Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Ethics, Personal statements, Philosophy, Seventh-day Adventism, Theology

Good Without God, Better Without God




For whatever reason (I’m not sure I’m willing to guess), in the few years since I’ve come out atheist, I have experienced a motivation to behave ethically and morally far beyond that which two and a half decades of Christianity ever provided.

My denomination was the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was not your average pew-warmer, either. Within 18 months of my baptism at the tender age of 20, I had embarked on a year-long foreign missionary teaching assignment, been ordained a local elder in that mission-field’s church (at the ordination ceremony, when the pastor read to his church the biblical requirements of an elder, he literally skipped over the verse in 1 Timothy 3 which states that the elder must not be a recent convert; I swallowed hard and kept smiling), and had preached sermons and taught lessons more than many elderly members who had been Seventh-day Adventists all their lives.

Within five years of my baptism, I had married a pastor’s daughter, was the father of my own daughter, and had entered my religion degree program at the church’s most conservative college (then called simply Southern College, now called Southern Adventist University). Three years later, I was continuing my teaching career, standing before classrooms full of youth in an official church ministry capacity: Bible teacher, licensed to teach grades 7-12. My life had a trajectory; my role in the church gave me unlimited opportunities to model good citizenship, and the character qualities of a member in good and regular standing. Mine was a Purpose-Driven Life.

In the Bible, in Ellen White’s writings, and in fellowship with like-minded fellow Adventists including especially the most Christian-like people I’ve ever met– my wife and her adoptive parents– I actively sought moral motivation. I wanted to be a better person, just like most of my fellow Christians were actively seeking to be. It’s one of the things Christians do.

However, I remember that I always received from all my spiritual sources something mixed in with the motivation, something that perhaps tainted it. I know that I always believed that my sinfulness was real, was permanent (until God would remove it at my resurrection), and that it was part of me– I believed in that Bible doctrine of the sinful nature.

I was damaged goods. I was broken. Yes, I was redeemable, and sometimes I actually managed to believe I was redeemed. But mostly, confirmation bias of my sinfulness created a feedback loop in my mind, so that every idle moment, every stray temptation, every minor cruelty or neglect or mistake or stumble always reminded me that I was never going to be good enough for the most important One in my life, my God. I had to have a substitute who was better than me, a mediator who would step between me and judgment, a Holy Spirit guide for my decisions and choices– because I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good. I could never be good by nature until some future time. Maybe I’m guessing now at why I couldn’t be truly good by nature while I was a Christian: it would have contradicted the teachings of the Book I’d wrapped myself in as a career and personal compass, the Bible.

Eventually, I stepped away from that high Christian post, came down from a life as a watchman on the walls of Zion, and became just another family guy in Orlando, Florida. I also joined a small but growing group of Americans who identify as “none” when it comes to religion, and the even smaller group who class themselves as non-religious, non-spiritual, non-believer in all gods. In other words, atheist. Which to me restates a negative: ‘no god’. I also became an official, dues-paying member of another organization whose positive, life-affirming and hopeful principles I could whole-heartedly support, the American Humanist Association.

Humanists have a little motto: Good Without God. I like that, and it describes my current ethical motivations. But as I started to say at the beginning of this, I now experience a more powerful and consistent motivation to be good, now that I’m without God (as it were). Now that I’m no longer deluded into believing that all my attempts at goodness are “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6), I feel that morals and ethical values are more important to me than ever before. I read books about the topic, I listen to podcasts about it, scour philosophical writings for clues, discuss it with my ever-patient wife, and through it all, I am coming to the conclusion that like the Humanist motto, ‘Good Without God,’ it’s quite true that a secular, atheist, humanist person can perhaps even be Better Without God.
________
UPDATE: The Facebook friends I have occasionally comment on my posts. The following was posted by Larry Hallock, and is reproduced here with his permission; I thought it extended nicely the theme in this post:

Larry Hallock: Excellent blog post, Jim. That first paragraph says it all… I mean, I have had the same experience, and from what I’ve read, many others have said the same thing—life becomes so much richer, so much more meaningful and rewarding… the pieces of the puzzle finally fit… without the baggage, life just seems brighter. And it’s enormously better emotionally when you’re not constantly fretting, consciously or subconsciously, over whether or not you’ll get the promised supernatural help, or why it’s not there, or why you can’t understand, or whether you’re accurately reading the mental impressions from your god (any given thought could be a deceiving counterfeit from the bad god, Satan, so an enormous amount of resources, especially time, is required for constantly praying for the good god to come and fight off the bad god for you), and whether you’re pleasing the god by interpreting its “will” correctly and then carrying out whatever it is you think it wants, according to the minimum standards required for you to be brought back to life in order to go to the great fantasy land in the sky rather than being brought back to life in order to be killed again, only this time by torture. Life was never truly joyful for me, not in a deep, abiding sense, when I lived by all of that, compared to just living by what is good, loving, positive, constructive, kind, …the Golden Rule. It is invigorating to live according to your own skills, ingenuity and creativity (being your own boss!) rather than always living every waking moment solely to please others, to say nothing of solely to please just one guy who makes enormous demands with deadly consequences if you don’t make the cut—and, all the while, he refuses discuss any of it or talk to you, just sorta leaves you to guess at what’s wanted. Sorry, but at this point I’ve started chuckling out loud, so I need to stop typing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Advertisements
Standard
Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Seventh-day Adventism

A Christian Mind Cannot Open

I remember being convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist worldview was the only correct lens through which to judge all incoming information, including political information used to make voting decisions. For decades I perceived everything I read, heard, observed, learned, and discovered through that very narrow lens, also known as The Great Controversy:

  •     God had created everything, including the universe, many different kinds of beings, and a particular kind of beings known as angels.
  •     The angel Lucifer sinned, creating the controversy between himself and God.
  •     Banned from heaven, Satan (formerly Lucifer) spread sin and controversy to the newly-created planet Earth by deceiving human beings to rebel against their Creator.
  •     Jesus put his life on the line for humans, determined not to lose them to Satan’s side of the controversy.
  •     The Bible was Jesus’ plan of attack and the most accurate synopsis of the on-going controversy.
  •     Satan’s deceptive powers had succeeded in getting most Christians to be confused about the most important truths in the Bible, or else to ignore it enough to neutralize its life-giving power.
  •     God had entrusted one group of people on Earth (the Seventh-day Adventist Church) with inspired information about the Bible, and had given them an important mission to share that information with the world.

When I had thoroughly integrated these elements of the SDA worldview, I found it difficult to perceive new information from any alternative perspective. The SDA message is self-reinforcing and well insulated against attack. Sin and Satan’s deceptions explain away any objections which cannot be directly answered with specific Bible texts or Ellen White sayings.

  •     If arguments like “The Bible is full of contradictions” arose, that was explained away as Satan attempting to erode away faith in God’s Word.
  •     If evolutionary proofs were offered in contrast to creationist claims, “the fool hath said in his heart, ‘there is no God,'” and other such verses explained away evolution as if it were a competing faith-based belief system.
  •     If God’s mercy in the Old Testament was questioned after contemplating genocides, slavery, misogyny, etc., that was explained away by saying that God mercifully communicated to different cultures in the way best adapted to their way of thinking– the fault was sin’s corrupting influence, and God risked being misunderstood in order to carve a holy people from such corrupted beginnings. Anyway, Jesus could quickly be brought forward in the New Testament as the so-called ‘most accurate version’ of God’s true way of thinking. “I and the Father are One,” Jesus said. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
  •     If natural disasters or disease epidemics brought God’s omnipotence into question, it was explained with a combination of sin’s devastating effects in the world, and the sinfully poor choices men made.
  •     If other Christians behaved poorly, or nations with other gods did evil in the name of their gods, the explanation was always ‘Satan at work,’ never ‘look what God allowed to occur today’.

Always, sin or free will or Satan were handy as a too-convenient way to explain away any difficulty. Or else, the ultimate dodge– God will answer all our questions in heaven.

The Christian mind which is enslaved to the above worldview can never be open to dangerous ideas. This is why Christian beliefs wreak havoc when they become influential in our U.S. political arena. In our form of representative government, the ‘folks back home’ rely on their elected representatives to listen carefully to each and every view in their constituency, especially when public opinion begins to obviously favor a particular side of an issue. On issues like gay marriage, contraception, and a woman’s right to control her own health decisions, the representatives in Congress who are devoted Christians tend to consult their beliefs and not their constituency when they vote on legislation.

I can see why they would do this. When I was a Christian, it was difficult– perhaps impossible– NOT to consider my own faith-informed opinions to be superior to all others, simply because I felt that my opinions agreed with the will of God. I strove to align all my political opinions and stances with my interpretation of the Bible. Most other serious Bible students were doing the same. When I would become convinced of a certain opinion, my faith that I was doing exactly ‘what Jesus would do’ about it made me stop thinking about other options, and closed off my mind from considering others’ point of view. I wouldn’t discuss these issues; I would inform others of the biblical view, and ignore whatever they said.

I recognize this same close-mindedness now for what it is, and as I see it in others it really sticks out. And seeing my country’s elected leadership increasingly embracing that closed-minded, head-in-the-sand Christian worldview, it pains me to know that my views will never be heard by them. Even when my views are shared by the majority of U.S. citizens, as they are on support of marriage equality, the ACA’s mandate for employers to provide contraception without comment, and support of a woman’s right to control her own body without being harassed by politicians and spiritual leaders.

Whether a view is held by a majority simply doesn’t make an impact on the closed Christian mind. I know it never affected me, when I was a closed-minded Christian; the Bible has much to say about believing what’s ‘right’, even though no one agrees with you– because God approves of the stand you’re taking, and will reward you. I always assumed that whether or not everyone else came to agree with me, God would show them all in the final judgment that I (and my fellow believers) were on the side of right all along. That hope of future vindication was all I needed to hang on to some of the most misogynistic, unethical values and views, many of which I see being trumpeted now by the religious right and the Tea Party, and their Fox News/hate radio-duped Christian electorate.

Standard
Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Personal statements

How Do I Know?

These past few months, I’ve become more interested in how I know, than what I know. While facts play a big role in the formation of my values and beliefs, the primary concern is summed up in my title: ‘How do I know?’

How did I decide that my favorite set of values are ‘right,’ opposed to all those ‘wrong’ values? How did I settle on my particular list of ‘good to know’ facts, and how do I test and retest their reliability in the real world?

Epistemology is the term philosophers use for this question, How do I know what I think I know? Our parents, teachers, and other important early voices give us our childhood epistemology. Children are at the epistemological mercy of the adults surrounding them.

Without the cognitive tools of experience, common sense, or mature logical reasoning, children must answer the question How do you know? with ‘so and so told me.’ Which is another way to say ‘I don’t know, but I trust my mom (or teacher, or doctor, or pastor, or grandpa), and they said so’.

Of course, as children develop into adults, hearsay and appeals to authority are increasingly unacceptable, as those tools mentioned earlier reveal themselves to be more reliable. Life experience, common sense, and especially scientific evidence-based reasoning are widely-trusted and universally accepted epistemological tools in almost every realm where accuracy matters.

Almost. One form of hearsay remains despite the best attempts of enlightened reasoning to relegate it to the dustbin of history: faith.

I have recently finished a long period in my life during which I trusted faith as much or more than other ways of knowing things. (I’m not interested in the many different definitions Christians toss about for faith; whatever you count as the ‘biblical’ or official meaning of it, the way it is experienced by believers is the important thing to me.)

For me, it was the easiest way to dismiss doubts which arose as my years of studying the Bible grew into decades. Whatever could not easily be explained the way most difficult questions are– logical reasoning, evidence-gathering, observation, consulting experts and their research, etc– was explained away, by saying to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take that on faith, and ask God about it in heaven.”

I learned that practice of explaining difficult things away by faith early on in my Christian experience, and encountered it consistently throughout the full period during which I interacted with many fellow students of the Bible.

I have abandoned faith now, and no longer explain things away with capricious appeals to a future Q&A session with an imaginary Sky God. It’s tougher to think things all the way through, but ultimately more satisfying because of the higher confidence level I can have in those values and beliefs which survive that testing process.

It’s much tougher to deal with the many regrets I have that I ever swallowed the poison pill of faith, wrapped as it was in a pleasant coating of fellowship and social interaction. But life goes on, and I strive to make the best of it, using far superior tools than the one I left in the dustbin of my own history: faith.

Standard
Atheism, Personal statements, Seventh-day Adventism

Why Do I Care?

My wife asked me the other day why I post anti-Christian images and ‘like‘ those of others on Facebook. It was a question that made me think– my favorite kind!

The short answer to her question is that I count my twenty-five years as a Christian as my biggest mistake. DISCLAIMER: Yes, I met my best friend/wife/mother of my daughters during that time; NO, I repeat, NO! I do not consider meeting her and marrying her to be part of that mistake, and haven’t regretted it a day in my life.  The comments below are to be understood in the context of the preceding disclaimer.

Since I fully regret every moment I devoted to promoting Christianity, I feel a sense of obligation toward the many people out there in the world who were influenced to remain Christians because of me. That may be a fairly large number, since I gave more than a few sermons during that time, taught many lessons in Sabbath School, and I spent nineteen of those years employed as a Seventh-day Adventist teacher. It was all a big mistake, each and every one of those influences. I cannot take them back, reverse the influence, or undo the damage; most of those I encountered ignore me as fully as I ignore them, including in that silly mall of social media, Facebook. But the sense of obligation remains heavy on my heart.

I could put a sunny spin on my time in the church, and at times, given the right company, I do. Sometimes it’s just the appropriate way to participate in light conversation with other people. No one wants to be branded the militant atheist. At least no one who hopes to have friends. But if pressed to confess my true feelings on the matter (a rare thing), I offer them up. I truly feel I made a mistake, giving a group of deluded people the best years of my health. I almost said ‘best years of my life,’ but I can’t say that, since life has gotten so much better since I left the delusion of Christianity. So I hit the delete key and put health there instead, since that’s likely true; age 20 to 45 are typically the most healthy years of anyone’s adult life.

I gave lots of money to those deluded people, too; I’m still paying back (or at least I’m co-signed the responsibility for) two massive student loans on behalf of one of my daughters. This, to the same university I graduated from. I just learned today that my alma mater doesn’t have to report its non-profit financials to the IRS, since it is allowed to consider itself a ‘church.’ Somehow, it still gets to call itself Southern Adventist University. Tithe money (yes, some of which paid my meager salary as a religion teacher; but most of that went back in tuition for my daughters), and tuition money, offerings, and every other way I charitably supported that deluded group, I regret every cent, every calorie I burned on their behalf.

Why such regret? Read the rest of this blog for the longer answer. To summarize it, though, I’ll offer this as a brief explanation: Every person locked into the delusion of Christianity and other mind-numbing religions is potentially the next Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Christopher Hitchens. The next Walt Disney. The next Edwin Hubble. The next brilliant scientist, or artist, or journalist who will raise our consciousness to the next level. The potential in every human being, I believe, is limitless. We need more Elon Musks, more Bill Gates, more Steve Jobs. But some of these potentially great leaders will never have the chance to question everything, think rationally, and fully explore our world, because they are today being indoctrinated in how to deny that fully human curiosity and creative expression waiting to burst forth from their DNA.

To remain a faithful believer in the lying mythologies such as Christianity, especially in this era of free access to much of the species’ knowledgebase, the deluded person has to expend a great deal of effort, closing off their questions, staying firmly wrapped in the straightjacket of reverence and piety, denying their doubts and skepticism.

I share a tiny bit of the highest quality images, memes, and quotations I find as I browse the atheist social media, in the full awareness that I may offend a few of my believing family members or friends, also fully aware that Facebook provided an easy way to mute my musings in their newsfeed with a feature called following. For any of your friends who blow up your newsfeed with objectionable material or simply just too much information, you can hover over their names (thus you have to be on a PC; it won’t work on smartphones yet), and uncheck the checkmark next to the word following. You’ll never see anything else they like or statuses they post. Only if they personally tag your name will you see it.

I share my atheism on my Facebook (and Twitter, and here on Blogger) because I’m trying to right a wrong. Christianity wronged me by lying to me; through me it wronged many others. I dedicate everything I share to those tiny few whose doubts may flourish into open questioning, irreverent skepticism, and free, independent, rational thinking.

Standard