Emptier Words…Part 2

I'll Pray for You

Yesterday, I talked about how shallow the words “I love you” can be and how evident that shallow love is in the Christian Church.  Today, I want to concentrate on more empty words: “I will be, I have been, or I am, praying for you.  Now, I realize that some people actually do pray for people after they say those words, (I’ll set aside the reality that prayer doesn’t work) but I have found that most church-going Christians say, “I am praying for you,” and then first, never do, and second, do nothing tangible for the person they are “praying” for, simply because they have already done their part by “praying.”  In my experience, it’s a lot like, “I love you,” in the sense that, like I love you, they think by saying “I’m praying for you,” their work is done.    I could give you many, many examples, but I’ll just mention a few, because those who have been in the Christian world know what I say is sadly true.  Heck, I did it myself and had many Christian friends admit the same. Even if we did pray about it, that would usually be as far as it went.  We had done our part, right?

I’m sure that’s what my sister was thinking when she sent me a scathing letter, basically ripping me to shreds and then telling me she loved me and was praying for me.  I guess that was a double whammy of empty words!  Did she call me and ask me to go have lunch or just hang out, or if I needed anything?  No, she turned her back on me—wouldn’t even have me in her home–but I took comfort in the idea that she loved me and was praying for me—right.

When my son was in the ICU, suffering from a brain injury, I sat there, for the most part, alone.  When, after having no sleep for two days, I stopped by the school to let the principle (a devout Christian, by the way) know how he was doing.  Granted, he hadn’t called to ask, but I thought he would want to know.  Finally, he took time to talk with me, and after I told him how things were going, he said, “Well, I’ve been praying for him.”  Exhausted, I looked at him, and although I didn’t say anything, I remember thinking, “So that’s what empty words feel like.”  I said, “Thank you,” and wanted to vomit.

During that time, after growing weary of “I’m praying for you” comments on my facebook, I posted a quote there: Praying is like a rocking chair – it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”  You would have thought I had posted that I liked cooking babies and eating them for dinner.  The point of the post was to let my Christian friends and family know that we needed more than their words, but they couldn’t hear me; they were too offended.  The attacks from Christians, during that trying and scary time, were shocking.  My own nephews publically attacked me—saying really hurtful and untrue things to me. It’s still hard to think about, even today.  In some ways I think all the defensiveness posted there was born out of guilt, but I also think they didn’t know what to do when their shallow words weren’t comforting to us.  Maybe they were nervous that they might have to do something outside of their comfort zone and, of course, Jesus would never endorse such a thing.  Sadly, for the Christian, it was my non-Christian friends that cooked dinner for us and cared for us and I will never forget that.  And people wonder why I want nothing to do with the Christian community.

My final example happened just a few months ago.  I had stopped by my apartment manager’s office (again, another devout Christian) and somehow it came up that my son is permanently disabled by his accident (he has no sense of smell or taste). I told her that we are hoping that medical technology will come up with a way to stimulate the damaged nerves so that they can grow back.  She smiled and said, “I’m going to pray for him.  I believe god can heal him.  …What’s his name again?”  There was so much I wanted to say: “You mean you need to know his name otherwise god won’t know who you are talking about, or do you need to know his name so that you can share the request at prayer group so god will know who they are talking about?”  I thought about saying, “Oh, I never thought of doing that, I’ll tell his neurologist.  He’ll be so relieved, so will my son. Oh, happy day!”  I didn’t say any of those things though.  I did what most non-believers do when faced with shallow religious ignorance.  I said “Thank you,” and walked out, fairly certain she would not pray or even remember my son’s name, for that matter. Some might wonder what I would have wanted her to say.  I have thought about that.  I guess it would have felt good to hear her say, “Oh I’m so sorry. That must be difficult.  I hope he will be okay. Is there anything I can do for him?”  Maybe that’s just too intimate for the Christian to say—too real.

So FYI dear Christian, when you say, “I’m praying for you,” to a non-believer, we hear “I’m going to go talk to myself about that later.”  We want to see and feel care, not hear it.  We’re kind of evidence based.  We’re weird like that.

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God of All Comfort

sunbreaksthroughOne caveat before I begin:  I am fully aware that the antidote to depression and anxiety is not always cut and dried or easily attainable.  Sometimes people need medication to treat it successfully and should not forgo that when it is warranted.  With that said…

Becoming an unbeliever brought many changes in my life, most of which I expected and was ready for. One positive and unexpected change was overcoming my struggle with depression and anxiety and I can’t really explain why.  As a believer, and early on in my deconversion, there were times when I would be in such a dark place, I was afraid I would never come out. Being a Christian and suffering from anxiety and depression is a double burden, because not only are you hurting, but the inability to overcome is evidence that you aren’t trusting in God and thus disappointing him, perhaps even sinning against him. Once I lost my faith, those horrible dark times have never returned. Do I get blue sometimes or worry?  Yes, but it is nothing like it was.  Not even close.  Now I have a hard time even remembering what it was like to be in a dark place or be consumed with fear and anxiety.

I didn’t spend much time thinking about this happy change, until I received an article from a friend the other day entitled “Great Bible Verses for Depression.”  When I read the title, I got that sick, sinking feeling inside.  I remember reading articles like that—the ones that brought no comfort to me and I blamed myself for it.   It contained all the usual suspects, especially the verse from Philippians.  The one I had memorized and recited to myself over and over again, to no avail: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…” blah, blah, blah.  Anyway, the other verses from the article were from the Book of Psalms and one from Deuteronomy—Deuteronomy?  Really?  This got me thinking.  Maybe that is why those verses, and others, never helped me, never brought me peace. Maybe it was because I knew the Bible too well and knew of the other verses that surrounded them.  Maybe I couldn’t blindly pick and choose the “feel good” parts without, at least subconsciously, remembering the others.

Take Deuteronomy, for instance.  The article included Deuteronomy 31:8:  “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be.”  That’s pretty comforting, right?  What Christians fail to think about–and think is the operative word here–is all the verses surrounding that little tidbit.  Verses that lay down impossible rules and regulations and then, there’s the hatred and violence.  In Deuteronomy 20, for instance, it reads, “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them….” Ah, yes, I feel better already, don’t you?  Then there is the Book of Psalms, or as I like to call them, “The rantings of a spoiled king.” The article sited several passages, none better than Psalm 34:  “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s a good one.  I can almost feel God lifting me up out of the darkness…wait, what about Psalm 137?  “Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.  Happy is the one who seizes your infants
 and dashes them against the rocks.”  Wow, Fundamentalist Muslims have nothing on those Old Testament believers…

I realize that some Christians actually do get comfort from selected verses in the Bible. I think the only way they can, though, is to ignore the majority of the Bible and just grab a happy verse here and there as they continue to tell themselves that God is a god of unconditional love (as long as you obey, believe and follow accordingly, of course) and all you need is the Son.  Yes, that does work for some, but I think the true healing and comfort comes when you do what I did—begin thinking, face reality and watch the true sun break through.

Come, let us Cringe Together

Calvin Kneeling Praying At Cross 2As I have been thinking about it, there are many things that are cringe-worthy in the Christian world, well, probably the religious world, but Christianity is usually my point of reference and so I’ll stick with what I know. It’s so strange to think that at one time many of those cringe-worthy things seemed like a good idea to me and now I am faced with how embarrassing they all are. There are expressions of Christianity every where I go and I’m not even looking for them.  They are constantly thrust in front of me, even just driving around town, on the bumpers and windows of cars:  Calvin kneeling at the cross, “NOW–Not of This World,” “I’m Not Perfect, Just Forgiven,” “Body Piercing Saved My Life,” etc. (I’m serious.  It really said, “Body Piercing saved my life” with Jesus on the cross—crucified.) I think Christians believe they are making some sort of powerful statement that is a witness to the world, or at least to those who see their message.  I know I did.  Now, it is a reminder of just how brainwashed (for lack of a better word) I was.

One that bothers me the a lot is the Calvin decal. I really cringe when I see it.  I did when I was a believer too though–for different reasons.  Anyway, poor Calvin, portrayed as kneeling at the cross, I mean, I really don’t think Calvin would ever want to do that. His creator isn’t a believer, so I’m pretty sure Calvin isn’t either.

Calvin once said to Hobbs, 
 “This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? 
 If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it? 
 And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?

Hobbs replied: 
I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?

To which Calvin said, 
”Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.

If Calvin were real, I think it would piss him off that he is portrayed at the foot of the cross—kneeling in submission.  He is the poster child for rebellion and non-conformity after all.   Perhaps he is praying for forgiveness for all of that…Now, that’s a strong message.  Hello?  HE’S NOT REAL, but Jesus is…ummmm…never mind.

The irony here is that this decal is a perfect example of blatant copyright infringement—you know, stealing? Hmmm, Christians stealing to get their message out.  I guess they get a pass though.  All bets are off when you are glorifying god and witnessing to a lost world.

I never had that ridiculous Calvin decal on my car window. I had something way more articulate and rational: A bumper sticker that said, “Darwin is Dead and He Ain’t Comin’ Back,” with a Darwin fish, legs in the air.   What?

Oh, there’s more…

I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions Are Good…

156416_476006925752847_33225970_nI read an interesting article this morning, entitled “In a Crisis Humanist Seem Absent,” by Samuel G. Freedman.  It was in the New York Times and I found it pretty thought provoking.  I’m just going to cover one of the issues I have with this article today, because there are many, and of course, I’m hoping to glean several posts from it.

The first issue that caught my attention was found here:

“It is a failure of community, and that’s where the answer for the future has to lie,” said Greg M. Epstein, 35, the humanist chaplain at Harvard and author of the book ‘Good Without God.’ “What religion has to offer to people at moments like this — more than theology, more than divine presence — is community. And we need to provide an alternative form of community if we’re going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers.”

First, What Epstein fails to understand, and he claims to be a humanist himself, is that without their theology and their belief in a divine presence, there would be no community. The religious community is predicated on the idea that you believe what that community believes, or, guess what?  You are no longer welcome in that community.  It is a community made up of rules and regulations, and goes after the most wounded and vulnerable in order to convert them into their community. Yes, I am certain proselytizing took place as these so-called communities “reached out,” to the victims of Sandy Hook.

As I read this, a question came to my mind: Why must we, as non-believers, provide an alternative form of community, as this fellow humanist suggests? What does that mean anyway?  We should start organizing, perhaps meeting together once a week, or we start making up rules, or even better “bylaws”? Maybe make some sort of a pact or “covenant”? I don’t know…that kind of sounds like…church, doesn’t it?   We don’t have a “humanist community”;  we are IN our communities as humans.  I’m willing to bet that non-believers, atheists, agnostics, humanists, “nones,” what ever, were very present at Sandy Hook, they were just not standing under a god banner, or preaching from a pulpit, or praying at candlelight vigils.  Yes, I’m sure they were there.

Proof of that is found right in the article itself, when the author writes:

“While tacitly excluded from religious coalitions, humanist groups did respond to the Newtown killings. The Ethical Culture Society chapter in Teaneck, N.J., helped organize a gun-control rally there. The Connecticut branch of the American Humanist Association contributed about $370 to Newtown families from a winter solstice fund-raiser. The organization American Atheists reports on its Web site that it has collected more than $11,000 in online donations toward funeral expenses in Newtown. A secular support group called Grief Beyond Belief operates on Facebook.”

So, with that said, I am a bit confused.  How were we absent?  Did we appear absent because we failed to  have an alternative community in place?  I do not believe that is the case.  I believe what humanists, atheists, agnostics, etc., provide something much more valuable and that is physically and monetarily reaching out to those in need, not out of obedience in the hopes of being rewarded by a mythical god, to bring the “lost” to Jesus, but to reach out in genuine care and compassion to hurting, fellow human beings.  Can we do better?  Of course, all of us can do better, but for me, it’s a quality over quantity thing.

One of the things I came away with from this article was just how misunderstood we, as non believers, are.  It’s pretty clear that part of the problem is that so many look at us through the lens of religion and when they do that, we cannot be seen. Until our country learns to take the “god glasses” off, we will never be fully understood, or appreciated.

No Jesus?

fear-of-flyingWhen I was a Christian I had so many fears.  I was afraid of everything, and that included flying.  I thought of this yesterday as I was flying home from New Orleans.  A storm was moving in as we were leaving and it was pretty turbulent throughout the flight. When I was a Christian anytime there was turbulence during a flight, I would immediately start praying and I still remember what I would pray.  It went something like this:  “Dear Lord, (I always started that way—very formal don’t ya’ know) if I have done anything to cause you pain, or if I am in sin in anyway, please forgive me.  If this plane crashes I want to know that I will be with you…blah, blah, blah, confession of sins, blah, blah, blah.” Oh, and I always ended with “in Jesus name, amen.”  You had to end that way, or Jesus wouldn’t hear you (thanks for that mom).

I remember the first time I flew after de-converting.  The plane dipped really fast and kind of shuddered.  I stopped and almost started to pray and then I sat back and thought, “Oh, that’s right, there’s no god to hear, no god who cares, no heaven and no hell, no god to make things right with.  I love my family.  I love my kids.  They love me, and I’m doing my best—I’m good.”  I smiled to myself and for the first time ever, drifted off to sleep and didn’t awake until we were ready to land in Boston.

I’ve heard so may Christians say that atheists must be so hopeless and they wonder how we even want to live, since we have no heaven to hope for.  They couldn’t be more off base.  You see, there may not be a heaven to hope for, but we also have no hell to fear.  We simply live our lives and for the most part we do it hopefully and happily in the here and now.

Christians have it all wrong.  It’s not “Know Jesus, no fear.  It’s “No Jesus?  No fear.

…And yes, I am fully aware I missed a day…I make no excuses and will now be continuing my challenge into January.  This is more difficult than I thought.  I guess that’s proof that I chose something that is truly a challenge.  I now have more respect for those who bang out daily blog posts and do it well.

Dammit Eve!

It was a Sunday evening prayer meeting.  I had not been attending this particular church for very long and was not completely familiar with the way things worked.  One of the elders was up front explaining how the evening would go.  “Feel free to read scripture if you feel led or simply pray what ever is on your heart.”  That sounded simple enough and then…”Even the women should feel free to jump in.”  “Even the women,” he said– even the women!?”  I was stunned.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it all week.  I wondered what he meant by that?  I wondered what role women played at this church.  It concerned me.  I couldn’t let it go.

Coincidentally, that very same elder called my home later that week to inquire about how we liked the church and if we were planning continuing there, etc.  I did love the preaching and I so wanted to be a part of that church.  They seemed to be so “biblically sound” (shudder).  When he asked me if I had any questions, I thought hard about whether to ask about what was on my mind, but being who I am I couldn’t hold back.  I told him that I noticed that there weren’t really any women involved in the worship services, aside from singing.  I asked him if that was purposeful or was it that there just weren’t women willing to step up.  He said that the male dominated leadership on Sunday morning was by design and he gave me all the typical scriptures to back up “the leadership’s” philosophy.  He informed me that that is the way it is and will be and if I had a problem with that I might want to choose another place of worship.

I was a little taken aback by his words; it did seem a bit defensive, but I immediately let him know that I was willing to accept their decision about that. (Kook-aid anyone?) Undaunted, I asked him about the prayer meetings on Sunday nights and if women are typically “allowed” to pray then, He said that they were, but for some reason didn’t very often (go figure).  Then I did a baaaaad thing.  I made the silly mistake of thinking we were peers having an intelligent conversation and said, “I think it might be because the women are intimidated.  When you say things like, “even the women can pray.” It sounds condescending.”

He responded politely and calmly, “You know what this is, Barbara, don’t you?”

“No, I asked, what?”

He told me it was my sin rearing its ugly head.  He informed me that my attitude toward male leadership is a result of the fall.  He explained how God told Eve she would desire to rule over her man, but he would rule over her.  He chuckled softly and said,  “You just might need to pray about that.”

I immediately felt horrible, like a Jezebel or something.   He had pushed a button in me.  He had hit upon one of my biggest struggles and heartaches in my Christian walk.  I was always feeling like I was falling short as a Christian woman because I couldn’t shake the idea that we should be treated equally.  Why I didn’t run like the Devil (excuse the pun) away from that place?  I think it was because I truly believed the lie that women are to submit and there were things we were not allowed to do, due to our mother Eve.  The struggle between Christian doctrine, and what I knew to be true, were in conflict and the desire to be a “good Christian,” would always win out and to my detriment, I might add.

As fate would have it, what that Elder said would come back and haunt me eight years later when I would hear a similar comment made about a very dear friend and talented woman at our church, when I asked our pastor about her whereabouts and what had taken place.  It went something like this, “Well, she has always had a problem with the male leadership having authority over her here.”  It was at that moment, I believe that my blinders starting coming off.  I was done keeping quiet and making nice; it was the beginning of the end for that church and the beginning of a new and freethinking life for me.

Sometimes it’s really hard to look back and see what a mind-numbed robot I was, but I’m learning that regrets are counter productive and I am really thankful that I no longer feel duty-bound to fit into the “ good Christian woman” mold.

Free at last, free at last, thank goodness for my brain, I’m free at last!

God Where are You?

I was listening to local talk radio the other evening and the subject of the program was the tragedy at Virginia Tech.  A caller was saying that we, as a country, need to pray.  The host said, “Okay, that sounds good, and what do we pray?  God, where were you?”  I remember thinking that those are two very good questions:  What do we pray, and God, where were you? When I was a full-fledged “believer,” I would have thought that those would have been horrible questions to ask.  I would have thought, who are we to question God?  His ways are not our ways.  Now, as a nonbeliever, I realize how relevant those types of questions are. What should we pray and, yes God, where were you?  Where were you when a psychopath mercilessly gunned down thirty-two students, just beginning to live their lives?

The day after the shooting, I received an email from the daughter of a friend.  She was on a “fact finding” trip in Europe (letting “God” lead of course) to see about going into missions there.  She wrote about how her god had answered her prayers, how “God” had brought some new friends her way and how “God” had provided a place for her to stay and even how “God” had allowed her to get her package onboard her flight, even though it was 3 lbs. overweight.  She had prayed to her god, and “God” had done all of these things for her and now she is in Greece waiting for “God” to show her the way to go (not a bad place to be waiting on God, I might add).  All I could think of was how can she believe God would do all these little things for her and yet not intervene to spare the lives of those Virginia Tech students? Did she even consider that?

Most Christians would say, God could have intervened at Virginia Tech, but chose not to, and that we will have trials in life, and that “God works all things for good for those who love him,” and “His ways are not our ways,” and don’t forget about the free will of the shooter.   That is how Christians rationalize the obvious evidence that prayer does NOT work, and that there is NOT a personal God that intervenes in any of our lives.   Sadly, when I was Christian, that’s how I rationalized it too.  Now I think differently, perhaps more rationally.  What about the students who didn’t believe in God or Christ?  According to Christianity, they are now all burning in hell—forever, by the way.  How in the world does that exemplify a loving God?  What about their families?  Even if they believe in God and Christ, is their suffering somehow lessened because of that?  Absolutely not.  How could a benevolent God, who could, not intervene and spare his children such horrible pain?  How can Christians not ask these questions of their god?  How can they not ask, “God where were you?”  The truth is, they can’t let themselves do that, because deep down they know all they will get is silence…stone cold silence.

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