Friday, June 3, 2011

What would Jesus do?

I was raised as a white middle class Christian boy. A Southern Baptist. I attended First Southern Baptist Church in Colorado Springs.
We had revivals and preachers preaching fire and brimstone.
I was in the choir. We sang twice on Sunday, we even sang for the prisoners in the Colorado State Penitentiary.
I believed.
I can't tell you when I became a doubter.
But ONE of the events on a road to atheism occurred in the normal Wednesday evening meetings at the church that were half sermon and half business meeting.
I went to those back then.
A black (that was the polite way to refer to African Americans back then) family had applied for membership in our congregation.
What were they thinking?
It is a sad reality of life in these United States that our churches are the most segregated part of American society. Many, perhaps most, churches are monochrome or very close to it.
Blacks have their churches, whites have their, Hispanics have theirs. And never the twain shall meet.
A good Christian woman stood up in the Wednesday night business meeting of the First Southern Baptist Church of Colorado Springs Colorado and said:
"They have their own church."
This good Christian woman opposed the inclusion of a Black family in our congregation for no other reason than the color of their skin.
I cannot tell you that I rose in opposition to her naked racism. I was not that brave. But that moment has stuck with me for these many years. And it is a milepost in my journey from Baptist Church Choir Member to Atheist.
There was a survey back in May 2010 ( that showed that Atheists (like me) understand Christianity better than your average Christian.
And maybe that’s what happened to me.
I didn’t lose my faith as much as find that faith and critical thinking are essentially two different things. If you have faith then you believe in talking serpents and virgin births and you never bother figuring out that Cain married his sister. But you do know to a certainty that god is responsible for all creation and so this how the theory called Evolution is just that, a theory that doesn’t really explain anything. How can it explain anything since we haven’t found the missing link? Yet you claim that creationism is some sort of science despite it being completely without scientific foundation.
For me, starting to read the bible critically was a bad idea. The bible, like most great religious texts, says many different things, many of them contradictory. And people of faith are quite selective in which passages they cling to.
I came to see the god of the bible as a god I could fear, but never love. A god who will condemn good observant faithful Jews and Muslims to hell because they, though they believe in god and venerate god in the manners required by their faith, they are doing it wrong. God, it seems, changes it’s mind. And it doesn’t make sure that everybody gets the message. God sends a messenger, but not everybody gets to meet this messenger personally. And this messenger looks human, not particularly god like. And this messenger gets killed. So his message didn’t seem to be that persuasive. Unless you are in that tiny group of chosen who saw this man-god after coming back to life.
Kind of an obscure way to send a message of such importance as god changing his mind about how to get to heaven.
But if you didn’t get the message, too bad. Maybe god will let you take some sunscreen to hell. I hear it’s hot down there.
And that doesn’t even address god’s condemnation of people who never even heard of the Jewish/Christian/Muslim god. They might live good lives or bad. Grow up to be a mass murderer or to cure cancer. Doesn’t matter. They didn’t get the message they didn’t even know they were supposed to be listening for. Sunscreen anyone?
Even among Christians each group claims to have their own revealed wisdom, the correct message. Catholics believe that unless you get absolution from a priest just before you die, then off to hell you go. All those people in the Twin Towers on September 11. Sorry!! Many, perhaps most of them died in a state of sin and never got the mandatory absolution so off to hell they go. And there is the Christian sect that believes that Heaven can only hold 40,000 people and so not even every member of their little sect is going to get into heaven.
So that is what happened to my faith.
I thought about it too much. Asked too many questions for which there don’t seem to be answers that make sense. That god is just too scary and unstable to actually love.
And now one part of modern Christianity leans on their faith to advocate the most un-Christian of things.
Stephen Colbert, on the Colbert Report, was interviewing a man a few years ago who was advocating for the posting of the 10 Commandments in classrooms and courtrooms across this nation. Yet when asked to name the 10 Commandments he could only name 3 of them ( He missed the First Commandment "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no Other Gods before me. He missed "Make the Sabbath and Keep it Holy." This idiot, who was a United States Representative from the State of Georgia, wanted to post the 10 Commandments in courthouses across this nation, yet he could only name 3 of the Commandments. I know more of the 10 Commandments than he did.
The number of people who claim to be Christians, but advocate for policies that Christ would never support is amazing to me.
We were attacked by Al Queda in a massive way on September 11, 2001.
What would Jesus do?
Would Jesus have invaded and conquered Afghanistan, resulting in the death of 10's of thousands of Afghani's and 4 thousand of America's bravest?
Would Jesus have invaded Iraq, a country that had NOTHING TO DO WITH September 11, 2001? A country that posed nothing even vaguely resembling a threat to this country? An invasion that has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi's and more than 6000 American service personnel and thousands more Americans who were not in the Department of Defense.
What would Jesus have done?
Jesus never talked about taking out your enemy, he never advocating deposing governments that he didn’t like. Jesus talked about Turn the Other Cheek. He talked about not returning evil for evil. (Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8,9). He talked about love and forgiveness.
Would Jesus have joined all the Christian Conservatives who advocate shooting doctors working at family planning clinics that perform some abortions?
Would Jesus have advocated scrapping Medicare as we know if (for those currently under 55) in order to fund tax reductions for the wealthy and corporations?
Would Jesus, who barely mentioned sexuality and NEVER mentioned homosexuality support Christians protesting at the funerals of Soldiers who died fighting our wars. Would he make opposition to Gay Marriage a central tenet of his policies while ignoring the fact that Divorce (which Christ was very explicit in his opposition to) ends most marriages in this nation.
Somehow, I don’t think so.
Somehow modern Christianity has been twisted to become a justification of greed. A justification for a me first attitude that says we are not our brothers keeper. If our brother needs help, don’t ask me. I only take care of my own.
The social conservatives who dominate the Republican party now loudly proclaim their Christianity while advocating policies that ignore science, denigrate the needs of those who are less fortunate, demand that Commerce is most noble when completely unfettered by pesky things like regulations, and insist, despite all the evidence, that giving more money to people who are already wealthy will somehow, years later, enrich us all.
That’s what happens when you live a belief based life.
Facts no longer matter.
You believe that tax cuts pay for themselves and spur long term economic growth.
You either deny that the world is getting warmer or you deny that human activity is the cause despite all the evidence.
You believe that businesses can be trusted to make rational decisions that will be good for the greater good, despite all the times in history when businesses did things that were good for that business, and bad for everyone else. And never being able to point to one completely unregulated industry or country that didn’t end up in disaster.
You believe that We had to invade Iraq, but not Saudi Arabia and that it wasn’t really about revenge and oil.
Turns out, I am fond of facts.
Maybe that’s why I am not a Christian.
Or a Conservative.


Bill said...

Living on the edge, there Walt. I appreciate and respect your comments, even agree with most of them. As a Catholic who lived in the deep south, I've experienced Southern Protestantism. Even the most "faithful" can get ugly if you aren't just like them. Those individuals don't represent what I consider to be Christianity, nor anything else positive or meaningful. I even recognize that the Catholic Church has a history of tremendous good, along with horrible wrongs. By the way, we don't believe that missing final absolution condemns one to Hell. Many of us view these rituals as celebrations of life's milestones. I studied the Bible as an historical text in Ancient Western Civilization. Putting the document in context of the prevailing cultures of those times really does open your eyes. Simply understanding that much of the Bible was written in rough Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew street language makes literal interpretation quite foolish.

Damn it! Now you have me thinking!

NikFromNYC said...

A poignant story. When I was a kid they told me, matter of factually, that God was up in the sky. But the astronauts didn't find him up there. So I've been searching for his physical location ever sense. He is now, I figure, hiding in mathematics and especially geometry. Is that physical? It sure looks like it when I see the divine curves of my latest crush.

Another classic example of conversion is here, namely David Mamet's conversion to conservatism:

Uncle Walt said...


Thanks for the Mamet article. Very interesting reading.

He moved from being a reflexive Liberal to being a reflexive Conservative. Good for him.

The crux of the article for me was in this paragraph:
"“But I saw the liberals hated George Bush. It was vicious. And I thought about it, and I didn’t get it. He was no worse than the others, was he? And I’d ask my liberal friends, ‘Well, why do you hate him?’ They’d all say: ‘He lied about WMD.’ Okay. You love Kennedy. Kennedy didn’t write Profiles in Courage—he lied about that. ‘Bush is in bed with the Saudis!’ Okay, Kennedy was in bed with the mafia.” "

His argument that Bush's lies taking us into a war of choice is the same as Kennedy lying about who wrote Profiles in Courage misses the essential difference. When Bush lied, people died. Yes I know that was a bumper sticker, but its still true. Its a different kind of lie. And yes, Lyndon Johnson lied to get us deeper into Vietnam. And for those lies he is almost reviled by many liberals despite the accomplishments of the Great Society.

In the end, its what do you do with your beliefs. I have no problem with a Conservative belief in small government and maximizing personal liberty. But modern conservatives translate that belief into a series of policies that history and economics tell us will fail.

A person's philosophy aside, tax cuts don't pay for themselves. Tax cuts don't lead to sustainable long term economic growth. The most effective was to create jobs in a recession is direct government spending. Global warming is real and its largely caused by human activity. We can't drill our way to energy independence.

I am not a liberal who hates corporations or rich people. I would love to be rich and I work for a corporation. But I know that a corporation exists for one purpose only, to maximize profits for its owners. To a corporation, that is the meaning of life. So the idea that corporations will somehow act in the interest of the greater good is pure fantasy. Corporations never have and never will do anything for the greater good that they are not forsed to do if doing so will reduce their profits.

I don't hate corporations, but I also don't trust them.

I used to see god in the magnificent beauty and complexity of the universe. Now I see beauty and complexity without the filter of an allmighty.

Thanks for commenting.

Uncle Walt said...

Bill, thanks for commenting.

I have found that thinking is good.

Your study of the Bible as literature in the context of it't time does give it a much different meaning than a literal reading of the King James translation.

My issue with Conservative Christians is that so many of them are literalists, at least in those parts of the Bible that they can intrepret as agreeing with them.

The Christ I see in the New Testament would probably be a Liberal Democrat.

RKMeier said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Walt. I've heard dozens of similar stories, and as a Christian, they sadden me. I've been fortunate to have never attended a church that excluded a person because of his or her race, or that asked people not to attend if they didn't contributed. I know these churches do exist, and by engaging in these most un-Christian activities, they besmirch Christianity as a whole.

You're correct that faith and reason (critical thinking was the term you used, I believe) are sometimes at odds, although I might argue not as much as you seem to think. Personally, I'm not sure that pure reason is something to which we should aspire.

Uncle Walt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle Walt said...


Thanks for your comment.
I would agree that pure reason is not necessarily a goal in and of itself.

It actually sounds kinda boring.

There is nothing reasonable about love, and beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder so the logic in that breaks down pretty quickly. There is no reasonable description of why I love the mountains and would rather be hiking at tree line than anywhere else in the world. While at the same time other people look at a sunset over the ocean and see their own personal view of heaven.

But when your belief in faith leads you to deny the realties of global warming, or to insist that creationism is as scientifically valid as evolution, or insist that tax cuts pay for themselves, or that allowing gay marriage will somehow destroy American civilization, then I become less tolerant of your beliefs.

Because the political implementation of those beliefs is genuinely bad for this country.

Thanks for your comment. As always your blog is one of the highlights of my day!!