28 December 2006

Gerald R. Ford: In Memorial

"I was America's first instant Vice President, and now America's first instant President. The Marine Corps band is so confused, they don't know whether to play 'Hail to the Chief' or 'You've Come a Long Way, Baby'." - Gerald R. Ford

In early December, I started working on a biographical article on Ford, to be posted here when he passed away, but never finished it, thinking that I wouldn't be needing it so soon. Now it's too late for that. If you want to read a biographical article on President Ford, plenty abound now. I wanted to post something, though, to express my sadness at his passing and my gratitude for his leadership during a troubled time in our history.

“The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every president under the Constitution. But I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances, never before experienced by Americans.” So began President Gerald R. Ford’s presidency, with a “little straight talk among friends”. I have been a fan of President Ford for a number of years, ever since I downloaded his inaugral address from American Rhetoric. I was struck by the sincerity of his emotions, and the candor of his words. Soon thereafter I read his autobiography, A Time to Heal, and came away feeling personally connected to him. He became my favorite president other than FDR. To me, Ford wasn't representative of most politicians; he was a cut above them. He never aspired to be President -- his highest ambition was Speaker of the House. Before Spiro Agnew resigned, Ford was almost unknown to the American populace. I have read that Nixon, ever the politician, sought to take advantage of Ford's lack of celebrity -- that Nixon felt that the Congress would not risk a political unknown becoming president, and thus would be dissuaded from impeaching Nixon. Fortunately for America, Nixon was in error on that point. Ford took office and restored the White House, putting us on the road to recovery.

20 December 2006

Reason and Purpose

A few days ago I suddenly realized something: there is a distinction between reason and purpose. Earlier in the day, I had been browsing the forums of the Richard Dawkins foundation, and in one of the threads there, people were sharing their favorite atheistic one-liners. This was a humorous thread, not intended to start any real discussion. But one user’s one-liner -- “Everything has a reason” -- did stir up some discussion. People wanted to know why he thought this was an atheistic statement, and the moment, I too was wondering. I realized the distinction, many hours later.

The distinction can be seen in the example of the Christian bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life, and the nonbeliever’s answer to it, The Reason-Driven Life. Of course, “reason” in the latter example refers to logic, rational thinking, but the two meanings are similar. Let me use two examples to show the distinction between reason and purpose and how they can be blurred. In our first example, a young engaged couple is picnicking on a hilly area, and near them is a cliff. The cliff is a sheer drop into a dry creek bed, and it is obvious that a fall from such a height would be deadly. After the lunch is concluded, the young woman goes to the edge of the cliff to admire the view. She is standing too close to the edge, but excited by the danger, and perhaps teases her fiancĂ© when he asks her to step back. Suddenly a gust of wind arises, catches her off-guard and makes her lose her balance. So close is she to the edge of the precipice that it throws her off, and she plummets downward.

She dies. The young man, stricken, quickly rushes to where his beloved once stood. He kneels down on the ground and crawls to the edge of the cliff, and looks down to see her dead. He is overwhelmed by sorrow and a sense of loss. He sits up, collects his thoughts, and dwells on what has just happened. He comes to a decision. He stands up, goes to the edge of the cliff, closes his eyes, whispers something, and then jumps off. He dies. This is the first example. The young man fell on purpose; he intended to jump off, which he did, and he intended to die, which he did. The young woman fell by accident, with no purpose to it. There was a reason to her fall -- she was too close to the edge, was out of touch with the dangers inherent in her environment, and when the wind blew she fell victim to her own carelessness and the forces of nature. Here we see reason, but no purpose. As you can see, there is a distinctive line between the two concepts -- but it is one that can be blurred.

Second example: A middle-aged man who is severly overweight is stopped by two Christian fundamentalists passing out tracts. He isn't interested, but they won't leave him alone. They begin to argue, their voices rising. The man, as if to prove a point to the fundamentalist, starts screaming profanities at the sky, mocking God. He screams and waves his arms wildly before suffering a heart attack and dying.The two fundamentalists see it as an Act of God. There was divine Purpose to this man’s death, to punish the mortal who dared to rise up against his creator. But was there, really? Could it not be that this man’s heart, aged and dealing with an unhealthy amount of weight and emotional stress, could not bear the strain the man was forcing on it, and malfunctioned? Of course. But to the believer, there could be both Purpose and Reason in this set of events -- and that God accomplished his Purpose through a reason. This is why “There is a reason to everything” can be seen as an atheistic statement.

The person who posted that saw the world through a naturalist’s eyes, a world where everything had a reason, but not a divine purpose. A believer who says the man in the second example caused his own demise is actually right -- he did, by neglecting his health and getting overly worked up about religion being pushed on him. The believer, however, says that reason isn’t the end of the story -- the man caused God to strike him down. But the line is too blurred to convince a nonbeliever. Even being struck by lightening wouldn’t convince most people. The man would’ve had to have broken out with leprosy or vanish into a hole in the ground that suddenly appeared -- things that God has done in the past, and since God never changes he should be willing to do again -- to convince someone who thinks there is no divine purpose behind anything that there is.

This is why I have always held that religion and science are two horns on the same bull, the bull of curiosity. As the stone age humans observed their world, they wanted to know -- why? This is most easily seen in Greek and Egyptian mythology. In Ancient Greece, every aspect of nature -- the rising sun, the tumultuous seas, the ferocity of lightening -- has a god to explain it. Helios causes the sun to rise and set, Poseidon controls the seas, and Zeus uses lightening to cause the mortals to respect him and to punish them if they don’t. My personal favorite is the tale of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, which explains the seasons. It’s a fun read. Egyptian mythology is the same -- it centers around the life-giving artery of Egypt, the Nile River. To the religious mind, things happen on earth because the gods purposed for them to do so. But as humanity grew in knowledge, and we learned that weather is caused by the Sun heating parts of the earth unequally because of the earth’s tilt, and we learned that the tide is caused by gravity, and we learned that we have seasons again because of the earth’s tilt, the gods were needed to explain less and less. Everything had a logical cause, a reason. This is why Fredrick Nietzsche declared that God was dead -- not out of arrogance, but as someone commenting on the knowledge of society at that time. But everyone has some bias, and this is why the distinction is blurred. Different people draw the line in different places. Theistic people may admit that events, actions, and so forth have a natural reason, but they say the reason is wrapped up in divine purpose. Nontheists say there is always a reason, but not always a purpose. Where a particular raindrop falls has a reason -- physics and probability determine it. But there is no God to will a raindrop to fall in a particular spot on the beach.

Another example is the idea of luck, which stems from probability. I grew up in a church where you were frowned on for saying “Good luck” or “That was lucky”. You instead were supposed to say “God bless you!” or “Wow, you are so blessed.” I was never taken with this concept, and didn’t practice it. But when anyone says “Lady Luck smiled on you!”, they don’t actually think there’s some supernatural woman out there who purposely manipulates probability so that one man walks away a winner and the other loses everything. They just mean “You benefited from probability today!”.

That simple statement -- “everything has a reason” -- also is the basis of the free will/predestination argument. When I was a fundamentalist, I had the viewpoint that we determine what we do, although God knows the end result. Some people think things are predestined -- pre-purposed - and God has decided in advance who will join him in Heaven and who will be thrown into Hell, although everyone who believes in predestination happens to believe they’re predestined for Heaven. I’m also unsure as to how they justify God sending people off to Hell arbitrarily, although I can’t justify God sending people to hell, period. Personally, the argument behind free will has never really interested me; I fail to see the relevance. But I do know now what the underlying cause of this argument is -- this blurring of the line between reason and purpose.

In the end, all of these arguments boil down to reason and purpose, even the most basic question of all, that of origins. Some people believe there is some divine purpose to life -- they want to think they were personally fashioned for a purpose. Not only do they liked to think they were made for a purpose, they like to think everything happens for them for a purpose. It makes “bad’ things more tolerable. Stopped at a red-light? God arranged things so that it would stop you, so that you wouldn’t get in a wreck a little on down the road. Family member dies in their youth? God killed them off so you could remember the hope you have in Him, the hope of resurrection.. Religious extremism threatening World War III? Armageddon. But their faith in purpose is undermined when things happen, the purpose of which escapes them, like the immutable suffering in underdeveloped parts of the world that is not eased by death, because those people happen to believe in their tribal faiths, or because Catholic missionaries got there before the Protestant ones did. They wonder “Why?” and if they ask the question long enough, their belief in a purpose-filled life may be thrown into doubt. But for those of us who do not believe in divine purpose because there is no divine being to give purpose, the world is seen only through reason. The stop-light turned red because it’s on a timer. The family member died because someone was driving too fast and not paying attention. If there was a wreck on down the road, or if you do feel you have hope, this is coincidental and/or irrelevant.

And here the purpose-believing theist will say that nontheists should all be morose and disheartened because there is no purpose we’re here, other than a particular sperm found its way to a particular egg . But I am not morose, and I am not disheartened. I have established purpose in my life, as do most people, whether they believe in a god or gods or not. Some people pin their life’s orbit around devotion to family, some to religion, some to material gain. Personally, I can conceive of no purpose greater than to devote my life toward building up humanity, working for a better tomorrow.

Here I reach this writing’s conclusion, and to end I will repeat my points. I agree with the user who said everything has a reason, and I add to it by saying “…if not a purpose.”. I believe the line between reason and purpose is blurred, and different people make the distinction differently. I believe the distinction between reason and purpose is the base of a lot of philosophical and theological arguments -- from ideas on origin to the idea of free will. And finally, I believe everyone makes their own purpose, inside or outside belief in gods.

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15 December 2006

If This Be Treason...(II)

...make the most of it. This essay deals with my departure from Oneness Pentecostalism.

Why I Left and Whither I Went

So how did I come to reject Pentecostalism? One of my favorite pastimes is reading deconversion stories. I find that most people leave religion for one of two reasons: either their faith leaves them wanting emotionally, or it leaves them wanting intellectually. My case was emotional unfulfillment. When I began posting on the Ex-Pentecostal forums in January of 2006, I still believed Pentecostalism was truth. By that point, however, my faith was dead. I knew God was impotent in my life. I was calloused to the threat of Hell -- I didn’t give a damn about being damned. I was utterly discouraged and bone-weary. But what brought me to that, and why didn’t I just adopt a more liberal form of Christianity rather than rejecting it altogether?

I was raised in the Pentecostal church from the time I was a baby. I was named after Biblical characters, and I was “dedicated” to God as a baby by my parents. The church was life. All of my friends were there. People cared about me there. It was home. As a child, I wanted to follow Acts 2:38; I wanted to be saved. I wanted God to make me into a better person. It took me a while to get around to doing it, as I was shy and didn’t want to go down front and be surrounded by yelling people, but eventually I did get saved. I did so in an upstairs room, with my father. I was exuberant; so happy that I had done the right thing, followed the rules, and no longer had to worry about going to Hell or missing the Rapture.

Being a child, though, I didn’t know how to maintain my newfound “relationship”. As I went from being a preteen to a teenager, I knew I had to “get right with God” and “pray through”. I did so at a revival with a man named Steve Grimsley -- the white male version of Miss Cleo. He dressed like an undertaker, looked like a corpse, and had a deep, booming voice. His "gift" was prophecy. His parlor tricks are laughable to me now, but being a superstitious kid, they terrified me. When he approached me, I was clutching the backs of the pews and weeping profusely, scared to death and knowing that this was it: God was going to get me. It was scary, but when Grimsley motioned for me to come out, I did. He prayed for me twice, both times telling me I had received God’s spirit. I told him I didn’t hear myself the first time, so anxious was I to be sure. That night, I became a Christian.

Unlike my preteen experience, this go-around was “real”. I started stepping outside of my comfort zone and raising my hands. I sang loudly and did “victory marches” around the church during hyperemotional worship services. I prayed all of the time and read my Bible; I went to the rallies and the conferences. I became a Young-Earth-Creationist by watching Kent Hovind’s tapes. I was at my fundamentalist peak in tenth and eleventh grade…but all was not well. September 11th happened when I was in eleventh grade. My first instinct was to pray, and I did: this was the Beginning of the End, I knew. But I was terrified, as I closed my eyes in English class. What if the Rapture had preceded this and I missed it? I was never quite sure that I was going; I had been worried about that all of my life and old habits died hard. That wasn’t the only problem: I couldn’t get excited about Heaven. The general idea, yes -- meeting Jesus and my namesakes would be fun. But my idea of heaven was a park with grass and lush trees and a sparkling lake -- not streets of gold and gates of pearls. Those things didn’t appeal to me. The Rapture, even though I wanted to go, didn’t excite me either. I didn’t want to leave Earth: I liked it here. I wanted to graduate high school, marry, and raise a family. Even at the height of my fundamentalism, I longed for heaven on Earth -- I wanted to see the earth peaceful, healthy, and united in love.

There was another problem: a huge one, one so insurmountable that my only way to deal with it was to ignore it. The problem was that I had never had an intense emotional encounter with God -- not the life-altering kind people spoke of. What was so basic that even the lowliest sinner could do it -- feeling God -- was alien to me. I’ve never felt a supernatural presence the way other people claim to. I recognize why now, but back then it scared me. I thought I had somehow blasphemed the Holy Ghost. Evangelists coming directly to me encouraged me into thinking that God hadn’t forgotten about me, but those emotional experiences always evaporated. I didn’t want to be like Esau or Saul: I was scared of the possibility that I had somehow pushed God so far that he had shut me off from his grace forever.

This was not a momentary crisis of faith; these feelings were in me for years. I hid from them, covered them up with wishful thinking, pretended that they were not there. They started getting to me, though. I stopped wanting to go to rallies and conferences because they reminded me of what I wasn’t: God was directing the lives of those people, working on their behalf and allowing them to serve him. I felt estranged from God, even abandoned sometimes. In late 2004, I could no longer hide from my doubts. I realized that I couldn’t be saved; not without that emotional encounter.

2005 was a rough year for me. My hope in God waned slowly, painfully. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was going to Hell. I realized I deceived myself back during that revival with Grimsley and THAT was why God would have nothing to do with me now. I sympathized with Isaiah, who cried “Woe is me! For I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and […] mine eyes have seen the King.” I felt cursed: cursed because I had been raised in this, and had somehow failed despite the advantages “God” had given me. I felt my life was futile and worthless -- that I was going to be forever lost. I felt like spiritual jetsam. It didn’t help that I was utterly alone in this: I had told no one what I was going through.

By the time November of 2005 rolled around, I was done with religion. God had failed me and I him. He was ignoring me, and I was ignoring him. I left services (I wasn’t going out of choice) depressed and angry. I was angry at myself for the failure I was unaware of. I was angry at God for allowing me to be born into this hellbound life; angry at him for ignoring me. I felt like the character of Luke in Cool Hand Luke, speaking to God: “Ol' timer, let me know You're up there. Come on. Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it…” Eventually, like Luke, I concluded: “...I'm just standin' in the rain talkin' to myself." In January, I signed up at the Ex-Pentecostal forums to see what they were like. I told my story and started on a journey that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life.

At the Ex-Pentecostal forum, I discovered freethought. I learned to rely on reason and empathy to live life -- not an old book. I went back to my roots -- a love of education and a love for humanity -- and flourished as I never had before. I no longer believe in the god of my parents, nor do I believe in anything supernatural. Neither of them pass the test of reason. I worship at only one altar; the altar of love. Love for truth and humanity drive me these days. No religion, belief system, or god can compete with the power of a free mind and an open heart.

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If This Be Treason....

...make the most of it.

From Whence I Came: Pentecostalism

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The subject line is how I began my deconversion process from fundamentalist Christianity -- it was the title of my introduction post at the Ex-Pentecostal.org forums, As my starting point for this blog, I would like to tell the story of my departure from Christianity. I was raised in a different Christianity than are most people, and to better explain my deconversion, an explanation of what I deconverted from is in order. My parents converted to Pentecostalism when they started their family. The church they began attending was started by the Home Missions department of the United Pentecostal Church International. While its theological differences with mainline Christianity and even Pentecostalism are numerous, the defining difference between the UPCI and other Christian organizations is its denial of the Trinity.

The UPCI is a fundamentalist organization, holding to the idea that the Christian Bible is The Word of God and is automatically inerrant. Anything that disagrees with the Bible is automatically wrong -- including philosophies and ideas arrived at through the use of reason. Humanity literally fell from grace through Adam’s sin, and throughout our history God has attempted to reach us through various dispensations. For whatever reason, after God flooded the entire world, he chose Abraham and his kin to be his Chosen People. To protect the Hebrews from their sinful nature, God made a covenant with Moses and established the Law. The Hebrews’ history is a history of transgression and repentance. After hundreds of years, God gives up on the Hebrews temporarily. After a few blank pages in the Bible are turned, we come to the New Testament. This is where Pentecostalism begins to depart from mainstream Christianity. God overcomes Mary, wraps part of himself in flesh, and dwells among men for 33.5 years. His name is Jesus, of course, and after healing people and annoying the hell out of the Pharisees, he is executed by the Romans, only to come back to life a couple of days later. (Where people get “three” days I don’t know: Jesus wasn’t killed until Friday afternoon, and he was resurrected Sunday morning. That’s barely two days, put together: Friday afternoon & evening, Saturday, and Sunday morning.)

Jesus hangs around earth for 40 days, then catches a celestial tow to Heaven from the Mount of Olives. Here is where mainstream Christianity stops: people “accept Jesus into their hearts”, pray the sinner’s prayer, and do their best to live like good people from then on. Pentecostalism is just getting started. Before zipping off to Heaven, Jesus tells his followers to tarry in Jerusalem until they’re endued with power from on high. “About” 120 of them do, and they meet in the Upper Room. There they await the promise and seek God. God fills all of them with the Holy Ghost, and they speak in tongues. Peter goes outside and establishes the Pentecostal Plan of Salvation:

Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” If you, the reader, have not done this then you are damned to Hell. Pentecostalism is rather exclusive. Repentance is pretty obvious: the convert recognizes that they are a sinner, says they are sorry, asks for forgiveness, and promises to live godly with God’s help. I should add that God has to CALL you to repentance: you can’t just repent on your own accord. After this comes baptism. The convert is dunked into a tub of water in Jesus’ name (titles do not suffice), putting their sins “under the blood”. When they come up out of the water, ideally they should be speaking in tongues. This means that God has filled them with his spirit, which they call the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the coup de grace in killing the flesh. Without it, no one can enter Heaven. This process is supposed to mirror Jesus’ own experiences. As he died in the flesh, the convert dies to his fleshly nature by repenting. As Jesus was buried (well, stuck in a cave), the convert is “buried” under water. As Jesus rose from the dead, the convert is “born again” . This is salvation -- but it doesn’t end there. I’ve never met a “once-saved, always-saved” Pentecostal. Now that the convert is a saint, he or she must maintain their salvation -- lest they lose it.

Maintaining salvation means following all of the rules. Go to church as often as you can, give tithes and offering, and witness to people. Pray nightly. Pentecostals don’t just witness to the atheists and the Buddhists: they witness to the Methodists and Calvinists, too. Unless a Christian has “spoken in tongues” to prove they have God living inside of them, they are not saved. If “Hell is other people”, Heaven will be Heaven by virtue of the lack of people. Time and time again, I’m told that the Holy Ghost is a gentleman. God “doesn’t force himself” on you. Like a gentleman, God is very selective about whom he associates with, holding those who are in his good graces to a certain standard. So it is with Pentecostals.

Pentecostals are commanded to “be ye separate”. Having the Holy Ghost inside of someone means that they should embody holiness. They are to live holy and dress holy. Dressing holy means adhering to a dress code, or “standard”. Much of this is codified, but some is left to the local pastor’s discretion. Some examples of each: all women are expected to wear dresses and leave their hair uncut. However, wearing jewelry or having facial hair is up to the pastor’s discretion. “Standards” don’t apply to the convert’s body: they apply to the convert’s life, as they are to be holy. Apostolics (as they call themselves, and so I will call them so not to confuse them with other Pentecostals/charismatics) are to be careful about who they associate with and where they go. Some of these prohibitive standards (like banning movie-going) are Apostolic traditions, respected in nearly every church. Other standards are again left up to the pastor’s discretion and “personal convictions” (like going to bowling allies and ball games). The major prohibitive standard in my life was a ban on television sets.

Pentecostals (Apostolic or otherwise) have two practices that may be unfamiliar to the mainstream Christian. The first is their very active praise and worship services. First to explain what praise and worship mean to the Apostolic. They are expected of the saint. Praise is essentially thanking God for his blessings: Apostolics thank God for healing their headache, waking them up in the morning, and giving them a safe trip to church. This is like burning incense in the old testament: it gets God’s attention. Worship is revering God for who he is: telling him how wonderful he is, how mighty he is, how holy he is. This is where the saint “entertains the spirit of God” once he’s come down and “moves”. To the objective mind, it seems humorously absurd that the all-that-is would need or want worship. I think that the reason these practices are required is because they serve to remind the Apostolic about how much they depend on the God, and by extension the church. These practices remind the active saint that they are not mighty or holy; that they are worthless, deserving of nothing better than eternal hellfire if not for God’s grace. These practices are not passive practices; as I’ve said they’re very active. Praise and worship involve at the very least singing/speaking aloud and lifting the hands. Pentecostals are known as the “Holy-Rollers”. This is not an exaggeration: they really do roll on the floors. They scream, buck, dance, and jump. They stagger into walls, potted plants, and slow people. Overwhelmed by emotion, people often collapse onto the floor. At the end of a “good” service, the pews are out of line from people backing into them. There may be scattered hair accessories (from the ladies) on the floor. There are often people sitting by themselves, weeping. Don't be suprised if the preacher removes his coat, tie, and shirt in the process of a sermon. I have witnessed preachers throwing potted plants at the audience. An Apostolic/Pentecostal service is not a place for someone who is offended by excessive emotionalism. There is no part of an Pentecostal service free from noise.

The second practice is that of faith healing. Apostolics believe they are filled with God’s spirit, and have the power to raise the dead, heal the sick, and so on. Corporate prayer for needs always features in the Apostolic worship service, and is usually one of the lengthier portions. Saints come to the front and the pastor, his hands wet with olive oil, touches their forehead and prays for them. There is nothing too trivial to pray over. Another practice is that of “prayer cloths”; small bits of clothing are anointed with the oil and then taken to whoever needs a blessing. Another belief is that sometimes God speaks directly to the congregation through tongues. First someone speaks loudly in tongues, then God gives the tongues.

Considering the inherent difficulties in obtaining and maintaining Apostolic salvation; get the feeling that there aren’t going to be too terribly many people in Heaven? Hell, on the other hand, will be filled to the brim with people who cured polio, fought the Nazis, and made life on Earth better for those who came after them. The Left Behind books would have played out quite differently using the Apostolic method of salvation. Can you imagine someone standing in an execution line realizing that they were wrong and asking the Antichrist for a large tub of water and a preacher? I have always liked comparing Apostolic salvation to the idea of having a coat-and-tie rule at a homeless shelter.

For a number of reasons, the Pentecostal church is very intrusive. The isolation from general society forces Apostolics to depend on their local church for everything. The power given the pastor over the affairs of saints’ lives and the absolute obedience they are commanded to give him makes the pastor a very powerful figure, sometimes resulting in a cult of personality. His opinionated commandments, supposedly given to him by God, override personal opinion and reason. If he is wrong, the pastor says, then God will judge him. The saints are rewarded for obedience -- not questioning. (This lends itself well to corruption and abuse of power, as you can imagine.) Church dominates life: it IS life for the Apostolic, saved or otherwise. Everything is fixed around the idea of church. Every gift you have is god-given, and God expects you to use it for his purpose. The preachers say that we are slaves to either Satan or Jesus, and choosing between the two of them is our purpose in this mortal life. We were told that our bodies and lives were not our own -- that they had been bought with a price, despite having never been up for sale by us.

I don’t know if it’s possible to express how intrusive religion was. Oneness Pentecostalism is a very demanding faith, so taxing on time and energy that if it were pursued you would hardly have time for any other endeavors. But because they salvation is so fragile a gift, they don’t mind the sacrifices. They truly don’t want to go to movies; why risk losing salvation considering the consequences? God may not call you back to repent, and if you can’t repent of your sin you’ll burn in Hell forever. If, however, you obeyed all of the rules and believed in God with everything you had, you could make it. You could enjoy spending hours at church dancing and listening to a preacher scream at you, followed by supper at Shoney’s. It is possible to find hope and purpose in this system -- and for the rare few that do, they know it’s the Only Way.

What, though, of the people who cannot find hope and purpose? What if they never feel drawn to repentance? What happens when they are forced to obey all of the rules and receive no rewards? What happens if the Only Way doesn’t work? Then religion became nothing but a burden, and the God of heaven an ever-present, nagging bully. The threats of Hell and the Rapture haunt everything, taxing the unsaved person’s ability to enjoy anything. How was it that I, raised in this system from the time I was a baby, walked away from it? How was I able to overcome the brainwashing (to be frank) and question boldly even the existence of a God, as Thomas Jefferson recommended? Read on.

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