By John Draper ~
ight out of the chute as a Christian, God saw fit to put me in a Bible study with a bunch of guys who had a weakness for bare-naked ladies. It was sort of a practical joke on His part.
All of us were “sold out” for Jesus Christ, no question. The burning passion of our lives was to serve the Lord. Yet we were fully aware that as 19-year-old men, we were each at our sexual peak. Never again would we be this horny.
The comedy of our situation didn’t escape us. So every study would be well peppered with jokes about choking the gopher and the difficulty of not turning our heads to watch a beautiful girl pass us by.
And it wasn’t just lust. You name the sin, we committed it.
We could laugh about our “carnal mindedness” because we were convinced God was going to empower us to “live in victory”—eventually. It’s known as the doctrine of sanctification: God’s Holy Spirit works in believers to make them more like Jesus.
At least that’s what we were sure of when we were 19. So to that end, I strove to cooperate with God. I prayed. I studied the Bible, memorized the Bible. I spoke in tongues. I worshiped God with my whole heart. Believing that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” I entered into numerous “accountability relationships” with other devout men. I was sure God would be faithful, for the Bible told me so: He who began a work good in your will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6.
I marched in that manner for 35 years, happily, until the day I thought, “Have I just been marching in place?”
Am I any different?
I mean, has this all just been magical thinking? You read an ancient book written by people you’ve never met and then ask a silent, invisible being to empower you to live by the teachings of that book—and then when you get no help from the invisible, silent being, you ask people who are as lost as you are. And you expect to change?
Why not just sprinkle pixie dust on myself?
Right when I was having these uncomfortable thoughts, I ended up reuniting with those 19-year-old True Believers from 35 years ago. It happened when Carl, the guy who created that Bible study 35 years ago, took me to his church’s men’s retreat. As it turned out, a number of the members of that Bible study attended Carl’s church.
The leader of the men’s retreat kicked it off by admitting an addiction to—what else?—masturbation. From there, the retreat consisted of a series of talks, each followed by small-group discussion. It just so happened I was in a small group with a couple of deacons from Carl’s church—so, spiritual rock stars.
Every time we’d huddle to discuss how the previous speaker’s points “applied to our lives,” the frank admission I’d get from these Men of God was that they were just getting by, making it up as they went.
I thought: They’re me!
I was reminded of the time I spent the night in my then-brother-in-law’s bedroom while he was away at college. I woke up in the middle of the night with a screaming need to pee, it was black as Satan’s Sunday shoes, and I was absolutely unsure of where the door was. I found the wall and began fumbling my way by feel with one hand, with my other hand clenching my wang for dear life. Just before I burst forth, I chanced on the doorknob.
That pretty much sums up my approach to life’s challenges. Just getting by on gumption and luck.
Back at the men’s retreat, during breaks I would hang with the guys. We bragged about our kids—and compared our scars. We didn’t come right out and say it, but I could tell: We hadn’t changed much. At least we hadn’t become Men of God. We still looked at women as they passed by us. We still envied people who had things we didn’t have. We still got mad too easily. We still lied if it would save our skin and no one would know the difference.
Any changes that had occurred in us were a matter of nuance—and those changes didn’t come from God. We were not better humans because of God’s Holy Spirit “working in our lives.” We were better humans because we had slogged through all the hardship God had allowed us to endure.
In other words, we were better in spite of God.
It’s the falling down, picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying again—and again and again—that makes you a better human. God is not involved. If God was doing it, it wouldn’t really be you who was improving, would it? Growth has to cost you something.
If religion worked as advertised—that is, like pixie dust—believers would be like the kid at the science fair who obviously had a lot of help from his parents. We’d get the blue ribbon but not really learn anything—and someday that would come back to bite us in the ass.
But me, I have learned. And what was the lesson? I am enough. I don’t need God. That’s not hubris. It is what it is. I’m enough. Besides, what other choice do I have? Here’s the how-it-works-on-the-ground truth: Believers don’t have an edge over nonbelievers in surmounting life’s challenges. Take an inventory of the believers and nonbelievers in your life. You’ll find the believers are just as anxious, lost and prone to looking at online porn as nonbelievers. God doesn’t give them a leg up.
We’re all just doing the best we can, frantically searching for the doorknob in the dark.
Face facts. Pixie dust doesn’t work.
By Carl S ~
have a son from my first marriage. His name is Emmett. My wife and I went to his wedding reception, and all of us have gone out to restaurants together. Although we live far apart, we keep in touch regularly. You won't find better friends than they are, or a more lovable gentleman than Emmett.
Love is a means of manipulation because it is powerful. There are many case histories of men killing the spouses of women they love, out of love. Consider a common situation some males get themselves into, and the consequences of their decisions while in love. We all, male and female, can understand what it means to be intensely in love with someone. We've heard “love is blind.”
For example: A vulnerable man strikes up a friendship with a woman, which becomes a passionate sexual relationship. He's taken leave of his mind, doesn't care, he believing she loves him more than anyone he's ever known, she’s someone he is destined to be with. Then, she reveals she's married. That doesn't diminish his passion. She tells him her husband's mentally and physically abusing her. She tells him he has threatened to kill her if she leaves him. Sometimes the lovers agree he deserves to die, and then they can be free together. But will he kill to prove the strength of his love for her?
Men and women lie to get what they want. These women, for that reason, claim they're abused, when the opposite is obvious to anyone who knows their husbands. Spouses are killed because the lover of another man's spouse truly believes what she tells him. The lover is too involved with her to question her claims, will not allow himself to investigate them, will not confront or even meet the spouse. We can understand. The lover believes he knows, as no other, the person he is involved with. He knows “without a doubt” her love for him. The bonds of love can be used for good or evil purposes, and if the evil is seen as good, “executing” the one who abuses one's lover is justified. We can understand a man willing to harm someone believed to be abusing or threatening to kill his beloved. A beloved who demands he harms someone he loves is severely mentally ill or just plain evil.
Those indoctrinated in three major faiths have their scriptural heroes, praised as representing the highest examples of loyalties to their god. They are the role models who obediently prove their utmost love for the unseen god. One man is held in highest esteem by those three religions, proving his love by obedient willingness to sacrifice someone he loved: Abraham. I've been told that I, like those men, should passionately love with all my heart, an invisible father who will test my love to the maximum. At the same time, millions are taught their one true god chose to show his love by having his only son killed for humankind. His is the example of what Christians preach as the greatest love of all.
My wife and I will watch yet another report of a man murdering his lover's husband. I will mention the love that man had. Then I shall tell her, “I love you even more. To prove how true and powerful my love for you is, I'm going now to kill Emmett for you.”
Would her faith-filled family say of me, “See how he so loved...” And will she still not understand?
By Tania ~
here are the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid...and, of course, the men they fall in love with and -- depending on which versions of the stories you happen to read -- live with happily ever after. And there is the story that I'm most familiar with: Christian Girl Meets and Marries Christian Guy.
Until I began to transition away from Christianity about seven years ago, that story was, I thought, the framework for my own personal love/romance/marriage story. It's the storyline that many Christian romance novels and movies use, and it's supposedly what will happen to you if you do just the right things.
In this story, the girl is a Christian, and the guy she is interested in is also a Christian. That's a given. There have been how many books written and sermons preached on 2 Corinthians 6:14? "Do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?...'Therefore, come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord." How interesting, I think now as I reflect on those verses and the poorly formed notion that if two people both identify themselves as XYZ label, the relationship will go well. I see now that there are far more important matters to consider: Can I be my true self around my partner? Do I feel safe? Do we have fun together? Are things in our relationship generally well-balanced? Does he/she bring out a good side of me? I think about how our labels, our interests, and so many other superficial things can change over time; so, is it wise to build a life-long relationship on those foundations?
So, anyway, Christian girl has met Christian guy. Good. In my daydreams, he and I would date for a year or so. We'd get to know each other well (but not too well, wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and our families would give their blessings to our blossoming relationship. He'd have the qualities of a good human being (in my mind, those existed mostly just in Christians), and because I was also a good human being, our relationship would run smoothly, like, 99% of the time. Also, please note that a supposedly very important part of our relationship at this stage was the fact that we would not have sex until we got married.
Yikes. How can abstinence and "saving oneself until marriage" be such important factors in a relationship? Of course, when I was on the inside of Christianity, it made sense: God is holy and pure, He calls us to live lives of obedience to His Word, sex outside of the marriage of a heterosexual couple is dirty, thinking about sex is dirty...but if you wait until your honeymoon to have sex with your spouse, it will be special and magical, you won't get an STD, and you'll be more likely to have a satisfying sexual life down the road, too. Since leaving the religion, I've revised almost every idea I'd had about sex. I used to think that if I "went too far" with someone, the "right thing to do" was to get married, soon! I used to think that the level of my "sexual purity" determined whether or not I was a good person. I used to think that God cared about such petty things as hugs that last too long or fantasies that bordered on a 14A rating. I used to think that there were so many more rules about physical intimacy, besides "Do what you want, as long as nobody gets hurt" (which is still a pretty tall order).
Back to our little romance story... in my wildest dreams, Christian guy and I would get married -- ceremony in the church, reception at a hotel down the road, and, of course, the long-anticipated First Night as a Married Couple, which would be beautiful and sweet...a foreshadowing of decades more of such wonderful bliss.
Well. Again, I am amazed that so many of us thought -- and, for some, still think -- that this is the magic formula. In real life, "first times" and wedding nights aren't always fantastic. In real life, having a great sex life at the start of a relationship isn't a guarantee that it'll be great for forever, and vice versa. As with other areas in our lives, there often is no way of knowing how something will look in 20, 35, 50 years. We can try our best and we can keep our fingers crossed, hoping for good outcomes, but there are no simple formulas for every single aspect of life. Man + Woman + Waiting for God's permission to have sex = Satisfaction? Hmmm.
As my CGMAMCG story played on in my mind, my not-yet-real husband and I were happily married. I don't remember what we did in regards to work, our free time, traveling, and so on. There weren't any huge struggles (I guess not -- this is just a young and naive girl's imagination, going wild), and certainly never ever any hint of the marriage being on the rocks...disintegrating...crumbling...and ending.
And, reality: Relationships can be very challenging. Given certain sets of circumstances and personalities and other factors, a relationship can be tested beyond what anyone in that relationship ever imagined. And sometimes, things cannot be fixed. Even after counselling and waiting and taking a break and trying yet another new approach, a relationship sometimes crumbles and there is no longer any way of making it work. I grew up hearing that people who divorced just didn't try hard enough. Or maybe they weren't seeking God and His will, and therefore their marriage suffered. Maybe their difficult marriage was a "test from God," and it was something they had to persevere so that, ultimately, their way of coping with it would prove whether or not they were worthy of God. Wow. I am relieved that many Christian denominations no longer strictly follow the teachings in Matthew 19: 6-9: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate... I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Last summer, I went to a wedding. The ceremony was in a small chapel behind someone's house, and the reception was at a community hall (and yes, there was alcohol and dancing!). The man and the woman had been in the relationship for about five years, and I'm pretty sure they had had sex several times. They knew each other well, and they wanted to make their union more official -- they wanted the piece of paper, and the vows in front of family and friends, and a big celebration. Fair enough, I think. They weren't rushing into marriage, and they weren't getting married just so God or their families would be pleased. Although they hope to stay together for forever, my guess is that they know that, should they decide to part ways someday, it wouldn't be a sin... and they would probably, eventually, be okay.
As I think back on the last three years, I realize that my real life romance story is so vastly different from what I'd been imagining for much of my life. Even so, I am a very happy character in it. I've learned that, just as it is in fact possible to have wonderful friendships outside of the church, so it is also possible to have a wonderful partner who is an athiest. I've learned that although it is wise to follow some guidelines when in a relationship, those guidelines don't focus on such things as when you are allowed to have sex (on or after the wedding night), when it is okay to get divorced (hint: almost never), and who is the leader in the marriage just like "Christ is head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23). I've become more open-minded about relationships, in general, as I've seen happy same-sex couples, healthy long-term commitments that don't include a marriage certificate, or couples that function well, even though it's not the first marriage for either partner. I no longer have any doubt in my mind that couples who "don't follow the rules" stand just as good a chance of having a healthy, fulfilling relationship.
By SueAnne ~
o here I am after being raised Christian and living it strongly my entire life, 39 years old and I’m left with nothing. I woke up one day in August, 2017 and it was like someone unplugged (or possibly plugged in) something in my brain and it was all gone. Every ounce of belief or faith I’d had was gone. I felt like God had left me overnight. I remember telling my husband, I feel like God has left me. Like it’s all gone. He, like most believers, quoted a scripture at me about how god would never abandon me blah blah blah. It didn’t help, it pissed me off and I said for the first time in my life, I don’t care what the bible says! He’s gone. I didn’t feel it anymore.
Let me clarify that I never questioned god or jesus and had never struggled with my faith. I was one arrogant Christian who could quote scriptures at you like no one else. I didn’t need proof, I just knew. Until that one day...suddenly I didn’t know anything.
No one at church spoke about a crisis of faith. Not until I finally had one. I tried talking to the pastors and was questioned about what I was reading, what shows I was watching, and how much time I was spending reading the bible. No one had any answers and the more judgemental questions they threw at me the angrier I became. It almost seemed like they were less concerned about my spiritual well being than they were afraid of others finding out about this crisis. I told them, it might be wise to teach Christians about this so they’re more prepared!? They ignored my suggestions and basically said were sorry this happened and have a nice life.
By October we, my husband and I and our 3 children stopped attending church and we just sort of said were just taking a step back from it all. Nobody came after us or cared. I even had a friend tell me “i’m so glad to hear it’s a faith crisis and nothing about the church or someone hurting you.”
Christianity is not about love it’s about control... Fear, manipulation and control.
I started doing my own research. I decided that I was going to research other options. Do the unthinkable! I stopped reading my Bible. I stopped listening to Christian music and I started reading about things I’ve always loved but was told to be afraid of, like science. Yes Christians are so scared of science and everything else. I was feeling like I was reborn! It was weird but I honestly was having a great time. This new life was very attractive right from the beginning. I noticed I was happier than I remember feeling. Life was exciting and I didn’t have those lifelong feelings of guilt, shame, fear...etc. I felt free! I was loving my new life but was still confused. Wasn’t freedom one of Christianity’s biggest claims? Freedom! Lies. It isn’t true. The only time I truly felt free was when I finally admitted to my husband, I’m not a Christian anymore and I don’t want to be. He wasn’t raised in church and was easy to win over to the fun freedom filled life where I could watch a UFO documentary or a show about the human brain! No guilt or fear!
Christianity is not about love it’s about control... Fear, manipulation and control. I said it twice because it’s their biggest thing. Try telling a Christian they might be wrong or you don’t agree and you see anger. They can become nasty and quickly. If you’re going to mess with the control they have over others they will quickly dismiss you from their lives. They’re some of the meanest people I know.
Its an ongoing journey and I am trying to take it day by day. I am still struggling with anger towards Christians in general but it’s getting better with time. It doesn’t help that my close friend, who is still a believer but trying to understand and walk with me regardless of our beliefs, told me last night over coffee that she is certain that I’m demon possessed! I needed to be doing spiritual warfare and to be delivered from the demons. Friends told her this and offered to help me through their 6 month healing course they offered for a small fee.
I laughed in her face and said I don’t feel possessed I feel happy. She just said that that’s Satan’s trick.
Im basically almost 40 and starting over. I have my husband and children’s support. Everyone else I know is a believer. It’s not easy telling people what has happened and that I’m an atheist unless someone can show me something real. It hurts people and I feel completely on my own.
Saying all of that, I still wouldn’t change it now. At first I kept hoping it would just magically switch back and I would wake up praising the lord. Not now. I am happier than I’ve ever been. I just need to keep moving forward and find others on the same journey
By Valerie Tarico ~
God forbid we should talk about the fact that the Bible, despite some wise and lyrical passages, is mostly a boring tangled mess.
After a storm of protest on Twitter and in comment threads, Salon retracted and removed my recent article, “Why the Bible is So Badly Written,” saying that it failed to meet their editorial standards. But which standards were those? Notwithstanding its provocative title and lede, the article summarized a series of well-known flaws in the Bible along with facts about how the book was constructed. It proposed (as did Thomas Jefferson) that the Good Book could use a good edit. Reviewed before publication by a retired religion professor and a professional editor, and errata corrected, the analysis was factually defensible and reasonably clear.
What the article definitely violated were the sensibilities of many Christians and orthodox Jews, and an array of literature lovers from Christianized cultures.
Christians and Jews differ among themselves in how they think of the Bible. Adherents may hold what is called a high or a low view of scripture, or something in between. At the high end are biblical literalists who think their book of scripture, in its entirety, is a timeless and perfect message from Heaven. At the low end are modernist believers, who see the Bible as a collection of human documents, but nonetheless a precious record of humanity’s struggle to understand what is real and good. In between these two lie those who think their version of the Bible, among all the world’s holy books, is uniquely inspired and inspiring. All of these cherish the Bible’s familiar phrases—selectively—as part of their worship routines.
People who hold varying (even conflicting) views of the Bible as scripture generally unite around a derivative view--that the Bible represents one of humanity’s greatest literary achievements. This view has been unassailable for centuries, even as belief in the Bible as holy scripture has dwindled. For those who have left religion behind, emphatically endorsing the Bible as great literature softens the blow, as does the claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher. What do we do with the Bible if we don't revere it as God's word? We can revere it as writing.
Offended critics of “Why the Bible is So Badly Written,” pointed to famous authors, including Poet Maya Angelou, who themselves have treasured the Bible as beautiful, inspiring literature. How presumptuous to suggest otherwise!
To be clear, the Bible contains passages with timeless relevance, lyrical poetry, wise counsel, and stories that have inspired two millennia of derivative art. I could and should have acknowledged that more clearly in the article that set off the storm. But that is not all it contains. Two hundred years ago, when Thomas Jefferson took a sharp instrument to a Bible, he called the parts he kept “diamonds in a dunghill.” The other parts, those he discarded, include tedious details about ritual purification, self-aggrandizing genealogical tributes to racial superiority, horrific stories of god-sanctioned violence that dehumanizes women, slaves, and tribal outsiders—and a vast array of related dross.
My own suspicion is that few of the outraged religious believers and literature lovers who attacked Salon have ever attempted to read the Bible cover to cover. Per Barna, the average American household contains 4.4 Bibles, but 57 percent of people say they read something out of it four times per year or less. Even those who read it more often tend to return to the brief passages that they do find inspiring, while skipping the troublesome parts. The book may be the world’s best seller, as some Twitterati like to crow, but most copies collect dust with very good reason.
But reason is only part of the story when we talk about sacred cows.
Seattle, where I live, is home to a hamburger chain called Dick’s. Some folks may recognize it from a Macklemore video that he filmed on the roof of one outlet. Even newcomers to Seattle know about Dick's and can tell you that “Dick’s is great,” whether they’ve ever tasted the hamburgers and fries or not. Dick's is great, has taken on a life of its own. It is common knowledge, a cultural touch point, an unquestioned point of agreement that is a part of our shared identity. To claim otherwise is contrarian, the violation of a local light-hearted taboo.
The taboos surrounding the Bible, as both a sacred text and a body of literature, are not so light-hearted because they are more important. But I might argue that defense of the Bible is no less reflexive. For over a thousand years, speaking ill of the Bible has been as gauche as speaking ill of the dead. But that is changing.
If, at this point, you find yourself irritated or protesting or sneering, let me ask you something. When was the last time you actually read it? Cover to cover. If you think that the Bible as a whole constitutes a pinnacle of human moral guidance or literature—either one—you owe it to yourself to read it, all of it. But be forewarned. The testimonial section at ExChristian.net is peppered with stories of folks who set out to do just that and found their spiritual worldview in rubble.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Note: The version of "Why the Bible is So Badly Written" linked at my website has minor revisions that did not appear in the version at Salon, including a more clear statement that the Bible contains bits of beauty and wisdom amidst the rest. I routinely continue to tweak articles after they have been picked up elsewhere. To see the exact version published by Salon, go to AlterNet.com.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
For over a thousand years, speaking ill of the Bible has been as gauche as speaking ill of the dead. But that is changing.