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”?

Agree to Disagree?

Should we agree to disagree with those who use the Bible to support bigotry and anti-gay speech?

a couple, arguing

A Twitter friend wrote a really great post about wanting to stop “agreeing to disagree” with bigoted Christians. Personally, I have rarely “agreed to disagree”, but Crystal writes:

The truth is that I’ve grown very weary of the “agree to disagree” policy that is so often applied to issues surrounding same-sex relationships. The phrase “agree-to-disagree” implies that both positions (for and against) have merit– but in the case of civil rights, I don’t believe that’s possible. I simply do not believe that a person’s right to oppress is as valid as the rights of those experiencing the oppression. And I think we become complicit in oppression when we buy into the myth of the oppressor’s rights.

Christianity is a privileged class in this country, and at many times throughout history (including today) its religious leaders have been guilty of oppressing people whose humanity (as found in their religion or lack thereof, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) they haven’t understood. This has happened in nearly every generation in which Christianity has existed– and in every case, there has always been some faction of people who said, “Those who wish to use scripture to marginalize others are entitled to their opinion.”

I can’t say that anymore. Even if it’s popular. Even if it’s politically correct. Even if it’s touted as the “peaceful” thing to do.

Those who use scripture to belittle, marginalize or discriminate against other people are NOT entitled to do so. There is no merit in a position that minimizes a person’s worth based on his or her sexual orientation– even if he or she believes God has given him or her the divine right to carry out such discrimination. “Agreeing to disagree” is not the helpful or peaceful thing to do in a situation where oppression is the problem. The helpful and peaceful thing to do is to call oppression what it is: Bigotry. Socially violent. Absolutely and totally wrong.

I rarely comment on blogs (although I’m finding myself enjoying it lately!), but apparently I really liked Crystal’s post because I wrote a novel. Yes, a massive response. Here it is, but for those of you who hate reading novels, here’s the run down–

1. People actually are allowed to use the Bible to endorse bigotry because the Bible encourages bigotry, racism, and violence. 

2. I outline what I think is the history of modern fundamentalist Christianity, including the idea that many preachers act more like Puritans than Jesus. 

3. I have decided to agree to disagree, actually, and find that being diplomatic suites me just fine, particularly with friends and family who I love and want to remain close to. This comes after being SO outspoken that I have lost many, many friends and some family members to arguments. I’ve decided to learn how to communicate my points more peacefully. 

Now for my actual novel:

Really great points you’ve made, Crystal.

These two in particular:
“Those who use scripture to belittle, marginalize or discriminate against other people are NOT entitled to do so.”
and
“The helpful and peaceful thing to do is to call oppression what it is: Bigotry. Socially violent. Absolutely and totally wrong.”

When you point out to those people that they are bigots, then the tables get turned and they claim they are being oppressed or attacked. Why? Because what they regurgitated from some backwards preacher (not original thought) has just got them handed the bigot card and they know it’s an ugly label and they know they are one for holding those opinions. Yet, it’s popular with the televangelists or the Mark Driscoll’s of the world so it MUST be okay. Everyone’s doing it, right? The irony in their claim that they’re being oppressed is just so funny. The other day someone claimed that I was oppressing them by taking away their FREEDOM to have a different opinion. I said no, “You’re still free to have that opinion, but I’m free to say that opinion is stupid or bigoted.”

The other thing is, “those who use scripture to belittle….are NOT entitled to do so…”. This gets me twisted up some. See, at one point I thought fundamentalists were reading the Bible wrong. That’s why they were so hateful, right? (And by them, I mean formerly me, since I was one.) It starts getting really complicated here. Yes, there are wonderfully progressive Christians and ministers who are intelligent, thoughtful, kind people I respect and love having in my life. It’s interesting though, that they are NOT considered Christians among fundamentalists. Perhaps this is why modern fundamentalists teach their members to “go deeper” and be “pure” and “sacrifice” because they can then claim superiority and isn’t that what we see so much of in modern fundamentalism? Superiority. The “we are elite Christians and no one has us beat on our devotion to God.” I know. I was in an elite training program for young, Christian adults for most of my twenties (as you know). But because of my background as a LITERAL Bible reader, not a progressive one, I have a hard time saying the Bible isn’t oppressive and these people don’t have the right to use scripture to belittle, because if you do read the Bible literally and at face value, you have the right to use scripture to be VIOLENT, insane, murderous even. And that is where things get complicated-because although the Bible is in many ways violent and perhaps one of the more violent texts, people SHOULD know better. They should know right from wrong simply because society (not necessarily religion) has permanently branded that concept in us, but they do what I did–they lay down their right to think for themselves. They ignore their conscious. They begin to accept the ‘group think’ and popular arguments without analyzing them or debating them, and that’s partly because the modern evangelical church is set up to be hierarchical (and you could argue this for every major religion), and even further, we have a deeply rooted authoritarian culture in modern Christianity. God is an angry Father and so is your pastor, type of thing. In my experience, and from observation for the past three years, many of the fundamentalist churches nationwide have more similarity than difference. Their core values are all rooted on similar ideologies that are not necessarily UNIVERSAL to Christianity, but they are common in US evangelical ‘theology’. Terms like shepherding, discipleship, accountability, purity, manliness, gentle spirit, servant, etc. all stem from this ‘theology’ and it all comes from somewhere. Historically speaking, I think it comes from the Puritans but has gone through micro-evolution over the years with prominent Christians like Smith Wigglesworth, Oswald Chambers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pat Robertson, Bill Gothard, the whole TBN crowd, dozens of “prophets”, Billy Graham, David Wilkerson, James Dobson, etc. (obviously, there are plenty of influences in the early 1900′s and even 1800′s that I can’t name off the top of my head at the moment). Evangelical preachers have plagiarized these men’s sermons for decades and decades, sometimes adding to it, other times taking away, but essentially leaving the core values and ideology in tact. It’s no surprise that there’s a lack of diverse thought within US Christian culture (at least the most outspoken culture, ahem, fundamentalist), then. But further to that, there’s a hostility toward original thought and a fear of taking away their faith, because the minute you use logic and reason or call them a bigot, it calls into question their faith and beliefs and makes them question whether their is a God. (got to stop the rant for now…)

On a personal note, I’ve tried to become more diplomatic and less argumentative because I wasn’t getting anywhere with some people. So, I think it’s important to point out that as much as I hate to admit it, you win more bees with honey. (I truly hate to say that, but I’ve learned the hard way.) I also feel like people know who I am and what I believe, and it’s a lot like being a Christian. I wasn’t the type to shove Jesus down someone’s throat, but if they wanted to know, they would ask. I’m still outspoken, but I don’t expect anyone to change. I just want to point out facts.

When it comes to, say, my family, we have to agree to disagree but not because I think their point is valid. It’s because I respect them as my family members and love them. I know that they are smart people and are very informed, though they disagree me on with major social justice issues.

 

Death and Questions

Someone I just met on Thursday passed away early this week. We’d met through a friend of mine who actually was his best friend. He performed spoken word and I actually cried. His words were emotional and piercing. Later we had pizza and beer together. We all spent the night laughing at each other. I was amazed how talented he was.

I just can’t believe this happened. It happened so suddenly–he was riding his motorcycle and was killed instantly.

They say only the good die young and that must be true.

As sad as his death is, and it’s awful and shitty, I feel like death makes us face really difficult questions about tragedy and love and loss. All last night I was tossing and turning, almost wishing I was somehow still religious, so it’d be an easier pill to swallow. How can we cope with something so awful, so unjust? It was so terrible to hear about his death that I realized this must be one of the reasons we reach out to religion for answers. Religion can give us answers that soothe us, even if they’re cliche. You can tell someone who’s grieving that “He’s in a better place now,” or “He’s celebrating with Jesus,” or “He’s at peace” and usually it helps a religious person cope with such a huge hole.

But when it comes down to it, our cliche answers don’t bring back the dead. They don’t replace the love we lost or the best friend.  Death is a complicated tragedy to deal with.

For religious people, it might help to hear something that’s meant to comfort. But for those of us who are not religious, there’s emotional pain but few answers. There aren’t any real answers as to why someone so talented and so loving would die suddenly. There’s no reason for it. It’s painful to face.

I think that could be the answer why a lot of people don’t always question their beliefs or walk away from a faulty faith. When left alone with our pain, our fears, our loss, how will we cope? Will we be okay? Will we be hopeless without a God to believe in or a pat answer to “solve all our problems?”

The truth is, there’s a lot of hope without belief but there’s also a lot of difficulty in navigating through tough questions. Life isn’t always about answers, it’s about the questions and the path we take to understand them. Sometimes it’s the tough questions and painful events in life that cause us to find strength within ourselves, our families and our communities.

Rest In Peace George James. Your courage, your words and your talent were a gift to all of us. We will all miss you. <3

Advice

Over the years, I’ve given out a lot of advice to you, my dear readers and friends. I think I’ve covered everything from suicide to sexuality to how to argue your point with a Christian. I never set out to do this but I will say it’s a natural extension of who I am and this trait comes from my mother. My mom is the best at giving advice and seeing situations for what they are.

So, in an effort to embrace what I’m good at, I’m going to post an occasional column here that talks about issues you want to the know the answer to. A sort of “Ask Lisa” place that people can look at down the road, because I assure you for every question you’ve asked me, a dozen other people have asked the same one.

Some basics: you can email me (mycultlife@gmail.com), Facebook or tweet to me your question. If you email me, please include “Ask Lisa” in the subject line and a keyword on what it’s about (depression, religion, fundamentalism, etc.). Example: Ask Lisa about depression. You can include a story or anecdote, just make sure you’re okay with it being posted online.

As a rule I won’t use your real name, but if you would include your state or country of residence, that would be great.

Your identity will never be revealed but please note that your emails WILL be published. All identifying names will be removed and replaced with fake names.

Feminism is Changing

During my college years (which are almost over!), I met a variety of feminist men and women. Coming from a religious background, I never thought I’d meet a man who was feminist. The men in my religious community were loyal to patriarchy and the strictly traditional gender roles. As my life outside of religion began evolving, I began meeting new types of people. I was surprised to meet men who weren’t macho or the supposed leaders of everything they did.

My dating life improved tremendously as I started meeting men who were feminist. It became sort of an unwritten requirement for dating: feminist, atheist and not macho.

The more feminist a guy was the more often he may have deviated from traditional masculinity–at least in a few distinct ways. I’ve dated men who were nervous about approaching women, men who liked sewing and cleaning, and men who ranted about equality for women as much as I did. In meeting these men who weren’t hyper-masculine, I’d finally reached a point where I was truly happy with the types of people I was dating. In part, that was because I’d begun to find myself outside of religious definitions and was becoming happier as a result. But that wasn’t the only reason. I’d grown up knowing one type of man, the hyper masculine, adventurous man; yet, I knew I didn’t want to settle down with that type of man. I’d finally begun meeting men who I could see myself with for life, rather than men who would fit the “role” of what I should look for in a husband–a provider, a protector, etc.

So those men who love to cook and clean and sew need our support as much as women who despise cooking and cleaning and sewing and feel oppressed by such duties and resent them. The world around us tells males they should be interested in certain activities and not interested in others that are “girly.” And they get attacked for diverting from hyper masculine activities.

Feminism is changing; maybe just in my eyes and maybe because I was confined to patriarchy for years and missed some of the major changes that occurred while I was “gone.” Regardless, this isn’t your mother’s feminism. This is your feminism and your boyfriend’s feminism. And as much as feminism still does and should fight the oppression of females, it fights the oppressive gender roles for women and men.

Why Did I Lose My Religion?

I’ve been struggling with finding a definitive answer to this question for the past year. I assumed that saying I wasn’t a Christian anymore would simply suffice and people would understand, but I must remember that no one has walked this journey except me.

I have no desire to be ones guru or priest so I shy away from this question for fear people will try to emulate me.

A deeper-seated fear though is the fear that all my former “disciples” feel I’ve betrayed them and turned my back on them. Maybe they feel I’ve lied to them.

I suppose what the real problem is is that I’m ridden with anxiety about what others will do with the information. What getting out of religion taught me was that people can be so cruel and harmful with things that are dear to you. It’s best to be very protective of valuable things, trust few and love deeply only when someone has earned it.

I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I’d like to be able to articulate one at least for myself. As much as I admire and like some very prominent atheists and skepticts, theirs answers don’t show the complexities I feel. They don’t express the great dilemmas I still experience. If an answer is too easy, its not right for me, I’ve learned. Journeys of faith or anti-faith are complex and arduous; winding around personal feelings and musings. The questions, my religious studies professor used to say, are more important than the answers. This is enough for me. May it be enough for you also.

Why Do We Make Excuses?

Today I’m thinking deeply about why people make excuses for predatory pastors, violent books of faith, and church institutions that have a very dirty past (and present). I’ve done the same thing, so this question is more curious than accusatory.

Past the “why” is that they ARE making these excuses and maybe (or maybe not) it points to a much larger thing. What compels us to do this? As with all things, there no one universal answer. If church provides a need for community, then is that what they are protecting-their sense of community and the provision against loneliness? If church has become a person’s “family”, are they protecting the dark secrets of their own “family” as much as their own reputation?

Weigh in with your thoughts.

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.

 

Weird Shit Christians Do

bff rings

A Christian Best Friend Forever ring ceremony? Sure, why not. Iron sharpens iron, right?

I’m sorry (not sorry) to the Facebook friend I snagged this from. It just really creeped me out.

(Edited for clarity: This is a girl down on one knee asking a GIRL to be her best friend.)