Feedback discussions - Richard T.
From: Richard T.
To: <Steve Locks>
Sent: 8 July 2005 02:22
Subject: Two Questions
I found your website to be very interesting and arguments very thought out and compelling. I was a missionary for two years in my church and after talking to thousands of different people, found that salvation is nearly all christians "seek after."
However, I also found that none had any concept of what "saved" meant other than escaping never ending fire and brimstone. i can see how people would live in constant fear! I had never heard of the stockholm syndrome before, but found it very interesting. Thank you for that insight.
I personally am a member of the Mormon church, and as such have a very different view on what seeking and finding mean, which brings me to my questions:
1. When you were x-tian, what specifically were you seeking? Your website showed HOW you sought, but I did not understand what it was WHAT it was you sought. This could be that I am not a member mainstream christianity and therefore not exposed to that culture.
2. What did you expect to find and at what point did you realize you had not found it? This is kind of a personal question, and if you don't want to answer it I completely understand.
From: Steve Locks <Steve Locks>
To: Richard T.
Sent: 11 July 2005 00:02
Subject: Re: Two Questions
Thanks for your kind words, appreciation and questions.
<< 1. When you were x-tian, what specifically were you seeking? Your website showed HOW you sought, but I did not understand what it was WHAT it was you sought. This could be that I am not a member mainstream christianity and therefore not exposed to that culture. >>
I guess it is easy to miss what I wrote in my deconversion story if it is not in bullet points - but that would make for a poor piece of prose! At my story I did mention the following (in order of appearance in my story):
- seriousness to life
- sense of mystery
- focus on a message of love
- music and fellowship
- The "kingdom of God"
- a desire for the message of love and not dogma
- a deeper thinking about Christianity and the search for deeper spirituality
However, in a way I am glad this didn't stand out so obviously for you, because in what I sought it is important to realise that I didn't presume to set the agenda. I asked "thy will be done." Whatever it was that God wanted of me I asked that I could be done with/shown/used/something I haven't thought of etc. etc. as God wished.
<< 2. What did you expect to find and at what point did you realize you had not found it? This is kind of a personal question, and if you don't want to answer it I completely understand. >>
I put myself in God's hands. I was a fan of the Christian mystics and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so I expected anything ranging from the a peaceful life spent in beatific vision to lonely and grisly martyrdom. It was totally up to God. All I thought was promised was "atonement" - i.e. being "at one" with God. I was "knocking at the door" and according to the bible Jesus would answer. Indeed the fine details weren't as important as the general idea that it had Jesus/God in it!
I don't want to give the impression though that I had no feelings of spiritual connection with God/Jesus (i.e. that I didn't feel I had got anywhere yet). Quite the opposite is the case. However, I am still able to conjure those feelings up at will, even though I do not believe in the supernatural anymore - which is another thing that convinces me religious experiences are purely natural and human, not supernatural or divine. In my seeking (for whatever God wanted) I surprised and humbled myself to find that Christianity was untenable. According to the bible Jesus taught "seek and ye shall find." I now know both from personal experience, and the testimonies of a wide range of ex-Christians, that that claim is false and hence the biblical Jesus was in error. (All the time making a careful distinction between the various interpretations of the "biblical Jesus", the various Jesuses of faith and whatever historical kernel there may be behind these various Jesuses!)
In answer to the second part of question 2 I wouldn't say that I "realised I had not found it" since I came to the belief that there was not something supernatural to find that I had missed! Rather what I found was that Christianity became untenable for me after a few years of reading and thinking over knotty theological questions, and exposure to the reading material I mentioned in my deconversion story. So rather than describing my deconversion as "realising I had not found it" instead it was like solving any hard and convoluted problem which suddenly becomes clear. I realised I could no longer be a Christian after much thinking, reading (and praying etc., of course) when the picture suddenly clicked into place and I was convinced that "it is all human and natural, not divine and supernatural." i.e. nothing lost, just false beliefs gone. Temporary pain, but then the joy of disillusionment.
One comment on something else you wrote. You mentioned:
<< However, I also found that none had any concept of what "saved" meant other than escaping never ending fire and brimstone. i can see how people would live in constant fear! >>
As you have found there are all sorts of ideas amongst different Christians as to what "being saved" means, let alone what one needs to do or accept to be saved. I get all kinds of different assertions from Christians (each with great confidence that their interpretation is the true one) as to what "true Christianity" really is. Recently on the same day I had two Christians write to me with two exactly opposite earnest assertions that they wanted me to believe.
<<How much more love does one have to demonstrate by allowing you and me to have free will to decide these things?>>
was exactly contrary to an assertion I had in an email from another Christian that day:
<< You do not choose what you believe and what you do not. God has chosen that long before the ages ever began. You are destined to live the life God has set out for you and somehow, it brings Him glory. Even if you wanted to believe, you could not until God chose for you to. >>
I think I'll have to put them in touch with each other! To have so much confusion in Christianity on its central doctrines strikes me as a very poor reflection on its "clear message" and divine inspiration that Christians claim (let alone demonstrating the weakness of Jesus' prayer that his followers would be as one). I was very much not into the "fire and brimstone" culture when I was a Christian, although I know many who are. In my opinion the fleeing of hell-fire version of "being saved" is so crass and un-spiritual that I wonder why it is dignified as a religion at all, but then it seems a lot of religion is pretty much a travesty of what humans are capable of, but I think this is closely tied with the Stockholm syndrome and the psychology of the abused wife. All so far from healthy human relationships. I rant about this a lot and intend to put some more material together eventually (lots of notes, but not so much time!)
As I said, my religious time was very thoughtful and spiritual, far more focussed on communing with God than any thought of hell, which I thought was a disturbing thing crazy charismatics and fundamentalists concentrated on. However eventually I reflected on its mere presence in the bible as you would have seen in my deconversion story.
So as a Christian I was little focused on the idea of hell. However when I did think about it, I think universalism together with some awkward questions unanswered (and unasked!) is pretty much how I approached it. I didn't comb the bible for a universalist apologetic (like you would find at http://www.tentmaker.org/). Rather I assumed that God must be at least as loving and forgiving as I was. Since I forgave my enemies it would have seemed rather unchristian of God for Him not to forgive His enemies too! So I did not really believe there was much to hell (mostly some sort of figure of speech).
As I described in my deconversion story I became perturbed though that hell-fire (even relish of it) for the "sin of disbelief" was so prevalent within Christianity at all, and even that it appeared in any guise in the bible. The more I reflected on this, the worse it seemed. Indeed the threat of hell turned Christianity from "good news" about how to come close to God (which is how I approached it) into extremely bad news about what people have got to be scared of. But this wasn't the worst of it.
Christian often write to me:
"You seem to be particularly incensed by the idea of a never ending place of torment in the afterlife."
In my naive youth I hoped that any humane person would be incensed by the idea of torture, let alone never ending torment! Unfortunately it is quite apparent that this is not the case, from:
"Ah! The broad magnificence of that scene! How shall I laugh and be glad and
exult when I see these wise philosophers, who teach that the gods are
indifferent and men soulless, roasting and browning before their own
disciples in hell."
[Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 220), "De Spectaculis"]
"That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more
abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell."
[Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica]
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or
some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked,
his wrath towards you burns like fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to
have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his
eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended
him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is
nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.
It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last
night, that you was [sic] suffered to awake again in this world, after you
closed your eyes to sleep."
["Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," preached July 8, 1741. In Ola
Elizabeth Winslow, ed., Jonathon Edwards: Basic writings (New York: New
American Library, 1966) p. 159.]
There is plenty more to make your eyes water at http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/history/abominable_fancy.html
Of course, the Christian god is not the only deity small children are frightened with at Sunday School. Islam preaches its own damnation:
Pagans indeed are those who say that GOD is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah himself said, "O Children of Israel, you shall worship GOD; my Lord and your Lord." Anyone who sets up any idol beside GOD, GOD has forbidden Paradise for him, and his destiny is Hell. The wicked have no helpers. Pagans indeed are those who say that GOD is a third of a trinity. There is no god except the one god. Unless they refrain from saying this, those who disbelieve among them will incur a painful retribution. [Koran 005:072-73]
"And whoever does not believe in Allah and His Apostle, then surely We have prepared burning fire for the unbelievers." - The Koran
"He who in this oneness of love, loves me in whatever he sees, wherever this man may live, in truth this man lives in me...I am from everlasting the seed of eternal life...in its delusion the world knows me not...all beings have their rest in me...I am the way...he who loves me shall not perish...only by love can men see me, and know me, and come unto me...malignant men hate me...they come not to me, but they go down the path of hell".
Krishna - the Bhagavad Gita (c. 500 B.C.)
Christians often attempt to tell me that I "choose" to go to hell by "wilfully rejecting Jesus." Nevermind that they refuse to accept that I did the exact opposite of "wilful rejection" but rather discovered much to my upset that Christianity was completely untenable for me during an investigation into faith in what I thought would lead me into greater faith! (A common story). Anyway, the biblical God is just as pro-actively sending people to torture as the Islamic God. i.e. Mark16:16 "... he that believeth not shall be damned" and John15:6 "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth... and men gather them into the fire, and they are burned."
As I mentioned Christians often bizarrely try to tell people that they somehow "choose hell" (do Christians "choose" Allah's hell?) as if anyone would. Notice that the NT has Jesus purportedly saying that men are "gathered into the fire" not that they jump in themselves!
Anyway, once the merest sniff of hell is apparent in the bible Christianity is sunk. One cannot morally stoop to worship. As Bertrand Russell said when discussing "Christ as he appears in the Gospels" (an Emperor's New Clothes moment for me):
There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sorts of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.
You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell." That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about Hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this World nor in the world to come." That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.
Then Christ says, "The Son of Man shall send forth his His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth"; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going to say to the goats, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." He continues, "And these shall go away into everlasting fire." Then He says again, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.
[from "Why I am not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell]
That passage very much resonated with my own secret thoughts when I read it and has stayed with me ever since, and is one of the many reasons I find it impossible to believe that Christianity is anything other than the product of messy humans, with many cruel beliefs of ancient peoples wrapped up in it.
Of course, the next move for some Christian apologists, once they can see that trying to make me frightened of torture is not going to convince me that Christianity is true, is to attempt to justify hell. To me that reeks of the Stockholm syndrome and the psychology of the abused wife.
Anyway, there is a wide spectrum out there amongst those who have left Christianity, so it is not representative just to concentrate on my experiences. Usually when I receive enquiring emails like yours the next move is for the Christian to tell me what the true version of being saved is. However I fear it will fall flat as I rather guess I have heard pretty much every version, although I'm happy to be surprised. Anyway, whatever the version of being saved is that a Christian may give, to me it is just a religious story (with likely a central absurdity or two) as long as it doesn't tackle the far more compelling understanding of the world given through psychology, history, philosophy, science, anthropology, comparative religion and cognitive psychology which finally convinced me that I had a mistaken view of the world.
I hope that's of some interest!