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On Islam/Muslims

My last post regarding the Orlando shooting garnered a fair bit of negative feedback.  Not my most controversial post, but would probably make the Top 5.  One of the biggest push-backs that I received stemmed from the fact that I focused on Evangelicals, and said little about  Islam or Muslims.  Most of the comments were something to the effect of, “This was a Muslim problem!  Christians had nothing to do with it!”  I dealt with the second part of this claim in my post.  The first part of the claim is questionable.  There’s conflicting reports about how devout the shooter was to Islam, but it seems certain that he had no real ties to any terrorist organizations and was not well studied in Islamic texts and traditions.

But, since the topic came up, I thought I would briefly share my views on Islam, and why I don’t spend much time talking about it here or on social media in general.

First off, my view of Islam is the same as Christianity – they are both ancient , man-made religions, based on supernatural beliefs and a pre-science ignorance of the world.  Both have a dangerous and harmful devotion to their holy book, which they both consider “God’s Word”, and both religions have caused immeasurable harm throughout history and in the present day.  

Christianity doesn’t get a special pass, as much as the majority of it’s devoted followers think it should.  Most Christians will claim that their religion is the only TRUE RELIGION, the Bible is the one true WORD OF GOD, and Jesus is the ONE TRUE SAVIOR.  If you were to talk to ask a Muslim from the Middle East about Islam, they would say the exact same thing about Islam, the Koran, and the Prophet Muhammad.  What religion one belongs to is almost always a matter of geography and culture, not the validity of its truth-claims.  Neither one is in “better” or “truer” than the other.

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Some like to argue that the more extreme factions of Islam, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, are proof that it is a violent and “evil” religion.  They seem to forget Christianity’s long, dark history of bloodshed, including the Crusades, Inquisitions, and slavery.  Some are also unaware of the many modern day Christian terrorist organizations that, while not making the headlines, are nonetheless spreading fear and violence in many parts of the world.  Both the Koran and the Bible contain horrible acts of violence carried out in the name of God, and both are used to justify violence today.

My lack of writing on Islam is not because I think it is a better religion, nor is it because I’m trying to be politically correct.  I have a couple reasons for not covering Islam more:

First – I’ve never been a Muslim.  I grew up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and relatives, was home-schooled through elementary and middle school using a Christian curriculum, went to a Christian college and was a devout Evangelical for many years.  Christianity is what I know and what I feel the most  qualified to speak on.

I’ve read the Koran, as well as several books on Islam, its history, central tenets and practices.  I’ve also had hundreds of conversations with the Muslims that I work with.  While this certainly puts me ahead of the general population in terms of how much I understand Islam, it doesn’t make me qualified to speak on it with any kind of authority.

Second – at present, Islam is of no real threat to the American way of life (despite what the right-wing media would like you to believe).  Yes, there are the occasional terrorist attacks, but none of these have resulted in Muslims gaining any real power and influence in the US.

There are somewhere around 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the US, or about 1 percent of the total U.S. population.  They have no real power or influence in government or in society.  Most are content to just live in peace and go about their normal lives.

When it comes to democracy, conservative Christians are a far bigger threat than Islam, which is why I speak on it so frequently.  If or when I start seeing the same from Islam, I’ll be happy to include them into the conversation.  As of now, I have bigger fish to fry, as they say.  It’s not that I’m “picking on Christians” while ignoring Islam – I just see Christianity as a much more pressing issue right in our country.

Hopefully this helps clear some things up.  I may discuss Islam more in the future, but the main focus of this blog will always be Christianity.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

  

Is Atheism Foolish? – A Response

I recently came across a post on a conservative, Evangelical website called Inspired Walk, called “5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish.”  I saw the link via Twitter, and being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clicked on it.  The post reads like every other apologetic argument I’ve read – presuppositionalism mixed with a healthy dose of logical fallacies.  So, I decided I should write a response to the reasons listed.  Not because the author lays out a good, reasonable argument; just the opposite, in fact.  But because the points that are brought up are ones that atheists hear all… the… time!  

You can read the full post in the link above.  I’ll be using the main bullet points here and quoting the article when needed.

At the very start of the article, the presuppositional theology comes out – “Below are various reasons why the word of God is 100% true and correct according to Psalms 14:1 when it states that atheism is foolish.”   This is a great example of the Begging the Question fallacy –  The author concludes that atheism is foolish by assuming (presupposes) that the Bible is the literal word of God, and therefore “100% true” and universal.  Logical fallacy #1.  You’ll notice that he continues to use verses from the Bible as “evidence” of his claims throughout the article as a means of bolstering his arguments.  Let’s look dig into some of these arguments.

1. Atheist Don’t Appreciate That Every Design Has A Designer

The author spends the first half of this point talking about complex machines, such as jet liners and the Large Hadron Collider, how long they took to build, how many people were involved, etc.  It is then stated that, “if we were to use the same thought process or the same thought pattern that the atheist uses in relation to creation, it would be very easy to understand why atheism is extremely foolish and why atheists are regarded as being fools by God. Somehow, the atheist cannot appreciate the complexity but yet harmonious aspects of nature or the universe and come to the conclusion that there is a vastly superior Being behind creation.”

Let’s start by pointing out logical fallacy #2 – a False Analogy: when someone applies facts from one situation to another situation but the situations are substantially different and the same conclusions cannot logically be drawn.  In this case, the author is comparing man-made machines build over the course of several years, to nature which has evolved over millions of years.  It’s apples and oranges, but let’s address the point.

This is what’s commonly known as the Watchmaker Analogy or Teleological argument.  This argument relies on a complete misunderstanding of evolution and how it works.  First, it fails to understand that seemingly complex systems in nature did not suddenly appear in their natural form, but are the product of millions of years of natural selection from much simpler organisms.  Second, it assumes that nature has an end-goal in mind and that what we currently see is what we get.  In fact, nature is continuing to evolve and most species on earth will continue to change over time.  Lastly, it’s very easy for scientifically-illiterate people to look at certain aspects of nature and gasp in wonder over how “complex” it is, but are either unaware or don’t acknowledge the endless examples in nature of things that aren’t “properly designed”.  For example, sea turtles having to come to shore and dig a hole in the sand for their nest, a long and difficult process with flippers.  The turtle needs to lay 50-200 eggs at a time to assure that some of them, when hatched, actually make it through the gauntlet of predators trying to eat them.  Also, the fact that human babies have heads that are generally too big to fit through the birth canal, not only resulting in a long and painful delivery, but a dangerous one as well.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth was dangerous business.

The argument from design takes place in another form known as the irreducible complexity argument.  From The Logic of Science blog:  The basic idea is that some systems are too complex to evolve because they aren’t functional until all of the parts are in place. For example, an eye that is missing a single piece no longer sees, and a bacterial flagellum that is missing a single protein can no longer act as a flagellum. So the argument claims that these systems could not have evolved because there would have been steps that served no useful function, and nature could not have selected for those steps. The problem is that this argument ignores the fact that evolution is blind. Traits don’t need to function for some ultimate final product in order to be selected for. Rather, if they provide any useful function at all, nature will select them. Indeed, no one has ever been able to find a truly irreducible system, and we have evolutionary pathways that explain how complex systems evolve. For example, an early precursor of the eye would have simply involved a few light sensitive cells (much like some flatworms have). They don’t function as an eye, but they still function, so nature will select for them. Similarly, the proteins that make up a flagellum all serve other functions in the cell, and we have even figured out a step-wise series of events that would form a flagellum with each step serving a useful function for the cell, even though only the final step actually serves as a flagellum. So there is just no truth to the notion that some systems are too complex to evolve.

It’s unfortunate that this argument is still used today, as Darwin addressed it 150 years ago in Origin of the Species.  Yet, theists with little or no understanding of how evolution works continue to regurgitate it.  This is a common theme in apologetics – keep rehashing the same arguments in hopes that they will eventually stick.

2. Atheists Think Accidents Can Create Complex & Harmonious Systems & Life-forms

Again, a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of how evolution works.  Evolution does not rely on chance, but on natural selection.  These are two very different ideas.  Evolution works through a process of non-random selection of random variation.  Dale Thomas writes:

One main criticism of evolution from creationists is that it is based on random chance. That’s kind of true, there is chance involved, but it is important to know where the chance is and how it is used.  When organisms reproduce, the genetic duplication is not perfect, leading to some variation in the genes (mutations). That is where the randomness is. But then that individual grows up and interacts with the world. Those random changes in the genotype may or may lead to a small change in the body or behavior.  If this change helps the individual in its goal of surviving to adulthood and finding a mate, then those genes will be reproduced in the next generation. The point here is that the environment (which encompasses everything, from the laws of physics, the terrain, weather, climate, predators, prey, vegetation, mates, etc) will do the ‘selecting’. If the organism dies or cannot find a mate, those genes have been deemed unworthy of reproduction, but if it can, they are worthy, and will persist in the species.  It is such a beautifully simplistic, and easily understandable process.”

I also want to address a point the author brings up regarding word usage.  The author states: “The atheist thinks he is clever but yet is foolish because he cannot understand that the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  This is similar to an argument I often hear regarding the “Laws of Nature”; Creationists will claim that if there is a law then there must be a lawgiver.  This is another logical fallacy – false equivocation.  In this case, misunderstanding the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive. 

Oh, and contrary to what the author asserts, the universe is not as harmonious as he thinks, but is in fact full of chaos and unpredictability.

3. The Atheist Foolishly Thinks Science Has The Answers To Everything

Here we have your classic Straw Man fallacy – when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.  In this case making the claim that atheists think science has the answer to everything, when in fact you would be hard pressed to find an atheists (or scientist) that makes such a claim.  Most atheists are scientifically-literate and understand the limitations of science, but also its accomplishments.

The author then claims that since science deals with the physical and natural world, and God resides the supernatural realm, that “science is NOT the best means by which a person can learn or observe the nature of God” nor can it disprove His existence.  This argument presupposes that there is a supernatural realm and that his god is a part of it.  The problem with this argument is that science can test supernatural claims and has been doing so for centuries.  Most all claims of the supernatural involve forces acting upon the natural world, thus we are able to test these claims using scientific means.  As Jerry Cohen puts it: “If you invoke a form of the supernatural that claims to have real-world consequences, then those consequences necessarily fall within the ambit of science.  This means that any type of theistic faith involves hypotheses that are ‘scientific’. Dawkins was right to call the existence of God a ‘scientific hypothesis.'” 

4. Atheists Don’t Know That Atheism is a Belief System

First, let’s address the authors claim that, “Neither evolution nor the big bang can be proved by experimentation or observation.
None of these 2 theories can scientifically explain nor give observable evidence of the origin of life.” Yes they can – and have.  The evidence to support both is immeasurable.  Creationists’ continuing insistence that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, the Big Bang, or the origins of life is willfully ignorant and empirically false.   I’m not even going to waste my time putting links here, because the amount of information out there is overwhelming.  The author’s ignorance of science is not a good argument against it.

The author claims that since there is no evidence to support evolution and the Big Bang theory, atheists have to accept them on faith.  This is another example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – we have evidence-based trust. 

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

This is perhaps the best example of an Argument from Ignorance – because something cannot be completely disproved, it must therefore be true.  It’s a ridiculous argument, but it’s surprising how often it’s used.  This same argument could be used for aliens, UFOs, unicorns, fairies, vampires, or a tea pot floating around the sun.  It’s an attempt to shift the burden of proof.  The burden of proof always sits with the person making the claim, not the person refuting it.  It’s not an atheist’s job to disprove God, it’s the theist’s job to provide evidence that he exists.

We also can’t skip past the well-worn anecdote used by theists that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Therefore just because a person has never seen a physical manifestation of God, it does not mean that God does not exist.”  This is only partly true.  Absence of evidence, when evidence should be presentis evidence of absence.  Going back to the discussion on natural vs supernatural, theism makes claims of God interacting and intervening in this, the natural world, which would leave evidence.  Therefore, such claims can be tested, and thus far no evidence for supernatural intervention in the natural world has been found.  Carl Sagan brilliantly counters the “absence of evidence” argument in his story “The Dragon in My Garage”.  After asking multiple questions regarding evidence for a dragon living in a garage and coming up empty handed, this is his response:

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of ‘not proved.'” 

I’ve underlined the parts of this paragraph that I find most fitting the current discussion.  Just replace “dragon” with “God” and you can see my point.  The author is right in positing that because we don’t have evidence of theism, it does not prove empirically that god(s) do not exist.  But it does mean that until such evidence is found, it is far from foolish to discount the idea.

 

 

Two things become apparent when reading through this article.  The first is that the author has no idea what atheists actually believe.  The entire article reads like one, big Straw Man argument.  The author projects his own idea of what atheists believe (as opposed to what they actually believe) and then attempts to tear down those beliefs.  His overall view of atheists can be found in the article itself where he states, “I would personally prefer the following definition of atheism that I once saw on one of the social media platforms: Atheism is the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs, birds, trees, fish and the like.”  

Second, the author shows that he is completely ignorant of the most basic principles of evolution and how it works.  This isn’t surprising as Creationism depends on a willful dismissal of science and all the evidence that it provides, as well as how the scientific method works.  This makes the author unsuited for having any debate in which science is going to be one of the main topics.

It’s also worth noting the condescending nature that the author takes throughout the article.  His contempt for atheists comes through loud and clear throughout the article, and he takes special care to use “fool” and “foolish” as often as he can.  For all his use off scripture, he conveniently left out Matt 5:22 – “…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

As I mentioned at the beginning – these are not strong, well-thought-out arguments.  This is what Matt Dillahunty would refer to as “Kindergarten Theology”.   Lest you accuse me of going after low-hanging fruit, it should be noted that these are very common arguments used by apologists, both amateur and professional.  Hopefully this post will prove useful for anyone who comes across these types of arguments in future discussions.  Thanks for reading.

 

Is Religion a Sign of Mental Illness?

As of late, I’ve been seeing some posts on social media sites debating whether or not being religious or subscribing to a religion/faith is a sign of mental illness.  This is certainly not a new debate, but it seems that it has become more prevalent in recent years.

A quick Google search will bring up plenty of articles and blog posts on the subject.  Known atheists Bill Maher has called religion “a neurological disorder”. Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, “it is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.” Recently there was an article making the round about the American Psychological Association classifying a strong religious belief as a mental disorder.*  You can even find Facebook groups with hundreds of members claiming religion is a “mental disorder” or “mental disease”.

In my opinion, the notion of religion being a sign of mental illness is a gross oversimplification of the issue.  It shows a lack of understanding of both religion and mental illness.  The word “religion” covers such a myriad of beliefs and values that it is irresponsible and likely impossible to render such a simplistic diagnosis to the issue.

And I’m not alone.

Sincere Kirabo, who blogs on Patheos’s Atheist channel, was also getting  frustrated with atheists making such bold and unwarranted claims regarding religion.  So, he penned an email and sent it to a number of experts in a multitude of different fields.  The letter simple asked:

“Is there any merit to the assertions that religious belief is the result of either mental deficiency (retardation, stupidity, etc.) or mental illness?”

The responses that he received speak for themselves.  I encourage you to read the post for yourself, but the overwhelming opinion amongst the scholars questioned was that (1) There’s zero evidence showing religious belief is the result of mental defect or a mental illness. (2) Religiosity stems from naturally-occurring, intuitive cognitive systems. 

One of my favorite sayings is, “Strong claims require strong evidence”, and in this case, there simply isn’t sufficient (or any) evidence to warrant the claim that religion is a result of mental defect.

Some would argue that many of religions claims are fundamentally and demonstratively false, so doesn’t that mean that there is something wrong with the people who believe them?

No.  We have all been guilty of believing false claims at some point, and will likely continue to make errors in judgments throughout our lives.  That’s simply part of being human.  I myself was once a Christian and wholeheartedly believed all of it.  I didn’t (and still don’t) have a mental disorder – I was simply a product of my upbringing.

People belong to churches or religious groups for a number of reasons.  The majority belong because it’s how they were raised.  Some do it for community.  Others do it for their kids.  Many people find a sense of purpose in belonging to a congregation.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons, certainly not to the extent of labeling someone mentally ill.

That’s not to say that I’m excusing religious people for the nonsense that most of them believe.  Willful ignorance and confirmation bias are rampant in most religion, especially amongst Judaeo/Christian ones.  So much so, that some religions depend on it for survival.  And this kind of resistance to empirical truths is what makes religion so dangerous at times.  Yet, someone being fundamentally wrong about something does not make them mentally ill – it just makes them wrong.

All that being said…

I do believe that there are certain people within religious institutions who suffer varying degrees of mental illness, but it goes unnoticed because of the culture and belief systems of those particular religions.

In my many years as a Christian I’ve know people claimed to hear an audible “voice of God”.  There have been some who believe they had the “power of the Holy Spirit” in them and could heal people by simply “laying on hands”.  Many people claim to have visions.  I have often heard people claim they had been “chosen” or have some sort of divine purpose.   It’s not uncommon to hear people say they have had encounters with angels or demons.  There are many people who firmly believe in the “end times” and spend an unhealthy amount of time preparing for and searching for the “signs” of the coming apocalypse.

None of these probably sound unusual to anyone from an Evangelical background.  But these could all be considered signs of psychosis – a mental disorder characterized by a disconnection from reality. Some of the signs and symptoms of psychosis include:

  • false thoughts/delusions
  • audio/visual hallucinations
  • anxiety
  • suspiciousness
  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • delusions of grandeur

If the people mentioned above acted in the same manner in any other institution (prison, hospital, etc) or even in public, they would likely be diagnosed and treated.  But, because their delusions manifest in a way that is acceptable or even supported by their religion, no one thinks that it’s unusual.  In fact, in some circles, people who exhibit these types of behaviors are held up and recognized as having a “spiritual gift”.

Consider this: with the first example – someone claiming they can hear the voice of God – replace “God” with any other name (Elvis, aliens, long-dead grandma) and suddenly everyone thinks they’re crazy, and rightfully so.  Devout believers don’t get a free pass simply because they use “God” – it’s still delusional to hear voices that aren’t there.

There’s an inmate in the prison I work at that not only believes in demons, but claims that he can “see them in other people”.  He is heavily medicated and kept on a special ward.  I’ve known people in churches that would make the same claim, and no body bats an eye.

Is it possible that some of the people making these claims are faking it?  Are they simply going along with the crowd?  Have they found something that gets them attention and they’re exploiting it?  Yes; it is entirely possible.  But that doesn’t make it acceptable behavior and the fact that such beliefs are socially acceptable is a real indicator of how disconnected from reality that religious body is as a whole.  I also firmly believe that there are people who genuinely have a mental disorder and it goes unnoticed and untreated because of the religious culture they are a part of.

 

 

I spend a good amount of time poking holes in religion, but I try to be fair and informed about it.  Making overreaching claims does nothing to address the real issues.  As Miri Mogilevsky said in a great article on this subject, “Calling religion a mental illness keeps us from asking serious questions about what actually does attract people to religion.  [It’s] a convenient way to avoid thinking about what we could actually be doing to make the secular community more welcoming and inclusive, and what sorts of resources we are lacking that people can find in religious communities.”  

To my fellow non-believers – let’s not be found guilty of using the same Straw-man arguments that believers so often make.  Stick to what we know and what can be proven with evidence.  There’s enough of it out that that we don’t need to be resort to ridiculous theories and wild speculation.  Thanks for reading.

 

*Most people failed to check out the original story and notice that the story, and it’s site are purely satirical, but that didn’t keep some atheists from running with it.

On Fasting

Since we are in the middle of Lenten season , I thought I would share my own personal experience from a couple of years ago.  This is a write-up I did about my experience of fasting for Lent.  It was originally written for a medical newsletter, but was never published.  

“Why would anyone want to deprive themselves from food???” This is a question I have often received when the topic of fasting has come up. It’s a fair question. In this society of access and instant gratification, they idea of depriving yourself from anything seems crazy, especially something as relevant to our day to day lives as food.

There are many different reasons people fast, but traditionally it has been for health reasons and/or spiritual reasons.  Health pioneers Paul Bragg and Jack LaLanne were big proponents of fasting.   The health benefits to fasting are numerous, and the biggest being that it cleanses and detoxifies your body and gives it time to heal.  Biblically, fasting was a normal part of life for both the Jews of the Old Testament and the early church of the New Testament.  The tradition of fasting for 40 days comes from the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness before he started his ministry.  Spiritually, fasting is used as a way of denying our “selves” and putting the Spirit in control over your flesh.

I first became intrigued with fasting after watching Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, a documentary about an overweight man suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, who changes his life though juice fasting.  Shortly after, I attended a spiritual disciplines class where we learned about fasting in the context of faith.  During the class, our teacher challenged us to fast for one day out of the week.  Always being up for a challenge, I fasted for a day that week, then the week after, and the week after that. It became a routine of mine to fast for 36 hours every week.  I also did a few 3 and 7-day fasts.  I found that when I fasted, a few things happened: I got healthier, I appreciated good food more afterwards, and I grew spiritually.

The idea of going for a 40 day fast over Lent came to me after reading an article about J. Wilson, a man from Iowa who did a “beer fast”. That’s right; he went 46 days consuming nothing but beer.   While it may sound crazy, it’s actually how Franciscan monks would sustain themselves during Lent in the 1600s.   Being a home-brewer myself, I was very intrigued, and decided to do my own Lent fast.

First thing to do was to get some medical advice. (Fasting for this length of time is not something to be taken lightly and there can be negative side effects if not done properly).   After consulting with my doctor, we decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to only have beer.  We also did some blood work to get an idea of how I could best maintain my health through the fast.  I decided I would supplement my diet with raw milk for protein, beef broth, and juice along with the beer.  I would also maintain an exercise routine, comprised of floor exercises (crunches, push-ups, lunges, etc) – enough to work up a sweat, but not over-exert myself.  I would be in regular communication with my doctor to inform her on progress and any complications I was having.

The second thing to do was to start preparing mentally and spiritually.   Much like running a marathon, half of the battle is in your head.  I set a start date and began eating smaller portions in the days leading up to it.  I read blogs by others who had fasted.  I found a friend who was willing to fast with me.  I began to pray regularly about the fast, asking for God to keep me healthy, to give me strength to endure, and to use the experience to show me His will.

A traditional Catholic fast starts on Ash Wednesday and goes until Easter and you’re allowed to break fast on Sundays.  I knew for myself it would be hard to break the fast each week, so I decided to start a week later and not eat on Sundays.  I got started on an Isotonix multi-vitamin to help with my iron and B12 levels.  The “rules” for the fast were pretty simple: no solid food for 40 days, no exceptions.

On Feb 19th, I ate my last meal.  On any long term fast, the first 5-7 days are the hardest.   Your stomach starts to shrink and you have hunger pangs.  Your bowel movements become irregular.  Your breath gets funky and your tongue gets a weird coating on it.  In past fasts, I’ve suffered from headaches around day 3, but for some reason didn’t have any this time.  These are all natural and part of your body detoxifying.   The hardest part is psychological.  Eating is ingrained in the day to day routine of most people, and breaking this routine can be very challenging.

About day 10 I started to hit my stride.  My stomach had shrunk and the hunger pangs had subsided.  I had gotten in the habit of not eating.  It’s important to find things to do during those times when you would normally eat.  For me, it was devotions and reading. My daily routine generally looked like this:

  • Wake up and take my multi-vitamins. Drink 4 oz of orange juice.
  • After work, drink 16-20 oz of raw milk, sometimes mixed with Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
  • Around dinnertime, I would either have a glass of beef broth or a beer.
  • Shortly before bed, drink a cup hot cocoa made with raw milk.

With fasting in mind, I had brewed several high-calorie beers a couple months prior.  It turned out that I didn’t drink near as much of it as I had originally thought.  There were several reasons for this.  The first was just practicality. The guy I had read about who did the beer fast was able to drink at work and could ride his bike most places.  Neither of these applied to me.  The other reason was that with nothing in my stomach, after only a few of these rich beers, I would start to feel sick.

Around the halfway point of the fast I hit what marathon runners often refer to as “The Wall.”  The momentum was gone, the romance of the whole experience had passed, and I was sick of it.  I was sick of not being able to enjoy food, being tempted to eat all the time, and drinking the same things every day.  I knew that I still had a long way to go, which made it even more difficult.  After a lot of purposeful prayer, this stage passed, and I gained a second wind.

People often ask what the hardest part of fasting is.  Without a doubt, it is the craving to eat – to taste something, to bite into and chew something.  It’s not a matter of being physically hungry.  As I mentioned earlier, the hunger pangs usually subside after a week or two, but the temptation and desire to eat never goes away.  It was hard making dinner for my kids and not being able to eat it. Weekends were the toughest because every time I opened the fridge to get something to drink, I had all of that food staring at me.  My wife would cook dinner and the whole house would smell like it. (And then she would eat it in front of me!) We had three dinner parties during this time, and those were really hard.

Other than the constant desire to eat, I actually felt really good during the fast.  After the initial week of the body adjusting, I had no negative side effects to the fasting.  I had plenty of energy and still worked out 3-4 times a week. I was very alert and cognitive.  I never experienced the “foggy” feeling some people get when they go without food.   Other then when I hit “The Wall” I maintained a positive attitude throughout the duration of the fast.   Probably the biggest thing I noticed during the fast was how well I slept.  I can’t emphasize enough how good I slept every night.  It was the best sleep I can ever remember having.   I would fall asleep within 5-10 minutes of going to bed, and I wouldn’t wake up once until my alarm went off the next morning.

As Easter grew closer I became exited to eat again.  I started planning what I was going to eat in the week following.   Although I was ready for it to be done, I felt that I could keep going if I wanted to.  I had maintained a habit of not eating for so long that with no negative side effects, I probably have gone on much longer.

I was too busy Easter morning with church activities to get to enjoy a real meal, but when I got home, my wife made one of her amazing salads.  One of the best salads I’ve ever had.  The next couple days I stuck to mainly fruits, vegetables and nuts, keeping my portions small.  I didn’t get sick at all, only minor stomach and bowel issues, as my body got used to food again, which passed after 2-3 days.  It was really good to be eating again.  As I’ve experienced in previous fasts, I found a new appreciation for good, healthy food.

I went for a checkup with my doctor after the fast to see how I had fared physically.  I had lost 26 lbs.  My blood pressure had improved. Blood test showed that my LDL went from 104 to 66, my Triglycerides went from 148 to 65, and my HDL went from 47 to 56. Prior to the fast, my tests had shown that I was deficient in iron, and B12.  After the fast, both of these had improved remarkably because of the vitamins and bone broth.  Contrary to the myth that fasting is unhealthy for you, I came out of my fast healthier then I was before it.

More importantly then how I did physically during my fast was how I did spiritually.  I was intentional with my fast and had specific things that I prayed about daily and sought to learn.  Not eating freed up a considerable amount of time each day that I devoted towards spending time with God.   It’s hard to put into words how fruitful this time was for me spiritually, but I can say that I grew more in my relationship and understanding with God in these 40 days then the previous 6 months.  I now have a renewed sense of purpose and direction in my life.

So, am I glad I did it?  Absolutely!  The spiritual benefits alone were worth it.  The physical benefits were just icing on the cake.  Having done this, I have a better appreciation for eating healthy and plan on changing my eating habits to maintain my heath.  Would I do it again? Yes.   Most likely I will be doing one again within the next year.  I’m thinking of doing a Daniel Fast next time, which consists of only eating fruits and vegetables and only drinking water.  I’m very happy to have done something of this magnitude and being able to share the journey with others.

This was written a couple of years ago and was right at the start of my de-conversion, so I was in a very different place mentally.  Reading through it again, I’m almost embarrassed by some of it, but that’s where I was at the time.  That whole experience is part of my journey.  Ironically, the spiritual disciplines classes I mentioned that got me into fasting, reading the Bible more, and taking a serious look at faith, is also what would eventually lead me out of Christianity.  

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

For anyone who has ever served on a jury or watched a lot of Law & Order, you know how important the burden of proof is for the prosecution.  They must prove to the jury using evidence and testimony that the facts being presented could not have happened any other way.  The defense’s job to present conflicting evidence and instill doubt the jury’s mind.  It’s not a perfect institution, but I do think it’s a good one.  Being someone who is pretty logical and is skeptical by nature, it definitely resonates with me.

I use this same system in dealing with matters of faith and theology.  I spoke in my last post about deconstructing all of my previously help beliefs and looking at them anew.   When deciding what things should stay, go, or be changed, I put them through a sort of “trial” in my head.  I’d go searching for evidence and ask myself:  How do these ideas stack up against modern thinking?  Can they be proven using science, history, or reason?  Is this helpful or harmful to myself or others?  If the evidence didn’t mount up, if there was sufficient doubt as to the authenticity or authority of any claim; out it does.  The litmus test for any religious claim should be: could I explain this idea or concept to a non-religious person in a way that would makes rational sense?  

This is not to say that things must be proven to be absolute, only that you can be reasonably sure that it is true.  I heard a lawyer explain reasonable doubt as doubt that you act on.  For example, if I leave my house and have a reasonable doubt that I forgot to lock the doors, I will turn around, go back and check.  An unreasonable  doubt would be doubting that Japan really exists just because I haven’t been there personally.

While most would probably agree with my overall assessment, when one takes a look at the long-list of “truths” that are claimed as irrefutable facts by many people of faith, you will quickly see that the burden of proof is not met.  Christians have a whole laundry list of claims that would never hold up in a modern trial.

Creationism is perfect example.  Creationism is the belief, based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, was created in 7 days, and Adam and Eve were two historical figures who birthed all of humanity.  I simply cannot get behind any claim that this story is anything but a mythological story told by an ancient civilization that predates modern science by at least 3,000 years.  There is zero scientific evidence to support Creationism.  Evolution, on the other hand, is a nearly undisputed fact in all science fields across the globe, and has decades worth of scientific research to support it.  On the logical side, the idea of talking snakes, angels with fiery swords, and all of civilization being decedents of two people (incest, anyone?) is just too much to be taken as fact.

Another long-held assertion of the Christian faith is virgin birth of Jesus.  The Apostles Creed states it as Jesus being “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  The idea of a virgin conception contradicts everything we now know about biology, genetics, and human reproduction.  The Bible doesn’t present a solid case for the stories validity either.  The miraculous birth is not recorded in the earliest gospel, Mark, nor does Paul ever mention it.  In fact, Paul refers to Jesus as being “born of a women” (Gal 4:4) and as a “descendant from David according to the flesh”  (Rom 1:3).  The virgin birth narrative first appears in the book of Matthew, where the author quotes Isaiah 7:14,  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).   Many scholars believe the word “virgin” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word meaning “young women”.  It is also important to note that the verse in Isaiah is taken from a narrative in which God promises a sign to the king of Judah, pledging that his nation would not fall to the enemies(Syria and Judah) that were surrounding Jerusalem in the eighth century BC.  It is not a prophecy about the coming of Jesus some 800 years in the future.  The Gospel of John also makes no reference to the virgin birth story, but refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph (1:45, 6:42).  Does all of this evidence conclusively proof  that the virgin birth of Jesus never happened?  No.  But it certainly casts a reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the story.

Faced with these arguments, people are quick to say, “But what about what it says in the Bible?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?”  My issue is not with what the Bible says, but with how people understand and interpret it.   When the Bible is used as a scientific text book, it’s going to get misconstrued.  When parts of the Bible that were meant to be read allegorically or metaphorically are read literally, you’re going to run into problems.  When instructions for churches written 2,000 years ago are treated as a rule book for modern day living, things get ugly.

“You just need to have faith!” I can here people crying.  This seems to be the go-to declaration anytime Christians run into question that can’t be answered logically.   What some would call faith, I would call blind obedience.  Many long-standing traditions are still around, not because they have proven to be true, but because of people’s blind devotion to upholding them.  Faith should never be absent of reason.   Hebrews 11:1 say that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Notice that it says “not seen,” but doesn’t say “not known.”  Just because I haven’t seen Japan doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s there.

A better way to understand faith is in the context of a marriage.  I have total faith in my wife.  I have never doubted my wife’s devotion or loyalty to me and our marriage.  But, my faith in her is not something I simply chose to believe or excepted without warrant.  My faith in her is based on her character, her integrity, and her moral convictions.  It is based on the trust that we developed over the seven years we’ve been together.  Does this mean that I can be 100% certain that she will never be unfaithful to me?  No.  We are all human and make mistakes.  But I have no reasonable doubt as to her devotion.  What doubts I may have because of my own insecurities do not warrant being acted on.

What I don’t doubt, though, is Jesus.  Historically speaking, along with the four gospels in the Bible, there are some 20 gospels that account the life of Jesus.  Historical writers from the 1st century, such as Josephus, also make mention of Jesus.  The movement that was started by Jesus is well documented.  This movement didn’t start from nothing, someone had to influence these people in such a way that they were willing to face hardships and persecution in order to follow his ways.  Jesus is represented in nearly every major religion on earth and is well respected even among unbelievers.  While some have argued over Jesus’s earthly existence, his teachings have stood the test of time.  Men such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have made revolutionary changes in their countries by following the philosophies of Jesus on non-violent resistance.  Jesus and his teachings have a good track record and I haven’t found a better example of how to life a meaningful, fulfilling life.

I encourage everyone to take stock of their faith and their belief system.  Unpack it all, run it through a trial, and see how it stack up against logic and facts of our modern world view.  See if it’s worth hanging on to, and don’t be afraid to let it go if it’s found faulty.   I can tell you from personal experience that shedding all the baggage of my earlier faith life has given me so much freedom and peace.  No longer do faith and reason have to be disconnected.

 

 

Why I Write

I used to see friends and acquaintances posting their latest blog entries on Facebook and think to myself, “Do these people really think anyone gives a shit about their life?”  Ironic, that here I am now, starting my blog.  Truthfully, I never considered starting a blog because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.  I’m too private about my family to blog about my kids, none of my hobbies I deem worthy of a literary narrative, and while the greatness of beer is truly worthy of proclamation from the rooftops, there are far too many already doing so.

Over the last couple years I have found myself on what Brennan Manning refers to as a “second journey;”  a spiritual and intellectual journey of rediscovering ones faith.  This journey has been a time of taking every  idea or belief I’ve ever had regarding God, faith, the Bible, Jesus, and how to live in this world, deconstructing it all, and starting over from scratch.  It has been on this journey that I have found my “voice” and have ideas I feel are worth expressing.   So, why bother taking these ideas into the public realm?

1) It’s cheaper then therapy

Writing is therapeutic.  I’ve got a lot of shit rolling around in my brain and I need a place to dump it all out from time to time.  It’s not uncommon for my thoughts on faith to be the thing that keeps me up late at night and be the first thing I’m dwelling on when I wake up in the morning.   This journey of mine has been the source of much anxiety and stress in my life.  Perhaps journaling will help alleviate some of that.  And hopefully my poor wife will be spared from long tirades about how F. Graham is an antichrist or how the Baha’i faith is tempting except for the whole “no alcohol” policy.

2) This will be me “coming out” about my faith

My pastor often says that when dealing with doubt it’s best to face it head on and do what’s necessary to find the answers.  I’ve done that myself, but many of the answers I’ve found aren’t the ones that fit into the dogmas of Evangelical Christianity.  Living in the midwest is not conducive to free thought or expression.  There is unspoken expectation withing the religious community of upholding the status-quo, towing the party line,  and defending the man-made belief system that defines conservative, right-wing Christianity.  These beliefs are the line-in-the-sand that Evangelicals draw to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s “saved” and who’s not.

Over the last few years I’ve been finding myself increasingly falling  on the wrong side of the line.  Being one who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I’m comfortable with being on the path less traveled, but it’s not in my nature to pretend to be someone I’m not.  So, this blog will be me coming clean on who I really am and what I believe.  It’s time to stop pretending, to stop going along just to get along.  It’s time to start speaking out a little more, regardless of what others may say or think.

3) Practice makes perfect

I have aspirations of writing a book someday about everything I’ve learned regarding the whole debate of homosexuality and the Bible.  I figure a blog will help me sharpen up my writing skills a bit before I set off on that endeavor.

4) That others might feel alone

There was a time when I felt that I was going crazy and that I must be the only one out there who feels the way I do.  I used to wonder, “Am I the only one who sees how f***ed up the Church has become?”  Christianity was leaving a bad taste in my mouth and I was wanting nothing to do with it.    If what I was seeing was the mark of a “True Christian”, then count me out.  But then I started coming across people on the internet who were writing these awesome blogs that spoke to me.   I found a small, underground group of revolutionaries who were asking all the same questions I was and who had all the same doubts I did.   Suddenly, I no longer felt alone or crazy.  For the first time, I felt hope.  Hope that things can be different,  that there’s a better way out there.  These bloggers were on the same journey I was, and suddenly the path didn’t seem so small.  If it wasn’t for these bloggers on the internet, I would have walked away from my faith a long time ago.

I make no pretense that I write this blog for for anything but selfish reasons, but if it can help someone out there not feel alone, not feel like they’re going crazy; all the better.  I have no intentions of trying to change peoples’ minds, but hopefully it will give people something to think about, maybe expand their horizons a little.

So, there you have it.  Hope some of you will want to come along for the ride.  I have no doubt that I’ll ruffle some feathers and kick a few sacred cows along the way, but just maybe a few of you out there will who will say, “This guy is saying all the things I’ve been to scared to!”