Posted by: Jim | December 4, 2008

Why I am No Longer a Christian – Part 4

So far I’ve covered the following influences that led me away from my faith:

Part 1: The fact that my Faith was not achieving the promised results
Part 2: The Modern Christian Approach to the Bible “as truth” made no sense
Part 3: The sincerity of zealous martyrs in other faiths invalidated my own faith

In this post, I’ll list a few more that finally did the trick.

First, I exposed myself to some excellent literature that seemed to present a more logical picture of the universe than the Bible did. One of the most prominent books was “Fear and Trembling” by Søren Kierkegaard. That book shows how God’s command for Abraham to kill his son Isaac was completely irrational, anathema to Jewish tradition, and in fact mimicked the practice of the people of Baal—who were the arch-enemies of the Jews at the time.

Imagine if God told you to wake up and kill your children. What would you do? If anyone today were to tell the 6’ O’clock news that “God told me to kill my son,” we would have a word for them, and it wouldn’t be “patriarch.” In that book, Kierkegaard helped me see that God—being God—can do whatever he wants including violate his own laws. This book in a strange way knocked me off my stasis. Even though WE abide by rules, God does not. This idea opened my mind to a more chaotic universe. Kierkegaard is considered one of the fathers of existentialism, and after reading that book, I could understand why.

Shortly after finishing “Fear and Trembling,” I took a trip to Japan. Not only was the entire culture a giant heaping serving of secularism on a plate, the culture also was clean, relatively crime-free, extremely non-violent (especially given how crowded Tokyo was), and notably at ease with its place in the universe. This was not the picture of godlessness that I had been taught. Where was the anxiety? Where was Satan’s influence? There seemed to be less of it here than in America. Even though I was unofficially part of Youth with a Mission while in Tokyo, one distinct truth rose with the steam from the grates in the streets: These people do not need Jesus.

Then one night I visited Shibuya Ecke and ran across a statue of a dog I’d never heard of before, Hachiko:

hachiko

Hachiko’s story is quite heart-warming. He came every day with his master to the Shibuya Train Station, and waited at the platform all day until his master returned from work. One day his master died while at work, and Hachiko waited for the rest of his life, at the station, for his master to return. Eventually he was fed by the local vendors, and became a well-loved pet of everyone at the station, but each day at the correct time he would sit and look at everyone getting off the train to see if his master was among them.

The story gripped my heart. I was like Hachiko, and realized that I was patterning my entire life around an event—the return of Jesus or my ultimate death and joining with him in heaven—that was never going to happen. Once I allowed myself to be open to the painful truth, it crashed down upon me like a sledgehammer. There was no happy eternal ending for me. This life is all there is, and I was wasting it by waiting for a master who would never return.

Right there in the Shibuya train station I renounced my faith.

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Responses

  1. A good piece, Mr.

    I’ve been similarly impressed by my first visit to Asia and the fact that all of the supposed ‘values’ that Christianity brings are in effect here, in considerably stronger doses than back home. Principal in all this is that the atomised lifestyle brought by the ‘modern’ way of life in UK/US, it removes us from one another to an unhealthy degree. I think my character benefits enormously from literally rubbing shoulders with hundreds of people as I move around each day, that the crowded city can actually produce harmony through all the little negotiations it requires, as, on a base level, to think of another, it is enough to not wanting to bump or barge somebody, or to pause for a split-second to let somebody pass, etc, etc, and I am reminded, in a good way, that I am not the centre of the universe, the be-all and end-all.

    To that degree, I nominate the automobile as the prime facilitator of the destruction of a communal spirit. Once cars become too expensive, I believe we will all benefit.

    The Big 3 did more than just kill my baby… (for the White Stripes fans in the house)

  2. Nice comment, thanks. And as a fitting coincidence, I just found out that the street in front of the Hachiko statue is considered to be the busiest intersection in the world–especially for the amount of pedestrians bumping shoulders peacefully in either direction.

    For an atheist country, Japan, too, is a notably harmonious society.

  3. Oh, my goodness! I’ve been living in Japan for the past nine months & these people most definitely need Jesus. “Where was the anxiety?” you ask. How about in the train stations where people routinely throw themselves in front of the trains to end it all? Or perhaps in the forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji where numerous bodies are found hanging from trees?

  4. Do the Japanese really consider their country atheist? Where is documentation of such? Have they been classified by an outside source just because they declare no national religion, or have they labeled themselves? I am truly curious.

    I think it is far too convenient to say that Japan is a harmonious society *because* they are atheist by nature. I am merely asserting that there are many more important reasons Japan appears to the outside world as a harmonious society. I certainly don’t think their work habits are healthy.

  5. Todd’s last visit to Japan was when?

  6. Todd’s right, though, Jim, why do you use “atheist”, whereas I was just looking at “non-Christian”.

    As for needing Jesus to stop you killing yourself, is that the argument?

    Not counselling, not lifestyle changes (short of conversion), but straight in there with Mr Covered in Gore, Look I’m Being Killed on your Behalf, so don’t leap off the platform! Jesus Christ…

    Yup, there are clearly no suicides in the Bible Belt, just the occasional black man dragged behind a pickup or a gay man murdered. Too hilarious, yes, those rednecks need Shinto, clearly.

  7. It’s possible to have a harmonious society regardless of religion or lack thereof. If being a Christian was all there was needed to become harmonious then why aren’t all churches harmonious and why aren’t all Christian marriages harmonious?

    Being a Christian gives you the path in life to know what is right and what is wrong, and to know your purpose in a spiritual and physical sense. It doesn’t turn you into a robotic follower that makes you reach nirvana and peace with all people.

    We are still all humans having to live together and we all have a sin nature (or you would call it something else, I’m not sure what) that leans us toward selfishness and greed and anger and vengeance, etc.

    A Buddhist has a good handle on some of these problems, Taoists do too. They are mere humans also with the same nature.

    I don’t think that judging a religion based on how well a society functions is really a good way to judge.

  8. Ted,

    You said: “I don’t think that judging a religion based on how well a society functions is really a good way to judge.”

    I DO think it’s an excellent judge, and from a humanistic perspective, I’m pretty well horrified that you would say this. Even Jesus disagrees with you. He said “You shall know a tree by its fruits.” Remember the fig tree that didn’t give Jesus a fig? He cursed it and it withered. Poor little tree …

    But you are saying that Christianity should be treated as valid no matter how horrible it is.

    Consider a Muslim society. In those societies, women are horribly repressed. Recently, a bunch of school girls were not evacuated from a burning building because they did not have the appropriate garb on. They burned to death. During the halftime of soccer games, they stone ACCUSED adulterers (only the women, by the way. The men somehow elude this punishment.) Based on what you are saying, we cannot judge Islam on the basis of these deeds, and that Muslim might, in fact, be the truth. If this is what you really believe, you have no principled sense of right and wrong. This limitless lack of critical reasoning and human decency is why I’m so opposed to Christianity in our society.

    If Christians claim to know “God’s way” in a society, then it should play out that Christian societies become more in-line with “God’s way” than non-Christian ones—and in so doing become “better.” Is that not logical?

  9. Edebock, your point on the suicide rate in Japan is partly correct. Their suicide rate IS very high. However, suicide is considered an honorable alternative in Japan, whereas in the US it’s considered very dishonorable. If it were so honorable here, more people might do it–especially given that the suicides are blamed on financial woes.

    Still, your point is valid that maybe Japan isn’t really all that “perfect.” In no way would Jesus make it better however.

  10. Also, the point on calling Japan “Atheist” is also valid. Gee you people are picky!

    Japan is really “non-theist.” Shinto is the state religion, and taken about as seriously as we take Richard Simmons.

  11. “I don’t think that judging a religion based on how well a society functions is really a good way to judge.”

    I would, for once, agree with Ted. This notion is double-edged, because many in the US see the country as not religious enough, and that a theocracy would cure these ills and bring an end to Californian-style debauchery. However, monotheistic societies are going to be indistinguishable from any other form of totalitarianism, and we’ll have the Mississippi-inflected form of The Taliban, as clearly, many religious folks have a burning desire to remake the world in their image (sorry, the image of their God, as relayed to them by demagogues, Imam Hagee, etc)

    I, for one, would consider a theocracy’s introduction if the new ruler would cancel the next run of any US reality show set in a tattoo parlor.

    “This lizard has extra resonance because my brother, who was shot to pieces in 06, was a member of Latino street gang, Las Iguanas, strange, really, as the family’s WASP, he couldn’t speak Spanish, and he was studying at Dartmouth… ANYways…”

    Instead, I think it’s fairer to point out that a non-theist state like Japan can function more or less harmoniously (using suicides to argue for the presence of Jesus, that has still not quite been addressed, and as a piece of “logic” remains less compelling than watching reruns of Alf) sans Jesucristo, although, again, Japan is not the best example, as it’s one of the most racially exclusive societies in the world, and as such has a culture where all citizens are comfortable with its mores, its social order. Religion can be a valuable tool in disseminating such values, ie: it can play a civic role, but each good thing, virtuous thing, that religion is a part of, this does not provide any evidence whatsoever of God’s power, existence, the fact of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and so on, just as my nephew working extra hard on his schoolwork so Santa brings him a bike is not evidence that Santa exists (or, equally, that Santa does not exist).

  12. “and as such has a culture where all citizens are comfortable with its mores, its social order. “*

    *Or may choose to commit suicide.

  13. Hi Jim,

    I’m new to your blog (I found it randomly when I googled the quote “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice” to see if I could find a transcript of King’s speech somewhere, because I’m not sure of the exact phrasing) but I feel the need to jump in here.

    A little background, since this seems like the kind of blog where that might be in order. I’m non-Christian, raised by unbelievers. Both of my parents are lapsed Catholics, for different reasons. I have lots of Christian and Jewish friends. I work with Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. (I may be the only heathen in my department of 100+ people.) My son’s father was raised a Muslim but doesn’t practice, and while he has his problems, I don’t think being raised Muslim is the cause of them.

    (By the way, I work for the Big Three and I wish we had better mass transit in the US. I think it’s fair to blame the Big Three for our failure to create that infrastructure but I think it’s unfair to blame them for global warming; blame industrialization, but don’t blame CARS. But that’s a topic for another day, maybe for one of my own blog posts.)

    First, you used Muslim and Islam interchangeably above: “we cannot judge Islam on the basis of these deeds, and that Muslim might, in fact, be the truth,” which makes me think you don’t really know the difference. Muslim refers to the people and the culture; Islam is the religion. So if I am Muslim, my religion is Islam. I can’t believe in Muslim (and Muslim can’t be “right” — Muslim is not a belief system), and I’m not an Islam.

    Second, you used a rather indefensible argument against Islam but not against Christianity, which I find odd. You used Jesus’s quote, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” in order to try to invalidate all of Islam, but I think that really all you’ve done is invalidate some modern Islamic societies. If you look to history, you’ll find that Islamic society was often the most modern and tolerant that existed at the time, and offered women more rights than in other (e.g., Christian) societies.

    The fact that so many modern adherents of Islam are fundamentalist (and whackjobby) has more to do with the status of most Muslim countries than with Islam itself. I know plenty of reasonable, secularized Muslims and they are no different than you or me.

    I do think that the Muslim world needs to clean house. But I don’t think Islam is inherently more flawed than any other religion, or that the Quran is any better or worse or more misinterpretable √ than any other ancient religious text.

    Governments should never be conflated with religion. It weakens and warps both institutions.

  14. Zoe, thank you for explaining the distinction between Islam and Muslim! You are right–I was using them interchangeably. I won’t do that again!

    I believe my argument against Islam can be equally applied to Christianity. It is Islam, however, who is today openly and directly killing people in the name of their religion. Christianity used to do it directly, but I can’t really think of many modern examples.

    Please come back around, I’d enjoy y our commentary.

  15. Hi Jim,

    I’m going to have to argue with the first part of your statement — it isn’t *Islam* who is doing anything. It’s people — Muslims — who are openly and directly killing people in the name of their religion.

    I think we do ourselves, and ordinary Muslims, who are most of the Muslim population, a disservice when we demonize their religion.

    I know there are a few passages of the Quran that can be cherry-picked to show that it is a “violent” religion, but I think these passages need to be read in the context of the times in which they were written.

    That said, I’m not any more interested in becoming a Muslim than I am in becoming a Christian, and probably less. But the Muslims I know seem to be happy, unconflicted people who are just interested in raising their kids to be healthy, productive members of society. People just like me, in other words. I still don’t get the whole hijab thing, but the women I know seem to like to wear it, so to each his own I guess.

    I guess the problem I have with religions — and this goes for all of them, though certainly you’re right that today there seem to be more crazy Muslims than crazy Christians — is that they almost without exception require absolute obedience to an old, highly allegorical document. Asking people to obey a religious text seems like asking for trouble, because — especially over time — religious texts are not only open to interpretation, but — unlike government documents, like the Constitution — they are not open to the possibility of updates. So times change, but religious texts don’t. Societies and families change, but religious texts don’t.

    But people do — over time — choose which parts of their religious text to focus on, and which to ignore.

    It’s a funny paradox. A lot of damage has been done over the centuries in the name of religion, but a lot of good, too. I don’t feel a need in my life to follow any particular religion, and I would deeply resent being compelled to follow one, but at the same time I would hate to live in a world where religion was absent. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine what such a world would look like.

    Personally, I think the Golden Rule is the only one we need. If everyone followed that “religiously” the world would be a pretty good place.

  16. Zoe,

    I “demonize” all religions equally (although I don’t like that verb).

    Look at it this way. Did Naziism kill the Jews, or did “people” kill the Jews? Should we combat atrocities by attacking the value system that enables them, or attacking the people who commit them?

    I revile Islam because it compells GOOD people to do EVIL things. I do not revile the people though. Christianity has done the same, and is now approaching Islam in its desire to oppress certain classes of people (Proposition 8).

    Without religion people are capable of good things, and they are capable of bad things. For people to do EVIL things though–that requires religion (or some blind adherence to irrational principles like national socialism, fascism, etc.)

    So I maintain my assertion that Islam is the culprit.

  17. Hi Jim,

    Having read several of your posts, I believe that you are an equal-opportunity demonizer 🙂

    Your first point is an apt one (although we have, alas, invoked Godwin’s Law), given that I have been living in Germany for the past two year. I keep asking myself questions along those lines — how did the parents and grandparents of these perfectly nice people I’ve been meeting do, at best, nothing to protect their Jewish neighbors, or at worst, actively assist in the killing of their Jewish neighbors? What made them think it was okay, or that they had no other choice?

    My concern is that it is all too easy to demonize ALL Muslims, and that too many good people will be feared, or loathed, or scorned, or shunned, simply because they follow a religion that 98% of them were born into. And further, my concern is that Islam is being seen by most Christians as a “special circumstance” of an evil religion (that it’s the exception, rather than the rule), whereas I’m with you, and think that all religions have the potential to inspire their followers to do evil.

    Today, I would have to agree with you in that there seem to be a significant number of Islamic groups (even if they only represent 1% of all Muslims) who are actively engaged in or planning on committing evil acts.

    I struggle with this because while I’m with you on all of the negative consequences of religion, I also think there is a certain grace and peace that only comes from having a deep faith in God. I sometimes feel bereft of that. I imagine that when you are being honest with yourself, you do too.

    I guess I think it’s important to remember that faith in God and religion are almost two entirely different things.

    And while I agree that a lot of bad things are done in the name of religion, I still don’t think it’s the religion’s fault, exactly. I struggle with this though because, obviously, if there were no religions no one could commit evil in their name — but honestly, I believe most of the people who commit evil in the name of religion would just find another reason to commit evil.

    I think for the most part we are violently agreeing 🙂

  18. Jim,
    Before you start blaming religion for all the worlds woes, remember that people have done the same to atheism. Even if you’re right, you’re making yourself as bad as them when you do this.

  19. Sorry CRL, I won’t hold back just because it looks bad. I realize that you are right one one level, and I try not to make sweeping generalizations toward individuals. Further, I don’t blame religion for all the worlds ills, per se. I blame faulty reasoning on the part of individuals who are duped into believing religion (or any falsehood) as a source of ills. Not THE source … only a source.

    Not speaking out because it “looks bad” is not a great way to live, in my opinion.

  20. Listen dude, here is the only problem i will address to u in all this. When God told Abram to kill his son, Abram was just about to do it and what happened…God told him to stop. Why did he tell him to do this? Why would Abram go along with it? God was testing Abram’s faith in him. Either way if Abram listened(like he did) or he didn’t Issac would not have died correct? God tested him and he passed. Abram went along with it because all the time before that God fulfilled his promises. The people that kill people and say god told them so they have to be evaluated. Because in the Bible God tells people to go and kill people in a city, good or bad. The way God does things might not always make sense but they work better then doing the things our way. All the time God has people do things the way he wants they are being tested of their faith.

  21. If God told you to kill your child, would you?

  22. Whoa, Cameron. That is some f***ed-up s**t.

    God does everything better because… you say so? Or is it just because he’s God; therefore, being God, he must do everything better than we do?

    Wow. Holy, holy cow.

    And *that* is why I prefer not to date the religious.


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