The Golden Rule in different religions.

goldenrule

Almost all world religions preach some form of the Golden Rule.   We should all strive to be good to each other and treat others as we want to be treated ourselves, and most religions recognize that.  We need to stop hating each other over our differences, and instead come together over our similarities.  To insist that wanting to find common ground with people of other faiths is something evil or diabolical is a huge lie that many of us are told.

Only a very few religions do not believe in or practice the Golden Rule.  Satanism generally doesn’t, but Anton LaVey’s version of Satanism (which is really just libertarianism dressed up with some “black magic” and its own “bible” — LaVey Satanists are actually atheists) does ask its followers to at least not hurt others or destroy the environment while you’re busy being a selfish SOB.  Most Pagan religions, including Wicca, follow some form of the Golden Rule too.  Many atheists also practice the Golden Rule as a matter of personal choice.  I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that a person can’t have morals or a conscience unless they believe in God or some higher intelligence.  Some of the most moral, caring, and compassionate people I can think of are atheists and agnostics.

There have been many violent and hateful religions as long as mankind has been on earth, but today the two most obvious examples that come to my mind are the twisted extremist perversions of Islam and Christianity known respectively as radical Islam and Christian Dominionism, both which seem to regard the Golden Rule as sinful or wrong and prefer to use the rhetoric of fear, terror, war and battle to achieve domination.  I have heard there’s an extremist branch of Hinduism that is like this too.  There may be others.  There are certainly many cults as well with nefarious goals and anti-social doctrine.

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Religion is Gaslighting

Here is a slight rebuttal to my post of the other day, but also some excellent points are made here and I don’t disagree — particularly her comment about the commandment “Honor Thy Mother and Father.” Some parents simply do not deserve to be honored, at least not in the way we normally think of honoring them. It would be doing a disservice to ourselves AND our parents to continue to enable toxic ones. No Contact may be the best way to “honor” such a parent. I don’t agree with everything here, but much of it I do.

Please leave comments under the original post.

CLUSTER B

fascismA dear friend of mine, Lucky Otter, has a blog post criticizing Christian Dominionism called Christian Dominionism has taken over the GOP. I appreciate 99% of what she has written but there is one statement that I not only disagree with, it has inspired this blog post.

Now, the old Testament has much to recommend it, and of course the Ten Commandments are just plain old common sense. Personally, I have no objection to the Commandments being displayed in courthouses or “In God We Trust” being printed on the dollar bill, because these things don’t necessarily favor only Christians and they’re simply good advice for anyone. They don’t repress, oppress, or marginalize anyone. They don’t hurt people or the environment. They don’t undermine the Constitution or our freedoms. People who object to these things really ought to turn their minds to more important issues that actually affect their lives.

View original post 1,754 more words

The ultimate dissociative experience.

thanatophobia2

Death isn’t something I like to think about, much less write about.  In fact, it’s my biggest fear (outside of the death of one of my children).  Oh, I know all the pat arguments and rationalizations that it’s not so bad–death is a part of life, death is nothing to be afraid of, if you’re a good Christian you will go to Heaven and there will be no fear, nothing at all will happen so there will be no fear, even the idea that death is beautiful.

I woke this morning, as I often do, thinking about how much I fear my own death.  I think this is a little obsessive-compulsiveness on my part, and probably something I should talk about more in therapy.   The mental health field has a name for the irrational or excessive fear of death: thanatophobia.    So far I’ve only talked to God about my phobia but I feel like He isn’t listening.     People in my age group (50’s) say they’re beginning to come to terms with the prospect of death, but so far, for me, that hasn’t happened.  I get more scared every year.

Maybe death terrifies me because it entails complete ego loss–it’s the ultimate dissociative experience, and as someone who has had massive panic attacks usually instigated by dissociative experiences (feeling out my body, feeling like things are dreamlike or unreal, etc.) it would be natural for me to be afraid of what it might feel like.   It’s like someone who had a bad drug trip and is mentally unstable to begin with being slipped some acid when they’re unaware of it–and never being able to return to reality.

I don’t like to write about death, because even thinking about it too long makes me extremely anxious.  But I need to write about it, and need to talk about it with others, and maybe find comfort in the fact that others have the same sense of trepidation and worry.  Maybe I’m not alone in my fear of death and dying.   So I’m going to plow on. Writing about it surely can’t hurt.

thanatophobia

I’ve been told by many Christians that, if I am strong in my faith, that there is nothing to fear, because I can be sure of my place in Heaven after I die.   But this makes things even worse for me, because I do have doubts in my faith and I am not at certain I am going to Heaven, or even that there is a Heaven.   No matter how much I pray for perfect faith, I can’t seem to make my mind rid itself of its many doubts.   There are just some things about Christianity I can’t make myself believe or at least not question.  Again, maybe it’s my obsessive-compulsiveness.   As someone who is afraid to trust anyone and is hypervigilant, it’s even hard for me to completely trust God and not worry about what will happen to me after I die. I look at others–even narc abuse survivors who should be as hypervigilant as I am–who seem to have attained perfect faith and I marvel at this. How do they do it?

Although it’s hard for me to believe that if I question Christianity or what the Bible says, that God will send me to burn in Hell for eternity even if I’m otherwise a good person (that seems like a terribly cruel, narcissistic God to me), how do I know for sure God isn’t like that?  Maybe God is really that cruel and narcissistic, but in that case, why would I want to even spend eternity in Heaven, trapped there with sanctimonious, self righteous, insufferable believers? (I’m not saying all believers are like that, but I’ve met more than a few who are).  In that case, maybe Heaven would be more like Hell.     But Hell…well, I definitely don’t want to go there.

But Christianity is only one way to look at the issue of death.  Let’s face it.   No matter how sure you are in your faith, whatever it is, none of us really knows what’s going to happen after we die.   What if the New Agers are right and what happens is you look back and see yourself lying on the hospital bed, pavement, or whatever, see your own broken, bleeding, or used-up body there, and then watch as they pull the sheet over your head?  What if you are swooshed at light-speed down a long tunnel toward “the light” and meet angels and see otherworldly landscapes and other inexplicable things?   Or what if you float around the earth as a disembodied spirit, revisiting your friends and relatives you left behind?   People who have reported NDE’s (near death experiences) have said that at some point they become aware they have died (that’s usually when they “come back”) and most say it’s very disorienting and even scary at first, because their bodies just aren’t there.   All of these things, no matter how pleasant others have said they are, strike terror in me, because they sound like dissociative experiences that you can never escape from.   I’ve struggled with episodes of dissociation my entire life, but no matter how terrifying they became, I always knew I’d “return” and the experience would probably only last a few minutes.   Does something happen after you die where you’re no longer afraid of such things, or do you just learn to deal with it?

death_quote

Maybe this is true, but I wish I could believe it.

What if the atheists and existentialists are right and nothing happens after you die?  What if you simply cease to exist?   While I find that prospect extremely depressing,  it actually causes me the least anxiety.   Eternal sleep and unconsciousness doesn’t seem so bad to me.  If you’re aware of nothing, well, there’s nothing to be afraid of or get depressed about, is there?  But I still don’t like the idea that this life is ultimately meaningless.   What is all the struggle for then?

Reincarnation doesn’t seem so bad, and actually does make some logical sense to my scientifically-leaning brain, but it flies in the face of being a Christian.   I don’t know of any Christians who acknowledge that reincarnation is a possibility after death.  But why couldn’t it be? As a Catholic, we believe in the concept of purgatory, a place of purification (not punishment) after death.  But no one can explain what purgatory might be like.  Maybe living additional lives is what purgatory actually means?   Again…we just don’t know.

'It's not that I'm afraid of dying, Doctor... It's just that I don't want to be there when it happens!'

‘It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, Doctor… It’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens!’

Maybe we just go back to wherever we were before we were born, and have amnesia for this life. Or maybe it’s like eternal dreaming (that doesn’t sound too bad). Again, we don’t know.

Besides the inevitable experience of death, which seems bad enough, I’m terrified by the prospect of dying.   I’m in my 50’s, and figure I might (realistically) have about another two or three decades of life left.   To someone my age, that doesn’t seem so long.  Twenty years ago was 1996; thirty years ago was 1986.   That means that in that same amount of time, going forward, I will probably be leaving my body permanently, but before that, I may well suffer either unbelievable pain or a few moments of sheer terror.   Few people just die peacefully in their sleep or just suddenly keel over while out on the golf course (that’s the way a 90 year old great uncle of mine died).   Most suffer first, either for months (as in a long illness) or a few seconds (as in an accident).   I’m terrified of both.  I know there’s no way to get out of this life alive, so the inevitable is going to happen, and there’s not a whole lot of time left before it does. Even worse, each year time seems to hurtle forward twice as fast as the year before. What seemed like “a long time ago” to me twenty years ago now seems like the blink of an eye.

As someone who tends to overthink everything,  I probably think about death and dying way too much.  I know I should just stop and enjoy life while I still have it.   But the more I try not to think about it, the more I seem to.   It’s like that game where you try not to think about an elephant.  I pray about this all the time but it hasn’t helped very much.    I just keep feeling guilty because  no matter how hard I try, I can’t embrace my Christianity with perfect faith.   I have no guarantee I’m going to Heaven.   I keep questioning everything and then I worry about going to hell.  Or being eternally dissociated, which to me would be hell.  Or just worrying about the intolerable suffering that will precede my exit from this planet.    Maybe I need to talk to my therapist about this because it seems like it could be a form of undiagnosed OCD.

Further Reading:
My Fear of Death

Which religion is the One True Religion?

onetruereligion

I came across a fascinating post over at Godless Cranium’s blog. Although I’m not an atheist, I always find his posts thought-provoking and he raises a lot of great questions. This one really got me thinking.

Until recently I’ve been agnostic, and I still have a lot of agnostic views. I don’t expect those to all change any time soon. But this week I decided to become Catholic. I know, I know, a lot of you are thinking, WTF? Why would you choose such an ancient, archaic, bloated religion that has a violent past full of hypocrisy, bloodshed and immoral practices such as people being bilked out of their hard earned money to get someone out of Purgatory? I have my reasons. If you’re interested in why I chose this faith over others, you can read the two posts I wrote a few days ago.

That being said, do I think the Catholic church is the “right” religion? Not really. It may be all wrong for someone else, but for a number of reasons, I think it will work for me. Catholics actually believe all Christians are going to heaven, and some non-Christians who do good works are going there too. I like that. But they still have their doctrine that holds that it’s much, much better to be a Christian, even a non-Catholic one, so a non-Christian’s chances of getting to heaven still aren’t very good.

Muslims believe they are the only ones going to heaven. Allah will save a faithful Muslim but everyone else, including all Christians, will go to their version of hell. What if they are right? I mean, they could be, right? They are as convinced as any Christian that their Allah is the One True God and believing anything else is heresy.

Closer to home, many fundamentalist Protestant denominations think only members of their particular denomination will go to heaven. There are about 30,000 Protestant denominations. Which one is right? Then of course there are the offshoots of Christianity that don’t really fit into traditional Christianity–Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons come to mind. Without exception, they all believe their faith is the one true religion and only their Bible is the correct one.

There are the non-Abrahamic religions too–Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other eastern religions, as well as Wicca and various forms of paganism and shamanism, not to mention Scientology and Santeria. Even though they don’t worship the western God and don’t use any version of the Bible, their adherents all think they’re right. Who is to say they aren’t?

Who is right? Is anyone right? Maybe the atheists are right and there is no God or afterlife at all.

onetruereligion2

None of us will know for certain what will happen until we die. If we are just annihilated at death we will never be surprised there is no God waiting for us at the pearly gates because there will be no consciousness to draw such a conclusion. Perhaps reincarnation is what will happen. I can imagine many evangelical Christians being gobsmacked when they realize the Buddhists were right all along. Who’s to say? There are some very good arguments in favor of reincarnation. There are even some Christians who don’t think the idea of reincarnation can’t be reconciled with Christianity.

My head is swimming.

Maybe what happens is whatever we believe will happen. If you’re a good Christian and believe you will go to heaven, then better start shining that halo. If you’re a miserable person who thinks you deserve fiery torture, then to hell you go. If you worship Allah and believe you have pleased that God, then expect Arabic to be spoken in heaven. If you’re a Jew you will find the promised land. If you’re a Buddhist get ready for Nirvana (but be ready for a few more thousand earthly lives first). If you’re a Scientologist, L.Ron Hubbard instead of Jesus will meet you at the gates. If you’re an atheist you may be surprised you aren’t annihilated after all, but what to do then? It might be nice to be free of an earthly body, but you’ll have to decide on some sort of afterlife for yourself. Maybe if you don’t believe in anything you’ll spend eternity floating around aimlessly here on earth. Maybe ghosts are really confused atheists who have passed on.

Is it possible everyone is right and there is no one true religion? Because if only one of them was right, wouldn’t there be a way for God to show us slow-witted humans which one was the One True Religion, while identifying the rest as false? Answering “The Bible answers this” doesn’t cut it, because so many groups of Christians can’t seem to agree. Even those that use the same Bible can’t agree on how to interpret many of the passages. Then of course there are different translations of the Bible and not all are exactly the same. Some even include extra books (Catholics and Mormoms) that are considered heretic by other Christians. And of course, the Muslims can counter any Christian argument by smugly stating, “It’s all here in the Q’uran.”

It’s enough to make my head explode.

So apparently God accepted my deal… (Part Two of Two)

stainedglass

As far as Catholic mysticism goes, I never had a problem with it and don’t now. In fact, I always liked the idea of Mary and the saints, not for any theological reason, but simply because sometimes the saints and Mary are just easier for the average person to relate to. According to Catholic theology, in no way does Mary or the saints replace Jesus and God. They are venerated and honored, not worshipped. They act as intercessors and do not answer prayers themselves, but pray on behalf of the person who is addressing them and those prayers are offered to God. Of course, belief in Mary and the saints is not a requirement for Catholics, but is encouraged. Mary is particularly venerated because, as the woman chosen by God to give birth to the human incarnation of Himself (Jesus), she is held in high esteem by God and deserves such honor. I happen to agree with this. I always thought Mary was sort of cool, actually. As far as her physical assumption into Heaven, I have some problems with that, but it’s a minor point and I’m willing to let it go. Again, this doctrine is not a requirement to be a Catholic.

Although unscientific, I really like the idea of transubstantiation (the literal transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during Communion). Suspending scientific disbelief at the climax of the Catholic mass, Communion (which is considered a sacrament, not merely a symbolic ritual) becomes something very special and mysterious and seems an appropriate way to end such a solemn event as the Mass. I also like the “Peace be with you” ritual, where just before communion, parishioners turn to one another and offer this sentiment. If only this sentiment were more often followed in daily life! Throughout my life, I always felt a sense of great peace during this and the Communion rituals, something I never felt at any Protestant service.

In the Catholic faith, while we are saved by grace and Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, grace ALONE is not enough. Protestantism in part arose from Martin Luther’s idea that grace alone was enough to satisfy God, and works were not important. But works are very important. While works won’t give you salvation, they are important as a means to practice and use the grace Jesus gave us when he died on the cross. In evangelical Protestantism, you can be a murderer or a selfish, immoral person in life but will still get to heaven if you accept Jesus as your personal savior. There’s something wrong with that picture and it just seems very lazy to me. They get to have their cake and eat it too: say a few words in the “sinner’s prayer,” but not be required to show anything for it (although according to most evangelicals, accepting Jesus will change your heart so you won’t want to do bad things–of course this doesn’t always seem to play out in reality!).

I also found out that Catholics do NOT condemn other Christians (or even non-Christians who do good works in life) to eternal torment. (This is a sea change from what I understood the Vatican taught when I was in grammar school.) It seems the Vatican has changed their stance on this issue, and they now accept that ALL Christians who accept Jesus as their divine Savior will go to Heaven, regardless of denomination. (It’s okay to be Protestant!) Denomination is regarded as personal preference. It’s tragic how much bloodshed and misery has resulted between groups of Christians who couldn’t agree on the extraneous details of their religion, Catholics in the past having been one of the biggest perpretators (which the Church readily admits). Even if you’re not a Christian but are a good and moral person, you will not necessarily go to hell (although the greatest glories of Heaven may be barred to you). Hell itself is something Catholics can’t seem to agree on, and while some interpret it as a literal lake of fire, others do not (hell being merely a spiritual state of separation from God). However, there does seem to be a consensus that if you are a terrible person who spends most of your life deliberately hurting others, you will probably go to hell. And of course, there is also Purgatory, which is kind of a way station on the way to Heaven, for those who have been saved, but whose works don’t measure up. Purgatory has been one of the biggest bones of contention between Catholics and Protestants, but it makes sense to me, and it’s purpose has been misunderstood by many as one of temporary punishment rather than spiritual cleansing. According to fundamentalist Protestants, you are going to heaven or hell, with nothing in between. I just could never get on board with that because people aren’t all good or all bad. There are many shades of gray in between. In a nutshell, all that’s required to get to heaven is a belief that Jesus was born, lived and died on the cross to save us from our sins–something that evangelical Protestants also believe. All the other stuff (belief in the Bible as a literal document rather than allegory, evolution [divinely inspired] vs. creationism, veneration of Mary and the saints, participation in the sacraments, etc.) is basically window dressing that helps Catholics in their faith and their journey with God.

mary

Getting back to my own journey these past few days, the thing that happened that made me realize that maybe God had seen my post and was taking me up on my challenge to Him, was that suddenly I understood the concept of the Trinity in a personal way. In the past, I never could wrap my mind around how God could be three persons in one, no matter how hard I tried or how many Bible verses born-agains tried to make me read. Out of the blue, it all made perfect sense. There is God the Father (the one who created the universe), God the Son (God presented himself in human form because that was the only way we could truly understand each other and because only God in human form could deliver us from sin) and the Holy Spirit (which is basically what you feel when a hymn, sermon or religious work of art makes you teary eyed or overcome with awe–I also think the holy spirit can get through via ANY transformative experience, be it a work of art or piece of music, nature, encounter, etc.). I know I’m not explaining my revelation very well, but I could see how this concept does not negate science or logic. It was also very comforting. After reading the personal stories of conversion on WhyImCatholic.com and explanation of Catholic theology on Catholic.com, I realized that perhaps I could be “saved” after all–as a Roman Catholic.

Why Catholic? After all, there are a few mainstream Protestant faiths that don’t preach about hell and Satan, and are more “liberal” than Catholicism and may be in keeping with a progressive worldview like mine, but honestly I always found those churches to be kind of wishy-washy, as if they were cherry-picking what they liked from traditional Christianity and chucking the rest. Their theology seems like a sort of copout, a man-made compromise that has nothing to do with God. I don’t get that feeling about the Catholic church, even though they have updated many of their traditional doctrines for modern times.

It also holds a great deal of weight for me that the Catholic church was the first organized Christian religion, and all other Christian faiths emerged or split off from that. In spite of their bloody history and many transgressions, I felt Catholicism as it stands today could be something I could accept with both my mind and heart. That being said, I do need to point out that I don’t agree with all Catholic doctrine and there are several problems I have with the Catholic church:

–Their highly heirarchical structure. While I realize this is due to tradition and is perhaps the only way to organize and administer such a huge worldwide religion, I need to find out if talking to God directly is really not a possibility, and a priest must always be a mediator between myself and the Divine.

–Their stance on abortion and contraception. While neither affects me directly (I’m no longer of childbearing age) and as I already said, their rationale does make a type of sense, it’s hard for a liberal, politically progressive woman to accept such strictures on women’s reproductive rights.

–I need to find out more about their stance on homosexuality. While the current Pope (who is pretty cool) does not condemn homosexuality and thinks too much emphasis has been put on the entire issue by evangelical Christians, it’s my understanding it’s still not acceptable according to the tenets of the Church. As a mother of a gay son, this is important for me to find out.

–Celibacy of the clergy. While on a theoretical level this actually makes a type of sense (clergy who are not married or don’t have the option to be involved in a sexual relationship are less likely to be distracted by those things and can turn their energies into a closer relationship to God), on a practical level it doesn’t seem to work: witness the recent publicization of sexual abuse cases perpetrated by Catholic clergy–it may be unrealistic to expect a human being, regardless of how pious they are, to completely divorce himself from his sexual urges and the Church’s refusal to acknowledge these physical needs may result in inappropriate sexual behavior to “whatever or whoever” is available.

–Women in the priesthood. A no brainer. Women should be allowed in the priesthood, period.

There are other problems as well, but these are the ones that bother me the most. All that being said, overall I feel that I may have finally found a spiritual “home” that works best for me–one that’s been staring me in the face my entire life but I always dismissed for one reason or another. There are a lot of negative stereotypes about Roman Catholicism and some of them are deserved, but to my surprise I realized that most are not. There are a lot of misconceptions. The Catholic church may be one of the most misunderstood religions, but it says something that it’s been around so long and continues to have so many adherents all over the world. I’ll have to dig a little deeper and make sure this is really something I’m willing and ready to embrace. Tomorrow I plan to attend Mass and talk to a priest about upcoming RCIA classes.

worldisabook

I’m completely blown away by everything that’s happened since I made that deal with God, and feel like he really is trying to get through to me. I haven’t accepted Christ yet, but I think maybe I could. One thing I have no doubt about is that God really does work in strange and mysterious ways. I’m on the quest of my life.

So apparently God accepted my deal…(Part One of Two)

outofthedarkness

For the past couple of days, I haven’t posted anything, mostly because something has happened I’ve been burning to write about, but am reluctant to because I’m afraid of what my atheist and agnostic followers will think (my feelings get hurt easily LOL). I know that’s silly, but if I don’t write about this I feel like I might explode. And I want to keep this blog active. I dearly hope my atheist and agnostic followers can keep an open mind and realize that this is something personal that has happened to ME, and in no way affects anyone else or my views about other faiths including agnosticism and atheism. I have a deep respect for all belief systems (including the right not to have one at all) and atheists and agnostics do make a lot of rational sense and I can understand why they feel the way they do about God and religion. Hell, I more or less felt that way myself until just a couple of days ago, and I don’t see myself as a person who would ever shut my mind off from their all too often very valid viewpoints.

But still. I have to blog about this, so here goes.

When I wrote my post, “I made a little deal with God,” I really didn’t expect anything to come out of it, other than a lively discussion about God and religion, which is what happened and I am grateful to all those who participated, no matter whether they’re Christians, pagans, atheists, or anything else. So after I wrote that post, I put it in the back of my mind and moved on to other things. After a couple of days, I concluded that because nothing dramatic had happened and there was no Saul-to-Paul-like “miracle” or sudden, earth-shattering change of heart, that perhaps the atheists were right and there was no God at all, that He was just a comforting construct invented by humans to deal with the stresses and injustices in our lives. Perhaps Napoleon was onto something when he said, “religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”

But in spite of all that, I’ve always been a spiritual seeker and was never satisfied with the atheistic idea that we are just a random bunch of cells that happened to glom together and gradually shape-shift into our current form. I’ve always believed there was something more, much more, but never found a religion I was happy with. Apparently God saw my post and decided to take me up on my challenge. Because two days ago while browsing the web, I came across a Catholic website, called WhyImCatholic, which is basically a bunch of testimonials from people who converted to Catholicism from other faiths, ranging from born-again (Protestant) Christianity to hardcore atheism. I have no idea how I found this website or what I was looking for, but the subject matter was interesting so I started reading some of the testimonials. Why would anyone become a Catholic, of all things? So I started to read and I couldn’t stop reading. I found that, unlike the many born-again Christians who had tried and tried without avail to explain their faith to me, these stories ACTUALLY MADE SENSE! Imagine that.

More about that later, but let me give you a little background on my relationship with Catholicism. While I’m not Catholic myself, I was raised in northern New Jersey, where Catholics were as common as toadstools after a rainstorm. Almost all my neighbors were Catholic (with a sprinkling of Jews and atheists) and I was sent to Catholic schools (the one thing I’m really grateful to my parents for, due to the superior education Catholic schools usually provide) for most of my childhood. As a child, I remember envying my Catholic friends, because of all the cool stuff and rituals their Church had–such as rosary beads, incense, a new name they got at their confirmation, and statues and painting of Mary and the saints. The Methodist church my family sometimes went to (we were really an agnostic family, and while I was sent to Sunday school and was baptized by my paternal grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, my parents were never churchgoers) didn’t have any of those awesome tangibles and there was no “mystery” to Methodism (or any other Protestant church I ever attended) like there was at the Catholic masses I had the privilege to attend with my friends or at school. As I got older, and learned more about what Catholics actually believed, I found I didn’t agree with their doctrine and also had a number of problems with their stance on abortion, homosexuality, women in the clergy, the celibacy of the priesthood, etc. But despite my issues with their beliefs, and even with my ambivalence about God and Jesus, my attraction to the Catholic mass did not wane. From time to time throughout my adulthood, I’ve attended Catholic services, just because I like the ritual and the formality of the liturgy, the chanting and the hymns. There’s a lot to be said on an aesthetic level about Catholicism, but I never really embraced what they believed and in fact now realize I had closed my mind off to a lot and had developed a lot of preconceived notions (some which are simply not true).

In 2003 I attended a 5-day retreat sponsored by a local Catholic church that also happened to be extremely progressive on many issues. It was an amazing experience (and a lot of fun), and I was surprised that one of its leaders, a Cherokee Indian named Owl, was not even a Catholic. He taught us about Cherokee symbology and mysticism and we spent one golden August afternoon making stone carvings of a “totem animal” we had chosen to represent ourselves. This was Catholicism? It was all so New Age, even Pagan. Of course this was all balanced by a morning Mass, Bible readings and very personal and deep group discussions about spirituality and God. There were other non-Catholics attending the retreat, including another agnostic, two Protestants and a Jew. There was nothing about that retreat to offend the sensibilities of an agnostic like myself, and so I decided to take their RCIA classes (the classes you are required to take to become a Catholic). But in my current spiritual state and embroiled in an impending divorce, I quickly lost interest once the discussions in the classes became too Biblical and religious. I explained to Father Bill (the priest running the classes) that I’d learned a lot but I didn’t think I was ready. He was very understanding and told me he understood and to take my time finding my path. And so I moved on, chalking up this experience to one more thing I’d undertaken but eventually abandoned (my track record for sticking with anything to the end is embarrassing). Other than attending one Midnight Mass about 5 years ago, I never thought about Catholicism again until a few days ago.

So anyway. I was reading the above-mentioned website, and was riveted by the stories of people, many much like myself–intelligent, thoughtful, educated, forward-thinking people who were ambivalent or even opposed to the idea of religion and submission to God and Jesus–who had decided through various means that the Catholic Church was right for them. I found a link on that site to another website that explained Catholic theology in exhausting detail and is set up in encyclopedic form, so that you can type in anything you want to know about in the search bar, and get all the information you need about the Catholic stance on that topic. Sometimes there was just too much to read! But what surprised and shocked me more than anything is all the misunderstandings and preconceived notions I had about the Catholic church. It came as quite a shock to find I agreed with most of their views, or at least wasn’t particularly offended by them when I didn’t agree. For example, while abortion and artificial contraception is still unacceptable, unlike fundamentalists, who preach about sin and what the Bible says/doesn’t say on these issues, the Catholic stance on these things actually made rational sense! Imagine that. I won’t get into their stance on those things here, as it’s not my desire to convert anyone, but suffice to say that there is nothing about their reasoning that offends my rational mind. I’m not saying I agree with them on these things (I don’t), but simply that their stance does not offend me. Nor does it judge opposing viewpoints in the harsh way that fundamentalist Christianity does. Granted, there are a few Catholics who are also very harsh and judgmental (and a few in politics), but they are almost always evangelical Catholics, who are not really any different from other evangelical Christians. There are extremes in any religion. It also holds a great deal of weight for me that Catholics are opposed to killing in general (in spite of their bloody past, which they have publicly apologized for), and while against abortion (for sound reasons to my way of thinking), they are also against the death penalty.

Some of the explanations the site offered seemed to be a perfect reconcilation between spirituality and science. They spoke to ME. For example, their stance on evolution is one that I’ve held myself for a very long time: that evolution is most likely a fact, proved by science (as well as the 3.5 billion year timeframe for the age of the earth), but was divinely inspired by a higher intelligence we call God. Now, they don’t actually take an official stance on this, and there are some Catholics who do buy the Creation story in the Bible, but Catholic theology doesn’t dispute evolution and it is acceptable to believe in it, as long as God is given credit for being behind it all. As for Adam and Eve, you have the choice to think of them as a literal couple in the Bible, or a figurative story about early civilized humans falling from grace. They acknowledge that while humans have probably been around for several million years, and evolved from ape-like ancestors, that shortly after we became sentient, and developed the capacity for self-awareness and the idea there was something greater overseeing things (which happened about 10,000 years ago), we fell from grace (which I won’t get into here as that’s not my aim in this article and it would take too long). Adam and Eve represent tribes of ancient peoples in the near East, not actual persons. I won’t get into all the theology behind that now, but that’s the gist of it, and it actually made sense to my skeptical, science-loving brain. Taken this way, it was possible to read the Bible as truth but realize at the same time that the details in the stories were allegorical, not a literal account of historical events. I always wondered how so many of the world’s greatest scientists could also be devout Catholics, and this explained how that could be possible. The Church’s support of science and encouragement of scientific thought is cetainly impressive: a very high emphasis is put on education and this is shown by how many Catholic-run colleges and universities there are today.

This article is getting too long and unwieldy to contain in one post, so Part Two will be posted later today. I have to run a few errands first.

Next up: Catholic mysticism, the concepts of grace vs. works, the Trinity, Jesus as Savior, and more.

Note to my atheist and agnostic readers: I certainly you continue to read and follow my blog! I value your contributions, and am in no way attempting to convert anyone, just relating what has happened to me in the past few days. I hope you keep reading!

My problem with Christianity

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I check my WP Reader almost every day, and always find fascinating viewpoints there. Of course, I don’t agree with all of them, but my mind is always opened and that’s a good thing.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of God lately, and living in a Bible Belt state, I think a lot about who Jesus really was and where a belief in the Bible and God fits into my life. I happened across a couple of excellent and well written blogs about atheism here on WordPress, and I recommend both of them to Christians and those of other faiths as well as agnostics and atheists. The two websites I’m referring to are Godless Cranium and The Superstitious Naked Ape.

There’s a lot of negative stereotypes about atheists and how arrogant and intolerant they are toward religion, Christianity in particular, but I think this view is erroneous. I’m not denying there may be a few atheists out there who are arrogant and hostile toward the idea of religion, but from my readings, I don’t get that impression. I also want to clear up the idea that atheists “hate God.” How can you hate something you don’t believe exists? It’s like hating Santa Claus or unicorns.

Let me start out by saying I am not an atheist, nor do I believe I’ll ever become one. I believe in God, and I also pray. I also occasionally like to attend church services, mostly because I enjoy the aesthetics of the service and the music, particularly that of a Catholic high mass (I am not Catholic) or the joyful gospel singing of a black Baptist church. I believe there may be angels but I am not sure (or maybe I just want to believe in them). I believe Jesus provides a great example of how we should treat others. I also believe many other men and women throughout history provide examples that are just as beneficial to humanity.

But my faith, for lack of a better word, pretty much stops there. I won’t go into a long detailed account of why I think most of the Bible is bunk (especially the Old Testament), or why I don’t believe Jesus was actually the Son of God (in the divine sense), because plenty can be said about that on both of the named websites and elsewhere, by people who know a lot more about these things than I do.

I don’t believe after we die, we only have two options–Heaven or Hell. People run the gamut from nearly totally evil to very, very good, and I don’t think anyone is 100% one or the other. None of us is perfect of course, but on the other end of the spectrum, even Hitler had a couple of good points: he loved dogs and children (as long as they were blonde, blue eyed white children). To say we will either spend eternity in a place with streets of gold and lots of harps and winged beings OR in a place of fire and eternal torment by demons just seems silly and overly simplistic–why would a God of mercy and love send an average Joe or Jane, who just doesn’t happen to have accepted Jesus as their personal savior, to a place of eternal torment? It’s black or white (and to my mind, very toxic) thinking, with no shades of gray in between, and I can’t accept that way of thinking.

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Here’s a laundry list of my problems with the idea of heaven and hell:

— If all that is required to get into Heaven is to accept Jesus as your savior, then a serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer (who was “saved” before his execution) or another otherwise horrible person who got “saved” (and there are horrible Christians out there) would be accepted into heaven while a very good person of a faith other than Christianity, such as Gandhi or Buddha, would be burning in hell. It just doesn’t make sense, and any God who would allow such a state of affairs is no God I would want anything to do with. That God would be a sadist, a bigot, and a narcissist: basically the God of the Old Testament.

— While there is evidence of fire and brimstone under the earth (easily explained by geologic science), how is it possible that so many souls could fit into such a small space in the center of the earth? If most humans are hellbound, and even if humans have only populated the planet for 6,000 years (which I think is complete bunk), that’s a hell of a lot of souls crammed together (pun intended).

— Why would any God of mercy give Satan so much power? Is Satan God’s hatchetman, the supernatural equivalent of the good cop/bad cop meme or the company hatchetman or woman who does all the “nice” boss’s firing?

— Lots of people have never heard of Jesus Christ. If they’re all going to hell too, that’s a pretty unjust God.

— Are children who have never been baptized or told about Christianity all going to hell? That’s a cruel and sadistic God.

— What about people like me, who have tried and tried to believe in Jesus the way most Christians want us to, even praying for the gift of faith, but just can’t do it? God gave me a brain to think with, and to question things. Before I can believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and that the only way I can attain salvation is to accept Him, I need some sort of evidence proving this is so. If God didn’t want me to think and question, why would He have given me a brain?

— Most Christians (at least the evangelicals) think animals have no souls and won’t go to heaven. To me, heaven without animals would be hell. When I look into my dog’s or my cats’ eyes, I know there’s a soul there. Nothing can convince me otherwise.

–Any God who would allow the majority of human beings to suffer for all eternity just because their level of faith didn’t satisfy him, is a sadistic, evil, unempathetic narcissist. I can’t and won’t believe in a God like that. I also think threatening people with eternal damnation is a horrible way to get people to convert. If it works, then it’s a tactic based on fear and is very toxic and soul-damaging.

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I’m not a Buddhist or any other eastern religion (I have problems with those religions too), but I actually like the idea of reincarnation. It makes more sense to me and takes into account why there’s so much suffering and injustice in the world. A difficult life may be a way of paying off karmic debt and our next life could be much easier if we pay off the debt sufficiently in this life. Or a more advanced soul could have a difficult life, because they’ve attained enough spiritual growth to be able to learn something valuable from their suffering or use it to help others. I don’t know, but it just seems much more like something a loving and merciful God would do than throw his creations into the Good Box or the Bad Box after they die, and that’s it for you for all eternity.

I take issue with any religion that only values what happens to you after you die, and fundamentalist Christianity seems to care much more about the afterlife than enjoying this life.

Christianity, as is all too often the case today, especially in America, has become very much tied up with conservative politics, and is turning off a lot of liberals who may otherwise be attracted to Christianity. I doubt if Jesus was around today, he would worship the free market economy, think helping the poor was “enabling” them, and be intolerant toward LGBT people, atheists, and women.

And that brings me to the evangelical Christian attitude toward women. According to the Bible, it was because of a woman (Eve) that man fell from grace, and because God made man first (with women being created as helpmates), the biblical view is that men have dominion over women and women should submit to their will, even when the man is abusing them. For that matter, the God of the Old Testament acted much like an abusive husband. I’m sorry, but that view is a total turnoff to me, and isn’t doing anything to win more women over to evangelical Christianity.

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the Bible here, but there’s something I need to get off my chest. When Christians can’t back up their arguments with reason and evidence (creationism vs. evolution is just one example), they almost always use the “But it’s in the Bible so it must be so” argument. If you try to pin them down as to why the Bible is right, all they can say is “it’s the word of God.” No. It’s the words of men, translated many times and from many different languages. The Bible can and has been interpreted differently by different Christian denominations, and even Christians can’t seem to agree among themselves what the Bible is actually saying in many cases–because it’s full of contradictions (which I won’t get into here because it would take way too long). What makes the Bible so special anyway? It’s a book. Homer’s Odyssey is a book too. Why isn’t Homer’s Odyssey taken as the word of God? For that matter, what makes one religious text right and another one wrong? Christians think Muslims are all going to hell and their Koran is the wrong holy book. Muslims think the same about Christians and the Bible. Mormons think only the Book of Mormon is the correct holy text. What makes one automatically right and the other ones wrong? If any of them were right, wouldn’t God somehow give us some sort of clue as to which text we should all be following?

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There’s a lot more things I could say, but then this article would turn into a book, so let me just sum up here with what I personally believe.

I believe God exists, and that he created the universe, but I also very much believe in scientific evidence that the earth is several billion years old and that all life on earth evolved, and was not created in 6 literal days. I think a concept known as “divine intervention” is a possibility–that is, that evolution occurred, but was overseen by God or a higher intelligence and that the evolution of human beings may have been “helped along.” Some evolutionists actually believe this view is a watered down version of creationism, and perhaps it is. I don’t dispute the idea of random evolution, but human intelligence seemed to happen too fast for that to be the case although I could be wrong. Besides, I find the idea of no higher intelligence watching over things a little frightening and to me that would seem to make all our striving and suffering a little pointless. I like to think there is some higher purpose to this life than mere physical reality.

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As for the afterlife, I believe some people may go to heaven, but I don’t believe in hell, unless it’s a hell created by our own minds during this life that continues into the afterlife. I actually find the idea of annihilation after death more attractive than one of eternal torment, but I think our souls live on. Perhaps hell exists but only for the truly evil and unrepentant. I think the rest of us–who are too good for hell but not good enough for heaven–probably get reincarnated after a time of contemplating and assimilating the lessons learned in this life. I believe God is merciful and loving, and loves all his children, even those who have no faith he exists, and he would never give an evil entity like Satan (who probably doesn’t exist anyway) dominion over the majority of human souls after they die. As for Jesus, I have a lot of trouble with both the concept of his divinity and the idea of the Trinity. The first seems like a fairy tale and there’s no evidence, and as for the concept of the Trinity, I just can’t wrap my brain around it. Is there one God or three? How can God be three persons in one? Believers take it on faith alone and don’t try to analyze it, but I just can’t do that because of my analytical nature. I need to know the why’s and hows of everything before I embrace it. However, I do think Jesus was an extremely evolved soul who showed us a lot about grace, mercy and love, and I wish more Christians actually tried to follow the example of Jesus Christ in their daily lives instead of only on Sundays.

I have no idea what “religion” my beliefs make me; I suppose it’s bits and pieces of a lot of things that fit in with my worldview. But I’m open to changing my mind about a lot given enough proof.

I like to read blogs and books by atheists, Christians, and everything in between, in an attempt to understand differing viewpoints, and it saddens me that so much hatred, violence and death has occurred in the name of religion. Why does it matter if you worship a different God than I do, or even no God at all? We can all be moral and decent people who bring good to the world and to others, no matter whether we’re Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, pagans, or atheists. I wish people with different belief systems would act the way this atheist and Christian pastor do in this video, in a civil and respectful manner. These two men have completely opposite beliefs, and yet have become good friends, and I find that very heartwarming and the video is extremely interesting.

I can’t embed the video, but here’s the link:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/08/video-from-the-megachurch-service/

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Nuff said.