“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:28-30
Here is another one of my most favorite Bible stories. It is called, “A Demon-Possessed Man Healed” and it is found in the fifth chapter of the book of Mark. Enjoy.
“Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.”
It sounds to me like this poor guy needs some serious help but, instead of helping him, the people of this country have attempted to bind him with shackles and have condemned him to live with the dead instead. Remind me never to visit the country of Gadarenes.
“When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.'”
So, this man knows who Jesus is and is instantly able to recognize him, yet the first thing out of his mouth is a plea for Jesus not to hurt him? Now why would he think that Jesus would do a thing like that, I wonder? Could it be because demons were allowed to take refuge in his body?
“For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’
And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’ And at once Jesusgave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa… hold on a minute. Jesus grants permission to demons that beg? These demons don’t want to be deported so, instead, Jesus listens to their pleas to enter the pigs and then he proceeds to kill them all off? Why not just expel the demons and kill them there, in thin air? Why did the poor pigs have to die, too? Wouldn’t killing all the pigs be incredibly detrimental to the welfare of the community he was in? And, I know seas tend to be pretty big, but wouldn’t the water be dangerous to drink with all the thousands of pig corpses in it? Did Jesus really decide that potentially starving an entire population to save one man’s life and to appease the pleas of some demons was the best decision in that circumstance? Keep in mind, this is the same man who supposedly cured a leper, who brought a little girl back to life, who made a blind man see and a paralyzed man walk. This is the same guy that turned water into wine, fed thousands with only a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread.
He walked on water and calmed the raging storms at sea and now he can’t even expel a bunch of demons without causing detrimental harm to others in the process? Really?! There was no other way?!
“So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.”
Yeah, if someone came in and completely annihilated my entire stock of food, I would want him to leave, too!
“And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’ And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” Mark 5:1-20
And in the end, what’s new? Jesus did something to help someone ONLY so that the person he helped could go and tell the story and persuade others to praise him. Jesus never does anything in private and he only ever seems to help those in need when he has a crowd he can show off to. He’s like the guy that won’t donate to the ASPCA unless he gets that “free” t-shirt so that everyone will know that he donated, even though that t-shirt cost the very organization he is trying to “help out” financially. Jesus knows that the best marketing is by word-of-mouth and never wastes an opportunity to spread that word– even if it is at the expense of others (as it is in this case). So, poor, innocent pigs have to die, people have to starve, and livelihoods have to be started over from scratch so that the demons could get what they so desperately wanted. But, at least Jesus got what he wanted out of it too, right?
The organization I work for is all about continued learning and growth in its employees. As a part of that, some of us were able to attend a leadership conference that was being held in Atlanta, but we viewed via a live feed in our city auditorium. The conference is called Leadercast and it is put on by Chick-Fil-A. I do not patronize Chick-Fil-A because I think they have awful business practices and they are far too religious and bigoted for my taste. So, needless to say, I had some sort of expectation that this was going to be bad.
Last year, Chick-Fil-A put on the same Leadercast event and, except for an interview with Tim Tebow (can he PLEASE just go away already?!), it was great. I learned a lot from the many speakers and they all had very useful things to say. I even purchased a couple of books from my favorites.
This year was different. Much different.
The speakers ended up being just blegh but that wasn’t my problem with them. All of them, with the exception of maybe one, had an underlying Christian tone to their thoughts about leadership. The funny thing was that even though they all mentioned having faith of some kind, the things they were teaching about leadership — the principles one is supposed to take in and implement in their daily professional lives — were completely and totally contradictory to their Christian faith. It was a phenomenon I saw time and time again as each speaker wandered on the stage.
John Maxwell, a bestselling author of leadership self-help books mentioned in his discussion that he has figured out our problem. He says that our problem is that we are always trying to find a leader to fix all of our problems. He said the answer is simple: be the leader that solves the problem.
Now, in the realm of professional development this is great advice. This is how people move up in companies and corporations; this is how shit gets done in this country (or doesn’t). But how can one believe in that while still believing in a god? How does this relate to Christianity? The truth is, it doesn’t. In fact, it is completely contradictory to everything Christianity teaches.
If going to church the majority of my youth taught me anything, it was that god would take care of everything for me. If I loved him and did right by him, well then he was going to look out for me. I was taught that he had a plan for me and that, no matter what, everything would always be OK. This is a direct contradiction to Maxwell’s idea about leadership and responsibility.
The worst offender, by far, was Condoleezza Rice. I have never been a fan of hers and after her interview it only further concreted in my mind that she truly is an idiot. At one point in the pre-recorded interview, John Maxwell asked her who had inspired her most in life — who she would always strive to emulate. Good ol’ Condi answered delightfully, telling a story of how the family was all together for some holiday (I can’t quite remember which) and one night they were all awakened to find her uncle had fallen incredibly ill. She said that everyone was running around the house putting clothes on, finding keys, gathering him up to put him in the car and take him to the hospital. But, she said that in the midst of all that mayhem, she happened to glance over at her grandmother who was sitting calmly on her bed not doing a thing. Condoleezza said that she asked her if she was going to help, to which her grandmother replied, “God’s will be done.”
Let’s recap: Condoleezza’s uncle is possibly dying, everyone is rushing around trying to get him to the hospital for help except for grandma who basically says that she isn’t going to do shit to help save his life because it may be that god wants him to die. Gnarly shit, right?
Not to Condoleezza! Oh, no. She thinks this is admirable. She finishes the story by saying that she is in awe of her grandmother in that moment because it is “remarkable to have that kind of peace.”
Remarkable to have that kind of peace? Or that kind of ignorance? Or that kind of basic disregard for human life?
THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE TEACHING US AT A LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE. Can you believe that? Neither can I.
One speaker, however, Dr. Henry Cloud, spoke a few words that really resonated with me, being an atheist. He said about leadership:
“The worst thing a leader can do is hope. Leaders must create a necessary ending.”
I agree with this whole-heartedly and honestly think the world would be better off if the majority of the people on it did too. For example, Christians hope and pray that something will happen — that their god will implement his divine will in a (hopefully) favorable way. This has always seemed like such a waste of time to me. Why hope and pray for something? Why not go out and get it? Or position yourself in a way that you are more likely to achieve what it is that you want to achieve? That is not true leadership, that is true helplessness.
Basically, all I learned from this leadership conference was that god and religion hold people back from ever amounting to their true potential. So many of these Christian speakers spoke about their faith being the strongest guide in their ability to lead but, from what I can tell, it has been the most hindering. These people had a real opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives and give them helpful advice for tackling issues in the real world. But sadly, instead they opted to preach about a god that doesn’t exist and while telling us one thing, they were preaching the opposite. Although, I suppose that isn’t anything special or different. Christians do that all the time.
I firmly believe that atheists should have a bigger voice in this world. We should not allow ourselves to remain sequestered for fear of what others (namely employers, family, friends, potential constituents, etc) will think of us if we don’t. Personally, I’m done with hiding my non-belief. I’m over just answering with a “No” when asked if I go to church. It’s time to start answering, “No, I do not because I am an Atheist” instead because I want them to inquire about it. I want people to start thinking differently about atheism and what it means. I want Americans to begin accepting openly atheist people into their government and local positions of power. We are not evil. We are not immoral. We are not devoid of meaning in our lives.
To me, religion as it stands today is a disease. It is a disease that is spreading through the weak and the weary spreading ignorance and turning us on each other. It has created a culture in which one is not allowed to be happy with themselves or with anyone else if what makes them happy is outside of their religious doctrine. Religion suppresses people. It suppresses progress and tolerance and it suppresses growth and personal responsibility.
If it were up to me, people would practice or not practice any religion they choose if it makes them happy and fulfills their life but also understand that each person is different and will have different views of what that fulfillment looks like. Unfortunately, religious people can’t seem to recognize that those outside of their religion are just like them — they have dreams and goals and families. Instead, they view someone else’s happiness in another religion as dangerous and ignorant. They kill people who are different than they are because they are viewed as a threat. Ok, death is on the extreme end of this spectrum but, you get the point.
What I want to know is this: Why can’t people just be happy for people who are happy? Why do we have to be right all the time? Why do we have to be in everyone else’s business and personal life? If people are not pursuing personal happiness at the expense of others (i.e. murder, rape, burglary, etc.) then why do so many feel so inclined to stop them? Let them be gay. Let them be nerdy. Let them be Muslim or Jewish or atheist. And you should expect the same respect in return.
There is a huge movement happening in this country to put an end to bullying. While it’s great to teach your kids not to bully others, we should consider leading by example first. Adults in this country are bullying each other every day. There are idiots at all ends of the spectrum looking down on those opposite them while belittling, hurting, offending and essentially shitting on everything they believe to be real and true. How could that not make people mad? How could they not react?
I myself am guilty of this. I make jokes about Christianity almost daily. A big part of me even enjoys doing it. I think the difference is that I would never suggest to a Christian that they need to stop being a Christian. I would only suggest that they need to stop chastising me for not being one. So, Christians (or, anyone really) bring on the jokes right back at me. We should all care about what others have to say but we should also be respectful of their thoughts when they say it. Making jokes and/or expressing yourself is one thing, hurting people intentionally is quite another. We are all different and differences make people uncomfortable, I get that. But, instead of falling victim to discomfort by never exploring others, why not engage each other and learn something. By opening our minds to the different and unusual we can become more accepting of what others say and do.
I think, for the most part, atheists get this. We all tend to agree on the premise of, ‘To Each His Own’. Unfortunately, some of us tend to lash out when others cannot accept that premise and 9 times out of 10, those unwilling or unable to accept are the religious ones. This change in human perspective has to start in the religious world. Muslims have to stop killing westerners, Christians have to become more tolerant of other beliefs/lifestyles, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have to stop knocking on my door!
The burden is on religion and those that practice it to make our world a better, more peaceful place. As an atheist, that makes me extremely uncomfortable (to be honest) however, if I have faith in anything, I have faith in people. I have faith that people are capable of great love and tolerance. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing; we just have to agree to disagree on the details.
“‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you:
I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies.
Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.
‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.
‘Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins.
I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate.
‘And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.
‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.
I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you.
I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas.
I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.
I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.
Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
As long as it lies desolate it shall rest—for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
‘And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues.
They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.
‘But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt—then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land.
The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes.
Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.
But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.’” Leviticus 26:14-45
One of my biggest complaints with Christianity (and most religions for that matter) is how fear-based it is. I mean, I get it. Fear is the easiest tool in our human tool box to take out and use to control massive amounts of people at one time. But, that doesn’t make it right. The Bible is FULL of passages like the one above from Leviticus. In fact, for every comforting/loving thing god says in the Old Testament, there is either a completely unrealistic demand attached to it and/or an incredibly violent and scary threat if you don’t comply.
And if I hear one single person say, “But Missy, that’s why Jesus came down and died for us so that his daddy wouldn’t be mean to us anymore and we wouldn’t have to suffer as he intended us to if we were bad like we are.” I’m gonna say, “BULLSHIT”. If that were actually the case, then wouldn’t hell be non-existent? Why would anyone go to hell if Jesus loved everyone no matter what and “saved” us all? Why is there a planned apocalypse/rapture coming to swoop up all of Jesus’ favorite people if he died to save us all from god’s irrationality and anger?
He’s not going to save me because I believe in a different god? God was going to kill me for that anyway, so why delay the process? He’s not going to save me because I believe in no god at all? Again, why would Jesus die to protect me from the sins god threatened to kill me for if he intended to leave me behind in fire and brimstone for the rest of eternity later on anyways? This ‘You have to believe in him/it or it doesn’t work’ argument completely contradicts the entire purpose for Jesus supposedly dying for my sin of not believing (which by the way, he knew I would commit). Which therefore completely contradicts the idea that Jesus came to save us from the sins we were told we would die for, which therefore makes passages like this one, in Leviticus 26, open for complete legitimacy in the Christian religion (despite what some apologists would argue). Which therefore makes my argument that Christianity is a fear-based tool used to scare and control huge portions of the population through psychological and emotional violence completely legitimate. I’ll bet you $10 the CDC would agree with me.
“Psychological/emotional violence involves trauma to the victim caused by acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics. Psychological/emotional abuse can include, but is not limited to, humiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources. It is considered psychological/emotional violence when there has been prior physical or sexual violence or prior threat of physical or sexual violence. In addition, stalking is often included among the types of IPV. Stalking generally refers to “harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person’s property” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
I have disappeared for a few days… OK, maybe more like a week, because I had become consumed by a court case I was selected to serve as a juror on. I have never served on a jury before, so this was a completely new experience for me — one that I thought I wanted, but now, in hindsight, realize that no one should ever want. Ever.
I promise I am not trying to be dramatic. Hear me out. The case I was on involved a man who shot his wife of 8 years in the head because he was jealous that she was texting another man on her phone (doesn’t matter he himself was actually sleeping with another woman and seeing another on top of that at the time). They were planning a divorce but were waiting on tax money to come in so that they could afford it. The worst part? They regularly locked their 5-year-old child and 3-year-old child in their bedroom and after he shot his wife, he left the house with his roommate and his dog and left the young children locked in their room all night long with no one but the corpse of their mother to look after them. Yes, you read that correctly — he took his dog with him, but not his children.
Initially, he tries to play it off as a suicide which the police quickly find to be a lie, but for his defense strategy he claimed that it was an accident — She had the gun, pointed it at him first, he wrestled it away from her and it went off and shot her in the head. The evidence that the DAs presented did not match the story of there ever being a struggle and after 5 days and 37 witnesses, we found him guilty of attempting to persuade a public servant (he lied to the police), 2 counts of child abuse and ultimately of 2nd degree murder.
We were shown endless amounts of pictures of her body, the crime scene, her autopsy, the disgusting state of their apartment and the little boys’ bedroom that detectives said smelled so badly of urine it was unbearable to be in there for long. I don’t know if you know this about me (how would you, I suppose) but I work for an organization called Head Start. It is a federally funded, nation-wide organization in America that provides free preschool to families living under the federal poverty guidelines. It is not just a preschool program, though, the program focuses on the entire family and provides support, resources, advice, classes, services, etc. to families in our communities with the most need. The idea is that if you can get a child learning and educate their parents to continue that desire to learn in their children while also supporting the parents by teaching them about parenting and budgeting, the child will have a stronger/better foundation to grow on and ultimately will become more successful in their lives. So, needless to say, I care A LOT about kids. I would say most decent human beings also care a lot about kids but, the overall health and wellbeing of children has become a sort of passion of mine so this case was incredibly hard for me to listen to objectively. I did it, but it was emotionally draining and awful.
One of the things that surprised me the least about this case came when we were watching the first interview that was recorded with the defendant and the detective. About halfway through the hour-long interview, the detective leaves to go take care of some business (i.e. he wants to see his reaction while he is out of the room) and as soon as he leaves, the defendant gets upset and starts to cry. He puts his head in his hands and says, “God, please help me. Please forgive me of my sins.” Despite it being a really emotional, human moment I couldn’t help thinking, “REALLY?!” Of course. Of course now, when you have murdered your wife and you are about to get caught in your own lie, you turn to god.
We see it time and time again — awful people doing awful things and then praying/begging for forgiveness so that they can bask in the glory of heaven in the afterlife even though they were a piece of shit on Earth. Why does this phenomenon occur? It occurs because only a sick person could believe in a god sick enough to allow a murderer into eternal paradise because he/she asked for forgiveness at the last second. It’s desperate and selfish and allows a person to squirm their way out of personal accountability because ‘it is in god’s hands’ or ‘it was god’s plan’.
While religion (and I’m speaking mainly about Christianity although I am sure it can be applicable to other religions as well) does “teach” a lot about the ways humans should live a good life, it also leaves a lot of wiggle room for those that choose to do bad things. I can’t tell you how many episodes of MSNBC’s Lock-Up I have watched in which they showed a “reformed” prisoner who found god. Is he really reformed? Or does he just appear to be reformed since he has a newfound faith in god? People with faith in god are automatically viewed as being good people at first glance and first judgement by most. People take comfort in being around fellow god-fearing citizens, they feel safer for some reason. This is part of the reason atheists are demonized and viewed as not much more than a menace to society (speaking in generalities).
This phenomenon also further concretes my opinion that religion is nothing more than a crutch used by the weak in order to get through this hard life we have here on Earth. This defendant probably never even spoke once of god in his entire adult life, but now that he is presumably at the lowest point in his life, he wants/needs god. He wants/needs someone on his side, to look after him and help him through this. And, according to the Bible, if he truly believes in god in his heart, he will be forgiven and will walk through those pearly gates alongside those that went to church every Sunday and waited until marriage for sex.
Lots of people need a god to feel safe and looked after and loved even if they didn’t just murder someone, but how can this not be viewed as a weakness? Is it always a bad thing? Absolutely not — to each his own. Most believers need this ‘big-brother’ god to look after them all the time, while others only need him/her/it in their time of need. Atheists just never need it. We take responsibility for our own actions and we hold ourselves accountable when we do things we know we shouldn’t do.
This is why I am proud to be an atheist. I may be weak in a lot of different ways compared to a lot of different people (for example, my involvement in this murder trial was incredibly hard on me but was the everyday job of the judge, the lawyers, the detectives, the coroners, etc.), but I know that I am not weak in my heart. I am on this Earth for some reason and dammit, I am going to enjoy it and treat others like I want them to treat me back. And if I ever find myself in a desperate situation, I sure as hell won’t be turning to any god to get me through it.