hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

A Review of Deconversion: a Journey from Religion to Reason

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 5, 2018

Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to ReasonDeconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason by Seth Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! Seth Andrews lived my own exact life growing up, and we were both traumatized by the same types of things (the movie, “Thief In The Night!”), and we were both fundies/evangelicals for much of our younger lives before we both started asking ourselves some questions, before asking others, and began reading and researching, and while Andrews reached his conclusions and belief system before I did, I admire his resolve and his courage for “coming out” as an atheist in a strong Bible Belt city, because I live in the biggest Bible Belt city in America (I believe it was so named last year…), and unless you’re a Red State Republican bible thumper here, you don’t really feel very welcome in this city, and while I haven’t spent years as an out and out atheist as Andrews has, I may as well, because when I’m not on my feet “praising the lord,” I stick out like a sore thumb, and it can make one very uncomfortable. Yes, there there are “liberal” Christians here, as well as a few Muslims, about 25 Jews, possibly a few Hindus, although I haven’t seen any, some agnostics, some atheists, but no place to really gather and not be in church, because the only alternative is the Unitarian CHURCH, and while it’s a catchall for all beliefs and while they tend to make fun of fundies, it’s still called a “church,” so that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m reading Dawkins, Hitchins, Barker, George W Smith, and others right now, and it’s been really refreshing, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, like I’ve been liberated, and I have Barker and Seth Andrews to thank in many ways, because unlike Hitchins, they’ve BEEN there, they understand, they know what it’s like to “deconvert” and how traumatic that can be for so many reasons, and I have found this book very helpful and very freeing and I recommend it for anyone going through a similar process or who has questions, doubts, etc. It helps fill it the holes, or flesh out the holes one finds gaping wide open in the christian bible. And the stress is not on what one believes, but what one doesn’t believe, unlike what many people think. Atheism is merely “a lack of belief in a god” or supernatural being, etc. It’s NOT a philosophical antithetical belief system, although individual atheists can choose to have antithetical beliefs or any belief they want; it pushes no life agenda, just ration, reason, being a good person, and a lack of belief in a god. That’s it, that’s all. It’s very simple. If there is no rational evidence to convince you that a god exists, you are thus not obligated to believe in a god, nor should anyone else. Very simple. Sure, you can go full blown philosophical and George W Smith does that, but it’s not necessary, and you can find out why by reading most of these authors and finding out in less than 10 minutes. In any event, I’m elated I came across this book and now I listen to the author’s podcasts and have found help, comfort, and entertainment in them. Strongly recommended for those encountering spiritual doubts….

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A Review of Speaking My Mind

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 15, 2013

Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to FaceSpeaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face by Tony Campolo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was pretty disappointed with this book and that’s a pity. I’ve seen Campolo’s name bandied about in liberal Christian books and by liberal Christian authors for some time now, but this is his first book I’ve read. I felt really lucky when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore this week. And the table of contents seemed very promising: “Do Evangelicals Have an Image Problem? Is Evangelicalism Sexist? Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” and so on. Very promising. So I bought the book and sat down to read. And was thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know who labeled Tony Campolo a liberal Christian, but he’s most definitely a conservative evangelical who happens to be somewhat liberal politically and socially. But he’s a conservative Christian. And since that’s what I’ve just escaped after being trapped as a lifelong dissatisfied evangelical for the past 45 years, that’s the last thing I wanted to read.

For instance, in tackling the gay issue, Campolo acknowledges that Christians need to reach out to gays in the church and the community — provided they live completely celibate lives!!! He’s not sure if gays are born that way or become that way (they’re born that way, dingbat!), but we need to love them — provided they don’t act out on their preferences and keep their behavior pure. WTF? That’s not realistic! He even notes that “although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce.” He starts out by appearing to be open, by talking about the “dilemma,” and then holds up his shining example of a man who died apparently a homosexual virgin, because he thought it was such an abominable sin, so he never gave in. Huh. Homosexuality is mentioned less than 10 times in the Bible, yet being kind to the poor is mentioned hundreds of times and adultery is mentioned numerous times again. So again I say to you, WTF?

Tony starts out with sexism and never really clearly answers that little question, conveniently enough. He admits that there’s a yin yang type of thing going on with the sexes and that’s about it. Nice. He can write a few decent things at times though. In his later chapter on whether there’s a second chance for people who die without Christ, he discusses universalist theology briefly. He ends that section by writing

“One universalist theologian carried me through his progression of thought with the following argument: ‘If there is a God, then there is a God, whether people believe it or not. If God is their Creator, that also is true, whether they believe it or not. If the Bible is an infallible message from God, that fact, too, is not dependent on their believing it. So, if Jesus died for their sins and is their Savior, isn’t that fact also true, whether they believe it or not?'”

An interesting thought. Campolo does an interesting job on the science chapter, with some good ideas about God/Jesus being in the HERE at all times. He made it seem real. He also introduced me to a new concept that Seventh-Day Adventists, apparently, believe — “soul sleep.” When we die, we lie in the ground until the Second Coming, basically asleep until God raises everyone from the dead at the same time. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on what happens to a person’s soul upon death in the Christian tradition. This was an interesting explanation.

Campolo delves into my old Calvinist roots in his discussion on predestination, a topic I truly hate. Here he gets a little iffy though. On page 121, he writes

“I do not understand how reasonable people can believe that God is in total control of everything right now when there is so much evil and injustice in the world. I grant that this may be a failure on my part, but if I believed that God controlled everything that goes on in the universe these days, I would not know how to explain why innocent children in Africa get AIDS, or why godly people die of cancer, or why there was ever an Auschwitz or a Hiroshima….”

His answer leaves one wondering, though:

“To those who ask, ‘How could a loving God allow horrendous diseases to afflict good people, permit insane wars to kill the innocent, and let a man like Hitler create such widespread suffering?’ I answer, “God is doing the best He can….'”

Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got, you “liberal” Christian??? What a wussy way out of things.

Campolo also contradicts himself in this book. He goes on in the chapter about the poor about how Jesus spoke about the poor and how important it is to help them. Then he has a section called, “The Disastrous Welfare System,” where he sounds like a bitter right wing Republican in writing that the system “generated cheating and deceptions so that eventually hundreds of thousands of people were on the welfare rolls, collecting unjustified handouts, even though they were quite capable of getting jobs and properly supporting themselves and their families.” Excuse me? Did I just hear that out of a so-called “liberal” Christian??? The welfare system has been abused by some, yes, but it’s the only safety net millions of people have, and don’t you think, while we’re talking about it, that lots of “good” things like sub-prime mortgages and hedge funds have been abused too??? Hypocrite!

While I’m at it, even though this book was published in 2004, it seems woefully dated. For example, in talking about whether America is in moral decline, he writes “all kinds of wonderful things are happening in our world, in spite of all that is evil and demonic. Across America, churches are being born and reaching out to huge numbers of previously unchurched people. A revitalized commitment to the poor and the oppressed is emerging among American Christians.” Really? Tell that to the Republican Party, aka, the Religious Right, aka the Christians, all doing their best to eliminate every possible safety net poor people in this country have, all the while working to make their rich masters richer. What did Jesus say about the rich entering Heaven like a camel through the eye of a needle? Seems most Republicans/Christians haven’t read their Bibles lately. Hypocrites! Also, stats show that church membership is declining, most especially within the 18 – 29 year old set. Evangelicals are turning people off to God, Tony. Time to face up.

Campolo does show he’s not 100% conservative in his discussion on dispensationalism. He states his opposition of it and nearly goes so far as to label it a danger to this country and the world. That’s bold. He does a good job with this section. Oddly, however, he says that the charismatic movement is the greatest opposition to dispensationalism and is Christianity’s best chance in the twenty first century. Huh? Speaking in tongues? Really? He ends his book by writing, “As progressive evangelicalism increasingly emerges out of fundamentalism over the next fifty years, the rest of the world will encounter Christians who are more than ready to struggle with the tough issues that await us, and to do so with open minds and open hearts.” Really Tony? Telling your gay friends to be celibate if they want to go to Heaven? That kind of open heart? Sorry, I’m not buying it. He tries to come across as open minded, but when the chips are down, it seems to me that Campolo goes crawling down the nearest conservative evangelical fox hole and hides out — and it sickens me.

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A Review of The Gospel of Judas

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 22, 2012

The Gospel of Judas: Critical EditionThe Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition by Rodolphe Kasser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to confess I started this book out of sheer interest in the subject matter, but I couldn’t finish it — I just thought it was too silly to believe. Maybe I’ve got too much of the traditional four gospels ingrained within me, but for Judas to be portrayed as the favorite and best disciple of Jesus who only did what he was told by Jesus to do and was therefore a hero as he brought about the crucifixion and resurrection strikes me as totally absurd. Not to mention that it was hard to read with all of the missing text that was skipped over and omitted. That was distracting. I couldn’t buy the notion of Jesus appearing to his disciples in the form of a child. You’d think that would have been mentioned in another gospel. And here’s one thing that might seem trite, but it bugs me nonetheless — apparently this gospel was written in the second century. Well, who wrote it? It follows Judas for just a brief period of time up until his suicide, I believe. Well, if he killed himself, how did he communicate the secrets of this text to the ones who would ultimately write it? He was DEAD for Pete’s sake! Isn’t this just some second century made up gnostic tale by people wanting to stir things up? That’s ultimately what it strikes me as. So, yeah, I probably should have finished it and maybe one day I’ll return to it, but I just thought the premise(s) was too absurd to continue reading the book.

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A Review of Bad Religion

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 6, 2012

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsBad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has strengths and weaknesses. One thing that was an initial turnoff to me, although I got used to it, is it’s quite dry and has an almost textbook feel to it, particularly the first half which consists of a history lesson of how the Church (Protestant and Catholic) has come to its present state dating back to the late 1800s. I mean, it’s somewhat interesting, but there’s only so much about 1920s fundamentalist preachers I want to read about.

Douthat’s premise is that we’ve fallen off the wagon as a Christian nation, and he highlights three main areas where this has happened. One is the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel preaching that seems so prevalent these days, and he particularly takes Joel Osteen to task. I got into this chapter, because I utterly despise this type of preacher. I think they have nothing in common with the can’t serve God and Mammon instructions found in the Bible. I think they’re frauds. Apparently Douthat does to. He then moves on to New Agers, like Chopra, Dyer, etc., only he doesn’t call it New Age. Instead he refers to this movement as the God Within movement. Call it what you like, but it’s a watered down, Eastern influenced form of pseduo-Christianity at best, and he calls a spade a spade. The third primary heresy here is the current politicization of Christianity, most notably contemporary Evangelicals and how they’ve hijacked the Republican party. I have much to say about that, but I’ll resist the temptation for the time being. In my opinion, Douthat didn’t spend enough time on this one, because I think this particular heresy is the one that is poisoning American society and politics and it makes me ill.

Here’s where the author loses me though. His last chapter is called “The Recovery of Christianity,” and he gives a series of examples of what he thinks needs to take place to bring the religion back to sanity and the masses in general. (He’s a Catholic and spend a lot of time on Catholicism in this book.) Here are his theories:

1. Christianity should be political without being partisan.
2. Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional.
3. Christianity should be moralistic but also holistic.
4. Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty.

And then he goes into minor detail on each topic. And forgive me if I misread this, but it seems to me that he’s arguing for an early 20th century Catholicism returning in order to get things back on track. His ideas, the terminology he employs, his pleas all ring of a stern yesteryear, and it’s beyond odd to me that he’s arguing for a return to the roots when he just wrote an entire book criticizing how Christianity has been full of charlatans and frauds and how it’s gone uphill, but mostly downhill for decades, and now he wants a return to the Middle Ages. OK, harsh assessment, but perhaps you get the picture. It just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book, and while I thought the bulk of the book was well researched and written in a civil, even way (I would have hated to see a Baptist write this!), the last chapter just kills off everything he’s said for me. It’s blotto. Utter crap. Maybe not everyone will agree, and I do think the book is worth reading while skipping the final chapter, but I can’t get over that last chapter. I cautiously recommend this to anyone interested in seeing what has happened to the Church over the last century and what it means for today.
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A Review of A Search for What Is Real

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 4, 2012

A Search for What Is RealA Search for What Is Real by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is intended to be a guide for those who are seeking something spiritually, no matter what faith, but yes, primarily Christianity. It’s a little light (especially for McLaren), but the contents are pretty solid and the book is quite accessible. Some of the chapters deal with experiencing God through doubt (a big one for me), why church is often the last place to look for spiritual guidance, why people don’t turn to Bibles in their spiritual search, losing interest, and more. One of the things McLaren writes in the doubt chapter really stood out for me:

“They say that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it is rather indifference. And I have to think that the same is true of faith. Doubt isn’t a spiritual danger sign nearly as much as indifference would be.”

In the final chapter, McLaren writes that Jesus was “scandalously inclusive” and that

“In a world of religious in-groups and out-groups, Jesus created a ‘come on in’ group. The kingdom of God is open to everyone who will come…. It’s like a party to which everyone is invited, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, clear or dirty.”

That section of the book really stood out for me because when I was growing up, the various youth groups in school and church “rushed” (like the fraternity allusion?) the popular kids with the alleged goal of the unpopular kids following the popular kids to God. Yeah, right. It was a total joke. I rode the fence between popular and unpopular and I didn’t like it. As an adult, many churches I’ve been to seem little different. We want the “beautiful people” — those in real need don’t need to come on in. I hate that about mainstream Christianity. Jesus was all about love and inclusive love. In fact, he hung out with hookers and outcasts and told the Moral Majority of his day that the scumbags he was with would have an easier time of entering heaven than they would. (That didn’t go over too well with them.) So, I like what McLaren writes here. I just wish more actual church people would read and realize this….

The book’s chapters all end with interesting discussion questions and a suggested prayer. McLaren tries to stick to guidance, not to telling — as in, he’s not the authority on this, God is. It’s not the best book I’ve read, and it’s not for everyone, but I found it worthwhile and others will too.

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A Review of Searching for God Knows What

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 2, 2012

Searching for God Knows WhatSearching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a fan of Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. I think it’s an immature book written by an immature writer. This book — Searching for God Knows What — seems a vast improvement to me, albeit still with the same scatter shot, rambling topical approach to the book. I’ve got to admit to being annoyed with Miller’s writing style. It’s certainly not linear, and perhaps I like linear a bit too much, but Miller jumps all over the place. Sometimes I think each chapter of his could stand on its own, as they don’t seem to have all that much in common with each other.

However, I wanted to like this book. I was disappointed, then, to feel like it started out like Blue Like Jazz. At some point, though, Miller seemed to tighten things up a bit. A more lucid, more mature style of writing emerged that I occasionally found gripping. The final pages I found to be quite good, actually. For instance,

“I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an evangelical leader on television talking about this “culture war,” about how we are being threatened by persons with an immoral agenda, and I can’t tell you how many sermons I have heard in which immoral pop stars or athletes or politicians have been denounced because of their shortcomings. Rarely, however, have I heard any of these ideas connected with the dominant message of Christ, a message of grace and forgiveness and a call to repentance. Rather, the moral message I have heard is often a message of bitterness and anger because “our” morality, “our” culture, is being taken over by people who disregard “our” ethical standards. None of it was connected, relationally, to God at all.” (page 185)

How true. I can relate to Miller here so very much. The bitterness and anger preached from America’s pulpits can be overwhelming and, in my opinion, have very little to do with the message of Jesus. Another passage:

“A moral message, a message of “us” versus “them,” overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, of repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus.” (page 190)

Again, so true. I recently became disenchanted with the minister at the church I occasionally attend when he started politicizing his sermons. He had already been slamming pastors like Rob Bell and preaching fire and brimstone messages on Easter while criticizing those who preached rebirth and renewal. Frankly, the only reason I go there at all is to occasionally make my parents happy. I can do without ministers like that one. Why so much hatred in the pulpit, in the churches?

I guess my final thought on the book is that it’s worth a (quick) read, but don’t expect too much. It’s more solid than some of his other works, but it’s not earth shattering. The only reason I give this three stars instead of two is his solid ending to the book.

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