Guest Posts

M. Rodriguez of the The BitterSweet End  (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com) blog asked me to write a couple of guest posts for his blog. This I was very happy to do for him and in return I suggested a subject for him to write about for me.

My first guest post has already been posted and is available here: http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/being-in-a-mixed-marriage-christian-atheist-the-issues-that-come-up-and-overcoming-the-issues-of-dogma/

If anyone wishes to either write a guest post and invite me to write than I am happy to oblige. Specifically, I would be interested in anyone who would wish to write a post on a subject that is related to the Christian to Atheist journey but from a perspective that I have not already presented here in this blog.

Posts may be anonymous if desired.

Does anyone know a Christian spouse married to a former Christian?

One perspective I would be interested in hearing about and inviting to guest post here, would be that of a Christian whose spouse has deconverted. If you are in that position or know someone who is, then please do get in tough I would welcome your perspective and reading your guest post.

There’s a problem in front of the pulpit

I wasn’t expecting to get frustrated with the church we’re now attending, but now that we’ve been in our new location for a year the imperfections have begun to show and this time my wife and I find ourselves in the opposite position that we were in when I wrote this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/)

To set the scene, this church is predominantly an elderly congregation. The blunt bottom line is that unless the church attracts a significant number of younger people it will cease to be able to function. By younger I mean working people in the 20-40 year age group. Even the 40-60 age range is not that well stocked. The pastor and his wife are middle aged, placing them among the youngest church members.

The church has struggled along for a time with this elderly, however, its location in the town is an advantage and it has a thriving youth club setup where it is very busy each Friday night. Not many of these kids translate into young adults on a Sunday morning though. For that to happen there needs to be a change.

This is where the problems are.

When we first started attending the church more than a year ago, Sunday worship consisted of either a piano or the organ (which is a rather decent pipe organ) being played somewhat averagely or for a chorus, the song was played from a CD. It really wasn’t very inspiring.

The pastor has worked very hard to be relevant to a younger congregation because he knows this is what he needs to attract to the church. Other church members have apparently been praying hard for a long time for someone talented to come and improve the music aspects of Sunday services.

So when the pastor employs an office assistant, a lady with a good singing voice married to a man who plays keyboards in a band, and shortly after my wife turns up, also with a good singing voice, and music skills and a desire to lead worship; its seen by some as the answer they’ve been looking for.

If it was so perfect, what went wrong?

People, that’s what went wrong.

A year has gone by and my wife regularly leads worship and when she does the church gets treated to a very skilled keyboardist, a gentle drummer and two wonderful female vocals. Occasionally she pulls out her flute as well. She puts a lot of effort into making sure what she arranges is thoughtful, fits with theme and sensitive to as many needs as she can.

However, its still not good enough for some because now its like they are being performed to and they don’t want that. Its also been noted that the three couples mentioned above socialise a lot together and some think that’s not on. As it happens, the three men (Pastor, Keyboardist and myself) all go the local camera club and the three ladies have become good friends. Its only natural that there would be dinners between them all, after all, without each other the three couples wouldn’t have the essential social life of people the same age.

That’s not all that there is, there are some people with specific theological agendas, some of which conflict with the pastor. From what I’ve seen, I think the pastor is right and those with the agendas are on questionable theological ground.

So here I am, in the unexpected position of being an atheist in support of a pastor, who I call a good friend, while elderly Christians, people of long standing faith who should know better, threaten the church and spread bitterness. A sizeable number of people are apparently absent from services now and the pastor’s attempts to visit and reconcile have been rebuffed. I say apparently absent, because I no longer attend, but that’s for another post.

 

Todd, you are asking the wrong question

I was directed to the following post (http://toddcwood.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/what-would-convince-me-part-1.html) from another creationist blog.

Being a humble limey, I know nothing of Todd Wood, but it does seem that he is a reasonably well connected creationist with a ministry and therefore there are many who follow what he says.

The comment and post that sent me Todd’s way said that he would be examining over a series of posts what would make him accept evolution. This piqued my interest and so I followed the link and was immediately disappointed.

The question that Todd is actually answering and investigating is this

 

if someone could show that evolution and Christian theology were indeed compatible, would that be enough to convince me that evolution was correct?

 

Oh how my heart fell when I read that.

Apart from the complete absence of what would constitute a satisfactory theological argument; the thing that screamed out me is that evolution is not determined by theology, but by science. One simply does not decide to believe evolution on the basis of clever philosophy. One accepts evolution due to the weight of evidence and experimental demonstration over the past 100+ years.

I think I get what Todd is trying to do though. In my creationist days I was very much of the opinion that the only right conclusion for the Christian was creation. My viewpoint was (and to a certain extent still is) that evolution creates too many problems at the root of Christian theology that the two are at least problematic roommates. In that respect I certainly sympathise with Todd’s question and can see that he at least believes he is trying to engage in an honest bit of soul searching.

The base problem with his question is that it starts from the point of view that there is a factual truth behind Christian theology. Regardless of where he goes with his answers, he will not at any point ask the question, “is it possible there is no God and no literal creation?” If anything of the kind is entertained, it will be rhetorical only and not for a second considered seriously.

This is what held me back for many years. My view of evolution was dictated by my adherence to Christianity. This is a scientifically unhealthy place to be.

Thankfully, I wasn’t so jaded that I would reject Christians who accepted evolution. In that regards I held a view that differences in opinion about evolution were not worth losing friends over.

I have added Todd’s blog to my reader and I will be interested in what posts he comes up with on the subject. I want to see where he goes with this and I want to see if there are any old and familiar misunderstandings.

Above all though, I want to see Todd face the question of what would he do if he honestly and critically, without bias, examined the evidence of evolution and used that same scientific integrity to equally question creationism.

Missing a Good Sing Song

I never thought I’d say it; but I caught myself singing along enthusiastically to the worships songs a few weeks ago. Up until then I had always sung the songs half-heartedly, being very conscious of what they say and that I simply don’t subscribe to those beliefs anymore.

It happened because I relaxed. The congregation were singing along, as per normal, and I was half mouthing, half singing, as quietly as I could get away with. Then suddenly along came a song I knew well and off I went. I don’t recall how far I got before realising what I was doing, but when I did I found myself mentally chastising myself for being weak. I was almost embarrassed.

What surprised me most was how I reacted to this little slip. It was almost as though I had done something wrong. Oh what a reversal of attitude!

Regarding Worship

As a Christian, worship was always important and, despite my less than perfect singing voice, I did enjoy singing songs and entering into a spirit of worship while doing so. In my mind, the act of singing in Church and the experience of worship are entwined. One shall not and cannot separate them.

So with this mind-set, it is hardly surprising that I don’t want to blindly worship and entity I don’t believe in. That would be silly.

Thinking about it afterwards though, it also seems silly getting worked up over what is really just a joyful sing song. Should I care what the songs are about? How is it different to appreciating music on the radio, which will on occasion contain lyrics that I disapprove of as well? It can only be because of the association I have with singing in Church and worship.

That was four weeks ago and I’ve not been back since. The not being back is unrelated to the event in question; it has just happened that way, a combination of it being convenient for me to stay at home because of stuff to do, mainly because I have to work.

We’ll see how I progress on this one, I have more or less told myself that its okay to join in the singing even if I struggle with the lyrics. I fully expect the mental link there to struggle. However, I’m really not going to give myself a heart attack by joining in, so why get so bothered by it?

Dieing with Religion

An article on the BBC News website caught my eye today, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-19322413). Its basically about a Muslim family who want to force the hospital, where the father is very ill, to resuscitate him. Watching a very ill parent lie immobile on bed, struggling to breath and incapable of any self-motion is considerably distressing.

I remember seeing my mother ill with cancer, struggling to breath and no longer able to feed herself, let alone make it off the bed and round the house. Its horrible and oh how I wanted to see her back to her old healthy self again. I hated seeing her like that, yet I also wanted her to cling to life for as long as possible. I wasn’t ready to let her go then and in many ways I am still not, four years later.

So I sympathise with the family concerned.

Yet, I am also concerned about the message they are sending through this action. Their statement is that under Islam, they believe that you prolong life. I imagine this is a sentiment that many Christians would agree with, one I am sure I would have too. Still do in many ways. However, is this actually life they are seeking to prolong? What life is it they seek? They certainly are not going to get their father back, no matter how long they keep his body breathing and his heart beating? While I will readily accept that I am in no way a knowledgeable person on Islam and what it teaches. I do find myself asking the question “does Islam really teach that we must do all we can to prevent a body from physically dying, even when the person inside has no active part to play in life?”.

There is a time for everything; we all must die someday, it would appear that the time is nigh for this gentleman. It is sad, at 55 he is not old by today’s standards and he is younger than my mother was when she passed. Its sad that people do still fall ill and die at that age, there is always a family grieving a loved one who was taken from them way too young.

What concerns me most about this case is that there is a subtle message here that places this Muslim family, during what should be a private time, in the public eye because they are being denied a religious right by the big evil state. The cynic in me wonders if this is intentional, to create unhelpful headlines elsewhere in the world when the story gets repeated with a pro-Islam slant. I hope its not true, but we live in a time of constant suspicion of motive and second guessing.

The spokesperson who is quoted gets it right when they say that it is prolongation of death and lack of dignity. This was something I had to come to terms with after Mum died, the three or four years she bravely fought the cancer started off hopeful and got progressively more desperate. There have times since when I have genuinely wondered if it would have been better for everyone if the cancer treatment had never been given and death be allowed to come swiftly. Those years were a long death, with much pain and sadness. The false hope created by each new treatment made the come down on the realisation of the truth even more painful. Dignity was most certainly not increased and her barely breathing unconscious body had none. Resistance really was futile.

I hope this family comes to terms with their loss and does not feel bitter afterwards because of this action. That would likely taint the memory of a loved father in a way that is not helpful.

Pondering the effectiveness of Prayer

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that during my Christian days I was utterly convinced of the effectiveness of prayer.

Over the last two decades (and probably more) there have been a number of tests for the effectiveness of prayer, this article is just one example of many that exist on the subject (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032302177.html). It was during the 1990s that I first became aware of such tests and the negative conclusions. As a dedicated Christian at the time I very quickly dismissed them; referring to Luke chapter 4 and not testing God (http://bible.cc/luke/4-12.htm).

It was clear in my mind at the time that these attempts by doubting scientists were invoking some form of supernatural hide and seek and God was not going to perform for them.

Over the years, as more and more of these articles came out, the conclusions started to bother me more and more. My pat apologetics to the problem was becoming less convincing to myself and for a while I actively ignored the difficulties it caused me.

Anyway, there was always the major power of prayer event that happened to me that I could fall back on (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/the-dramatic-deliverance/). After that event I did get involved in my church’s prayer for healing ministry and over the next few years prayed for a fair few people. I saw many blessed by the experience of prayer, that is to say they said they felt blessed and the walked away smiling. Did I ever experienced something that would categorically come under the banner of answered prayer that I could honestly say would have been validated by a scientists watching?

No. There was once a time when a friend and I were praying for an elderly lady at a weekend away and she specifically asked for prayer for her failing hearing. My friend and I prayed for that, we were full of faith that it could happen, and after what felt like 10-15 minutes she did say, in response to my friend asking, that yes her hearing had improved a little. We both praised the Lord. However, even at that time, I did hold a little doubt in my mind that she was actually being completely truthful. I can’t explain why I questioned her honesty, it was a good 15 years before I was to start the path I am on today. So, no I don’t believe I ever saw anything that qualified as supernatural answer to prayer.

Yet for many years I continued to accept and believe that the power of prayer was real and effective around the world constantly.

When I look back now I do wonder if my prayer experiences and the reports of studies failing to find a link would sow a seed of doubt that would later take root. I can’t say for certain that is the case, I think its just one of those things that sits there and nags at the sub conscious and suddenly you realise its there when other things click into place.

When I read those same studies and articles now I do see how they are rigorous and not at all biased against faith. They are honest testing and should be taken seriously and for me they serve as proof that I do now hold the right answer.

The Christian (Theist) Challenge

 

To follow on from the atheist challenge (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/10-questions-for-atheists/), thebiblereader (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-atheist-challenge/) has created 10 questions for Christians.

The 10 questions can be found here: http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/the-christian-theist-challenge/ and rather than repe4at the questions I’ll let you pop over there to read them and I’ll provide the answers below that I think my former Christian self would have replied. This will be an interesting challenge for me as it will provide me with an opportunity to attempt to think as I once did about God and salvation and examine those thoughts through my new eyes.

 

1)      Religion is a man made concept and as such there will be elements of religiosity that do conflict with God and the Bible. Those conflicts would be entirely the fault of the people involved and not at all to do with God. God and His word, however, do not conflict.

2)      A lot depends on the context of this, I can recall certain situations where immediate danger to my family could have resulted in this sort of interpretation out of a desire for retribution. However, in the cold light of day in my western life in glorious England, I really can’t see how that might happen. Even with absolute certainty that it was an instruction from God I can’t see myself going ahead with it.

3)      God always was and since he created the laws of physics when he created the universe, there is no violation as he is outside of those laws.

4)      Yes, of course its inerrant. Perceived errancy is down to misunderstanding the context of the situation.

5)      Its not right or justifiable by today’s standards. Life in those times were different and the rules of war and engagement. God wasn’t ordering killing for killings sake. Nasty killings were going to happen anyway, wars of that nature in those times would have been very brutal. God’s instruction on dispatching the enemy did not make the end result any worse than it would have been anyway. This was a kill or be killed scenario and utter oblivion of the enemy reduces the chance of a repeat performance later on.

6)      God did not make a mistake. He intentionally gave us the option of following him or not. The choice had to be ours to make. Having a creation of adorable puppies that mindlessly stick to his heals and wishing to please at every one of his whims is not what he intended to create. Through a free will choice, comes imperfection as a consequence of those choices, when they are made truly and freely. Would a creation of those puppy-like followers be perfect? I would say not.

7)      Yes he will hear. God might help that person get find the way again, or he might know that they will manage it anyway and so not intervene. The Christian might never know which.

8)      I never considered that this could even be an option. I can’t imagine what I would do.

9)      Being a creationist. The proof would have been that creation was wrong and evolution right after all because the unpacking of that would mean so much of the bible simply can’t be true and that kills the foundation of the gospels dead. (As it turns out, this is precisely what happened)

10)   I had always been happy to admit to indoctrination. I was happy with that because I was secure in my faith. Other Gods were not compatible and so they could not be believed in. Other religions were violent, cultish or a bit New Age and fluffy. None of which were attractive.

10 Questions for Atheists

Over at http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-atheist-challenge/ thebiblereader has asked 10 questions for atheists to answer.

Rather than me repeat the questions here, it is probably best you go there to read them. I will post my responses as a reply to his blog as well as in this post. There are already a lot of responses there.

 

1)      That’s not true. No god does not mean no measurement for morality. Morality is consistent with evolution because as a group of individuals develop rules will have to develop increase the changes of the groups survival. Watch groups of animals in the wild and this becomes clear, it is not the anarchy those who believe this would have us believe. There is currently a lot of study in this area and some very interesting experiments and result are coming out of it.

2)      Again, this is also not true. Meaning is not placed on us from an external being based on whether or not we believe in him. Meaning is a much more personal thing and is a reasonable result in a species that has developed self-awareness.

3)      If New Atheism means the active opposition to religion on the understanding that it causes more harm than good and that accommodation of the religious is for the weak. Then no, I do not subscribe to that and nor do I support eugenics. I accept that there could be an extreme end of the spectrum that sees eugenics as not only acceptable but good. Just because that extreme might exist does not mean that atheism is rotten. Much the same as religious extremism does not in and of itself disprove religion.

4)      Transitional fossils exist and are documented. DNA evidence is however far more convincing and has enabled more accurate maps of how species have diverged and evolved. Gaps in the fossil record exist because not every species will leave fossils. For all the millions of animals that have existed, a tiny minority have survived to fossil form. DNA explains the relationships far better anyway.

5)      Yes. Even as a Christian the concept of Human Nature was never a problem for me. It is Human Nature to seek a greater purpose, for a long time that purpose was encapsulated in God. That doesn’t make him real.

6)      I won’t pretend to understand the beginning of the universe and how it came about. I consider it disingenuous for the religious who also don’t understand it to try and discredit it based on that simplistic misunderstanding. My challenge in response is that it is better to learn about something in order to better understand it, than it is to mock it out of fear for what it might do to our beliefs.

7)      Straw man alert! Atheists are not automatically immoral or self-destructing, this is an untruth believed by believers. I’ve been there before so I understand the mentality. Picking those countries as examples of a godless society are as helpful as picking Afghanistan and Iran as examples of a Godly Society. Picking an objectionable extreme to prove a point is never a good idea.

8)      I would image I would enter an initial state of panic. After that, I really don’t know. It is not something I worry about becoming true.

9)      Having already made the move from Christianity, having considered it right for many years. I would need absolute and undeniable proof. It would have to be a physical manifestation of God that could not be explained in any other way and it would have to happen more than once. Given some of the things I have already attributed to god in my Christian years, this proof would need to be something special.

10)   Basically, I was once a YEC and a better understanding of science made me realise how wrong I had been all those years. I tried to reconcile my Christianity with my new found acceptance of evolution but I failed. I now think that it is far more reasonable to say there is no god because that is what the evidence indicates.

 

 

What Does Being Unequally Yoked Actually Mean?

Over the weekend my wife and I had a brief discussion about the meaning of being unequally yoked. The conversation came about because she had been reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where in Chapter 2 he explicitly states “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” (NIV)

The unambiguous message in the text is that it is not a valid excuse to leave your spouse just because they leave the faith. Yet, as I read about on the subject, it is clear that there are many marriages where one spouse leaving the faith while the other does not often creates a situation where divorce is inevitable. I think that is sad and it leaves me with the conclusion that my wife and I are in the minority.

What’s this got to do with Yoking?

Well, later on in Corinthians is another unambiguous instruction “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (NIV)

The first sentence is clear; do not be yoked with unbelievers. Here is that same sentence in other versions:

  • Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. (NLT)
  • Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (KJV)
  • Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers (ASV)
  • Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (ESV)

I think the word ‘unequally’ dramatically changes the meaning of that sentence. Without it, the instruction is clear, don’t mix with the heathen; with it, is the implication that it is possible for a Christian to be equally yoked with an unbeliever. (I’ll skip over the question of whether unbeliever means atheist or just not a Christian but feel free to comment on that part if you wish to.)

‘Unequally’ has a bearing on the sentences that follow. One meaning implies that all unbelievers are wicked and nasty; the other that it is only the wicked and nasty unbelievers that should be avoided; unbelievers that are not wicked and nasty are okay. For me, it’s the latter that makes more sense because how on earth would it be possible to evangelise if Christians can’t mix with unbelievers? However, the insinuation that all non-believers are wicked and nasty is deeply unhelpful; even if it is not a correct interpretation, there are many Christians who believe it and there are many Churches where that message is preached.

It is highly unfortunate that a single word can make such a difference to this sentence and that it is missing in some modern translations. It is precisely this sort of thing that creates difficulty for the biblical literalist.

I had always been of the impression that the being yoked means marriage, but the context of this instruction does not implicitly state marriage and so I now think it means more than just marriage. More than that, I think it reads more appropriately as referring to a business type relationship. This item at Grace Central (http://www.gracecentered.com/unequally_yoked.htm) seems to agree, though it is not a completely thorough analysis. I do find the explanation of the original Greek very interesting, especially as it does seem to support my current position on the matter.

While there certainly does seem to be guidance towards avoiding marriage with a non-Christian, I think it’s a major stretch to assume that a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian comes under the banner of being unequally yoked.

So What does it Actually Mean?

Well it doesn’t mean have no association with non-Christians whatsoever, despite the unfortunate language in some versions.

My thoughts are that it advises against close or dependent partnerships (not specifically or necessarily marriage) with those who would take advantage of you or have vastly different motives. This would seem to be good advice for anyone regardless of the religiosity of either partner.

Unloved by Christian Friends

My wife has an old friend (not the same friend talked about here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/how-we-lost-a-great-friend/). They lost touch many years ago but recently have re-established contact and both are looking forward to seeing each other again and catching up.

They have been friends for many years, long before my wife and I met. As these sorts of old friendships often go, they both got married, moved away, had a family, moved again and as life changes and evolves sometimes these old friendships suffer and fail to last. This is one such friendship.

Hidden in all those years, my wife’s friend has had to battle illness and depression. One of the casualties of that low period is that her marriage failed and she is now in a relationship with her counsellor. I don’t know all the details and its certainly not appropriate for me to speculate or even divulge more on the personal cost here.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, my wife and her old friend are back in touch and looking forward to spending a few hours with each other this week while the limey family are on holiday in the area.

Over the weekend, while discussing this week’s plans, my wife divulged that said friend and made a comment on Facebook about the support she had recently from friends over her very recent ill health and that it had revealed who her true friends were and how she’d been abandoned by her Christian ones.

My wife confessed to a tinge of guilt and wondered if she was one of the guilty Christians. So it was with great trepidation that she suggested a catch up this week and to much relief the response was warm.

The story of this friend goes beyond ill health and failed marriages. She and my wife were both committed Christians at the height of their friendship. Now her life has led her away from Christianity and her status as a Christian is in doubt.

Hearing about abandonment by Christians in this sort of scenario always makes me sad. This story especially struck a chord with me because I’ve read in the last month a couple of critical Atheist blog posts pointing fingers at Christians for using prayer as an excuse for doing nothing. The accusation being that Christians meet for prayer, feel good about it and then actually do nothing practical about the situation. While I am sure there are some who do this, I think it’s very unkind to tar all Christians with that brush, so reading those blog posts actually made me feel defensive about Christianity.

Then, off the back of those feelings my wife tells me about her old friend who feels abandoned by her Christian friends.

The story makes me feel sad and leaves me in a quandary. I know that there are many Christians who care greatly for those around them and go to great lengths to be supportive of those around me; often at personal cost. My wife is one of them. I won’t list all the stories of her saintliness; you’ll just have to believe me. I also know there are atheists who care so little for others they scoff at the idea of ‘holding them in their thoughts’; the non-believers equivalent of prayer.

So, is the recent comment by my wife’s old friend fair? What about the atheists pointing an accusing finger at those who pray but do nothing? I think they are both guilty of a bit of confirmation bias, that is, they have reached a conclusion and then highlighted the evidence that supports it.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if the proportion of Christians who do actually act to help others in practical ways is any different from the proportion of non-Christians. Is it unreasonable to expect there to be more Christians going out of their way to help those they know in need? If the effects of the Holy Spirit are real, would there be a greater number of Christians being supportive? I think these are reasonable questions and I think that it’s also reasonable to conclude that if Christian claims of God are true then an effect of that would be a measurable disparity between Christians and non-Christians who give practical help.

I wonder if such a study exists.