First Time Back at Church for a Year

Recently I attended a Church service. I can’t remember when I last attended one but I am fairly sure it was about a year ago. It may have been a service over the Christmas period last year. I can’t recall for certain when the last service I actually attended was but a year seems about right.

The last time I attended I do recall having issues with worship. I didn’t like singing the songs that I know so well because of what they represent. Standing there not singing them made me feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. What I chose to do then was to sing quietly, I didn’t enjoy it and it framed much of my desire to stop attending church completely. My wife understood and agreed that she would rather I didn’t attend if it made me feel that way.

So when our pastor friend asked if I would take photos at an upcoming baptism service, I surprised myself by readily accepting the invitation.

Historically, baptism services have tended to be emotional services. They remind me of my own baptism as a youngster, the same age that my daughter is now as it happens. As a Christian, baptisms were a good reminder of the promises I made and served as a focus point. This service would hold none of that for me and I was interested to see how I would respond to this one. Of course the primary reason I was there was to record the moment of immersion of the two adults being baptised and as far as I was concerned, any personal misgivings would be second place.

As it happens the service brought up nothing for me at all. There were no negative emotions, no uncomfortable memories and no feelings of discomfort. I even found myself signing the songs, which I still know by heart, in a manner that I haven’t for a very long time. That is I sang them as enthusiastically as one can without actually entering into a spirit of worship. The singing desire just came and I went along with it, I deny any suggestion that I was actually worshiping though.

My wife led the service, which she does regularly at the church and I did realise one thing, I miss hearing her sing, it is probably the single biggest loss I feel about no longer attending church. Even as an atheist I recognise that she sings well and leads sensitively, she is good at it, gifted even. I don’t have to engage with the spiritual content to appreciate and enjoy the good voice at the front. Other than that realisation, the service passed without event for me, the two getting baptised said their pieces and I took my place to capture their moments.

Talking with my wife about it later in the day I expressed my thoughts as mentioned above, that joining in the singing came naturally, in return she expressed surprise that she saw me singing at all. I guess the break from church caused me to calm down somewhat and my reaction to worship is less harsh than it once was. I don’t really think there is much to unpack here, other than to recognise the continued evolution of my own thought processes.

I don’t think it means that I’ll be returning to attending church regularly, I think my attitude will harden again if I go too often. It is nice to know that I can now attend a service and sing heartily without the associated baggage I had last year. That in itself should be considered positive progress.

Childhood Conversations

There was one thing that happened on the day which touched on something that may well rear its head at a point in the future, though for now it is not an issue. That is of talking Christianity with our daughter. She and I travelled to church together because my wife had gone earlier to prepare for the service. Knowing it was a baptism service, my daughter asked questions about why someone would get baptised and what it means to be baptised. I answered truthfully from the Christian perspective and even told her I was her age when I made my decision to be baptised.

If I’m honest, I didn’t especially enjoy answering like that but my daughter deserved a truthful answer and I believe I gave her that. She didn’t lead on to ask me why I no longer attend church; I would have told her the truth if she had. If my daughter is going to ask questions of the Christian life then I should answer those questions without bias. She attends church each Sunday morning with my wife and she has a child’s acceptance of what goes on there. If I were to take every opportunity to push and counter with my own feelings I could cause upset, yet at the same time, I struggle with letting her continue to believe something that I utterly reject. I struggle with her being indoctrinated each week, yet I don’t want to cause upset by being the bad daddy that hates church, because at root that is not what I am.

For now it does not need to be made into an issue and I see no point in escalating it to that status. I accept that while I continue to live a life that is tightly bound to Christianity these things will always be there. For now I’ll celebrate the progress and not make an issue of things that don’t yet deserve it.

 

 

I’ve been working with a Creationist

I must confess I find this amusing.

In my work for an IT consultancy I tend to work at a variety of customers and not always with the same colleagues. The past few weeks I have been working with a chap who I first met about a year ago on another project and during the three short weeks we were working together we got on well.

This time round we it is nearer 3 month and we’ve had the chance to get talking on various subjects, including personal things and it came out that he was a Christian. I told him my wife was and I used to be. There wasn’t time to continue that conversation at the time but he did indicate that he would be interested in the story of why I left the faith.

Well, last month that chance came, by coincidence it was the last day I was on the project and so I don’t know when we’ll next work together.

I told him that I used to be a creationist (this piqued his interest) and that as I gained a better understanding of science the realisation that I could no longer trust early Genesis to be true caused problems and as that realisation spread through other parts of the bible I eventually realised that no Adam meant no original sin and therefore there was no point in Jesus; at which point it was game over.

Of course he disagreed with my conclusion and during the conversation it became clear that he was sympathetic to creationism, even though he didn’t out himself as one specifically. When he said that the flood was global in his mind and that carbon dating was shown to be flawed I knew his creationist credentials were there.

I tried to counter his claims with the standard scientific explanation and he came back with the same creationist stuff I was saying 20 years ago. It was a very bizarre form of déjà vu.

He also came out with the classic claim that scientists are always changing (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/oh-science-why-do-you-change-so-much/) their minds while the apologists stick to the same message. The explanation that mind changing is good because scientists follow the evidence simply didn’t wash, much the same as with my 20 year younger self.

It also became apparent in the conversation that he was swayed more by good rhetorical argument then he was by good scientific explanation. I guess the same would have been true of me once too, though I am not conscious of it.

It was sad to experience, maybe my conversation will help to challenge him to look at science more, we’ll see. He probably equally hopes he has helped me back onto the right path and may even pray for his witness to me and for my eventual conversion.

Maybe there will be an update when we cross paths on the next project, who knows.

 

I told my Dad I am an Atheist

That was interesting and not entirely how I expected it to go either.

First some background.

As a Christian, I was always unembarrassed by my Christianity and in my family I was among the most committed. Of my siblings, if there was one who was not going to die a Christian, it was me. As it is I was the last to leave the faith, however, if you asked them, no one in the family would have predicted I would turn away from my childhood faith.

My father, on the other hand, is what I would have described as a nominal Christian with a very liberal faith. As a child we would always have meal time prayers and he played the piano in church for many years, however, I don’t recall him ever expounding the gospel or leading studies. As a young adult I actively involved in various parts of the church organisation including study groups and youth groups. These are areas I never recall my father being involved in, and certainly not with the enthusiasm that I displayed.

I remember one discussion we had many years ago where he described me as a zealot. I’d say that was a pretty accurate description of my Christianity.

I hadn’t told my father about my move from faith mainly because the subject hadn’t come up, and to be honest, I’ve not been sure of his level of faith. He’s effectively not lived a Christian life for several years. I imagined that he’d done what one of my brothers has done, which was to quietly quit living a Christian life, while not making a formal rejection of faith.

It turns out I was wrong and he still holds onto the basic concepts of a Christian god. I don’t know how strong they are, but they are clearly stronger than I realised. Our relationship has been a bit shaky for most of the past thirty years, though in the last five years, since my Mum’s death, it is the best it has been in all that time. However, there are still subjects that we are cautious about and it seems that this is now one of them.

He’s spoken about my atheism with my youngest brother, with whom I have a very close relationship, and through that I know that at some point he wants to bring me back round again. Not at all what I wanted or expected to hear. I know from past experience that this would be a conversation that runs a very high risk of us falling out again. Thankfully we’re both at a stage where neither of us really wants to risk that and so sensitive conversations are now avoided, whereas in the past we would both have gone in guns blazing and stubbornly blamed the other for the resulting fallout. He didn’t see his young granddaughter for three years the last time that happened; the cost isn’t worth it.

The wider context is that there is more to the conversation that we had. He suggested I might wish to seek advice from the church minister. I explained that he was also a close friend and I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross the friend boundary, so dad suggested another minister. I was very surprised that his port of call for advice was a man of the cloth, so I killed the idea by saying I wasn’t interested in doing that because I was an atheist. The conversation was already emotionally charged and for one of very few times in my life I managed to utterly stump him. To be honest I think I sent him reeling. It was the last thing he expected me to say and when he spoke to my brother a short time later he expressed how shocked he was.

This was six weeks ago and we’ve still not returned to the subject. I think he’s scared of raising the subject with me. To be fair, my brother did warn him that he already knew and that it had been a long journey for me and turning me back wasn’t going to happen. It is nice to know that he has paid attention to direct advice from one of his sons.

On my part, I’m surprised by how strong his commitment still is, we’ve not conversed about Christianity for so mnay years I just assumed he’d be cool about my deconversion, as he appears to be about my brother’s. Why should my faith be more special?

For the first time since Mum died and we tentatively reconnected and started building a new father-son relationship, I am finding myself a little concerned. It would be a great shame this causes a rift between us, there have been too many of those in the past. On the other hand I have hope because we both clearly have different agendas and motivations now and the neither wishes to repeat the past.

 

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

I would like to thank M. Rodriguez of the The BitterSweet End  (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com) for the following post. I suggested the title to him in response to his invite for me to write him a couple of guest posts because I was interested in another persons experience on this subject.

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

For Many atheist or ex-Christians who really were not involved in evangelism during their Christianity they may not fully realize how much their interaction with a believer or doubting Christian impacts a person or affects the psyche of a person.

Now for the doubting or skeptical Christian there are a lot of skeptic websites debunking Christianity; but a good portion of those websites are really designed for other atheist to mock Christians.  Personally during my de-conversion I did not visit a lot of atheist websites for that very reason (and also a lot of them had a lot of profanity).  Fortunately I did find several Christian friendly atheist blogs that were about intellectually challenging the dogma of religion, and not mocking it.  Now for me the majority of my experiences have been good.  I have found a number of really good atheist blogs that I visit occasionally that are focused on being against the delusion of God and NOT the Christian person.  And I have a very supportive group that visits my blog on a regular also.  And they were very supportive when it came time for me to tell my wife about my de-conversion, with words like good luck, best wishes, our hearts and thoughts are with you.   Just real encouraging.

However not all my interactions have been positive.  During my deconversion process, I put up a post called the Atheist Challenge, which was 10 questions I thought would be very difficult for an atheist to answer.  And being a doubting wavering Christian, (but still a Christian) they were phrased in a way as coming from that perspective.  In saying that the Christian perspective, that they were loaded questions which assumed God.  And for me at that time, I did not fully comprehend that they were assumed loaded questions, because to me God was assumed true, so to put it any other way would be illogical.

Because of this questionnaire, I did receive some very sarcastic, uncooperative comments from atheist.  Calling my questions stupid and really not trying to answer, but provide a sort of reverse Ad Hominem argument with ridicule.

Fortunately there were other atheist and ex-believers who knew the background of why I asked the questions.  So they quickly came to my defense, against those who criticized me and the intelligence of the question.  Not that I was trying to prove atheist wrong, but these were genuine questions I really had and personally experienced.  And questions, that I knew I would get if and when I deconverted.  (And I did get a version of every single one after I did de-convert).

In that post questionnaire many of the so called difficult questions were not so difficult.  And because of the massive response I received, I can confidently say, that the atheist questionnaire/challenge did have a direct effect into me finally coming into the realization that the Christian Faith and Belief is fallacious.   So I have to say thank you to all those who took those questions seriously, and really did try to answer the questions of a former doubting Christian.  I appreciate the online community of atheist and ex-believers who took my questions seriously; because it was a turning point in my de-conversion, because those last 10 questions really closed the door on my doubt.  However this could have been a different story…..I could have dropped my inquiry into my religion right then and there, because of the negative perception & reaction of a few atheists.  And just returned to my Christian belief, because I did not want to be like all those other angry atheists.  And that thought really did cross my mind….But like I said, those Ex-believers and Atheist who were familiar with my story and my blog gave me the hope and confidence I needed to come to the terms of truth.

There is a saying that gets passed around in the Christian evangelical community…  you might be the only God people see…  Meaning that your actions and treatment of others might be the only interaction that a person might have with that belief system.  And that they may reject your God, not because of rational argument, but on how good or bad their interaction with you goes.  It further implies that the impression you give is a direct reflection of your belief.

Never more true is this statement as it applies to atheist & atheism.  What I mean by that, is that a Christian may say some harsh and mean things on an online forum or blog (Go to Hell, Burn in Hell, God hates you) but for every unkind Christian on a blog, there are 2-3 more who are willing to say I Love You or Jesus loves you.  Atheist-Atheism-Unbelieviers don’t have that luxury.  If an atheist puts up a mocking and ridiculing comment on believers, that really might be the one and only interaction which that believer might have with an atheist-unbeliever.  And that negative perception of an atheist will carry with that believer, and spread because there are not very many other atheists to help correct that one mis-action of the angry atheist.

Now some may think, that this point is really some type of irrelevant emotion appeal, and that atheism is the intellectually honest position, so that they don’t have to be nice or loving or show compassion, because the believer should be able to recognize and rationalize intelligent argument and be able to come to the right conclusion regardless if I am mean or nice.  Well that misperception becomes irrelevant in the grand scheme of human interaction.  Just ask yourself… Would you rather be Intellectually Right/Correct OR Loved & treated with kindness and respect?  And if you act in a way that is unloving and mean, why would a person want to be a part of that group?

And this answer right here is why so many people flock to religion, especially the liberal versions of it.  We can be as intellectually correct as much as we want, but if we don’t genuinely care about the wellbeing of a person it means nothing.

A Wonderful Positive Conclusion

Not long ago I posted about some less than pleasant goings on among some members of the church (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/dark-clouds-looming/).

Well the mentioned church meeting has happened and it turns out it went very well. There were a couple of individuals who clearly still had issues and they are personal. That said, the efforts that the pastor had gone to to encourage conciliation and to stem gossip and anonymous disparaging had clearly paid off. It’s a shame that none of this was known before the meeting started.

One of the main turnaround points of the meeting was when a key protagonist admitted that he had been convicted of his wrong attitude and expressed a desire to move forward in a positive way.

Suffice to say, my wife came back from that meeting with none of the dread she had when she went to it.

If was refreshing to hear that a spiralling negative situation can be corrected. Its not perfect and it is a lot better, which is a great thing.

Something else that happened was a conversation my wife had with another church member. This particular member hasn’t got on with my wife since we started attending over a year ago. This member came up to my wife to address that and apologise. It was made clear that the problem wasn’t my wife but that this particular individual has an issue with what happens at the front of the church. She likes the preacher to be the person who leads the whole service, namely announces the hymns and says the prayers.

The new casual style that has become the norm since my wife got involved is difficult for this person. I think its good for this sort of thing to be admitted, it helps people like my wife to understand those she is leading in worship. These people need gently leading into new forms of worship. It’s a shame that what people are used to can become such a norm and so comfortable that it represents an importance that matches the key aspects of the religion they follow.

So, the church appears to have survived what could have been a devastating split. Its not plain sailing yet, but it does represent a major positive step and has shown to many people that difficulties can be overcome and change, while difficult, can be achieved.

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 Prophesies of Jesus’ Crucifixion

Last week one of the church members preached a sermon on the prophesies of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was an interesting sermon and despite having spent many years as a Christian and been to a quite a few Christian conferences, it is not one I think I have heard before. This made a nice change and, given the Easter period, nicely topical too.

The sermon basically said that there were 33 specific prophesies related to Jesus’ crucifixion and then ran through a list of each source prophesy. Time constraints meant that the fulfilment of each could not be gone into, but the reference for each fulfilment was helpfully out up on the OHP. Certainly a lot of effort had gone into the sermon and for me, it was the first time I’d really sat up and paid attention to a sermon in a very long time.

Is self-reference valid?

A big problem I have with this sort of claim for the fulfilment of prophesy is that the prophesy and the fulfilment and the interpretation is all held within the bible. Prophesies and fulfilments really do need to have reliable external sources to back up both ends of the claim. Using the bible to self-reference its own prophesies has got to be an obvious opening for criticism even from the most ardent of believers. More than that, each fulfilment appears to be retrospectively matched with the prophesy that is deemed to fit best. This is something that I find deeply unsatisfying.

I won’t dwell on this though, so moving on…

Thinking Sceptically

I can’t remember all of the prophesies discussed and I certainly didn’t count to see if there were 33 mentioned in the sermon. What I did do with each one though was run a quick mental check to see if I thought that each prophesy was specific enough and how well I thought it matches the fulfilment without too much call to interpretation.

What I did find was that in my opinion too many of the reported prophesies are not specific enough for my satisfaction. I found that this even applies to the more famous ‘Servant King’ prophesies found in Isaiah.

Back at home after the service my wife asked me what I thought of the sermon and I briefly explained the above and how I found it interesting but not convincing. I found myself being a little surprised when she used the word ‘sceptical’ in her own description of her thoughts about some of the items. This surprised me as I didn’t expect it, her faith is not going through the same crisis as my own, so it was surprising to hear her use that phrase. Maybe my own experience is having an effect on her. Pushing her in the same direction that I have just travelled in matters of faith is not on my agenda so I am not going to pursue it. I guess we’ll just have to see what transpires in that matter.

Striking the Heal and Broken Bones

There is one prophesy that I wish to pay more attention too because it’s the stand out item that I took away from the sermon.

The sermon made reference to the traditional idea that crucifixion involved crossing the feet and nailing them to the front of the cross with a single nail going through both feet. However, recent evidence apparently shows that this is probably wrong and the more likely way of nailing the feet to the cross is one foot either side of the vertical and one nail through each heal securing the feet.

Reference was then made to the Fall from the Garden of Eden and the serpents curse, which involved mention of the serpent striking the heal of man. This is apparently now a prophesy for the method of Jesus’ foot attachment to the cross. This is what I mean my retrospective application of a loose phrase that is not a specific prophesy.

My wife agreed with my concerns over this item but she did also point out that the Genesis phrase used is an odd phrase and why would it be said like that if not intended for future reference? She makes a good point, however one should also consider that this is being taken from the English translation, the original language version should really be used here to see what the actual phrase was and how the English translation fits with that context. This actually applies to all of the prophesies to be honest, so it raises the valid question of why should a sermon such as this be taken seriously when it only refers to the English language version of the Bible?

I then pointed out that surely a nail driven through the heal to secure that foot to a cross would effectively render the heal bone broken, thus negating the no broken bones prophesy. My wife suggested that was being overly picky and that the context of the no broken bones prophesy is specific to the practice of the Roman soldiers breaking the legs of the crucified in order to hasten death. She makes a good point, again.

My own memories of the no broken bones prophesy is that it was a literal and wider prophesy relating to the whole life of Jesus. Now that I am older I am happy to accept that it’s a more specific intention and that the heal bone issue is not covered, however it is another example of how non-specific the wording combined with retrospective application leads to joining up events in a manner that suits the reader. As such, I can’t accept this as reliable prophesy and fulfilment.

After the sermon, I had asked the church member in question the same question about the heal and the broken bone and he said it was a good question and he would talk to a Christian doctor he knows and come back to me. We’ll see what happens on that one.

Personally, the whole sermon was interesting and engaged me, but ultimately I found it intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying and it confirmed for me that my decision to move to atheism is the right one.

God takes the Good People Early

This week I found myself in conversation (over the internet) with a Christian and we got onto the subject of death. I was then told that some people believe that God takes his people early and leaves the evil to live longer to give them more of a chance to repent.

I was stunned. It was a proper jaw hit the floor WTF! moment.

I didn’t ask if the person concerned believed that or if they knew anyone who did or even where the information came from. Quite frankly it wasn’t a subject I wanted to discuss, so I let the conversation move on.

The comment did get me thinking though. Why would anyone think that? And more importantly, is there actually a theological precedent or biblical passage that supports this idea? I certainly can’t think of any reason why this could be deemed a reasonable theological position to hold. I concede that I’m not exactly the world’s leading bible commentator, however with my years as a Christian and the number of sermons and Christian talks I’ve heard, you’d think that I’d have heard it if this was a reasonable position to hold.

Given this is the first time I can consciously say I’ve met this particular line of thinking, I think I can safely say that it’s something that is in the minority. However, what makes it concerning is that either there are some people who do believe and teach this, or there are some people who choose to believe this, despite not being taught it.

Of course there is the simple fact that looking at the evidence of deaths of history proves this particular line of thought to be utterly wrong.

It is not a comforting theology

The conclusion I have come to is that people who believe this only do so because it must be comforting to them. It taps into the ‘in a better place’ mentality, that being that those Christians who have died are enjoying fellowship in heaven and ultimately that’s where all good Christians want to be and death in this life is a relief, a good thing even, something to be rejoiced in even. This is denialist theology, it’s what happens when people invent things to try and ease the pain of a deeply unfair happening.

On a personal level, the only good thing about my mother’s death in her early 60s is that she is no longer suffering with cancer. If God was a merciful god and took the good people early then he should have taken this servant of His in that first year and not left her to suffer an appalling cancer for three years before finally going unconscious and dying a week later.

There is nothing good about her sons missing her terribly and there is nothing good about her never getting to see her granddaughter grow up. The suggestion that the loving God she worshiped all her life took her that way and at that time because he loved her and she was good is utterly wrong. The more I think about this, the more I get upset and angry about it. Time to go to my happy place….

The Curse of the Bastard

For the purposes of this post, bastard refers to those conceived out of wedlock.

In case it wasn’t clear from my last post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/my-wonderful-godly-grandparents/), my parents were encouraged into marriage when my mother fell pregnant. I have no idea if marriage was already on the cards for them and it’s not really a conversation I wish to have with my dad. It might be something I ask him in the future, if the right opportunity presents, but I am certainly not going to raise the subject. I don’t consider it important to know at this time of my life, the answer to the question is not important and would change nothing.

I was in my teens when I realised the circumstances of my birth and it was devastating. I was still reeling from the effects of my parents divorce some years previously, dad had remarried already and there was much ugliness still between my parents, mostly driven by my step-mother. That period of my life was immensely difficult and stressful, so throw in a revelation like this and it just added more torment to an already unhappy teen. Predictably I then started to think that the breakup of their marriage was my fault and if I’d never existed none of this pain and torment would exist either.

Oh the wonderful ways we choose to torture ourselves!

The Christian Response

Years later, when I’d left home and was having my own young adult issues I would have counselling to help me recover from the poisonous relationship that had developed between my dad and I. I can’t remember if the issue of conceived out of wedlock came up during those sessions. I am sure it must have but I really don’t remember if it did. Certainly that counselling helped me.

What I really want to bring attention to is a more spiritual response that came up. It would have been within a year (two at the most) of the counselling and this dramatic event (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/the-dramatic-deliverance/).

It would be at a church weekend away and, for reasons I can’t fully remember, I ended up in a one on one prayer session with the visiting teacher who was running the sessions. He was very much an advocate of spiritual gifts. When the conceived out of wedlock issue came up (I can’t remember why it did) he flung open his bible and found a passage condemning those who were born out of wedlock and pronounced me cursed. I don’t recall the passage in question and I certainly don’t wish to look for it, if someone thinks they know which one it might be, feel free to suggest it in a comment.

What followed was some very intensive prayer, at the end of which I had to voice out loud forgiveness to my parents for their fornication. I was also instructed to tell my father that I had done so. I didn’t particularly relish doing that, but I obeyed a few weeks later, thankfully dad just nodded his acknowledgment of the information and nothing more was made of it. I’m can’t recall if I had to do the same with my mother, it would have been much easier with her so if I did I am not surprised I don’t remember, this sort of thing would not have been a difficult conversation to have with her.

When I look back on that event I now realise how insensitive this particular spiritual teacher was. I don’t think his treatment of my revelation helped me at all. I also don’t think it was particularly unhelpful either; it did put me through a highly emotional 40 minutes, for pretty much no result.

I know this kind of thing happens on church weekends all over the country, maybe even weekly in some church services. This does concern me as it leaves the affected person with the idea that they are cursed (or even possessed) by something evil and the only help is the casting out of said evil or the prayer to remove the curse.

No counselling or further emotional support is offered. Well for me it wasn’t, I can’t say that it never is elsewhere, but I do know that is not offered as the norm because in the mind of the Christian engaging in spiritual warfare the victory is in the conquering of the entity causing the problem. The assumption is that once that is done the associated problem in the affected is cured. This just isn’t the case and for Christians to put others through that sort of turmoil with no counselling backup is to risk causing major emotional damage.

I can see all that now, but at the time it was happening it just seemed the right thing to do. Cast out the evil demon or pray the blessing of Jesus on the curse really did seem like the right thing to do and counselling the path of the loser.

Why is Santa such a Problem for Christians?

It was a long while after I became and adult that I first started to wonder about Father Christmas and what the Christian approach should be to the Santa myth. I think it wasn’t until I knew I was to become a parent that I really began to ponder it seriously.

What if my child draws a parallel between Santa and Jesus and concludes that they must both be in the same state, either real or myth? How do I make a distinction between them? These questions can only point to some sort of Cognitive Dissonance in the mind of the thinker.

I decided very quickly to be relaxed about it and face the questions as they came rather than to try and manipulate a position.

A modern problem?

As a child I never recall their being any issues about Santa. I knew from very young Santa was a myth, but a fun one and that Jesus and very real. The primary school I attended in Zambia always made a thing of giving all the children presents at the end of the school year and one of the fathers would always dress up as Santa and give out the presents. It was always fun guessing whose dad it was.

I don’t recall much of a Santa fuss at home though. We had stockings, but I don’t recall any pretence on there being a Santa. He wasn’t utterly ignored though, he was spoken about as though he existed, but it was always in tones that you knew were not really believed. Very much how I talk to my daughter about him really.

A few years back, I recall chatting with Christian friends about Santa and they were concerned about how to approach the issue and whether or not to reveal the myth and what to do about them telling school friends who might still believe.  It wasn’t a trivial issue, that’s for certain. One father in particular had a very real issue about the Santa Myth. He was a recent convert, married to a long time Christian wife. He had been a very fierce atheist and part of that atheism came from his realising as a child that Santa and company were a myth. As a result of all those childhood myths he rejected God too. His conversion was very emotional and he carried the fear that his children would follow the same path and him, so his view was tell them it’s a myth from the beginning and tone the whole Santa thing down.

My wife’s family has always had a Santa tradition and they have always had the concept of ‘tree presents’ small gifts that they always mark as from Santa to the family members. They are never anything fancy, those are the main gifts given from them. They enjoy that aspect of giving and I see no reason why it should be stopped, I take the view that it adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and does not in any way devalue whatever meaning one wishes to attach to the season.

The Unexpected Conversation

This year my daughter threw me a curve-ball. It was just her and me in the car and she started asking about why we bother with the pretence of Santa. I don’t know when it was that she worked out Santa wasn’t real, it certainly wasn’t this year, it been a couple of years at least. She is seven currently. She’s also known for a couple of years that the Tooth Fairy is just Mummy and Daddy pretending and she is okay with that. I suspect that when she twigged about the tooth fairy she also twigged about Santa; maybe she asked us at the time, I can’t actually remember.

Anyway, the point is, she knows and has done for some time. So she asked me directly, why bother when we know its bunk? Nothing like the directness of a child to catch you off guard!

I asked her to expand.

Her thinking seemed to be that it was silly to put up all the pretence of there being a Father Christmas making and delivering presents when everyone knew that he wasn’t real. She makes a good point.

She didn’t seem to have a problem with the Santa themed decorations and cards, or even the story, it was the talking about him as though he really did do the things the story says he does that causes the problem for her. I tried to counter by saying that talking about Santa as if he were real adds to the ‘magic’ of Christmas and that Christmas would lose something if we didn’t have the fun pretending. She didn’t buy any of that at all. While she didn’t actually say it, I suspect she basically considers it lying and therefore not good.

Where does that leave Santa?

In this modern era of rationalism and proof, is there any place for Santa? I’m not just talking about Christians here, but everyone.

Personally, I am okay with the myth and I don’t mind the pretence and I think if you leave out Santa, you leave out an essential part of the Christmas tradition.

What about those poor disappointed kids who believe for years and get very disappointed when they discover they’ve been lied to? Well, the important thing there is to ask why the parents made it so real for so long. In our household its works out okay, Little Miss Limey hasn’t had an earth shattering shock and we’ve not tried to perpetrate the myth beyond credibility. If we’ve got the balance right its more by accident than design and so I can’t offer any formula.