Hello, all. My name is Loren.
My testimony will follow in the form of a letter which I wrote to a Christian online friend of mine who asked me why I identify as a former Christian. Isn't cut and paste a beautiful thing? She also asked me what I thought a Christian was, but I didn't answer that in this letter.
I am definitely a deist of some sort, but I now feel that Christianity is absolutely one of the worst things that ever befell us. It is an atrocity, a moral abomination, heresy, sacrilege and blasphemy all coated in honey. There is no excuse for it. It makes my blood boil.
Christians say they have the good news. Sorry, but my news is far better than any I ever heard from any Christian.
The letter follows:
Why I’m not Christian.
Sometime in my youth I took what I was told from the pulpit seriously although a lot of it seemed strange or disjointed from real life. I didn’t really question it too closely; I just thought that it was too complex and esoteric for me to understand. I don’t remember exactly when I became a Christian, but I have taken a number of alter calls, usually out of a sense of “Uh oh, what if it’s really true?”
I was never a devout believer. Rather, I was one of the many who proclaim Jesus publicly in order to avoid going to Hell, but it never really impacted my life beyond that. My sense of what Christianity is was pretty vague.
I’ve always loved theological and philosophical discussion, but even there, it was just an interesting intellectual exercise which didn’t have much to do with my life.
In 1987 something powerful and amazing happened to me. I am not going to go into details, but to put it in a nutshell, without my asking for it to happen, the immediate presence of God was revealed to me.
I know, I know. I realize how such a statement is bound to sound, which is why I almost never talk about it. I may share insights with people, but I don’t tell them how I came to have those insights.
It became undeniably clear to me that God is right here with us and within us. A loving God is present in all things. Absolutely everything is connected. It is all one thing, and it is alive and aware. I can perceive it more directly, as opposed to hearing about it and having to rely on belief.
All of creation is alive and aware and will converse with us if we just listen and pay attention. There is a huge wealth of information available that usually goes untapped by most people.
Of course my first reaction was, “O.K. That’s it. I’m psychotic. I’ve gone insane.” Imagine stepping through a door and finding yourself in a very real fairyland, just like in the children’s books. It was very much like waking up from a deep sleep. For a little while, I assumed that it would just “go away” after a bit, that I would “get better” and the world would go back to normal.
It never did. I spent about two years just trying to determine whether or not I was really insane. That was, after all, the most simple, likely and logical explanation. I ended up tearing down almost all of my old assumptions about reality and had to learn internal honesty and critical thinking from the ground up.
This is a huge reduction of all that I have been through with this stuff, but I felt that you should know that all of my opinions about God, spirit and various religions is centrally informed by my daily experience with living in a living and aware world which talks to me.
Now there are a great many reasons why I am no longer a Christian, but many of them are peripheral, (although they are still important) and I won’t dwell on them in order to keep this as brief as I can.
Being a Christian always felt strange and kind of icky to me. It just never felt right or good. But, of course, due to my Christian indoctrination, I just assumed that these feelings were a result of my own sin and sinful nature. When I went through my awakening, I thought, “Oh, crap!! This is it! I better get my ducks in a row and start being a real Christian before something hits the fan.” So I started doing my best which was still a pretty sad and pathetic example, but it got me to read my Bible more.
A funny thing happened. The more I read the Bible, the more I felt wrong when I claimed to be a Christian. I don’t mean wrong as in “I’m too sinful to be a Christian” or “I’m not sincere enough” or any other version of those old chestnuts. I mean wrong as in “Hey, I think there’s something wrong with my Bible!” And I found more and more things that “God has said” which just made absolutely no sense to me. No logical sense, no moral sense, and above all, no sense in light of what I saw of God’s actual behavior in my life and the world around me.
Now, from the beginning I have always understood that there is a difference between God’s truth and church doctrine. I have always known that there are eleventy-seven sects of Christianity who disagree over doctrine, and many who are perfectly happy to claim that those who disagree with them are “not true Christians”. I never took such things too seriously, and felt that God really didn’t give a rat’s behind whether a baptism was done by dunking or sprinkling. I also understood the variability of such things as the fallibility of translation, interpretation, and the transmission of meaning across the boundaries of cultural context. I knew that such human factor things (and others) would unavoidably lead to weaknesses in the text of the Bible. I have never been a Bible literalist because I was too aware of such things.
So I began by thinking that perhaps my discomfort with being Christian was the result of my assimilating some erroneous or relatively unimportant doctrine(s) which might not be sitting well with my intuition or conscience. I started to examine various tenets and doctrines from the standpoint of this assumption: If I can excise this particular tenet from my Christianity and still be a Christian, then that tenet must not be central to what Christianity really is. I would not even worry about whether the tenet in question was right or wrong. I would just remove it and see what that left me with.
By this method I went through a process of elimination in order to find out what really constituted Christianity. I was looking for a thing (or things) which, when it was present in Christianity, then Christianity could rightly be called Christianity, but when it was absent, one could no longer call what remained Christianity.
Does this make sense to you? It was the best that an uneducated screw up like me could come up with at the time. My problem with taking these questions to pastors and scholars was that while they could often back up their opinions with impressive research, in the end, it was always their own beliefs and why I should conform to them. While I often learned a great deal from such people, I never was left with the feeling that I was getting closer to the truth.
So I continued this process of culling. It was like taking a deck of cards and throwing them in the trash one by one in order to find the joker.
By the same method, I did a parallel search for anything which was genuinely unique only to Christianity. As to this second search, it has never really ended and I have not found any item which is not available elsewhere. I always knew that some of Christianity is an amalgam of other things, but I never expected to find that it is nothing but an amalgam of other things. This did not lead me to conclude that Jesus was entirely fictitious so much as it discredited a huge number of claims made by Christians about the nature of the religion itself. Likewise, I have no problem with syncretism; much of my own spirituality is a mass of things from other systems which made sense to me.
As to the search for the true core of Christianity, I found that it came down to this: Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection as a propitiation or atonement.
I realized that I could discard every single bit of Christian doctrine but that one and I still felt wrong about it.
I’ve been around and around with that thing and here is what I’ve come to:
It is not genuine forgiveness in any form which I can find morally intelligible. If my debt was truly forgiven, then why did it still need to be paid? And why in such a brutal manner? What kind of a person would demand such a payment?
If payment is still required, then the debt has not been truly forgiven in any way that I can understand. If Bob owes me ten dollars, and can’t pay me, I then may choose to forgive the debt. If I do, then that debt is not owed by anybody. Even if Bob’s brother offers to pay the money on Bob’s behalf, I should not take it if it has been forgiven. If I do accept payment from Bob’s brother, then the debt was not forgiven, it was just shifted. Of course, this does get Bob off the hook, but I would never be able to say that the debt had been forgiven. If any court in the land finds a person guilty and then declares that they are forgiven, that court cannot then punish the person.
Is forgiveness what is being paid for? Forgiveness is not a commodity. I have never charged anyone a fee for forgiving them. Not even fifty cents. And most especially, I have never had to kill someone in order to forgive someone else. What kind of a person would do such a thing?
Furthermore, if I am to accept that I truly deserve eternal damnation and that Jesus has, out of love for me, taken my place, then Jesus should be spending eternity in Hell in my place. If he doesn’t, then he has not truly taken my place.
What kind of moral lessons am I to learn from the whole “death on the cross” thing? I am told that these things are all part of the “mystery” and humans just couldn’t understand it. I used to accept that, but the time came when I just couldn’t anymore. If I did, it made too many other things meaningless or nonsensical. Telling me that I can’t understand God’s morality is just not a good enough answer, considering that that whole event is the central lynchpin of the religion. Also, it flies in the face of the fact that the Bible is full of explanations of what God’s morality is and just why it is moral, as well as the fact that the Bible tells us to emulate God to the best of our ability. I’m told to emulate God’s morality and that it’s impossible for me to understand God’s morality. What the hell good does that do?
Then there is the whole “sacrifice” aspect of it all.
There came a time when the light went on in my head, and I thought, “Hey, wait a minute. How is Jesus’ death on the cross morally different from throwing a virgin into a volcano?” What kind of a god would demand such a thing? Human sacrifice is human sacrifice. I don’t see any way to get around that. It is what it is.
Even if it is all true, how could I ever respect a god like that? How can I ever believe God would want such a thing? In order for me to be a Christian, I would have to lie in some way.
I mulled these things (and others) and struggled with them for a good while, as well as praying desperately for guidance.
Then I reached a decision. That night I went outside and burned my Bible. It takes a while to burn a Bible.
At first, for a while, I felt a bit giddy. Also, I felt guilty and frightened. As time went on, it was made abundantly clear to me that God still loved and forgave me and that God had absolutely not deserted me, in spite of the fact that I had committed the one sin that Christianity had told me was unforgivable. As an aside, this was one of the many Christian notions that God has disabused me of: the assertion that God’s forgiveness is absolute followed by the placing of any number of conditions on it.
Despite my decision, God did not pinch my head off, or in any other way change the amazingly loving, wise and miraculously beneficent behavior that God had shown me before my choice.
Since that time, some interesting things have come to light for me. My fascination for any kind of religion, spiritual system or description has only increased, especially my interest in Christianity, although it has become something akin to morbid fascination. It’s a bit like watching a major train wreck in slow motion. It’s hard for me to look away. Nevertheless, I am always interested in Christian apologetics, and it is my digging in these areas which brought the following interesting things to my attention.
It has always somewhat baffled me that if Jesus fulfills prophetic scriptural requirements for messiahship as thoroughly as Christians claim, then why didn’t more of the hundreds of thousands of devout, scholarly rabbis examine the story and shout “Praise G*d! The messiah did come after all!”
Paul’s assertion that the reason was that “they are all a bunch of stubborn, stiff-necked so-and-sos” started to look thinner and thinner. I wondered more and more why the few times I did hear Christian clergy address this issue from the pulpit, that they just quoted Paul and pretty much left it at that. They often didn’t even seem to be really interested in a real, cogent answer to this conundrum, while it seemed to me to be highly important. If anyone would be qualified to recognize the messiah, it would be a rabbi. I found it very difficult to accept the premise that in two thousand years, almost all of those rabbis had been hypocritical, insincere or too ignorant of their own scriptures to recognize the very one they were waiting for. Why did the Christian clergy never seem willing to turn to rabbinical sources, but always fall back on that old, inadequate thin ice of Paul’s? Increasingly, I found this to be very suspicious. So I started seeking my own rabbinical sources.
As an aside, I do know that some of the material attributed to Paul was not truly Pauline. (if there ever was such a person) The idea of Paul being an anti-Semite is more than a little bit silly. The point is not that those passages are or are not Pauline; my point is that they are the passages which are most relied on by apologists and that this is what got me looking for answers elsewhere.
I found some very interesting things.
All these centuries, the rabbis have not “rejected” Jesus. What actually has happened is that they have tested Jesus according to scriptural requirements and found him wanting. He did not fit the job description. For one thing, his lineage is wrong. If Mary was a virgin, then the lineage from David was broken at that point. If one uses Mary’s line, the problem is that while some versions say that she was of David’s line, Jewish society never would have justified kingship through a matrilineal line. If one abandons the virginity of Mary (and there are some very good reasons for doing so, but they are unrelated to this), and traces Jesus’ line through Joseph after all, there is the problem of Joseph being a descendant of Jeconiah. God cursed Jeconiah by saying that none of his line would ever sit on the throne of David.
Then there is the problem of the second coming. The Hebrew scriptures are extremely clear that the messiah will come once and once only. When he comes, there will be no need of faith. It will be very clear who he is. Among other things, he will sit as king of Israel, bring world peace and a number of other things which will be completely obvious once they happen. The very fact that Jesus came and then left again without doing the things the messiah will do clearly disqualifies him for that role.
Then, there is the problem of Jesus being the sin offering. The Hebrew scriptures, like the Bible, have many ambiguities which scholars have always loved to argue over. However, again like the Bible, there are some things which are blunt, simple and unequivocal. The importance of the proper way of making the sin offering is one of these. If Jesus was the ultimate sin offering, then the rite was so inadequately performed as to be an insult to God. One of the essential parts of the ritual was that the blood must be sprinkled or sprayed on the altar. Jesus’ blood never made it anywhere near any altar, let alone the rest of the ritual being done properly.
Another thing about the sin offering which God was very clear about was that it would NEVER, EVER be acceptable to use a human being as the sacrifice. Oh, look. There’s that thing again. Human sacrifice. Imagine that.
One last item about the sin offering:
Christian doctrine says that Jesus was the ultimate sin offering once and for all. Thus, through Jesus, we have our reconciliation with God. Christian doctrine also states pretty clearly that the offering of Jesus’ sinless life is the only method of atonement which is acceptable to God.
HOWEVER, in the Hebrew scriptures, (again, very unequivocally) God states clearly that there are not one, but THREE methods of atonement and reconciliation. Furthermore, the sin offering is the least important of these in God’s eyes. God clearly says that the sin offering is only adequate to cover small sins, for instance, when one sins without realizing that it is a sin. The sin offering is inadequate to cover larger sins, such as a deliberate lie.
For the moment I’m going to be a stinker and keep you in suspense as to what the two most powerful methods of reconciliation are. But you can now see what I saw, that there was a lot more going on in the Jewish “rejection” of Jesus than we are told from the pulpit. If God was so lax as to accept such an inadequately performed sin offering ritual, then it pretty well shoots down the idea that God demands perfect obedience to the law.
Then there is the business of being judged on the basis of having “fallen short of the glory of God.” Why is it not considered an obvious blasphemy to say that I expect God to judge me by the standards that God holds for Himself? The God of the Jews does no such foolish thing. That God makes it abundantly clear that He knows perfectly well that humans are human and not able to achieve the kind of moral perfection that only God could achieve. He does not hold them to such a ridiculous standard nor does He punish them with eternal damnation if they fail to meet it.
Also, God definitely does not tell the Jews that the only way to be with God is to be a member of “the right” religion. He just tells the Jews what their religion should be. He definitely makes it clear that gentiles are welcome, as well. So much for “only one way into heaven”.
Port, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m going to postpone an answer to your second question regarding what I think a Christian is. Are you absolutely sure you want me to answer that? ;-)
All right, okay. You’ve been patient with me. Here are the other two more powerful and valid ways of reconciling with God according to the Hebrew Bible. Ready for it?
Here they are.
Became a Christian: Indeterminate
Ceased being a Christian: I think about 30.
Labels before: Christian
Labels now: Living being
Why I joined: Fear, ignorance and subconscious indoctrination from the culture
Why I left: Reasons above
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)