Will I Always Be Atheist?

So my question to you is, Will you always be a Christian? Or will you finally start thinking for yourself and not let some multi-millionaire pastor tell you what the bible says and what you should do with your life? When are you going to live for yourself and not this modern conception of “giving it all to god”?

Seth emails me the other day (hey seth!) and says, “You’ll come back full circle. You’ll be a Christian again.”

It wasn’t an asshole thing to say. Seth is a nice guy. Since then, we’ve talked and caught up and it’s great to hear how well he’s doing with life.

It’s something I thought about before, actually–this whole, “Will I always be atheist?” I mean, I swung all the way toward fundamentalist Christian extremes (living in a fringe group for years, on a compound with dozens of other “church members” and “disciples”) and now I’m on the non-believer extremity. Who’s to say I won’t swing back again?

Sometimes I questioned my ability to swing all the way over the “other side” so easily–except that it wasn’t easy and it took many years. And I think being atheist is closer to who I always was. I always questioned the bible and what I was taught in church (and everywhere else). It’s just that when you move to an isolated location and aren’t allowed outside media, friends, family, etc. it’s easier for you to get brainwashed into thinking that this fringe belief system is the right and correct path to an elite version of Christianity.

In all honesty, it’s destructive and fills you with guilt and all things unpleasant. As Christopher Hitchens would say, “Religion is evil.” He might even say a group like this is maniacal.

So my question to you is, Will you always be a Christian? Or will you finally start thinking for yourself and not let some multi-millionaire pastor tell you what the bible says and what you should do with your life? When are you going to live for yourself and not this modern conception of “giving it all to god”?

What makes a religious group a cult?

Waco Tribune-Herald/May 6, 2007
By Cindy V. Culp

When it comes to cults, there’s an old joke among religious scholars: A cult is a cult is a cult — unless it’s my religious group.

That jest highlights the tendency many people have to treat the identification of cults almost like the pinpointing of pornography. They don’t have a good definition of what makes a cult, but they’re sure they’ll know one when they see it.

Experts’ approach to the subject is far more complex, whether discussing the Amish, the Branch Davidians, the Mormons or Homestead Heritage. Only a few scholars use the word “cult.” Most say it has become too loaded of a word and prefer terms such as “new religious group” or “alternative religious movement.”

Experts also have differing opinions about what puts a group into the question mark category. A few give the label to any religious group that doesn’t hold a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. Others say the only reliable dividing line is whether a group obeys the law. A lot linger somewhere in the middle.

Rick Ross, who heads up a religious research institute in New Jersey, is one expert who sees no problem in using the word cult. To him, there’s no reason not to use the term except for political correctness.

“Whether they call them cults, new religious movements or whatever, you see the same structure in behavior, the same structure in dynamics,” Ross said. “Groups that fit this pattern are very often unstable.”

Ross differs from some cult-watching organizations in that he doesn’t label a group a cult simply because of its theological beliefs. Rather, groups should be judged by their behavior, he said.

One classic sign of a cult is that it is personality-driven, Ross said. That means it has a charismatic leader or group of leaders who hold a tremendous amount of sway over members.

Another common characteristic is isolation, Ross said. Sometimes that isolation is physical, with members’ comings and goings being restricted.

But most often, isolation takes the form of members becoming completely absorbed in the group and its activities, Ross said. If members work, go to school and socialize only with each other, isolation is a real possibility. An especially troubling sign, he said, is when members are asked to cut off contact with family members.

“I call it discordant noise,” he said. “Anyone or anything that would raise troubling questions about the group is marginalized to the extreme, cut off.”

Also common is a persecution complex, he said. Members often have an “us- versus-them” attitude, perceiving simple disagreements as attacks.

“They say criticizing them is to go against God,” Ross said.

Another giveaway, he said, is when groups teach that anyone who leaves is flawed. Healthy groups generally believe people can have good reasons for leaving. Not so with cults, he said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas. Not only does he not use the word “cult,” but he takes issue with the characteristics that have been attached to the word.

The problem with them, Miller said, is that they don’t distinguish between good and bad expressions of those characteristics. For example, some of the most successful mainstream religious organizations have charismatic leaders.

The anti-cult movement often acts as if there are easy answers to the question of whether a group is dangerous, Miller said. But things are rarely black and white. Most involve judgment calls and points of view. What may seem sinister to one person may be perfectly normal to another, he said.

“I don’t know where you draw the line, frankly, except at the law,” Miller said.

William Dinges, a professor of religious studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said one question he asks when evaluating religious groups is what kind of fruit they produce. That’s helpful because while the customs of some groups could be called cultic under the criteria of anti-cult organizations, they don’t truly fit that mold. The Amish are one example, he said.

One term that can be used to describe such groups are “radicalized expressions of religious commitment,” Dinges said. Characteristics include having a distinct boundary between it and others; being demanding of members; being galvanized around a charismatic personality; and having an intensified sense of mission.

Like Miller, Dinges says determining whether such groups are dangerous is subjective. Among the factors to weigh is whether they make it emotionally impossible to leave, whether they maintain members’ dignity, the amount of freedom they give members and whether there is a structure for airing and addressing conflict.

People also must consider how accepted certain behaviors are within that particular religious tradition, Dinges said. For example, becoming a monk may seem strange to many people, but it’s a very accepted part of the Catholic tradition.

Such factors also must be weighed in evaluating the stories of people who have come out of a group, Dinges said. In some cases, people’s horror stories stem from truly bad things that happened to them, he said,

In other instances, though, stories are tainted by a change in ex-members’ viewpoints, Dinges said. People can have mistaken or highly romanticized notions about what life in a particular group will be like, then become bitter when reality doesn’t match expectations.

Sometimes that happens because a group engages in false recruitment activities, he said. Other times it’s because people jump into situations without thoroughly understanding them.

“You have to educate yourself and, in a sense, know yourself. Trust your intuition.”

Ron Enroth, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in California, says all the spiritually abusive groups he has studied share common characteristics. They’re so similar that when he talks to ex-members and starts hearing details of their stories, “I almost feel like saying, ‘Stop, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ ”

One feature of such groups, Enroth said, is control-oriented leadership. Communication with outsiders is limited and questioning isn’t allowed inside the group.

Sometimes the control extends into intimate areas of followers’ lives, he said. In such cases, members are expected to ask permission to take vacations or switch jobs. Lifestyle rigidity is also common, with some groups having an almost unfathomable list of rules. One he studied outlawed striped running shoes because they supposedly were connected to homosexuality, he said. Another forbid members to use the word “pregnant.” Instead they were commanded to say a woman was “with child.”

Such groups are also spiritual elitists, Enroth said. They use arrogant or high-minded terms to describe themselves and often have disparaging descriptions for other churches, he said.

“They present themselves as the model Christian church or the model Christian organization…and say they provide unparalleled fellowship and superior spirituality,” Enroth said.

In addition, such groups are usually paranoid and perceive any criticism as persecution, Enroth said. They paint people who leave as defectors and say attacks against them are ultimately the work of Satan.

“By describing criticism as slander, they can almost be shielded from criticism,” Enroth said.

Enroth believes the number of spiritually abusive groups is growing due to a spike in the number of independent churches in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. People like them because they are less formal and less hierarchical than traditional churches, he said.

But with that independence also comes the potential for trouble, he said.

“They are, in a sense, spiritual Lone Rangers,” Enroth said. “That’s where the potential for sliding off the cliff comes into play.”

Why I Don’t Live by Young Pastors’ Sermons: Steven Furtick Speaks at Refuel Conference

Today I found myself reading and commenting on The Christian Post, although I’m not a Christian and I’m not particularly fond of reading quotes from fundamentalist pastors.  The article I started on was called Young Pastor Challenges Ministry Leaders to ‘Just Believe’ which I honestly think is a bunch of bull and also ethically irresponsible preaching (if any preaching can be considered ethically responsible).

Some of his sermon oversimplifies complex decisions by insisting that a) Jesus speaks to this youth pastor directly and audibly b) you shouldn’t try to figure things out critically c) ignore all doubt d) if you do have doubts, it’s the “enemy”.

Here’s a part of it:

“Some of you are trying to figure out something that God wants you to just believe,” Furtick stressed.

That may sound overly simplified especially for situations that seem complicated, but the Elevation pastor clarified that it’s not a simple statement as much as it is “a focused demand.”

“Just believe” doesn’t mean to just cheer up and believe you can make it. Rather, “this is something you’re going to have to give your entire effort to, that this is so singularly important that you trust me (Jesus) in faith that you’re going to have to focus all of your energy in believing.”

“I (Jesus) want you to trust me enough to devote everything you have … to believing what I said is true and living like what I said is true until you see the manifestation around you of what I’ve already spoken inside of you,” Furtick challenged. “Just believe.”

There are moments when “the enemy” or a voice of opposition will say it’s impossible and plant doubts.

My response is here:

I think there’s a lot more to faith than just believing. Saying that causes a lot of people to forfeit their own conscience and refuse to think for themselves.

 

To expand on that, having sat under pastors of this caliber and ideology before, I will never have anything to do with living by or guiding my life by their principles. I do a much better job creating my own philosophy in life by cultivating an open minded, thoughtful and complex way of viewing the world that works for me.

This Tract Will Save Your Soul

Back in the days of Master’s Commission of Austin, we used to pass out these tracts by Chick Publications. You know the ones–they’re plainly designed cartoon tracts.

We had this big production called Hells Alternative, where I played this girl who chose a life without God and I entered Hell after the rapture. My friends Sean and Jeremy played two demons who dragged me to hell and tortured me, while my friend Brent played Satan. Satan captured my soul and I screamed bloody murder, “Hell is real…Hell is real…” as I was sucked into Hell’s gates.

At the end of this production, we’d scared a few dozen people into accepting Christ, and we’d often pass out these tracts or have something like this available. When we ministered on the streets of Austin, we had a pack of these tracts available to share with people.

Tonight, I stumbled upon this website for Active Hate Groups in the United States. Many of them are Neo-Nazi groups, others are like the Westboro Baptist Church. I wandered through some of the names to see if any of the ministries I knew or had worked with would be on the list. Oddly enough, Chick Publications (the makers of Chick Tracts), is registered as a General Hate group.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “These groups espouse a variety of rather unique hateful doctrines and beliefs…This list includes a “Jewish” group that is rabidly anti-Arab, a “Christian” group that is anti-Catholic and a polygamous “Mormon” breakaway sect that is racist. Many of the groups are vendors that sell a miscellany of hate materials from several different sectors of the white supremacist movement.”

More information can be found here.

Social Networking Sites: Ex-Christian and Atheist

Lately, I’ve been connecting to some interesting people on Twitter. Many atheists and skeptics love me on Twitter! I don’t know quite why, but I love them back. They’re smart, funny, and they respond back to me a lot. They’re not like some of my Christian “stalker” readers (by stalkers I mean people from the cult who read this and just judge–I’m not referring to quiet readers who aren’t ready to dialogue yet. You guys are my favorites, too! And trust me, good things are coming our way soon.). They love talking, debating and linking stuff–so I’m a fan of atheists. They blog about EVERYTHING!

They’re also smarter than me. They can out-debate me on anything, they know history, cultural facts, and…SCIENCE. Uh-oh. (To quote Nacho Libre, “We didn’t win because you believe in science!”) I always have loved science. Particularly epidemiology.

On a serious note, there are a great deal of awesome people out there to get to know (of all religions and backgrounds). Some of the blogs I like best are Godless Girl: www.godlessgirl.com; Thinking Mom: http://searchingtraveler.wordpress.com/ ; and The Friendly Atheist: www.friendlyatheist.com. Have you discovered www.ex-christian.net yet? You don’t have to be an Ex-Christian to go to the forum and discuss. In fact, you don’t have to be a skeptic, atheist or ex-christian to visit and learn from any of these blogs.

I hope you enjoy my referrals and if you find any other sites or links that have helped you, please let me know! Or, if you’d like me to blog about any specific subject, or would like more info on anything on this site, please drop me an email at mycultlife At gmail Dot com.

Did I Give Up on My Faith? by RevOxley

Every reader is welcome here regardless of religious preferences or beliefs. As you know, we represent a group (primarily) made up of former Christian ministers, but many of us have walked away from some of our former beliefs. Some of us are not Christians. Some of us are still Christians, but disillusioned. Some are not religious at all. Through some of my friends on Twitter, I found @RevOxley through a blogroll (perhaps on www.godlessgirl.com ?). I found his bio intriguing: Atheist Ex-Christian blogging about my life: http://ragingrev.com and checked it out.

There, I found the post I’m about to share with you. It hit home for me. Most of what he writes about is similar to what I’ve gone through. He tells about a pastor using him in a sermon (been there, done that) and his response to that pastor (which is incredibly well-written and thoughtful). The post I’m going to share with you (with his permission) can be found in full at Did I Give Up on My Faith and has been slightly edited for this audience.

Now, for a proper introduction to @RevOxley:

I am a 24 year old ex-christian that once had a major vision for a life in the ministry.  I am a former fundamentalist, charismatic, Christian apologist and minister that is fortunate to have escaped the world of faith before I was too much older. I enjoy religious, philosophical, and scientific discussion with people from all backgrounds and applying critical thinking to areas devoid of it.

***

Did I Give Up on My Faith? by RevOxley

I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church – now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.

When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or  blog calling this guy out, this didn’t actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to “Just give up” a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain – as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.

Please understand that I don’t share this in order to cause havoc in this man’s life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic….I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.

The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark – the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.

Below is my response.
Dr. D,

“Johnny” (name changed by MCL) provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End – in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of Johnny’s atheist friend – that friend being me.

I don’t know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did…but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.

Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away – when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I’m going to do my best to explain it though. I’m going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.

Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they “quit” is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these – the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith – I don’t know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty – weeping for his guidance.

No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.

It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.

For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.

Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.

I did not endure those years because I quit.

I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.

You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.

Thank you,

Matt Oxley

Any comments are appreciated.

Edit: After posting this the pastor asked that I post his response as well, so here it is:

Thank you for your note. I had no idea that “Johnny” had provided you with the message. And I apologize for any offense that this may have caused.

I assure you that I have studied this experience from many hours of my own personal pain…I was fired from my church in 2000. I had discovered that one of my leaders was having an affair. I went  thru the biblical procedure of dealing with this but in the end, the church asked me to leave and they kept him.  I had done the right thing and had used the right procedure. But I had gotten the shaft.

I thought that I would just put out the resumes and a church would pick me up.  It did not happen…No church called…In one week, I sent out 256 resumes and not one responded…I went 8 years with no income…I even went to Kroger and took a sign off of the window that was advertising for workers. I took the sign to the manager and asked for a job…he said that I had too much education.  I did get some parttime work at Lowe’s making minimum wage.

Matt, I have no desire to have a running battle with you. I apologize for using an illustration that I should have gotten your permission. Please accept my apology and I hope that some of my people have not been a problem to you. That will not happen again…and no one knows your name…at least not from me.

I don’t share these kind of sermons out of a heart that has never experienced pain.  This was an awful period in our life.  My guts were hanging out most of the time.  Everything I believed in and preached was challenged and shakened.  I considered suicide.  I considered walking away. I even told God the same thing that Jeremiah the prophet said, “I am not going to say one more thing about You.”  But in the end, I made a decision to hang with God and He brought me through.

I am not sure where your journey will take you.  It is certainly not my intention to create any more pain or discomfort for you.  I would love to one day sit and share war stories.  But I assure you there will be no more references to you even in an unnamed version.

Sincerely,

B.D. (name edited by MCL)

Destroyed by Truth

If you’re not following the Facebook page Humans of New York, I highly recommend it for little moments of brilliance like this:

hony

The above is sort of my philosophy on the idea of God, the Church and Master’s Commission. If the truth destroys the image you have in your head of how perfect those three are, then good. The truth has done it’s job. If you aren’t listening to the truth, try opening your mind and letting the truth in. It’s not so scary.

You can find more like this on the HONY Facebook page.

 

Religious Salesman

Their voices set my teeth on edge. I have no valid complaint against hustlers, no rational bitch, but the act of selling is repulsive to me. I harbor a secret urge to whack a salesman in the face, crack his teeth and put red bumps around his eyes.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

Do you ever feel like you’re getting “sold” on something? I felt this way a few years back, when I dated this guy named Ruben. Our first week of dating, before he asked me to be his girlfriend, he sat me down in his living room and showed me “The Plan.”

I should’ve known. Anything that has a code name like “The Plan” should raise a red flag. But I was infatuated and the sex was good.

“The Plan” was an overview of a pyramid scheme set up by Amway (at the time known as Quixtar). It was to be shown to new or prospective recruits to get them to buy in as a member for $150 a month, plus the cost of products.

Ruben’s whole goal was to make sure I would support him as he chose to attempt to “go Ruby” (a fancy way of saying you’ve reached a certain ‘level’ of  money making in the pyramid). I told him I couldn’t possibly believe in that kind of thing and I wouldn’t want to be a member, but I’d support his interest in it. Sure, sell what you want. Sell car stereos for f*ck’s sake. I don’t care.

As it turned out, Ruben wasn’t happy with my casual attitude toward his pyramid scheme. At first he was, but then he saw me as an opportunity to help him reach his goals. He could use my name to be another “leg” of his group and he could buy products for himself under that name, thus helping him reach his goals.

And then there were the requests for me to get rid of my MAC makeup and replace it with his Amway makeup like all the loyal “Diamond” wives had done. What bullsh*t. First of all, they were married. Secondly, no.

Throughout my relationship with Ruben I felt like I was constantly getting sold something. He was pushy about many things, not limited to his Amway business and he didn’t fully accept me for who I was. I was too fat for him, even though I wasn’t fat at all. I wasn’t big breasted enough, even though I was perfectly proportionate. I didn’t dress like he wanted me to, even though I dressed well.

Sometimes my entire relationship with Ruben reminds me of my relationship with the Church and the Pastors I worked for. The old saying, “Come as you are” isn’t true when it comes to religion. What they really mean to say is Come as you are so we can fix you and make you look like all the rest of us…Stepford wives and husbands.

Every Sunday is an opportunity for them to “sell you” religion, and to sell you the nonsense that you’re unacceptable as you are; that you aren’t a good enough person to “get through the eye of a needle”. Well, honestly, that’s silly–no one can fit through the eye of a needle. Thread barely can.

If there was a god, do you think he’d create people “in his own image” and then try to change them? Doesn’t something about modern Christianity just seem out of whack?