religion

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?

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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.

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“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.

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The Happy Atheist

One of the biggest stigmas Atheists face today (besides being devil-worshipers) is that we are cynical, loveless, empty sacks of people devoid of any true meaning in life. We are cynical and mean. We are grouchy because we have no belief in anything after life — and life sucks.  In fact, most Christians (and other religious folk) I talk to say that they feel sorry for me; that it must be hard and lonely having nothing to live for. Of course, we atheists know that this is far from the truth. Actually, most of us (myself included) found that life became much more amazing after breaking free from the shackles of religion. Once the oppressive, unrealistic expectations were taken away, I felt liberated, free and truly happy for the first time in my life. Instead of looking forward to an eternal life in paradise after death, I started living in the now and taking advantage of all the amazing things life has to offer. Time is limited and, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather live to live than live to die.

So why is it that religious people view Atheists in such a negative light (besides the obvious reasons)? If we are all so happy and carefree, how could they possibly perceive us to be angry and empty? Because of assholes like this:

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Let me explain what you are looking at here. I follow an account on Instagram that posts nothing but pictures of atheist quotes and funny atheist memes. On this particular day, however, the owner of the account posted a picture in support of gay marriage and LGBT rights, which I am not opposed to in the least. Unfortunately, there are still arrogant idiots out there that still believe they need to have a say in what goes on in a stranger’s bed and a debate ensued. The unfortunate thing about this debate is that this guy, who goes by, “theirateatheist” went on a rampage of bashing and shaming and name-calling instead of reasoning and logically arguing his point. This is merely one example of some of the fine things he had to say.

Now, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on two things, 1. He has already admitted via his screen name that he is irate — we were warned,  and 2. it’s practically impossible to reason with someone who still believes they should have any say in what other people do with their lives (as long as it does not negatively affect others, of course). So, I get it. I get the anger. And, frankly, he’s right — the guy he is referring to is in fact a “fucking retard”. The problem is that those on the fence about their religion and even those who aren’t, have now seen firsthand how atheists are angry, empty, hateful people. Comments like this perpetuate the stereotype.

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It’s a never-ending cycle and, the worst part is, we have done it to OURSELVES!

I propose we atheists fight the temptation and stop writing illogical, useless personal attacks on the religious and kill em’ with kindness instead. I mean, if religion has taught us anything, it has taught us that nothing recruits better than a comforting, judgement-free place full of like-minded and accepting people. If we can start showing people that atheists do in fact make better lovers, then I think we could persuade a lot more people to think twice about atheism and what life would look like without a god. We turn them away at the door before they ever even desire to peak inside when we call them names and act viciously to others. Personally, I think this world would be a much better place if there were fewer people in it that believed in a religion. The more we are able to show others how fulfilling and happy life can be as an atheist, the more people are likely to turn away from religion and, in the end, we would all end up winning.

Donating Organs to Jesus

There is a Seventh-Day Adventist church near my house on our neighborhood street corner that has a giant message board for announcements and other religious proclamations. It rarely changes and the messages are typically not worth any mention. It will announce things their Vacation Bible School dates, or advertise its food pantry giveaway (free food for the needy AFTER they attend a service and get preached at), things like that. Occasionally, it will have something hilarious on it, like the time it said that the “most honorable position is on your knees before the lord.”

I think I almost choked on my bagel on the way to work when I saw it! (I know, I shouldn’t eat while I am driving… ESPECIALLY while simultaneously reading hilarious sexual innuendos on religious property)

Either way, the other day, the Adventists decided to switch up their message to something that infuriated me probably more than it should have. It now says:

“Become an organ donor, give your heart to Jesus”

How about you become an organ donor and give your heart (or any other part of you for that matter) to SOMEONE IN NEED instead?! To be fair, I don’t believe this sign is advocating against becoming an actual organ donor, however, I would argue that the message of becoming an actual organ donor is WAAAAAAYYYYYYYY more important than the message of giving your heart to a fictional, fairytale idiot of a “savior”.

Let’s look at some statistics:

  • Nearly 120,000 men, women and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants.
  • Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
  • An average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
  • In 2012, there were 14,013 Organ Donors resulting in 28,052 organ transplants.
  • 90% of Americans say they support donation, but only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor

Only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor” This statistic is remarkable to me because, literally, it is as easy as checking a box on your application for a photo ID or Driver’s License! So, wouldn’t the correct Christian thing to do in this situation be not to use a “clever” play on words in hopes of catching some poor, lost soul’s attention, but rather to take the opportunity to help your fellow human race and educate them about the shit that really matters? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t someone who is more alive be more effective in participating in your religion and tithing than a person that is… well… dead?

There is probably nothing on this Earth that pisses me off more than how the religious people in this world have such credibility, authority and such a HUGE platform to speak on with billions of blind followers and they abuse the opportunity to talk about things that really matter in this world. Instead, they brainwash, push ridiculous agendas and cover up crimes and misconduct, all in the name of god.

It’s absolutely disgusting.

Ridiculous Religion: Scientology

I had to start another mini-series highlighting some of the other more interesting religions in the world because, let’s face it, Christianity is not the only one! I figured the best way to start this series is with one of the more ridiculous religions out there: Scientology.

What it’s all about:

Scientology was created by a man named L. Ron Hubbard who, after writing a sort-of self-help book called, Dianetics, determined that his findings were the foundation for a new religion. Dianetics was a psychotherapy book which used the method of auditing as a counseling technique to help people recall traumatic events. Through recalling these traumatic experiences, people were then able to become aware of and release their conscious or unconscious, negative responses to them — a process known as clearing. e-meter_0

These techniques are put to practice in the Scientology religion using Auditors and E-Meters. Auditors are higher level operating thetans (otherwise know as OTs) who are trained and trusted with helping pre-clears (those who have not cleared yet) discover their full spiritual potential. E-Meters are religious artifacts that send tiny electric pulses through one’s body, calculate the response and reflect that response back to the machine using a sensitive, reactive needle. The Church of Scientology describes the E-Meter as follows:

“The E-Meter measures the spiritual state or change of state of a person and thus is of enormous benefit to the auditor in helping the preclear locate areas to be handled. The reactive mind’s hidden nature requires the use of a device capable of registering its effects—a function the E-Meter does accurately. Different needle movements have exact meanings and the skill of an auditor includes a complete understanding of all meter reactions. Using the meter, the auditor ensures that the process covers the correct area in order to discharge the harmful energy connected with that portion of the preclear’s reactive mind. When charge lessens, the person heightens his ability to think clearly in the area being addressed and his survival potential increases proportionately. As a result, the preclear discovers things about himself and his life—new realizations about existence, the milestones that mark his gains.” (source)

After a person completes this auditing process and “clears” they then begin to move up to different levels within the religion. Different levels of people know different things and each level provides more knowledge, techniques and answers for why we are here and what we are meant to do. Each level is sworn to complete secrecy and before the records were released as evidence in a court case in 1995, no one really knew what Scientologists actually believed. The church claimed the secrecy was/is to prevent those who were not yet ready from being exposed to the information and taking it out of context. That information? Buckle your seat belts kids because here we go:

I mentioned the word, Thetan previously and you all are probably curious as to what that is. Well, a thetan is you — your essence, your soul. It is “the individualized expression of the cosmic source, or life force.” (source) A long, long time ago, thetans created the material universe for their own pleasure. They did not create it in the sense that it was then physically there, but in the sense that they all agreed it was there and therefore, it was. When the thetans began to believe in their universe and feel that it was a physical reality, they fell from grace and lost their memory of their true spiritual selves. This resulted in the thetans believing that they were physical beings. Thetans never die but are instead reborn when they “assume” new physical forms. According to L. Ron Hubbard, there have been various cosmic catastrophes imparted on the fallen thetans that he refers to as “space opera.”

So, how did humans come to Earth to be assumed by thetans you ask? The answer is obvious:

Xenu, a tyrant ruler of the galactic confederacy, brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago on planes, landed them by volcanos and then detonated hydrogen bombs causing the thetans to attach themselves to those humans that were still alive.

I’m serious. You can’t make that shit up. Well… I guess L. Ron Hubbard can.

Anywho, that event was the initial cause of all human trauma and as each thetan assumes body after body, each traumatic event experienced while in that body is brought forward to the next. People who reach higher OT levels are able to tap into all of these traumatic events (the ill effects of the thetan) and release them, allowing themselves to be more in tune with their original spiritual presence. The idea is that they become more and more in-tune with their spiritual presence as they assume body after body. There is even a Scientology symbol carved into the ground in Trementina, New Mexico that marks a spot for loyal followers to return back to when traveling from other galactic locations. This symbol is visible from the air and, buried beneath it, are stainless steel copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s works encased in titanium for preservation.

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Why it’s harmful to society:

Uh… do I really have to go there? It’s completely ridiculous, that’s why! Ok, ok. Believing that a virgin in the middle east birthed a white baby that walked on water, and healed the sick and dying/already dead, died a mortal, torturous death nailed to a cross but was somehow later strong enough to not only return to life but move a giant boulder away from his grave door (couldn’t use that strength previously to push his way past his prosecutors and torturers to freedom and safety) to float up into the sky and save everyone from the sins that his own father made them commit is just as ridiculous! So, fine. I’ll go there. 🙂

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Arguably the most harmful thing about this religion is that it was thought up entirely by one man and yet gained so much trust amongst its followers that it rapidly grew and continues to grow today. The scriptures consist solely of the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the teachings/sermons during Sunday services are meant to only help one understand them, not interpret them. Christianity is harmful in the same way except that, at least in this case, we know who the author of the book is and with no room for interpretation, there can only be one sect of Scientology!

Because of its rapid growth and acceptance, Scientology has been regarded (and rightfully so, I believe) as a brainwashing cult. It is by far the most expensive religion to be a part of as each audit, and each OT level require a HUGE amount of money to complete. This tends to be why it appeals only to rich people, including celebrities. Hubbard actually decided early on in the creation of Scientology that celebrities would play a key role in the dissemination of his religion and had his followers go after specific celebrities to initiate conversion.

Scientology is not recognized by some states internationally as being a genuine religion and was even stripped of its religious organization status by America in the 1970’s. It was later reinstated in the 1990’s with its religious, tax-free affiliation after a long, drawn out legal battle ensued. The fact that any state or country would even waiver on the decision of whether a practice is actually a religion or not should be a huge red flag to any potential follower. Religions are wacky anyways, but if it is so wacky that a country won’t even recognize it, you should be even more hesitant to join.

Another harmful idea born out of Scientology is their belief that the practice of psychiatry is harmful and should be abolished. They believe that psychiatrists can not adequately and responsibly help their patients retrieve traumatic experiences and that they are even less capable of helping them deal with these experiences appropriately and in manner that won’t cause further harm to the patient. Scientologists feel that psychiatric practices are abusive and therefore do not seek help from professionals if/when they should.

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

This quote is direct form the Church of Scientology website:

Scientology believes Man to be basically good, not evil. It is Man’s experiences that have led him to commit evil deeds, not his nature. Often, he mistakenly seeks to solve his problems by considering only his own interests, which then causes trouble for both himself and others. Scientology believes that Man advances to the degree that he preserves his spiritual integrity and values and remains honest and decent. Indeed, he deteriorates to the degree that he abandons these qualities.” (source)

Ultimately, the view that humans are basically good is a beneficial one that can only positively progress society. It still holds everyone accountable to themselves, but not just for themselves, for the greater good. The focus of this religion is to become more in-tune with yourself in order to be a more useful and effective member of society. It talks a lot about helping others and making a positive impact on the world.

The Church of Scientology has been responsible for several human rights movements centered around non-discrimination of race, color and creed in either government sanctions or otherwise — which is a good thing. However, their creed talks only about the rights of “men” and makes no real mention of any of the more active human rights campaigns today (i.e. homosexual marriage, women’s equality, etc). So, while they might be on the right track, I doubt the Church of Scientology will be spearheading the success of any big human rights campaign.

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

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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.

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Or this…

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Or even this…

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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)

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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.

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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: Seventh-Day Adventist

What it’s all about:

The Seventh Day Adventist church arose out of a movement that took place back in the 1840’s led by a man named William Miller. Miller was a Baptist who self-converted to Adventist after his thorough reading of the Bible led him to discover prophecies of the coming of Christ. He focused mainly on a passage in the book of Daniel:

“Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’” Daniel 8:13-14

Daniel 8:14 became his obsession (I added verse 13 for a little context) as he tediously calculated (via the very popular day-year principle) that 2300 days really meant 2300 years. He determined that the start date would be 457 B.C. when the decree to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes I of Persia took place. It was 1818 when Miller made the discovery, through his calculations and interpretations, that the second-coming of Christ would be in 1843. He spent the next few decades honing in on his discovery and eventually began lecturing the public on his findings in 1831. (Source) He gathered and attracted many followers (known as the Millerites) but, after the prophesied date came and went and others attempted to predict new dates based on different calendars and those dates came and went without issue, most of the Millerites fell off the bandwagon and went back to their initial religions.

chmillhpSome Millerites did stay, however. These people decided that the text did not intend to show us the exact date or year in which the coming of Christ would occur, but merely when the cleansing process would begin. These people became known as the Adventists due to their emphasis on the imminent second-coming and later, became known as the Seventh Day Adventists due to their strict observance of the Sabbath Day. The church really took off when a woman named Ellen G. White had a spiritual vision in which she realized that the church needed international expansion. She created a missionary program and “by 1945, the church reported 210,000 members in the US and Canada, and 360,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 140,000.” (Source)

The problem was most people viewed the church as a cult due to its unorthodox belief systems (the sabbath day is now on a Saturday?!) and its strangely large amount of church leaders living by Arian doctrine. But, after the church adopted the Trinity in the early 20th Century, all was good by the protestants and it began to take an even stronger foothold. (Source)

Today, the Seventh Day Adventist church preaches mostly about how much god loves you and how safe you are in his hands. Their website says things like, “God keeps a family album-and your picture is in it. God loves you and has a plan for your life.” (source) and is constantly reassuring its readers/followers that god is always there for them. They still put a huge emphasis on the Sabbath Day with many of its followers never doing anything secular, whether for leisure or work, on Saturdays outside of church functions and gatherings (I should note that certain things like nature walks and family activities are encouraged on sabbath days). Also, the second coming of Christ is still central to the church in many ways. They teach that death is only a “peaceful pause before the resurrection” saying, “death is almost like a wintery promise of spring.”  (source) They believe (similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses I talked about here) that when you die you are simply awaiting the return of Christ to take you home and the “millennium” of the 1,000 year reign of Christ over Earth will be a time in which all the wicked will be judged.

Some distinctive teachings include the doctrine of an investigative judgement, in which god will individually look back on all the things you have said and done in your life to determine whether or not you are worthy of being saved and continuing on to heaven.

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Also, they include foot washing in their practice of partaking in the Lord’s supper. This is supposed to symbolize the commitment to love others as Jesus loves them. (source) They only initiate the practice of taking the Lord’s supper about 4 times a year, however, and they are made to segregate themselves by gender in order to complete the ritual (although, some married couples are allowed to participate together).

Baptisms are completed with a full body dunk to symbolize “dying to self and coming alive in Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists practice full immersion baptism because by being fully buried beneath the water [they] symbolize that God’s grace fully fills [them] with His new life for the future.” (source)

Why it’s harmful to society:

Seventh Day Adventists are living in a state of constant anticipation for the coming of Christ. I would argue that living in this state would be scary and stressful, especially for children who have a limited understanding of the doctrine. Imagine growing up thinking that your death is imminent and could happen at any moment! Not that this isn’t the case with or without religion, but who in their right mind would remind their children of that? Also, wives are commanded (by the Bible, of course) to be completely submissive to their husbands, however, the church is much more lenient on things like birth control (as long as its intended use is not for abortion purposes) and even abortion if it is being considered for reasons other than birth control, convenience or gender selection.

starving_childrenAnother cause for concern is how rapidly they are spreading. Today, missionaries are reaching people in over 200 countries! As of June 2011, the church was said to have 17,214,683 members with only 7% of them residing in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing religions in the world because of its missionary efforts in developing countries (mostly in Africa and in the Central and Southern Americas). (Source) Is it just me or does it seem wrong to travel to developing countries offering much needed medical attention and food while indoctrinating the people with your religious beliefs? If I was poor, starving, sick and uneducated and someone came offering a remedy to my misfortunes while speaking about the second coming of Christ, I think I would start believing, too!

Another bummer, although not detrimental, would be the sabbath observance on Saturday as opposed to Sunday. Pretty much everything is already closed on Sundays anyway (heck, you can’t even buy a car in the state of Colorado on Sundays!) so wouldn’t it be easier to follow the strict sabbath rules? Think of all the things they are missing out on! But, I guess that isn’t really the point, now is it?

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

Seventh Day Adventists put a huge emphasis on health. Most follow strict diets, with about 35% of members adhering to vegetarianism. They abstain from all foods listed as “unclean” in the Bible as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. They are encouraged to get adequate exercise as well as plenty of rest to take care of their bodies and, because of this, research is finding that Adventists live significantly longer than most people do.

“Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.” (source)

This is a really cool side effect of a really strict doctrine in which I see nothing but good coming to society as a result. Another positive aspect of the Adventist religion is their tolerance for other religions and their firm stance on religious liberty. While some have criticized their seemingly exclusive behaviors, the church has time and time again rebutted with its beliefs that all Christians are doing their best to worship the same god. And, while they may not agree with other practices or interpretations, those religions should be granted the same respect and freedom all Adventists desire. (source)

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