A Simple Slave
By Bart Phillips
Life was simpler as a slave
Doing only my unseen master’s will,
Devoting all my efforts to his work,
Trusting enigmatic promises made to me
More than a hundred generations ago
In foreign tongues no longer spoken.
“Sacred” texts of spurious origin
Tell me that I am truly loved—
They say that I am worthless, too!
They say that I can be truly free—
They tell me, too, I must yield myself
To take up my “cross” and dumbly follow.
What kind of man would chose to make himself a slave?
How big a fool seeks wisdom for his life in ancient myth?
How silly is the notion that ages past found deeper truths?
Are love and purpose found in succumbing to a “jealous god”?
I refuse forever to be a simple slave
Forsaking the only thing I rightly own:
My limited life on this natural world.
No more! I claim myself for me,
To give my life and love to those I chose,
To live for what my reason says is right.
The Voice Inside By Bart S. Phillips
I once believed the voice inside my head was God.
I once believed the voice in me that said
That taking things that are not mine is wrong,
That hitting and hurting others is wrong,
That saying things which are not true is wrong—
That simple voice was God.
But the voice said many other things as well:
That torture and slavery are savagely wrong,
That subjugating women is inhumanly wrong,
That building gilded shrines and lavish temples
While children suffer and starve is heartlessly wrong.
What voice was this?
This voice inside my head also cried out
That punishing people for working on a “holy day”
Or for having sex with someone they love
Or for denying belief in unbelievable things—
These punishments are undeniably wrong.
Was this a different voice?
I once turned to that voice to decide my path,
To tell me what I should live for,
To tell me what I must oppose,
To tell me who to marry, where to live, what to do—
I tried to pledge myself entirely to that voice.
At that, the voice seemed suddenly silent.
So what is this voice inside my head
That speaks in the accent of my ancestors,
That encourages me when I struggle,
That chides me when I come up short,
That dares me to question and to reason,
That compels me to be better, to know more, to grow?
I once believed the voice inside my head was God,
But now I recognize that voice
As it enunciates my humanity,
That voice of intellect, of passion and compassion, of imagination—
That voice is no one else’s.
That voice is humbly, proudly, simply…me.
It never fails that on Halloween a few people throw religious tracts in with the candy they are handing out. Don’t worry – I’m not offended at all. Heck – you’re giving my kids free candy – who am I to complain?
Last year hubby and I tried to grab them before the kids did but this year I didn’t make such a big effort and missed a couple. Funny thing. Found them on the couch later – I’m quite sure they were left unread by my kids who were intent on attaining a sugar high experienced at a level that has never been reached by any human being before. Huh – guess kids like to eat candy Halloween night instead of reading. Go figure.
But it got me to thinking what I would say to my little guys if they actually read every word in that tract. Here’s how it would go:
All those things that they seem so sure about in that tract, how do they know any of it?
They say it says all this in the Bible.
How would the writers of the Bible know any of those things are true?
They say God talked to them.
Do they have any way of proving God spoke to them or are we just supposed to take their word for that? They are making some pretty huge claims with major consequences so you should expect that they can back that up with reasonable proof.
No – they can’t back it up. God’s invisible and they don’t have any proof that he talked to them.
Well – what if you asked a scientist to back up what they are saying. Can they show you how they arrived at their answer?
Yes. They spend a lot of time showing how they arrived at their conclusion.
Well – make that the focus when anyone tells you they know something about the world (or the afterlife). If you can trust the method they used to get their answer then you can at least tentatively trust what they say – unless evidence comes along later to show that their initial conclusion was mistaken. And if they are after truth, then they will correct any mistakes that are made – whether it’s in the answers or the methodology itself. If they don’t have a reasonable method of discovering truth that involves a method you can trust then you don’t need to take any of their answers seriously. And in the case of religion many people believe it out of fear of punishment and you should never trust an argument that tries to use fear to convince you of something. Fear won’t get you to the right answer, only a desire to understand the world as it is will.
Ok – mom. Can I go eat more candy now?
Sure kid – I’ll see you on the other side of the sugar coma!
I’m sure there might be more to the conversation and I have had more in-depth conversations with my older daughter, but that’s where I would start.
But it also got me to thinking about one of my first doubts as a Christian (way before my deconversion). I wondered why God used Christians to spread his message if everyone’s eternal destinies were on the line. Christians screw up all the time and have no trouble admitting that. We’re sinners after all. And sharing the gospel was one thing we often messed up on. Even the people who made a point to be really good at it would still fail to share the gospel with people. And that doesn’t even take into account all the people that we just wouldn’t rub shoulders with in the first place. So if the most important decision of people’s lives is on the line – why would God use a method that is sure to fail in most instances?
Wait! I know the answer! I was a fundy Christian for 20 years after all. God knows who will be open to the gospel and will guide us to those people, so no worries. God’s in control after all, not us. Well – then you need to question your God’s wonderful plan for all those people who will burn eternally. His omnipotence seems to have failed Him. I know, I know .. we have freewill. Here’s a post I have up about freewill if you want to explore that topic more.
I thought of all this as I looked at the tract from my kids’ Halloween candy as it lay unopened and unread on my living room couch. Such a pitiful way for an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God to spread his message. Good thing it’s not true and it’s just a sad little piece of paper that got tossed aside as my kids gorged on candy. I feel bad for the person who put it in there. They thought eternal souls were on the line as they placed that in there. They thought they might be saving some little child from burning in an eternal torture chamber. I feel bad that they are trapped in a religion that sees the world this way. The guilt, the fear, the tears over lost souls. I wish I could free them from that prison. And again I’m reminded why my blog is here. Not to win a philosophical battle but because I want to be here for people who can see life outside the prison of religion but need to know that others have broken free ahead of them and are enjoying the sunshine and fresh air outside the bars.
You have to watch Bill Nye in this video before going on to the Mr. Deity video or you’ll miss the whole point.
Now you can watch the Mr. Deity version:
The latest Mr. Deity!
Here’s part one from March 2011:
Last week I stumbled across this blog and I was transported back in time. I had forgotten about this blog but when I saw it I instantly remembered it as one that I visited often in the early days of my religious doubting. He isn’t currently blogging but I emailed the author to thank him for sharing his story and I let him know how it had impacted me. He replied and we exchanged a few encouraging emails. It reminded me of why it’s important for those who have left the faith to tell their stories. After we deconvert we move on with our lives, but there are others who will go through the same struggles and will benefit in some way from reading about our journey. Enjoy reading Kevin’s story:
I want to share with you a link to a free online book that may interest some of you. It is a story about a loss of faith - but so much more. It’s called An Examination of the Pearl and the scope of it is staggering to me. Click on the Table of Contents and then click on items listed there and you’ll see how exhaustive this book really is! He covers any biblical or doctrinal issue you can imagine. If you’re in the doubting stage of your faith then this book is required reading!
I thought I’d give you the author’s words from the first page so that you can get an idea what the book is about:
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as comparing the Kingdom of God to a merchant who found a valuable pearl and sold all that he had in order to buy it. No merchant of fine pearls would ever buy one that he had not examined carefully. To take the supreme leap of selling all for the price of one particular pearl would require that merchant to have either found it flawless after detailed examination, or to enter blindly into what might well turn out to be a bad bargain out of impulse, emotion, or deceit.
This book is an honest and unflinching examination of the pearl that Conservative Laestadianism puts on offer as the Kingdom of God. It is a study not just of that obscure revival movement from 19th century Lapland, but also of Martin Luther, fundamentalist and sectarian Christianity, and the Bible itself.
About 18 centuries ago, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “If our faith is such that it is destroyed by force of argument, then let it be destroyed; for it will have been proved that we do not possess the truth.” Many dare not take the risk to their faith, or the faith of those under their influence, of reading or allowing the reading of anything critical about what they supposedly believe. But is that really faith in anything other than the others in the fold who are themselves just repeating the old slogans? They, too, are all too often ignoring the facts about their own unexamined faith that is itself supported only by the claims of others.
There are many such unexamined and fearful faiths competing in the marketplace of religion, some of them also claiming to be the truth outside of which no one will be saved. And without critical reflection like that found in this book, each one is a self-sustaining doctrinal bubble that quivers unsteadily in the air, vulnerable to being poked by the slightest intrusion of fact.
I’d love for you to check it out and to let me know what you think of it: An Examination of the Pearl
“You pray to your god, I’ll pray to a cabbage, and I bet we’ll get the same result.”
– Barbara Jean Price
via Atheist Quotes of the Day on Facebook
A while ago I asked one of the commentators on my blog (Speed), if he would mind sharing his deconversion story. Here it is ! I enjoyed reading it and I know if will be helpful to anyone in the midst of a similar journey. Thanks for sharing Speed!
I was born into a Catholic home. We didn’t really discuss God or the Bible that much, but we went to church every Sunday unless we were sick. I attended Catechism as well, though I thought it was extremely boring and didn’t teach me anything useful. Plus at our church the priests didn’t seem that nice. Because of that, I started to think there was something wrong with Catholicism since the people who were supposed to represent God didn’t seem like the loving God they were teaching.
My life went fairly normal and I was fortunate to not have to face any tragedy. Because of that, questioning the big things in life didn’t really happen. It was easy to stay in my faith while things were going well.
Then in college, I got very sick with an infection that left me unable to eat. I suffered with this for almost a month and had to be hospitalized. At that point, the questions started coming. Being in a hospital for a while and being surrounded by so many people struggling with health issues, I started questioning why God allows us to go through these things. I had been told that it makes us stronger, but what if Idied? Surely that was possible, and this sickness would have done nothing but taken me out at a relatively young age.
Shortly after I got out of the hospital, I started to feel like I was living a double life. I noticed that about all Catholics I personally knew as well. It seemed in church, we had to act a certain way and be “holy” but when we got home, we were anything but. From the music we listened to, to the movies we watched, to the way we talked, I felt we were being hypocritical. I started listening to non-Catholic radio broadcasts that were very fundamental and realized that I needed to be Christian all the time and not just in church. Plus, these radio broadcasts seemed to be giving a totally different method of salvation which I never heard in the Catholic Church.
At that point, I decided to give my life to Jesus and become “born again.” I knew a pastor from another time in my life and went to him, said the salvation prayer, and then started attending his church services. I even started taking Bible college courses to better understand the Bible.
I remember at one of the church services, my pastor said that God was telling him someone there didn’t have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I raised my hand. They got together and prayed with me. Nothing happened. Looking back, I realize it’s because I had no intention of acting in front of them and I told myself if something was going to happen, it was going to be from God and not me. After that day, I had doubts about what was going on and I wondered if most of this fundamentalist stuff was just a show.
My soon to be fiancé, whom I met in the Catholic church, was scared not only that I was going from Catholic to non-denominational, but she was scared that I was going to become a priest and end the relationship with her, though I had no intention of becoming a preacher. All of this caused quite a bit of strife in our relationship to the point where we almost broke up. Finally, she decided to follow me out of Catholicism, said the salvation prayer, and we were on the same page again.
My fiancé and I started attending church together. Things seemed to be going well, and we ended up getting married in that church. However, my wife started telling me that she questioned God a lot. She couldn’t understand why the world was like it was while an all-loving God sat back and watched. She didn’t get why salvation was sometimes preached as works and sometimes as just accepting Jesus into your heart, which she had trouble understanding what that really meant.
After we got married, we quit going to church regularly. We decided to take a break from church because we felt worn out from going every Sunday for our whole lives. We also didn’t enjoy the church we were going to as much, so after a little while we decided to try a few other churches. After attending a few, we both knew a lot of the extreme fundamentalists at the church were acting, and some of the people (including preachers) really rubbed us the wrong way. I felt like it was my fault for not enjoying any churches but I kept praying for God to lead us to a great church. Nothing happened. However, I still stayed Christian. I believed in God, but I didn’t believe these churches were being honest and I wasn’t going to force myself to attend church in a place I didn’t want to be.
Along with all of this, we started having problems in our life and we didn’t understand why they were happening. Because we were Christian, it naturally became a matter of asking God why this was happening to us and if it was some kind of punishment or trial.
Plus, I was having my own crisis with Christianity because I, in all honesty, knew I couldn’t share my faith with anyone. How could I ask someone to convert to my beliefs when God was nowhere to be found? We were supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus, yet I was doing all the talking. What if I converted someone and they said they prayed and nothing happened? Would I just give them the typical “It wasn’t God’s will” response that I knew would give them no comfort? I then started to realize that God was failing me because as much as I prayed, God never seemed to respond.
Then the whole Hell issue started tearing away at me. What happened to my grandparents who had died? Were they being tortured in a place so bad that we couldn’t stand it for one second? I read Mary Baxter’s book about her revelation of Hell and I was shocked. From that point forward, I couldn’t turn on an oven or my BBQ pit without feeling anguish over people suffering in Hell. How could God do this? All I kept hearing was that even though God is love, he’s also just. But was this justice? We find torture barbaric and despicable yet God is doing this to over half of mankind and it will never end. All of a sudden life becomes a whirlwind of desperation and fear. How do you save the world? Nobody should have to suffer through Hell and how can I love God while knowing this is happening?
Then, we had a tragic time in our lives. We lost a close member of our family and I was getting extremely stressed at work. My health started to deteriorate. It got worse and worse but I prayed to God continuously to heal me. Nothing happened. I ended up being taken by ambulance to the hospital and was treated for multiple problems severe enough to where had I not been hospitalized, I definitely would have died. It was the scariest moment in my life, but I felt that at least if I did die, I would be in heaven.
However, in the hospital all of the “why” questions started coming back. Why did God allow all of this? Had I not gone to the ER, I would be dead. That bothered me for quite a while. Then I decided to keep my prayers simple. I just asked God to talk to me; to say anything. I would stay up at night asking for this, and I would clear my mind so I’d know it wasn’t my own thoughts talking to me. I heard nothing. This went on and on until I started to get very frustrated.
Then one evening about a year later, I got sick with bad stomach pains. The pain would come and go, but then it got worse on my right side. I had a hunch what it was but I prayed and prayed that it wasn’t and that God would heal me. I got nothing. At 3 AM one morning, I told my wife it was really bad and we needed to go to the ER. My fears were confirmed…it was appendicitis. I had to have surgery and long story short, my surgery and recovery didn’t go as well as anticipated and I ended up staying in the hospital for over a week.
Then at the same time this was going on, my grandfather had to have surgery as his health was deteriorating. Then all the Hell stuff started coming back and this time, it was even worse. If he died, was he going to be tortured forever since he was Catholic? What about everyone who helped me yet they weren’t “born again?” Did they deserve to suffer for not believing in a God who wouldn’t even speak to me when I prayed every single day?
I started researching Hell and was shocked to see how many people thought the Bible was mistranslated and the Hell I believed wasn’t really what the Bible taught. I was torn as to what this meant. In one way it made me feel better because I had a reason to believe that Hell didn’t exist, but then why did God allow his inerrant word to be sabotaged by translation issues? Then the story of Noah’s ark started to bother me. How could I justify this story? It’s so ridiculous that there was no way as a rational human being I could defend it. I started reading the Bible from the beginning and I was shocked at what I found. I found a God who endorsed ideas that I was taught were terrible. I saw thousands of people slain just for believing in another God. I read about children being killed, which turned my stomach. All of the animal sacrifice was so bizarre as well as the obsession with circumcision.
I started doing critical research of Christianity and every time I read an apologist page, I would role my eyes and every time I read an anti-Christian page, I would agree. It was then I started to realize I was turning. I remember at one time I thought to myself “If I take God out of the equation, everything makes sense.” I didn’t want it to be true, but it was hard for me to convince myself otherwise. I don’t remember what I searched for next, but it led me to a YouTube video for the Atheist Experience. As I watched a few videos, it was like layer after layer of Christian lies were peeled away. I saw how ridiculous Christians sounded as they made excuse after excuse for God. I realized how rational the atheists were and how non-rational my beliefs were. I started finding blogs about people who left Christianity, and I would relate to their stories. It made me realize that I was on the right track and I was justified in questioning things and following the evidence to an understanding that Christianity was in fact, a lie.
My wife was incredible as we talked about my new beliefs, and I think what I said resonated with her because Christianity didn’t sit right with her either. I knew she had hope that we would see all of our loved ones again one day, and I think that was the most depressing point of the conversation. However, I told her that even if we do want an afterlife, we wouldn’t want one based on Christianity where we weren’t sure who would make it and what the punishment would be for those who don’t. She agreed and she still hopes there is a better life after this one without believing Christianity.
Since I’ve left Christianity, I now find life more enjoyable. I don’t worry about people being tortured every day. I don’t have to worry about a God who finds me so terrible, that he had to kill his own son (or himself depending on how you look at it) so I could even be in his presence. I don’t have to try to decipher a boring, contradicting and confusing book to try to decide what is right and what is wrong. I can just live, and enjoy it. I always thought that it was the atheists who were missing out on a life with God, but I realize now it was me missing out on a life without stressing to reach for a God who was never there to begin with. Christianity really was a burden on my life, and I am so glad I’ve been relieved of it.