Fundamentalism vs. reality: How fundie faith destroys itself

Fundamentalist Christianity guarantees a crisis of faith for those indoctrinated into its all-or-nothing package deal. This is stupid and cruel.

Fundamentalism: Take out one piece and the whole thing topples to the ground.

It’s stupid because that all-or-nothing package deal includes dozens of things that are not so. Lies. Falsehoods. Easily falsifiable falsehoods projected into the Bible and then mined back out of it as holy writ.

That’s bad enough on its own. It’s immoral to teach such lies at all, let alone to teach them as “God’s Word.”

But the problem isn’t just that those indoctrinated into fundamentalism are taught things like that the Earth is only 10,000 years old, or that homosexuality is a sinful choice, or that Noah hung out with dinosaurs before the flood, or that God hates you because you’re not perfectly holy. The larger problem is that according to fundamentalism, those falsehoods are inextricably linked to everything else. Everything. So if it turns out that the Earth is actually 4.5 billion years old, then, according to fundamentalism, life has no meaning, happiness is impossible, love is illusion, Jesus is dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins, and we are of all people most to be pitied. And that is cruel.

But enough from me, I’ve written about this enough times that you probably don’t need to hear another variation of my rant on the subject. So let me instead direct you to a post from Defeating the Dragons. DtD is a new-ish blog — started just this year — but it’s earning some well-deserved attention with its candor, honesty, deeply personal storytelling, and terrific writing under the name “forgedimagination.”

Here is the most recent post, “What Christian fundamentalism means to us,” which takes on the all-or-nothing, package-deal aspect of fundie faith by looking back at it from the other side of its collapse:

For those of us who grew up and left our fundamentalist nests, it was caused by our engagement with reality – for most of us, for the very first time. We befriended people in the LGBTQ community, and realized that everything we’d been taught about homosexuality (the BTQ part was completely dismissed) was either deeply misguided or just plain wrong. We encountered science for the first time, and for many of us who were taught that Genesis 1-11 was the bedrock of the entire Bible, finding out that AiG and ICR misrepresented evolutionary theory was the first nail in our theological coffins. For many of us, it was simply meeting people. We made friends with Christians who weren’t fundamentalists – we made friends with people who weren’t Christians, and it shook us profoundly. We met atheists and agnostics for the very first time, and suddenly, all our “right answers” couldn’t make sense. For many of us, the psychological dissonance was so bad we abandoned Christianity completely.

Sometimes, we abandoned Christianity for a time, but then we came back – and our Christianity looked utterly different. Some of us are Unitarian now. Some of us are Progressive. Some are Universalist. Some of us are Catholic, or just liturgical. Some of us hold the basic truth that God loves us, and we are trying to see the world through that love and nothing else.

Which gives us another core problem to face in fundamentalism: the absolute certainty, the absolute necessity of possessing “all the right answers” is coupled with another concept known as foundationalism. It’s the notion that there are “bedrock” ideas (like inerrancy and young earth creationism) and that, if those fall,everything else falls with it. And this has held true in many of our lives – our faith, when we took it out into the real world, was nothing more than a house of cards. And it wasn’t because we didn’t believe enough, or weren’t taught correctly enough, or hadn’t been instructed enough, or that we were secretly never believers and just couldn’t wait to “get out.”  It was because of what were taught, it was because of what we believed – that Christ was not really enough.

Go read the whole thing.

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  • aunursa

    God hates you because you’re not perfectly holy.

    Few Christian Fundamentalist theologians teach that. Most of them teach that God loves you but hates your sin. They teach that God the Father (the 1st member of the Trinity), who is perfectly holy, cannot be in the presence of sin. I’ve rarely heard mainstream Christian Fundamentalists preach that God hates sinners.

  • SisterCoyote

    With all due respect, Aunursa, quite a lot of them teach it by implication. No, it’s not written out in black and white on the chalkboard, but it’s hiding underneath the lines in so many places, it’s impossible to ignore.

    It’s almost like a proof:

    God is good, and goodness, and all goodness comes from God.
    Perfect goodness cannot abide evil.
    Therefore, God hates evil.
    A little leaven leaveneth the whole loaf.
    Mankind – each and every one of us – is not perfectly good.
    Therefore, mankind is “leavened” by trace evil.
    And therefore, you are evil –
    and therefore, God hates you.

    It takes years to shake that off.

  • aunursa

    I dunno. I just Googled “God loves you” and “Jesus Christ” and got 690,000 hits. Then I Googled “God hates you” and “Jesus Christ” and got 66,000 hits. Sure, it doesn’t prove anything … but it seems as if the message that God loves people is more prevalent.

  • SisterCoyote

    …yeah, again, that’s. Um.

    No, that doesn’t prove anything. Like I said, it’s an implication. If the preacher gets up every day in front of the congregation and goes “God loves you!” and then the other 10,079 minutes of the day, you’re constantly told and reminded by your church and homeschooling group that you are flawed, partially-evil, and basically full of evil fleshly thoughts that God abhors (a theory that is, I might point out, continuously self-reinforcing)…

    Which message is going to sink in?

  • JarredH

    When I was growing up, one of the common examples “proving” that humans were innately sinful was to point at infants crying. The argument was that infants would selfishly cry because they wanted something. It was all about them.

    Which sounds good until you really get thinking about it. What do infants usually want when they cry? Food. A diaper change. Help getting rid of gas. Affection. Things that if not downright critical for their survival, are at least essential to overall health. Things that they need and cannot get for themselves because they’re infants.

    So yeah, I grew up being told by some religious leaders that infants were inherently selfish and sinful because they employed the only means they had to try to get the care they absolutely needed to survive and be healthy.

    Talk about subtle, eh?

  • AnonymousSam

    That is so downright shitty. I’m sure they thought they were being clever when they came up with that reasoning. (Makes me wonder whether that idea correlates with corporeal punishment…)

  • Cathy W

    I believe that’s the basis for Michael and Debi Pearl’s child-“training” methodology – the one where when an infant is learning to crawl, you put them on a blanket, and if they try to crawl off the blanket you smack them on the leg with a length of flexible plastic tubing. The baby is simply disobedient…

  • The_L1985

    It does. The Pearls insist that you should start “spanking” with a “rod” when the child is two months old. Not two years. TWO MONTHS.

  • Carstonio

    Sounds like projection to me. I’ve struggled to overcome my assumption that my wants and needs are inconveniences or burdens for others, along with my defensiveness and fear of other people having wants and needs of me. Both stem from a fear of making others angry. I can imagine the religious leaders in your youth reacting to a crying baby not as a personal inconvenience but as a potential for tragic mistakes – a less than rational fear that doing the wrong thing with the baby could cause either psychological damage, or provoke anger from the baby’s parents.

  • SkyknightXi

    It’s probably tied up with the idea that “the laws of God are written in the hearts of men”. One of the laws in this case is absolute respect for your parents. The infant is supposed to trust that their parents will attend to their needs, and not pester them without need. Apparently, the possibility that even parents might get embattled with priorities and distracted doesn’t enter into the equation. Maybe the infant is supposed to trust that God will place a psionic suggestion into such parents?

  • SisterCoyote

    Yeah, that one never made sense to me. Our church taught that babies were innocent – that it wasn’t until they developed a sense of right and wrong that they could sin. (Toddlers, basically.) My mom used to point to my little brother, who would gleefully do exactly the thing she had just told him not to. The point was that we all, almost as soon as we obtained consciousness, used it to sin.

    …which, although a bit more logical, I think, is still pretty harsh.

  • Dash1

    Yep. It also shows up in the hymns, especially in the hymns: “Would He devote that sacred head for
    such a worm as I?” “that saved a wretch like me” “unworthy” “vile” etc.

  • The_L1985

    “Old Rugged Cross” adds an extra layer of creepy, if you really think about it.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Course, you can understand the reasoning behind “a wretch like me” when you consider that the writer had been a slave trader in his youth.

  • Ross

    I have no issue with “a wretch like me.” It’s when they start talking like “A wretch like thee” that I get twitchy.

  • JustoneK

    Huge difference between overt, blatant message and millions of smaller subtle ones hiding behind it.

  • Patrick

    I’ve never heard mainstream Christian Fundamentalists preach that God “hates” the human race either.

    But I’ve certainly heard them preach that God finds every single member of the human race so wretched, repulsive, and worthless that he can’t even abide to be in their presence, and would rather throw them into a pit of unending horror and suffering in order to keep them from polluting him with their existence. In fact, God literally can’t NOT do that, because his nature is such that he reacts to humans the way my mother in law reacts to spiders- with involuntary spasms of revulsion and violence. And of course, that’s what those worthless humans deserve anyway.

    So basically they sometimes teach that God relates to us in the same way demons do in Dungeons and Dragons.

    I mean, then they turn around and claim that God loves us anyway in spite of everything they just said, but sometimes its hard to get past the first part.

  • phranckeaufile

    With love like that, who needs hate?

  • Randomosity

    I’ve seen some truly epic-level self-hate stemming from beliefs like this. One particularly chilling piece was a post answering the question: Why do bad things happen to good people. The answer: Because there are no good people and that if people got what they truly deserved, there is no torture on this earth that could adequately equal it. And this eternal torture would be coming from a good God.
    Cognitive dissonance, my head explodeth.

  • AnonymousSam

    Have seen quite a few people say that Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is one of the best sermons ever delivered. To quote:

    The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

  • Dorfl

    It’s kind of scary how the fundamentalist God usually comes across as a fairly unpleasant child, blown up to gigantic size.

    I have set an insect on fire once, half by accident, and felt very ashamed of myself afterwards. But Jonathan Edwards talks about holding insects and spiders over fire – just because they’re ‘vile’ – like it’s a perfectly ordinary thing to do.

  • The_L1985

    As I mentioned in another comment on this thread, that sermon triggered particularly horrible effects because of my (then-undiagnosed) clinical depression.

    It’s a disgusting, horrible sermon, and I think Edwards may have had some issues himself to have come up with it.

  • Fusina

    We had to read that sermon in English class. I hated it then, I hate it now–it is bloody awful. Scared the crap out of me at the time. I have since come to believe in a kinder, gentler god. One who courts us like a lover–and with a newly dating pair of youngsters that I get to observe, it is a wonderful thing to see, and to imagine. The flaws and faults? who cares, the lover just wants to be with the beloved. And that, to me, is god.

  • AnonymousSam

    I was in college and into angry atheism at the time, so my reaction to reading it was an immediate suspicion that I was going to hate the class, the instructor and anything to do with either. Thankfully, he turned out to be one of the wisest, funniest, most generous and wonderful men I’ve ever known and the three classes I took with him (and the two classes I took with his wife) are some of my best memories. It was just getting past that “RAWR FIRE HELL EVERYONE SUCKS” hurdle of Puritan literature. I was at serious risk of dropping the class when the first five or so readings were all heavily religious and downright painful to read.

  • Ross

    Thanks to my deep bass tones, I got conscripted into performing it in a very weak stab at period costume a few times.

  • SkyknightXi

    It gets worse when you look at specifically supralapsarian Calvinists (I have no idea whether Edwards was supralapsarian or infralapsarian). That’s where the particular view of predestination is that it was charted BEFORE the Fall. Actually, before any actual creating was done. This means that the reprobate (who are going to be the far greater mass of humanity) were created WITH BEING HATED IN MIND. They’re there EXPRESSLY to become recipients of God’s infinite wrath. And of course, the REAL point of this is for God to accrue more glory. He can’t very well visit his wrath on the elect, after all, otherwise they wouldn’t be receiving his mercy and love. But the aspects of wrath, judgement, and patience need to be displayed and known somehow if they’re to be glorified. Thus, the creation of the reprobate. A spectacularly unempathetic and unsympathetic comment from Pastor Vincent Cheung, supralapsarian extraordinaire, comes to mind. This is in response to a fellow Calvinist pleading for advice on how to come to terms with the torment caused by his wife’s barrenness AND the ungodly thriving and delighting with children of their own. His prayer frequency had actually lessened.

    The question that Paul says we should not ask [in Romans 9] is precisely the one that you are asking: “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” If you are a reprobate,
    then the matter is simple. This passage says that God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn about his wrath, his power, and his patience – that he would tolerate someone like you for so long – and in contrast, about his riches and mercy toward me. So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying conclusion to my response.

    However, our working assumption is that you are a Christian.
    Even so, the passage is relevant. Notice that God reveals himself to the
    elect not only through the objects of wrath, whom he has prepared for
    destruction, but those who are saved are objects of his mercy –
    they themselves have been sinners, only that God has decided to
    sovereignly show them mercy. “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

    As if that weren’t bad enough, Cheung later says that, because God has revealed his “yoke” as light and gentle, a true Christian is INCAPABLE of feeling embattled by God’s predestination; the knowledge that all will end in the believers’ paradise should at least sublimate, if not outright negate, all the frustration they feel about thriving reprobates. In other words, the querent is clearly not yet a proper Christian simply because he isn’t letting the “truth” of predestination and absolute control by God becalm him in everything.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn
    about his wrath, his power, and his patience – that he would tolerate
    someone like you for so long – and in contrast, about his riches and
    mercy toward me. So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying
    conclusion to my response.” – Pastor Vincent Cheung

    And this is why I find Calvinism and predestination so repulsive. It may possibly be logically airtight if you accept its starting premises (then again, it may not; I haven’t found the time to study it thoroughly enough to be sure, what with there being only twenty-four hours in the average day), but it also takes you to the logical conclusion that God is a sadistic monster. Not gonna go there.

  • Randomosity

    That quote is a perfect example of Protagonist Centered Morality. Other people exist and go through crap just so I can be awed by the divine.

    Can I be a character in a different book?

  • Ruby_Tea

    God has made someone like you so that someone like me can learn about his wrath, his power, and his patience…

    That sounds like a variation on a comment over at the OP:

    I am not against homosexuals or atheist, bc they need us the most. But we aren’t to dwell in their homes or them in ours, bc no matter how good we are, if you put good with evil some evil will rub off on us.

    (Not sure I can link to individual comments; it’s Brooke’s.)

    We evil atheists are here on the planet either to be an object lesson in how awful it is not to be saved, or (better case scenario) to be witnessed to by the Christian in question. This comes up quite frequently on Christian radio: God put your nonChristian co-worker there for a reason–so YOU could teach him about Jesus! Unless you’re ASHAMED of the love of Christ, of course…

  • AnonymousSam

    So if you are a reprobate, this would be a satisfying conclusion to my response.

    I just uttered a few words. I think “fuck” was prominently among them in various noun forms.

    A satisfying conclusion?! So we should be content with our lot as those destined to spend eternity in Hell regardless of what we do, for the crime of having picked the short straw at the beginning of time? This is supposed to be satisfying? The lives we have are a demonstration of his patience?

    There’s that word again. Quite a lot of it actually.

    I was wrong, I can’t possibly be a sociopath with people like this in the world. That’s like suggesting a droplet is a lake with the ocean in view for comparison.

  • SkyknightXi

    Now that I remember it, there’s a REALLY unpleasant quandary about God in supralapsarianism. All the reprobate were planned before the onset of creation. All the elect were planned before the onset of creation. Every bit of weal and woe was planned before the onset of creation.

    So…is there anything for God to portray acceptance or contempt towards that he didn’t expressly intend to be? When you have something like this, it makes ALL his love and ALL his wrath calculated in advance. No responsiveness, no spontaneity. So, can the supralapsarian God be said to be capable of GENUINE love or outrage?

  • AnonymousSam

    It also seems to eliminate any role of free will in one’s spiritual matters, making the demonstration of love/wrath entirely arbitrary. Yes, yes, witnessing eternal damnation is impressive, but what does it accomplish if there’s nothing you or I could do to change where we go anyway? Is it just to make one group appreciate their eventual fate more than the other?

    Again, a being I wouldn’t want to worship regardless of whether I was elect or not. My principles require me to demand damnation if paradise comes at such a cost.

  • Ruby_Tea

    It also makes it sound like being God would be the most boring job in the ‘Verse.

  • Ross

    Well, remember, as a reprobate, you’re not a real true person; you aren’t really suffering in your damnation, not like a saved person would, because you’re rotten straight down to the core and therefore could not possibly enjoy heaven — salvation is so alien to your very nature that you could have no possible sense of what it would be. You aren’t really upset about being barred from heaven; you’re just acting like that as a challenge for the elect. See, as a reprobate, you’re basically an automaton, whose only real function is to provide demonstrative contrast as you burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. And if it weren’t for the fall, that would be patently obvious to everyone, and the elect would see clearly that there was absolutely nothing lovable or good about the reprobate — the fact that it sometimes seems like those non-calvinist folks over there are actually nice people who might not deserve eternal damnation is just an illusion caused by your fallen senses. They secretly eat babies or something.

  • Valancy Jane

    Fundamentalists are very careful not to flat-out say they hate people, but they abuse them incessantly in the name of a particularly sick, toxic form of “love” that any battered spouse would recognize instantly.

    Nobody is fooled anymore by the “love the sinner/hate the sin” rhetoric, especially since it’s so often coupled with particularly vile anti-gay opinions. Many times, “the sin” that fundamentalists hate is bound up in a person’s very being, like their sexual orientation or their attitude toward women’s rights, and cannot be easily divorced from that person. Any fundie who is still using this tired old rationalization for abuse needs to stop doing it, because I don’t know about others, but if I hear it, I know that I’m likely dealing with a Christian who gets abuse and love confused in his or her head.

    In short: Don’t tell me you love me. Let me guess. By the same token, I know hate when it is directed at me.

  • Carstonio

    The comparison is very apt. Fundamentalist theology strongly resembles the mentality of an abused person who has internalized the abuser’s views of both people.

  • stardreamer42

    God loves you, but you are broken and worthless.

    God loves you, but you are rotten with sin.

    God loves you, but nothing you can do is ever good enough.

    Don’t tell me that those messages (and so many more like them) don’t add up to “God hates you.” Especially when they come from people who claim to represent God, and who really, seriously DO hate you and make that unmistakably clear with every word they speak and every action they take.

  • Fanraeth

    Growing up gay in a fundamentalist family so extreme in their beliefs that they think Southern Baptist churches aren’t Christian enough, I can attest to constantly being made to feel that God personally hated me. And this is with them not even knowing (and still not knowing) that I’m gay.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Oh, you don’t even have to be gay to get that message. I grew up with the same thing. (Being told flat out that I was going to hell for playing 500 rummy with my grandmother kind of underlined the point. The fundamentalist God seems to search eagerly for trivial excuses to hate people.)

  • Fanraeth

    That reminds me of how I could play poker as a kid as long as I didn’t call it poker. Made for some interesting reactions when I tried to get childhood friends to play this awesome card game I liked and they were all “Your parents let you play poker?!?” in tones of horror.

  • The_L1985

    I remember my private school didn’t let us play cards–even Go Fish–because “cards can be used to gamble, and gambling is a sin.”

    Because kids gamble over the results of Go Fish all the time. 9_9

  • Ross

    At various times, my public school did the exact same thing. Except that they ended the sentence with “and gambling is illegal in this state”

  • Dash1

    Actually, it’s because cards have sin germs on them. I thought everybody knew that. (So do golf balls; or so did they until certain well-known Christians started playing golf. Also, strangely, the sin germs do not infest the cards on the computer’s solitaire game.)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Laugh. Out. Loud.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Yes – that was exactly the argument my church used. Whatcha gonna do with people like that? (Get away. Get far, far away.)

  • forgedimagination

    Mark Driscoll specifically said “God hates you” in a sermon dedicated to that idea. So did Jonathan Edwards, as well as a huge host of figures revered on fundamentalism.

  • FearlessSon

    It also might depend entirely on who the “you” in question is.

    For example, if you have desires which you are told every week are sinful desires that God hates, then you too try to hate your own desires. But no matter how much you hate them , no matter how much you tell them “Get thee behind me,” they are still there. Eventually, you start to feel like there is something seriously wrong with you because of it, and you hold those feelings in painful shame. You start to think that if God really loved you, He would have taken those feelings away, He has the power to, and you have devoted yourself to Him so strongly that he has no reason not to grant you that grace. And yet He does not, and you start to think that maybe He really has it in for you, and you really are that wicked and wretched…

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And they don’t even have to be sexual desires. In the church where I grew up, desiring to learn about and understand the universe led you very directly into damnation because a lust for knowledge wasn’t compatible with an unquestioning acceptance of the official interpretation of Genesis. (I was a teenager before the invention of things like Answers in Genesis – in my time, everybody admitted that the evidence supported evolution. The argument was that God had planted everything that demonstrated an old earth as a trap so that he could send you to hell if you believed the evidence. Yes, my Sunday school teacher told us that.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Ah, Last Thursdayism, a better argument for Loki than YHWH. :p

  • aunursa

    We made friends with Christians who weren’t fundamentalists – we made friends with people who weren’t Christians, and it shook us profoundly. We met atheists and agnostics for the very first time, and suddenly, all our “right answers” couldn’t make sense. For many of us, the psychological dissonance was so bad we abandoned Christianity completely.

    I’ve frequently corresponded with Christians who never had their beliefs seriously challenged. They are often shocked when I don’t respond to their arguments the way that (they expect) Jews are supposed to react. One woman told me of her cognitive dissonance at what she had been taught all oer life — that all non-Christians will go to hell — versus her experience with me as a nice Jewish person who doesn’t believe in Jesus. She reconciled the dissonance by deciding that Jews can go to heaven. I’m not sure what her reaction would have been if I was a “nice” Muslim or atheist.

  • Wednesday

    They are often shocked when I don’t respond to their arguments the way that (they expect) Jews are supposed to react.

    Yeah, my experience is that Conservative Christians have a lot of really weird ideas about Judaism, and I’m not entirely Jewish.

    About 90% of the people* who tell me I can’t be Jewish because I’m from interfaith parents are Christians telling me “you can only be Jewish if your mother is”, never mind that Conservative and Reform Judaism don’t abide by that rule.

    (Either that, or they’re too busy treating my existence as some super-impossible hypothetical, eg, “interfaith marriage? Well, I suppose maybe it would theoretically possibly work, in theory, if it was a messianic Jew and a liberal protestant denomination, but… “, as if my existence is some sort of hypothetical.)

  • aunursa

    Christians telling me “you can only be Jewish if your mother is”, never mind that Conservative and Reform Judaism don’t abide by that rule.

    Actually NO Jewish movement would tell you that you can’t be Jewish. Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform all accept converts.

    As for Jews-by-birth, the Orthodox will accept you if your mother is Jewish. Same with the Conservative movement. The Reform will accept you if at least one parent is Jewish and you were raised Jewish.

  • Fusina

    “As for Jews-by-birth, the Orthodox will accept you if your mother is Jewish. And you’re mistaken but the Conservative movement does abide by that rule. The Reform will accept you if at least one parent is Jewish and you were raised Jewish.”

    My father is Jewish. I have been told precisely this. So according to some, I am not Jewish, but I did research Judaism as half of my familial connections are Jewish and I was curious. And when my Catholic husband tasted my potato pancakes, well, he knows precisely when Chanukah starts, and by golly, I’d disappoint him mightily if I didn’t serve them that night. So my end point is that I am a Christian, but also Jewish. And no decree from anyone can take that away from me.

  • aunursa

    My point was not regarding whether someone can identify as a Jew, but whether the Jewish movements will accept a person as a Jew.

    I am on the board of my synagogue’s Men’s Club that is planning an upcoming Shabbat service. On Sunday we were discussing who could fill various roles for the service (e.g. reading the Torah, Haftarah, aliyah, etc.) We considered one particular member to lead the Shacarit שַחֲרִת portion. Then we realized that he is not Jewish, although his wife is. As a non-Jew, he would be ineligible to perform that role. It wouldn’t matter if he considers himself Jewish.

    You may identify as Jewish. But you would not be offered certain roles that can only be performed by Jews in prayer services under the auspices of an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform synagogue. But there are other roles that you could assume (e.g. opening and closing the ark), and most synagogues would love to have you provide latkes for a kiddush (provided they meet dietary requirements.)

  • aunursa

    My response here has been removed for some reason.

  • Wednesday

    Apparently I need to clarify.

    I meant that roughly 90% of the people who tell me I cannot be Jewish _based only on knowing my mom is Catholic and my dad is Jewish_ are Christian, usually conservative. This “you aren’t Jewish” comment generally happens in complete absense of any questions of whether or not I had a bat mitzvah or what my practices or beliefs are, so it’s entirely based on my parentage. They are also the ones who treat my parents’ marriage and my personal existence as a hypothetical. (I didn’t mention Orthodox conversion because when I have these
    conversations, people can usually see from how I dress that I’m not an
    observant Orthodox.)

    The remaining 10% of the people who tell me I cannot be Jewish based only on my parentage (including the fact that my mom didn’t convert) are Jewish individuals who generally also treat my existence as something that shouldn’t have happened.

    When people say I’m not Jewish based on my beliefs, practices (or lack thereof), or the fact that I didn’t have a bat mitzvah, that’s an entirely different discussion.

  • aunursa

    Wow, that’s kind of strange. So some people who find out that your mother is Catholic and you father is Jewish just blurt out, “You aren’t Jewish”? Perhaps I’m not understanding the situation.

  • Wednesday

    Yeah, it happens a fair amount when the subject of my religious background comes up. (Which happens pretty much any time I make a mention of, eg, getting Hannukah gifts from my family, or what I did over Spring Break.) Some of it is people thinking out loud about what box to mentally put me in, some of it’s people disquieted by my not fitting into their boxes, and some is more hostile.

    It’s not the _only_ response to the subject of my religious background, just a very common one.

  • AnonymousSam

    The Jenga tower is certainly representative of what I’ve seen. I’ve often likened it to a house of cards myself. It’s amazing how often it revolves around parts of the Bible which seem like the stupidest things to make fundamental to one’s faith — say, if the Flood wasn’t literally how it happened, if it could possibly be in any way open to interpretation as a metaphor or a parable, then everybody is doomed.

    It must be a frightening life where just the merest alteration of perspective renders one’s entire life invalid and futile.

    So. My vacation in Michigan took an interesting turn. About two hours ago, I was throwing water on the back wall of the house, trying to keep a fire from eating all the way through. The wall’s a complete loss, the electrical system is a little iffy, but we’re all fine for the most part.

  • P J Evans

    That’s not something you want to have happen, especially on vacation.
    I’m glad you’re okay.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah. Michigan was already my mental version of Hell without being inside a room that was half a foot from erupting into flames.

  • heckblazer

    As it happens Hell is located in Michigan.

  • AnonymousSam

    I once said that the only way I’d ever make it out of Michigan was if Hell froze over.

    The year I boarded a plane for the west coast, the town of Hell flooded and then much of the waters froze on the street.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Whoa! :O I’m happy you’re okay! :O

  • ShifterCat

    I feel bad laughing at your mortal danger, but… that’s a great line.

  • AnonymousSam

    Oh, I had some pretty great lines at the time too, internal and actually said. Like remarking that, hey, Mom might have shrunk a couple of inches since I was last home, but at least now her head was beneath the smoke line! I had to duck so I wasn’t breathing it in. I also spontaneously shoved all my stuff back in my luggage bags in preparation to take it all outside away from the fire, had a thought of “Is this the most selfish thing I could be thinking of right now?”, then realized “Wait a tick, I’m on vacation, I wasn’t even supposed to be here!”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I can’t say it better, so I’ll just second this.

  • SisterCoyote

    D: Geez, dude, I’m glad you’re okay. That is a… well, hellish thing to happen. Hope the electrical system is… fixable.

  • AnonymousSam

    My step-dad is kind of an electrician, so it seems like it will be.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I hope he has his electrical licence. :O

  • MaryKaye

    As part of a pagan rite of passage I had a year-long series of email conversations with a fundamentalist Christian (it’s a long story, how this came about, but it made sense at the time). One thing that came up over and over was his distress that there were basic questions of pagan theology for which I had no answers. What is the source of moral law? What happens to us when we die? Where did the universe come from? I don’t know, and I acknowledged that I didn’t know. He wanted to argue that this was unacceptable–that a valid religion HAD to have answers to all of the major questions.

    I’m a scientist; one of the core foundations of science is that it’s better to know you are ignorant than to hang on to false knowledge. I am staring right now at a big question about cancer where we have nothing but flimsy guesses and a whole lot of basic ignorance. It’d be nice to know more, but in the meantime we stand firm on our ignorance. (And fight tooth and claw with a colleague who has, in my opinion, decided he needs to be more sure than the data actually warrant.)

    My fundamentalist partner really could not accept this point of view–that I could hold to a religion that did not tell me conclusively what would happen when I die, in particular. He urged me to switch to his not because it was right but because it was *complete* and he felt strongly that an incomplete religion was invalid.

    The conversation ended when he broke the promise he made at the beginning and sent me a “you gotta convert” screed, trying to use everything he’d learned about me to make it as emotionally painful and upsetting as possible–luckily he didn’t understand me very well, but I objected strongly to the oathbreaking and we’re not speaking any more. I wonder whether on some level even being involved with someone so steeped in doubt was becoming emotionally painful or harmful to him, and he took this step to end the discomfort one way or another–either get me to stop doubting, or to stop talking to him.

    A Tibetian Buddhist nun once told me that theology is a fun after-dinner conversation, but if we’re serious about our lives we’ll realize that the real question is “what should I *do*?” That’s basically where I stand. I have enough grasp of morality to guide action, and it doesn’t matter whether when I die I become a disembodied spirit or come back on Judgement Day or get reincarnated or just fertilize some daisies–I still know I ought to be doing good for people and the world in *this* life, and I figure that’s what counts. Somehow, looking at fundamentalists, I can’t help thinking that the more people add to that basic recipe, the less they put into doing the basics.

  • aunursa

    He wanted to argue that this was unacceptable–that a valid religion HAD to have answers to all of the major questions.

    Yes, Christian fundamentalists argue that every religion must answer certain questions. Of course the questions are important to their Christian faith, but they may not be at all important to non-Christian religions.
    Christians expect that Jews must want to know what the Messiah will be like so that we will recognize him when he comes. (See, for example, Tsion ben Judah’s search of the messianic passages in Tribulation Force.) Many of them are baffled when I say that the identity of the Messiah is much less important than what the world will be like when he makes his appearance. Fundamentalists also cannot understand how Jews atone for our sins without a blood sacrifice. It’s not only not a problem in Judaism, but we have much more important things to concern ourselves with … such as when does a Jew who lives in Northern Alaska observed Shabbat and the other Jewish Holy Days.

  • JustoneK

    That, aunursa, is something I can wholeheartedly agree on. We got shit to do here in this here planet.

  • Lorehead

    And given the choice between trying to make the prophecy of Israel being a light to the nations, swords beaten into plowshares, nation shall not make war upon nation come true; and the prophecy of Ethiopia, Persia, Gog and Magog invading Israel; well, there’s a very real if minor risk that the Messiah might not come when we’re expecting, and in the event he doesn’t, one of those two worlds would be a much better place to live in while we wait.

    Which I suppose puts me on the side of Nicolae Carpathia. If you can read a prophecy of death and destruction and think, “Obviously the work of God,” but a prophecy of peace and universal brotherhood makes you think, “The work of the Devil!“—you might be a RTC.

  • hagsrus

    “Such as when should a Jew who lives in Northern Alaska observed Shabbat and the other Jewish Holy Days.”

    Sorry to be dim but what’s the problem? The sunset or lack thereof? And is there an accepted answer?

  • aunursa

    Then sun never rises for several months, then when it does rise, it never sets for several months. How does one determine when to begin observance and when to end?

  • Carstonio

    I didn’t realize that the lack of sunrise or sunset in space would have implications for some religions.* My understanding is that space agencies use UTC for the default, but that’s based on London local. Makes sense that Jews could use Jerusalem local or Muslims could use Mecca local.

    * I still don’t know the Christian denomination of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandfather in “Little House in the Big Woods.” The Sabbath began at Saturday sundown, and the prohibition on work included even saddling horses so they had to walk to church. I tried looking this up, and found the Focus on the Family rating of the book – revealing that the organization’s categories for rating books includes “Authority roles”, “Other belief systems” and “Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality.”

  • Mark Z.

    A related issue for Muslims is which direction Mecca is when in orbit. Of course it is in a specific direction, but figuring that out is a pain in the ass.

    (Long-term solution: Build a space elevator, tethered to Mecca. Face toward that. For the sake of convenience (and tradition), we can also put a big light on top, and turn it on five times a day. Correcting for light travel delay and relativistic effects is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • Katie

    An alternative solution is to pray in the direction of Earth, since if you’re in outer space that is the closest you can reasonably get to figuring out the direction of Mecca.

  • FearlessSon

    I am not sure that plan would work. To have an effective space elevator the tether needs to be near the equator, and Mecca might be too far north. The nearest approximately suitable location close to that latitude would probably be in Kenya or Somalia.

  • Mark Z.

    Ah, you’re right. Stupid geometry.

    Anyway, I feel like a space elevator in the Middle East ought to be in Babylon, just for the սիմվոլիկ balioa будаўнічых একটি প্রকৃত 塔 di Babele dammit I hate it when that happens.

  • Ruby_Tea

    Sadly, the Left Behind series features all of these categories. Oopsies, LaJenkins!

  • Charles Scott

    I… think you just made a Northern Exposure reference. If so, thank you.

  • Valancy Jane

    It was a relief when I got out of Christianity and realized I no longer had to worry about what happened to me after I died. Christianity creates a need–a fear of death, a fear of eternal torture for finite thought crimes–and it simultaneously creates a solution to “fix” that need. Christians absolutely MUST have that question answered, because they’ve been told their whole lives that the whole reason for doing all this stuff was to escape a fate considerably worse than death.

    I can’t even remember what it was like, really, to fear death and eternity. Do I know what will happen after I die? No. Do I care especially? No. Does it matter in the least if I know or don’t know? No. NOBODY knows for sure what happens after we die; anything I chose to believe about it would be pure wishful thinking, as well as a distraction. What happens in THIS life is much more important. If there are gods at all, and if they are just and good at all, they will care much more about what my religious faith led me to do, and they will not be interested in the least in what form that faith took. Meanwhile, I am at least and at last honest about my lack of positive knowledge, rather than taking refuge in wishful thinking.

  • Matthias

    Could you explain to me why as a Christian you had to worry about what happens after your death?

    Because I’m a Christian right now and never worry about it. Jesus promised that I have the eternal live after death and this settles it.

  • FearlessSon

    I cannot speak for Valancy Jane, but my read on the post was that there was always the worry in the back of the mind that maybe they were not as good as they thought that they were, that maybe they had sinned too much or did not believe sincerely enough. The panic one gets when one fears that even trying one’s hardest one still cannot try hard enough. What if after all you have done, you find yourself turned away by Saint Peter at the pearly gates because you did not measure up to the high standard set for you?

    That is where the fear of death comes in.

  • Matthias

    Speaking of Saint Peter: He denied knowing Jesus not only once but three times in a row. Yet he still ended up as the gate keeper of heaven. For this reason alone I would expect him to show clemency.

    He is also not the only one. The apostle Thomas set a pretty high standard for doubt which is still forgiven.

    Aron immediately agreed to the building of the golden calf and was willing to lead the worshiping of it, yet he was still made high priest of Israel. (This is by the way an example where the grace of good drastically exceeds mine: I would expect far more steadfast of a high priest)

    Moses killed a man, yet was made God’s prophet.

    The king David, sinned against God several times, yet God still called him a man of his own heart.

    The list can be extended as much as one likes …

    So although I’m aware that I have many failings I’m still sure that God will accept me despite them as he did with so many other people.

  • FearlessSon

    I am sure he will. But not everyone has the fortune of being in a church that stresses that as much as yours clearly does. Say you are in a church where the preacher is much more of a firebrand, much more focused on scaring the flock straight with threats of sin and damnation unless they follow Jesus. People who grow up in a church like that can be a lot more jumpy about their ultimate fate than people who grow up in a more understanding church.

  • The_L1985

    I heard all the same uplifting messages. However, I also had clinical depression.

    Depression doesn’t care about good stuff. Depression zooms in on the brokenness, the wrongdoing, the horrible feeling of being utterly monstrous and broken. Reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in literature class was the straw that broke the camel’s back–even though I never heard that sort of preaching in church.

    Being in a religion that believes in a Hell is much harder when you have depression, because you are already there in life and convinced you will be there after death. Nobody could convince me otherwise for several years, because of the vice-grip that depression had on me.

  • AnonymousSam

    Literature class was where I had to read it too, as one of the very first items. Horrible, isn’t it? I was so glad to get out of the 1600’s where there were so few rays of light (Anne Bradstreet being one — the first American [sorta; she predates the Declaration] feminist on record!)

  • The_L1985

    Bradstreet was awesome. It took until I was well out of high school to appreciate Sylvia Plath or Adrienne Rich, though.

  • AnonymousSam

    Many people go their entire lives without having any of these examples really expanded on for such a perspective. If they come up in a sermon, expect it to be about how much they sinned and you’d better not let this be you, or God might not be so forgiving!!

    For me, it’s Romans- “through the death of one came life for everyone.” No qualifiers, just “everyone” (or “for all men” in some translations, but F that noise). Or Peter’s “God has shown me that I must not call anyone unclean or profane. As far as I’m concerned, those settle the argument for me, and if they turn out to not be true, then I wouldn’t have wanted to worship such a callous, merciless entity in the first place. :p

  • Fusina

    I have asked about the verse where Jesus is alleged to say, “I, if I be lifted up will draw all men to me.” Seems pretty straightforward–universalism from the founder of the religion. So I stopped worrying about where I’ll go after death and started enjoying here and now, and looking for what good I can personally do. I also don’t worry about other people’s life after death–more, how can I help you out now.

  • Kate Walters

    So…if we can’t go to Heaven unless we believe Jesus is our savior, this means Moses, Aaron, David, etc., aren’t saved?

    I think if you lead a good life, not an exemplary live, but a basically good one and love one another, you will go to Heaven, no matter when you were born or what you believe. Or even IF you believe.

  • The_L1985

    Or worse–the feeling that one is so loathsome, one might as well go on ahead to Hell and save everyone else the trouble of dealing with one’s brokenness. My teen years were horrifying, because I kept fearing that I wasn’t a good enough person, setting ever-higher benchmarks for “good enough,” then finally, inevitably, failing because I was being too unrealistic with my goals.

    This does not combine well with clinical depression, nor with the sudden influx of all those hormones from puberty. The main reason I didn’t attempt suicide at that time was because I was actually depressed beyond the point of doing it–I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to kill myself right, and would then cause extra worry and pain from people trying to help a girl who was convinced she was beyond help.

  • Fusina

    I would like to offer you virtual hugs, from another clinically depressed person who was utterly convinced she was going straight to hell, do not pass go etc…

    I am now utterly convinced that everyone will be in heaven, only some of them may think they are in hell–like the senator from North Carolina–with no one around who will bow to his obviously superior worth–don’t tell me that won’t be hellish for him.

  • SisterCoyote

    Seconding the offer of virtual hugs. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Can’t speak for Valancy either, but for me it was my sexual orientation.

    I had never even *heard* the word homosexuality when I first realized that I liked other girls. I had no idea about the concept. It just wasn’t discussed in my home, or around the kids in the church we attended. So it was never a question for me whether or not my sexuality was a “choice” I made. I knew from the word go that I was born Bisexual.

    Knowing that, I then had to wrestle with the fact that the god of the bible thoroughly condemns what I am. I heard often how I was evil, unlovable, headed for the pits of hell.

    My thinking ended up being thus: If god created me the way I am, and yet says that he condemns people like me to burn for eternity, can I really be sure that he’ll forgive me? He’s already proved fickle once.

  • Mark Z.

    I’ll answer for me.

    The picture of the afterlife that I got, growing up as an evangelical Christian, was fairly hellish. What we had to look forward to was apparently an eternal worship service. Now, I loathe worship services,* and at the time, they were full of people who made me miserable.** I sometimes have panic attacks just going into an evangelical church building. And I’m going to be locked in one of these things for eternity? All the problems of theodicy and universal versus limited atonement aside, I can’t imagine a loving God sending anyone to heaven.

    Of course we weren’t supposed to talk about that, because the entire faith as they understood it was completely built around the promise of spending eternity in heaven. Expressing any doubts about that meant I was “unsure of my salvation”, and would get aggressively prayed for and otherwise pressured into going along with the program. (I mentioned it to my parents once. They responded with the exact tone of voice and body language that they’d used when I told them I was getting a D in World History, and we never talked about it again.)

    Eternal life after death is not, in itself, something I want. I am a Christian because I hope for the resurrection of the world–for renewal, for healing of its wounds. Discarding most of it and turning the rest into a megachurch is not healing.

    * Though I assume the heavenly choir has Bach on the organ, which has to be pretty badass.
    ** Including, but not limited to, myself.

  • Samantha C.

    I’m just kind of glad to see someone else say they hate services – I started to get very creeped out by being in temple around the time i started abandoning Judaism. I was always convinced that I couldn’t be the only one just going through the motions, and being 13, I couldn’t imagine that anyone really DID believe when I didn’t. As I’m finding other tendrils into faith, the idea of worshiping together with other people is just…baffling. Why would I want that, when it’s something so intensely private? Nice to know I’m not totally alone.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Though I assume the heavenly choir has Bach on the organ, which has to be pretty badass.

    A friend of mine once told me about what he considered to be the most amazing thing he had ever heard.

    You’re familiar with the concept of duelling banjos?

    Now imagine two cathedrals, across the street from each other, playing duelling pipe organs with Bach on the playlist.

  • Kate Walters

    So a variation on the “The Bible Says It. I Believe it. That Settles It.” theme?

    I’m a Christian and have never worried about what happens after death, but not because Jesus purportedly said something. I think (personal opinion, mind you) that since cells and life have energy and energy cannot be created or destroyed, something lives on.

  • Valancy Jane

    Hi Matthias. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this before today. Don’t know how I missed it. Answer: Because in the religion I was in, there is a verse much discussed about how many Christians will, at the end, cry out “lord, lord!” and their god will cast them out saying he never knew them. In other words, these Christians were super-duper sure of themselves, but no way was their god letting them into his house party. My church (well, actually, every church I attended; I grew up Catholic and worked my way outward through the milder Protestant denominations until I hit the far right-wing fringe of United Pentacostalism before leaving) taught that this meant that you had to be super-duper zealous and careful about your “salvation” or you might lose it through some accident or wrong belief (which by wild coincidence happened to be “a belief that particular church itself doesn’t hold”). You had to keep the tank topped off, so to speak. My biggest fear was dying in a car accident with some minor sin unconfessed. Looking back, it’s just insane how scared I was of it; now it’s like thinking of the DEMON HAND that lurked under my bed when I was five years old as I try to understand that old fear.

    I still remember the terrifying day I realized that even people who seemed really together and strong in their faith were absolutely petrified of missing the Rapture or dying and going to hell. I know the fashion nowadays is to say that salvation is more or less a rubber-stamp into the club, that once you get it you have to do a lot before you lose it, and I know some Christians don’t even go in for a standard-issue Hell at all. It’s definitely not a universal belief anymore. I get this feeling that you’re edging toward a “well you were just doing it wrong,” and would like to gently remind you if you are that there are as many takes on the Bible as there are Christians, and every single one of them is absolutely convinced that he or she is doing it right and has the cherry-picked verses to prove it, and also would like to respectfully let you know that when you said that, you made me feel like my suffering (not to mention those of countless de-converts and those suffering in pews right now under that sickening belief) was being negated and minimized under the hand-waving of the True Scotsman. I hope that’s just me being a bit over-sensitive but wanted to let you know that’s how it came off.

    I haven’t been worried about the afterlife for about 25 years now, I guess. Do I know what’s coming next? No. Do I care? No. This life is the only one I’m going to get that I know of for sure, and if there are any good gods at all, they’re going to care a lot more about what I did to advance humanity and love my neighbors than about the theology that got me to the behaviors I displayed.

  • cyllan

    I had a very similar conversation, although the fundy that I was speaking with was more confused about why I wasn’t running through the streets killing everyone who annoyed me since I didn’t believe in hell. I was too young to have an appropriate response to this at the time, but I remain horrified by the implications of that conversation.

  • Random_Lurker

    Some people are naturally uncomfortable with uncertainty. Saying “I don’t know” is not an option for them, because not knowing causes a creeping anxiety within them that they must keep down. What causes people to be like this I don’t know for sure. It could be innate, it could be learned, it’s a mystery.

    My wife is such a person. She was raised Nazarene (fundy, but closer to the sane end of the spectrum), but naturally wormed her way out of it because it’s answers were unsatisfying to her. Nonetheless, in discussions, explanations, conversations and especially arguments, she would become extremely agitated, to the point of starting to yell, when faced with an absence of explanation. Whether she didn’t know something, or I didn’t know it and was trying to tell her so, it really got her goat.

    Over the past 7 years or so she’s gotten much better, so I think it may be learned. At the same time, she’s started being able to analyze and make judgements about complicated ideas, something she almost never did at the beginning. I suspect that this anxiety with uncertainty is similar to being lost, or claustrophobic; panic due to a sense insecurity. Basically, these people were never taught to think on their own and rely on themselves, and have no ability to cope with something they no pre-existing answer for. That’s my theory anyway.

  • JustoneK

    well, to expand on that, I’ve long theorized that it helps culture survive and flourish. you don’t have to waste time making decisions that affect everyone’s lives if you’re already following rules made by trusted benevolent authority, leaving brains with more time to innovate and build and whatnot. the problem is it only works to a point…

  • ReverendRef

    Some people are naturally uncomfortable with uncertainty. Saying “I
    don’t know” is not an option for them, because not knowing causes a
    creeping anxiety within them that they must keep down. What causes
    people to be like this I don’t know for sure. It could be innate, it
    could be learned, it’s a mystery.

    I just had this conversation with a parishioner earlier tonight. I’m really okay with saying, “I don’t know . . . it’s a mystery.” Not because it’s a cop out, but because the IDK answer has (I hope) the challenge to keep searching, keep looking, keep questioning, keep learning.

    And, because it’s late and I’m tired and I’m easily amused . . . I just noticed that if you abbreviate “It’s a mystery” you get IAM … which just happens to be the name of God.

    Yes, I amuse myself.

  • Chris Doggett

    I don’t know if it was college, or starting my first “grown-up” job, but I quickly adopted a phrase when I had to ask someone a question: “I don’t know is an OK answer, especially if you can point me towards someone who might.”

    “I don’t know” must be an acceptable answer when you ask someone a question, because otherwise if that person doesn’t know, they’ll be pressured to make up an answer and present it as an answer, and not merely a supposition or informed guess.

    Another phrase I quickly adopted was “the difference between thinking that you know something for certain and actually knowing something for certain is both very significant and very difficult to detect.”

  • Ross

    so one thing I recall from high school or college was something a teacher demonstrated where if you ask a group of people the same question in succession and insist they each give a different answer, the first time you accept “I don’t know”, suddenly no one will answer anything else.

    I don’t know the broad applicability of this, but I bet it’s the reason that society tends to discourage people from considering “I don’t know” an acceptable answer.

  • Random_Lurker

    I have a similar phrase- ” ‘I don’t know’ may not be a very satisfying answer- but it often has the advantage of being true.”

  • guest

    My surveying teacher used to say ‘one loud ‘I don’t know’ is worth a thousand words of bullshit.’

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The conversation ended when he broke the promise he made at the beginning and sent me a “you gotta convert” screed, trying to use everything he’d learned about me to make it as emotionally painful and upsetting as possible

    That kind of douchebaggy conversion attempt really makes me wonder how many such ‘Christians’ purposely seek out drug addicts and alcoholics as easy marks to lay on the whole “you suck as a human being, but *I* know how to fix it all better!” spiel.

  • JustoneK

    There are entire _ministries_ devoted to this. They’re easy, like scared foreign/inner city merican kids. And considerably safer for the monied.

  • Carstonio

    That’s my stance as well, and that nun had an excellent way of stating it.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    ” theology is a fun after-dinner conversation, but if we’re serious about
    our lives we’ll realize that the real question is “what should I *do*?” ”

    OH yes. The more I think and live and pray, the more I agree with James (writer of a letter in the New Testament, and probably the brother of Jesus so he must have known the guy pretty well) – “Faith without works is dead.” Stop sitting around fretting over whether you’re believing exactly the required stuff and get out there and help somebody who needs you. If it’s true that God is powerful and loving, he’ll take care of the rest of the details for you. If it were true that God is a hate-filled sadist, at least you would have done your little bit to thwart it. If it were true that God doesn’t exist, you’ve brightened the universe in your time. And so on. Win-win, however you interpret things.

  • Valancy Jane

    It’s funny, but we were just talking about this exact topic on a FB group I’m in today, Fred. What’s insane is that all this stuff that fundamentalists insist is soooo important and soooo essential to being TRUE CHRISTIANS is, in fact, totally and completely irrelevant. At best it’s nothing but a distraction from the spiritual thrust of Christianity, neither refuting it nor affirming it really; at worst it is, as you’ve so eloquently said, a wedge that leads a Christian to wonder what *else* is totally wrong. That is exactly how I began my de-conversion: I noticed that stuff my church said was absolutely, positively true simply didn’t line up with the reality that I observed every day around me. I began to question everything at that point, and left the religion not long after the day I realized that one small point was absolutely not the case.

    At this point I see creationism and all the other flat-out lies that fundamentalists believe as just in-group beliefs, things that mark fundamentalists as different (and superior, in their minds) to those who do not accept such ignorant drivel as true. It’s just bizarre to me that fundies cling to this stuff when it’s so obvious that it’s causing more and more young people to question the religion as a whole. When fundie leaders set creationism up as something that is absolutely, positively essential to being Christian, and it turns out to be completely wrong, that seems like the very definition of being hoisted by their own petards. So let them do it, if it makes them happy; there’ll remain a core group of unbelievably ignorant, frothing-mad, slack-jawed believers who wouldn’t change their minds over any amount of rational evidence, but the penalties for questioning and leaving that core group will get lower and lower as more and more people go that route, making it in turn easier for the next crop of questioners and dissidents. This is not a circle fundamentalists should be willingly heading into, but it seems to be very clearly exactly what’s happening.

  • Carstonio

    This author shares many of Fred’s opinions about the current state of evangelism, but with a more drastic solution:

  • Dash1

    OMG, yes! Thank you for that link. Here’s the sentence that I resonated with: “That’s why, in some respects, the people who come out of fundamentalism
    are not the ones who didn’t really believe it. They’re the ones who
    really did. They took it completely seriously and experienced this impotence.” That was me. I actually started questioning quite young when I realized that the people in my church didn’t actually believe what they claimed the Bible said.

    That’s what is so valuable about what Fred and those like him are doing in pointing out the internal contradictions. Objections from the outside (“you’re interpreting the Bible wrong, and if you go to our seminary, you can find out why”) aren’t as likely to be persuasive. It’s following the line of argument you started with and finding out that it doesn’t work that is, I think, most likely to be helpful to those who are trying very hard to take the Bible (as it was presented to us) seriously.

    I understand that the great Bart Ehrman also ultimately got out because he took the Bible seriously and followed the texts and the historical evidence where they led.

  • LL

    The thing is, if fundamentalists of all denominations seemed happy at all, I’d understand why their “faith” is supposed to be attractive. But they don’t. Yeah, some of them attempt that creepy, forced-smile “happy” to try to convince others (if not themselves) that God is love, blah blah blah, but they are unconvincing to anybody who knows what actual happiness looks like.

    Then you have the bummers (like Phelps and his ilk) who would say it’s not about happiness, that being happy is unimportant and selfish and blah blah blah and that’s where I usually check out.

    When someone actually comes right out and tells you that the point of religion is not being happy, you know two things:
    1) They mean it
    2) They will go to a great deal of effort to prove it

    Not sure who’s worse: the fake happy ones or the ones who are at least honest about how miserable they are and how miserable they hope to make everyone else. At least the second group is upfront about it. The first group are like used car salesmen. Never a good thing in religious “leaders.”

  • Michele Cox

    Huh. I wouldn’t say that the point of religion is being happy — there will be plenty of times when you’re “doing” religion just fine and are still profoundly unhappy. But Phelps & co sometimes seem to think the point is to be as unhappy as possible, which seems at least equally counterproductive.

    If I were trying to figure out the “point” of religion, I think I might say something about being connected… /wanders off pondering…/

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    If not to be happy, then to be fulfilled. If not to be fulfilled yet, then to hope one may get there.

    We are often not happy right now, but a religion that doesn’t even offer the hope that it’s all going to be all right in the end, somehow, from some perspective, is a religion that hasn’t met the minimum requirements for “worth it.”

    I like the “being connected” bit, but then I think being connected – to Deity, to the Universe, to all living things as part of an interconnected whole – is a good thing. So it’s all part of the being fulfilled, being happy/content, having something good and hopeful to work toward with my spiritual life.

    I’m trying to imagine a religion that seriously pushes its adherents towards being better connected to God or of perfect service to God but not experiencing that connection/service as some sort of emotional positive for the individual, and all I come up with is Hail Cthulhu.

  • Cathy W

    I can even get a positive out of Cthulhu-worship: “He is pleased with my service, and will show it by eating me first and quickly.”

  • David Policar

    > If I were trying to figure out the “point” of religion, I think I might say something about being connected

    I dunno what the point of religion is, but I often think of “sin” as an act that encourages me to be disconnected from the world.

  • LL

    I don’t mean happy all the time, but reasonably happy a reasonable percentage of the time, as opposed to always stressed and anguished at the thought of how unworthy of God and heaven you are.

    I guess I should have made that clearer, given the audience.

  • JustoneK


  • Original Lee

    Fred, I want to thank you for introducing me to the Defeating the Dragons blog. I read the whole thing yesterday (not including comments), and I am reading the Kindle version of one of the books she talks about as one she wishes she had read earlier. Awesomesauce all around!