One of my favorite stories in the Bible was always Joseph. Perhaps it was due to my obsession with all things Ancient Egyptian or maybe it was simply because the story of Joseph feels like a complete story unlike many others in the Bible. In the story of Joseph we are given huge amounts of information, there is a lot of emotion to the text, and in the end, redemption for all.
As a teen, I also became aware that there was no historical evidence for the story of Joseph and later Moses. No evidence that there were ever slaves in Egypt. No evidence of plagues, years long famine, or Joseph himself. Now, it is true that so many things have been lost to annals of time, yet it would stand to reason that if the Israelites had resided in Egypt for nearly five-hundred years, they would have left something behind. Especially considering that according to the story, Joseph was already capable of reading and writing before he was sold into slavery and it must be assumed that other people in his family knew as well.
Recently I watched a documentary on Netflix (Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus) in which a man who claims to be loosely Christian explored the story of Joseph and Moses, searching for historical evidence. Without going into great lengths of detail what I took away from the documentary was two things. The first is that if the story took place in the time period that the Bible seems to claim (the time of Ramses) there is absolutely no evidence for the Biblical Joseph or Moses. However, the second point was brought up that maybe we have been dating everything in archaeology wrong and these events could have happened much earlier, not during the time of Ramses, to which there is some vague loose evidence that could be related to the Biblical Israelites. Because of this weak evidence the filmmaker concludes that the Egyptian calendar needs to shift in order to accommodate Biblical history. It should be added that there was not a single archaeological expert or historian anywhere in the documentary who actually believed the Exodus story was anything more than religious contrivance. There were even religious experts who stated that they believed it was nothing more than a morality tale, a fiction.
This is the kind of stuff that, when I was a Christian, I grasped hold of. Why? Because it made the thing that I do desperately wanted to be true, just a bit more credible. Yet, everything we know about Egyptians says that they would never have allowed an Israelite to become second-in-command to the Pharoah. The Pharoah was a god as were those close to him. Sure, people from foreign lands were allowed to live, work, and make a fortune in Egypt, but second-in-command is proposterous.
A more likely scenario: The Exodus did occur well before we think and on a much smaller less miraculous scale. The actual Exodus might have taken 200 or more years before Israel finally formed rather than the claimed 40 years of wandering. Chances are Joshua did not conquer those cities but a series of Hebrew leaders might have led campaigns. And a thousand years later, the Torah writers relied on a condensation of history with facts and myths. Perhaps Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua were several people. But all civilizations have a origin often based on a conquering hero. In addition, the Hyksos who invaded Egypt and the land could have been responsible for in part creating the turmoil that set the Middle Kingdom into chaos and descent, allowing the Hebrews to set free. Probably a series of famines and wars that tore Egypt from the prosperous Middle Kingdom.
Or it could all be completely fabricated. A myth for a new religion to explain why they were special and chosen and were wandering around in a desert.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do think that there were events in the Bible that are more or less historically accurate. We know Babylon existed for example and have record of man named Daniel. What we don't have a record of, beyond the Biblical account, is the lion's den miracle. That is the weird dichotomy that I always chose to ignore when I was a Christian. Historical moments laced with magic, for that is what it should be considered. Just as I wouldn't accept Dicken's fictional account of workhouses without evidence to back it up, nor will I accept Biblical accounts without their own evidentiary treatment. If there is no archaeological proof of one of the greatest stories in the Old Testament then I must assume, until other evidence is brought to light, that it is just that--a story.
I am a bookish type person. It is not unusual or unexpected that I will buy someone a book, particularly my nieces and nephews. I buy them books all the time and I don't need a holiday or birthday as an excuse. I am also very aware that there are some books that I just can't give to my nieces and nephews due to their parent's religious beliefs.
Topics that have to be avoided:
Homosexuality of any kind
Books that mention the world being older than 10,000 years old
Diversity (not because they are racist but because they are uncomfortable talking about race)
Illness or Death
Of course, there are a great many books out there for them to read, but it also means there are many that they are being kept from too. This makes me sad because there are some really lovely books that I would love to share with them and can't because these children are so sheltered.
I move from sad to angry though when my sister-in-law offhandedly mentions that I should be careful what I expose her children to. I told her exactly this, "I am aware of what you do and don't believe and although I may not always agree, I am not their parent and would never expose them to something that you would disapprove of." First of all, I have always been careful. Never have a read to them a book about a gay couple or even a non-fiction book about dinosaurs. I avoid these topics because the kids are still young and they would rat me out even if I did. But these kids are so damned sheltered that sometimes it is near impossible to avoid a topic they can't talk about.
I got in trouble from my brother for telling my nephew that I cut my hair and donated to kids who get sick and have no hair. "You told him about cancer?!" my brother hissed later on. First off: No. I told him that sometimes kids get sick and they loss their hair so they make wigs for them. Hats made out of hair. An age-appropriate response to a legitimate question. Or so I thought.
Up until that point I didn't realize the extent of the sheltering that was going on. The kids are all home-schooled, although I am not entirely sure when that happens. Now, I am actually an advocate for home-schooling, but you must also actually teach your kids. None of this unschooling bullshit. To be fair, my nephew seems to be on grade level, although as he gets older I think it will be more obvious whether he actually is or not. But let's add that not only are these kids really know nothing outside of their family. Divorce, diversity, racism, death, abuse, serious illness. All foreign concepts to them. Also, quite a problem considering we may be adopting a kid who has dealt with massive amounts of loss through death and abuse and may well be of another ethnicity.
I like when kids can be kids, but I also understand that kids grow up to become adults. Avoiding these topics instead of slowly introducing them in age-appropriate ways is going to prepare them for the day when they do finally meet a kid whose parents are divorced. Wouldn't it be better now to introduce the idea of adoption to a kid, rather than the day they meet their new cousin?
I think the thing that saddens me the most though is that this doesn't just come from a place of protection, it comes from religiosity too. We aren't just sheltering the kids from the concept of gay couples, we are avoiding it altogether because we don't agree with it and think it is a sin. Under no circumstances should this be made to seem normal or okay. This is how prejudice continues folks. It's why it doesn't go away. If they continue to homeschool their kids it will be very easy to continue to teach creationism, but beyond that there is no way to shelter them entirely. Sooner or later these kids will become friends with people who are different than them, people who are from divorced families, people who have been abused, people who are very very sick, and people who are dying. It is inevitable. My sister-in-law and brother are fighting a losing battle with time.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were filling out the application to begin the adoption process. I was the one doing all the writing since I have better handwriting. One of the blanks listed was 'Religious Affiliation'. I left it blank at first, not sure if I wanted to write down in black and white on an official document that I wasn't a Christian. I was also a bit worried that by writing something like agnostic or atheist, we would be judged by the social workers who are processing our application. When I came to same question again, I asked my husband what he wanted in that blank. "Christian," he said without pause. I filled out the rest of it, all the medical forms and questions about how much we made and then returned to that one question.
Religious Affiliation: none.
I felt like the right answer. Of course, as we have been reviewing the photo listings of waiting children there are a number who talk about how much they like going to church or want a Christian family. I have to rule these kids out of our choosing process because the truth is, although my husband is a Christian, we aren't a Christian family. I am willing to take a kid to youth group or drop them off at a church on Sunday morning. But I will not be attending church with them. I will be that whispered about parent that doesn't come to church with their kid. I'm okay with that. This does mean though that if a kid is really intent on having a Sunday School Christian family, we really aren't it. I just hope that in the buckle of the Bible belt, this doesn't go against us.
An article concerning the prosperity doctrine preachers was posted on Gawker this week. It's long, but I encourage you to read through it. I know many Christians who would like to distance themselves from this sort of manipulation, however most are unaware that it is already happening in their churches.
Several years ago, I attended a church that was doing a fundraiser for a new building. They had been talking about this night for weeks, with banners proclaiming the "event". There was music, food, shouting and speaking in tongues. Then the pastor came forward and encouraged everyone to give to the cause. He told people that they would be blessed for giving. That is they tested God in this area, they would see blessings. He shared stories about people in the congregation who had given to the last fundraiser, given all of their savings, and saw it increased. These increases included an unexpected Christmas bonus or an inheritance. This was, of course, a sign from God for their obedience in giving. At some point the pastor announced that they would be shutting and locking the doors until the congregation had pledged to give X amount. When someone noticed that I had not gone forward to give any money, I was approached and asked why I lacked faith. "I have rent to pay and already gave my tithe this month," I replied. It was the implied that I should give my rent money because God wouldn't allow me to go homeless. At this point, I grew angry. Where is that money going to come from, huh? I'm not going to get a magical Christmas bonus or an inheritance. I make X amount an hour and work 40 hours a week. My birthday is far away as was Christmas. I make the same amount of money every week and extra money doesn't come from thin air. I was approached twice more that evening. The worst part of this whole thing is that this church preached against prosperity doctrine on a regular basis. They thought that they were better than the televangelists with their empty promises.
I have attended other churches who have done this too. I have attended churches that promised extra grace (whatever that means) to people who did certain things like take communion or get married. I attended churches that believed that the end times were coming. It is why the Christian church is such a huge supporter of Israel. Jesus cannot come back until Israel and Jerusalem are restored. They want that to happen. Badly. I attended a church where they waved banners, banged sticks on the ground, and shouted. I knew people who would hear about revivals in another state and would, just like in the article, attend for days on end in order to get some blessing. They usually returned with "souveneirs" of the experience. Videos, holy whatever, a sacred cheese cloth. I asked aloud why these people had to go all the way to Florida to catch the Holy Spirit? Isn't the Holy Spirit right here? In me? In our church? My parents would always tithe to the church first, even when they couldn't pay their bills. My mom swears that God always provided, but looking back, my parents were always a few days away from having the electricity shut off or the rent being unpaid. I remember a few times the electricity being shut off or the phone. They really could have used that extra $5000 a year and not for frivolous purposes, because they had four kids and bills to pay. But they gave their 10% and sometimes more because they owed God.
To be fair, my parents always told me that tithing was not about getting. We don't give 10% with the expectation that we will somehow get that amount back. We give because everything we own belongs to God and we are thanking him. Eventually, I did quit tithing about a decade ago, because I figured God would understand that I needed to pay my bills.
As for other things in this article, there are so many Christians who are quite literally one crazy thought from being just like these people, even though they like to think they are smarter than that. My mother anoints people with oil...she just doesn't carry the bottle of oil around with her in her pocket. But she does it and she believes in it. Most Christians I know believe that your steps are ordained by God. That if you are close communicae with God, he will tell you where to be and when. Some even think that God tells them what to wear because if they are wearing a green shirt that day it will give them the opportunity to share the gospel with the person who comments on it. I know people who watch pastors on television or the internet and some have even sent money to their causes. It doesn't matter that those pastors have millions of dollars and could easily fund that cause themselves. And the year of Jubilee thing? I remember singing songs about it. It was preached from the pulpit. Every year it seemed to be a year of Jubilee.
As the author of the article stated, "People follow the prosperity gospel for the same reason that they buy lottery tickets: they hope that their investment will be multiplied many times over. And, like the lottery, most of the players here are poor people. The fervent faith required to buy into this promise is a type of faith born only from desperation."
I think it is more than that though. I think these people have been so indoctrinated, so duped, that they are willing to believe things that go against all logic and understanding. They truly believe that giving money will get them money. They truly believe that the $20 bill they found in their pocket was put there magically as a sign from God, not forgotten about from months ago when you last wore it. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can refute this because there is always some anecdotal story to reassure them that they are in fact the chosen ones, blessed beyond measure, and will one day see God's increase in their lives.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother is figuring out that I am not a believer anymore. If you have been reading this blog at all you will know that my mother and I talk often and that I have shared with her some of my feelings in regards to things like healing, the church, and evolution. She certainly is not an idiot, but she also doesn't have a logical bone in her body and bases everything off of her feelings. Of course, most of the times she attributes these feelings to God talking to her.
Today she asked me to pray for her because she was on grandma duty all day and tomorrow too. I laughed and said, "Oh, you'll be fine." She said again, Pray for me. I responded with, "Why? Because you have to take care of three kids. You raised four. You've got this." Yeah, but pray for me she said again. I didn't respond, just told her I had to go and left it at that.
Now, this could very well be my mother just being herself. Completely oblivious to the fact that I am not praying nor am I agreeing to pray for anything. I haven't agreed to pray for anything in years so if she has finally figured it out, I doubt she did so on her own. My aunt, who you will recall, was told two weeks ago that I was having "a crisis in belief" and it is possible she has told my mother.
Now, to give you an idea who clueless my mother can be sometimes...
I was a good teenager, but I did things I wasn't supposed to. I am not the greatest liar, but pulling one over on my mother was easy. Most of the time the things I got in trouble for were not even things I actually did since I had a brother who was an exceptional fibber and tattletale. Turns out he was an exceptional fibber as an adult too. Sleeping around with his girlfriend. Sleeping around with her even after they broke up, to the point that when she got pregnant the only way he knew it wasn't his was because he always used protection. Drugs. Lying about drugs. Doing drugs when my parents weren't home. And my mom didn't have a clue. The bong in the middle of his bedroom was how they figured it out. He forgot to put it away after a weekend home alone. It also got him kicked out of the house. To this day she still thinks his ex-girlfriend was nice and dislikes his current girlfriend. The reason? Current girlfriend isn't a Christian and they are living in sin. Translation: Your brother no longer lies to me. I liked him and his girlfriend better when they were liars.
Perhaps she was asking me to pray for me as a test of sorts. Or maybe she has no clue and really thinks she needs extra prayers for the two days she has to spend with kids that she already takes care of at least once a week already. Whatever the case, it is always awkward when people ask me to pray for things. I quit saying I would years ago when I realized that saying I would was a lie. Even as a Christian I didn't have a daily prayer time nor did I have a prayer list and more than likely I would forget they asked me to pray for them. And I didn't think it would help anyway. My prayers were empty.
When I was a kid, miracles were a part of life. This is not to mean that a miracle ever happened to us, simply that we heard about them. All. The. Time. These miracles usually fell into three camps: 1. Miracles that happened to friends of friends of friends and 2. Miracles that happened to someone we knew and 3. Miracles that weren't really miracles.
The first set were the ones that were preached from the pulpit and read about in the Pentecostal Evangel magazine that sat in the foyer of our church. I was a reader so I often picked it up and read it during service as something to do. After all, I may get in trouble for reading Lord of the Rings in church, but no one will stop you from reading a Christian magazine. Most of these stories happened in Africa or Thailand or India and often in remote villages where there were little medical services. Like the story of the boy who was raised from the dead in Africa after being dead for 24 hours. Of course, there was no actual medical affirmation of his death other than with their own eyes. No brain scans to see if he was brain dead or machines to detect the slightest heartbeat. Also, there was rarely a follow-up story telling the condition of the child afterward. I mean, if the kid "died" then it is presumed that he was sick. Did the illness also go away or is that kid permanently impaired thanks to his little stint of deadness? There was the story of the man who claimed to have HIV AIDS and was cured. But the story left more questions than answers. Did he have a medical document stating that he was diagnosed with HIV AIDS? If so, was this document real? Could his blood test have been mixed up with someone else's? Was he taking drugs for his condition? Did he really have HIV AIDS, or was he just HIV+? And again, what happened six months down the road? I also assumed that such miracles had to happen in remote villages because they didn't have real medical care and so the only way these people were going to get better was through some kind of miracle.
Then come the personal stories and these are often....underwhelming. Healed of a headache. Found a lost diamond ring. Mugged but no one was hurt. Car broke down but somehow started again. They felt comforted in a sad moment. A bad prognosis after an accident turned out to be not so bad. Didn't get into a car accident. A healthy pregnancy even after some complications. Overcoming an addiction. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not that this things can't be amazing, but they certainly weren't miracles. If you lost your wedding ring during a party in your front lawn, then with enough effort and searching, there is a high possibility that you will eventually find it. Machines can be quite fickle and sometimes they have problems, like stalling for no reason. The world won't end if it does break down and it isn't a miracle if things refire correctly and the car starts again. I was mugged once and the man did punch me in the face, however the chances of me being shot or stabbed were pretty low since the man was not armed. It wasn't a miracle that I survived (although that was certainly implied by some people) because there was very little chance that I was going to be killed. He wanted my purse, not my life. Overcoming addictions are a big deal, but often there are a number of people who are part of that process. The people who befriend them, the family that supports them, the halfway house workers (if it is that kind of addiction), doctors, nurses, sometimes medication. Not to mention the personal will-power required to overcome something.
The third issue ties into the second, but is more annoying in my mind. Childbirth and babies are often described as miracles, yet the actual process is one of the most natural things the human body can do. Don't get me wrong, childbirth is still dangerous is many parts of the world and even in first world countries, however the actual act of growing a child inside you is not a miracles. A child being born healthy and calling it a miracle also implies that if a child is born unhealthy, God did not bestow his miraculous power onto that child. Meeting someone you click with and want to pursue a relationship with is not a miracle. A chain of events that led you to somewhere good is not a miracle. Chances are if you followed a different path in life, other good things could have happened to you and it could have been just as amazing. No supernatural influence needed. That's just life.
The problem is that all of the miracles I have ever seen or heard about have either been second-hand or things that aren't miraculous. A miracle would imply something completely unexplainable and out of the ordinary. Something supernatural. Parting a lake, walking on water, giant pillars of fire, healed of blindness, leprosy completely gone. Things that cannot happen in the natural world due to the laws of physics.
My aunt claims that she was healed from lactose intolerance. The logic goes like this: I am not lactose intolerant anymore. This seems unexplainable and since I don't know how or why, it must have been God. Basically, the 'God of the gaps' theory. I can't explain it so it must be God. And it makes no sense to me. What a waste of a miracle. Lactose intolerance is not a big deal. It's not an allergy. Sure there are some foods you have to avoid, but in a place like America, that is easy. On the other hand my dad has Crohn's Disease. When I was a kid he was very sick and eventually had to have a surgery to remove seven feet of diseased intestine. Crohn's Disease not only limits your ability to eat certain foods, but it also causes your body to not get proper nutrients, can't produce B12, hinders digestion, and could eventually kill you if not treated. Now why, if you were God, would you choose to heal someone of an illness that creates gas over a fatal intestinal disease? It makes no sense. Not to mention that there are a number of medical reasons why your body may be able to digest lactose now. It could have been something as simple as a vitamin she started or stopped taking. It could be that her body has gotten over her "allergy", figuring out how to process the sugar in the dairy. It could very well not have been lactose intolerance in the first place. And let us not forget that the majority of humans (nearly 65%) are lactose intolerant. So I ask again, why was she healed?
And this is the question I asked over and over as people I love have died of cancer. In car accidents. From diseases. Healing and miracles seemed so abitrary and so, over time I began to believe that God wasn't performing miracles. Death is a part of life and God was clearly not in the healing business. After all, in America alone, nearly 600,000 people died of cancer in 2015. That's over half a million people who weren't miraculously healed and the only reason Christians can give is that "God works in mysterious ways". I think of children born with epidermolysis bullosa otherwise known as 'Butterfly syndrome' in which the person's skin literally tears and comes off at the slightest touch. It is considered to be one of the most painful conditions known to man. It is a horrendous disease with no cure and I don't see anyone being healed of it by any god. No, apparently the god that the Christians serve is more intent on getting rid of milk related gas than he is about a child in agony.
I quit believing in healing and miracles several years ago, but now I have an even better explanation of why God doesn't perform actual miracles. There is no god. He is made up. The miracles in the Bible are made up. No one parted the red sea. At no point did a bunch of people walk around a city and the walls crumbled because they blew on horns. Giants don't exist. And the miracles that were attributed to Jesus were his followers creating a mythic story around him in order to make him sound more godly. I don't believe there is a single Saint out there who has actually performed a miracle either. My aunt, although no longer dealing with lactose intolerance, was not miraculously healed.
I think the thing that really bothers me is the complete disregard who the complexity of the human body and the people who have studied it. We have cured Polio. No miracle about it. We have discovered what Polio is and how to stop it. That is an amazing accomplishment, but it doesn't mean that because you had the vaccine that you were healed from Polio. Doctors and nurses spend days, months, and years with patients, helping them to become healthy people. They dedicate years of their life to learning medicine, then years working with patients, and then more years perfecting their treatments. The things that we human beings have discovered is mind-blowing and in a way, I understand the desire to call such a thing a miracle, but that word takes away all the hard work it took to get us to this point.
The last time I talked to my mom about this subject, she wanted to pray for a headache I had and I told her no. No. I don't want to be healed of a headache. There is someone down the road from me who is suffering. I can take three advil, a fifteen-minute nap, and be good to go. But those other people? I told her that if God was going to heal someone, it better not be me because I didn't need it. It's just a headache. To heal me of a headache would actually be cruel because it implies that I am more deserving of healing than an innocent baby fighting for its life in a NICU or a woman down the street who is bipolar. This took her aback and she really didn't know what to say to it other than to remind me that healing was real. She could see where I was going with this.
When someone now tells me that they are miraculously healed, I don't believe it. Flat out don't believe it. I assume that there is probably a rational explanation and just because they can't explain it does not mean that God did it. Give our medical professionals more credit. Give your body more credit. And stop giving credit to a god who, if he exists, is clearly ambivalent about the pain and suffering of those here on Earth.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.