Every year it seems like I receive an email forward from irate Christians wanting to remind me about how Christmas is being co-opted by the gay, feminist, atheist, capitalist agenda who are hell bent on taking the Christ out of Christmas... This year I couldn't help but respond to the most recent forwarder, my dad, who had attached his own screed. This is my response.
You poor, poor American Christians. How oppressed you are with your undefeated record of electing 44 Christian Presidents (unless of course you conveniently think Obama is Muslim), your vast 89% majority in Congress, your significant 77% majority of the US population. Oh, but of course maybe those aren't "true" Christians. Funny, they look pretty good on paper with 61% of the population believing that evolution is a lie, and 45% of the population believing the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
But you go on with your hypocritical lives, your convenient selective memory of the Old Testament and the New. Keep quoting the Old Testament to stop the queers from their equality, your marvelous quotes about slavery kept those uppity Negroes in chains for a few hundred extra years. And don't worry, I'm an atheist so I don't have the mandate to stone you for working on the Sabbath, for eating shellfish, getting tattoos, or association with menstruating women. And I'll try to resist quoting Matthew 5:17-20 and all that stuff about, "Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished." I'm just an amoral, compassless heathen apparently bent on doing all I can to make some tasty s'mores while I watch the world burn.
Oh, and as for Jesus Christ ruling forever, good luck with that. Hope He has a bit more staying power than the Sumerian religion, the Babylonian religion, the Assyrian religion, the Egyption religion, the Greek religion, the Roman/Mithra relition, the Germanic/Norse religion, the Maya religion, and all the others that have faded into history. All those religions sure seemed convinced they were the real deal, and I'm sure all their followers sure were pretty miffed when you people started taking the Zeus out of Zeusmas, the Isis out of Ismas, etc. So I get it, you are right to be outraged. Shout "Merry Christmas" or "I love Jesus" at whoever you want as loud as you want, nobody will punch you in the mouth like they would me if I yelled out "Merry Jesus is a Myth Day". But you're right, you're the oppressed, distressed, offended people here. I keep forgetting that.
It's a funny thing, outraged Christians sure sound a lot like outraged white males, probably because so many of them are. A few thousand years of ideological domination and the subjugation of others just never feels like enough, does it? Even when you accept the notion that equality is probably inevitable you sure do grouse about the thought that women, blacks, gays, foreigners might temporarily get 'unfair' educational, career, financial advantage. How dare the pendulum swing even a tenth of a degree in their favor, what an affront to a system you'd so carefully rigged over centuries with all your social and religious mores.
Funny thing is, I'm actually all for you loving your Lord. I want you to find spiritual sustenance wherever you may. I am not the least bit offended nor do I shy away from your Merry Christmases. There is much to respect about the modern interpretation of Christ, certainly a lot more than the interpretation which brought us inquisitions, crusades, the burning of misidentified witches, and whatever horrors future interpretations may bring. It just irks me when you whine about your lot, at the notion that others might dare for a few moments here or there to be as loud and as obnoxious as you felt quite comfortable being during various parts of your continued Western World domination.
Be gracious winners, not whiners. Your majority rule hasn't ended yet. Try to enjoy your declining years, it sounds like you are the ones confusing a trip to a big box department store with a trip to a church. I read nothing about the exchange of big screen flat panel TVs in the New Testament. I can't imagine mixing up the joy at my savior's birth with the joy of unwrapping a toxic toy made by children in China. If you expect God to be found in Best Buy or City Hall you're bound to be increasingly disappointed, try visiting your perpetually-renewing local house of worship instead. All public traditions get co-opted, by non-believers, by capitalists, by the ignorant, by people who simply see a good birthday party and want to attend without giving a damn whose birthday it is. I didn't turn your Christmas into a business proposition, that was you believing folk who made a religious celebration commercial, who took to exchanging increasingly expensive items as a proxy for religious passion.
This atheist wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, in the truest sense of it. Enjoy Christ, love Christ, celebrate Christ this December 25th. And quit your bitching about people at the local mall or city hall or school awkwardly trying to make room for others at your table of largess. But, do let me know if any of those folk wander into your church and try to make your pastor take the Christ out of Christmas, that's when you'll have my full support.
> On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:40 PM, My Dad<*********@msn.com> wrote:
> Powerful, alarming,sad,sobering, all-too-true message. In response, I AM thinking of, and invoking a message of:
> Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father...the Prince of Peace...and He shall
> reign forever and ever...and the Kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of OUR GOD AND
> OF HIS CHRIST, AND HE SHALL RULE FOREVER AND EVER....AMEN...AAAAMMMENNN...AND...AMEN!!!
> PEACE, Indeed!Thank you...(I am sending this to many)
> From: Somebody
> Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:46:53 -0500
> Subject: Fwd: Fw: Your First Christmas card
> To: Lots of people
> MERRY CHRISTMAS
> YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
> Cleverly done!!!
> Twas the month before Christmas
> When all through our land,
> Not a Christian was praying
> Nor taking a stand.
> Why the PC Police had taken away
> The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
> The children were told by their schools not to sing
> About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
> It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
> December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
> Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
> Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
> CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
> Something was changing, something quite odd!
> Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
> In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
> As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
> At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
> At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
> You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
> Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
> Are words that were used to intimidate me.
> Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
> On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
> At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
> To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
> And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
> Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
> The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
> The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
> So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
> Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
> Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
> Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
> not Happy Holiday!
> Please, all Christians join together and
> wish everyone you meet
> MERRY CHRISTMAS!
> Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!
> If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.
I want to make clear what is surely already clear: I am not a biblical or religious scholar. I am just a regular guy who tries to understand the universe around me and my place in it. My beliefs are fluid and based on the information to which I am exposed. The best I can say is that it seems unlikely I will be swayed from my present position of agnosticism, unless I find new information that shifts my understanding. Given that I have been exposed to so much already, truly new information of real significance is hard to come by.
As for my background, I was raised a Christian (Episcopalian/Protestant), attended an Episcopalian grammar and high school school, served as an acolyte for a few years, went weekly to services through high school, was also exposed (through my dad) to a syncretic new-age church during visitations with him. I have read most (if not all) of the New Testament and much (but not all) of the Old Testament (all in my youth). I have read a few books on Christianity, but only a few. I have read quite a bit more about unusual faiths (e.g., my dad's church/cult, Scientology, Mormons, Branch Davidians, Ramtha School of Enlightenment, etc.). My favorite religion, the one which feels most true for me, is Zen Buddhism, but though I have read several of their books, and attended several of their services, and dabbled in some of their meditations, I cannot call myself a Buddhist. Religion, it's meaning and influence on people, has always been profoundly interesting to me. If you disagree with me or find fault with what I say I encourage you to respectfully tell me where I have made any factual or logical errors. I am always eager to correct errors, or my own thinking (if I feel it is necessary).
While my present position is that I do not believe in God, I am not what you'd typically consider an atheist. Atheists by common definition know with absolute certainty that there is no God. They have a confidence about their position that can only be described as religious. As for me, I do not know if there is or is not a God, I know only that I have not found sufficient reason to believe in one, and instead found reasons not to. I fully acknowledge that there is ample space within the framework of physics and quantum physics for Him to operate, I simply find no proof that He does.
I enjoy discussing these topics with all people who are confident enough in their own divergent views to find our discussion enjoyable rather than frustrating and heretical. Despite what some may think, I see us as all looking for the same answers, trying to resolve the same mysteries. If you've found your answers, congratulations! I am still finding mine.
These blog entries are not meant to de-convert anyone, they are simply my exploring my own thoughts and observations in the public view. Greater minds have covered these topics, covered all topics, but that doesn't mean we lesser minds don't enjoy our time in the sun.
The other day I stumbled across the site JesusNeverExisted.com and was blown away. The site is fantastic! It puts the words to my own rejection of Christianity and backs words with facts I only vaguely knew/suspected. The site and its author brilliantly attack the foundations of Christianity and its many claims through logical and historical arguments, most of the time using the church's own writings/teachings to make the points. The site also offers fascinating contextual information about how the bibles were shaped, and upon what other documents and religions they were based.
I wanted to hate this site, when I first clicked the link to get there I expected the worst, the title being so "in your face". Arguments against Christianity (from atheists, especially) usually feel exhaustingly and frustratingly religious (in their own way), without any real facts, but this site instantly had me hooked because it lays out the arguments and the facts so well (and the facts are often conflicting quotations from the bible).
This site is unlikely to convince any true believer that they have been mistaken, but it surely would give a nudge to someone already on the fence.
Christianity (in particular) puts quite a lot of emphasis on "faith". Preachers love to talk about how faith is a requirement, that we cannot require or expect proof from God, at least not in the same way we might expect and require proof from a scientist talking about his new discovery. To be a true follower of God you must believe in Him, largely on the basis of faith.
But what seems so odd to me is that few of the figures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments were required to have the sort of faith we are now expected to. The key figures in both Old and New Testaments all had direct and unambiguous contact with God, Jesus, and angels. This direct contact was not made only to the deeply faithful, it involved those who had no faith, those who had only marginal faith, and those with whom the concept of faith didn't even apply. God proved Himself to Moses by His appearance through the burning bush. God spoke directly to Abraham. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to the Apostles and many an average citizen by walking among them and performing indisputable miracles in their very presence. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to Saul (who became Paul) by converting Him through a personal appearance. God appeared, sent angels, or sent visions to most of the other major figures in the Old Testament (Adam & Eve, Cain, Abraham, Job, Isaac, Mary, etc.). How could these people in the Old and New Testament not believe in God when He was directly interacting with them, proving Himself to them by His words and His deeds? If Jesus appeared before me today and raised someone from the dead I, too, would absolutely believe. If God appeared and spoke to me tomorrow through a burning bush (that was not consumed) I would surely believe. If God spoke to me from the heaven's to ask me where my brother was, I would believe. How could anyone doubt what was so self-evidently true? But why are we now expected to forgo the proof and/or validation provided to all these figures we are taught to respect, emulate, and admire? Why did God or religion change these requirements? Why are we expected to be more "faith"-ful (in the sense of believing without proof) than the Apostles, than Saul (Paul), than Moses, than Abraham. I do not believe I can or should do that.
Mainstream Christianity's reading of the New Testament says, "You can only get to heaven if you've accepted Jesus Christ." If this had come in the form of an announcement delivered in a booming voice from the heavens to every living creature back in 32 AD, fair enough, but what about the billions of people who were born and died since 32 AD without ever having been exposed to a Christian, let alone Christ's message? God would have known how fast and far His message would spread, having only introduced it to one specific region (the middle east) at one specific time. He could have set and explained the new rules to Noah and his family during their time on the ark, so that all people would be informed and could choose their fate with full knowledge of their options and consequences. He could have set and explained the new rules to Adam & Eve in the garden so they could instruct their children and thus all humanity. God is all knowing, so how could he not know he would want to implement these rules at a future time? I find it hard to believe in a God who would knowingly create a situation in which large numbers of his beloved children would be doomed as a result of geography and a lack of world-wide communication networks.
(From what I understand, some believe that on judgment day everyone gets a second chance at giving their final answer about whether or not they accept Jesus as their lord and savior. If this is true then that is marvelous, and alleviates some of my concern, provided those souls are allowed to make an informed choice, presented with information which would reasonably allow one to conclude Jesus truly is real. Regardless, what puzzles me a bit is that if anyone can accept Him at this final moment, why then is it important that people accept Him during their life here on Earth. It would be preferable, sure, but so many Christians seem truly frightened when the relatives they love die (or look as though they may die) without having accepted Jesus.)
Christians (including the apostles) have been proclaiming the end of the world since the very early days of the church. Jesus' return, and the apocalypse He'd bring, was expected within a generation of His resurrection.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
—1 John 2:18
But the end of the world hasn't yet come, despite the many dire predictions of mainstream and splinter groups over these last two thousand years. Most Christian groups have now wised up and stay well out of the prediction game, but some still swear it's going to happen any day now (next prediction for the end of the world is May 21, 2011).
The fact that the original church was wrong on this profoundly important point, and that many generally accepted as legitimate (as well as wacky) derivations of the original church have been wrong about this profoundly important point, makes me question how right they can be right about the less important issues.
It seems reasonable to me to expect that people who love and follow the Lord would be happier and better people than those who don't. If God was real, and His laws were real, and His lessons were real, and faith in Him manifested changes, and prayer to Him worked, and His love was powerful, then how could His people not enjoy better lives and be better people? If His intervention was not a factor then simply their living a life in sacred resonance with a universe He made and they better understood would seem to guarantee some improvement.
And yet, I can find no significant evidence of this. I've known bad people of every faith (and lack therein). I've known unhappy people of every faith (and lack therein). All I've noticed is that the happiest and best people seem to be those who question and explore their religious beliefs (whether they believe or not). I certainly can't argue that the atheists or agnostics might be barred from entering heaven upon their death, but here on this good Earth God seems to show them no particular disfavor in the form of excess misery, death, poverty, etc. This lack of a strong difference between the lives lived, in or out of accordance with His wishes, does not encourage me to believe.
The God of the Old Testament made his presence directly and unambiguously known in many people's lives. He spoke directly to various Biblical figures, sent angels to speak on His behalf to various others. He was a very hands-on God. And while He changed His interaction significantly in the New Testament (sending Himself in the form of His son to directly interact with people), he was still very hands-on. But for the last two thousand years His approach has been decidedly hands-off. Now admittedly it depends somewhat on which faith or at least sect you subscribe to. There are Christian sects who believe in the visitations of other prophets, visitations of angels, and miracles, but even among these groups I think it's fair to say that fellow parishioners would look askance at any one arriving Sunday morning claiming a previous night's visitation by an angel bearing a great revelation. Something changed in God's interaction with us, or perhaps in our interaction with God. In either case I find the change hard to reconcile, and belief discouraged as a result.
One trouble I have accepting Christianity as truth-based is the stark differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. These differences seem peculiar to me. I would not have imagined an omniscient God would experience dramatic shifts in expressed personality over a span of a mere few thousand years. Our human personalities evolve greatly over our short lifespans because we acquire knowledge, we come to understand that knowledge, and we struggle with hormonal fluctuations that accompany the delicate process of growing and dying. God would have seemed immune to those issues, being both omniscient and omnipotent. And yet He seems to change.
This Old Testament God did a lot of punishing. For their disobedience Adam & Eve were cast out of Eden with all of us now suffering decay and death as a result. For man's growing wickedness all but Noah and his kin were killed in the flood. For their impenitent sin, everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah was killed except Lot and his two daughters. And for their enslavement of the Jews, all the first born males in Egypt were killed. And beyond all the punishment there is an awful lot of testing of men, including the horrible tale of Job and Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac. And there are ever so many rules laid down in the Old Testament about the behavior we adherents are required to keep lest be kept out of heaven or deserve to be stoned to death. And of course there is the curious fact that Old Testament God is not described as a trinity.
The New Testament God is markedly different. God does not engage in widespread punishment, does not kill those who transgress upon Him or His son, Jesus. And God seems little interested in testing people's faith, except perhaps that of His son. And the New Testament seems to relay a doctrine primarily about love, tolerance, and the need to focus on the core Biblical principles (e.g., love thy neighbor) and less on the minutiae (e.g., don't eat shellfish). And somewhat surprisingly, God also revealed Himself to be a trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
How can these two very different experiences of God be reconciled, without either admitting God Himself radically changed over a period of a few thousand years, or if God is the same then admitting that man's account of God must be wildly inaccurate? Both possibilities strongly discourage my belief.