1. Atheism 2.0 and The Common Community

    Christianity, and other collective mythologies founded on faith in a mystical deity are flawed. (<- Early contender for the most obvious sentence of 2012 award) The highest form of faith is believing in something that can ultimately be disproved. The more impossible the belief, the stronger the required faith. This is irrational and certainly not a virtue. For the purposes of this screed Faith = faith in a god. 

    Faith is not a virtue - simply having it doesn’t make one a better person. For many, their morality is steered by faith and religious doctrine, but in no way is faith a prerequisite to moral living. Faith, however, does make one more hopeful. Faith spurs a hope that something bigger and smarter and better is in control or has the power to change our present or future reality. Faith may lead to hope that we’ll all somehow get what we deserve after death. In that hope, people find comfort, but it is not truth. Faith enables hope (good) but it also requires us to believe that which may or may not be true (bad). The Apostle Paul affirms this in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    Hope can be a positive life force when we strive towards the improbable (e.g. beating illness, trying hard at anything worthwhile, etc…), and it can show itself in many forms, but it is certainly not exclusive to faith (in god) or spiritualism.  

    For the past several years, I’ve been struggling with this question of why I still attend church and participate in my religious community despite my apostasy. I don’t believe in the Christian teaching of God or soteriology. And while I’m open to the possibility of anything and everything existing in the unseen realms of energy and death, I certainly don’t have much belief in a heaven or a hell or reincarnation or all of us returning to planet Melmac. Upon death, we may become worm food or wormholes, I really have no idea.

    But the church is what I know and what I love. It’s where I’ve met some of the best people in the world (and some of the worst). It’s where I’m comfortable and accepted. It’s a place that makes me feel needed and useful. It’s somewhere I can ponder bigger things in life and establish deep, meaningful relationships with others. These are the reasons that keep me coming back, despite hearing things about “relationships with Jesus” and how “God is in control” that make me want to claw my eyes out. 

    So, imagine if churches, in their current structure, were to acknowledge that faith was flawed and our own mythologies were no more “truthful” than anything else. How do things change? What does a church look like without the doctrines of our collective mythology? What if we kept all the undeniably positive aspects of religion and threw out the mysticism? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a community like that? 

    The 5 C’s: Things I love about the church now.

    Constancy: knowing who will be there, the routine and order of service, steady location, consistency of environment and atmosphere, knowing what I’m getting into
    Comfort: comfortable surroundings, old friends, welcoming, non-judgmental environment where I can be and express myself, a place to be away from burdens of the workweek - a place to unplug
    Connection: seeing familiar friends, meeting new ones, a perfect level of interaction for “acquaintances,” eating together, familial support, collective joy/grief, a place where it’s not weird (rather encouraged) to make a “deeper” connection with people - generally unavailable in the workplace, a safe place to bring children and meet like-minded parents, sharing/venting concerns and helping find solutions for them, having the sense of a shared, collective purpose/cause 
    Creativity: opportunity to hear and play live music, learning through lectures/talks/stories/sermons, hearing new ideas and reaffirming old ones, high-tech showmanship (sound systems, computers, projectors, etc…), artistic expression/interpretation of shared values/beliefs, challenging intellectual discourse, 
    Collaboration: working on projects as a group to tackle a problem or organize an event for the common good, having an elected, hierarchical leadership structure that leverages individual talents/passions, sports/games/activities bonding through conflict/adversity

    If we were to build a formal community that cultivated the 5 C’s I’d be all in. I already am, we just have that whole “Jesus is God” thing that irritates me. A community like this would not be immune to all the negative characteristics of any group: discrimination, gossip, conflict, etc…, but with the right alchemy and leadership it could evolve into a community that seeks the common good. I wouldn’t call it a church either, I’d call it the Common Community. Imagine attending a TED conference every Saturday. TED is the first thing that comes to mind when visualizing the Common Community. Someone like Chris Anderson would be the “Pastor.” The cultivator and leader. The facilitator. The Pastor is integral to the success of the community, but he is not the sole source of knowledge. He curates more than he creates. A true communal learning experience. Ok, I’m getting excited now. 

    Elements of the Common Community:

    1. No more sola scriptura: Eliminate reliance on the Bible or any other religious doctrine as the sole source of truth. Lectures/talks can reference anything that holds observable truth or otherwise presents itself as theory. 
    2. Love Rules: Exploration of love and compassion as the highest principles and virtues - not faith
    3. Observation, not explanation: Exploration of science and the beauty and mystery of our world through observation - not mysticism
    4. Speak Well: Compelling speakers, experts in various fields speaking with authority
    5. Get Real: Discussion of real societal problems and how our community can help
    6. No Such Thing as Blasphemy: Irreverence for dogma, reverence for our community and shared values
    7. The 5 C’s: cultivate all the great things about religion, without requiring faith

    _____

    Update (1/17/12): So I wrote all of that ^ while suffering a bout of insomnia last week. Today, TED (speak of the devil), released a brilliant talk by Alain de Botton who is making way more sense than I am. Atheism 2.0. So brilliant. 

     


  2. Tim Tebow Is Not Ashamed (and he’s not lying)

    Tim Tebow believes everything he says. I know this because I used to be Tim Tebow. Well, not literally, of course, you dumbass. I mean I used to say the things Tim Tebow says and I used to believe the things Tim Tebow believes.

    There’s a temptation among “non-believers” to lump all “believers” into a single category of “crazy religious people.” It’s actually quite easy and fun to do this, especially when the majority of religious people seem to fall so readily into the “crazy religious people” bin. You’ll know they’re genuinely crazy religious people when they take pride in being labeled as such and then proceed to picket military funerals or strap C4 around their belts and ride the bus. I’d like to suggest that this level of “crazy religious person” is actually quite far down the periphery of religious folk and Tebow is definitely not in their ranks.

    Tim Tebow is passionate in his belief and love for Jesus. (I’m going for the Most Obvious Sentence of 2011 Award). Although this may be classified as crazy by some, it is not disingenuous. Tim Tebow is a devout, well-intentioned, evangelical Christian in the truest form. This is why he is so beloved. This is why he’s treated like Jesus Jr. within his community of faith and observed like a zoo animal by the rest of the godless horde.

    While some may be dismissive of the idea, there actually is quite a large spectrum of belief and praxis within Christianity. The diversity of theology and culture is what makes the faith fascinating (to me, anyway), and what we’re seeing in Tim Tebow is a classic evangelical Christian. Evangelicals wear their God-lovin hearts on their sleeves. In theory, they don’t do it to show off or be prideful in their piety; they are up-front in their expressions of faith because they believe that Jesus is the most important thing they can offer the world. This is the underlying philosophy of short-term overseas mission trips: while clean water and food and a sustainable economic infrastructure are great, the Gospel is the most important thing I can give to my Third World neighbor. Jesus is the bread of life, not you know, actual bread.

    So, when Tim Tebow says his annual summer trip to Dad’s orphanage in the Philippines is what makes him most happy, he means it. It is his adherence to a higher calling. It is living life in the most fulfilling way possible - the way Jesus would have done. Evangelicals believe it is their duty to be the hands and feet of God. That means everything they do, whether in word or in deed, is intended to honor the Almighty. As an Evangelical, everything matters: what I say, what I do, how I walk, how I dress, how I behave in front of Brent Musburger.

    I’d bet a year’s salary that Tim Tebow has read or heard about a book called, The Prayer of Jabez. It’s a pocket-sized text based on the prayer of a little-known character in the Old Testament named Jabez who invoked a simple prayer: “’Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” Evangelicals interpret this prayer to mean, “bless me so that more people will be within my sphere of influence.” In other words, “God, help me be successful so others will look up to me and I can tell them all about You.”

    Every time Tim Tebow wins a game, his territory is enlarged and when he mentions his faith or thanks God in an interview or Tebows after a game, he’s doing you a favor. He is sharing with you the most important message he knows. Like The Secret before The Secret. He may not be preaching to you directly and he may not be holding a bible study in your home, but he is bringing God into your conversation, and that honors Him. Tebow believes that his actions and expressions of faith, no matter how indirect they may be, will somehow compel you to be like him. The crazy thing? When you’re Tim Tebow, it works! Tebowing toes the line of irony because it’s often done in jest but is also a huge win for the evangelical Christian community. When was the last time words like “faith” and “God” have so dominated the dialogue of sports? Tim Tebow is God’s bulldozing hype man into the secular world.

    When asked by reporters about his frequent conjuring of the Lord in interviews, Tim Tebow disarms the questioner by responding, "If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only tell your wife that you love her on the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? That’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ." While godless heathens like Chuck Klosterman are surprised by such a lucid reply (jk, CK, i love you, I’ve got all your books), it’s just one of many canned analogies Evangelicals are taught from an early age. There will be more, especially if you start questioning his beliefs. Tebow will explain the Trinity to you by comparing it to the 3 molecular phases of water (ice/water/steam=God/Jesus/Holy Ghost). Tebow will talk about the faith of Abraham and Job and he’ll encourage his teammates by reciting a proverb about iron sharpening iron. This is what a good Christian boy does, and he does it earnestly.

    There are more “crazy religious people” within the Christian faith than I can shake a stick at; and at times, it seems the hypocrisy of the church knows no bounds. It’s the diversity of belief and culture that’s led to the proliferation of hundreds of denominations and the unbelievably asinine nature of “church drama,” but if all the in-fighting has honed one skill, it’s our ability to spot a fake. No one is faster to accuse a believer of hypocrisy or impure motives than a fellow believer. I’ll tell you this: no fellow believer doubts Tim Tebow’s motives. He’s criticized for being calculating and throwing religion in your face. Well, that’s because he is. That’s what he’s trying to do. In everything he does, whether in word or in deed, Tim Tebow wants you to look at him and think about Jesus. If Tim Tebow sold steak knives for a living, he’d be the same way. Except he’d be the “crazy religious steak knife guy.” Football is just what he happens to be doing now. He wants to win games and be the best quarterback of all time because it broadens his territory. His final destination is not money or fame or victory, they are means to an end: to hype Jesus on the biggest platform in America; ‘cause Elway ain’t done shit for Jesus.

    Tim Tebow is modest about everything except his faith. That’s because he’s following the words of the Apostle Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). In a world full of Jews and Gentiles, Tim Tebow is not ashamed and he’s not lying.

     

  3. There are no words to express my anger when I see stuff like this. It’s just so… how can you… what the hell is he… what kind of evil, moronic, douchebag says… he’s speaking to young people… it’s just so… awful. 

     
     


  4. Why I’m an Atheist

    by Ricky Gervais for the WSJ Blog

    Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

    Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

    Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

    This, is of course a spirituality issue, religion is a different matter. As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are. From what I can gather, pretty much the worst type of person you can be is an atheist. The first four commandments hammer this point home. There is a god, I’m him, no one else is, you’re not as good and don’t forget it. (Don’t murder anyone, doesn’t get a mention till number 6.)

    When confronted with anyone who holds my lack of religious faith in such contempt, I say, “It’s the way God made me.”

    But what are atheists really being accused of?

    The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.

    So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.

    I used to believe in God. The Christian one that is.

    I loved Jesus. He was my hero. More than pop stars. More than footballers. More than God. God was by definition omnipotent and perfect. Jesus was a man. He had to work at it. He had temptation but defeated sin. He had integrity and courage. But He was my hero because He was kind. And He was kind to everyone. He didn’t bow to peer pressure or tyranny or cruelty. He didn’t care who you were. He loved you. What a guy. I wanted to be just like Him.

    One day when I was about 8 years old, I was drawing the crucifixion as part of my Bible studies homework. I loved art too. And nature. I loved how God made all the animals. They were also perfect. Unconditionally beautiful. It was an amazing world.

    I lived in a very poor, working-class estate in an urban sprawl called Reading, about 40 miles west of London. My father was a laborer and my mother was a housewife. I was never ashamed of poverty. It was almost noble. Also, everyone I knew was in the same situation, and I had everything I needed. School was free. My clothes were cheap and always clean and ironed. And mum was always cooking. She was cooking the day I was drawing on the cross.

    I was sitting at the kitchen table when my brother came home. He was 11 years older than me, so he would have been 19. He was as smart as anyone I knew, but he was too cheeky. He would answer back and get into trouble. I was a good boy. I went to church and believed in God -– what a relief for a working-class mother. You see, growing up where I did, mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors; they just hoped their kids didn’t go to jail. So bring them up believing in God and they’ll be good and law abiding. It’s a perfect system. Well, nearly. 75 percent of Americans are God-­‐fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-­‐fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists.

    But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob,” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

    Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

    Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

    But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

    So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine.

    “Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

    You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

     


  5. For better or worse

    Churches are nothing more than clubs with varying degrees of written and unwritten rules for membership. 

    That’s it and that’s all, man. 

     

  6. Just look at that. That is the 1844 Millerite Daniel-Revelation Prophecy Chart. How can anyone look at that and not find it completely insane? It reminds me of my favorite blog about the church: SDA Caricatures. Do yourself a favor and crank out an hour or two over there. It’s very inside but awesome. 

    Happy Sabbath! 

     


  7. We Are Soldiers?

    The other day I found myself singing a whacky little song I was taught in Vacation Bible School:

    We are soldiers in the army. We have to fight although we have to die. We have to hold up the blood-stained banner. We have to hold it up until we die.

    Now ______, he was a solider. He had his hands on the gospel plow. One day he got old and couldn’t fight any more he said, ‘stand up and fight anyhow!”

    What the hell were we thinking? Those are lyrics to a song we’d expect to hear at a terrorist training camp somewhere. Just a fun, harmless song about staying strong in the Lord, you say? It’s harmless like a jingle for a kids’ cereal with jolly ranchers and cupcakes inside is harmless. Christians wanna talk about the unholiness of ‘secular’ music and rock and roll in the church? We have gospel songs bordering on a terrorist salvo and taught to children, no less! Talk about seeing the sawdust and missing the plank.

    Religion is crazy. Having been raised in the Christian church, I often use the royal ‘we’ when referring to Christians, the church and religious people in general. It’s fair to say that I’ve run the spectrum of faith at this point, back and forth between fundamentalism and apostasy. Although I feel incredibly stupid for some of the things I may have believed, said and done in the name of ‘faith’ at different times in the past, I make no apology for seeking truth or meaning in life. I also readily concede that my beliefs and opinions are totally subject to change in the future - we all have minds so we can change them. There is nothing original about what I’m about to say, considering atheists, skeptics, agnostics and apostates have been decrying the imposition of religion on children for decades.

    Religious doctrine, when imposed on children as truth is brainwashing. I have no desire to engage in some esoteric debate about brainwashing vs teaching. In the Christian church, we are taught the super-unnatural nature of God, the validity of the Bible and the reality of sin and its consequences from a very young age. We are encouraged to remember and recite memory verses, pray without ceasing and think in terms of personal testimony as proof of God’s existence. The church is often the first (and sometimes, only) institution that formally introduces abstract concepts like love, forgiveness, grace and compassion to young children. Unfortunately, in the Christian context, it is impossible to have a discussion about love and forgiveness without referencing buzzwords like, sin, repentance, guilt, shame and the hell. Most of us never move past this stage, viewing the physical and spiritual world as a series of black or white, cause->effect circumstances. I do something bad -> I go to hell. I did something bad -> Jesus died for it: ‘how tragic and beautiful!’ ‘Like a rose, trampled on the ground!’ This newfound understanding of redemption leads to a confusing cocktail of feelings: guilt, gratitude, shame, joy, fear, euphoria, grief, relief. We are inspired or ‘led by the spirit’ to ‘live for God’ henceforth. Oddly, this journey of faith is not complete with just one revelation, it is cyclical, evidenced by ‘re-commitments’ and ‘re-baptisms’ and spiritual highs and lows. If a grown man can’t break from this cycle, imagine the implications for an adolescent child.

    In June of this year, the advertising world was taken aback when one of its biggest creative superstars announced he was leaving the industry, primarily due to his misgivings about advertising to children:

    As we all know from experience, children are not small grownups. Their brains are fundamentally different, the big difference being that right hemisphere brain development doesn’t really kick in until the age of twelve. This is important because without the right hemisphere involved, all decisions and concepts are very black and white. If you have kids, you’ve experienced this: The child that learns at school that drinking can be dangerous and suddenly thinks that glass of wine is going to kill dad. All things go into a category of good or bad; there are no grey areas for children. And this leaves them fundamentally and developmentally unequipped to deal with advertising in the way an adult can. If you sit with a child and watch TV commercials, you will notice how vigorously effective the messages are. “I want that.” “Can I have that?” “I need that.” These words come out of their mouths with seemingly every message, and they mean it and they believe it and they are defenseless against it. And that is the issue.”

    It’s ironic that we should be taking our moral cues from the man who transformed Burger King into a cool global brand, but if anyone would know the difference between brainwashing and persuasion, an ad man would be the one to ask. The “message” of religion and the way we deliver it to young children leaves them defenseless. Mature reasoning has yet to kick in. Social acceptance is their ultimate reward and primary driver. They are defenseless.

    I’m not overreacting. I’ve run my share of Vacation Bible Schools and I’ve sung the songs. I know we take it with a grain salt. Too bad Jesus Camp is like a terrifying video diary of my past summers. Look, it’s easy to justify and rationalize bits and pieces of our religion when examined in small increments. One song is just one song, when considering the hundreds of songs a child will hear and learn. And as far as I can remember, I’ve never seen a little Christian boy holding up a literal blood-stained banner. But as a reformed religious nutcase, it’s hard for me to ignore the religious assault we employ on our most defenseless minds. Values are important and every parent has the right and responsibility to teach their children to be kind and decent human beings. But let’s not confuse kindness and decency with the existence of God or loyalty to religious praxis. We can teach children lasting values without reciting religion. Compassion as taught by an atheist is still compassion. Kindness is still kindness. Love is still love. Religion is crazy to make us think otherwise.

    I’m not here to judge parents who raise their children in the church. My parents were of the same mind and I’m happy I was raised the way I was. Here’s what I’d really like to say: the importance of nurturing a child’s sense of reason, independence and curiosity cannot be overstated. The world will be infinitely improved if your child grows to become a rational, decent person - let this be your contribution to the world. We need free-thinking teens and adults who can take all of our institutions to higher ground. The power of common sense is deceptively superlative and sadly, appears to be less and less common. Let’s fight to get it back… stand up and fight anyhow!

     


  8. The Financial Irresponsibility of Mission Trips

    I think it’s time someone much smarter than me did a comprehensive analysis on the economics of short-term evangelical mission trips. As a former pastor and member of the seventh-day adventist church, I have dozens of close friends, mentors, students and acquaintances who place great priority on overseas missions as part of their “journey with God.” This post is equally directed at no one in particular and everyone I know.

    I think it’s time we really think long and hard about what short-term missions actually accomplish, who benefits and why we go. Let’s start with the why:

    1. Jesus told me to (Matthew 28:16-20)
    2. I want to help people (WWJD?)
    3. Some external force pressured me into it (all of the above and everything else)

    It’s a valid argument that without the Great Commission, the church would not be where it is today. Christianity holds its stake up as the largest religion in the world, and missionaries from various denominations have truly traveled to the ends of the earth to make it so. I’m no theologian, I’m barely a Christian any more, but I do believe Jesus as a person and teacher was pretty revolutionary.

    Jesus was local. Dude never hopped on a boat to cross the ocean nor did he ride his donkey to Egypt to proselytize. Even his final instructions to his apostles commanded them to start local: Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). So, it seems it was intended for the majority of the work to be done locally, while a small number of trailblazing believers (like Paul and Barnabas small and trailblazing) are dispatched throughout the land to spread the gospel. Today, an estimated 2 million Americans go on mission trips. More on that later.

    The admirable desire to help people may be the purest ideal motivating my missionary friends. Compassion, especially that which is strong enough to spur action, is a trait that should never be discouraged or denied. Wanting to help is a wonderful notion and I’ll allow the benefit of naivete in believing our missionaries’ altruistic hearts. Having said that, there are two qualities inherent in a truly compassionate person: 1) An indiscriminate desire to help and 2) a willingness to do whatever it takes to maximize the benefit to his fellow man regardless of personal cost or sacrifice. Humility, selflessness and love are required, but so is the oft-overlooked factor of pragmatism. Faith and belief in prayer and miracles lead our most humble-hearted compassionate workers to trudge down the path of goodwill in the name of God’s will without adequately examining what is truly best for the foreign communities they wish to serve. An indiscriminate desire to help means there is nothing greater or more noble about helping a homeless man in Zaire as there is in helping a homeless man across the street.

    I’ll try not to be presumptuous enough to make a blanket statement about who benefits most from a mission trip (the missionaries or the “less fortunate”), but I think it raises some serious questions about what motivates us and what is actually accomplished. The mutual benefits and positives are easy, but so much of the campaigning for recruiting missionaries seems to focus on the intangible benefits to the individual, and not the resulting good being accomplished by their service: “Have your life changed by serving others!” “Get a new perspective on life by serving the less fortunate!” Some may argue that there is nothing wrong with feeling good for doing good - I would agree, but to market that feeling as the missionary’s raison d’etre is reprehensible as it equates service with a feeling, and not a result. Sometimes, doing the right thing feels crappy. Doing good ≠ feeling good. Picking up and disposing someone else’s used condom in a school playground will not feel good, but it’s a good thing to do. The ultimate result of the service is more important than the servant’s ego.

    So, let’s talk numbers. Approximately 2 million Americans go on short-term mission trips, annually. These are only the Christian Americans we’re talking about. Other countries (cough Korea cough) love to send their missionaries here to get us out of Babylon, but I suppose that’s a separate issue. Ok, so 2 million American missionaries. From what I know about mission trips, the average price to the individual falls somewhere between $1,000 - 2,500. Assuming an average cost of $1,700 per missionary, that equates to $3.4 billion in mission funds per year. $3.4 BILLION. This is the cost of traveling to a foreign country, staying for 7-90 days and handing out literature or examining teeth or operating a vacation bible school or delivering babies. This is the cost of “christian charitable service” that raises questionable sustainability and efficacy concerns, at times westernizes and unwittingly eradicates culture and does little to address root, systemic economic problems.

    To put it plainly, if there are 2 million people willing to dish out a total of $3.4 billion in aid, why are we using it to [helpfully] fly ourselves overseas for a few weeks? To my charitable friends who are mission trip “regulars,” why not skip a year and donate the $1700 to a responsible charity doing work in the country that you “have a burden for?” In fact, why not do it every year? $3.4 billion in unadulterated aid, going towards sustainable community health initiatives or education programs or even construction projects, can do infinitely more than your puny little arms wheelbarrowing bricks and mortar for a week building a church in Sudan.

    This is not a call to stop international travel in the name of compassion and service. There is always a need for people with tactical skills to offer their services to those in need. Physicians, dentists, architects, accountants, teachers, IT professionals, these are just a handful of many job titles that are universally scarce. There is always a job available anywhere in the world for anyone who wants to help, but let’s check our priorities, examine our intentions and really do our best to maximize impact. A $1700 check to a school in Haiti may mean a job for a local teacher or textbooks and supplies for the entire school or new walls for a crumbled classroom. Or it could be your airfare and lodging for a week while your puppet ministry team pantomimes bible stories in Port-au-Prince.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of what Bill and Melinda Gates do on their “learning tours” at least once a year. Travel, see the places that break your heart, get a real sense of the needs there, see the progress charities are making, see the world. Perhaps I’d be ranting less if mission trips started marketing themselves as ways to educate the rich about the plight of the poor around the globe. Education is always a net positive. See the world, but don’t kid your conscience into thinking a week of international service is enough to satisfy your good deeds quota.

    Religion can do horrible things to our brains if it starts to overtake common sense and reason. We execute our due diligence by thinking through the idea of mission trips critically and objectively, with total disregard for any personal feelings of piety or satisfaction for doing good. Do the right thing.

    (photo: charitywater.org donate!!)

     

  9. Ask me why I’m jaded again.
    Truth in parody is the hardest pill to swallow. 

     
     


  10. My anger and hatred towards the child-touching priests of the catholic church are beyond words, so I’ll just use Matt Taibbi’s

     


  11. My Beef with Vegetarians

    Originally published in The Compass Magazine, May 2008:

    My Beef with Vegetarians

    It’s a tough life being engaged to a Vegetarian. I never thought I’d be in such a situation – waiting for my fiancée to finish ordering her “Texas Roadhouse BBQ burger with extra Cheddar cheese, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and ‘can you take out the meat and just put extra lettuce in, please?’” Potential 5-star meals drop to a measly 2-star affair when the main course protein is removed. It’s also a great feeling when the incredulous server at L.A.’s finest steakhouse looks at me in disbelief asking why I’d bring a nice vegetarian girl to a chophouse. To me, vegetarianism is a land of mashed potatoes, French fries, bread, soups and salads. Some call it Naturalist dining, others say it’s the true-Organic way; call it what you will, but there is nothing natural about soybean curd processed to look like a chicken nugget. It’s laughable the extent to which Veggie-meat manufacturers will go to produce artificial food that attempts to look, smell and taste like the real thing – at least it looks real. I suppose, “to each, his own” very readily applies to this topic, but this is not an essay on taste or preference.

    In this fascinating issue about vegetarianism I’d like to raise two simple questions and let the discussions rage:

    1) Why can’t vegetarians follow the rule of moderation with meat?

    “Well, because they are vegetarians.” Brilliant! It is my assertion that the “Vegetarian” title leads to a nonnegotiable state of living that unfairly rejects all things un-veggie. I may be a voracious carnivore, but even still, I am vegetarian for about 22-hours-a-day; I just happen to regularly break my vegetarianism (v-ism) around 12:00 and 6:00 PM everyday. Is that so wrong? The notion of all-or-nothing v-ism is a source of great curiosity to me. In life, what role do I truly embody all-day everyday? Other than being a faithful [future] spouse, I can’t think of much else. Job titles are a 9-5 affair, church roles are relegated to weekends, and sports team affiliations are a more of a mindset than a lifestyle. It seems some are bound to the title more than the principle of healthy living and I call them out: Shallow Vegetarians come forth. Many of the “Vegetarians” I know crave meat; I know this because they tell me. Does a rabbit crave buffalo wings? Do cows dream of eating brontosaurus? I guess we’ll never know the true heart and intention behind a creature’s eating habits. I used to wonder why my Vegetarian friends frequently crave Buffalo wings. Some have gone their entire lives without the taste of animal flesh on their tongues and yet, Wings and Kalbi are probably the most common breaking points for Vegetarian “backsliders.” Curious as to why? Because they are amazingly delicious - don’t feel guilty, feel good. Indulge once in a while and resume your v-ism after dinner, I’ll still tell everyone you’re vegetarian.

    2) Why do Vegetarians always feel the need to convert others to vegetarianism and why are they so excited when this happens?

    I followed the doctrine of all-or-nothing vegetarianism for about 6 months when I was in middle school after being convinced by several vegetarian role models (Vege-Roles) that meat was unhealthy and evil (they are no longer my role models for several reasons, the sum of which is their beliefs about meat). The elation that poured out of their hearts upon my decision to give my life to Vegetarianism is unparalleled to this day. Nobody has ever been happier or more excited for me than my Vege-Roles the day I ate my last cheeseburger. Ironically, I backslid on a cheeseburger six months later, and have been backsliding ever since – my heels are numb at this point. But the start of my vegetarianism was like entry into an exclusive club of like-minded people, each with fascinating stories. Some had been vegetarian since birth and raised in the life, others had given up a meat-lovers diet and sacrificed many a barbecue in the name of v-ism. Oddly enough, I found myself touting the benefits of vegetarianism to my friends too. I thought I felt lighter and cleaner, more alert even ( although I soon realized I was on edge due to my frequent cravings). Nonetheless, I did my best to convert others, only to give-in to the other side just a few months later. My breaking point came after meeting a vegan, she put my shallow vegetarianism a shame: “Eggs? You eat eggs?!”. A vegetarian can never win.

    It is ultimately a question of principle or preference? I lack the authority to cite our church’s well-publicized history with dietary laws and “the health message,” and so, once again, I find myself only able and willing to speak for myself. In my opinion, if I may speak on my behalf, meat is awesome.

    I can say with a degree of certainty that I will probably never be a 24/7/365 vegetarian. It’s a needlessly difficult lifestyle for me, and meat is much too awesome. Veggie-meat is gag-inducing for me at times when I think of the poor soybeans getting plucked from the ground and emulsified with wheat gluten to make “Sam’s Chik’N.” As long as I am a responsible consumer and eat based on healthy, balanced principles, isn’t that good enough?

    In any case, if I am what I eat, I’d rather be the real thing than a fake anyway.

     


  12. George Rekers and the Bad Apples

    This latest installment of “Self-Loathing Homosexual Homophobes of Christianity” is just another chapter in a story that is now becoming commonplace and exasperating. It’s time for the church to stop acting as apologists for these religious leaders who ejaculate their own repressed sexual orientation through messages of homophobia and intolerance.

    Repressed evangelical pastors suffer from adherence to a religious doctrine that is inherently intolerant and hateful. I’ve been on the other side, I know all the arguments. In fact, the compassionate Christians insist that the condemnation of homosexuality is still done in love, with a rebuke that is no different from any other sin. This is the psychological danger of religion. The church is so accepting of the worst kind of hypocrites (those who teach hate and intolerance of their own kind), preaching the grace and forgiveness of god even through their most despicable scandals. Yet the taboo sinners, usually deemed sexual “deviants,” are shunned and hated on like no other. This notion that “all sin is equal in the eyes of god” and that “we are all sinners, in equal part” is a load of bullsh*t. If anyone truly believed that, people like Ted Haggard and George Reker’s punkass would never have been in the positions of leadership from which they now fall.

    The sad truth is, child-touching priests and homophobic pastors will be deemed extremist bad apples by many in the church. This is a problem for me. There is a lack of accountability/retribution that doesn’t sit right with me. The number of followers that Christian fundamentalist pastors build up suggest that they are not some small pocket of bad apples. These are leaders who are representative of a significant portion of the church. If Christianity is a tree, I refuse to believe that many “bad apples” really exist; rather, these people are seedlings growing a completely different tree - a f*cked up version with mutant branches and weak roots. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, whatever tree these “bad apples” grow on, that’s not a place I wanna grow. Don’t ever make excuses for a church doctrine that harbors hate and intolerance… unless it tells you to hate hate and intolerance, I guess.  

     


  13. Einstein on Religion and Ethics

    A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
     


  14. Thoughts on “Religulous”



    I thought Religulous was fantastic and should be required viewing for anyone who considers himself a person of faith. Some may ask why I would watch something considered blasphemous at its worst and agnostic-proselytism at it’s best. Answer: If a 90-minute documentary based on asking skeptical questions is enough to shake your belief in a particular God, religion or principle, you probably didn’t have much conviction to begin with; in which case, the movie actually did you a favor. Though implied, the movie rarely provided a direct argument as to why faith or religion was wrong or illogical. The agenda was not to impose an argument against belief, simply to question it. Inquiry is not a sin, not in my book, anyway. I thought Maher asked the right questions, the same ones that I struggle with on a daily basis as a believer. He never came across as antagonizing, malicious or even irritated, but his interview subjects definitely did, and that is unfortunate. The movie also chose to interview some of the more extreme and antiquated examples of religious wackos fundamentalists who would eventually trip over their own lack of logic while attempting to answer even the most basic questions regarding their beliefs. In that regard, the film was significantly biased and showed a lack of objectivity in its production. To that point, however, countless numbers of faith-based propoganda do the same thing - decrying/mocking all atheists or agnostics as militant, hateful, dumb, or unhappy. Fighting cheap shots with cheap shots, I suppose.

    I knew Maher had a point when I found myself agreeing with him more often than not, but I wasn’t discouraged by this as I believe systematic theology has run its course in the [post]modern world (gasp!). Yes, I doubt - all the time; it occurs in differing degrees, sometimes bordering on shame or even, blasphemy; but utlimately, it is my doubt that affirms my human-ness and thirst for truth. I embrace the challenge of faith and cherish the committment I’ve made to goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.

    Bill Maher, closing monologue of Religulous:

    I agree: “The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big question is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble.”
    In my opinion, doubt is a pre-requisite to faith. Ask the 12 Disciples about that. Ask the father with the long-suffering son, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief."

    I disagree: "… those who consider themselves only moderately religious, really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price"
    One of my favorite quotes from Seventh-day Adventist theologian, David Larson, "The best medicine for bad religion is not no religion but good religion."



    I agree/disagree: "Religion is dangerous, because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do."
    Religion that goes unquestioned and usurps common sense and decency is dangerous. So too is religion that falsely claims to know all and monopolize truth. However, what if religion were to be more malleable than that? A church or doctrine that teaches “we don’t have all the answers, but let’s get there together in love, fellowship and sincerity.” Is that so dangerous?

     


  15. Hey, Seventh-day Adventists, Wanna Laugh?

    Go here: http://sdacaricatures.blogspot.com/

    It’s pretty inside stuff, but you can’t go wrong with entries like, “How David Asscherick Became Rob Bell” and features Adventist-celebrity look-a-likes such as:

    [caption id=”attachment_93” align=”alignnone” width=”348” caption=”E.G.W as Lunch Lady Doris”]E.G.W as Lunch Lady Doris[/caption]

    [caption id=”attachment_94” align=”alignnone” width=”347” caption=”Jose Rojas as Cousin Pepe”]Jose Rojas as Cousin Pepe[/caption]

    Pretty awesome stuff, and great commentary, in my opinion. I can see why some may find it disrespectful or distasteful, but I think a good roast and the ensuing reaction says a lot more about a person than a silly, self-written bio blurb. Whoever is behind sdacaricatures is brilliant and I’m so glad I landed on it. Guess who I googled to stumble upon the site?

    Check it out!