Posted by: Jim | November 30, 2008

Why I am No Longer a Christian – Part 3

During the years that I struggled with my faith, an image got stuck in my head that kept coming back and ruining my stasis. It is this picture:

vietnam-monk-self-immolation

When I was still only a year old, the monk in the picture, a man named Thich Quang Duc, stepped into a street, doused himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire.

He was Buddhist.

I had always been taught that other religions were inventions of Satan to deceive people away from the true salvation of Christ. And yet, here was a man who was so passionate about his faith and what he believed, he was willing to die for it. In fact what Duc did caused such a stir that the leader he was protesting, Ngo Dihn Diem, was soon overthrown.

No matter how hard I tried to wrap my mind around it, I could not imagine this man–and an entire nation of people like him–could be merely under some “Satanic Spell.” And if so, how could such a deception lead to such altruistic good works? Wouldn’t a tool of Satan become more filled with hateful and Satan-like emotions? The Bible said you know a tree by it’s fruits. If the fruit of this man’s faith was true altruism … I could not say the tree from which it grew was the work of Satan.

And I wondered what would have happend to me if I had been born in Vietnam. I knew that statistically–no matter how close I felt my link was with Jesus–I would have become a Buddhist like Duc. And if I had been born in Indonesia I would have been a Muslim. If I had been born in India, I would have practiced Hinduism. But no, I was born in the United States, and practiced Christianity instead. And I believed that all the others were wrong, just like Hindus think that we are wrong, and Muslims think that Buddhists are wrong, etc. etc.

How many truth-seekers in the Sudan look at all the world’s religions and decide upon Christianity? How many Americans explore the world and settle upon Islam? I knew that Cat Stevens was the one glaring exception, but that statistically, the chances of an American becoming a Muslim were practically nil.

So truth, it started to seem, was relative. When people reach out for God, they go to the nearest and most convenient and socially-acceptable religion. Their need for help becomes satisfied, and everyone is happy. Their questions are answered, and they will not question the answer.

And so, here I was, a kid in the United States who was an ardent Christian. I defended my faith against the most intellectual attacks I encountered. But when considering this evidence, I was starting to feel like a giant fool.

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Responses

  1. Jim,

    That’s an interesting picture for sure. I don’t know the history of that, thanks for sharing it. It would probably creep me out if I was a kid, in fact it still is creepy.

    There are *so* many different kinds of people out there and some people who would die for different reasons. I don’t think that just because he would die for his beliefs that it makes the belief system right. There are Christians who would die for their beliefs (I am one of them) and I don’t think that validates Christianity.

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that other religions were of the devil. Did they teach you that in seminary or was that something that was told to you when you were a child?

    I think humans in general are searching to fill the spiritual need that we have. We search until we think we find it. That’s why it depends on where you are on the planet as to what you might pick up on. If Hinduism is not readily available to me in the U.S. then it is not on my radar so to speak, and I will probably not become a Hindu.

    What does God do with those that die who are not Christian’s and who have never heard of Jesus Christ before?

    God has given us his Word from the Bible, and it says that he is a just God. I expect that he knows the heart of those individuals and perhaps has another method of determination. Perhaps they have a chance to accept Christ in some form of the afterlife that is not known to us?

    If you have the opportunity, I think it is a good life journey to seek out world religions as well as atheism so that one has a better knowledge of the choices that humans have when it comes to fulfilling their spiritual needs.

    Once someone has picked what they want, they could change if that is what seems right to them, just like you did.

    Life is full of choices. Let those who believe in a tribal god of the earth, believe in it. Let those who believe in the Greek or Roman gods believe in them. Let a person have the right of unbelief and let a person be a Christian without persecution.

  2. Ted wrote:

    Life is full of choices. Let those who believe in a tribal god of the earth, believe in it. Let those who believe in the Greek or Roman gods believe in them. Let a person have the right of unbelief and let a person be a Christian without persecution.

    I could not agree more. Thich Quang Duc may have followed through with this seemingly irrational act, however if all Buddhists are judged by this single act, well, it’s still judgment , isn’t it? The one thing I try not to do, and successfully so, is not to worry who or what other people worship unless it has potential to cause harm to my family, myself and/or my country.

    I am not saying that you are judgmental, Jim, but I think that people for the most part equate Christianity with televangelism and not by grass roots gatherings where folks worship peacefully and without attempting to exploit the public for money or fame.

    Joel Osteen – are you listening? The guy preaches peace, love and happiness, but the minute you put yourself on television like that, you lose credibility with me. There’s something not right there, but I’m not going to judge him for his message. I judge him for how he lives that message.

  3. Great responses. Ted it sounds like you are a lot more liberal with the Christian faith than I was. This is good in a way. You sound much more tolerant of other religions than the culture I grew up in. That’s VERY good.

    And Ted, let’s please not accuse me of “persecuting” Christians. I’m not sure you really meant it to sound that way, but that’s how it sounds. Let me be clear: I would be adamantly against any governmental movement to curtail the rights of Christians in any way. I would be as vehemently against it as I was Prop 8. All I am doing here is saying what needs to be said, and putting the idea out into the world that religion is irrational, and is harming our society. That is different from wanting to “persecute” you. This isn’t ancient Rome and I am not a lion. My blog won’t hurt you.

    Back to the point: even though Ted and Todd might be “more reasonable” Christians, you are giving rise to the unreasonable ones. Here’s why:

    Christianity is mostly based on the Bible. Some Christians believe the Bible is 100% correct and true. Do you? Do you think that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God? It sounds like you don’t, because in 2 Thess 1:7-9 it says, “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.”

    That is crystal clear, Ted. If you not only believe in Jesus, but obey his gospel, then the Bible says you’re going to hell. Pure and simple. There is no second chance, or consolation prizes.

    However, I think it’s GOOD that you don’t believe this scripture. But surely you believe most of the others. So it’s a sliding scale. Maybe you believe 80% of the Bible, but you use your rational mind to determine which scriptures apply today and which ones don’t. You are STILL giving credence to the Bible when doing this, and believing that in some way it is a valid reference. THAT give credence to the people who believe 100% of it is true. They cannot be rejected outright as the kooks they are because of the more reasonable Teds and Todds of the world. To mock THEM is to mock YOU. See my point? You are their meat shield.

  4. Something I have never stopped to consider is exactly what each individual word of the Bible tells me. It’s not as important to me as the whole. I equate it to sitting down to a good movie, say The Sixth Sense. It is well-written, involves a good plot and characters, and at the very end you leave the theater dragging your jaw on the ground. Entertained for sure, but not so concerned with the holes in the plot.

    The Bible is a history book to me. It is also the gospel in my eyes. There are some things that yes, I do question, but overall, it is the message of the entire text that concerns me. Leviticus bores me, The Revelation stimulates me. I go to Proverbs when I’m feeling directionless and ‘human’. Psalms calms. Romans was my Dad’s favorite book, and reading it gives me insight into him. He was a Promise Keeper while he was with us, and that’s just not my bag. He knew it, yet he never pushed his agenda on me.

    The most conflicting books of the Bible to me are the ones that recount the life and times if Christ himself. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not all jive with one another. It would be nice to have it all wrapped up into a neat package with a flawless bow so there would be no doubt about the contents. The Bible is not an equation to me, where if one variable is off, the proof is false. It is a beautiful sum, as beautiful as pure science. Sounds contradictory, but that’s how I see it – you know I likes me my science, Jimmy 🙂

    If there are people out there mocking me, let them mock. I really don’t care. What toll is my personal faith taking on those who do not believe like me?

  5. Todd,

    I believe the Bible is the Word of God also. I know that there are branches of Christianity that believe certain things and have different interpretations of things, and that’s okay and that’s human.

    God has an element of great mystery. If he could be fully known and dissected he would probably not be God but a created thing.

    The central theme is that God loves us and doesn’t want us to die in our sin. If we have faith alone in Christ alone that he is God’s son who died for our sins, we will have eternal life. Remember the man on the cross next to Jesus who was a criminal who believed and Jesus said to him that this day he would be with him in Paradise?

    I’m not a believer that you have to do good works in order to be saved. I think that good works is a byproduct of salvation, but we are all still sinners and can’t live a perfect life. The difference is that we are forgiven by grace and it is not that we don’t have sin anymore, it’s that our sin will not be counted against us, right?

    It’s quite a beautiful love story. I’ve heard it said before that all the other religions of the world are mans attempt at reaching God/Heaven, but Christianity is God’s attempt at reaching man.

    In other religions you have works that you must follow. You must do more good things than bad, or you must pray a certain amount of times, or you must spin the tibetan prayer wheel, or be enlightened enough to raise from one consciousness to a higher level, etc..

    Christianity has one criteria and it is true faith. Because of your faith you will want to do good, and your fruit will be evident, but you are still learning and growing in knowledge and faith until the day that you die. You are not credited or discredited according to your fruit (works), they are only evidence that points to the status of your heart. Only God really knows your heart, probably better than we know our own!

    That’s cool that you knew that your dad liked Romans and that Romans gives you insight into your dad. I love that.

    We are just doing the best we can living out our faith. I also don’t care (in the grand scheme of things) if people mock me.

    What does it matter what anyone in society thinks as long as they obey the law of their society? If There are people out there that think that little green men exist and if you don’t believe in them you will die an eternal fiery death, will that really hurt you if it isn’t true?

    If those people are going against the laws of their society then the issue with them is their actions (whatever they have done to go against the law) not their beliefs.

    A belief system can be used for good or evil, just like a gun. If people use it for evil, can you say categorically that guns are evil? Since we all have possible different interpretations of evil in the first place, the line of differentiation is the common law of society.

    That’s why people are voting and lobbying to change laws and policies etc., right?

  6. Ted said: “God has an element of great mystery. If he could be fully known and dissected he would probably not be God but a created thing.”

    Actually, the opposite is true. If you CANNOT fully know and dissect a thing, it is probably created (i.e. imaginary).

    Then Ted said many other things I disagree with, but especially this: “If There are people out there that think that little green men exist and if you don’t believe in them you will die an eternal fiery death, will that really hurt you if it isn’t true?”

    Not when that is ALL they believe, but ask a married Gay person in California if THEY have been hurt by all the silly “harmless” things that Christian’s believe. What you believe is not harmless–quite the contrary.

    My issue is with their actions, yes. You are right there. But I believe that the solution lies at the core: their crazy, unfounded, ridiculous 5-millenia-old beliefs. But remember, I am a blog, not the government. I am merely a node in the network of beliefs. I would be against anything legislating what you can and can’t believe, but I’m here specifically to say that what you believe is ridiculous to the point of absurdity, and where you DO harm my society, I will push back.

  7. Jim,

    I understand where you are coming from by saying “harmless” things that Christians believe. Because you don’t agree with them and you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, then you think that the notions of Christianity are wrong and harmful.

    With no purpose in the universe, then their beliefs are JUST as valid as any that you can concoct. You can put more weight on your values but there is not concrete proof or reason that your values are any better than mine or anyone else’s.

    The fact is, plenty of people may also see your views as harmful to the world the way they see it.

    If you cannot fully know something, it doesn’t mean it’s imaginary, that’s just plain ridiculous.

    If God transcends our dimensions (and created them in the first place), then it is logical that we could not fully understand and know him because of our limited ability and intellect. A computer can only do, and only “know” what it was programmed to do and “know”.

    You are rising your own intellect to the status of God. You think that you or any one of us humans actually HAS the answers.

    Our grasp of reality, through the years is changing and is constantly changing. A man from the year 5,000 may completely laugh at our ideas of today. Knowing that fact, I’m surprised that you try to speak with such unmoving authority.

    I’ve never heard you say that of course there is a possibility that there is no God. I will be the first to say the opposite… “Of course there is the possibility that there is no God.”

    But if YOU know for sure, then I guess it’s true. I mean this in the sincerest way possible…

    Do you think that there is a possibility that YOU or your philosophy COULD create a situation where one of your followers (anyone who reads your materials or learns from your point of view) a person could be harmed emotionally or psychologically?

    Just the opposite of what happened to you. People could think that life has no meaning except for what you make of it yourself. People could see no real reason for right and wrong except for what we as a society make of it. Relativism could set in. Could this person feel a spiritual attraction and want to search out religion to find meaning and purpose? But they are constantly being told that God doesn’t exist, that he is only imaginary. That they are a cosmic accident and that human life is just random. Even their thoughts and actions are just chemicals and minerals. They don’t have a spirit, or a soul. This could cause some cognitive dissonance perhaps, or at least some stress and uncertainty of their life. The more “indoctrinated” they become the worse it could be.

    There are plenty of other people out there that you should be worried about, then Christians.

    You can push back and you can start the pushing. It is up to all of us what we will choose to do with our time and our talents.

    I am free to do the same.

  8. I wrote ”
    I’ve never heard you say that of course there is a possibility that there is no God. I will be the first to say the opposite… “Of course there is the possibility that there is no God.”

    I meant of course to say that “I’ve never heard you sat that of course there is a possibility that there IS a God.”

  9. Okay now it’s getting silly. NOT SAT that of course, but SAY that of course….

    My fingers don’t want to type today.

  10. Jim,

    So many typo’s; I apologize (even one’s that I didn’t correct). I’m done for the day. I hope you have a nice evening.

  11. Ted, you’ve groused quite a bit about perceived hostility and tone in comments to this blog’s posts, yet in this conversation you say, “But if YOU know for sure, then I guess it’s true.”

    This sarcasm sounds hostile to me. Before you demur, think about it: is there really any other way, in the context of your preceding sentence, to take this than as sarcasm? Do you really think that in the next breath you can say, “I mean this in the sincerest way possible…” and be believed? You’re not being honest, Ted.

  12. Hi Curmudgeon,
    It’s hard to read tones when you don’t really know the person writing, but I don’t mean to be sarcastic. I was trying to interject the idea that atheists can also appear to be so sure of their position. AND in a relative world, what ONE person believes is just as valid as another’s.

    I’m sorry if it appears to be sarcastic. I can be as sarcastic as the next guy, but I don’t feel that this is a proper forum for that since we are really trying to have a heart-to-heart, man-to-man discussion.

    I believe Jim and I understand each other pretty well. He is a nice person with a sincere heart and has compassion for the defenseless. I like Jim and I respect his position and I respect him.

    I will take your point on the perceived hostility being perceived. I realize that Jim was not being hostile. We have emailed as well.

  13. Ted, let’s read again what you wrote:

    “I’ve never heard you say that of course there is a possibility that there is [a] God. I will be the first to say the opposite… “Of course there is the possibility that there is no God.”

    But if YOU know for sure, then I guess it’s true.”

    You’re sorry if it “appears” sarcastic? Who are you kidding but yourself? You’re the kid with crumbs on his face lying about eating the cookies.

    And then to immediately say, “I mean this in the sincerest way possible…” is disingenuous in the extreme. Not honest.

  14. Ted,

    You said: “AND in a relative world, what ONE person believes is just as valid as another’s.”

    I don’t believe the world is relative, do you? If one man believes that there is a second, equally large but invisible moon circling our Earth, he is just wrong. Believing it doesn’t even make it true for him. That’s why I won’t ever bend to saying that your truth is true for you, because it isn’t. You are only fooling yourself.

    I would be surprised If you believe in a relative world, but maybe you do?

    Also, all beliefs are not equally valid. Some are backed by scientific, repeatable and observable fact, and some are wild speculation.

    Lastly, I know you’re trying to represent Christianity as best as you can, but it seems pretty evident that you were a tad sarcastic where the Curmudgeon is pointing.

  15. That’s Curmudgeon in TRAINING to you, Jim. For the real deal, see the Comments to your “Oh Come All Ye Unfaithful” post. 🙂

  16. Hey Jim,

    Your comments about an invisible moon circling the earth sparked a thought about an article I read recently.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126981.600-a-bizarre-universe-may-be-lurking-in-the-shadows.html?full=true

    So, who knows what we’ll find out in the future. Maybe that man you spoke of in your comment wasn’t wrong after all. 😀

  17. “And if so, how could such a deception lead to such altruistic good works? Wouldn’t a tool of Satan become more filled with hateful and Satan-like emotions? The Bible said you know a tree by it’s fruits.”

    Pretty good argument, but there’s one flaw. How, exactly, do altruistic good works come from something completely made up?

    I’m an atheist, but I haven’t really got an answer to that one. Any suggestions?

  18. Hi CRL,

    Altruism comes from Christians for the same reason it can come from Atheists: because people (not just religious people) are capable of altruism.

  19. I agree that Alturism comes from Christians for the same reason as well, but not because we are all capable. Is that really even a reason?

    I understand that relativism is different than naturalism. I agree that not all ideas are equal, relatively speaking of course! 🙂

    “Cognition, the representation of the world to ourselves, is likewise a natural function, reflecting our needs, wants, and aspirations, as well as the very selective structure of our perceptual systems.

    There are many possible world views, and the human condition shapes just one that may not be particularly privileged or objective in the sense of seeing things as they “really” are, or are “in themselves”.

    Objectivity, naturalistically understood, becomes simply the agreement between individuals about what exists and how the world works, but this occurs within the unavoidable cognitive relativity of being a particular sort of creature inhabiting a particular culture”

    http://www.naturalism.org/relativi.htm

  20. I found your blog completely by accident. I must say I’ve been trying to decide what “I am” these days, and it’s a difficult journey. You’ve made some poignant observations, and I think so many people are in the same situation, searching. One day I just suddenly decided I did not want to belong to a “religion” that is so hypocritical. I left the Lutheran Church and have not regretted a minute. I am a person who second-guesses constantly, but this is one decision that I absolutely knew was right. I don’t feel the bitterness any longer, because I know everyone is struggling for what they believe in. I just don’t want to BE the hypocrite who shakes their finger at someone for sinning, then heads off to the casino to meet up with someone else’s wife.

    Spirituality is a much, much deeper and more personal need than any organized religion can ever meet. Buddhism is more a way of life and peace than “organized” in the way most of us perceive religion.

  21. I was searching for the image you posted of a Buddhist monk’s self-immolation because I’m taking a graduate class in the literature of the Vietnam era. I was about nine years old when this happened, and living in NY City. In the late seventies, early eighties I became involved in some fundamentalist Christian group. It took a long time to break out of the circular thought processes that experience engendered, but the same realization you had here (among other realizations) helped me break free and become fully human once more, foibles and all. Thanks for articulating it so well. John

  22. My pleasure John!

  23. Once u experience him like Paul on the road to Damascus all good arguments come to an end.

  24. All of the reasons you give are not reasons to cease to be a Christian. They are reasons to cease to be a fundamentalist.

    For example, you say you were taught that all followers of other religions are deceived by Satan and going to hell. Christians don’t believe that! *Some* of them do, for sure, but not all. Many Christians – not just modern liberal theologians, but ancient ones too – believe that everyone will be saved; perhaps because other religions are valid means of salvation in their own right, or perhaps because Christ can be found in other traditions even if they don’t know it, or perhaps because after death the truth will be revealed and people will choose what is right and true. You cite biblical texts apparently predicting eternal torment for those who do not follow Christ; but how do you know that everyone will eternally choose not to follow him? How do you know that the torment is even literally eternal? The Greek word can mean merely “a long time”; that is how Origen and some other ancient theologians understood it. And how do you know that that text is even true at all? Paul states quite clearly in 1 Cor 15:22 and Rom 5:18 that everyone will be saved. Obviously that contradicts those passages that teach otherwise, such as the 2 Thess passage (incidentally, Pauline authorship of 2 Thess is disputed, mainly because it contradicts 1 Thess, which he certainly did write). So why not believe the ones that make sense, and forget the others, rather than agonise about the others and overlook the first lot?

    As I commented just now on another post, Christians aren’t obliged to believe all these terrible things. This is the real problem with fundamentalist Christianity of the kind you describe. It doesn’t just teach some pretty dubious stuff. It lies to its followers about the nature of Christianity itself. It tells them that Christians believe this or Christians believe that, when in fact it’s only fundamentalists who believe it. It keeps its followers from ever finding out about other forms of Christianity. The result is that people become disillusioned with fundamentalism, but they think they are disillusioned with Christianity, because they have never learned that there is a difference.

    If you want to see the “other” Christianity, read Karl Rahner – Don Cupitt – Keith Ward – John Hick – and people like that. They certainly don’t all agree with each other. But you won’t find the unthinking adherence to irrational and abhorrent doctrines that turned you off fundamentalism.


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