I don't expect you to watch the entire video above, but what I do recommend is fast forwarding to 42 minutes in. To give you some backstory, an American eye doctor travels to North Korea to help people with easily curable eye problems. After these people are cured, they praise their Great Leaders for their "healing". They praise them out of belief and fear and as the commentator states, the two are completely intermingled due to years of indoctrination. It seems ridiculous to those watching that these people would praise and worship a man whose only contribution to these moments is that he allowed the doctors to travel into the country. Yet they believe and worship.
A childhood friend of mine had a baby two months ago and within 24 hours of being born began to have serious life-threatening issues. He has been in the hospital ever since. Throughout this ordeal they have asked for healing and prayers, as one would expect. And when the little one starts to do better or has a positive test result, they immediately praise God for the perceived miracle. Never the doctors, although they seem grateful for their "help".
Let's be honest here though. If this baby had been born a hundred years ago or more, he would probably be dead. Period. God or no god, this child would not have survived his first week if he had been born in 1816. This baby has some serious issues and so far no diagnosis and the only thing that has kept him alive thus far is modern medicine. There is an entire team of doctors and nurses, aided by years of training and medicine, that is the result of hundreds and thousands of years of medical knowledge that is keeping this baby alive. This baby is nowhere near out of the woods either. The parents are exhausted, their faith worn thin. Yet, you and I know that due to their beliefs, if this baby does get better, all the glory will go to God. And if the child should pass away (perish the thought) God will somehow get the glory for that too, because he needed another angel in heaven or it was the child's time or he was only here to bless us for a little while. Whatever the coping mechanism, I find it interesting how Christians are so keen to place medical prowess on God's lap when it is very clear that modern medicine is the explanation, not a supernatural being.
I have written in the past about people assigning miracles to things like cancer, because the person is in remission. Forgetting entirely that the person also went through 6 months of chemotherapy and surgery, both of those being the real reason the person is cancer free. Not to mention things like their own personal body, the kind of cancer they had, and their previous medical history. Some believers say that God gave that kind of knowledge to mankind, so in the end the praise should go to him, but considering how against knowledge God seems to be, the logic doesn't flow. I mean, humanity was eternally damned because Adam & Eve sought more knowledge. I'm not entirely convinced that God, if he did exist, wants mankind to know more. After all, the more we learn, the less we are inclined to assign those things to a god. America is becoming more and more secular because we found out the answers to things that used to seem miraculous and it turns out they weren't. We discovered how tornadoes form and we know it isn't because a god is up there stirring his finger in the atmosphere. Although I am sure there are some morons who do believe this. We understand how polio works and made a way to remove it from our world entirely if only everyone would get on board. And let us not forget that before we discovered the vaccine for polio, thousands upon thousands of people got sick and died or were crippled by the disease and no deity did a damn thing about it.
We live in an age of seeming medical miracles, but they came at a high cost. How many people had to die from cancer? How many have died of diabetes? A ruptured appendix? Obstructed bowels? A heart condition? How many died, before we finally figured out how to help, fix, and sometimes cure these problems? We have finally reached a point in human evolution where we can fix problems in amazing ways and people still want to give all the credit to a god. And from a non-believers point of view, it looks exactly like a North Korean praising Kim Jong Un for getting their eyesight back.
This weekend I was the matron of honor in a good friends wedding. Personally, I am not a big wedding person. I find the rituals, pomp and circumstance, and showiness to be utterly pointless. I love that my friends are beginning a life together, but find it stupid that they have to spend thousands of dollars and light a unity candle to do it. For an introvert, being in a bridal party is like Chinese water torture. I used up all my people spoons two days ago. I have to pretend to be soooo excited about things that don't interest me in the slightest. I have to be nice to one of the bridesmaids who the bride doesn't even like (sister-in-law) even though she is driving me batty with bossiness. I'm trying to protect the bride from anything that might upset her or make her nervous.
This is also the friend who I have written about before who I have not told about my deconversion because her past reactions to other backsliders/unbelievers has not been stellar. Our friendship would absolutely change and I know it would not be for the better. Some people may question why I would want to be friends with someone who would react like that. The answer isn't simple. I do know this though, her distancing herself from me would be purely based on her beliefs as a Christian and a complete non-understanding of those who reject faith. She doesn't know what to do with it. She doesn't get it. It is so far outside her realm of understanding and she doesn't dare try to understand it either. Fear mixed with righteous judgment would trump loyalty as it has done in the past.
Which made for some awkward wedding moments. Like when they wanted everyone to lay hands on the bride and pray for her. Then they staged a photo of all the bridesmaids laying hands on her and praying for her. And one can't help but think, I am a complete fraud. My feet hurt too much to focus on the sermon/ceremony that included Adam & Eve, leaving & cleaving, two made one flesh, and all the other Christian wedding-isms, but I'm sure they were all in there. There was communion that was thankfully only the bride and groom. Then a prayer with their parents that I couldn't hear, but obviously meant so much to my friend that she cried half her makeup off.
And I get it. They believe this stuff. This is their wedding. They should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want at their wedding. It's just that now-a-days I feel rather out of place in a sea of Christians. These are my friends, but they aren't my ingroup anymore.
An interesting conversation of note that came up several times over the weekend was that of things people didn't like in weddings. You know, small talk while getting ready for a wedding or afterward. Other people didn't like all the photos, or the pressure to have bridesmaids, or long services. Mine? Worship services. For years now I have loathed worship services at a wedding. Firstly, because it is awkward. We are here to watch you get married, not to sit through a church service. Can we get on with the wedding part of this wedding? Second, it is awkward as hell for non-believers. If you know you have non-believers at your wedding then you are willfully choosing to make them uncomfortable. Sure, it is your wedding, but the idea is supposed to be that these people are sharing in this moment with you. They are as important a part of the wedding ceremony as you are, whether there are four people or four hundred.
My husband and I really tried to avoid an overly religious ceremony. To be honest, we tried to get out of the ceremony itself, but that is another story. I knew that I was inviting people who were either non-religious or of a different religion. Among a guest list of forty, I had two practicing Jews, a Hindu, one Buddhist dabbler, one Greek Orthodox, and a couple of nones. I was absolutely thinking of them when we were going over the vows with the pastor. No sermon. No Christian songs. No prayer. I knew who was in my audience and I wanted them to enjoy this as much as possible.
When I mentioned this pet peeve to the Christians at this weekend's wedding though (because as far as I know, they were all Christians) all of them has the attitude that since God deserves worship and they love to worship God, all those people would just have to suck it up. When I was a Christian, it never occurred to me that God was so deserving of worship that I should give a middle finger to anyone who doesn't agree. Does worshipping at a wedding make you uncomfortable? Oh fucking well, we are doing it anyway because this is what we do and we do it whether people like it or not. I would understand that if these people were strangers because why would you care about strangers? But these people are your friends and family. It should absolutely matter to you.
Of course, if you are a Christian you should like it though. Which is why I definitely got a bit of side eye this weekend when I said I didn't like it. If only they knew. It's a tough topic because on the one hand, this is their wedding and they deserve to do it however they would like, especially if it is important to their faith. On the other hand, I do wonder if I would have even been asked to be in this wedding if my friend knew I no longer believed? Would there have been a picture with all the bridesmaids praying? Or would she have done it anyway, not caring how I felt about it? Based on the reactions of several people this weekend, I would assume it would be the last answer.
My parents aren't liars. At least, not on purpose. Yet, they have a not-so-unique ability to spread misinformation and lies at almost every term. Recently, my parents have become what I would call conspiracy nuts. To the point that when they share "news" with me, I almost always need to look it up for myself because a third of the time they actually have all the facts correct. The other two thirds are partial information or complete misinformation. Thinking back though, I don't think this is something new for my parents, only that they traded one kind of conspiracy for another.
When I was a kid those conspiracies almost always involved people who were different than us. To be clear, my parents (specifically my mother) believed them. They saw these things as truth even when they were presented with contrary evidence. My mom, to this day, believe that lesbians are lesbians because ALL of them were sexually abused by men and that is why they don't like men anymore. They just need to be healed of their sexual abuse and they will become hetero. My mom had a whole book covering this theory and often cited studies by psychologists (always Christian) that supported these "facts". They don't have a good answer for gay men other than sin, but lesbians...easy fix. Here are some other lies that I was taught and actually believed:
1. Muslims don't love. I have mentioned this one before, which is why it is first. I was actively taught that Muslim men forced women/young girls into marriage either through arranged marriages or rape. That their marriages were full of abuse, shame, rape, violence and very little love. By extension Muslim fathers didn't love their children, particularly their daughters. Muslim mothers also didn't love their children because they were a product of forced sex. I was told that Muslim children were replaceable and the mourning that we see on TV with all the crying and wailing is just an act. That's how those people are taught to mourn. They aren't really that upset. If a Muslim does seem to love their family, it is an exception to the rule. I cannot recall a single incident where my parents sat me down and told me all of this. It wasn't preached from the pulpit that I can recall. It came in fits and bursts while listening to the news or watching a movie. Pieces of information about the outgroup that were uncharitable and wholly untrue. It made them seem like monsters. If you only believe half of this stuff, it is no wonder that so many American Christians have so little sympathy for Muslims.
2. Women who have abortions are first-degree murdering monsters and hate families. A woman who has an abortion is a murderer. Period. She has taken the role of God and killed another human. There is absolutely no circumstance where this is deemed okay. None. It doesn't matter if she was raped, or is twelve-years-old, or the fetus has an extreme birth defect. God will forgive the woman of course, but she should spend the rest of her life wracked with guilt. If she doesn't feel guilty then it just shows how base and sinfully depraved she is. If they convert to Christianity, it is expected that they will take up the cause and share their testimony as a way to make up for this horrible sin. Also, it is more than implied that women who have abortions don't like children or families. The notion that a good percentage of women who have abortions already have children and are married, is completely ignored. Personally, I don't think that abortions should be used as birth control and there is a certain amount of time that it should be done in, but I don't consider the termination of a potential life the same as taking one that is already living, breathing, and thinking.
3. Men and women are very different and God knew this. The gender roles in Christianity are strongly enforced. The Bible was often used as a source to promote this idea. Women are supposed to be a certain way. (Proverbs 31) A family with a strong matriarch is looked down upon, because she is in essence ruling over her family, something that is a man's job. I have known several Christian women who decided during their Christian walk that they needed to be more feminine. This showed in name changes (ie My name isn't EJ....it's Emma) and clothing. A tomboy would go to wearing dresses even though they looked considerably uncomfortable in them. In the denomination I grew up in, women could not be deacons or pastors. Other churches who were okay with this were being polluted by "the world" and had lost their way. More extreme versions of this showed in punishing boys for playing with dolls and forcing young girls to learn how to cook and sew. Long dresses, long hair, and modest clothing were also additional factors since women cause men to sin, don't you know.
4. Buddhists are peaceful, but are also conniving. It was always understood that at heart, Buddhism was a peaceful philosophy/religion. However, Eastern Religions and their influence were also greatly frowned upon. Yoga and certain alternative medicine were seen as them trying to worm their way into the Christians' heart. Christians (at least the kind we associated with) don't meditate, don't do acupuncture, and most certainly don't do anything with gongs. These are all ways for the devil to enter your life. You open yourself up to that kind of stuff then who knows what will come next. My mom still will way things like, "I was doing yoga, but not the new agey kind. We just listen to Christian music."
5. Catholics aren't Christians. They worship idols. This was universally accepted in the churches I grew up in. The only Catholics I had ever met as a child were ex-Catholics who would loudly proclaim that Catholicism was basically idol worship. It wasn't until I got older and met actual Catholics that I realized how very wrong this was. Catholics absolutely believed they were Christian, never mind that the only thing that determines your salvation is a belief in Jesus Christ, which they had in spades. Never mind that there wouldn't be Christianity with Catholicism. Never mind that millions of people love the same God Evangelicals do, but are blatantly dismissed because they also believe they can send prayers to other people besides Jesus and tell their sins to a priest.
6. The Founding Fathers were all Christians who wanted a Christian country. The letter about separation of church and state was just a letter and should not matter. This was HUGE. That whole separation of church and state thing was seen as a way to try and secularize our country. It was ONLY a letter. It's not in the constitution. It should be ignored entirely. Our country should be a Christian country because Christianity is the best. It should be run by Christian leaders (particularly your brand of Christianity) and laws should be made to make sure Christians are taken care of and can discriminate against others whenever they like. Anything less is seen as persecution. I was in my late teens when I studied governmental affairs and learned about deists. And I was in my early twenties when I realized how terribly awful this country would be if only Evangelical Christians ruled it and were allowed to make all the laws. I'm not entirely sure what this would look like, but I am imagining something akin to Victorian England mixed with the Crusades.
7. Rome fell because they were sinners. In many Evangelical minds, America today is much like Rome. We allow homosexuality, drinking, drugs, fornication. As each year passes we slide down a slippery slope of degradation and eventually it will all burn. These Christians believe that the reason Rome fell was not because of the economy, stretching itself too thin, war or just things changing, but because they were sinful and God cursed them. This was in my home school history curriculum. It is the reason that when a city is destroyed, these types of Christians immediately jump on the, God-is-punishing-them-for-their-sin bandwagon. It's kind of silly, because by any Christian standard, sin happens wherever there are human beings.
8. God will reward purity before marriage with a great sex life afterward. Christians know this isn't true. This is one of the few on this list that I am pretty sure they know is a lie and yet they keep it going. It is a lie they tell themselves in order to feel better about their terrible sex lives. After being married for over three years now, people become a lot more open about their sex lives and it seems that a bad sex life is fairly normal for the chased Christian couple. Masturbation and porn are seen as evil, yet most couples deal with it. The really conservative ones are against things like sex toys or sex therapy. (my mother would be one of them) Logic like, "Well I have a good sex life and I don't use those things," is impossible to argue with because they believe that what works for them should work for everyone. Even though the reality is that there are a lot of people out there really wishing that they had a bit more experience and a lot less restrictions in the area of sex.
9. Atheists are actually satan worshippers. We really believed this. It is because we also believed that if you weren't for God, then you were for Satan. Satan has other names in other religions. Allah, Buddha, Shiva. Since Atheists don't claim to have any god then they must be worshipping Satan directly. Even if an Atheist made claims that they didn't, everyone still believed that even though those people didn't realize it, they were full of demons and therefore unwittingly were serving Satan. It's batshit crazy too. There are really people out there that believe in and worship Satan. They are not Atheists. Disbelief doesn't mean someone is demon possessed. But these Evangelical Christians have a real obsession with demon possession. It happens all the time apparently, not that the person knows it. Demon possession is a secret that only Christians can see.
10. We evolved from apes. I was taught songs about how we weren't related to monkeys. My parents took me to Ken Ham presentations. I took a Genesis Sunday school class that actively worked to disprove evolution. My science books were from Bob Jones University and A Beka Book. My knowledge of evolution was only through the lens of disproving it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Evolutionists weren't actually saying we were descended from apes. Instead they were saying that we had a common ancestor, which makes sense because we have a whole lot in common, but certainly aren't the same, like wolves and dogs. We can see the similarity between the two, but they are not the same now. Makes sense now that I have the actual facts.
"One day you will look back on your wretched life and see that you need Jesus," a commenter self-righteously proclaimed after an article I recently read. This sentiment was expressed multiple times in the comment section. The Christian way of saying you'll see how horrible you are and I sure hope it is before you die and go to hell. It's fear and intimidation wrapped up in a "caring" package.
The thing about Christianity is that this works...for the wretched. It is tailor-made for those who have done terrible things and lived hard lives. It promises freedom from substance abuse. Forgiveness for the murderer, thief, and slaver. There is instant relief for the rebellious teen or the promiscuous young adult. But what about those of us who aren't wretched?
All my life I have been a fairly obedient, tidy, caring, drama-free person. Growing up in the church, I could never relate to the wretch-like-me symbolism because I had never been or felt wretched. Ever. I couldn't relate to having my life turned around, being saved from addiction, or even reconnecting with my parents. My biggest sins were lying to my parents, yelling at my mom, and taking quarters from their drawers to buy a soda. I usually felt bad about the lying and the yelling, and knew my parents would probably have given me quarters if I had asked, but I certainly didn't think I was going to hell for doing it. Sinning, as far as the church understands it always felt like being human. We all make mistakes and mistakes are not necessarily a reason for eternal damnation. Neither is the sin of one legendary Eve whose apparent crime was wanting to know more. I don't even think of wrongdoings as sinful anymore, especially when you study history and learn that what is considered a sin today was not a hundred or three hundred years ago. Rightwing Christians today champion the cause of unborn children, when during Victorian times it was legal and morally acceptable to abandon your children on the street to die if you couldn't take care of them.
By Christian standards, I am a good Christian. I have never done drugs or been drunk. I smoked cigarettes one time and it was for a theater show I was performing in and the cigarettes had marjoram in them. As a teenager I never, not once, snuck out of the house. I was obedient to the point that my friends made fun of me. The most trouble my friends and I got into were acting like idiots in Wal-Mart and walking weird in the mall. (Yes, apparently walking weird will get you kicked out of the mall. Who knew?) I have traveled all over the globe to do health clinics and work with at-risk youth. I was a virgin bride. I don't fight with my friends and malicious gossip just isn't in my genetic makeup. This is certainly not to say that I don't make mistakes, but I don't think any of them are deserving of eternal torture. (not that I believe in a hell or that it would be eternal if there is one) I am not wretched.
This particular way of spreading the Christian message just doesn't work when the people you are preaching to aren't bad people. I don't wake up every morning thinking about what a bad person I am and how I desperately need to be saved from a horrible life. Perhaps I have a high opinion of myself, but I prefer to think it is a little something called self-esteem. This type of manipulation works when you have done lots of horrible things and see yourself as a horrible person in need of saving. Even when I was a completely brainswashed teenager, I still wondered about this type of evangelizing. My fellow Christians would say things like, they think they are good, but they aren't really. Or no one can do good things without God/Jesus. Also, my favorite, one day God will reveal himself to them and then they will realize what disgusting horrible people they are. This last one always made me uncomfortable because, although I was a Christian, I just didn't think of myself that way. Ever. I never thought, I am a horrible no good dirty sinner who deserves to be eternally tortured because someone ate some fruit thousands of years ago. Yet, here were Christians telling me that this was how I was supposed to feel. That it was a byproduct of knowing Jesus.
I am not wretched though. I never was. And telling me that I am just makes me want to roll my eyes because it means that you don't know me and your opinion of your fellow man is very low indeed.
A few days ago I was on the phone with my brother discussing various subjects. As these things do sometimes, the subject turned towards something that many Christians seem to have issues with. In the past, this particular brother has expressed some opinions that are definitely different than what my parents taught us (and what my other two brothers still believe) yet is a bit wishy washy on certain aspects, as if he is struggling to rectify what we have been taught vs what he now knows.
This seemed like a good time to mention to him that this is one of the many things that I take issue with in regards to Christianity and that I no longer believe what I have been taught. To which he cautiously told me that there is a lot about Christianity itself that he doesn't believe. I, in turn, took this as an opportunity to tell him that I don't think I am a Christian anymore. And that spurred a conversation in which both my brother and I told each other that neither of us were believers anymore.
Some of his quotes:
"I figured out that Christianity was wrong just by looking at how people acted. I'm sure you did it by reading, but mine was just observation."
"I feel like I have been lied to."
"[My girlfriend] doesn't feel comfortable in our family because of the religion thing."
"Mom wants to know why I am not dating a Christian girl? It's because I'm not a Christian."
"Can you believe there are two of us from one family?"
It was, in a word, relief. It is nice to know that I am not the only one. That someone else in my immediate family has also rejected religion. Obviously, he did this a long time ago and at a much younger age. And has been lying about it for years to my parents. I suspected that if anyone was going to be okay with it, it would be him, but it is so hard to know where people stand. Especially if that person has spent a lot of time avoiding spilling the beans. He told me that it is the main reason he doesn't visit my parents too often, especially with his girlfriend. It is why he quit sharing things with my family years ago. It is why he doesn't ask my parents or other brother for advice. It turns out "why don't you pray about it?" isn't an acceptable piece of advice for him either. It also makes sense that he came to his conclusions through people observation, because that is how he is. And it makes sense that I came to my conclusions through reading.
"We'll talk about this again soon," I promised.
"Yeah." He paused. "[Sister]. I love you. Thanks for telling me."
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.