Monday, November 17, 2014

Absurd fundamentalist beliefs I once held

From 1990-1994 I had converted to Christianity; particularly, Pentecostalism. I joined a Hispanic church whose beliefs and practices were quite extreme. We took the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God. We took every bit of information from the scriptures as absolutely divine and considered them facts that did not even require evidence because no matter how absurd the claims may be our faith and confidence made them true. We measured all other things about the world around us by the standards of the Bible. If science contradicted the Bible then science was wrong and that was the end of it. 

Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.” William Lane Craig  ‘Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (1984). 

My beliefs were entirely based on emotions initially. I believed at the time that I was filled with the Holy Spirit and that "He" would confirm all truth to me as taught in the scriptures.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26
Often when I read the Bible I felt currents of electricity coarse through my body when I came upon texts I believed were being opened to me by God or expanded upon by the Holy Spirit. I heard these new teachings in my mind in my own voice and took them as confirmation of their truth. I believed  that God spoke to me in my head in my own voice often in those days. I also believed that only our church had the truth. All other Christian sects were wrongly interpreting the scriptures and teaching lies whether they knew it or not. 

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

I believed it was my mission appointed to me by God himself to save as many souls as I could from darkness and finally eternal damnation. If you did not believe as I did then no matter whether we believed in the same God or not you were already damned to hell. This is what eventually led me to become a Christian evangelist. I started out with my friend from church who used to preach on the streets of Brooklyn, NY on Saturday's and Sunday's. I joined his ministry and served initially as his Spanish to English interpreter as he preached his message of salvation. It wasn't long before he had me preaching as well. 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

As Carl Sagans aptly titled book stated I once believed that I was living in a 'Demon Haunted World.' Everything in the world that was wrong in my view was wrong because of Satan and his minions (demons) attempts to lead man into perdition. Women dressed provocatively not because they liked showing what they had, but because the devil used them to entice men of God and even lead or distract men from seeking salvation. Gays were demon oppressed or possessed and made prisoners to the unnatural desires of their evil flesh. Basically, the Devil was always in the details and only Christ could wrest you from his grasp once you committed your life and soul to Jesus. 

Today just like then this church continues to proclaim that Jesus is coming back for his church soon. I honestly believed that he could arrive any day and at any time like a thief in the night unannounced and I had to be prepared and had to make others ready before it was too late. I believed in the rapture back then. The idea that Jesus would descend from the cloud with his angels and call up to himself both the dead and the living that he has saved from perdition. 

I sought guidance in my life through fervent prayer and often searched the scriptures for answers to some of my own personal struggles as a believer. I would pray before I went out to job interviews and often silently lay hands upon and pray over my resumes so that God would lead me to the right job. I prayed for him to cleanse my mind from impure thoughts that I knew to be sinful. 

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28

Even something as natural as sexual attraction was sinful. If I looked at a woman and thought to myself that she was attractive or smelled good etc. I would mentally begin praying to the Lord to help me resist those evil urges and tempting thoughts. It was no way to live but at the time it was the only way I knew how. These are just a few of the absurd beliefs I held as a fundamentalist Pentecostal and I hope that this helps you understand how hard it was to leave. Luckily I have managed to pry myself from the clutches of religion and have truly found my way into the light of reason. 

The key element that held me prisoner to these beliefs was the fear of the Lord. The fear of eternal damnation and the fear of losing out on a life of eternal bliss and joy in the presence of the Lord forever and ever kept me bound to these absurd beliefs and unsubstantiated claims. 

Note: All biblical quotes are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The pros of atheism

In 1994 I walked away from the Pentecostal church once and for all. I had decided then that those beliefs no longer were rational nor able to stand up against the many challenges of logical reasoning. My departure from the faith was a very long and often fearful process.

The fear was one of the greatest obstacles for me to overcome because of how deeply ingrained my beliefs had become. The Bible for instance is full of ominous tidings in the form of eternal threats for those that dare to leave the faith.

26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Hebrews 10:26-27

It is my belief that the fear of death and the desire to live forever are the two driving forces behind Christianity. Taken to the extreme fundamentalist Christians tend to take this life for granted and neglect the many wonderful things it has to offer in the here and now. There is no evidence of the eternal utopia promised in the scriptures nor even for the existence of its Lord and ruler God himself.

The very first pro for my current atheist views is that I have overcome fear and have recognized it as irrational and unfounded. I now live a life based on reason and what can be known through science and logical deduction. Of course I am aware that there are some things that we may never know, but until they are finally discovered and proven I will live as if they don't exist. The idea of the existence of God as described in the Bible is one of those things. I no longer fear his imaginary wrath or contempt for my not believing in him when he (if he exists) has not given me reason nor sufficient evidence to do so.

The next positive thing I have gained from atheism is that I have learned to appreciate this life that we know to exist over the imaginary one presented in the Bible. I have found that I get more excited over a scientific discovery than I ever did over a so called divine revelation. The world we live in is a place of wonder and amazement with something new to teach us everyday. I find biology, astronomy, archaeology, and the many other scientific disciplines out there so much more interesting than the musings of an ancient and ignorant culture and society full of false beliefs and superstitions due to fear and a lack of knowledge about the world.

Being an atheist has taught me to be honest with myself. I know who I am and don't try to live by the hypocritical dogmas set forth by religion. I detest hypocrisy in all its forms and nothing disturbs me more than some stranger in the street telling me they love me in the name of Jesus. If that's not hypocrisy then I don't know what is.

The next thing I learned as an atheist is that I and only I am responsible for each and every action I take. For example if I were to strike my wife and when asked why I did it by the authorities, I cannot sit there and blame her for so called "provoking me," there are other courses of action that I could have taken. Everything we do in this life for better or for worse is entirely our responsibility and its results or consequences are entirely ours to bear. We don't have the Devil and his minions to blame for our behavior the only one we have to blame for our actions is ourselves.

I have learned that before I was a Christian I had morals. In fact, you don't need God or some commandments written in a book by those claiming to be his messengers to know right from wrong. Morals don't come from God but from our own cultures and the societies in which we are reared. If I was born in Iran I would most likely have been raised a Muslim it is what is taught to me by my parents and society that determines what I consider moral and correct.

As an atheist I continue to grow and learn as I go along but in the end I find that atheism and naturalism are far more reliable than any religion. I see religion for what it is: a creation of man and nothing more. There is no need for gods, angels, demons, or pie in the sky. This life has enough to keep us all quite occupied for several lifetimes.

Note: The biblical verse I have cited comes from the New International Version of the scriptures.