Tag Archives: Neil Carter

Three Years In – Some Thoughts

Last month marked the three year anniversary of this blog.  What started as a platform for “coming out” as a progressive Christian to my largely Evangelical friends and acquaintances, soon became the logbook of my journey out of religion.  It was never my intention to lose my religion, in fact I actively fought against it, but the desire to have my beliefs line up with reality eventually won out in the end.

It’s interesting to look back at my early posts and see the gradual transition from faith to reason.  I started off being an outspoken advocate for the teachings and life of Jesus, social justice, and progressive Christian values.  My frustrations with organized religion and self-reflection can be seen in my post where I lament, “It’s a long, messy road when you start picking through your faith, when you start dissecting everything you’ve been taught and believed.”  This frustration soon lead to my break from the Church.   Not long after, I came out publicly as a non-believer, denounced Christianity and its teachings.  I dabbled briefly in mysticism, but science and reason eventually prevailed.

Since that first year, my blog has focused mostly on science, critical thinking skills, counter-apologetics, and calling out bullshit when I see it.  As an atheist living in the Midwest, I feel a certain responsibility to speak out for other non-believers, letting them see that it’s OK to be an open and outspoken secularist.

One of the blogs that made an impact on me when I was de-converting was Neil Carter’s “Godless in Dixie“.  As a former pastor-turned-atheist living in the Bible Belt, he wrote from a place that I could relate to.  He was also kind enough to answer my emails and provide encouragement.  My hope is that Second Journeys can provide that for someone else.

Now in my third year of writing, I’ve been once again doing some self-reflection.  Perhaps it’s time to make some changes in the focus of my writing and my overall mindset in general?

The catalyst for this thinking came from reading James A. Lindsay’s Everybody is Wrong About God.  The book is a “call to action to address people’s psychological and social motives for a belief in God, rather than debate the existence of God.”  A good summary of the book would be, “The debate about God has long been settled, atheism has won out, so now what?”  Lindsay’s book challenged my thinking on a number of points and made me reconsider my approach to talking about religion.  I want to hash through some of these points here.

Lindsay argues that apologists have been unable to provide any evidence for the existence of God, therefore theism is dead.  As such, atheism should also go away, as it has no purpose of meaning anymore: “By dwelling on atheism, we dwell on the debate, and by dwelling on the debate, we perpetuate its counterpoint, theism, as something debate-worthy instead of something that already lost. […] It’s time to move on, and the path we should follow is to stop pretending that theism deserves serious consideration.”

When Bill Nye debated Ken Ham a couple of years ago, many atheists and scientists were upset at Nye for giving Ham a platform to promote his pseudoscience.  They felt that it only helped validate his position and did little in the way of changing opinions.  I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and to the idea of debating theists in general.  By engaging in debates over topics where there is no longer a debate to be had, are we really accomplishing anything other then giving credence to their views? 

Lindsay points out that debating can have the opposite effect of what is desired – people often becoming even more  entrenched in their views when faced with contradicting information.  Unfortunately, facts and evidence don’t carry the weight that they should with many people.  In religion, devout believers have mastered a myriad of tricks and techniques to avoid critical thinking and make their beliefs impossible to falsify.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of apologetics, the so-called  “defense of the Christian faith”.  I’ve talked about apologetics failures before, but Lindsay boils the typical apologetic arguments down to this simple observation, “All these people are saying is that they lack an explanation for these admittedly complex and mysterious phenomena and don’t like the resulting feeling of psychological discomfort enough to pretend they have one in a myth called ‘God'”.

Lindsay observes that at this point in history, apologetics has become a very redundant and foolish endeavor.  Using Sam Harris’s metaphor of religion providing comfort to people the same way that believing there is a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in one’s back yard might provide comfort, “Taking this metaphor at face value, if religion is believing that there’s a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in one’s yard, theology is arguing over the brand of the refrigerator.”

So what does this mean for atheists and those like myself?  For one, it means being very selective about who we choose to have debates  (discussions) with regarding theism (or creationism, climate change, etc.).  While some people may be in a place where they are open to hearing new information and are genuinely curious, most have no intentions of changing their pre-determined stance.  This can be tricky to do, especially if you’re someone like me, who enjoys a good debate.  Lindsay points out that, “Because nonbelievers are branded with this unfortunate word (atheist), they are suddenly expected to defend a lack of belief, a burden that isn’t there’s and yet they routinely accept for themselves. […] Part of the nature of this trap is that it enables religious people to misunderstand atheism as a thing like a religion, which they reliably do.”  

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make efforts to correct false information and dispel myths when we encounter them.  It simply means not getting drawn into the futile debates, or “lose ourselves in the weeds” as Lindsay says.  Don’t give validity to empirically false ideas by engaging in debates with people unable to handle critique or process contradicting information; i.e. people who suffer from cognitive dissonance.  Be honest. Be direct. Be unapologetic.  State the facts, sight your sources, and move on.  If someone counters, demand evidence and be open and willing to listen if they provide any.  This is not an attempt to shut down discussions in any sort of forceful way, but rather to “facilitate productive conversations that move us forward.”

Equally important, however, is being able to also admit when you don’t have a solid answer.  There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” and it’s certainly preferable to false certainty.  As Lindsay states, “Honest doubt and frank ignorance are vastly superior to pretending to know or believing for the sake of believing, so far as intellectual virtues go”.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge and understand that peoples’ beliefs in God come from somewhere. “‘God’ means something when people say it, and that something is related to their attempts to meet psychological and social needs.  These needs manifest primarily in three ways: attributional, for a sense of control, and regarding sociality.  When people talk about their ‘God’, they are talking about how they make sense of ideas that allow them to meet or ignore these needs, and they are telling is that they do not really know how to meet them.”   People of faith are not stupid, delusional, or mentally ill – they simply have wrong information about the world we live in.  Wrong information can be corrected.  With this in mind, it is important to not simply tear down false ideas, but to also build up correct ones.

Above, Lindsay points out three main needs that religion provides for people, and we need to be prepared to help meet those needs post-theism.  If we are going to debunk supernatural claims about the world, we need to be providing natural explanations (attributional).  We need to help people understand that the world can be a scary place, but you are ultimately in charge of your life (control).  Alternatives when it comes to the social benefits that church once offered also need to be met (sociality).  There’s no denying that churches often do community really well.  Non-believers are lacking in this department and we need to be better at providing social interactions for people looking to get out of religion.

So what does all this mean for myself and for Second Journeys?  Honestly, I’m not quite sure!  Just as my personal journey out of faith (and this blog) evolved over time, I’m sure it will continue to evolve over time, just in a different direction.

It will likely mean spending less time on counter-apologetics, both on this blog, on social media, and in person.  Theists aren’t coming up with new arguments for the existence of God, just repackaging and rehashing the same old ones anyways.  I plan on continuing my “Mythbusters” series and calling out false information and stereotypes.  I will also continue to promote critical thinking skills and provide tools and resources.  A helpful addition may be giving people a glimpse of life on the other side of religion, providing resources, and maybe working on some sort of on-line community for people.  This will be as much for my benefit as anyone else.

I think Lindsay is right that it is time for us to move forward into a “post-theist” society, similar to what Scandinavian countries have done.  “The next rational step is to stop treating the idea of ‘theism’ seriously at all.  The war of ideas is over.  The goal is not to create an atheist society so much as to create one that has left the idea of ‘God’ behind in its superstitious past.”  It’s time to move past the atheism/theism debate and start constructing new, healthier, evidence-based world views and trying to solve real world problems.  This doesn’t mean shying away from using the term “atheist”, but simply acknowledging that you don’t believe in a god and moving on to more important matters.

Thanks for reading.












Mythbusters: De-conversion (Pt 2)

This is going to be an extension of a previous post I wrote addressing some of the common misunderstandings and stereotypes people have about those who leave religion.  The first post was more personal in nature, but this one is going to be a bit more universal and is going to address some of the common reactions one gets from Christians when they de-convert.

This post came about because a good friend of mine “came out” as an atheist on Facebook.  Some people were supportive, but like most people here in the Midwest, a good percentage his friends and acquaintances are Christian.  Their reactions to his decision were as predictable and infuriating as one can expect, and that is what we will be discussing here

Before we get into it, I want to talk about a common theme one sees with Christians* when faced with an alternate view point.  It’s what is known as the false-consensus effect: a cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others (i.e., that others also think the same way that they do). This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist; a “false consensus”.

Captain Cassidy gets even more specific with this bias and how it relates to Christianity and their beliefs regarding atheists.  She likes to call it “The Law of Conservation of Worship” – for every action and belief Christians hold, their enemies and sales targets must also have an equal and opposite reactionary action and belief.  Spiritual practices are neither created nor destroyed; as beliefs change, they simply transfer to another method of expression.

We’ll see this theme of false-consensus popping up throughout these common myths, so I thought we’d get it out of way before we got started.  So let’s get into some of the common things one hears when they come out as an atheist:

“This is just a phase /you’ll be back”

I’ve heard parents use this same phrase when their kids come out to them as gay.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction caused by cognitive dissonance sent into overload.  It’s simple denial – some people just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that other people can leave the religion they hold in such high regard.  Regardless of what denomination you belong to, when you go to church you are lead to believe that Christianity is the “One True Religion” and God/Jesus are supposed to be your #1 priority.  To see someone not only walk away from that, but denounce it as false comes as a big blow to some.  Rather then accept it, they would rather just hope that it isn’t really true.

Let’s clear things up a bit.  No one becomes an atheist overnight.  It is not a decision one takes lightly and is typically the cumulative result of months, if not years, of careful and deliberate research and thought.  It is not “just a phase” and I’ve never met anyone who has gone through the de-conversion process only to go back to religion.  Once you find out that religion is demonstrably false, there is little chance you are going to decide one day that it is “true” and go back to it.  Those of us who have broken rank from Christianity know too much about its history and where it came from, how fallible the Bible really is, and how useless and counter-productive Christianity’s culture and practices are.  Why would we go back to that?

“It’s religion you have a problem with, not God”

This one plays out in a number of ways.  People either assume that you have been personally hurt by the Church or have become fed up with the negative and harmful behavior of some Christians.

While Christianity’s homophobia, misogyny, nationalism, willful ignorance, and constant struggle for political power is certainly what drives many down the path towards reason, it is not what makes someone an atheist.  Similar to a point I’ve brought up before, it’s not that an atheist has a problem with God – it’s that they don’t believe in God.  Period.  

This is a good example of false consensus – Christians naturally assume that everyone believes in God in some way, so if someone claims to be an atheist, then organized religion must be what they really don’t believe in because they couldn’t possibly not believe in God.  Right?  Wrong.

It is possible to not believe in any god/deity/higher power and tens of millions all over the world do just that.  In the same way that children grow out of believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, millions of people have grown out of believing in god(s).  I know that comparing God to the Tooth Fairy may be offensive to some, but you need to understand that atheists don’t see any difference – to them, they are both mythological beings that exist only in peoples’ minds.

“Satan is trying to deceive you”

It’s still surprising to me how often I see this one come up.  People who use this line of reasoning fail to understand that atheists don’t believe in any supernatural deities.  This includes God, Satan, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Thor, etc.  Arguing that one mythological being is trying to sway us from believing in another mythological being is illogical and ineffective to say the least.

I can already hear people saying, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled…”  Stop.  Just stop.  We’ve all seen The Usual Suspects.  It doesn’t help your case.  Quoting a fictional movie to make a case for you fictional deities isn’t a good tactic.

“The Bible says…”

For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority and their first, if not only, source of “truth”.  When faced with conflict it seems all to natural for them to turn to it for help.  When faced with the cognitive dissonance of one leaving their ranks, it’s natural for them to start quoting Bible verses as if they have some magical powers.

I saw a meme once that said, “The road to atheism is littered with Bibles read cover to cover”.  An appropriate statement.  For most atheists, the road out of religion starts with a thorough reading of the Bible, and what we discover is that it is an entirely man-made book, filled with all the prejudices, biases, and ignorance one would expect from a text written by an ancient people.  If someone has come to the conclusion that there is no god, it’s a safe bet that belief in the accuracy and authority of the Bible went away a long time again.  Therefore, quoting scripture is of no significance to us.  You might as well be quoting the Koran or Lord of the Rings; it really makes no difference.

To quote Neil Carter from the article I linked above: “When talking with Christian friends online, I often find that they can’t help citing a Bible verse as their proof–text in order to reinforce a point they are making, as if that is supposed to mean something to me.  For non-believers with backgrounds like mine, not only does the citation not prove anything but virtually any passage you select will be so familiar to us that we are weary of hearing it cited for the ten-thousandth time, probably arguing the exact same point, perhaps even in exactly the same way as every time before.  It’s become like a bad joke among ex-Christians how slavishly it seems people are imitating one another without showing the slightest self-awareness of how badly they’re doing it.”

“You have faith too”

This one usually presents itself something like this, “You need faith to believe in science the same as you do God.”  This is a very common argument among theists, more specifically theists who have no idea how science works.  I addressed this argument once before, but it’s worth repeating here.  Having “faith” in science is not the same as having faith in the religious sense.  This is 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 – they have evidence-based trust.  

This is another example of a false consensus.  Those who hold to their religious claims on faith naturally assume that everyone’s worldviews are shaped this way.  But that is not the case with atheists and skeptics – our world view is shaped by empirically evidence, logic and reason, not simply believing in something because we want it to be true.

Another way that I see this argument worded is the accusation that everyone worships something, therefore atheists must also worship something.  Again – false consensus.  No, not everyone worships something.  I know this is commonly taught in Christian culture, I heard it said more times then I could remember, but it’s simply not true.  The definition of worship (as a verb) is: “to show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.”  You can’t show reverence and adoration for something you don’t believe in.

“Don’t you worry about the afterlife?”

No.  No we don’t.  Because there is no evidence that there is an afterlife.  As far as we know, this life is the only one we get.  Once we die, that’s it.  I realize that the belief in an afterlife is common to all religions, and even with some people who aren’t religious, but that doesn’t make it any more true.

This one comes up both subtly-and not so subtly- in the form of threats of hell.  It’s exactly why the myth of hell was invented – to keep people in line and keep them from straying from the pack.  It’s inevitable that when someone leaves religion there’s going to be that one (or many) friend or relative that is going to let them know in no uncertain terms that they are headed for hell.  Threatening someone with a mythological place for not believing in a mythological god is not only ineffective, but only affirms the fear-based and controlling nature of religion that were likely instrumental in our departure.

A more reasonable question that some propose is if it makes us sad to know that this life is all there is.  Sure it does.  We all want to spend as much time as we can enjoying this life and spending time with the ones we love.  Which is exactly why we spend our time worrying about this life instead of worrying about the next.  Ricky Gervais was presented with this same question in an interview and I thought his response was spot on:

“There’s this strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for, it’s the opposite – we don’t have anything to die for.  We have everything to live for.”

I would love to be wrong about this.  I would love to die someday and wake up again in some other dimension or existence.  That would be a pleasant surprise.  But I’m going to hedge my bets on what we thus far know to be true about death, rather than what we wish to be true.

There’s a common myth that atheism is just another option in the game of “Choose Your Own Religion”, but it’s not – we’ve opted out of the game all together.  We don’t play by the same rules as theists.  Yet, many can’t seem to grasp this fact, desperately insisting that we really do believe in God/the supernatural/faith on some level.  This is their way of trying to rationalize their own belief system to themselves.  By claiming that we also have faith or believe in the afterlife, it makes it appear that atheists have simply made a lateral move from one belief system to another, when in reality we’ve jettisoned the whole construct.  As Captain Cassidy puts it:

“What they’re really trying to do is make their own beliefs sound a little less wacky and foolish – and more believable and relatable. There are several reasons why they do it – sometimes they just want to make themselves feel less wacky and foolish despite believing some wacky and foolish things, or they want to signal and affirm their membership in their group…

When Christians misrepresent our lives, experiences, and worldview in order to make us sound more like themselves, that’s a desperate attempt to create a common ground where (they hope) Christianity’s claims might start sounding a little bit more plausible.  

They think that tearing down our worldview will make us forget that they aren’t actually offering any evidence that their claims are true. They’re not giving us any good reason to believe in their god’s existence. They’re just trying to make us think that we’re already just as irrational and silly as they are, only in different ways, in the wild hopes that we will think it wouldn’t be quite so weird to consider their claims.”

That last paragraph really addresses why theists try to paint atheism the way they do.  In lieu of actual evidence for their truth-claims they resort to Straw-Man arguments in an attempt to deem atheism no better then their own faith system.  Hopefully I’ve pointed out the major differences between the stereotypes some Christians have regarding atheists and how to counter them.  Thanks for reading.

*NOTE:  While writing this, the lead singer of the Christian rock band, Order of Elijah, came out as an atheist.  The response was much like what I’ve described here – while many were supportive, others had plenty to say about it.  Captain Cassidy wrote a rebuttal to the criticisms that are going around that is well worth the read.  

*I mention Christians here because of how it pertains to the discussed subject, but false consensus can be found among any large group of people that share a common identity, whether it’s religious, political, national, or otherwise. 



What We Learned About Conservative Christians Last Week

On June 26, the Supreme Court made history by handing down the decision that it was unconstitutional for same-sex couples to be denied the right to marry.  The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, set off a wave of jubilation from not only the LGBT community, but also from its allies and those who believe in justice and equality.  Predictably though, it also set off a tsunami off bitterness, anger, paranoia, and fear-mongering from conservatives.  To say that conservatives were sore losers would be the understatement of the year.  With the spotlight on America and its reaction to the decision, there are several things that we’ve  learned about conservative Christians in the week following.

They Don’t Really Trust Their God

With all the lip-service Christians give to God being in control, for all the platitudes of Christ being their solid rock, for all the hype about just needing to “trust in God” – all that goes right out the window when things don’t go their way.  The amount of petrifying fear displayed by some Christians was astounding enough, but the fear-mongering and propaganda by leaders and news sights was truly over the top.  While the rest of us were celebrating a great victory for social justice, conservatives were wringing their hands, and loudly proclaiming that the proverbial sky was falling .  “Pastors  will be forced to perform gay marriages!”, “Businesses will be forced to shut down!”, “Pedophile marriages is the next step”, “Christians are going to be put in jail”, “Gays are going to feed Christians to the lions!”, “Gays are going to force Christians to like anal sex!”(no, I didn’t make that last one up) – there was seemingly no bottom to the depths some were willing to stoop to whip fellow believers into a frenzy.

What all this says to the outside world is simple – Christians don’t really trust their God.  Fear ≠ Trust.  What this really shows is that they don’t put their trust in God, but rather in the government, in Republicans, and in their own position of privilege that they’ve held for so long.

And when these idols let them down, when things don’t go their way, when their security at the top was shifted – they panicked.   As John Pavlovitz put it “With all the fatalistic sky is falling rhetoric and raw-throated ‘The End is Near’ prognostications, what so many Christians did for the watching world was inadvertently paint the image of a God who is hopelessly on the ropes; not all-powerful, not all-knowing, not at all able to withstand the slightest changes in our world. We completely neutered God by horribly overstating the circumstances and crying wolf yet again.”

It’s ironic that the most common command in the Bible is “fear not”.  In fact, it’s used over a hundred times in scripture.  Perhaps some some people were too busy proof-texting a few verses about homosexuality to notice them.

They Really Don’t Want to Serve the Gay Community

Jesus taught his followers –

“If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” – Matt 5:40-42

Paul echoed this statement by telling the Church –

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…”  Rom 12:20, also found in Prov 25:21

These verses are some of the many verses certain “Bible-believing” Christians choose to ignore in favor of their own world-view.  Throughout last week, one of the most common concerns I heard from Christians was that now they might be forced to serve a same-sex marriage in some way – bake a cake, take photographs, make a dress, officiate the service, whatever.  Putting aside the legal improbability of that happening (more on this later), is serving two people wanting to get married really too much to ask?  Is that really the hill you want to die on?  I can’t find a single exception to either Jesus or Paul’s commands listed above.  It would appear that “religious freedom” trumps anything the Bible has to say on the matter.  I can’t think of a more explicit sign of someone’s bigotry towards another human being than their refusal to take someone’s money in a commercial exchange for goods or services.

They Don’t Love LGBT’s – At All

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” has long been the go-to stance for many Christians whenever the issue of homosexuality was brought up.  But, like politicians, Christians have become notorious for talking out both sides of their mouth.  For years now, some Christians have been claiming that homosexuality is a grievous sin against God, treated LGBTs as social pariahs,  have denied same-sex couples the right to marry, have fought against anti-discrimination laws, have been champions of “conversion therapy” and “pray the gay away” counseling, and have considered homosexuality to be one of the biggest threat to this country.

Yet, they claim to love gay people.

But, all this talk of “love” has fooled no one but themselves.  Good intentions and fake Jesus-smiles can only hide one’s disdain and contempt for another for so long.  Every now and then the curtain gets pulled away, and we get a glimpse of ugliness on the other side.   Like the World Vision controversy of last year, Evangelicals’ true colors were shown this past week with the scathing response to the SCOTUS decision.  The amounts of vile, de-humanizing remarks towards LGBTs from their camp seemed to know no bounds.  

They Have a Major Persecution Complex

This has long been known by those outside of the Christian ranks, but it’s as if the dial was turned up to full power this past week.  Mark Cabbo put it quite well –

The problem with being privileged your whole life is that [after] you have had that privilege for so long, equality starts to look like oppression.

And that’s precisely what many Christians think is happening  – they are being oppressed.  What they fail to understand is that not getting to discriminate against someone does not mean that you’re being discriminated against.  Many states legalized same-sex marriage years ago, and other countries, like Canada have had marriage equality for over a decade.  And, none of them have seen any increase in discrimination or legal actions of any kind towards pastors or churches.   In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to support claims that this decisions will have any legal ramifications on religious institutions.  Yet,  what I keep hearing from both leaders and lay people alike is that it’s coming – Christian persecution is going to come any day now!

What we’re seeing here is a classic case of psychological projection a defense mechanism involving the projecting of undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings.  Conservatives are quick to assume that they will be persecuted for their beliefs- because that is the very thing they have been doing towards LGBTs for years, but will never admit to it.

I have no doubt that public perception towards anti-gay churches and individuals will change, but that is far from persecution – that’s social progress.

(For more on Christian’s persecution complex, check out RHE excellent article

They Have No Idea How the Judicial System Works

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain to people how the Supreme Court works or the what the differences between for-profit and religious institutions are…

Starting with the Supreme Court of America (SCOTUS), one complaint that I heard extensively was something along lines of, “It’s not right that decisions affecting our country can be made by 5 un-elected individuals!”  First off, SCOTUS is comprised of 9 people, not 5.  Secondly, that’s precisely what SCOTUS does – make decisions involving federal laws.  And it has been has been doing this for quite sometime now, in fact, since our country was founded.   For those who weren’t paying attention in US Govt class back in high school, you can read up on the role of SCOTUS here.    And, contrary to what some ignorant presidential candidates would like to think, the SCOTUS ruling must be upheld by all states, as much as some would like to think they can ignore it.

By far the most common argument I heard in wake of the decision was that now pastors and churches were going to be forced to perform same-sex marriage.  This comes in wake of the now famous incident involving the bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa,  that refused to bake a cake for a same sex-couple, and was ordered to pay $135k in damages.  These Bigots for Jesus, Aaron and Melissa Klein, are now being held up as a martyrs by conservatives, and are prominent activists in the anti-gay movement .  For them, this indecent is a shining example of the “rampant persecution of Christians in America.”  What most fail to realize, is that the Kleins were not facing legal trouble for their ‘strongly-held religious beliefs’, but because they broke the law, in this case, an Oregon anti-discrimination law.  A law that she agreed to abide by when they opened a for profit business.  You see, there is a big difference between a for-profit business and a religious institution.

Religious institutions have long been protected by the First Amendment and are exempt from many state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.  So, how will this change now that the SCOTUS ruling has been handed down?

It won’t.  At all.

Neil Carter sums it up as follows:

“Thanks to the same First Amendment that keeps your religion from taking over everyone else’s lives, those churches which do not approve of this move will remain free to disapprove of it—and to speak publicly about their disapproval—for as long as you still care about this issue.  What’s more, that constitutional protection has enabled churches to refuse to marry anyone they choose despite every new national advance in the fight for civil rights.  You don’t want to marry an interracial couple?  That’s actually your right.  Always has been, always will be.  Your churches will remain free to reject as many kinds of people and relationships as you please.  This is a well-established protection that will not budge no matter what those who disagree with you wish were the case. Even if somebody tries to take you to court over it in the future, they will fail because your constitutional protections overrule their personal views.  That’s how this works.”

In other words – pastors, churches, religious schools, and non-profit businesses will still be able to discriminate freely and legally.

The SCOTUS decision will inevitably mark a major turning point for religion in America.   Conservatives have effectively lost this long, drawn-out, and doomed-from-the-beginning culture war that they themselves created.  No longer will conservative churches be able to hide behind a veil of fake love and well-polished religious jargon.  The curtain has now been torn down for good.

Many denominations and religious-based colleges are already revisiting their stances on same-sex marriage and making changes.  More then ever, churches are going to be judged on their stance of same-sex marriages and homosexuality.  Those who continue to oppose it will be increasingly seen in a negative light.  Even Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist seminary seems to understand this:

“The real danger is we’re going to pay an enormous social, cultural price for not doing a same-sex ceremony. We’re going to be considered morally deficient. Let’s admit it. We’re much more accustomed to being accused of being morally superior. They’ve said we’ve been “stand-offish” meaning better than them, now a large part of this culture thinks we are morally deficient. And we’re going to find that’s a very different way to do ministry.” 

In closing, I’d just like to say, on a personal note –  the reactions to the SCOTUS decision, by many who call themselves followers of Christ, a decision which will go down in history as a major win for justice, equality, and human rights, was absolutely appalling to me!  There was nothing “Christ-like” about their reactions.  What I witnessed was ignorance, hatred, contempt, and pathetic, childish shrieks from a group that has for far too long considered themselves exceptional, privileged, and morally superior to everyone else.

This past week solidified for me, once again, that Christianity has nothing to offer me.  I can’t abide by an institution where religious dogma trumps basic human rights.  It has also shown me just how important it is for people to fight for social justice and human equality.  This was a great victory, not doubt, but we haven’t won the war, we’ve only won the battle.  More needs to be done.  My hope is that the tides have turned and that more people will take a public stand against toxic religions that continue to be a monkey wrench in the wheels of social progress.

… And I Feel Fine

This is a quick follow up to my last couple of posts.  I wanted to make it clear that even though the process of de-converting is a difficult one, it is absolutely worth it.  The grass really is greener on this side of the fence.  As I’ve mentioned before, discarding organized religion is like taking a heavy pack off your back that you’re been carrying for years – you just feel so much lighter.  You also find that without the heavy burdens that religion places on you, you discover talents and abilities you never knew that you had.  The Church has mastered the art of making people feel worthless, making them feel weak and in need of “salvation”.  What you find when you leave all that behind is that you are just fine the way you are.


Pastor turned atheist Jerry DeWitt had this to say in his book Hope After Faith:

My coping mechanisms were brand new, too.  In the past, I dealt with fear, anxiety, depression, and rejection through faith with internal dialogue that said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  But as a nonbeliever, I realized that all of those times I believed that it was Christ who strengthened me, it was actually me who strengthened me.  Now that I knew that i could rely on myself as a source of strength, my internal dialogue shifted to, “I can do all things through the strength that I posses.”  As an atheist, doing all things doesn’t mean doing everything – it means doing the most that I am capable of, which allows me to clearly identify with myself as the flawed human being that I am.  With faith, I expected to be super-human, to put on a happy face all the time.  Without faith, I’m allowed to be human.  If that means spending the weekend in the bed wallowing in sadness or self pity, that’s okay.  My post-faith mindset allowed me to not only embrace my humanity but reality as well.  I realized that I could work with reality instead of supernaturally trying to change reality.  A reality-based worldview does not mean surrendering to hopelessness – in fact it’s exactly the opposite.  Indeed, I came to realize towards the end of the horrible summer of 2012 that hope actually flourishes as my expectations about my life became steadily more realistic.  Freed from unrealistic expectations, hope became more like a foundational stone in my conscience versus a fluffy, floaty cloud.  I hoped for things that truly matter, like the health of my family and friends or simply for the sun to rise the next morning, and when those things happened I was fulfilled.  Faith, by contrast, had locked me into impossibly high hopes – like divine intervention into my everyday life – a sort of anxiety-ridden hope that a gambler has starting a roulette table.  It’s hope against impossible odds.

A while ago I talked about how every person who has doubts should spend a year without God, as Ryan Bell did, to see if their faith was really something worth holding on to.  One person’s comment to this was simply, “I couldn’t go a day without God!”

I know this person isn’t alone in this thought process.  Like many, he’s become dependent on an institution that keeps it’s members subservient by focusing on their inadequacies.  He’s bought into this lie that he can’t do anything on his own because he’s “sinful”, “weak”, and “broken”.  What he doesn’t realize is that he can go a day without God.  Not only that, but he might find that his life would actually improve once he stopped depending on the supernatural to fulfill his expectations.  As Neil Carter so eloquently put it, he might find that he doesn’t need a magical feather to fly, he possessed the capability all along.

Sometimes you can make something happen just by convincing yourself that it will happen.  That’s what’s happening when people recite the verse that says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Jesus is their magic feather.  Without it, they might not have the courage to tackle the obstacles in their way.  They are plenty capable of dealing with their struggles on their own, they just don’t know it. They feel they need Jesus to do something for them which in reality they can do for themselves.  In the end, they will make it through their challenges by the strength which comes from millions of years of ingrained survival instinct and the progressive power of natural selection.  

Like Carter and DeWitt, every de-convert I’ve ever talked to or read about has expressed the same thought – we’re just fine without God.  That’s been my experience as well.  Life is hard, no doubt.  But you can get through it by relying on your own strengths and experiences and by leaning on those closest to you.  In reality, that’s what gets everyone through life.  Some just don’t know it yet.

Breaking Up With the Church

Sitting in the circle, I listened to each person introduce themselves and give a brief version of the story that led up to them being there that day.  There were a lot of tears, some anger and bitterness, and a lot of brokenness.   When it came time for me, I managed to get out my introduction alright, but when I started recounting why I was there, I only got a couple sentences out before I started choking up.  I had to cut my story short as it was hard to talk through the sobbing.  I was embarrassed for having broken down in front of total strangers, yet I was also relieved.  I knew these people understood my situation and would not judge me.  This was my first night at D.W.S; a support group for those who had been divorced, widowed, or separated.

According to the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is the second most stressful life event one can experience.  About eight years ago I went through a painful and ugly divorce and can safely say it was the most traumatic experience of my life.  After a year of trying to deal with the pain and emotions on my own, I finally had to be honest  with myself and face the fact that I wasn’t getting any better.  It was that admittance of  helplessness that led me to D.W.S.  I spent the next 30 weeks going through the programs and working through the stages of grief.  Without this group and their support, I have no idea how long it would have taken me to work through all the pain, anger, guilt, and depression I faced from having had the most important things in my life taken from me.

It has been nearly a year now since I quit going to church.  Walking away from something that you are actively involved in and is such a big part of your life can be difficult.  In a lot of ways, it’s very much like the ending of a relationship.  Many of the emotions I’ve felt since leaving the church echo those I felt when my marriage fell apart.

One of the stages that was toughest for me to work through after my divorce was anger and resentment.  Having been betrayed, hurt, and disrespected by the action and words of my ex, anger was the quickest emotion to present itself, and the slowest to let go of.  I am also finding it difficult to hide the anger and resentment I feel towards the Church.  Anger from all the times I asked questions or shared views that were dismissed, ridiculed, or even laughed at.  Anger from all of the injustices done to others in the name of the Bible.  Anger from the church’s refusal to acknowledge its own shortcomings and wrongdoings.  Anger for their anti-intellectual and frankly, ignorant, view of the world and of culture, that is hurting itself and others.

When you are married, your family is the reason you get up in the morning, the nucleus of your existence.  Waking up alone in an empty house makes it difficult to face the day.  The Church is good at providing people with a sense of purpose, and giving them something to be involved in, both individually and collectively.  It gives people a sense that they are a part of something bigger then themselves.   When one leaves that community, it can be difficult to find things that give you the same sense of purpose.

Divorce is one of those life experiences that unless you’ve been through one yourself, it can be nearly impossible to fully relate.  People will often sympathize with you by using their own stories of past breakups, or lost friendships.  As difficult as these things may be, they pale in comparison to devastation of divorce.  Until I found D.W.S., I had an overwhelming sense of isolation, that I was totally alone in my experiences and feelings.  When struggling through the process of unpacking my faith and critically analyzing it, I felt that I had to keep this integral part of myself a secret.  I knew that if I shared my thoughts with others, they would be met with looks of shock, fear, and disappointment, and would inevitably lead to conversations aimed at addressing my “backsliding” and “liberal theology”.  Church is not conducive to new ideas or free expressions, it is an institution that exists on the ideal of conformity.  Living with secrets, in isolation, eats away at you from the inside.  You wish there was someone who understood, you wish there was someone you could talk to who “got it,” who understood what you are going through and who won’t cast judgment or pretend to sympathize.

One critical difference between my divorce and my departure from the Church/Christianity is that no one ever pulled me aside and told me how wrong I was to separate from my wife.  Due to the circumstances surrounding our breakup, most everyone was on my side and supportive.  Some even wondered why I held on as long as I did.  Yet, when you leave your formal faith, there is no shortage of people wanting to email, message, or meet you and tell you just how wrong you are.  The tribalistic mentality of Christianity dictates that people must do all they can to keep fellow believers from “back-sliding”.  While I can somewhat appreciate their concern (though I often doubt their sincerity), telling someone they are wrong and trying to push them back into the system that caused so much distress is not a “loving” thing to do, no matter how nice about you are.  And when trying to coerce  you back into the fold doesn’t work, they do what seems to be all too natural for them to do; they cut you out of their lives.

After my divorce, most of the friendships that we had formed through the years faded away.  I don’t believe anyone’s intentions were malicious.  Couples we once knew most likely didn’t want to take sides or get caught in the middle.  Some people didn’t know what to say, so they kept their distance.  Still others grew tired of seeing me so bitter and lonely, saying things like, “It’s been a year, shouldn’t you be over this by now?”  After word gets around that you no longer go to church, and with it the cliches of “back-sliding” and “losing faith,” you will notice people distancing themselves from you.  While I know that some people simply don’t know what to say or how to relate, there is an ugly trend among many Christians of punishing people by withholding relationships.  As Benjamin Corey observes, “Today’s Evangelicalism does this to folks who think outside Evangelical lines– it strips them of relationships, cuts them off, and severs ties. I can’t count the number of emails I get with folks sharing their stories in this regard– it is sadly all too commonplace.”  Neil Carter had a similar experience when he left his faith.  The bottom line is; it hurts to lose friendships and it feels like a betrayal to find out that many of your friendships were based on the condition of belonging to the right tribe.

In the early stages after my wife had left, I would lay awake at night analyzing everything that went wrong, racking my brain to figure out all the things I might have done differently, and looking for any possible way of making the marriage work.  I learned in D.W.S. that this stage is known as “bargaining”.  I thought long and hard about decision to walk away from my faith and the church I had been a part of for so many years.  It was not a decision that came easily, and I was constantly second-guessing myself.

Some would look at me and say, “The fact that you are going through all of this is a sign that you’ve made the wrong decision.”  No.  I made the right decision.  Just as I can look back at my failed marriage and say with certainty that I realize now that it was not meant to be, so too can I now look back even after a year, and know that I made the right decision.  I was not kicked out or asked to leave the church.  I did it on my own accord, but it had to be done. My relationship with the church was not a healthy one, mainly because the Church itself is not healthy.

There were times after my divorce, during the earliest stages of grief when I wondered if I could ever love and trust someone again.  It took a lot of time and effort to get to the point where I was able to, but now here I am; having been married to an incredible women now for almost six years.  Our marriage is everything my first one was not.   Will there come a day when I get involved in a church again and call it home?  Maybe.  I haven’t completely written it off.  When I hear about churches like Nadia Bolz-Weber’s House for All Saints and Sinners and Jay Bakker’s Revolution, it gives me hope that I might someday find a community I can belong to.

I know there are a lot of others out there like myself; people who were either outed from their churches, or left on their own accord.  People who still love Jesus and want to have a faith-based community, but found the church lacking.  If that’s you, I feel your pain; I know what you are going through.  I know it hurts, I know you’re angry, and I know it can be confusing and lonely sometimes.  Hang in there, it does get better, I promise.

If you are a leader in a church who wants to dismiss me, and the rest of us, as ones who simply didn’t try hard enough, didn’t read the Bible or pray enough, didn’t have enough faith, didn’t believe the right things, want to start their own religion, or who wants to live “rebellious” lives…

Wake up.

My story is not an isolated one.  Every week, more and more people leave the church and never return.  Every week more churches close their doors.  While some church leaders try to do damage control, play down the numbers, or pretend it’s not happening, still others want to point the fingers at everyone but themselves and cast the blame.

It’s not us, Church- it’s you.

As much as it hurts to leave, it had to be done.  For our emotional and spiritual well-being, we had to walk away.  If you truly care about people, then start listening to them and stop casting judgment.  Listen to why people leave and make an honest attempt to do something about it. At least make an attempt to understand.  Start with John Pavlovitz’s excellent article,  Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You.  Then read Benjamin Corey’s article that accurately summarizes my own reasons for leaving the church, 5 Reasons Why Evangelicalism Completely Lost Me.

I hope there’s a brighter future for the Church.  The Church of American is not known for it’s love like it should be.  It’s known for it’s ignorance, intolerance, and exclusivity.

That needs to change.

I hope that one day the church can be a place of refuge and safety for all those who feel beaten down and broken, a place where all can feel welcomed and loved, a place that overcomes the tribalistic lines that society draws around us.  A community that encourages questions,  and doesn’t pretend that it has all the right answers.

Until that day, I fear there are going to be many more people left in the wake of the Church.  So common are stories like mine (and even worse), that psychologists and mental health professions now have a term for it: Religious Trauma Syndrome, also known as Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.  Maybe it’s time we start offering support groups for these people, a place like D.W.S but for people have have broken up with the church.  I can tell you from my own experience and others I’ve come in contact with that it is certainly needed.