Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More thoughts...

A quick update to my post about some of my early experiences with Christians. I was totally exhausted when I wrote that and threw it together very quickly so I missed a couple of the major points I wanted to make:

A key thing to understand about my early experiences (and the major take-away for Christian parents) is that the children I grew up around definitely knew to be kind and understanding to those who weren't familiar with the message of the Bible. The problem was that since I was so much like them in so many ways they assumed that I'd had the same upbringing as they had. These kids just took it for granted that every middle-class suburban kid knew the different between an epistle and an apostle and had heard about Jesus and what he came here to do. So, looking back, I realize that they treated me so unkindly because they thought that I knew all that they knew about the Bible and its message but just chose to reject it. They probably thought I didn't own a Bible because I threw mine away or something.

Of course ideally they still should have treated me with kindness, but they were just kids and they saw my indifference toward Jesus as a direct insult to someone they loved. I think that seeing it from that point of view makes their reaction more understandable. And, not surprisingly, most the bad experiences I've had with Christians came from childhood. I've found the majority Christians I've met as an adult to be welcoming and positive.

I meant to add that to the last post to make it clear that I understand that a) just because I had some bad experiences with Christians doesn't mean the religion itself is bad but, more importantly, b) I don't think the treatment I received was quite as bad as it seems when you consider the situation as the other kids understood it.

What on earth is an "Evangelical/Holiness Wesleyan"?

I did one of those silly internet quizzes on what my theological worldview is. Here are the results. I have no idea what they mean.


You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Roman Catholic


Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical






Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Growing up atheist in a Christian town

I've been thinking a lot lately about how it is that I've spent my whole life surrounded by Christians but yet did not once consider opening my mind to what the Bible has to say until a few weeks ago. There are a lot of reasons but one of the biggest external factor was my childhood experiences. I learned early on from my parents that going to church and believing in God was something for other people, not for us. And my early experiences with Christians confirmed this idea.

When I moved to the suburbs of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area when I was eight years old the first questions all the children at my new elementary school asked me was what church I went to. I was initially caught off guard by the question and stammered something about us not having found one we liked yet. But after a few months of living there it became clear to everyone that we were just not churchgoing people, and it made it harder for me to make friends.

Even after I'd made friends and was no longer the new kid I still suffered frequent jabs such as being told I was going to burn in hell or that my parents were bad people -- and that was what my friends said.

When I was ten a group of my friends started going away to a cool Christian summer camp each year and I tagged along with them. I'd read on the list of things to pack that you were supposed to have a Bible. My family didn't own a Bible but I managed to dig up a copy of the New Testament that some religious group had given out at my school a couple months before. Little did I know what sort of reaction this would bring when I got to summer camp.

"Stupid," "Satan-worshipper," and "disgusting" were some of the words that my camp counselor and the other girls in my cabin used to describe the fact that I didn't have my own Bible to bring (sometimes to my face, sometimes just talking loudly so that I'd overhear). My camp counselor told me the only way to make up for being such a bad person was to get saved. My deer-in-the-headlights look belied the fact that I had no idea what she was talking about. When she clarified and asked if I was willing to accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior I just said, "I'm not sure." I had no idea who Jesus was or what was involved in this lord and savior business.

That turned out the be the "I'm not sure" heard 'round the world, or around that camp, anyway. None of the girls associated with me for the rest of the week and the friends who I'd come with tried to distance themselves from me. Meanwhile, I was just bewildered by the whole thing.

What's interesting is that the girls in my cabin would excitedly talk about the mission trips they'd taken to various places in the world and how good it felt to spread the word of Christ to the native peoples of various countries. These kids understood the concept of being kind to those who weren't Christians and knew to act as ambassadors of Christianity when traveling in third world countries. But it never occurred to them to apply that concept to people in their own country, let alone their own cabin at camp.

Not once in my childhood did another kid take interest in the fact that I wasn't a Christian and calmly offer to tell me about their beliefs. I think they assumed that I'd heard the message and just chose to reject it. Little did they know that I didn't know who Jesus was supposed to be until I was 12.

I think this scenario is probably much more common today than it was when I was a kid. Atheism is more widespread now and I personally know of a lot of families that don't own one Bible. The kids in these families don't hear anything positive about Christianity at home or in the media, so their only chance to hear the other side of the story is from friends who are Christians. And if they're treated with scorn by the churchgoing crowd it only serves to cement the "us vs. them" mentality and makes it much harder to overcome later in life.

I hope that churches are starting to understand this, and I hope they're starting to teach children that they need to act as ambassadors to Christianity in their home town as much, if not more, than when they're on mission trips.

Monday, August 22, 2005

In hope of happy endings

I had a sad moment tonight. I was reading a study of some feral children who had been raised by animals in India. These two girls were discovered when they were young adults and brought back into civilization. They were able to come a long way from acting like wild animals, but the one thing they were never able to grasp was language. Similar studies with other feral children have confirmed the theory that if you do not acquire language skills as a child it's impossible to learn it as an adult.

Sometimes I think the same is true of belief in God.

To feel on a deep level that the world and its people are a product of something more than just platetectonics and natural selection seems to require synapses that I just don't have. Intellectually I am convinced of intelligent design, but it's a concept that I can't wrap my mind around emotionally. I remind myself to look around and see God in the world but I end up just seeing traffic and the grocery store, nothing more. I don't feel God's presence right now, just the chill of the air conditioner.

I have read so many stories of skeptics who became Christians that at the beginning of this adventure I kind of assumed that that's how it would end. I mean, everyone who goes looking for God with an open heart finds him, right?

But I'm starting to worry that that's not how it'll end for me. Maybe, like the feral children trying to learn language, I'll always be a reluctant atheist, trying to find God but just not seeing him anywhere. It makes me so sad to picture myself as a 60-year-old, saying, "Yeah, I really did try to believe in God. I researched and prayed and opened my mind and wanted it more than anything. But I just couldn't force myself to believe." At least I'd never need to worry about the story of my life getting overplayed on the Hallmark channel.

Anyway, maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I need to get involved in a church. But I keep having to fight the disheartening feeling that this whole thing might have a horribly lackluster ending.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This might be true

It was about this time last year that my husband and I agreed that we should start going to church. I was pregnant, and it was becoming increasingly important to me to figure out my religious beliefs the closer it go to the baby's due date.

I planned to find a nice church to join, hopefully with lots of other young families like ours. I even planned to work on my faith and try to come to some sort of peace with the concept of intelligent design. It never even occurred to me to believe in Jesus. Not once. I didn't even think that that was what modern Christians were supposed to do. I thought we all agreed that all those stories were pretty far-fetched and we should just think of Jesus as a nice guy who had interesting things to say. I honestly thought the only difference between most Christians and non-Christians was that Christians just really liked what Jesus had to say and wanted to talk about it once a week.

Then a few weeks ago on Friday, July 22 I was passing time in Borders while my mom was getting a birthday massage and I happened to see The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I started flipping through it. I couldn't put it down. I read late into that night, called a babysitter to help me with my son Saturday during the day so I could read, and continued devouring every page until the wee hours of Sunday morning. It was around noon on Sunday when I'd finished it.

I set the book down and fell back onto my pillows, staring straight ahead. I couldn't believe how much my worldview had changed over the course of one weekend. There was suddenly so much more at stake. My search for religion was no longer an interesting little thought exercise, my evaluation of churches no longer centered around how easy it was to park.

A bit in shock, for the first time in my life, I looked over at the Bible on my nightstand and thought, "This might be true."

Thanks for the comments

Thank you so much to those of you who have commented on my last post. One of my hopes for this site is that I'll get feedback and guidance from Christians. So this is possibly the only blog on the internet where unsolicited advice is welcome.

And I will absolutely keep updating, regardless of where my journey takes me. I want to be honest here. I want to give Christians and atheists alike a glimpse into the struggle of trying to find God when you've been raised to believe he's as real as the Tooth Fairy. It's hard work. And it's often not pretty. But hopefully there's a happy ending.

Monday, August 15, 2005

OK, I'm convinced. Now what?

I need to get some sort of Cliff's Notes version of the Bible sometime this week.

I've been devouring books on religion for a couple of months now and am intellectually convinced of the following things:

  • Some sort of intelligence created the universe.
  • There is good reason to believe it is the God that the Bible talks about.
  • Once you truly believe in God it's pretty easy to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The evidence there is pretty compelling.

All of this makes sense logically but, as I mentioned in my first post, my heart has yet to catch up. I've tried praying but can't stop the voice in the back of my head that says, "I am talking to myself here. This is crazy." I think I have truly opened my mind and my heart to the possibility of believing in God, so I'm not sure what to do next.

In some of these books the authors talk about how enriching it is once you finally believe. I get really frustrated and pissed that I haven't been able to make it happen for myself. Last night I thought, "This is so hard! If only God had given people some sort of written instructions for how to believe in him!"

Oh, yeah. I guess he did.

So I picked up the Bible I bought last week (the first I've ever owned) and started reading. Wow, that's some dense stuff. And it's LONG! It would take me like, I don't know, decades to read the whole thing. So I'm looking for some sort of summary that will give me the basic gist of what the Bible says about how I'm supposed to seek God and Jesus or whatever.

Then I found myself thinking, "If there were only a place where I could go and talk to Christians and have them explain this stuff to me!"

Umm, yeah, I guess there are places like that.

This realization that the Bible and churches might actually serve a purpose has been a big one for me. My whole life I've obviously been aware that these things existed but thought of the Bible as a collection of fairy tales (sorry, it's true) and thought of church as having a purely social function. It's like I'm seeing these things for the first time now.

If you had told me two years ago that today I would be open to the possibilities that Bible is a truthful book that I might use to guide my life and that going to church might help me get in touch with God, who exists, I would have probably collapsed from shock. No. I *definitely* would have collapsed from shock.

So I've come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. I worry that this spiritual journey is going end in a dead end. I've gone as far as I can intellectually, and now it's time to believe emotionally. But that's not something I can control. I can think and rationalize and analyze all day long with absolutely no impact on my heart, and that's the big battle that needs to be won.

Wish me luck.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The luxury of atheism

A friend of mine from high school stopped by last night to catch up over a glass of wine. She's in town briefly before going back to grad school to become a psychiatrist and was telling me about her summer job working in a home for troubled children.

This particular home is for kids who have been taken away from their parents but are not ready to go into the foster system because of behavioral or mental issues. Their stories are some of the saddest I've ever heard. I won't burden you with the details, but suffice to say that many of these kids have experienced the worst kinds of trauma life has to offer. And what was even more troubling is that this home serves a rather small city. I cannot even imagine the tales from homes like this in Chicago or New York.

As she was telling me the types of therapy the social workers use to help these children, it occurred to me that this sounds like the perfect place for religion. Now that I've been studying Christianity and know more about what it actually teaches, it seems like the message that God loves all people and that Jesus is on your side would be perfect for these kids. So I asked what sort of church/religious program the home includes.

She shrugged. "They can go to church on Sundays if they want," she said. "But we don't push that. We don't feel like it's right to impose religious beliefs on them."

Really? It seems to me like that is quite possibly the only thing they need.

It's easy to shrug off the concept that God loves you when you come from a relatively stable home and have parents who love you. You get a sense of self-worth and reason for being from your family, so you have the luxury of not needing to worry about whether there's a God who cares about you too.

One of the things that's most psychologically dangerous about this atheistic mindset is that it means that humans are the highest power in the known universe. And these kids have been told by the humans who know them best -- their parents -- that they're worthless, despicable and unworthy of love. I doubt it's much help to them when the social workers tell them that they're actually great people. After all, the social workers don't know them as well as their parents did, and their parents cast them aside like old trash.

I'm sure that the ultimate reason behind not "imposing" God on these kids is the politically correct train of thought that nobody can say for sure whether one religion is more true than another, so it's not right to tell anyone that the Bible is the word of a God who exists when it may very well be false. But what the people who run this home seem to be missing is that it doesn't really matter whether or not the Bible is 100% true. Tell them anyway. If you don't believe it personally, lie.

The kids in homes like this have almost no hope of ever doing anything with their lives. 95% end up in prison, mental institutions, or worse. You can say with near certainty that each kid is going to have a horrible life and die young. But do the social workers tell them that? No. They lie. They give them a message of hope that they can be anything, do anything and the sky's the limit. They do it because it's so good for the kids to hear such positive thoughts about their future -- and, besides, there's always that 5% chance that any one of the kids will beat the odds and turn his life around.

So why not just tell them to turn to the Bible for comfort and believe that there's a God who loves them unconditionally, even if you don't believe it yourself? It would be such a powerful message of comfort for a child who has been beaten down physically and mentally by the humans who were supposed to love him most. And, like the odds of them turning their lives around, you may think it's unlikely that what you're teaching them about religion is 100% true, but telling them anyway is the right thing to do.

Whoever supports not making Christianity a major component of these homes cannot have ever known what it's like to feel completely unloved. These social workers can go home to their spouses and children and take comfort in knowing that they're cherished and needed. Whereas the kids are left to lie in bed each night alone, feeling loved by no one. But at least no one imposed their religious beliefs on them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Christians and conflict of interest

I just came across Christopher Morris' Boston Globe editorial (via Anchor Rising) in which he suggests that Catholic judges have a conflict of interest when it comes to Roe v. Wade.

It's ridiculous to cite conflict of interest based on religion alone since all people have deeply held opinions about what is right and wrong. Does a liberal judge not have his own strongly-held morals that might influence his opinion (to say, declare it unconstitutional to say "God" in the pledge of allegiance or to mysteriously find rights to gay marriage in centuries-old constitutions)?

It's unfair that Christians constantly have the conflict of interest card pulled on them just because a) they actually admit to having a belief system and b) it's clear, predictable and written down. The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, I-know-it-when-I-see-it value system of the atheist left leads to convictions that are as strongly held as the most devout Christian's, the only difference being that they're based on individual opinions rather than time tested scriptures.

But that's beside the point.

I'm going to go way out on a limb here and assume that Morris leans left politically and is pro-choice. He seems to have skipped the class in the 6th grade where the rest of us learned about the Constitution and the Supreme Court because, like most liberals and abortion supporters, he seems to think that Roe v. Wade is what makes abortion legal and that a pro-life justice could not defend a position that supported Roe.

But, luckily, Roberts probably understands that as a Supreme Court Justice all he'd have to do is read the Constitution and see what it says. He could easily be against abortion but find that the Fourteenth Amendment was indeed implying a right to terminate a pregnancy at any point in gestation, thus supporting Roe. If that's what it says, that's what it says. No moral judgment involved.

I suspect that the bishops Morris was referring to were unhappy with Kerry because of his support for abortion, not his opinion on Roe v. Wade. If they were, they need to join Morris in a Constitution 101 class at the local community college where they can all learn together that your opinion about whether or not abortion should be legal and your opinion on the Roe ruling can (and should) be two separate things. One is a question about when life begins, the other is a question about what is written down in the Constitution.

But, ultimately, I think that this is just a case of projecting onto others those traits which you recognize in yourself. Judicial activism is a much more typical characteristic of the "spiritual but not religious" crowd on the left. Notice that when Christian and conservative groups wanted to ban gay marriage they were proposing a constitutional amendment, i.e. following the set procedures for how you go about making changes to the laws. Just getting some judges to suddenly discover it in the Constitution would have been much easier, but that's not typically how they operate. Christians are comfortable with the concept of following laws. They understand at an early age that when it comes to laws, whether they're God's or the country's, your personal opinion doesn't matter. There is a system in place designed by God in the spiritual world and by the government in the material world, and if you want to make changes you need to work within that system.

You don't generally see that sort of deep understanding and respect for laws on the left, possibly because of the disconnect with religion. Everything is subjective, rules were made to be broken if it doesn't sound right to you personally, so it's okay to go around the system and "find" things that don't exist in the laws as long as you're doing the right thing.

Morris and his ilk need to stop the melodramatic hand-wringing about Christian conflict of interest and admit that these folks are much more likely to have respect for the system than people who think that humans and their opinions are the highest force in the universe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

All the labors of the ages

I was raised to believe that God does not exist. When I was about 11 years old, for the first time, I realized what that meant. To quote atheist Bertrand Russell:

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collections of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.

That all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction...that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried.

All these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand...Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
About two years ago I decided to actually do my own research and try to come to my own conclusions about God. I realized that despite my mantra of being "open-minded" about religion I was actually quite closed to ideas that didn't fit with my atheist worldview.

So here I am. Two years and a lot of research later I'm still not sure what I think. I've uncovered a lot of information and philosophical perspectives that I certainly was not told about as a kid and am still trying to process it all. After educating myself more about physics and biology I now believe intellectually in some sort of intelligent design, but my heart has yet to catch up. To be totally honest with myself, I'm still functionally an atheist. But I want to believe. My logical mind tells me some sort of creator exists. Some deep gut feeling tells me God exists. But I have a long way to go.