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The Phase
Sunday, 2005 May 15 - 3:22 pm
Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I considered myself to be a born-again evangelical Christian.

Having read a treatise on atheism in Douglas Adams' Salmon of Doubt, and having mentioned the fact that I'm NOT going to church today (or any other Sunday, for that matter), I'm thinking of my own odd history with religion.

In Japan there are two major religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto (derived from the Chinese "shin tao", for "way of the gods") is a pretty odd religion; I find some parallels between it and Roman mythology. There are gods for natural objects, gods that protect groups of people, and gods representing abstract creative ideas. Some people, like the Emperor, were considered to be gods, before Hirohito renounced imperial divinity after World War II. It's not a guilt-based religion, like Judaism or Christianity; it's more just an idea that supernatural forces (the kami) are around influencing and protecting us.

If you went to Japan, you'd see the influence of Shinto everywhere, but probably without realizing it. It is so enmeshed with Japanese culture that it's hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

Growing up, whenever my parents taught us some Japanese tradition, they gave us no indication that we were required to believe in something... they just told us that was the way things were done. So while a lot of things probably stemmed from Shinto, I never knew it. It was very easy to accept what my parents told us, because it required no leap of faith. It's like someone explaining to you that the salad fork is supposed to go on the outside at a dinner table. It requires very little justification. You may puzzle at the logic of it for a little while, but then you just shrug and say "okay".

You can imagine how weird it was for me to be introduced to Christianity. The idea of a single omniscient and omnipotent being watching and judging every move that I made... it was creepy. Is God watching even when I'm pooping? What if I do it wrong?

It was around high school when people really started to talk about religion, and I really started to learn more about Christianity. I disliked it from the start. It seemed to contradict every scientific notion that I cherished, it defied all attempts at logical analysis, and it was used as the justification for all kinds of atrocities. I couldn't believe that anyone ascribed to this belief. But it was everywhere.

When I got to college, I was determined to learn more about Christianity, and use that knowledge to destroy it. I mean, I wasn't going to bring down a two-thousand-year-old institution supported by billions of people; I was just going to make sure that I had the proper intellectual basis for being a non-believer, and that I could convincingly articulate that basis to the people around me.

So to learn something more about Christianity, I went to a weekly Bible study that a guy in my dorm was conducting. He told me it was an "inductive" Bible study, meaning that they would only try to reveal what the Bible was saying, rather than attempting to justify pre-formed conclusions. It sounded like just the thing for me.

When I first attended, I tried to be polite, but I think I probably ruffled a few feathers by offering contrary viewpoints.

But over the next few weeks, an odd thing happened. I really started to enjoy the things I was learning. Some Christians now reading this article would say that it was the influence of the Holy Spirit in me, but in retrospect, I know what it really was: I just liked having a little group to belong to. They were nice people, the members of this Bible study, and what's more, some of the girls were awfully cute. (Even then I remember having difficulty reconciling the idea that I was joining a Bible study in order to increase my chances of having sex with hot women. And now, whenever people suggesting joining a church in order to meet single people, the same logical difficulties arise in my head, and I have to stop from thinking about it or my BRAIN WILL EXPLODE.)

As I grew comfortable with the group, I started to think that maybe Christianity could be a good thing, because look at how nice all these people are! (A classic instance of mistaking correlation with causality.) And what's more, I actually started to get an inkling of Belief. The way the thought process went in my head was this:

- I haven't disproved it.
- All these hot women seem to be into it.
- Ergo, I might as well give it a go.

And so it was. Someone said that all it takes to be a Christian was to "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior", so poof: I became a Christian. I could almost feel the connections in the logic center of my brain snapping as I did this, particularly because even as I told myself I was "accepting Jesus", there was a part of my mind that knew it wasn't for real. It was kind of like the way I believed Narnia was real, as a kid. I wanted it to be true. Only this time, I did a slightly better job quieting the objections from my rational mind.

For the next two years, I was an evangelical Christian. I prayed, I studied the Bible, I went to Church (occasionally), I was in a student Christian organization... I wasn't technically a choir boy, but I was close. I even got hate mail from gay rights activists; that's when I knew I had really gone over to the dark side.

During that time, I made some really good friends. I don't regret that in the least. It's safe to say that being in a Christian organization, and being surrounded by supportive friends, kept me from going utterly insane during college. No matter what bad things I say about organized religion from an intellectual basis, I will say this: it does have a way of bringing people together.

After graduating from college, I moved to North Carolina. It was a painful transition, going from a place where I was surrounded by friends, to a place where I knew almost nobody. So, to meet people, I joined a Bible study. It worked before, so it should work again, right?

But something went wrong, and I remember the exact moment it happened. The guy leading the study had learned a process where you're supposed to confess all of your sins, write them down on paper, and reveal them to a couple of other men in the group. It was supposed to be some kind of purging exercise. So, I wrote down a whole bunch of stuff, and they read it, and then we talked about it. And I remember, the guys were very interested in the three-way with the bisexual women and the affair with the older married woman, and I could see that they were interested in a lascivious way, not an intellectual or spiritual way. The way they panted for details, it was obvious. And a sudden realization came to me: they're just regular, ordinary, lustful guys. Christianity didn't make them into better people. All those wonderful friends I had in college, they weren't wonderful because they were Christians; they were wonderful in spite of it.

In fact I hadn't had a three-way with bisexual women or an affair with an older married woman (at the time). I made that stuff up. I didn't feel bad about it, because that little lie exposed a much bigger lie.

Two other things happened with those guys: First, they tried to make me feel bad for going on a cruise with Jen (because, single men and women shouldn't be in such a sexually suggestive atmosphere, I guess). That really made me angry.

Second, one of the guys was discussing a passage from Hebrews that mentioned a "double-edged sword":

"For The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight." (Hebrews 4:12-13)

I noted that "double-edged" means that the sword "cuts both ways", trying to make a point that even the wielder of the sword is not immune from its judgment; and he totally ignored that point and just talked about how a double-edged sword was the most powerful sword in the world. His conclusion, based on horribly circular logic, was that because of this passage in the Bible, we should accept that the Word of God was the One Truth, more powerful than anything else.

In that moment, the previously-shattered connections in the logic center of my brain re-formed, and they said "HEY, WAIT A SECOND. He's spinning the words around to support the argument he's trying to make." It was as if a great cloud had been lifted from me, like the effects of a drug wearing off. And right then I knew: I was no longer a Christian.

I looked back on the years before, and I started asking myself all the questions I should have asked earlier. Why do people close their eyes when they pray? Why do some people think raising their hands will help them better receive the Holy Spirit? Why do people believe prayer influences the outcome of a football game? Why do people accept some science, but selectively ignore any scientific evidence that contradicts their belief?

When Christians try to explain and justify their beliefs, that's when they're most likely to lose me, because the logic is all backwards. I have to first accept your conclusions (e.g. that Christ really died for our sins, that the Bible is the literal Word of God) in order for me to accept any of your other evidence. Logic doesn't work that way.

I'd rather you just told me that it's the way things are done. I'm more likely to accept that.
Permalink  9 Comment   Bookmark and Share
Posted by Ken in: interestinglife


Comment #1 from Javi (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 1:48 am : #
not that i'd want you to change, but do i need to point out that you were exposed to one sect and not the totality of christianity? it kinda gets my goat when people say "when christians do --" (as i'm sure it bothers you when people say "when the japanese do --").

i'd be very curoious to know what you think of my latest blog entry - if only because, coincidentally, it consists of a christian trying to explain and justify his beliefs!
Comment #2 from Javi (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 2:03 am : #
and porn. i also talk about that in my latest.

and puppets.
Comment #3 from Speaker (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 8:39 am : #
yeah, what that guy above me said. (who?)

Personally, I'm not a churchy least, not until someone creates the First Geek Church of Corigan Prime or some such.... I just don't tend to have anything in common with anyone at church and there for they have no idea how to relate to me and I have no idea how to apply their teachings to my life. That and conversations are just WAY uncomfortable because I don't fish or they just don't get why I want to wear a Klingon Warrior sash to church (kidding?)

So that's why my Christianity is a personal quest and my "group of friends" I happen to hang out with are Dragon*Con.

Oh yeah, and Porn....and Puppets.
Comment #4 from Ken (realkato)
2005 May 16 - 9:45 am : #
Forgive me, Javi, I did not mean to overgeneralize.

I was in fact exposed to many flavors of Christianity, and I've found some more palatable that others. Quakers actually have a very cool belief system. My objections are to those which you might call "fundamentalist".

I'm interested in understanding your belief system a little more; from your blog, I can understand the rationale for a belief in God, but I don't necessarily see why Christianity. Maybe a follow-up post in your blog is in order? :)
Comment #5 from Melinda (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 11:56 am : #
Any group (religious or otherwise) that is arbitrary in their beliefs sends me running in the opposite direction. There should be room to question all theories and ideologies. A person or group claming to have the absolute answers is ,for me, one of the most frightening things in the universe. I was rasied Catholic. I suppose I now consider myself Agnostic. I like to read about all the major (and less known) religions. It seems that while the rules and rituals differ, all the major religions have the same basic principals at their core. That is where I look for truth.
Comment #6 from Cori (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 1:08 pm : #
I was raised in the United Church of Canada, a denomination of the Christian faith that is a little more conservative than the Unitarian, and less conservative than everything else. I have been more and less Christian at various times in my life, culminating finally in my present committed atheism. I don't see, though, even without my absence of faith, how anyone could use the Bible as a single code of behaviour. It was written by dozens of people, over centuries of time, each different writer and time period with its own priorities and needs. Trying to make sense of that, trying to make one belief system in that, would only end in a lot of ridiculous rationalizations or the 'pick and choose' method of belief that drives me to distraction.

But I have a lot of respect for the Gospels themselves, and if nothing else Christ's own teachings in them have a lot to be admired as a philosophy by which one could live one's life. But don't get me started on the books and 'prophets' who came later.
Comment #7 from Travis Tidmore (Guest)
2005 May 16 - 11:16 pm : #
I have been a Christian my entire life. I was raised Church of Christ and I attended a Christian university, and I will soon be attending a Christian Law School.
But I am a human, being a Christian doesn't make me any more perfect than anyone else, I still sin, I still struggle with things like lust. And i hate that alot of churches and christians try to play like they are perfect and that since someone else isn't a christian they are less then them. I think thats the main turn off for non-christians, that christians pretend to be better.

It's not true. Everyone hurts, everyone screws up, I guess I just like to believe because if their is no God, whats the point of life. We stay here for 80 years or so then die and either become someone or thing else or everything ends.

I loved Javi's entry that shows that puppets are not a metaphor for humans, because God is not forcing us to do things, he gave us free will to love him, hate him, belief in him, or not belive in him. And it is ach and every person's choice to make, Would I love it if everyone's beliefs suddenly matched mine, yes. But it's never going to happen.

Sorry, I know that doesn't all go together real well, I guess I'm just saying that we all have to search and find the answer that works for us. Will some of us be wrong, you bet, we can't all be right. But sometimes believing in something isn't the logical thing to do, thats why it's called faith.
Comment #8 from jen (Guest)
2005 May 18 - 7:34 am : #
ken, it's a good thing that you didn't tell them that it was a SATAN-WORSHIPPING CRUISE. phew!
Comment #9 from Nicholas (Guest)
2005 May 18 - 8:15 am : #
I was a raised a good atheist and I still am one. Religions to me seem to be social clubs. They make you feel like you belong and that you are connected to the community. I wish I could believe all that Christian stuff and give myself over to Jesus. I wish I could accept a world view on a platter.

When we had children someone asked me if we would start going to church. So they can learn right from wrong. Jeez, I never went to church, and I think I'm a good person. But actually 4 years later, I'm thinking about starting to go to the Unitarian Universalist church in Raleigh. Just to have some activities for the kids and to meet some other parents. Though my wife thinks it would be disingenuous to go and not "believe". Though they seem like the most accepting of "atheists".

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