Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover Reveals the True Horrors of Religious Fundamentalism by Christina Knowles

Educated

This real-life account of a young woman who grew up in the mountains of Buck’s Peak, Idaho, who was denied a basic education, forced to work hard labor, refused medical treatment for life-threatening injuries, and left unprotected to defend herself against a violent and mentally ill brother, is an intimate look into the world of religious fundamentalism.

Tara Westover, grew up the child of religious fanatics. Her parents, who also happened to be mentally ill, were paranoid and ignorant. Tara’s father refused to allow her to go to school, or to go to the hospital after sustaining a head injury and a debilitating flesh wound, and did not even register her birth. Tara was raised believing the government would send in snipers to kill them at any moment because of their refusal to participate in the great conspiracy.

The reader follows Tara through her eye-opening journey from an ignorant child, who believed everything her parents told her, to a Harvard-graduated Ph.D. We see, through Tara’s eyes, the humiliation of being the only one in her college class who had never heard the word, holocaust, who had learned from her father that it was all made up by the Jews to gain sympathy. To be so completely unknowledgeable about the most common of knowledge was to navigate a sinister world in the dark, armed with nothing but hope.

Tara never gave up. She educated herself, studied on her own, and took the SAT until she got good enough scores for a partial scholarship to BYU, who took “home-schooled” kids with no school records. She went on from there to win a fellowship at Oxford, and then to Harvard for grad school, all while struggling to keep her family’s love. Her family, who believed she was lost to Satan and was possessed, gave her an ultimatum, their world or the real world she was just discovering. After years of abuse, and struggling with her own mental issues as a result of the abuse, Tara chose to let them go, while graciously keeping the door open if they chose to accept her, which is more than I would have done.

This book broke my heart. The fact that children of religious fundamentalism all deal with trying to live in two worlds, while not being given the tools to even distinguish between truth and fiction, is a danger, not only to them, but to the rest of us. But how different is this from any family who raises their children to believe in fairy tales? Any indoctrination of blind faith results in an intellectual disability, the ability to abandon reason, living in a false and tumultuous world that is never truly safe.

While Tara found education, and thus, her escape, she was forever scarred by the experience and still suffers today. Many are not so lucky, even those who had less crazy circumstances. They go through their lives expecting miracles and blaming themselves when God doesn’t answer their prayers. They ignore medical advice, refuse their children a good education by home schooling with books designed to indoctrinate them into a particular religion, they teach their children not to trust science, and to fear those who are different from them. Many are unable to shake off these chains of religious abuse and educate themselves.

I’m glad Tara insisted on her right to find truth and to be educated. We all benefit from the education of all children. Religious belief is a dangerous thing. For example, why follow your conscience and the law if God tells you to go against it? Why take care of this world when God is going to make another one to replace it anyway?

Tara was taught to fear and hate, all based on lies. She had no defense. She came into this world with no other resource for truth than her parents. Even when Tara questioned the beliefs of her parents, she risked losing everything, even her home as a minor child. Religious indoctrination is child abuse, plain and simple.

I highly recommend getting this book on Audible. Julia Whelan, the narrator, gives life to the voices of Tara’s family, especially her father. You will be drawn in immediately. Five out five stars for this one.—Christina Knowles

Advertisements

A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

Manual for Creating AtheistsIn A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian makes a great case for street epistemology, or attempting to create atheists, whenever we engage someone stuck in a faith system in our everyday lives. At first, the title comes across as a little too “evangelical” for even my taste. I mean, what about “live and let live?” Should we actively try to spread our take on things just like the religious do? What about respecting people’s views if they’re not harming anyone?

Well, Boghossian points out what many of us are aware of already. Faith, or “pretending to know things you don’t know,” as Boghosssian defines it, hurts us all. It dumbs down our society, causes us to deny science, create laws that inhibit the rights of others, and feeds radical fundamentalism. At any rate, he is not advocating for bringing this message door to door, but merely engaging in Socratic questioning when we find ourselves in a friendly conversation with those of faith. Basically, he wants us to stop backing down out of “respect” for ridiculous beliefs, distinguishing between respecting the individual and pretending to respect their beliefs, thus legitimizing irrational thought.

Where I disagreed with Boghossian was that we should always target the epistemological process of faith, rather than specific beliefs or contradictions in “holy” texts. While I agree, blind faith is the problem, and as he puts it “all faith is blind,” many will be more willing to question the “virtue” of having faith if you put a crack in the specifics of what they already believe in their particular religion. It’s a lot easier to expose the fallacious elements of faith, in general, if you can show how beloved personal beliefs fail. This often leads to questioning everything. And this is the ultimate goal, questioning—examining everything with critical thinking. Skeptical thinking is the epistemological method that leads to finding truth. In my experience, it seems that many people progress through many steps toward skepticism, and that the first step is admitting that their own holy book has undeniable errors.

My favorite part of this book was how eloquently and logically Boghossian makes his case for getting back to Classical Liberalism, rather than the modern liberalism we see so much in higher education today. Boghossian explains that in an effort to promote tolerance and acceptance, we fail to attack bad ideas and bad thinking out of a misplaced politically correct sense of diversity. While cultural diversity is a good thing, we still have to point out, question, and attack logically the ideas that cannot be true or that are harmful to freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. Boghossian discusses how certain topics are considered off limits in our educational institutions today, religion being primary. Boghossian says that liberalism today has “favored” groups that are protected, while the rules against intolerance for these groups do not apply to other groups who are not favored. For example, one favored group currently is Muslims. Boghossian states,

“Contemporary academic leftists don’t withhold making judgments entirely, as do cultural relativists. Rather, they withhold judgment to the degree that a culture seems foreign and/or alien, or to the extent that they perceive a culture to be misunderstood or victimized by the West. Islam currently occupies the top rung on the contemporary leftist hierarchy of beliefs and practices that should not be criticized.

“Leftist academicians fervently judge elements in Western culture. For example, academic leftists take great pride in condemning Western institutions, Western financial systems, and Western corporations. One might see a leftist academic withhold judgment, regarding a clitoridectomy in Northern Africa, but loudly decry a gender imbalance in the headcount of speakers at an academic conference” (Boghossian 205).

This type of hypocrisy is all too familiar. Sam Harris often points out what he sees as the dangers of the Islamic faith, as well as other religions, and I have always appreciated his willingness to come out with these issues publically, realizing this dialogue cannot be “off limits,” just because it will offend someone. Open and intelligent civil discourse requires that we can engage these issues. And as both Harris and Boghossian point out, religion is not race. People choose to change religions every day and cannot be born a certain religion even if they are born into a religious family. As Boghossian points out, Islam is the favored protected group at the moment, but we don’t have any trouble pointing out flaws in Christianity, Mormonism, or Scientology. What is the difference?

Boghossian, by no means, advocates for discriminating against the rights of anyone based on their religion, but merely states that no religion is off limits for critical examination and civil discourse.

This book is filled with wonderful references for further reading and resources to help the concerned atheist spread critical thinking, and I look forward to reading many of them; however, I will still attempt to point out specific problems with specific doctrines, rather than only targeting the faith fallacy. Overall, Boghossian conveys some very good strategies and makes his points well. Four stars out of five—Christina Knowles

Here is a link to purchase Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

 

 

 

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com

img_1216

What Would Jesus Do? Clinton VS. Trump! by Christina Knowles

Sinwhat-would-jesus-do2ce many on the evangelical right of this election want the candidate who most shares their values, I thought I’d make a check list to see which of the two front runners most resembled Jesus. So, compare and decide for yourself, which candidate shares your Christian values:

 

trumpvs-clinton

So, there you have it! Now, you can make the right decision according to your own Christian values because you’ve asked yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Do what Jesus would do this election season–dump Trump! –Christina Knowles

Do I Really Hate Christians? by Christina Knowles

believer Just recently I found out that some people I love very much think I hate Christians. I was shocked, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I do poke holes in Christian logic frequently, and I can see how this could be misunderstood to be directed at the people who have these beliefs. So, let me clarify what I really think and feel.

I came from a Christian family, and I used to be a Christian, so I know what it’s like to be completely sure something is true with all my heart without evidence. But after a long journey, which started with studying the bible in order to get closer to God, I opened my eyes to the reality that religion and god are man-made constructions to meet emotional and psychological needs.

Even if we are independent, healthy, and happy people, we are not immune to the conditioning of the environment in which we were raised. Even if our trusted loved ones did not teach us about God since birth, we are surrounded by it in our culture. It’s so easy to accept something without really analyzing it when everyone around us accepts it as unquestionable. Even if we don’t accept it at first, when a crisis happens or even a joyful experience, maybe things start going well for us for the first time in a long time, it’s natural to revert back to our conditioned beliefs or to things that were told to us by trusted individuals. We may think that the people who preached the gospel to us were right all along because of some event. When we have this epiphany, it is emotional. We feel relief, peace, and joy. I’ve felt it; I know. But the thing is, this happens in every religion. People, regardless of belief system, experience the same emotional rush and believe that truth has been revealed to them. The sheer number of different belief systems where this occurs is evidence that this is a psychological phenomenon having nothing to do with supernatural truth. Further evidence of this is the fact that a Christian born in America would be a Hindu if born in India. Religions are regional. You are taught to believe it by the people around you.

With this in mind, I do not think Christians are stupid for believing. I think it’s natural. As more and more people are exposed to different cultures and beliefs, more and more people give up religion. Some people are highly invested in their religious beliefs and have no impulse to critically analyze it, and religions discourage it by saying we just need to have faith, as if believing something without evidence is a desirable thing.

But when I opened my eyes to the reality of the contradictions in the bible, the sketchy historical evidence for Christianity, and the scientific impossibility of scriptural accounts and combined that with ethical concerns over the morality of the God of most religions, I just could not believe it anymore, and I don’t want to. But I could not even if I did want to. What is seen cannot be unseen. And with this realization comes the knowledge of the shaky ground upon which Christianity stands. Now, I see holes and fallacies in it everywhere, so it is easy to poke fun of it and disrespect it. But I do not do this out of a dislike of Christians. I do it out of a desire to promote truth.

But in fact, I do sometimes hate Christianity. For the few good things done in the name of the religion, a thousand bad things result. When I see what Christianity has done to the world, to our country, to logic and progress, it angers me. It divides the nation and causes people who would ordinarily be compassionate people to side with heinous politicians who preach hatred and selfishness. It turns normally good people—people who would be kind, loving, and accepting if not for their strict dogmatic beliefs to fear, avoid, and hate those who don’t believe. It makes parents disown their gay children. It creates distance between brothers and sisters whose views are different. Christianity causes people to hate, war, and sue each other over things that should not be any of their business. It causes people to think they can tell another group they should have less rights. It makes people think they are better, more correct, and more moral than other really good people. It causes people to speak harshly and tell others they will burn in hell for just being human. It causes people to shun those who believe differently. It causes children to stop speaking to parents. It causes couples to fight and neighbors to keep to themselves. It causes teenagers to commit suicide because they can’t accept who they are and fathers to call daughters whores and mothers to keep their children from loving relatives who might infect their little ones with rational thinking. It invades our politics, our government, public life, schools, and personal lives. Christians sometimes think atheists are arrogant for not believing in God, but the height of arrogance is to claim that you have the one perfect truth and direct access to God. So, yeah, I have a problem with Christianity. Occasionally, I have a problem with Christians who do the above behaviors.

I do not, however, have any dislike for Christians who are kind and do not insist that others live lives acceptable to their moral codes. I enjoy my Christian friends who care for the poor, see their neighbors as friends instead of enemies, and believe their religion is a personal choice, and that everyone else in the country does not have to abide by the rules and dogma of their particular religions. I do not dislike Christians who like me and treat me with kindness even though I’m an atheist. And the truth is I’d love my family even if they did treat me badly, but they don’t. I do not believe they lack intelligence or critical thinking skills, even though I may believe they are using the fallacy of special pleading to exempt religion from the same critical analysis they apply to everything else.

I also believe I have every right to voice my disbelief in religion, just as they voice theirs. They wear crosses, verbally praise God, ask for prayer, and speak of miracles in their lives, just as I will continue to point out the flaws in the bible, wear atheist t-shirts, and put anti-religious bumper stickers on my car. I don’t assume they hate atheists because they wear a cross or have a fish on their cars, and they should not assume I hate Christians for pointing out how science disproved another verse in the bible.

I don’t want to hurt my Christian friends and loved ones. I just want to be real. I want to be the authentic me, and say what I really think, and I’m sorry that what I think is that Christianity is bullshit. I have the same need to speak truth that Christians feel when they speak of God’s supposed goodness and mercy. I have the need to tell my story of enlightenment, much the same as Christians have the need to tell their stories of redemption. But I don’t need faith to back up my claims because I have the evidence on my side.

Do I want Christians to wake up and see the flaws in their religions? Yes, sure. My life has been so much better since I gave up the fairy tale of religion, just like Christians want everyone else to wake up and accept salvation in their one true god. But do I hate them? Of course not. I remember what it was like to be them. Do I have disdain for their religion? Of course. I remember what it did to me, and I see everyday what it does to people I love. But we sometimes need to set aside our personal beliefs and just care about each other and not worry so much about what the other believes or does not believe. —Christina Knowles

 

Afraid You Are Losing Your America? Well, You Are. By Christina Knowles

leave-it-to-beaver-2It seems that some of us continue to fantasize about returning to the good ol’ days of Mayberry RFD and Leave It to Beaver, a fantasy that was never reality, and who’d want it to be? Apparently, many people desire to return to the pre-civil rights era, back to segregation, closeted homosexuality, dangerous back-alley abortions, and to a white-male dominated society that oppressed women and confined them to the home, whether they liked it or not.

These same people want to deny scientific discovery and progress in favor of an ancient book of mythology, but worse, they want to impose their antediluvian notions on the rest of us in the form of laws and by refusing to combat the use of fossil fuels and by resisting clean energy or any type of regulation that will slow the next mass extinction.

If you fall into this category, I address the rest of this to you:

If you want religious freedom, the absolute worse thing you can do is to try to enforce your superstitious beliefs on the laws of the land. You are shooting yourself in the foot, as the saying goes. The more you say that you are following God’s law by breaking the law of the land by discriminating and trying to force action based on your unfounded beliefs, the more you look like a Jim Jones cult-type, and the more you will imagine that you are being persecuted just because the rest of us don’t also believe the world is 6000 years old. You complain about the progressive churches promoting evolution and a more free interpretation of the bible, but this change is happening because the more people learn, the more they realize that the bible was just a book, steeped in the middle eastern culture of the day. Christianity cannot survive scientific and sociological advances without adapting, and this is a good thing. It will, however, lead to its inevitable demise, regardless of this adaptation, but you hasten it with every ridiculous outcry, demanding biblical rigidity in the law.

Understanding climate change, evolution, and population predictions necessitates the inability to pander to fanatical religious groups like the Quiverfull movements, which irresponsibly reproduce dozens of children who will need resources for which we cannot supply, not to mention jobs for when they are out on their own. Believing that some imaginary creator commands its followers to fill the earth with offspring cleverly keeps the cult going, conditioning children in these beliefs that would otherwise dwindle and die away very quickly.

But know this, eventually reason always wins out over superstition and cult-type religious fervor. It’s called progress. So, are you afraid you are losing YOUR America? You are. Just like medieval thought gave way to the Enlightenment. Just like flat earth thought gave way to scientific fact. Desperately insisting that you are doing what God commands, regardless of scientific fact, just makes you look unhinged to the rest of us. Reason and science will prevail, but if it does not, we are headed to extinction. More and more people are realizing this, and that is why there is a mass exodus from the church—not because new age preachers are twisting the gospel, not because the worship is shallow, or because there are too many coffee bars in church, or anything else. People are waking up and shaking off the shackles of unreasonable superstition and childhood conditioning. This is the progress that will lengthen our species’ era upon this earth. This is our only hope. There is no true hope in faith. So, loosen your grip on the past, and realize YOUR America is our America too, and it will move forward, despite your best efforts of fear mongering and lingering in the idealized past.—Christina Knowles

Photo via famefocus.com

 

 

 

Let’s Stop Insulting Doctors, Shall We? by Christina Knowles

Two hands praying In light of recent headlines such as this one that appeared in the June 3, 2016 issue of the Colorado Springs Independent, stating, “Parents prayed for two hours as their son lay dying before calling ambulance, court hears” (2016), referring to the Canadian couple charged with the murder of their 15 year old son, maybe it’s time to get real for a minute. Medicine works, prayer does not.

And let’s stop insulting doctors, shall we? Let’s give credit where credit is due. Every time you say, “It’s a miracle,” or “God showed up,” you are diminishing the years of hard work that a doctor or scientist put forward in finding a cure, practicing how to save people, perfecting treatments, etc. If God was going to show up, why didn’t he do it before you lost your house because of medical bills, before you destroyed your body in chemotherapy treatments, before you had triple-bypass surgery? Why would God need triple-bypass surgery to fix you anyway? Every cure attributed to God, undermines truth, reality, common sense, innovation, and hard work.

Every disease that has ever been defeated has a natural explanation. In addition to the expert hands of wonderful physicians, it is a well-known fact that our bodies have amazing self-healing abilities. You know what the human body can’t do? Re-grow limbs. When is the last time you prayed over an amputee, and their limbs grew back? Right, because medical science can’t perform that little miracle, and evidently, neither can God. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

There are examples of spontaneous healing, though rare, and these examples span the religious and the non-religious, and do not depend on whether or not anyone was praying for these people. For most, eventually the reason was validated with medical science. For the rest, a solid non-supernatural theory is in play. Although spontaneous remission happens, it is quite rare, much more rare than prayer for the ill. If prayer worked, you’d think it would have a much higher percentage of success. But, you can always say, “God works in mysterious ways” or “It wasn’t his will.” Either God takes a lot of days off, he doesn’t have the will to heal very many people, or this is just another escape clause believers perpetuate to let God off the hook for doing nothing to intervene in, apparently, almost anyone’s life.

According to an article in Science-Based Medicine, so-called spontaneous cures for cancers are usually discovered to fall into one of a few categories and “most alleged cancer cures are [explained by]:

  1. The patient never had cancer. (Was a biopsy done?)
  2. A cancer was cured or put into remission by proven therapy, but questionable therapy was also used and erroneously credited for the beneficial result.
  3. The cancer is progressing but is erroneously represented as slowed or cured.
  4. The patient has died as a result of the cancer (or is lost to follow-up) but is represented as cured.
  5. The patient had a spontaneous remission (very rare) or slow-growing cancer that is publicized as a cure” (2010).

But what’s the harm in believing God heals? Doesn’t belief act as a placebo effect if nothing else? To this, I would say that belief does much more harm than good. Even if you don’t have radical and dangerous ideas about killing those who disagree with you because of something men wrote a couple of thousand years ago, there are more common dangers. On a daily basis, Americans (and not just the extreme cases as in the Independent article) refuse treatment or wait too long to get treatment because they believe God will intervene. When God does not show up, not only do they suffer emotional damage, but often they or their innocent loved ones pay the price through a sickness that has been left too long untreated. If they get lucky enough times, they rely more heavily on prayer or faith healing, and sooner or later they won’t be lucky when it really matters.

According to Carrie Wiesman from Alternet.com, there are numerous examples of children dying due to faith healing beliefs, wherein, timely medical attention was foregone in lieu of prayer, and rationalwiki.com cites numerous cases as well, stating,

“The organization Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) estimated that around 300 children have died in the US since 1975 due to people putting too much faith in faith healing. CHILD identified 172 cases between 1975 and 1995 in which a child died and evidence suggested medical care was exempted for religious grounds; of these, CHILD estimated that 140 would have had a 90% survival rate with medical intervention and an additional 18 would have had a 50% survival rate “(updated May 9, 2016).

And these are just the known cases with more and more popping up with greater and greater frequency. What about the ones whose parents did not admit that they had known the child was sick? What about adults who die quietly without ever telling anyone that they were counting on God?

At the very least, we stand by uselessly when we offer prayers for the ill, and believe we have done our part, rather than taking physical action or even giving useful advice. As Madalyn Murray O’Hair said, “Two hands working can do more than a thousand hands praying.” The same could be said for any situation, problem, or tragedy. Why sit around talking to an imaginary being, who, if he does exist, does not seem to be in any hurry to help us out, instead of actively doing something when it is clear that this God is not willing to help, is not capable of helping people, does not act equally among people, or most likely, just does not exist?

So, stop praying, and start supporting science and medicine, which has a proven track record in saving lives. God, not so much. And next time you want to say “sending prayers,” realize that your actions would be a lot more helpful and appreciated.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Hall, Harriet. “Faith Healing.” Science-Based Medicine. 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 17 June 2016.

Samuels, Gabriel. “Parents prayed for two hours as their son lay dying before calling ambulance, court hears.” Colorado Springs Independent. 3 June 2016. Web. 17 June 2016.

Weisman, Carrie. “Shocking Numbers of Children Die in America When Their Parents Turn to Faith-Based Healing.” AlterNet.com. 28 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 June 2016.

Blessed? Aren’t You Special by Christina Knowles

blessed_1063_1280x1024I am so tired of hearing the constant gushing of ‘I’m so blessed because God . . .” Fill in the blank with all the nonsense people say was God’s gift to them—nice house, new car, health, a good job, etc. I don’t think they know how rude and offensive this is taken in light of the millions who are not “blessed,” such as the homeless, the sick and dying, the children currently being molested and abused. Yet, God chose to bless you and ignore them. Aren’t you special.

Sure, many people mean this just as a humble way of saying that they don’t deserve all they have received in life, but many people really do mean that out of all the suffering people in the world, they were chosen to get special treatment. Usually, they connect this to some behavior they have done to trigger God’s blessing. Disguised as humility, they are really saying that they do deserve this special treatment.         blessedThey often state it something like this: “God is so GOOD! Ever since I turned my life over to Him and followed his will, things have all been falling into place for me!” The other one that is popular is giving credit to other people for praying God into submission to their will. It goes something like this: “Sending prayers to you ASAP! We have all our prayer warriors on this!” implying that God will have no choice but to comply with “prayer warriors” fighting the battle for God against Satan. Apparently, God either needs permission to stop Satan from wreaking havoc, or he’s not capable of doing it on his own. Maybe he just needs the popular vote from his followers to decide that finding a missing child is worth his attention.

Of course, if things come out in their favor, yay God! He is soooo GOOD!!! Yeah? Well, what about everyone he didn’t rescue? They didn’t have enough Facebook “Amens” or “Sending prayers!” posted, I guess.

And what happens when after all this prayer, they are not “blessed?” They don’t get a new job, their car breaks down, they can’t pay the rent, and the doctor gives the worst news? Are they suddenly quiet? Ashamed that they must have done something to deserve this? Confused, wondering why God has deserted them? Or like, Job, do they give the standard, “Who am I to interfere in God’s plan? He gives and he takes away.”       Some have these reactions, while others continue the vigilant prayers, never wondering why they choose to worship such a capricious and cruel god, even though they would never treat their own children like this. Struggling to make meaning of suffering, they ignore the obvious conclusion. The things that happen to them are merely a result of a combination of random chance, coincidence, and the natural consequences of the choices they and those around them make.

Just as the ancient Greeks were desperate to explain the droughts and floods, the lightning in the sky, and the numerous uncontrollable aspects of their lives, we are desperate to make meaning of tragedy and chaos, so we too, invent myths to explain them and to comfort us. But they don’t comfort us. In fact, they are disgusting and harmful.

To those who believe in this god, is this myth you perpetuate, this god, the same god whom you think is going to send your child to live in everlasting flames merely for being unable to believe something for no good reason? Is this the god that would let a child be raped and murdered in order for those around him to learn some sort of twisted lesson? Is this the god that would allow free reign of ultimate evil for a time to separate the wheat from the chaff? Ask yourself, would a good parent let one child jump in front of a moving truck to teach the other child to look both ways? Would a loving parent let home invaders in to terrorize and kill just to see who finds the faith and strength to not give up? This is one twisted god you serve. And that’s what I think of every time you post how blessed you are.

Stop saying that when you do things right, or when you experience random good “luck” that God is blessing you. Stop saying that every time you have a good day, miss all the red lights, and find a parking space that God has blessed you. Stop saying that your expensive house, good job, and new car are the results of God’s goodness and love for you. Not only is it an affront to common sense, it’s cruel. How do you think that makes the abused woman feel? The starving child? How are they supposed to take it when you credit God for giving you a big house, a nice job, and lots of friends? If God would really do all that for you, why wouldn’t he throw this molested or neglected child a break? So that’s what some of us are thinking every time we read your ridiculous posts. Look, no one has a problem with you being grateful, but stop acting like you are chosen to miraculously be rescued from the suffering that God chooses to ignore in everyone else’s lives. Please.—Christina Knowles

90 Days with God: A Sincere Attempt to Believe the Unbelievable by Christina Knowles

devotionsTwo years ago, I became very frustrated with my back and forth relationship with belief. After feeling confident about coming out as an atheist, I had an “epiphany” that I was wrong and decided to determine what it was that I believed once and for all. Once and for all—quite an unrealistic expectation as I look back on it. But I was tired of waffling between Christianity and unbelief in any god at all. I wanted to be sure I was making the right decision, but as it turns out, I don’t really get to make a decision about what I believe. No matter how much I try to choose my beliefs, my beliefs just are. I can choose to look at things with a skeptic’s eye, or I can choose to ignore problems with claims as far as not investigating those nagging doubts, but in the end, I can’t un-know what I’ve learned, and I can’t deny logic. I just can’t choose to have faith. I have come to realize that belief is not a choice once the eyes are opened. It’s like seeing your parents fill your stockings in the middle of the night before Christmas. The illusion of Santa Claus is forever shattered. But I did try.

At one point, I wondered if I was just doing Christianity wrong. After having this epiphany that I was wrong about God not existing, I still struggled with faith, especially in the bible. I just couldn’t make myself believe that it was the inerrant word of God. It was full of contradictions, there was no original text to track changes, many things clearly contradicted what we know from science, but most of all, God did not seem like a god to me. He seemed like a man, a man created by a patriarchal culture, a flawed man, who valued vengeance, and demanded worship to feed an ego that seemed to go against my idea of an all-powerful perfect and good god. Not only that, the god of the bible seemed to contradict himself. He demanded things from us that he did not deliver on himself, namely humility and mercy. He also created imperfect beings, gave them free will, but demanded that they “freely” obey him, accept him, believe in him, or be punished.

Furthermore, it really bothered me that many places in the bible blatantly state that God causes certain people to not believe; he closes their eyes and hearts to the truth, so they cannot receive him and salvation. How is that free will? And how is that fair? Supposedly, he then uses them to fulfill his purposes. Not only does this seem unfair, it seems downright evil. But because I had this “revelation” that he was real (It is worth noting here that this epiphany came to me during a theatrical performance of Paradise Lost in which I closely identified with Lucifer), I thought it must be me. Maybe I wasn’t praying enough, confessing enough, or I didn’t have enough faith because I didn’t read the bible enough, everything that most churches will tell you that you need to do in order to develop a close relationship with God. So, I decided to do everything I could to do what was supposed to help me believe and have the right attitude. I committed to spending ninety days with God, praying, asking for faith, asking for God to reveal truth to me, reading the bible, journaling about what I read, and worshiping with music and meditation.

Every day I started by asking forgiveness for my unbelief and by praying Psalms 51:10-11, which says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (NKJV). I prayed for God to work in my heart, and I was sincere. It is worth noting that when I began this ninety-day commitment, I actually believed God was real even though I struggled with what kind of god he was.

I began reading the New Testament in Matthew and read through Acts. Everyday I would read a chapter or more, continuing until coming to a logical place to stop in the narrative, or slowing down when I required more thought on a passage. I would highlight it, meditate on it, pray for understanding, and then journal my thoughts and a prayer or two to God. I would end with another similar prayer, but more personal. Later in the day, I would listen to praise music and worship along with it. I would meditate on God or scripture as well. I did this whole-heartedly, expecting God to work in my heart.

When I first made this commitment, I honestly thought to myself that this was my last chance. I had devoted hours, days, and weeks to reading theology, bible commentary, listening and calling into Christian talk shows, talking to pastors, and looking for answers to questions I didn’t understand. I thought if this didn’t work, I was done. I would devote no more of life to searching in vain. The first few weeks were hard. I didn’t want to do it, I dreaded it, and I even had nightmares about the church being a cult that I needed to escape. Some people said this was a spiritual attack, and others said it was my subconscious telling me what I really thought about the religion. I’ve come to believe the latter.

Previously, I had always thought that most of my problems were with the Old Testament version of God. He is the one who commanded that whole races be wiped out, including small children and people who had nothing to do with whatever the rest were guilty of. He was the one who said to stone children who disobeyed, kill homosexuals, and plunder villages, leaving no one alive. But while reading the New Testament, I saw similar contradictions. For one thing, Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles advocated for the behavior in the Old Testament and keeping the law. And then I read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. To paraphrase, the early church members sold their personal belongings and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to distribute to anyone as they had need. Well, Ananias and Sapphira sold their land, and gave some of the proceeds to the church. Peter confronted them saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4, NKJV). Ananias, after hearing these words, fell down and died. Then Peter asked Sapphira if the amount they gave was the whole price they had received, and she lied, saying yes. Then Peter, knowing she lied, asked, “‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5; 9-11, NKJV). Presumably God struck them down for having an unfortunately natural human reaction. Yes, I realize that in Christianity, natural human reactions are sin, but if Ananias and Sapphira would have been given a minute to think about it, feel guilty about it, they most likely would have changed their minds and given it all. I mean, they didn’t have to give any of it, so they obviously believed in the cause, but the normal human reaction is to be afraid, afraid to give up everything and trust. If they were condemned for a momentary lapse of trust, then we were all doomed.

Whenever I’ve heard this taught in church, the pastor always emphasizes that Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, not just men, and it wasn’t about the money. So what? Does that make it right? Does that mean they deserve to be struck dead? I’ve always had a problem with a major tenet of the Christian religion—the idea that because we are all sinners, we deserve to go to everlasting punishment. I agree, we are all flawed and sometimes do immoral things. No one is perfect. No one is worthy—wait, worthy of what? Heaven? Life? Punishment for sin is death. Okay, that seems reasonable, maybe, I mean if we’re talking just not living forever. But flaming torment without end? I don’t believe anyone deserves that. To me that sounds suspiciously like a human invention, an angry vengeful, wronged, and bitter human answer to taking care of people who do things they don’t like, or perhaps, someone who wants to frighten people into conformity. So, I don’t care if it was about the money or lying to God (the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira). They didn’t deserve it. And I don’t believe a loving father-God makes examples out of his children, so others will learn. Would you let one of your children step in front of a speeding vehicle, so the rest of your children will learn to look both ways? Of course not. I longed for answers, but everywhere the answers were shallow, didn’t make any sense, or just fell way too short of logic. And my problems with the New Testament don’t end there. How about the whole concept of blood sacrifice? But that’s another blog.

Anyway, I continued reading, praying, and worshiping, but my heart moved further and further from God. Did I even want to believe this stuff? The miracles didn’t bother me. If God created the world, then he could part the Red Sea, but the fact that he didn’t bother showing us any of these miracles made me wonder, made me doubt. Of course, the entire creation story completely contradicts what we know about the earth and the universe, so maybe it just isn’t supposed to be taken literally. But it comes down to this for me: Doesn’t he want us to believe? Isn’t he capable of showing himself to an unbelieving world? Wouldn’t a loving and powerful god know just how to reach each and every one of us? Maybe he just doesn’t care. Maybe he is evil. Probably, this god just doesn’t exist. The stock answer from Christians is that we just don’t understand the mind of god, he wants us to have free will, and it’s to test our faith. From the bible, I think we understand the mind of god too well—he acts just like a violent, sexist tyrant with the prejudices of an ancient patriarchal society. Free will doesn’t make sense because even if we knew God existed, we could still choose not to worship him. Satan and his followers did. Faith shouldn’t matter because the Old Testament people weren’t required to believe without seeing. They had miracles in their faces every day. Why should we be required to believe on less evidence?

But what was most disturbing to me were the contradictions in the bible about the basic tenets of salvation. Every religion claims to know exactly what, as Paul puts it, is the “Way” to salvation, but how could they, when it is not at all clear in the scriptures? For example, and I could give you many, it says in Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (NKJV). When I ask about this, I always get referred to a different part of scripture that says the opposite. But that only proves it’s contradictory, not which way is right. The very fact that it is contradictory points to none of it being right.

Then the other thing that many Christians disagree about, but seem to think it is really a non-issue, is the idea of predestination or Calvinism–that God chooses whom he will give knowledge and faith to, and who will be saved. Here is one verse among many that supports that, “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them’” (John 12:39-40). Verses like this make me think that if this God were real, I must be one of those people that God won’t let believe because no matter what I did, I doubted. But then there are verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). Again, this doesn’t prove anyone can be saved; it just proves the bible contradicts itself, and no one, no matter what they say, can know the true “Way,” even within the confines of Christianity.

Now some Christians say that this is not important; we can go on regardless of which way it is, but I can’t see how. If the bible contradicts itself, it cannot be trusted, so therefore, all of it is in question. I do see obvious moral lessons and wisdom from some parts of the bible that are valuable, as I do with the wisdom of many religions, but I cannot base my beliefs on it, especially when so many things in it contradict my own internal moral values like killing groups of people because some of them have sinned, or raping and pillaging, slavery, subjugating women, or condemning homosexuals for feelings they did not choose.

So the conclusion of my ninety days with God was that I don’t believe I spent time with God at all. It was actually confirmation to me that I could never again be a Christian. It set me on a path of critical thinking and skepticism as it has for numerous atheists. So, beware, studying the bible too closely very often causes apostasy. Most atheists I know personally believed at one time, but turned away after studying the bible too closely, usually in an effort to be a better Christian.

I no longer feel the need to force myself to believe. I don’t need or want a reward for being good, and neither do I deserve to go to hell for being human. I’ve come to terms with this. I may be wrong. But if I am wrong, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t make myself believe something I don’t. I feel that even if I tried to brainwash myself again, it wouldn’t work because once I woke up and realized the truth, I couldn’t un-know it. By the way, I think that “epiphany” I had was a normal psychological reaction to my cultural conditioning, but I broke free from the cult of religion once and for all—at least I hope so.—Christina Knowles

 

Reviled in America by Christina Knowles

ingodwetrust

via belief.net

Sure, being an atheist means being reviled by the general church-going public, but what’s it like being open about our lack of belief to people we care about? Of course, it depends on whom we hang out with, but even in the most accepting groups of believers, we have to face a measure of condescension. I’ve heard many times that atheists are viewed as condescending and think they are better or smarter than believers, but believers give off this impression as well.

For example, religious or spiritual people often think they are privy to special knowledge, chosen, understand “mysteries” that atheists do not, they often believe they are the only ones with morals, and they feel sorry for poor atheists because they are “deceived.” It’s true that atheists think believers are deceived as well, and after realizing the fallacies of belief in religion, atheists have a hard time understanding how anyone could ever believe in the tenets of any faith, often forgetting that they may have once believed themselves. However, personally, I know I didn’t get smarter when I became an atheist although I did shake loose of my conditioning and began to look at things more objectively, but it is definitely not the easiest way of living in our culture.

Being an atheist isn’t easy in a predominantly religious culture, even when there is no church state or legal ramifications for disbelief. After coming out as an atheist, the suggestions for readings start coming in—bible verses, apologetic arguments, even ridiculous movie recommendations like God’s Not Dead. I never understood that title, by the way, because to think he was dead, we’d have to first believe he was once alive. But, by far, the worst thing we have to endure as atheists, in my opinion, is people who formerly respected us, now seeing us as people with no morals, no compassion, or a group to be feared. Of course, this is ridiculous; we are the same people we always were. Often, we are even more moral since dogmatic views of religion are frequently immoral, and when we let them go, we can have a clearer view of what is harmful to others—but that’s another blog for another time.

And despite popular opinion, belief is not a choice. I cannot force myself to believe something I do not. Being an atheist is not a belief. It is a lack of belief. We do not claim to know there is no god, but we do not have any good reason to believe there is one.

When I became an atheist, I had to choose to come out of the closet and be open about it or hide it and pretend to accept what everyone around me believed in so strongly. This was very scary. Atheists who come out to families and friends risk all the most important relationships in their lives. Even if their friends and families accept them, they will likely look at them differently than before. In addition to this, we do not want to cause pain or anxiety in our loved ones. This is very stressful, but I feel that I need to be real, especially with those who love me, but family holidays may never be the same.

As atheists, we have to deal with people we care about thinking that we have no morals and that we are going to hell. We may pretend we aren’t offended when they think we have no morality and that we are influenced by Satan, whom we think is another imaginary creature. Atheists are not more immoral than any other group of people. We generally think that living morally for no other reason except that it is the best way to live is more admirable than being good out of obedience, the promise of reward, or the threat of punishment. We, generally, think that if we followed the biblical law, we would actually be much more immoral. We are also permanently responsible for our actions, rather than believing we can just ask for forgiveness or do penance.

Still, we are required to endure pity, offers of prayer, and reading suggestions to change our minds when we think our friends and families are the ones who don’t realize the truth. And even though we may understand our believing friends and families are sincere in their concern, that doesn’t make it any more comfortable to deal with. It would be so much easier to pretend. It’s even harder if keeping your logical reasoning to yourself is the only acceptable choice to keep the relationships you value.

As atheists, we have to face the reality that things don’t happen for a reason, and that we create our own purpose in life. We don’t have any higher power to lean on or any hope of some being coming to our rescue, but in the end, we feel like this is a better way of living. We don’t have to try to make sense out of random tragedies. We don’t have to try and reconcile a loving god with terrible things happening to innocent people. Things just happen. Some are preventable and some aren’t, but no one is up there making arbitrary decisions about it.

As atheists, we may have to be careful not to say what we really think when people give God the credit for the skill of doctors and scientists, and then give God a pass when a loved one dies anyway. We may have to ignore the illogical comments about blessings and miracles and prayers and keep our rational thoughts to ourselves. We have to be nice when people offer prayers and platitudes and think that if we had God in our lives, everything would be better, even though bad things happen to them too.

We have to gently tell them we have already read the bible, and that’s one of the reasons we are atheists. Sometimes we have to show them that we actually know more about the bible than they do. We have to patiently listen to the pretzel logic of re-interpretation they go through so that the bible is not really contradicting itself and God is really good after all, despite his heinous acts. We have to kindly refuse to go to church revival services, and remind them that we used to be Christians for many years. We then have to convince them that we really were Christians when they point out that we weren’t true Christians. This is extremely frustrating. I know how sincerely I believed, and no one else can logically claim to know my mind.

Finally, we have to point out the fallacies in the double-standards—that what they consider an infringement on their religious views is actually an infringement on our right not to have a religion, and that in America, Christians are not the persecuted group. We have to point out that this country was not based on Christianity, but founded on a secular morality that our forefathers feared the intermingling of church and state, and that trying to legislate based on religion is the opposite of what the United States was created to do.

So, clearly being an atheist isn’t the easiest path, and being open about it comes with a host of unpleasant realities. Fitting in with the millions of believers around me would be easier in so many ways, but I care about reality and what’s true and makes sense, so although sometimes it’s harder, it’s the best way for me to live a moral and intellectually honest life, and in the long run, it has made me a much happier and less conflicted person. So, I’ll try to be less condescending if Christians will too. I will try to remember that I used to believe if they will consider the possibility that maybe someday they won’t believe anymore either.—Christina Knowles