who want to retain power with as little opposition as possible. Thus, the Pope is infallible when he (and he is always a he) speaks ex cathedra. Thus, the general of The Salvation Army is God’s Man (or Woman – 2 of the 18 generals (an *ahem* impressive 11%) have been women) of the Hour for His Army; lower-ranking officers and foot soldiers should heed his commands and obey without complaint or protest. (That last bit is somewhat exaggerated, as leadership styles across the international Salvation Army run the gamut from extremely authoritarian to rather openly consensus-oriented, albeit within the constraints imposed by a hierarchical structure rivaling that of the RC Church.)

Some Christians – not all, by any means – believe that when your child is born with a horrible congenital defect, it’s God’s will. Accept it and cope with it. He’s teaching you perfect love, patience, dependence on Him…. When ministers are assigned to parishes for which they are ill-suited, they are assured that God always works through the ecclesiastical system to place them just where He needs them. He’s teaching them wisdom, patience, obedience…. Such tenets are shallow and stupid, at least, frequently manipulative and, at their worst, abusive.

Given my current thoughts about some of the ideals I held as a theist, you may find it strange that I miss my old idealism. The thing I liked about my idealistic self was that I was willing to look outside of my own interests and believe in something bigger and more significant than myself. I’m not a thoroughly selfish person now, but I sometimes miss – just a little bit – having something to believe in, or having a greater purpose than reproduction and survival. Rationalism and humanism just haven’t, to this point, given me the same sense of mission that I had as a Christian. A sense of mission, of participating in something Big, is intoxicating. Surrendering that may be one of the most difficult parts of shedding religion.

Would I revert to theism if it were possible to do so? No. Although I sometimes miss my idealism, I absolutely cherish my current freedom of inquiry. As an atheist, there are no boundaries to the questions I may ask and the areas that I may explore. My curiosity is insatiable. I love feeding it and would never again surrender the freedom to do so to superstition, dogma and pat answers. I love learning new things too much to return to a state in which I believed I had the answers to what I mistakenly thought were life’s most important questions. I’ve traded in my poorly founded idealism for vast intellectual freedom. In my view, that’s not a bad trade at all.

— the chaplain


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