State of Denial
I see you have had your hands full dealing with Bible believers. It's really difficult getting through to them. You and I understand them because as former true believers, we were where they are, but they have never been where we are now.
Religious people have to live in a state of denial. They have to ignore the many times when real life doesn't work the way the Bible says it's supposed to work. They have to ignore the contradictions within the Bible itself. I know this because I did it for 20 years.
I believed in God and in the Bible. But the world did not work the way the Bible said it should. Life is unfair. Good people suffer, and bad people get away with it. Being Christian doesn't mean your life gets better. Christians suffer misfortune and unhappiness just as often as the non-Christian. They are killed in accidents. They get cancer, suffer and die in agony. They give to the church, yet they remain poor.
Christians lie, cheat and steal. They commit adultery, watch pornography, drink to excess, and snort coke. They beat their spouses and children. Some of their spiritual leaders, the ministers and priests, are the most notorious practitioners of sinful conduct.
Does this make them worse than other people? Aside from the hypocrisy, not at all (and there are plenty of hypocrites outside of Christianity). It just means they are the same as everybody else. They are subject to the same weaknesses and temptations that all people face. In my experience, people don't change very much when they "get saved." They just become more skilled at concealing their "sins." A few do change for the better. They get off drugs, get sober, and become productive citizens, as do non-Christians. But more often, they don't change, or they change and then lapse back into their old lifestyles, as do non-Christians. I know one person who injected himself with dope before he was baptized to enhance his spiritual ecstasy. He was later found out and disfellowshipped. When his kidneys failed as a result of his drug addiction, he got off drugs and returned to church. Did he kick the habit due to strength that God gave him? Or did he finally come to his senses and realize that he had to quit drugs if he wanted to live, even if it meant dialysis 3 or 4 times a week? I believe most people who clean themselves up do so because of their own inner strength. Or they reach a breaking point and realize that they had better clean up their lives or they will soon end up in their final resting place. They may attribute their change in direction to religion, but fear of death can be a powerful motivator, too. And how many of the converted lapse and return to the bottle or the needle? Why does their "God-given" strength desert them?
My exit from churchdom began with the realization that God didn't answer my prayers. Early on, I thought that it would merely be a matter of time before I would have a prayer answered. But after 15 or more years, my faith had eroded, although it had not vanished. I still believed, but I had ever-stronger doubts in the back of my mind that I did my best to suppress. Then I decided to study apologetics, the study of the defense of the faith. I studied the works of the most respected minds in contemporary Christianity. But what I read was so weak that even I was not convinced. Over and over again, I found circular reasoning. The most common argument for Christianity went something like this: Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. How do we know this? The Bible says so. Why should we believe the Bible? Because it is the word of God. How do we know this? Because Jesus said so. How do we know Jesus said so? Because it's in the Bible. It's like a dog chasing his tail.
In the end, I could no longer believe because I could not validate the Bible as God's word by my experience, and the proofs provided by the so-called experts really didn't prove anything. When I try to explain this to people who are still believers, I get responses that are very strange. Some say my prayers went unanswered because I lacked faith, which is true now but wasn't true in my early years as a Christian. There was a time when I did believe that God answered prayer. But after many years of trying, I never had a prayer answered, and I don't expect that to change any time soon. Others have said that all prayers are answered. When you pray for something and it doesn't happen, that means that God's answer is "No." Therefore, God has answered "no" to everything I've ever prayed for. That's total nonsense. A prayer is answered when what you ask for happens. If you ask for something and it doesn't happen, your prayer hasn't been answered. Still others have said that maybe God answered my prayers but I just didn't realize it. I don' t know how that's possible.
What makes the most sense to me is that there is a God, but he chooses not to involve himself in the affairs of the world. I don't see how this universe just appeared out of nothing, so I believe in a higher power that created everything. But I also realize that my human limitations do not allow me to understand or accept the premise that the universe has always existed. Maybe it has. Or maybe there is some law of physics that can explain how the universe just appeared out of nothing, and I'm too dumb to figure it out. Whatever the case may be, it makes more sense to me that some higher power created us. It also makes sense that this higher power withdrew from his creation for unexplained reasons. The things that happen in the world rule out the existence of the just, merciful and loving God described in the Bible. The most difficult questions for believers are why bad things happen to innocent people, why bad things happen to believers, and why can bad people do bad things and get away with it.
I live in New York City, and a couple of weeks after September 11 my wife and I visited the site of the World Trade Center. There were mobs of people there trying to get a glimpse of the devastated towers, but they were kept several blocks away by the police. Among the crowd was a Christian handing out pamphlets, telling passers-by "Jesus loves you." I refused the pamphlet and said, "I hope Jesus loves me more than he did the people in those towers." I didn't stick around to listen to his answer, but his statement offended me because the terrorist attacks were acts of pure hatred, and I still cannot see any value in the destruction of innocent lives and property. Second, I resented this person's attempt to capitalize on the terrorist attack for the benefit of his religious movement. It's ironic that this religious fanatic would use as a recruitment tool the destruction caused by other religious fanatics.
I gave up on Christianity and the Bible because what happens in the real world doesn't square with the Bible. The world doesn't work they way the Bible says it does. The Bible really isn't relevant. While Christianity didn 't ruin my life (as it did the lives of many others), it didn't enrich it, either spiritually or physically. In fact, the only people whose lives seem to be enriched by Christianity are the members of the clergy. The ministers, who supposedly lead lives of hardship and sacrifice, who give up their personal goals and dreams to serve Christ, always seem to drive better cars than I do. They live in nicer homes and neighborhoods than I do. They always preach that followers of Christ need to give their time, talent and treasure to the church, which I gladly did. But over time, you can't help but notice that the one's urging sacrifice on church members are living awfully well at our expense. And God never came through on his promise to open up the heavens and give me so much that my storehouses would overflow. If I gave $50 to the church, all that meant was that I would have $50 less, and the minister would have $50 more. There was no blessing that accrued with the donation. If I wanted a $50 blessing, the only way I could have it was to keep the $50 for myself, and the hell with the minister. The Bible urges us to put God to the test: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Malachi 3:10)." I put God to the test for many years, and he failed. It was amazing how much more I was able to afford when I stopped tithing. It shouldn't have been a surprise at all. After all, it is simple arithmetic. But after years of religious programming, I was caught off guard by the simple truth that if I keep my money, I can buy more things, and if I give away my money I can't buy as much. According to the Bible, 2-2=4 and 2+2=0, or the more you give, the more you have. In the real world, 2+2=4, and 2-2=0. The more you give, the less you have.
It's true that giving sometimes brings more satisfaction than the things money can buy. I don't mind at all buying things for my family. If any of my loved ones needed my time, talent and treasure, I would gladly give it. But when I gave my time, talent and treasure to the church, and then the minister complained that it wasn't enough, I would sometimes wonder if my giving was misdirected. Now it is not an issue. My first priority is my family and myself. If there is anything left over, I'll donate to charities that I deem worthwhile, or I'll treat myself to a movie or a meal at a nice restaurant. The only one who is going to fill my storehouse to overflowing is myself. The only one who is going to solve my problems is me. God either won't, because he has chosen to remain uninvolved, or can't, because he doesn't exist. It was difficult for me to come to grips with this, but my life's experiences led me to this reluctant conclusion.
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