Final Sermon: The Torment of Irrational Belief

Editor’s Note: Instead of following the assignment to write a sermon for a secular audience, this former evangelical pastor crafted the final sermon he would have given to his evangelical congregation – if he’d had the nerve! As you read, try to imagine the reaction of the people in the pews to this taking down of all that is sacred.

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By Reverend Mason Lane

Today my dear congregation, I am moved by the Spirit of Reason, and the Laws of Reality to call upon you to repent from the many sins and consequences of irrational belief. Yes, I have been a co-dependent with you in this futile drama, but I have seen the light,

Sunshine light

and this illumination will guide us far from the darkened path we’ve sincerely but erroneously trodden.

I’m going to present five lies we have all been struggling with to somehow make magically true. Five lies to be delivered from. Five tormenting and burning lies, among many others, that this illumination now exposes:

  • Everything happens for a reason.

That’s Pollyanna thinking at its most absurd. We keep trying to convince ourselves there is a supernatural Wizard puppet-master God behind the curtain. But our doubts, questions and curiosities must become our masters and bastions of truth. The Wizard is just a mythical untruth. Things happen because of the laws of science and nature and the actions of living creatures. There is no Divine God, no Wizard. Tear down the curtain! Dare to take an honest look.

  • All things work together for good.

Not at all! Things quite frequently do not work together for good, far more often than most of us would care to admit. We’ve all experienced tragedies that were nothing but pure tragedy. And the violence some humans commit upon other innocent humans every day has no inherent working together for good. Just ask any rape counselor, homicide detective, or emergency room nurse. There is no divinity watching over sparrows or us. There is no grand scheme. It’s up to us to make lemonade out of lemons, whenever it’s possible.

  • God sees every sparrow that falls and cares for us so much more.

Let’s be honest. No truer platitude has ever been scribed than, “God helps those who help themselves.” God doesn’t give a diddlysquat because God is a myth we bought into. All we have in this life is our family, our friends, and ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s make the most of what we actually do have.

  • We were born with a divine destiny and purpose.

Poppycock! Each of us was born with the spinning of our own particular DNA. And you, your environment, your upbringing, education, and the events in your life will determine your destiny and purpose.

  • If you ask in prayer believing, you’ll get what you desire.

Now there’s the whopper! Deep down, everyone here knows this is an ancient cruel and superstitious lie – nothing more than a dusty Middle Eastern prevarication. How many times have you and I prayed together believing for that loved one with cancer, a dying child with leukemia, a father with a major stroke, a mother going blind, a physically and emotionally scarred assault victim, a sister savaged by a drunken driver, or a military friend with their brain half destroyed by an IED in Iraq? How long must we continue to torture ourselves with this belief lie?

And what will happen if we give up our irrational belief? If we’re left with just each other to care for each other, and love each other?

Well, the evidence is clear. Our energy, time, love, and devotion to Sky God has been an exercise in misappropriated energy, time, love, and devotion. So now, without the God delusion,

God Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail

we will draw closer and more meaningfully to each other, once we have booted the Sky God elephant out of our tent!

(The organ starts playing and choir sings “Imagine” – John Lennon)

So if you, like I, are ready to renounce and escape the fires, torment, and delusion of irrational belief, then let’s  lower the flag of intellectual surrender and boldly hoist the flag of reason and sagacity. Please stand, or if you want, come down here to the front by the pulpit. Every one of you is your own messiah, a temporary expression of the Universe, and each other’s fellow traveler on life’s brief journey. We are not alone. We have each other. That’s how it’s always really been.

**Editor’s Question** What do you think would happen if an evangelical pastor gave a sermon like that?

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Mason LaneBio: Mason Lane: As a credulous child, I was raised Christian fundamentalist Baptist. I later became a glory-shouting Pentecostal and was ordained by the Christian Faith Church Pentecostal in Mishawaka Indiana. I ceased believing in the irrational and supernatural at age 30, thanks primarily to reading the “bible”, and thinking simultaneously. At the time of my de-supernaturalizing, I was General Manager of WHME-FM radio station in South Bend, Indiana, a Christian radio station and Pastor of Christian Faith Church in Mishawaka, Indiana. I resigned both positions and moved to Phoenix, Arizona where I became dean of students at DeVry University.

I’m still a person of faith. My faith is now in Science, Nature, Love, Friends, Family, Music, Humor, Art, the US Constitution, the 5,000-year-old Golden Rule, and Separation of Religion and State.

>>>>>>>>Photo credits: Copyright holder Christopher Down, allows anyone to use it, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3642142

“Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg

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  • ZenDruid

    That was brilliant!

    [Mason Lane drops the mic, walks to the door, and enters the sunlight as a Human.]

  • Rex Jamesson

    Agreed – absolutely brilliant! In the conservative Baptist congregation that I’m currently stuck in, the answer to Linda’s question is: if he had made it through the whole speech without the mic being muted, and managed to continue to speak it over the boos and calls of “devil”, and if he had managed to continue as people walked out on him, then at the end of the sermon he would have been able to proudly hold his head up high, walk down the aisle, and turn out the lights. Not a pretty picture, I’m sure, but I wonder if a wandering, already-doubting soul or two would later call him to commend him, or ask him for help. And that would be the beginning of some new beauty as co-travelers on this road!

    Beautiful exit sermon!

  • steama

    Mason Lane how are you still a person of faith and why?

    • mason

      Steama,
      How?
      My faith is now in Science, Nature, Love, Friends, Family, Music, Humor, Art, the US Constitution, the 5,000-year-old Golden Rule, and Separation of Religion and State.

      Why?
      Faith is powerful and is pervasive in our lives whether we are conscious of it or not, e.g. we place great faith in our vehicle’s brakes, our human interactions, science & medicine etc. etc.

      Since faith is so potent I think we should use it judiciously and not without reasonable evidence. That’s where my use of faith is diametrically different than religious faith which boasts “evidence not seen.”

      I think we secularists need to reclaim the word faith which has as its primary meaning a rational definition:
      Faith noun 1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

      2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

      Thanks for the question Steama.

      • Linda_LaScola

        Thanks for the answer, Mason. Good idea for secularists to reclaim the word “faith” to let people know it has more than a religious meaning.

        • Argus

          I kind of think we maybe should go in the opposite direction on the F word.

          Too often, debating theists will trot out the old chestnut: “It takes as much faith to be any atheists as it does to be a theist.”

          I always try to disambiguate between faith an confidence like this (adapted from the work of Dr. Pete Boghossian).

          Faith: Believing/accepting a claim/assertion without evidence.

          Confidence: trust or acceptance of a claim/assertion based on confirmed data, evidence of proof.

          Example: Once, a theist told me: You have faith your wife loves you even though you cannot prove it. You have faith she’ll keep loving you.

          Me: Wrong. I have confidence my wife loves me based on current and past behavior, observation and data (like the fact she..you know married me). I do not take it on faith she will always love me. Obviously, love fades in many relationships. I can only judge her predicted behavior based on her past/current behavior.

          So, I prefer we keep faith and confidence in separate boxes. Just my take.

      • steama

        I think you are not using the word faith correctly. Thanks for the definition you posted…I have read it before. Faith has it’s place as a word and it is not any groups place to reclaim a word that is functioning perfectly. Faith is believing or following something without evidence. A thinking man can move through this life experiencing things like: science, nature, love, friends, family, music, humor, art, the US Constitution, the 5,000-year-old golden rule, and separation of religion and state. None of which require faith. Many people like you think “faith” is a special word that should be tolerated and respected in our culture. Why, when faith is basically a tool that insulates incorrect beliefs from being disproven by concrete evidence? It is fascinating that ‘believers’ willingly choose to ignore the available body of facts and information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid. If there is no evidence it is better not to follow a belief, any belief. Here is another definition of faith: Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing; or the observance of an obligation from loyalty; or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement; or a belief not based on proof; or it may refer to a particular system of religious belief, such as in which faith is confidence based on some degree of warrant. Again, I feel your use of the word faith is incorrect and your desire to reclaim something such as the word faith is ridiculous because the word does not need reclaiming.

        • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

          Despite the omnipresent constant of change, we still find it reasonable to “believe”, that something true in the past, will remain so in the future.

          Example:

          For as long as I remember, the Sun has risen every morning. I have “faith” that it will do so again tomorrow.

          But, reading your comment, I imagine that you might counter that the Sun does not “rise”. Helpfully pointing out that my location on the earth rotates towards the Sun’s location.

          You may even “believe”, that because of its technical precision, your distinction somehow supersedes mine.

  • carolyntclark
    • mason

      Perfect Carolyn.

    • Argus

      Eww scales..

  • Elizabeth.

    A bracing Sunday morning in ANY congregation, atheist to AME… & a fitting fanfare for future Sundays Free!! : )

    Just to be cantankerous… as a pan-compassionist freethinker (current iteration of my shapeshifting itinerations), I can Imagine — in addition to the weak force and the strong force — a good-beautiful-&-true force ….taking the Romans phrasing as “in all things god is at work for good” — not the God of All the Omni’s, but more Whitehead’s “brief Galilean vision of humility” ,,, a force that inspires and works alongside us, maybe part of the altruistic leanings of human nature.

    I’m at last reading Dawkins’ “God Delusion”! Very surprised to find it in our little rural biblebelt county library, interestingly showing signs of multiple respectful handling. (Would love to know by whom! …told you this is a small county!) I’ll be searching for more recent writing, but at this point I think his weakest argument is against the imaginary friend…. let me know what I should read!

    As before, I totally affirm your faith stance!!

    Thanks for the ever-thought-provoking writing!

    • mason

      It’s good to hear additional verification from you that Dawkin’s best seller has achieved distribution into the hinterlands. I’ve heard it even made it into small towns in the SEC states and also Lynchburg VA and Greenville SC. Have you read Hitchen’s “God Is Not Great”?
      You certainly are a passionate and voracious reader of things ecclesiastical and philosophical. This site is offers quite an extensive look at the Bible, Koran, & Book of Mormon. http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

      My favorite Romans verse is 13:1 “Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God.” Now that’s something to ponder. :) Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, … the idea that “a God is at work for good in all things” sure changes the definition of good. :)

      • Elizabeth.

        Thanks, Mason! I saw yesterday that “God Is Not Great” is also in the stacks & is on my list! Yes, for reasons unknown I’ve been wondering about L,tU,&E (life,universe, etc) all my life, interested in science and philosophy & theologies. Tons in the bible is horrendous, no dispute there!! God at work under Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc, would be forces working against them… not an omnipowerful god but a force working toward good whatever the horrific circumstances, alongside/inside?/with? Mandela, King, Tutu, the Syrian nonviolence network…. Thanks for your work, relieving the torment of hurtful ideology!

        • Elizabeth.

          Just met a new figure, Irish postmodern philosopher Richard Kearney, who argues that atheism is the necessary response to the mistake of thinking of god as all-powerful. Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, the Holocaust, etc, demonstrate the death of that god; and Kearney thinks any sacred view of the world has to keep that atheism as part of it. He dubs his view “anatheism” (“ana” in the sense of returning). I think he would approve of your points… calls the fundamentalisms a step back into tribalism, into pre-Enlightenment darkness.

          On the rethinking-theism side, he says:

          “But there is a power with the powerless, which you find in Gandhi; which you find in Martin Luther King; which you find in John Hume, in northern Ireland; and Mandela; Tutu… and that can move mountains…. It’s a power that is much more powerful than the power of armies…. but it is not the power of omnipotence that can intervene and smite your enemies… It doesn’t work like that. So there’s a lot of rethinking that has to go on. But I think there’s a kind of faith at the level of human relations, human perceptions… that’s a kind of sacramentality towards the stranger and the open, and that is operating already at that level. One doesn’t have to go through philosophy courses and histories of the Second World War, to appreciate that god is in the simple things, and is the widow and the stranger and the orphan.” [“After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion,” CBC Radio http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=2228762009 ]

          .I think that’s some of why I appreciate Rational Doubt so much… writers help me keep that necessary atheism, keep grounded, while I’m trying to figure out what I can figure out : ) So thanks!

          • mason

            “But there is a power with the powerless, which you find in Gandhi; which you find in Martin Luther King; which you find in John Hume, in northern Ireland; and Mandela; Tutu… and that can move mountains…. It’s a power that is much more powerful than the power of armies” …Interesting, but a bit of a non sequitur. :)

            They were not “powerless” at all, and possessed the greatest power of all. The power that is always capable of destroying armies; they possessed political power.

          • Elizabeth.

            Yep… and we will need that power big time if the U.S. gives the world a bully with nuclear weapons

          • mason

            I don’t think the bully/brat/brash/bastard would use them as recklessly as some people fear but….ya never know. The well known term “ugly American” is perfectly embodied in the archetypal Donald and his minions. America is being exposed as a very divided schizo country in the current election.

          • Elizabeth.

            It would just depend on his mood when the phone rang at 3 in the morning. I can see the UN debating sanctions against the US as the world tries to contain the danger.

            [p.s. in the novel, the ugly American was the good guy : ) but the term’s hardly ever used that way!! ]

            [ed’d!]

      • Argus

        One of the nicest experiences I had on my initial journey to atheism was a visit to a local park several years ago in a small, Bible Belt NC town (where Franklin Graham LIVES BTW). I arrived for a run. I happened upon a young lady reading the God Delusion. I stopped. I could see in her eyes: “Oh great…I’m going to have to argue with some old fart fundy!” I said: I just finished the book. What do you think so far?” So, we discussed it for a few minutes — agreed it encapsulated our own paradigm and journey. I went on my way wsith a smile and a bit of hope for the Bible Belt (which is more and more failing to keep the Emperor’s pants up).

  • Jim High

    He dealt with the major issue, the delusion that there is a God. But God is such a fixture in the life of most people that they cannot just instantly drop the idea that a God exists. I might have preached a series of sermons on why a God does not exist. But he did not deal with the second major issue, the fact that there is no heaven or hell and this one life is all we will ever have. From its beginning the church has been selling tickets to heaven, so again it is impossible to think that the vast majority who believe will just stop believing instantly. I agree with everything he said but the issue cannot be addressed properly in one short sermon. And when you rip out the platform of life that people stand on, it is important to give them something new that supports them, he also was very short on doing that.

    • mason

      Very true Jim. It would take a series and the pastor would probably be fired after just a few. :) But then the short sermon, like God, heaven & hell, is a just a fantasy.

    • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

      He has to first prove that God does not exist since he is making the assertion. Isn’t that the way it is suppose to go?

  • Jim High

    The three larges Baptist Churches in Tupelo, MS where I live are currently without a senior minister. One of them going on two years now. I think it says a lot about the massive changes in belief that are coming. And not a moment too soon.

    • mason

      And that’s in the heart of the bible belt. I’d be interested in what you foresee in massive changes in belief that are ahead; the whys, when, how, etc. and the impact in society. Maybe even as a blog submitted to Linda. Just a thought, but I think your insight coming from Tupeolo (birthplace of Elvis :) would be quite interesting given how you could asses the culture you were born into, and what’s now transpiring.

      I don’t know how accurate this Evangelical website is, but it tells a story of rapid exit of pastors and collapse of churches. http://prayingforpastors.com/

      • Argus

        I’d like to take a stab at that. Note this will be just my rant and maybe not backed up by stats — somewhat anecdotal.

        1. Why? All belief systems no matter how fundy they claim to be, must evolve as humanity evolves for good or bad. Given the revolution in communications (we know more) and transportation (we can more easily see more), people no longer will settle for “thus saith the pastor.”

        Due to mobility and social media, people are not as bound socially to their churches (which used to serve as the ONLY social outlet in many communities).

        Like me (as a former minister) people can research a religion’s sacred book and development from their own laptop. That allows us to more easily see the problems inherent in religion that may have been obfuscated in years past by a pastors Just So story to explain contradictions.

        2. When? Within the next 50 years, I think you MAY see secularism overtake the American zeitgeist by then (not necessarily atheism but the Nones). In Europe, it has already happened mostly. For parts of Asia and Africa, there will have to be a blossoming of democracy before we see a shift.

        3. How? Reinforcement..an incremental erosion of beliefs through more exposure to secular content. Little by little. The Evangelical sector is not helping their cause in this regard as they are now more and more seen as simply too radical to support. Even in my small mountain community in NC, we are seeing more and more people shy away from their more vocal Evangelical neighbors when they start to spew hate and vitriol. The Target Preachers and Ken Ham’s are shining a light on just how extreme their beliefs are. In the past, these extreme beliefs were kept within their own communities (or accepted as the societal norm).

    • Argus

      The Southern Baptist Convention is hemmoraging money and members. If not for the endowments made years ago by now dead members, I wonder if they could keep the lights on.

  • Kevin K

    What would happen if a preacher had given that sermon?

    Heh. He’d probably be stoned to death.

  • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

    “Everything happens for a reason.”

    What constitutes a reason in your new scheme of things, that is any different than than in your previous incarnation?

    Most likely, still thinking in terms of a universal traffic director, you do not see that Existence is teaming with inter-connectivity. Nothing happens WITHOUT an unbroken flow of causality. Infinite in its scope. All phenomena to all phenomena.

    By its very nature. Holographic. Our brains, breaking it up into storylines and songs, but still made of the whole cloth.