Last night I was chatting with a friend on the phone. I see this girl a few times a month and although she is one of my more regular friends, I have not told her about my atheism. This is mostly due to the fact that this girl is basically a clone of me at the age of twenty. It's probably why I like her, even while her piety can get a bit annoying. We met at a mutual friend's party and share a similar taste in books, movies, and food. She comes to our monthly game nights even though she isn't much of a gamer. She is also a very typical Christian with ideas about homosexuality, divorce, dating, sex, etc. etc. She's not a fundamentalist by any means, but she speaks often about how she likes her church because they don't pack any punches when it comes to preaching the "tough topics". This means that they address the "sin" of homosexuality from the pulpit. To be honest, considering how much she is like my former self, I doubt she has any friends who aren't Christian. (that she knows of. bwahahaha)
Last night she kept trying to convince me to take our Messianic Jewish son to church in order to "expose him" and let him make the "decision for himself". I gave her the usual we-aren't-missionary-adopting spiel, but she would not abate. You're not forcing him, just showing him other options. He's basically a Christian anyway so what will it hurt? Maybe he needs god in his life. He should be exposed to church so that he can learn more about religion. I now switched to explaining trauma and attachment. In my mind, forcing religion on a kid when they are this vulnerable is religious manipulation at its worst. He needs to figure out who he is, deal with his abandonment issues, and find a moral balance that isn't created by giving him a sin-complex. I don't want my emotionally vulnerable kid to go to church or youth group and them tell him what a horrible person he is for having had sex. I don't want them to poison him the notion that he is a horrible depraved person who deserves to die. That message is not good for a kid with already low self-esteem. And yeah, I did say all this to her because Christians don't get it. If you are going to convert to a religion it should be done through careful study and thought, not at the lowest point of your life. If you are going to live your life according to an ancient document, you need to understand what it says and believe it. I've seen people converted in the height of emotion. They are the ones who become extreme. There is no logic behind their actions. No thought. As for attachment, implying that he needs to choose our religion or lack of one, to become part of our family is reprehensible. I don't think it is right that my sister-in-law has done it with the teenager who moved into their home this year. He needs to know we will love him no matter what he believes. He needs to know that even though I am an atheist, he is a Jew, and my husband is a Christian...that we accept each other as is. No one needs to convert. No one needs to be bitter or angry about it.
Of course, as this usually does, this makes people wonder about my current church status. You know...because if you aren't actively trying to convert your children, you must be neglecting your own faith. I have become very good at telling the truth without telling the whole truth. I told her how I had not made any lasting church friendships, despite being actively involved in all my churches. The grand total of church former fellow church goers I see on a regular basis are: One. Just one. That's after attending churches for twenty-seven years. I talked about not ever fitting in, of rarely finding a kindred spirit. I told her how church had become a chore, something I had to do. I spoke of experiences I had had outside the church that felt more "spiritual" than anything I had ever experienced within the four walls of a church building. I told her about our weekly Sunday brunch where we all cook together and how relaxing it is. How nice it is to not have to rush off to church, spend time with my husband and son, and enjoy a morning together. I wouldn't trade those moments for anything. There is no church or religion that can replace those times together. In fact, I wasted a lot of time in the church doing nothing and I am happy to finally be living life.
"I just believe that there has to be something out there."
This has, thus far, been the most common response when I tell people that I am no longer a god believer. Immediately after revealing that I consider myself an agnostic atheist, people will barf up this one line, triggered in some way that I don't fully understand. Remember, I am not telling hardcore Christians here. These are people that I know are living nominally religious lives and feel safe telling about my nonbelief. Yet even these people cannot quite release this notion of a god or deity. So you're a deist? I counter. I normally don't press any further than that since I don't want to turn conversations into debates.
What I want to ask is, why would you think there has to be something out there? Is it based purely on a feeling or do you have facts to back this up notion? Do you think that your cultural background that is rooted so much in Christianity has swayed you towards the idea that there must be a god even though you have obviously rejected most of the tenants of the faith? Is it because you see beauty in nature and have decided that this beauty must have a meaning and if you discover it, you will find heaven and enlightenment? Is it because you fear a universe where there is no meaning and no one controlling things?
To me, the world actually makes more sense if you don't believe there is a god controlling things. It explains why our bodies aren't perfectly and wonderfully made. It explains why our planet isn't perfectly made for us and is always trying to kill us. It explains babies with bone cancer and painful diseases. It also explains why we humans have had to evolve to take care of ourselves. It makes sense why prayers go unanswered. And it places the responsibility for the world, for others, for ourselves, squarely on the shoulders of human beings. I like this. For good or bad, the idea that we shape our world, not some unknowable being, is comforting. It means that for all our mistakes, we can make things right. And in our efforts to make things right, we will make mistakes. It means we can grow and change. It makes room for scientific advancement, social change, a healed planet, and better human beings. I don't know if it is possible for humanity to ever achieve peace, but we are capable of it. A god, particularly the Judeau-Christian god, would never achieve that. Based on the Old Testament it must be assumed that that god actually enjoys war and if real, would have us fighting each other ad naseum until the end of time. It comforts me to know that there is no evidence for that god being real, nor the thousands of others with similar personality traits.
"Well, we'll pray that all your adoption paperwork goes quickly."
Please don't. That's what I want to say. Don't. Because that is the same prayer that my friends and family have been praying since last December and it ISN'T WORKING. At all. In fact, if anything...things have gone slower. There is absolutely no correlation between these people's prayers and the speed at which our adoption paperwork is being processed. None. I know it is really just an empty Christianeeze way of saying, "I'll be thinking about you," yet when their prayers are obviously flacid, you just want to scream. Isn't it obvious your prayers aren't working?
Even before I began my deconversion process, I had quit praying years before. Sure, there were the occasional prayers thrown out in the heat of the moment, but "real" intercessory prayer with prayer requests and such had gone by the wayside long before. It wasn't because I was a bad Christian, but rather because I looked at the evidence of answered prayers vs unanswered prayers, and determined that God did as he pleased. God clearly did not care about our petty problems and was clearly more concerned about other things, what I couldn't be sure. It wasn't the big things either, like people dying of cancer. It was the small prayers too. My mother prayed for and over everything, yet her prayers seemed grossly ineffective. She prayed for colds that went away on their own at the normal time. She prayed against the "spirit of poverty", but continued to live in a poverty mentality her whole life. When I started to look at the world around me, I saw no sign of prayer actually working. In fact, it seemed that if prayer was a real thing to a real deity, the only purpose was to make the prayee feel better. Surely an all-knowing all-seeing God would be neither moved or swayed by a prayer. Add to this all the myth-like stories that Christians like to spread around about blind people seeing again (in a rural Kenyan village where it is unverifiable) and folks being cured of AIDS (even though there is no evidence they had AIDS in the first place), and I had my doubts as to whether it did any good. Not even the Bible seemed clear on this. Although it suggested that human beings could change God's mind (like in Sodom & Gomorrah), other verses seemed to suggest that prayer was more meditative and rarely changed the mind of God. Unless you are a bald prophet getting bullied by the neighborhood kids. Then God sends bears to murder them.
Here's my favorite part about prayer though. There is this idea out there that if a prayer is ineffective that it is either because of sin or unbelief. It places the burden of effectiveness on something that people can't control. There are a number of Christian writers who have written about such things. As if God only answers the prayers of the devout and only helps those who are devout. If he doesn't answer your prayer then it is because you or the person you are praying for didn't believe enough or had sin in their life. It's basically a weird version of the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy. So if our adoption paperwork doesn't go through then it is our fault, not a gods. However, if it does magically start moving at a decent pace, then all the praise and glory goes to a god. It's crazy.
My husband recently informed me that he thinks I should not use the term "deconversion" to describe my path from Christianity to atheism. "You didn't deconvert from anything," he said. "You were a Christian and then an atheist. It's just a conversion." Implied within this is that atheism itself is a religion of sorts since it is, in his mind, a belief system. This is one of our major sticking points when it comes to my atheism, but more on that in a moment. My reply? I wasn't born a Christian. I didn't have any faith when I was born. He shrugged. "You may as well have been. You don't remember a life before religion." Although it is true that I said the sinner's prayer at four-years-old and have no memories of being non-religious, the truth is that I was actively indoctrinated and converted to Christianity. My parents were not Christians when I was a small child so I wasn't born into a religious family either. Nevermind that I was not born a Christian. Period. Indoctrinated at a young age, but there is no such thing as a Christian newborn. Frankly, I really don't think there is such a thing as a Christian four-year-old.
As for the whole, atheism is a religion thing, this just bugs the shit out of me. Atheism is not a religion. It's right there in the word. There are no gods, no deity to worship, no rituals, no holy book, no set guidelines to follow, no definitive philosophy. Atheists can span the spectrum politically, socially, and philosophically. I am against the death penalty, but I am sure you can find atheists out there who aren't. There is a common misconception by the religious that atheism is the belief that there is no god. That is not what it is or at least not what it is supposed to be. It is the understanding that there is no proof that there is a god and unless there is some kind of evidence to back up the extraordinary claim, there is no point in worshiping one. Agnosticism is wholly separate and asks whether one can truly know or not. I don't think it is possible to know, but I am aware that there is not good enough evidence to support the claims of an all-knowing supernatural being. To worship a god without evidence is something I can no longer do. Hence, I am an agnostic atheist. It isn't a belief system as much as a demand for truth and information. Until recently there weren't even organizations. I'm a bit iffy on these secular Sunday services that have started around the country because it just feels way too much like former religious people trying to recreate the things they miss about the church sans the actual deity worship. It's weird.
I am a word person. I don't love labels, yet at the same time I think it is important for people to find words that best describe and define them in order to clarify their position in the minds of others. And I don't think anyone has the right to tell you what you are and aren't. I am a deconverted Christian. It is the best way I know how to describe myself with the understanding that I have. It may not be a perfect word, but it sure is better than the words that Christians have come up with. Apostate. Backslider. Defector. Heretic. Those words give them the power. I like the word deconverted. It recognizes that at one point I was converted to that religion, even if it was at a young age. It also recognizes that I have not converted to a new faith.
My husband may never understand this, blinded by the rhetoric that his faith has filled his head with for four decades. I love him anyways, but this may be one of those things that we will never fully agree on. Does it bother me that he thinks I have converted to a new religion? Yes. But I can't make him believe something different and I'm not going to bother trying. If he wants to believe atheism is a religion, then so be it. He's wrong, but there isn't a damn thing I can do about that. Other than to just keep talking about my deconversion.
I've been an atheist for over two years now and thus far, have avoided telling my fundamentalist parents as well as my more dogmatic friends and family. Since I know what they believe, it is usually easy to avoid or walk away from hot-button topics like evolution, the validity of the Bible, Biblical literalism, abortion, etc. I know I am not going to change their minds and since I am a grown married adult living not near them, I don't feel the need to create unnecessary friction. Sometimes these subjects simply can't be avoided though, and this morning I had the pleasure of speaking to my mother about ALL of them. Gods damn it.
I don't even know how we got on the subject, but somehow we started talking about science and my science illiteracy that was a result of religious fundamentalist homeschooling. I have been working very hard to learn what I can since abandoning young earth creationism in my late teens, but it has been an uphill battle with quite a few wonderful college science courses. "Well, you didn't like science," my mother said. I informed her that at one point I wanted to be an astronaut and had looked up what the qualifications were for it. At the time, I was sure that I could do it and even applied for the summer space program, but didn't get in. I sent the application in with my allowance money because I knew my parents wouldn't be very supportive. But, you know, I didn't like science. What the real issue was was math. I had a hard time with formulas and such, which began to make science courses super difficult. Of course, I found out as an adult that I was being taught math in a way that only someone who is really gifted at math would actually get. And nevermind that my mom determined that I disliked science because I wasn't interested in plant biology, a passion of hers and boring to me. So because I didn't like the kind of science she did, I didn't like science. You have probably already guessed that this was the only biology I was taught too. No animal biology. God made animals just the way they are don't ya know.
So our conversation quickly turned into a, "Yes, I know that is what you believe. I do not. You know I don't. We've talked about this before." And every time she would just come back with a, "Well, I believe the Bible is true." That's nice. I told her that there was a lot of evidence to back up science and that her trying to force science to support her religion simply because she *believes* it to be true, isn't evidence. Of course, evidence doesn't mean a damn thing to her. The Bible is the inspired word of a god, therefore everything in it must be true. If scientists don't see that then it MUST mean there is a worldwide conspiracy and science just can't be trusted at all. I informed her that this was insulting to all the Christians who are scientists and all my friends who are scientists. Basically calling them liars because you don't like the data is wrong.
And then we went down the road of crazy. Adam and Eve having babies of every ethnicity. Science doesn't back it up, but it's the only way to account for the variations in our race...so that's the answer. Noah's ark happened because the Bible says so and there is evidence of floods all over the earth. Yes, because it floods everywhere and humans have a habit of building their cities near water. Animals used to talk because the snake talked to Eve and she wasn't scared. Rainbows are a promise from God. After the flood God changed the atmosphere so that we now have rainbows when it rains. Twisting science in order to fit in with a literal interpretation of the Bible. It's nutballs. I have read fantasy books that make more sense than this bullshit my parents believe.
"Well, you at least believe Jesus existed. There are multiple accounts of it from other sources," my mom finally huffed out. I paused and slowly said, I'm not sure if I do. There is only one account and most Biblical scholars agree that it was probably added in later to give validity to the story.
I didn't say I wasn't a Christian, but I may as well have because questioning the existence of Christ is the same thing. There was a lot of shock and confusion on her part and annoyance on mine. I do not want to talk to you about this, I kept thinking. I know what you believe. But at least now it is clear to her that I do not. She, of course, recommended three Christian books that I have read several times actually and find their arguments crude at best. I hope she gossips about it to everyone because that would make my coming out of the closet so much easier.
It was bound to happen eventually and I don't have a lot of patience for people who shit on facts just because it doesn't align with their beliefs. I don't know if anything will change, but I'm kind of counting on it. My mom is not a rational person and my dad is only slightly better. Should be interesting to see how things go from here. Religion is far too important for my mom to simply let this go.
"And that's how we know the Bible is true."
This has been a common phrase used in my home since I was a small child. Usually, this was said after some "evidence" that my mom or more often than not, dad, would present while in conversation. In one of my more recent conversations, my dad's proof that the Bible was in fact historically accurate and true was because there is mention of a town in the Old Testament that, until recently, archaeologists have been unable to find. In his mind, stating that you couldn't find this place was the same as an archaeologist or scientist saying it never existed. Once the town was found using geomapping from space, scientists had to "admit" (my dad's words) that it was true.
Let's get one thing straight here, I absolutely do not believe the Bible is the inspired word of god. Not at all. However, I am completely aware that it was written by very real people, in historic times, in very real places. Ninevah was a very real town. It doesn't make the story of Jonah true or accurate, nor does it validate the Bible being true. That's like suggesting everything in The DaVinci Code is true because the Vatican exists. Or to use a more ancient example, just because Troy was a real place doesn't mean Odysseus fought a giant cyclops. All that this tells us is that yes, some nomads knew their part of the world fairly well. IF any archaeologist actually stated that since a place hadn't been found, it didn't exist and therefore the Bible was inaccurate, is plain bad at their jobs. Period. Non-discovery just means there is no evidence. It doesn't mean something didn't exist, nor does it mean it did. It is equally illogical though to go around telling people that the Bible is true based on something that hasn't been discovered yet. "This town existed because the Bible said it did. We haven't found it yet, but obviously the Bible is right so we will eventually because it is never wrong."
Poor Christians are going to be searching for the Garden of Eden for an eternity. At least the literalists will be. I don't bother to respond to this bullshit. I'm not sure if my parents just can't help themselves or if they still think that I believe this stuff too. I have been more than up front with the fact that I accept evolution and science as fact. I am also obsessed with ancient history, which is actually what began leading me away from Christianity, because the truth is, history doesn't line up very well with the Bible. I've spoken with my father often about this and although he has conceeded that it is probably likely that the earth took a while to form, he has also told me that he chooses to believe the Bible's way because it "doesn't hurt anyone." I completely disagree, but when people don't think logically, there is nothing you can do. Other than write a blog post about it because it is annoying as shit.
I was thinking this morning about some of my old "friends" from previous churches this morning. I've cut ties with most of these people, but there are still a few that show up in my Facebook feed sometimes. People that I got to know a little more than casually, but still wouldn't look up if I was in town. You know how it is. But when I started to think about these people and why we were ever considered friends in the first place, I realized that the only commonality was a shared religion.
Typically when I make good friends, it is because we have shared interests. I have a good friend who I call my Book Buddy, because we are both very well read and can talk about books for hours. Many of my friends are geeks like me with some interest in at least one of the following: Sci-fi, Action/Adventure movies, Superheroes, Comic Books, D&D, Writing, Reading, Board Games, Video Games, History, Archaeology, or Science. My really good friends share several of these interests. With my church friends though, the commonality seemed to be only a belief in a god. We were expected to connect, not through any common extracurricular activities, but rather a theistic belief system. Looking back, this seems ridiculous because it meant that people with vastly different personalities and interests were being thrown together and expected to become fast friends.
Let's look at some examples:
Laurel - Laurel was a beautiful petite girl who was extremely talented in the areas of graphic design and photography. She used these talents to work for the church creating their weekly pamphlets, helping with video editing, and setting up the PowerPoint slides on Sunday. She loved getting her nails done, romance movies, and her much younger little sister. She was terrified of trying new things and refused to move anywhere that would take her away from her little sister even though she was a grown adult. We were often teamed up together when volunteering because we got along all right. I spent a lot of time with this girl and yet wouldn't call her my friend. She seemed emotionally distant and had little regard for other people's feelings. Her talents were appreciated, but in the end wasted.
Trevor - Trevor was also part of the core group at the same church as Laurel. Trevor played guitar for the worship team, had an acceptable Hipster beard, and was outgoing. As an extrovert, he seemed to make friends easily and fast. Yet, he was a complete flake. They would often have unscheduled worship team meetings and get-togethers, but would "forget" to invite certain people just because they didn't feel like hanging out with them that night. I saw this man several times a week for four years straight and yet when I bumped into him at the grocery store, he would act like he didn't recognize me. Beyond a shared religion, there was absolutely no connection there. Yet, we were expected to get along for no other reason than we both were a part of the worship team.
Clarion - Clarion was a handsome woman who was obsessed with the Red Sox, traveling, and finding a good Christian man. She was extremely friendly, but would suffer no negativity surrounding the pastor of the church nor his family. She worshiped the ground they walked on, babysat their children, and eventually quit her career to work as the church secretary. At one point she tried to sabotage a man's relationship because she had a crush on him and he ended up leaving the church over it. Clarion was my friend as long as I attended her church, agreed with the pastor, and was volunteering. Her friendship was contingent on these three things. The minute I started to question the pastor, Clarion became guarded. When I decided not to go to her church anymore after moving back from Boston, she was horribly offended and that was the end of that "friendship". Looking back though, we didn't have much of a friendship to begin with. We had nothing in common beyond GOD.
Danielle - Danielle and I were the main female singers at a small church and were in the same small group. We saw each other at least three times a week. Occasionally we would "get the girls together" (all from church) and go see some cheesy romantic comedy and grab dinner. We were constantly trying to find common interests, but other than a love of books (and never the same books) there was zilch. She couldn't even come to game night because her husband is such a competitive asshole that even a game of Apples to Apples was unenjoyable for them. To be clear, this guy was fairly nice about everything else, but his competitive side made any kind of game that involved winning and losing a nightmare. I knew this woman for four years and yet at the end of the day, didn't develop a lasting friendship because apparently, believe it or not, gawd wasn't enough to form a friendship.
The problem with all of this is that I have heard it preached from every pulpit that community is important. That connecting with other Christians is part of being a Christian. Whether this is right or wrong is beside the point. The point is, rather than connecting Christians with similar interests, they seem to believe that gender and age are the things that really build connection. I would have really loved a book club, one that didn't read bad Christian novels either, but a real book club where we read actually decent books and discussed them from a Christian perspective. How awesome would it have been to have a board game group that had a small Bible study followed by an hour or two of gaming? Or at the very least connecting people who like to volunteer for similar things like Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald house, or Book Harvest. By the by, whenever there was something even remotely like these things, I formed a book better connection with the people in that group.
What I am not finding as an atheist is that the new friendships I am forming, based on common interests and meshing personalities, are so much better than the superficial ones created within a church. And looking at my good friends, the ones who have withstood the test of time, I have realized that all of those friendships were also built through commonalities rather than faith. Of course, I still have a few friends who are devoted Christians, but when I examine why we are friends, it is not because of God. Also, none of my good friends have ever attended the same church as me. Food for thought. Are these friendships that folks are making at church really that deep or are they just superficial and based purely on mutual deity worship? I'm sure some are genuine, but would love to know how many people suddenly found themselves without friends when they walked away from the church.
Have you ever wondered how a cult gets started? How people can believe crazy shit that sounds like it was made up by a screwed up and slightly-psychotic teenager? Let me present to you our son. Yes, the one we are working on adopting. Now, for those unfamiliar with kids in the system, mental illnesses brought on through trauma is a fairly normal thing. This doesn't necessarily mean something like schizophrenia, but instead something like maladaptive daydreaming or teenage dissasociative disorder. These kids, often emotionally well behind their physical age, will make up stories in order to help cope with the life they have lived. Sometimes this just means lying to themselves or convincing themselves that they are the cause for being in care, even if the reason was due to abuse or neglect. Some create fantasy stories in which their mom was secretly a CIA agent and that is why they had to be taken away, for their protection. These kids will tell everyone about it, trying to convince other kids that this is the truth and doubling down if someone calls them out on it.
If you are our kid, you make up your own fantasy religion. Here's the basic gist of it: S is secretly a warrior angel sent from heaven to meat out justice to people who hurt him. This god, although having no attributes of any of the written gods, is in fact the Messianic Jewish god. (conveniently the religion his mother converted to when he was eight) Although there are people who have hurt him, he remains friends with those people because they too are secretly angels, therefore letting his friends get away with things that his "enemies" never would. He has no proof or evidence beyond his word, but insists that there is one other person out there who can corroborate his story. (not that this would be evidence in the slightest) When I questioned some of this, the story changed slightly to him actually being the reincarnated Ares, the god of war who is actually an angel. All the ancient gods are actually just angels who people chose to worship as gods. It doesn't matter if they claim to be a god...or even the one and only god. They are just angels who wanted fame and power. Even the good ones who rebuffed fame and power, but it wasn't their fault human beings wanted to worship them. He tried to....get this...use Naruto (as in the Manga) as proof that what he said was true. As if Naruto is a religious holy book. As if the authors of that book haven't explained in detail their thought processes and how they created the series.
I know what you are thinking, holy shit....you are adopting a kid who is clearly schizophrenic. Except I don't think he is. We will be speaking with his therapist tomorrow, but I really think that this is his way of trying to explain all the crappy things that have happened to him. And he so badly wants to be seen as tough and strong. He wants people to be afraid of him and the truth is he is a scrawny, lazy, seventeen-year-old with pimples, greasy hair, and no muscle mass. He is anything but tough. I think someone, probably his step-dad, taught him that he needed to be tough in order to be a man. This has been reiterated at the group home. And in his adolescent and immature brain, the toughest things that he can think of is Ares the god of war and immortal angels. Obviously, if he really believes this, that is deeply concerning, but I really don't think he does.
Let's also add something to this complex situation: Adoption Sabotage. I firmly believe that something we did over this weekend caused this kid to freak out about the upcoming move and adoption. All weekend he was lying, manipulating, and cheating. He and my husband were having a constant battle of wills. The conversation that led up to these revelations were tough foster care stuff. He has also done this before to two other previous pre-placement adoptive families. He chose to back out of those adoptions. It would really suck, especially after 9 months of this back and forth shit for him to decide to back out of this, but that's his choice. We have said from the beginning that this is as much his choice as ours. If he is so fucked up that he sabotages this, then there is nothing we can do about it. Truth is, this kid should have been living with us months ago and we should be dealing with this in our home, not over the phone at the group home.
Last thing: S said that if I ever told anyone about these revelations (even though he has clearly told several people this himself) that he would be killed by God. This is absolutely manipulation and I refuse to remain silent. First, because he needs to get help so his therapist must know. Second, because I don't keep secrets from my husband. Third, because he doesn't get to make up a religion, share that with me, and then try to blackmail me into not talking about it. I can keep a secret, but this isn't one that should be kept nor does it need to be. We are talking about a serious mental health issue here, not some rumor about your cousin's boyfriend. Finally, I am the last person that this kid should have told. Not only am I your mother, but he also knows that I am a skeptic and an atheist. He knew I wouldn't believe him before he even began. But he chose to do so anyways, which tells me that this really was an adoption sabotage technique. Because my husband, Hades love him, would have at least given some credence to this made-up religion in a way that I never would.
So fun times. Can't wait to see how the next few weeks play out. I am so glad I took Tuesday off. I needed a day to recover from S's shenanigans.
Whenever people talk about the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christianity, they often revert straight to The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition, which were certainly terrible but in the grand scheme of things, I think were actually small in comparison to some of the other things pious Christians have done in the past 2000ish years.
Watching a recent documentary about archaeology and the Mayan civilization reminded me of it. Of course, if you recall your high school textbooks, the Spanish arrived on the shores of what is now Mexico and began to systematically enslave, torture, rape, and vandalize the Inca and Mayan peoples. What those textbooks usually gloss over the the absolute annihalation of an entire people group by destroying their culture. The Mayans had books. Carefully written and preserved on accordian-like paper made from fig trees. Everyone in their civilization was taught how to read, but only priests wrote down the histories of their people. In 1562, Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the destruction of these codices declaring the books to be "lies of the devil". He rejoiced in the pain of the people as they watched their history burn. The Catholic church and priests also banned any kind of worship to their ancient gods, the destruction of instruments, and killed anyone who they heard singing songs. Only church hymns were allowed. With two generations the Mayan way of life was extinct, destroyed by a church who believed fully that they were in the right to bring their religion to these savages. As a book lover, there is a great deal of sadness in knowing that such priceless works of art and history were destroyed because one group of people believed in a god and the others believed in another.
This was the fate of many native peoples. Christopher Columbus said, "I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter in your country and shall make war against you ... and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church ... and shall do you all mischief that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him." The smallpox epidemics that ravaged the natives was seen as a "marvelous goodness and providence of God". Within 4 years of Columbus landing in Cuba, nearly 4 million people had been killed and within 50 every single local indigenous person had died either by disease, starvation, or murder. It was actually considered sport to hunt them and shoot them full of arrows. An Indian chief named Hatuey tried to flee with his people and was burned alive. He refused to convert and told the priest that "if heaven was where the Christians went, he would rather go to hell." The deaths of these people all across the Americas was seen as a judgment from the Almighty God. The few who opposed such violence were seen as soft-hearted fools. The pious New-Englanders successfully wiped out nearly 98% of the Natives living near them, delighting in their deaths. An estimated 50 million Native Americans were killed directly by violence. That makes the Holocaust seem almost paltry. And here's the best part, I actually knew people growing up who were missionaries to Native Americans. My parents supported their ministry financially and always seemed amazed that more people weren't converting, sure that it was just a matter of time. Why would anyone convert to the religion that not only supported, but also rejoiced in your genocide?
Christians also have an idealic version of how Christianity spread throughout the world. They often use the illogical fallacy of 'argumentum ad populum'. Look at all the people who are Christians now. They can't possibly all be wrong. But how did Christianity spread? Was it because people like Saint Patrick walked around the countryside putting children on his knee and showing people three-leaf clovers? This was the version I was taught. That everywhere the disciples (disciples referring to anyone who was a follower of Christ), they shared the good news and people converted. What they didn't teach were how Christian mobs would enter towns and destroy pagan temples and the priests within them. Remember, pagan in this context is not referring to witchcraft, but rather anyone who wasn't Christian. By 356 AD, anyone attending a pagan service would be punished with death. Even children were executed, sometimes for benign reasons, like when Christian Emperor Theodosius executed a child for playing with the remains of a pagan statue. This man prided himself in following the Christian teachings meticulously. By the 6th century, anyone claiming to be pagan was declared void of all rights. The world famous philosopher Hypatia, a librarian at Alexandria's library was torn to pieces by a hysterical Christian mob. Being non-Christian was dangerous. There were converts everywhere and they were happily turning in their neighbor in an effort to please their god. Worship of the old gods was driven below ground. Some probably converted in order to just stay alive. Wherever Christianity spread, it brought death, destruction, and pain along with it. I have actually heard Christians say that those early peoples abandoned their faiths and idol worship because they never really believed on those old gods anyway. Because who would abandon their faith so easily? I imagine that if Christianity was being treated in this fashion though, that there are a great many people who would leave their faith behind, perhaps secretly still believing it, but knowing that to have a cross in their house would be death and destruction to their families. You only have to look at majority Muslim countries in which apostacy is punishable by death. Those who don't believe must remain eternally silent for fear of their lives. Is it any wonder that such a devastating and brutal religion would not have converted people by the droves?
Let us also not forget how the church and politics were tied together. When Emperor Charlemagne overtook cities, he demanded their immediate conversion. Those unwilling were beheaded. In one town, 4500 Saxons were beheaded for being unwilling to convert. Taxation was was also tied to faith because the money went to the church as well. Those who refused to pay the church tax were often killed. In May of 1234 thousands of peasant men, women, and children were slain in Germany for just such a refusal. In Ireland, in an effort to civilize the barbaric wild Irish, Humphrey Gilbery beheaded some of them and laid their bodies out on the ground for the people to see what would happen to them if they didn't convert. But I'm sure it was really the good news of Jesus Christ, that really won these people over.
Not even Christians were immune to such hideous treatment should they end up on the wrong end of theology. Thomas More disagreed with King Henry VII break from the Catholic church and was an adamant opponent of Martin Luther, for this he was beheaded as a traitor to the crown. Did you know there was a sect of Christianity called the Manichaean's who believed in birth control and for this they were savagely wiped out? Same for the Albigensians, Waldensians, Paulikians, Runcarians, and Josephites. Most of these sects were exterminated. In the 17th century a Catholic mob killed the Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny. After murdering him they cut off his hands, head, and genitals before dumping him in a river and then decided that being eaten by fish was too good for him so they took him out again and strung his body up in the gallows to be eaten by worms and birds. Yeah, that's some serious Christian love right there.
I knew a lot of this even when I was a Christian because obviously I am a bit of a history buff. My cognitive dissonance was off the charts though because I somehow convinced myself that all those people weren't really Christians. They couldn't be. Who would be okay with murdering innocent people? Except that I understand now that those people loved a god just as much as the ones today. We are appalled by mobs killing people for religious reasons now because it is considered cruel and inhuman. Yet, I know many people who I think are capable of murdering someone in the name of Jesus should societal norms shift in a particular direction. My mother believes that women who have abortions deserve the death penalty. She would be more than willing to support a proposal to say as much and would probably, happily, report on women she knew who had one. And she would do so believing she was doing God's work. That is no different than a woman in ancient times reporting that the family next door is hiding a statue of Aphrodite under their floorboards. I use Christianity in this because that is the religion I know well, but we all know that this kind of behavior is not unique to Christianity. Muslims are notorious for their draconian apostacy laws, which often result in imprisonment and death. I've seen quite a few Hindu mobs in the news lately that are quite disturbing. It saddens me the amount of knowledge that has been lost over the centuries due to religion's fervent desire to be right. I can only dream of a world in which we discover a wealth of Mayan codices hidden away somewhere, revealing a world we will never fully understand without it. And although I am still a closeted atheist and agnostic, I will defy this notion that I have to remain quite forever.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.