11/24/06                                                                                       View Comments

Sincerity

Sent in by Embracing Ambivalence

Sincerity is among the most beautiful things to grace this earth. It is the result of a free flowing desire that doesn't get manipulated or distorted by the mind, but rather is blessed by it to go forth into the world as is. Sincerity has this precious way of striking you're affections and breaking down you're guard to protect some false image you wish to preserve. Sincerity of another sets you free to be yourself. It sets you free to be vulnerable, and stupid, and ugly. Its rips down the damns that prevent you from expressing yourself. Sincerity is infectious, it begets sincerity. A sincere life, is the fullest life.

I read this today:
"The world needs a missionary to denounce its conventions. Why should each new soul that is launched out of God into Nature be wrecked at the beginning of the voyage by following the charts of its mates instead the compass, the stars, and the continents?"
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

For so long i have been clinging onto the ideas of other men...using their words and their arguments to create in me some sort of personal identity, something that i was never able to give myself. Society certainly hasn't helped...they have thrown at me ideas and books and rules and morals and structures and norms and media...

Some preacher once sermonized about the Bible as an acronym for "B-asic I-nstructions B-efore L-eaving E-arth" I was younger, probably a freshman in highschool. I believed him too. I thought, "great, the meaning of life and how to live it in about a thousand pages." But over time following the charts mapped out by men thousands of years ago didn't seem to be giving me the same experience it apparently brought many of them...one of joy, peace, love, freedom, and courage. To pursure such precepts without the experience only lead to insincerity. For the writers of the Bible, it was the other way around. They experienced and then wrote about it. Whereas I, read about it, and tried to follow, without any experience of my own. Such a life only served to create in me a dualism of two selves that eventually became so strongly opposed to one another that one of them had to break down.

A professor once told me "we read to know we are not alone." Well i came across this words rather unexpectedly. Carl Jung once wrote: "Modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely enough beset by his own bad conscience, and wants rather to learn how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature...he is not eager to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meager and uninteresting it may be....He wants to break with tradition so that he can experiment with his life and determine what value and meaning things have in themselves, apart from traditional presuppositions...and though this desire opens bar and bolt to the most dangerous possibilities, we cannot help seeing it as a courageous enterprise and giving it some measure of sympathy. It is no reckless adventure, but an effort inspired by deep spiritual distress to bring meaning once more into life on the basis of fresh and unprejudiced experience."

I met a girl who had no religious faith, no alcoholic father, nothing that was likely to have created an aversion to the more impermanent pleasures of this world. But despite this, she didn't drink. I wondered why. I didn't drink because i would go to hell if i did. I was told that it was a grave error of the higher life and that it would only lead to greater misery. I internalized these ideas about drinking and turned it into an impossibility, though another part of me, a real part of me, still wanted to drink. I was fascinated with this girl because her choice not to drink was a sincere one. She didn't drink because she didn't want to, not because she couldn't. I was neurotic about it. She was not.

I have begun a new journey. A scary one that is unclear and unbounded by doctrines and creeds. I have begun a journey in search of what I like. What is interesting to me? what brings me happiness? what things make me feel alive? Its a risky one, and likely a painful one. But it will be my life. Not someone elses. Now i will follow the stars and map out my own chart for this little journy of mine, "no matter how uninteresting it just might be."

But then again Nietzsche did say, "In heaven, all the interesting people are missing."

Acts 9:18 "And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight"
one day the dreamer died within me.
to be free from all my sin
the perfect lover i can not be
when patience grows so thin

true life, is all thats left,
without the pressures that never let me rest
jesus tries to pull me back
but I have never felt so blessed

i too was on a road
to be unified with thee
and i cried out in hopes to know you
but you never heard my plea

no not any of you three
the spirit gave no peace
the son no setting free
and father of that glory
i simply could not see

the scales did fall
just like our paul
though what we saw
his was the flaw

and now my strife is gone
my guilt has surely passed
but still i can't believe
that yahweh didn't last

11/21/06                                                                                       View Comments

De-conversion is a long process

Sent in by Don O'Connor (pseudonym)

I was born into a family of four in the summer of '85. We were from and soon settled in the Bible Belt after my dad left the service. The Church of Christ was the only viable religion, and hence the only way to god. That's what I was led to believe, anyway. The name was correct, and the policies were unquestionable. This was made clear from an early age, so naturally I adopted their attitudes. My father was strict about maintaining appearances, though he was often too lazy or unwilling to put his tirades and rants into personal practice. This was my first encounter with religious hypocrisy, and a necessary first step in my ultimate exodus from the faith itself. For now, however, I simply became non-denominational. I believe I was about 10 at the time. (I was a very serious child.)

I swung back and forth from private and public schools. My parent's financial straits versus their desire to indoctrinate me with Christian conservative propaganda played out in the vast field that was the life of a completely trusting child. To be fair, I hated public school, because I frequently got picked on and beat down by bullies. At least there, I had my friends. In TCS, the school I was sent to in Seventh grade upon my father's discovery that I, his own flesh and blood, indeed listened to rap music, I fared worse. The truth is, that while I suffered no physical abuse in the school, the emotional abuse was worse. It was a Baptist school which was run by several families of rich children, and their only objective, like all religion, is to make more money. I dared to disagree with Baptist doctrine, (I was non-denominational and opposed the death penalty), and suddenly, I was a pariah. I was not 'of God', because I held 'unchristian' beliefs that were deemed 'too liberal'. Add to that the fact that I liked Korn, Metallica, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Poison, and the like, and you had a walking target for aggressive proselytizing. I was targeted for not only censure, (I had to dine with the school's two other outcasts at our own rickety table), but some found fit to try to get me in trouble by desecrating the bathroom, accusing me of cussing, or putting porn in my locker. Cruel tricks, indeed, but when the teacher tends to support your tormentors, there is little one can do.

I left that school in disgrace, shown the darker face of organized religion. I began to study not only the bible, but physics, evolution, history, psychology, and other religions, and what I found convinced me that what I had experienced was not anomalous, but rather quite commonplace. Not only that, but the Bible excuses pitiful and murderous behavior not only in the Old Testament, but in its supposedly prophetic book of Revelations. I tried to get into Wicca, but it, too seemed like a bunch of fluff to me. I eventually settled on agnosticism, which in time, ossified into atheism. I was simply unable to reconcile my very liberal beliefs, my sexuality, my independent streak with the strictures of organized religion generally. I was 17. Since then, I have many times battled the fear of hellfire, damnation, and religious bigotry ingrained within my head before I had the chance to thing for myself.

You see, de-conversion is a long process in many cases. Only recently have I become able to let go completely of superstition. But the pain, the anger, the outrage still lingers. That religion took so many of my friends, so many of my days from me. I will never get them back. The best thing I know how to do is fight the religious right on a political level, and search for like-minded friends.

11/14/06                                                                                       View Comments

How study can change you (part 2)

Sent in by Zen

I am Zen who wrote my testimony November 7th 2006 (how study can change you).

I want to share a little story how physic change my faith from Christianity to Naturalist, Universalist, Pantheist, Daoist, or whatever you call it (it doesn’t matter for me).

I ever read that Albert Einstein was more or less pantheist too. Einstein ever said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion.” Einstein admired Spinoza. Spinoza, as pantheist, ever said, “God and Nature, two names for the same reality.”

At high school, I studied Einstein’s Relativity. Then at University, when I began to be skeptic because of Zen (the skeptical Buddhist that disbelieves every scriptures), I wondered the Emc2 and thought it was a product of pantheistic Einstein.

A pantheist believes if God is energy (“E”) then Universe is material (“m”). Light speed (“c”) is space (distance) divided by time (second). So we can derive Emc2 into this equation: “God” times “Time” “Universe” times “Space”. I found and thought this formula by myself. And this formula has two important consequences:

1) If we believe God is eternal (unlimited time) so Universe has no borders (unlimited space).

2) If we believe God is temporary (limited time) so Universe has borders (limited space).

But I am still skeptical about this “childish” formula. Somebody please give me some ideas.

By the way, as a Zen, I had studied a lot of Buddha Dharma and I know that Buddha never answered the questions about God and Universe when people asked him.

Is God eternal or temporary? Buddha was silent.

Does Universe have borders or not? Buddha was silent.

But forget about the past. I have a strong feeling that nowadays there are many “enlightened” men and women out there. Though I am a pantheist and believe that Buddha was pantheist too, I look an atheist as a “Buddha” too, as I look Theravada as “Buddha” too. Why? Because an atheist, like a Theravada, use their brain or reason stronger than anyone in this world.

The only thing that I disagree with atheism is its cynical view on Universe. Please note I don’t hate atheists personally, I only disagree with cynical view of atheism ideologically.

I think atheism uses its mind too strong and forgets the intuition. In the contrary, extreme religions use their emotion too strong and forget the reason.

But in most of other things, I have same views with atheism. I like the logical thinking of atheism because it helps me to fight back extreme religions like fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity. Please note that I don’t hate Moslems and Christians personally. I only hate their “scary” teachings of Jihad and Crusade and their “nightmare” dreams of Darussalam (Islamic State) and Christian Nation.

Moslems or Christians like to humiliate a Daoist/Pantheist like me. They always say Dao/Pantheism is silly, backward, pagan, animism, or even heresy because they believe God (Allah/Father) creates this Universe, they never think that maybe “God is Universe” or “Dian-di shi Da-zi-ran” in Mandarin. When I explained this “childish” formula (God x Time Universe x Space) derived from Einstein’s formula (Emc2) and its consequences, I made them surprised and never underestimated me or Dao or Pantheism again.

So somebody out there, especially physic expert, please give me some ideas or opinion about my “childish” formula: God x Time Universe x Space. I will think and feel your explanation with open mind and heart.

By the way, physic experts in Indonesia usually have a religion (Islam or Christianity) so they are not my references. I never find a “pantheist” or an “atheist” physic expert to back me up. I hope Stephen Hawking read this article and give me his answer or opinion to my childish formula.

Regards,
Zen

11/8/06                                                                                       View Comments

A Personal Odyssey : from RC to Protestant to Atheism

Sent in by Ken

I was born into the Catholic faith. As a young boy, all I can recall was that it meant making sure I attended Sunday Mass and going for Sunday School. You could do anything you wanted during the week but God forbid if you ever missed a Mass. When I was about 12, I went for Confession. I rattled off some typical young boy's sins. The priest listened quietly until I said I missed Mass last 2 Sundays. I got a stern rebuke from the priest. He upped the number of Hail Mary's I had to recite in penance in the hope that "Mother Mary" will lead me to attend Mass.

At 14, a certain disillusionment had already set in about the liturgical approach to God with an emphasis on what to do especially on certain days (eg don't eat meat on Fridays).

In school, a friend of mine introduced me to a Christian group called the Navigators. They were a group which emphasized a lot on converting your friends and family (evangelism). As I liked to read, their approach to reading the Bible and introducing a personal Jesus who is interested in my everyday life was appealing. So, I began to attend their Bible Studies and soon got more and more involved in their activities.

Soon, I realized there was a price to pay for being involved - they wanted to control your thought process and started putting pressure on a young teenager like me to start converting other people. At that age, there was always a desire to fit in and so I gave in. I even went on the streets trying to convert total strangers. Those who brought back results were praised and extolled.

However, a part of me enjoyed my independent thought process and felt resentful that my views were not welcomed. For example, one leader declared that no one should watch the Steven Spielberg movie "ET, the extraterrestrial" because it "mimics" Christ. No debate about it. When I tried to express my view that it is only a fun movie, I began to experience a shift in attitude. They would smile in front of me but slowly began to distance themselves from me. This is just one of the many instances where a non-confrontational expression of views was viewed as "undesirable".

I was also a minority race in this country and soon realized that some of the leaders and Christian friends were uncomfortable interacting with me. They preferred to be close with those who share the same sub-culture and speak the same dialects (although English is prevalent here, many speak their own local dialects with their relatives and friends).

My isolation was increasing. No one would dare tell me straight to my face they had a problem with me. So, they smiled and ignored me.

One day, when I was 21, I was called by my Bible Study leader for a private one to one. This was the first time in one and a half years he had arranged for it. I was excited as I thought he was going to shepherd me. When the meeting started, he wasted no time. The leaders had met and no one wanted to pastor me. He asked that I leave. I was shocked but asked for 6 months as I had a student ministry which I wanted to transition over. He said, "No, leave today itself. Don't worry about your ministry. I will take care of it." Before I left, he said, "If you want, we can still be friends but I want you to know that as of today, I am no longer responsible for your spiritual life."

He knew I was not attending any church. He just left me in the lurch.

By then most of my Christian "friends" sensed I was no longer in favor with the leaders. Soon, they began to ostracize me. I was no longer invited for outings. I had a very good friend (or I thought so) and I can still recall him saying to me : "Like the Proverbs say, only an iron can sharpen iron" and with that he abandoned me and joined another group of Christians who were favored by the leaders.

I did not give up on God although I felt let down by the Christian group. Only one Christian friend kept me company and he suggested we both look for a church. I soon joined a Presbyterian Church.

My disillusionment with the Church grew. They were only interested in how much I donated and the activities I can help out on. I could be Adolf Hitler and they could not care less as long as I paid the dues and carried all the tasks they wanted. No one was in the least concerned about genuine love and spiritual growth. It was all lip service.

Once an Elder asked a Deacon to speak to me to lead a certain Ministry. I said I would like to focus on the youth ministry instead. The Deacon replied that the Elder's response was "If he does not want to lead that Ministry, he might as well leave this church". The straw that broke the camel's back. I left. After 7 years of serving the church, not a single soul called me to ask me why or how I am doing. I began to realize that I was only fooling myself that I was in the company of people who loved and cared for others. Like anyone in society, they got along only with those they can get along with. Even gangsters do that today - so I don't see what was so unique about that.

I initially tried to look for another church but a deeper disillusionment crept in. About that time, there was a seminar by a guest speaker from US who claimed he was so filled with the Holy Spirit, he can prophesy so accurately and he can even call you by name. I guess at that stage, i needed any form of affirmation that God exists. After all it appeared he had abandoned me more than once.

The seminar fee was not cheap but I paid up. When the "prophet" came, he said he was going to change the agenda from the scheduled prophesying to a sermon. He said God loves each one us. It is important to know that Christ died on the cross...what! I don't need to re-hear this message again. I paid for proof he exists. After giving that woolly speech for 20 mins, the "prophet" trotted off. The next speaker gave an hour speech on "giving". He shouted that we all should empty our wallets and have faith that God will bring us home.

I left the seminar in emotional tatters. I told God that he either send someone special to minister to me or to intervene directly in my life. No response. The 3rd choice was to intellectually evaluate whether there is a God.

The next 3 years, I spent reading up on the history of the Christian church and the quest for the historical Jesus. I was shocked as I read more and more how unreliable many of things that are touted as modern Christianity.

I also grappled with the concept of God. I went from agnostic to atheism. All the evidence seem to point to the non-existence of God (eg plurality of religions each claiming they own the true god).

Today, I am a happier person because I am not caught up in the mind control games of religion.


Singapore
Joined: Born into the faith
Left: 32
Was: Roman Catholic; Protestant; Presbyterian
Now: Atheist
Converted because: I felt that was the Truth
De-converted because: Did not find evidence of God in his people and directly
Email: kp68sg AT yahoo DOT com

11/7/06                                                                                       View Comments

How study can change you

Sent in by Zen

Hi,

Call me Zen. I want to share my story as an ex Christian.

I am Indonesian Chinese. My father raised me as an “ordinary” Chinese, I mean, my father believes in God but never explain his faith deeply. He only pointed out that conscience is better than religions.

We lived in a small city and the best school in that city was Catholic school. Gradually, I became a Catholic, and so did my brothers and sisters. I remembered my father objections to my elder brother for his conversion to Catholic. My father saw Christianity as an evil religion that humiliated Chinese when he was a child in China. But my father was wise enough to say that we all could choose our own religion freely at 17 years old. So, unfortunately, all of his sons and daughters became Catholics when they were 17 years old. Until his death several years ago, my father was still “ordinary” Chinese, going to Temple once or twice a year in Chinese New Year (around January/February) and/or Qing Ming (every April 5th).

When I was at University in Jakarta, I began to be in doubt about Christianity. It was Zen that made me a skeptical one. Zen, as long as I know, was a hybrid of Buddhism and Daoism, so I learned Dao too. From Zen, I learn to be skeptical. From Dao, I learn to be natural.

Zen always teaches me about the Truth outside the holy books of Theravada or Mahayana. So I studied the teachings of Mahayana and Theravada in order to know Zen better. I found the absurdity of Christianity when I read articles from “atheist” Theravada that attacked Christianity.

I learned a lot of western literatures as well as eastern literatures while I was at University. I like Spinoza as well as Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll writings. I like Zen stories as well as Laozi and Zhuangzi sayings. Both Great Dao Masters make me appreciating natural way of life.

My change from Catholic to Zen or Dao was gradually. Finally, at 24 years old, when I had graduated from University, I could leave Jesus and God Father. Since then, I began to appreciate my father’s simple religion, especially the “conscience”. Conscience, I think, is the basic of the Zen or Dao. I know there will be a billion subjective interpretations of conscience. But I think conscience is natural: to be kind, free, honest, and simple. I am simply a “Zen” or “Dao” follower.

Now I am 37 years old and have an ex-Catholic wife and a 7 years old son. We are vegetarian family because we believe we are biologically or naturally herbivores like apes, based on evolution theory! You can laugh at me but 13 years of vegetarian way of life had cured my stomach disease I ever had as an omnivore teenager.

I had replaced Jehovah or Father with Nature or Universe like Spinoza or Einstein did. I believe human’s body came from meteorites, hit the earth, brought amino acids, then became microorganisms, and finally mammals, via a long and complex evolution. Shortly, I believe that our body was and is from Universe! I was born as a part of Universe and I will die as a part of Universe too. You can call my “faith” as Pantheism as well as Daoism. I don’t care much about terminologies!

When I look at the stars, I always feel I am a very tiny part of this Great Universe. I wonder if there is another planet like earth. I hope someday humans can make a real “Startrek”. But I think that cosmic journey will need billions of years to find another planet like earth. When humans find that planet, the earth actually had blown up and disappeared! That’s my natural/pantheistic way of thinking. But meanwhile, humans must live in this “sad” and “mad” planet, full with religious extremists.

After 1998 reformation, Indonesia suffered several religious conflicts, for example, Islam against Christianity in Ambon or Poso, driven by extremists from both sides. My wife and I realize that we must be natural and skeptical persons in order to be “glad” and “sane” while we live in Indonesia, the biggest Moslem population in this earth and also the biggest Overseas Chinese population in the world, but unfortunately most of Indonesian Chinese is Christian, the traditional enemy of Moslem. 911 made Christian-Moslem relationship worse. Indonesian Chinese is in a great danger of racial and religious riots! We can compare Indonesian Chinese in this 21st century with German Jews in 20th century. Horrible!But anyhow, all will die someday somewhere

Zen


Jakarta
Indonesia
How old were you when you became a Christian? 12
How old were you when you ceased being a Christian? 24
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? Catholic
What labels, if any, would you apply to yourself now? Zen or Dao
Why did you become a Christian? cause of Catholic school
Why did you de-convert? study Zen