prayer

The Lord’s Army

Have you ever been to a military ceremony? I’m not just talking funerals – although, unfortunately, that is the most common event anyone not married into or born of a military family will go to – but, if you’ve ever been to a “Welcome Back ceremony” (the frustratingly long ceremony that precedes the big ol’ kiss your about to give your husband/wife/partner after he/she deployed for a year) or an awards ceremony or even a FRG meeting (which stands for Family Readiness Group and consists of mostly stereotypical military wives) you have experienced the prayer.

Ah, yes. The prayer that comes during a government-funded event by a government-funded entity. Nothing more constitutional, eh?

600_ap_military_religion4

While the US military is starting to do a better job at being more accepting and tolerant of their soldiers’ religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, they still seem stuck in Christianity and won’t seem to let it go. They hide behind the façade of religious tolerance by expanding the number of religions you can now state on your dog tags and by creating and allowing soldiers to wear military issued Yamakas  and other religious paraphernalia, and yet, they seem to only ever recite Christian prayers to a Christian god at any public event or even, as I am told by my husband, who served in the Army for 8 years, right before going out on a mission overseas. (As a side note, only up until recently have you been able to put “Atheist” on your dog-tags as opposed to just, “None” in the space dedicated to religious affiliation. It’s great that you can now state it, but a bummer that not only did it take a while to be able to do so, but also that it  was allowed around the same time you could state, “Jedi” as your religious affiliation as well… Seriously).

It is one thing to have a government funded military tolerant and accepting of all religions (as I think it should be) but it is quite another for that government entity to then endorse a specific religion by encouraging and leading its members in practice of it. I have been to a lot of military functions and not once has an event started or ended in a Jewish prayer recitation, a Muslim call to prayer, or a devotional Buddhist meditation. Not once.

So what is the point of doing it at all? Why not offer a moment of silence instead, in which anyone can pray or not pray to who or what they want? Or, better yet, why not just avoid the whole thing altogether and let everyone practice their religion on their own time? God forbid that happen. God forbid we forbid god!

Most people who I spoke to in the military never even thought about why they pray at these events or whether they were even OK with it. In fact, the only real reason anyone has even presented to me as to why it is done is that the majority of soldiers and their families (at least in the Army anyways) practice the Christian faith. It makes sense when you think about where, geographically, the majority of the US Army bases are located. They are all over the South and the Mid-West and typically nowhere near either an ocean or a big city (for obvious reasons). These places are known for being in the “Bible-Belt” and have sub-standard education requirements and despicable graduation rates. They breed small-mindedness and encourage ignorance. So, it makes sense that the majority of the people who spend their lives in these places would eventually, if they weren’t already, conform to the lifestyle.

I have never been for the notion or the practice that the “majority rules” and, politics aside, I don’t think that just because the majority of a country or a platoon or a company is one religion, that it should trump all others. You should either do something that pleases all and offends none (which is practically impossible to do) or just do nothing at all (again, not applicable to politics).

The point of not saying a prayer is to respect all people and their beliefs, not to suppress free speech and ideas. It baffles me how people, namely Christians, view the request to omit prayer as a persecution and not a call for respect and compassion. Don’t even get me started on the supposed “War on Christmas” conservative Christians in this country constantly complain about (if you are unfamiliar with this crazy phenomenon, let me know and I’ll enlighten you!).

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that my husband and I have to sit through a Christian prayer yet the military chooses not to practice any other aspect of the religion. Here are just a few examples:

1. Soldiers are often made to work on Sundays.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8-10

2. Soldiers in battle are as young as 18 years old.

“So all who were numbered of the children of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel—” Numbers 1:45

3. According to Wikipedia, there have been 848,163 deaths in war since 1776 and 1,531,036 soldiers wounded. (source) And that’s just in America.

“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” Numbers 10:9

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 20:1

4. Newlywed soldiers are not excused from deployment or long-term training.

download

“When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5

However, when it comes to seeking guidance, they go back to the teachings of Christianity. When a soldier deploys and they have a personal issue they have two choices: 1) Talk to their boss, or 2) talk to a neutral member of their company that isn’t going to start treating them differently or holding what they discuss together against them. This neutral member, however, is the Chaplain. That’s it. Talk to your boss (yikes) or talk to the preacher. Now, if you were an atheist having trouble adjusting to your deployment and the facts of war, who would you go to for help and talk to besides your friends? Probably no one.

I’m completely against any and all endorsements of religion by the US government, whether intended or not. And I am especially against half-assing it. If you are going to endorse a religion, do it all the way. And, if you’re not, don’t even let the thought of any type of religion or religious practice come up in public events or affect others in any way. The same goes for individuals as well. If you are going to say you are a Christian or a Muslim or a Scientologist well then be one! Don’t pick and choose what parts of your chosen religion are convenient for you. And, if you do, don’t you DARE tell me or anyone else that we are in the wrong. That’s just hypocritical.

I do have to say that the ONLY time I enjoyed an Army prayer was during the “Welcome Back” ceremonies. Hundreds of horrible smelling guys (my husband was in the infantry so there were very few, if any, women attached to his units) all wearing exactly the same thing, walking in exactly the same way and standing in the exact same formation made it near impossible to spot my husband’s face in the crowd. As soon as they would announce the prayer though, all the sheep heads would bow in unison and there would be my husband’s handsome face. I could spot him in an instant and run straight into his arms when the ceremony was over. If there’s anything in the world that can get me to look forward to a prayer, that moment is it.

Advertisements

God Will Save Us. Eventually. When He Gets Around To It.

the-black-forest-fire-burns-behind-a-stand-of-trees-on-june-12-near-colorado-springs

The city I live in has recently been on fire, causing the incredibly large religious population here to spew words of prayer, miracles and “it-was-his-time”s. While I am always happy to see a community come together to support each other, it is very interesting to me to see how god comes into play so much in the aftermath of natural (or man-made) disasters. For example, when a fire (or hurricane or tornado, etc) happen, people’s first response is to pray for people.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to ______”

“#prayfor_______”

“We are keeping everyone in our prayers”

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH

Now, obviously the fact that religious people turn to prayer right away as a coping mechanism in response to destructive events is not a new revelation; it’s a pretty typical response. My confusion comes when things start looking better.

We had 3 fires going on at the same time in different parts of the state. One was contained fairly quickly (a couple of days), one took about a week to be contained and the other is still currently at 85% containment. As these fires continue to grow in percentages of containment, people’s love for god grows too.

Emergency response personnel warned the residents of the evacuation areas to leave, sometimes even knocking on doors and helping people gather their most prized possessions and animals.

“Thank god no one was hurt.”

When people were nervously waiting on pre-evacuation status to see if they needed to flee their homes, the winds changed direction and the status was lifted.

“God is looking out for me, he made the wind blow the other way.”

After the first few days of our state being on fire, it rained.

“Thank god for the rain!”

When people were slowly being released back into their neighborhoods after evacuations were lifted, some houses were left standing while the ones next door sat as a pile of ash.

“God’s hand was in this. He protected my home!”

These are actual phrases I heard people saying in response to the heroic actions by (wo)man. People’s lives were spared because (wo)man went above and beyond to ensure their safety and well-being. They made people their priority and, as a result, there have only been 2 confirmed deaths as of today.

The winds changed because that’s what they do here… all the time… Every. Single. Day.

The weatherman had predicted the rain would arrive days before the fires even broke out. There was a system headed our direction and it was an almost inevitable reality.

But, the one that pisses me off the most is the response by those people whose homes were spared while their neighbors’ were not. Obviously, they aren’t going around boasting to their neighbors about that fact, but there was one instance in particular in which a woman’s son’s house was spared and she claimed that it was the hand of god. When asked how she could possibly think that way when so many other houses were destroyed she responded with, “Well, I had everyone I knew praying, my son had everyone he knew praying — there were a lot of people praying for this outcome. It’s just the power of prayer.” When asked to consider that maybe those who lost their homes had actually been praying too and could have possibly had even more people praying for them, she responded with, “Sometimes god does favors for people.”

This doesn’t look like a favor to me.

Black_Forest_Fire_home9i_1370996511817_428246_ver1_0_640_480_20130612151934_640_480

Or this…

Black_Forest_Fire_home9g_1370996480145_428236_ver1_0_640_480

Or even this…

black-forest-fire7

So, why is it that god is always credited with the happy ending, but never the brutal beginning? How can they honestly believe that he brought on the rain but not the fire itself? How can a lightning strike that ignites a tree that then annihilates a town be a freak act of nature, but the hardworking firefighters risking their lives to put it out are a gift from god? And why wouldn’t he/she/it quench the fires immediately instead of waiting a few days? Why not save ALL of the homes and ALL of the people instead of just some?

THIS is why it is so strange to me that people huddle closer to god in response to natural disasters because all it does is push me even further away.

Crazy Christianity: Pentecostalism

What it’s all about:

Pentecostalism was born out of a nine-year movement in Los Angeles called the Azusa Street Revival in which people, led by a preacher named William J. Seymour, experienced dramatic inter-racial worship services that included speaking in tongues, and spiritual experiences involving miracles. (source) Just about every Pentecostal church traces its roots back to this Revival, however, some left the movement with different ideas about the doctrine of the Trinity, leaving the Pentecostal Church largely divided between Trinitarian and non-Trinitarians. Each church is self-governed, however, many are affiliated with the Pentecostal World Fellowship. The latest research (conducted by the a Pew Forum in 2011) “found that there were an estimated 279 million classical Pentecostals, making 4 percent of the total world population and 12.8 percent of the world’s Christian population Pentecostal” making it “the largest Protestant denominational family.” 44% of all Pentecostals are found in Sub-Saharan Africa while 37% are found in the Americas and 16% are in Asia and the Pacific. (source)

The Pentecostal faith, like most Christian faiths, centers completely around the Bible and its inerrancy. The core of their beliefs lie in the Gospels in that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, all sins can be forgiven. It is a requirement that all Pentecostals be born again through Christ in order to be “adopted into the family of God.” (source) A part of the born again process starts with a baptism, however, the Pentecostals practice three distinct types of baptism. One is the baptism into the body of Christ which turns a believer into a part of Christ’s body through the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit is the agent, Christ is the medium. The second one is called a water baptism and is the most recognizable by other Christian faiths. The water baptism is representative of dying to the world and being reborn in Christ. The third method of baptism is called baptism with the Holy Spirit. This method is similar to baptism into the body of Christ except that it is the reversal of methods — Christ now becomes the agent and the Holy Spirit is the medium.

While baptism as viewed by most Christian denominations as being vital to one’s closeness to god and their ability to be “saved”, most Pentecostals do not view baptism as being essential for salvation. Pentecostals also view other things, like the sacraments, much differently than most Christian denominations as well. They refer to the sacraments as ordinances instead as they do not believe that these rituals instituted by Christ are meant to impart grace, but rather to keep a closeness with god. For example, communion is a ritual completed because it is a command given by Christ in order to remember him. An interesting fact about Pentecostal communion is that they reject the use of wine as the blood of Christ and will use grape juice instead. Sorry, kids! No under-age sipping allowed for you!

Laying-on-of-HandsTwo other distinctive beliefs are that of divine healing and divine gifts. Divine healing occurs when a person either prays for himself or another person to be healed. When praying for another person to be healed, the common practice is for the preacher and others to put their hands on that person to represent the healing Jesus imparted while healing others. Another common practice is anointing the sick with olive oil.

Divine gifts can be given to anyone at any time but are most commonly received after one’s baptism. Gifts include the ability to speak in tongues — a gibberish language meant to be a direct line to or from god.

“According to Pentecostal theology, the language spoken (1) may be an unlearned human language, such as the Bible claims happened on the Day of Pentecost, or (2) it might be of heavenly (angelic) origin. In the first case, tongues could work as a sign by which witness is given to the unsaved. In the second case, tongues are used for praise and prayer when the mind is superseded and “the speaker in tongues speaks to God, speaks mysteries, and … no one understands him”. (source)

omg

A divine gift that can sometimes go along with the gift of tongues is the gift of interpretation by either the speaker or someone else to be able to understand what was just said. This can be important because most Pentecostals believe that sometimes people who speak tongues do so because they have been given the gift of prophecy. While Pentecostals do believe that anyone is capable of receiving a legitimate prophecy, those spoken by people are not regarded as always being the truth; in other words, they realize that those prophecies are susceptible to error. These prophecies are rarely, if ever, predictions of future events but merely spontaneously spoken words meant to give guidance and comfort.

Another gift is the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. When the gift of the word of wisdom is given, the receiver has a “revelation of the Holy Spirit that applies scriptural wisdom to a specific situation that a Christian community faces.” (source) The gift of the word of knowledge entails the ability of the receiver to know god’s intentions in the life of another person.

 

Why it’s harmful to society:

slain_in_spiritWhile practicing the gift of healing, many preachers will put their hands on someone and violently push them back causing them to fall backwards. Sometimes this is exaggerated by the person being healed so as to imitate “being slain in the spirit” and other times, the preacher literally pushes so hard that they fall. I think this is bad for two reasons: One — people get so wrapped up in this ritual that they make themselves fall backwards (risking injury), convulse on the ground and speak in tongues. All of these are not natural or supernatural occurences but merely the actions of a desperate person acting out what they have seen others do. It’s all fake which makes watching it all the more disturbing. And, imagine being a child and seeing this happen to your parent! How scary that would be! Reason two — these people actually hurt themselves doing this (or allowing it to be done to them)! Sometimes people actually faint and lose consciousness! I think watching this strange practice would be both interesting and disturbing.

A lot of the practices found in the Pentecostal church have made their way into other Christian denominations. Things like lifting your hands in praise to the heavens during prayer and song, speaking in tongues and spontaneously shouting words of praise during sermons. One of my most vivid memories as a young child was being very ill at my grandmother’s house (a self-identified, practicing non-denominational Christian) and having her put her hands on my head and pray over me in tongues. I was so scared because I had never seen my grandmother act so strangely before and I was very confused as to what was going on. It made me very uncomfortable and I have never forgotten that moment. I think experiences like that can be very harmful and scary to children and should either be abstained from around them or explained thoroughly.

Some Pentecostal churches in the southeastern region of the United States practice snake handling during their worship services as a literal interpretation of these verses in the Bible:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)

Numerous preachers have been severely injured by the poisonous bites and others have even died from them. While this practice is not very common, it is gaining ground and growing rapidly, forcing states to legislate laws concerning the un-guarded presence of venomous animals in public spaces for their own protection.

snake3           snakewarning

 

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

Pentecostals believe that baptism is not vital to achieve spiritual salvation which compliments their practice of a “Believer’s Baptism”. This type of baptism is done only to the willing after a profession of faith in Jesus has been made. I think this is good because it gives people the choice to enter into the religion. I have never agreed with infant baptisms (I was baptized as an infant) because I feel that they are presumptuous and selfish. Infant baptisms are for the benefit of the practicing parents, not the child, whereas adult baptisms are for the individual as a profession of and commitment to what they believe in.

Another great aspect of Pentecostalism is the lively church service. Spontaneity is highly regarded in worship which leads to (in my view) hilarious outbursts and interruptions in the middle of sermons and songs. Also, lots of members are “moved by the Holy Spirit” to dance because they are so enraptured with god’s presence. This leads to lots of movement in the aisles with everyone going pretty much bat-shit crazy over the Lord.

Diversity and inter-racial worship is a highly regarded attribute to the Pentecostal church. They believe that no matter race, gender, ethnicity, social class or religious background one is, they are all welcome to worship together and should be treated as one in the same. The downside to this is that they do not include sexual orientation in that list of anti-discriminatory practices and they hold a very strong position in the defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Crazy Christianity: Christian Science

In an attempt to highlight the many, many different branches that have grown from the tree of Christianity by way of human interpretation, I have decided to start a little mini series spotlighting some of the most interesting ones. I wanted to start with Christian Science since it happens to be one of the most interesting I have come across in quite a while.

What it’s all about:

MARYBAKEREDDYThe Christian Science religion was founded in 1879 by a woman named Mary Baker Eddy. She was sickly most of her life and after suffering a fall that inflicted internal injuries in 1875 she turned to the Bible for answers about her healing. It is at that time she claimed to have come to a working understanding of pain, sickness and injury through reading the scriptures which lead to her speedy 3-day recovery. She wrote a book describing her experiences and revelations, started preaching and putting to practice her new-found healing methodologies and the church was built 4 years later.

The basic premise of Christian Science is that the immortal, material world is an illusion in which we fall victim to suffering and illness. Matter is not real; only the spiritual world is real and can be accessed through prayer. They believe that “sickness and death are illusions caused by mistaken beliefs, and that the sick should be treated by a special form of prayer intended to correct those beliefs, rather than by medicine.” (Source)

These beliefs, as you can imagine, are incredibly controversial and potentially very dangerous. In fact, “between the 1880s and 1990s the avoidance of medical care and vaccination led to the deaths of a number of adherents and their children; several parents and others were prosecuted for manslaughter or neglect, and in a few cases convicted.” (Source) The modern Christian Science church takes a different stance on healthcare today in which they do not advocate for the complete non-use of medical treatment, but instead advises its followers to pray about what option they should take and make a decision that best fits their family’s needs (which almost always leads to a decision not to utilize modern medicinal treatment).

The_First_Church_of_Christ,_Scientist,_BostonChristian Science churches do not have pastors or reverends as typical Christian churches do. Actually, Mary Baker Eddy ordained the Bible and her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as the pastor of the church. There is one main church located in Boston (called the Mother Church since it was the first location) and many branches throughout the world. Each week, every church studies the exact same lesson from the Bible. They meet on Wednesdays to discuss with each other how the lesson has affected their lives and to share stories about how the lesson has healed them in some way. Then, they meet on Sundays for a church service in which that particular lesson is read aloud; there is no personal sermon given by any leader.

Ultimately, the followers of this religion believe that Jesus was able to heal people and even bring them back to life because of his closeness with and un-wavering trust in God. They believe that if they pray and develop a closeness with God as well, that they will then be able to heal themselves and others. While they know that they will never achieve the kind of closeness Jesus had to God, they believe that they can certainly approach it.

Why it’s harmful to society:

This religion requires complete trust in god to heal and prevent all illnesses which can and have lead to more than a few very avoidable deaths and/or complications. Many children suffer the consequences of not being vaccinated or actively treated for their illnesses in the appropriate ways causing their otherwise well-meaning parents to be accused of (and rightfully so) neglect.

This is one of those religions in which someone had an idea about the Bible and wrote their own supplementary text with the intention that they be read together. These authors, while most vehemently deny any parallels or comparisons between themselves and god, almost always believe that their writing is just as important as that of the Bible. I find it strange that someone with the capacity to believe the Bible to be a divine text with all of the answers one will ever need in it could also believe that some random person has the ability to write a guidebook or a partner book that describes the correct interpretation and how you should live your life accordingly.

A lot can be said for the healing powers of the mind. Many studies are being published about the affects one’s mindset can have on that person’s ability to heal and many cancer patients can attest to these seemingly miraculous cures. We already know that things like pain can be attributed almost entirely to that particular person’s idea of it which explains why some people enjoy hanging from the ceiling with hooks stuck through the skin on their backs and others can be completely crippled by a stubbed toe. However, to attribute these natural brain phenomenons to a divine deity is incredibly ignorant and dangerous. For minor illnesses and injuries I believe it is perfectly acceptable to resort to any type of treatment one feels is best for either themselves or their family, whether natural, homeopathic, divine, medicinal, etc. However, for life-threatening illnesses and injuries I believe, especially in the case of children who are unable to make medical decisions on their own, the power of healing through one’s mind (or prayer as the Christian Scientist will believe) should be used in conjunction with any and all modern remedies and solutions available; anything less is just plain irresponsible.

You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, But Apparently You Need a Bible

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.

chick-fil-a-bigots-2012Last 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.

How to Let Go and Let God lasso imagesCAG533J1

 

 

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.

Praying For Votes… Er, I Mean, Our Leaders

I was recently on a Christian website scrolling through a list of sermons about Atheism and I came across this ad:

BGEA-Pray-for-our-leaders-728x90-2-26-2013

Initially, it literally made me laugh out loud at the ridiculous-ness of it. “Learn” how to pray? …Huh? Isn’t prayer just talking to yourself in your head and hoping someone/something hears it and does something about it? Isn’t prayer personal and customized to fit nicely with your inner voice? And how does praying for our leaders differ from that? Is there a special chant or rhyme that must be used in order for the prayer to make its way up to god so that he’ll immediately know to give this prayer preference because it is for a leader? I was clearly curious so, naturally, I clicked on the link. Here is the description I found:

“‘It is a great privilege, as well as our responsibility, to pray for our government leaders.’ – Billy Graham

This helpful pamphlet helps guide you through what the Bible says about how to pray and about our government leaders. Also included are scripture references and ways to specifically pray for our leaders. The back has space for the names of local, state and federal leaders to be written, so they can be prayed for by name. Great tool for your congregation to encourage prayer for our nation! ” Billygrahambookstore.org

After reading the description and the hilarity subsided, I was left with a disturbing feeling of confusion. Most evangelicals disagree with our current government as well as the progress being made on social issues like abortion and marriage equality so, why would they be so light-heartedly praying for them? Then it hit me: They aren’t! This prayer guide is a rouse. It’s a cover up. They aren’t encouraging simple prayer for our nation (which is disturbing enough in and of itself) but rather, they are encouraging government in church under the guise of prayer.

It’s amazing, really. Without blatantly advertising the discussion of politics and government in their congregation (which would be illegal under their current tax-exempt status) they are disguising it as prayer. And how can one pray for our political leaders unless they know what they are praying for and how to do it? This then gives them an excuse to discuss it in the church and find themselves nice and warm and safe in the comfort of their loop-hole. They can’t legally tell their congregation who to vote for (although this is done quite often), but they can encourage prayer for a particular candidate whose views align with their own. Or even a prayer that an opponent of their chosen candidate wakes up to god and “reality” to find his/her proper way.

Woah. Votes disguised as prayers. Who would have thought?

I have another thought: How about when you are in church you do less talking about grown-up stuff like politics and law and more talking about your cute little fairy-tale book with its magical stories? Or, if you insist on playing with the big-dogs, how about you pay your fucking taxes like everyone else and earn that right?

People, organizations and/or mindless groups of blindly devoted idiots who do not contribute to society financially should have no say in what society does financially; whether in regards to funding social services or otherwise. The government is holding up its end of the bargain by keeping itself out of the church (tax exemption), it is time that the church start holding up its end of the bargain and staying out of government (prayer/vote brainwashing).

I’d Rather Be Godless Than Godly

Lately I have found within myself a strange, masochistic yearning to read through sermons. I say masochistic because, generally, they do nothing more than make me mad- someone actually taught this crap to an entire congregation of people?? But, I still enjoy reading them to a certain extent because they offer a sort of validation for me that I made the correct and logical decision in becoming and remaining an atheist, despite potential backlash from friends and family. So, this morning I came across a sermon entitled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Godlessness” by Joel Smith, a pastor of a Baptist church.

You can read the entire sermon here, but basically it is about how easy it is to be an atheist. Now, I think that assertion is up for a whole different debate, but I want to focus on the part that disturbed me the most: He spoke of atheism as a way of life in which god is not present which, to a certain extent, is true. However, he claims that even though many of the congregate members sitting before him believe in god, they do not allow him fully into their everyday lives and are, therefore, atheists.

Holy shit did that offend me!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an atheist as, “one who believes that there is no deity” NOT “one who believes there is a deity but does not welcome it into their daily lives like they should”. I am very proud to be an atheist and I will be damned (by no god in particular) if this pastor can just go around asserting that perhaps atheists do believe in god, they just do not welcome him into their lives! No sir. He is not welcome in my life BECAUSE HE DOES NOT EXIST.

After Joel introduces his new definition of atheism, he goes on to explain how to be an atheist:

“Why does Genesis tell us that Cain built a city?  Nice info, but so what?  The reason Cain built a city was protection.  Prior to this he killed his brother Abel and God cursed Cain for it.  He was cast out of the area where his family dwelt and into a harsher, crueler world.  He would have even less of God’s provision and protection than his parents.  Therefore Cain built a nice little fortified wall around a collection of houses and other buildings – the first city.  It was the absence of God in his life that led him to this.  Keep in mind that Cain believed in God, but he lived his life apart from the Him.  In his mind he was a believer, but in his practice he was an atheist, without God. This gives us our first principle in becoming a practical or practicing atheist. Focus on insulating yourself from the harsh realities of life on earth… Not only do the godly refuse to insulate, they refuse to worry about the harsh realities of life.  They look to and call on the God who is more than adequate to meet their needs.  They live lives of adventure as God takes them from one assignment to the next.”

Atheists “focus on insulating themselves from the harsh realities of life.” Just let that stew in your brain for a bit… After that stews for about 2 minutes, add this next ingredient:

“That’s the outworking of godlessness: self-reliance rather than dependence on God.  The godless person relies on their own wisdom, experience, skill, and strength to navigate life.  The godly person, on the other hand, admits their inability and seeks God’s help more and more.”

Now, let that cook for the rest of your life and take pleasure in knowing that you are self-sufficient and can rely on your “own wisdom, experience, skill and strength to navigate life”. (For extra sweetness, add a dash of uncontrollable laughter and disbelief- I did and it turned out great!)

Before I end up disclosing all of my secret recipes in this one post, I’ll move on by saying that this guy is completely bat-shit crazy. Since when has it become a bad thing to live your life based on experience and wisdom and skill? Shit, you can’t even get a job without skill and experience! And how are addicts supposed to accept the things they cannot change without the wisdom to know the difference?? Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for admitting inability. If I ran into someone on the street needing emergency brain surgery, I would immediately admit my inability to perform that task and then proceed to wonder how this person even knew they needed emergency brain surgery to begin with. Although, given the rationale of Mr. Smith, perhaps if I just prayed that I could help this person, my hands would magically know what to do!

“I sometimes think God probably love[s] my wife Laura more than any other person I know.  She constantly cries out to Him.  If she has a big or little decision, she seeks Him.  She teaches Drake and Anna Gray to cry out to God if they’ve lost something.  If it’s dark or rainy at Wal-Mart she cries out for a parking place and gets it.  She even cried out for His direction on which watermelon to buy.  Two summers ago she cried out when we were at a financial and emotional breaking point and God gave me a new job.  God answers people who admit their need. “

God gave this guy a new job, gave his wife a good parking space so she wouldn’t get too wet and he even offered his almighty guidance on which watermelon is best. Now, I know what you are thinking: “But, Missy! What about those poor people out in the rain that day down the street from that Wal-Mart with no car or no home to run to for shelter?” The answer is simple, my friends: they are not praying correctly. They may believe in god, but they are not asking him to be present in their everyday lives, therefore he is turned off to them. Instead of filling out job applications and wasting time in interviews, they should be praying and leaving it in god’s capable hands! Until then, he has more important things to worry about! He can’t just let Laura buy that dingy looking watermelon!

This is where the masochism comes in to play. SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO A BUNCH OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM TO SHOW THEM THE WAY TO BE CLOSER TO GOD AND UP THEIR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO HEAVEN (yes, I just screamed that at the sermon). Joel Smith says it is godless to depend on your wisdom and experience or on your skills and strengths and advises that they do none of these things, that instead they rely solely on god. For to be unknowing of the world is to be closer to god. This kind of teaching is EXACTLY why people trash the earth and remain ignorant to the horrible things happening in the world today. Not only ignorant, but uncaring and unyielding. THIS is why there are churches out there teaching their children to protest dead soldiers. Sure, they are extremists, but aren’t sermons like these where it all starts??