Quite a few posts ago, an evangelical posted a comment regarding my questioning of God, faith, religion, and belief in New Age ideas. I had been wanting to respond in a separate post, but got sidetracked. Then last weekend, my brother and I went out to Outback steakhouse to eat dinner and as is usually the case, at some point in the conversation, he again attempts to "witness" to me, even though he and I were raised in the same religion (the Community of Christ). However, he left the church a few years ago in favour of a local evangelical church where he found that people are friendlier to him than the members of our church congregation in Portland.
The thing that bothers me about him, as well as other evangelicals who "witness", is that he speaks to me as if I am completely IGNORANT about who Jesus was. It's that condescending arrogance that turns me off from evangelicals. I am a smart individual. I probably know more about different religions than many of the people who "witness" to me. But because NONE of us alive were around when Jesus was, everything we believe about Jesus is based on a faith in whatever church doctrines we gravitate towards. In my own search, in my own desire to be as honest as possible, I reject the belief in Jesus as an "atoning sacrifice." In other words, I don't believe Jesus died for our sins. I believe that to be a distortion of his true purpose. I consider it the greatest fraud ever concocted. Because I reject such an idea, it puts me in a difficult spot with evangelicals and other "Christians" who supposedly think they know better than me (because they witnessed events with their own eyes).
My honesty gets me into trouble. All the time. Whether it's at work, with friends, with church members, with people on the Cybercommunity webboard, I have found that sometimes, being too honest only gets you in trouble. But I'm not going to lie about what I believe just to shut up another person. They can damn me to hell for eternity, but I will never claim to be someone that I am not. And I am most definitely not an evangelical Christian nor have a desire ever to be. But it's not just evangelical Christians witnessing to me. I've also had my Mormon supervisor claim that she "knows" that Mormon doctrines are true and because I won't say with 100% certainty that my beliefs are true, that makes her beliefs "stronger" than mine.
However, if you've ever seen the movie Contact, I'm a lot like the character played by Jodie Foster. Near the end of the film when she's forced to admit that her experience might have been a fraud, she honestly admits to the scientific standard that she can't prove her experience true, even though she believes she experienced what she testified. Why is that considered weak? There are plenty of frauds who claim absolute belief: Jim Jones and David Koresh, and they ended up killing their own followers. Admitting that your own beliefs could be misinterpreted, that you may in fact be wrong, is a sign of humility and should be comforting to other people. It's a sign of tolerance and understanding.
Below, in bold, I'm reprinting the comment that was left in an earlier post by an evangelical and my response.
I understand your conflict with Christianity but it really comes down to a simple choice. Please accept my comment with the sincerest intent. One can either choose to accept God's Word and accept all of it or choose not to.
Choose to "accept God's word", with the caveat of accepting "all of it" or not to. A simple choice? Or a false one? For me, it's a simple-minded choice. Black and white thinking. Either / or. You are with us or against us. I have no use for line drawing. I believe in a complex world, with multitude of choices, of understandings, of ways of being.
Anyone who reads the Bible with "awake eyes" will see a book with many authors, with contradictory messages, full of flaws. It was not written by God...it was written by humans, with their own prejudices, biases, and even ignorance. Why do people choose to remain a prisoner to the antiquated ideas of men who lived in a time when slavery was seen as acceptable, where women were treated as property, when most people didn't know how to read, when the amount of books published wouldn't come anywhere near the number of books sold on Amazon.com?
The comment implies that God gives us an either / or choice that will either save us or condemn us for eternity. Make the wrong choice, based on your own understanding that is rooted in your own experiences with life, with other people, with different ideas...and this egotistical God will condemn you to a burning eternal afterlife. That's just absurd thinking. So I choose. I choose intelligence over ignorance.
The greatness of God can not be grasped until we understand the greatness of sin.
I disagree, of course. The greatness of God can never truly be grasped at all because we are finite material beings trying to understand an infinite, spiritual being. It would be like an ant trying to understand the human that towers over the anthill.
When I took a Biology course two years ago and relearned the parts of the cell all the way through the process of evolution, I was in awe of God for creating this complex universe. I saw evolution as a work of art, God's ongoing process of creation. Awe is what I felt. I was given glimpses of God's greatness, and it had nothing to do with understanding "the greatness of sin."
I learned a few years ago that the word "sin" means "to miss the mark." Evangelicals make it sound like a disease, when in actuality, it just means that we didn't hit our mark. There's always room for improvement. Nothing to condemn yourself to hell for. Because of religious people, "sin" has become such a charged word and is often used as a club with which to hit over disbelievers heads.
People usually have an issue with believing in something they cannot see or touch.
If this is understood by evangelicals, then it must be understood by God. Thus, why would God base "salvation" on whether someone believes in an event that supposedly happened 2,000 years ago? It doesn't make sense, because it means having faith in a belief one wasn't a witness to, that most likely had been distorted through history (there is no uncorruptible historical link between our modern era and the time of Christ that circumvents the abuses of the Medieval era with the Catholic Church's monopoly on power and information).
Beyond that, I believe my own spiritual experiences, which I cannot see or touch nor prove to anyone else that it happened just as I said. These experiences are my own and something that will always remain with me, even after I am transformed into the spiritual realm. But because these experiences are my own, I don't go around expecting other people to believe them or condemn them to hell for disbelieving my experiences. Every person must base their spiritual ideas on their own experiences. It's the only honest way to be spiritually authentic.
The Word has been watered down to accomodate society.
I disagree. I see an evolution as humans learn more about our world through the scientific means. If we based our society on being literally obedient to the Bible, it would mean going back to slavery, making women second class citizens, no more football, no court system to administer justice, and even our mixed-fabric clothing would have to be destroyed.
The statement above is chilling to me. It represents a person who prefers an authoritarian form of government. I believe that humanity has gotten better, that as people become better educated, some of the ideas proposed in the Bible are left in the trashbin of history.
Satan does exist. His sole purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy.
I have a problem believing in Satan. The concept doesn't make sense to me. Yes, it is possible to believe in God but not Satan. I remember in 1995, I went to a religious retreat in which I had to drive through a torrential downpour. As I drove, it became so bad that I had to stop beneath an overpass to let the rain die down a bit. Many drivers on the interstate had stopped along the shoulder because visibility was so bad. I just remember being in awe of the power of the storm and thanking God for having a car with a roof and a radio. I had thought about what it must've been like during the days of covered wagons and how good I had it. Anyhow, at the retreat, when people shared their testimony, I remember hearing one lady claim that Satan had sent the storm to prevent them from attending the retreat! She just went on and on about it and I was shocked. In the midst of the storm, Satan didn't even enter my thoughts. I just don't think that way. And that's what I find with a lot of people who believe in Satan. He gets blamed for so many things, that he's a bit of a scapegoat. The irony is, I'm sympathetic towards scapegoats. So, whenever I hear people blaming Satan for their woes, I automatically become "the Devil's advocate." That's just how I am.
So, if Satan's sole purpose is to kill, steal and destroy...why did evangelical Christians vote for him to be president these past eight years?
Okay, that was a joke, folks. I don't believe Bush is Satan...but I find it amusing that people who are so worried about Satan and evil are supportive of a president who has unleashed the very thing they claim Satan wants to do. And they did this with someone who claimed to be "an evangelical Christian." With Christians like Bush, who really needs Satan?
How you can believe in God but not believe in Jesus? God constantly speaks of "we." That "we" is the Trinity-the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (who lives in us.)
I don't believe in the Jesus claimed by evangelicals. Whether he resurrected or not is irrelevant to me. It's the life of Jesus that matters, which I don't see a lot of evangelicals following. So many want the Ten Commandments on display in schools and courtrooms all over the country. Yet that comes from the Old Testament. I don't hear of any evangelical Christian calling for the Beatitudes to be on display in every school or courthouse. Why not? Jesus spoke the Beatitudes in his sermon on the mount. Jesus never gave the Ten Commandments.
I'll tell you why: evangelical Christians aren't all that interested in the life mission of Jesus. They prefer an authoritarian model for people to be unquestioningly obedient to, thus why the Ten Commandments is preferred over the Beatitudes. THOU SHALT NOTs is preferred over BLESSED ARE THE...
The belief in the Trinity comes from the Council of Nicea, when a bunch of people came together around 300 A.D. to vote on Christian doctrines. That's over 300 years after Christ lived on the earth, and it's about humans voting on what will be acceptable in the belief system they created around Jesus. Do we read of Jesus advocating the Trinity? My impression is that Jesus tried to tell people that all of us are a part of God, that we can't truly be separated from God because God is the source of all things.
The Trinity is good symbology, but I don't believe God will deny my spiritual birthright because I don't obsess over "the Trinity". That belief is completely irrelevant to how to live one's life.
Isaiah 7:14 speaks of the signs God will provide beginning with the virgin conceiving.
Virgin births are common in a lot of the mythological tales from that part of the world during that part of human history. And of course, if you wanted people to believe Jesus was a messiah, you could easily fabricate a virgin birth story because you want the "facts" to fit the prediction in the Old Testament. That "fact" (or not) is not really interesting to me and doesn't really prove anything about Jesus to me. I don't base my belief on Jesus because of the claim of virgin birth. Virginity is way overrated. It just seems like ancient peoples had a serious problem with thinking that sex could be a spiritual experience. Perhaps they saw animals do it and thought it represented human's animal nature, and thus believed that a living god would not be conceived that way. It would have to be through miraculous means.
We were created to glorify God in all that we do (by loving others as He loves us, or worshipping Him and no other gods, etc.) Jesus' sole purpose was salvation.
Why God created humans or who created God are questions that won't be answered until after we die and can ask God personally. If everything we do is meant to glorify God, what does it say about intolerant and arrogant evangelicals who proselytize to other people that their opinions are "the absolute truth" that must be accepted under threat of eternal hellfire and damnation? That doesn't sound like glorifying God to me.
I have found that a lot of evangelical Christians do in fact "worship other gods" (i.e. money).
Its hard to say what Jesus purpose of life was. My belief based on reading many books is that Jesus was a reformer who saw the way his religion (Judaism) abused true/authentic spirituality. People had become too obsessed with following the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. Religion had become too rule-based and less about relationships and human connections. I believe he sought to change that and as his popularity grew, the church authorities became threatened by his populist power and sought to have him killed, thinking it would be the end of him. They had no idea his death would give birth to one of the largest religions on the planet. The salvation I believe in is that Jesus wouldn't be judgmental like some of his followers who think they know the truth about his life and death.
Read 1 Corinthian 1:18-25. In summary it says the word of the cross seems foolish to those who are on the way to destruction; but to us who are on the way to salvation it is the power of God.
This was a judgmental tone. Just because I reject the claims of evangelical Christianity does not mean that I'm on the way to destruction. The reason why I doubt "the word of the cross" is because it doesn't pass the test of logic and too many of its advocates have done a lot of evil. The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades resulted in the deaths of many, many innocent people, for what purpose? More recently, I have watched evangelical Christians rally around a president who has brought a lot of death and destruction to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, so once again, the judgment of evangelical Christians is flawed. I knew Bush was a fraud. If all your belief in the literal truth of the Bible led you to support someone like Bush because you saw him as a fellow evangelical Christian, then what does the past eight years say about you? I honestly see no Christlike actions in our president and his loyal followers over the past eight years. So, if that's what it means to "follow the word of the cross", you can count me out! I will cling to my own understanding of a truly just God.
We preach the Messiah crucified, it is a stumbling block or nonsense to those who find it hard to believe but to those who are called (or believe) it is the wisdom of God. It all sounds farfetched but remember nothing is impossible for or with God.
The reason why I don't believe in the crucifiction is because it doesn't make logical sense. That Jesus would die for the sins of humanity (but only for those who accept that "gift") because of "the original sin" from Adam and Eve is plainly ludicrous. If you don't believe Adam and Eve existed, then the whole premise falls apart. If you believe that our world has never been perfect, that it has been subjected to evolution from its very start, the whole premise falls apart.
Then there's the idea that all the people who lived before Jesus was alive, what happens to their souls? Or how about all the people who never heard of Jesus? Or how about those who don't believe that story because of the religion they were born into? Or how about the idea that you condemn people to hell when you share the "salvation of Jesus" to them and they reject it?
The reason I reject that view of Jesus is because I don't believe God would make BELIEF the test of salvation. It's not what you believe about some event you did not witness that condemns you to hell. It's how you live your life. Do you do what you say you will do? Do you strive to be a good person? Do you love strangers and forgive others? That matters, not what you believe about some event 2,000 years ago. Its insulting to God to claim that God would create such an absurd system of salvation. Give God more credit than that!
People usually seek out self-help books or New Age spirituality because they are still searching for something.
There's nothing wrong with "searching". Some people who are so absolute in their thinking scoff at those who are reading about different beliefs. They make it sound like if you haven't established yourself in concrete belief, that you're still "seeking" and thus unstable. That's false. The way I see it, we are here to learn as much as we can about human nature, life, earth, meaning, ideas, etc. No matter how long we live, we will never learn everything we need to.
In the numerous evangelicals I've met who believe with absolute certainty what they believe, it's hard to have any kind of intelligent discussion with them because so many know so little about our world. They might display an in depth knowledge about the Bible, but ask about any other book or belief and they draw blanks. I've known many who thought higher education was evil. They viewed knowledge as an evil thing and shunned it. Hey, if you want to live in ignorance, that's your choice. But I won't make that choice. My goal is to be the best educated person I can be, to understand why things happen, and to be able to make better decisions.
New Age spirituality is often scoffed at. Granted, I met a lot of flaky New Agey people. But that doesn't interest me. Its the ideas I find in this catch-all category that intrigue me. Part of the critique of New Age spirituality is that it has no structure...its a wide category, from "healing crystals" to TAROT to Native American shamanism to animal totems to reincarnation to Wiccan to Buddhism to Near Death Experiences to Numerology to psychics, etc. One doesn't have to believe any or all of it. Its not a belief system for a person who needs a rigid structure, that's for sure. It's a belief system for people who are searching for ideas that they can't find in their religions. The one thing New Age spirituality is, however, is total freedom. People tend to be non-judgmental and they are open to ideas. There is no fixed belief.
I've heard about some evangelicals who claim to have been into New Age spirituality and now testify that it's part of Satan's grand design. However, I've also heard about many people who gravitate to New Age spirituality speak of being abused by fundamentalist and evangelical parents or church groups. What does it prove? To me it proves that often, people seek the religion that "works" for them. For people who have a more authoritarian mindset and need structure in their lives, New Age spirituality wouldn't work for them because its pretty much a "self-service cafeteria." For an independent-minded, rebellious nonconformist who has a tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, structured religion (especially strict ones) is unsatisfactory.
The Power of God's love is all we need because He says that He is the Bread of Life. I gaurantee that if you seek a personal relationship with God, you will see Him moving and working in your life. He will answer those questions you have about your job. Everything happens for a reason. Seek Him and find out your purpose for being there.
So, it ends with the condescending statement that because I'm interested in New Age spirituality that I need to seek a personal relationship with God. The arrogance of this statement is just incredible. I write in my blog a very personal "crisis of faith" I have with God, only to be preached by a holier than thou evangelical who doesn't know me personally and is just arrogant enough to assume that they know all about me.
I have a personal relationship with God, thank you very much. It's often contentious, but also full of blessings. As I ponder my life, I can often see what certain trials have brought about in my life. But it is my own life, which is meant for me...not you or anyone else to decide what is best.
One example that I'll use is one that evangelical Christians might not agree with. When I had prayed for direction in 1996, I got a revelation to apply to BYU. That was not where I wanted to go to school, but apply I did and then I got accepted and went there for college. Evangelicals view Mormons as a cult, so in their minds, God wouldn't send me to such a place. Mormons who heard my testimony think that was a sign for me to join their church. Neither belief is right, because it was God directing ME, knowing full well that I would not be attracted to join such an authoritarian church. But unlike evangelicals, I know that the Mormon church is not a cult. Mormons are Christians, whether evangelicals think so or not.
I believe the reason why I was sent to BYU was to meet the people who would become my friends and to have my faith and belief challenged and rocked to its very core. From my experiences at BYU, I've come away with a belief in reincarnation (for those who don't know, Mormons DO NOT believe in reincarnation) and because of my time at BYU, I got the best experience of my life: the White House Internship.
So, I have a personal relationship with God. I haven't abandoned my belief in God because of my current crisis.
I wish evangelicals would understand how off putting they are. They need to self-examine their own beliefs. After all, so many of them are avid supporters of President George W. Bush and it must say something about their belief in Jesus and Christianity that they have supported a person for president who has been an unmitigated disaster for our world, and one who has nothing in common with the values Jesus lived and died for. Until evangelicals get it right on politics, they have ZERO credibility when it comes to preaching what Jesus was about. They have no right to preach to anyone.
That's part of the reason why I love Buddhism (another religion hated by evangelicals). Enlightened Buddhists talk about their beliefs and then challenge doubters to try it themselves. They don't tell people to accept anything on faith or their good word. They actually have a process on how to achieve enlightenment that works for anyone. I tried it in 2001 and it works, just as they said it would (I had the most profound spiritual experience of my life). If only Christianity could be as effective. But when you base your religion on belief in an event that happened 2,000 years ago that can't be proven, instead of an interior process of achieving a personal revelation, there's no comparison. One religion is superior to another. Thus why Christianity must change or die (as John Shelby Spong wrote).
No offense, but I have no use for evangelical Christianity. It would be like expecting a graduate student to go back to Kindergarten. Boredom would ensue because the evangelical religious belief appeals to a very elementary level of being that I've evolved far beyond.