Friday, December 30, 2011
Eventually a life with no income and three children wore my parents down, so we settled on some property owned by my mother’s parents. San Ysidro was a small farming community about 40 miles from my grandparents birthplace, and probably not much bigger. For the next four years, we lived in a tiny adobe house, in the most primitive of conditions. As I already mentioned, the tiny town of Mexican farmers was at that time being overrun with very unusual people. My parents were one of a number of hippies and outcasts who arrived in San Ysidro, and northern New Mexico in general, trying to escape modernity.
I met two children who occupied a half eroded adobe house with their grandfather. I have a vivid memory of them shaving their grandfather’s thick toenails with a pocketknife, while he lay back on a couch talking to my parents. Like so many transients that I met in San Ysidro, they only stayed for a short time before moving on. We met a young cowboy with an older wife and his inherited eight children. I remember they once shared with us all they could on our first Christmas Eve in San Ysidro – some boiled potatoes, Jello, and bear meat that was tougher than shoe leather. They also moved out of town very soon after we met them. I have often wondered about the children I met in San Ysidro, where they now live, and if they could write similar articles about transient life in New Mexico. We often saw drunk Indians from the two neighboring pueblos, Jemez and Zia, and they were commonly seen stumbling or passed out on the road, meeting outside behind the town’s several bars to drink with friends, or even wandering onto our property or even our house! Alcoholism was a terrible problem with the Natives of New Mexico.
Mom enrolled me in the local public school, but my advanced reading and writing skills allowed me to quickly skip a grade. I moved straight from 1st to 3rd grade thanks to my mother’s education. Today, she considers granting the school permission to move me up a grade to be one of her worst parenting decisions. For the next 8 years or so, I was the youngest and smallest kid in my class, and I would later pay for it dearly.
Dad quickly found work as a lumberjack in the mountains. I remember him coming home from work, filthy with sawdust and oil, and sharpening his enormous chainsaws. He also drank more. His abuse and violence continued against mom and me. He frequently got in fights at the bar, and since he hated stupid Indians he would often go to the bar just to drink and look for trouble with them. In those days in northern New Mexico, we never, and I mean never, saw a police officer. San Ysidro was, like Cabezon before it, a relic from the Wild West. I believe the nearest police station was in Bernalillo 25 miles away, and they never ventured into our part of the county. Dad could get away with pretty much anything if he wished, and vigilante justice ruled. I remember one perverse day when dad took me to the bar in the neighboring town of Jemez Springs, got me to puke on two shots of tequila, had me shoot pool with some of his logging buddies, then on the drive home gave me the one and only expression he ever gave of his hopes and dreams for my future. I have heard that most dads are proud of their sons for showing some kind of aptitude and a potential for a successful adult life. After taking me to drink, my dad told me that I shot pool and drank like a man, and he could not wait for me to grow up so we could go out drinking together and beat up Indians. It would be another 30 years before he directed another expression of pride towards his son.
Eventually, mom had to leave dad. I believe they divorced around 1972. He went to live in Jemez Springs with his new girlfriend, and mom was left with no job, no skills and three children to care for in an isolated New Mexico town that offered no opportunity. If she did not live in an adobe house owned by her parents, I don’t know what would have happened. I don’t blame her for being desperate. She got a job at the local trading post/feed store, about a mile down the road. She still did not know how to drive a car, and things were looking kind of grim for us.
In all this time, my life was godless. There was never any talk of religion, God, Jesus, miracles – nothing. I had no conception of any of it.
That would quickly change. More transients moved into San Ysidro. Most were young hippies who longed to drop out from society, but we finally met some who were from Southern California. They were heavily influenced by Chuck Smith’s Christian ministry, and converted to his charismatic brand of Evangelical Christianity. They spoke a bizarre new lingo like ‘Jesus Freaks’, ‘One Way’, ‘Jesus saves’ and ‘Jesus is coming again’. I don’t remember the first time I met these people, or was introduced to their religion, but like so many other transients we met, they seemed to come into town, stay a few days or weeks, then move on.
Another family moved into town, this time from Jamestown, New York. I never knew why they traveled across the United States to settle in little San Ysidro, New Mexico, but like a traveling band of Mormons, they braved the wilderness until they found their Promised Land. The Wagner Family (not their real name) was three generations of Pentecostal Christians who suddenly moved into our tiny town, where there was only one small Catholic church, intent on building a church to their liking. Mom, soon after meeting this family, converted. This young woman, who had rejected her family’s religion and heritage of Catholicism, quickly became a Pentecostal Christian. She became a part of the family. Like I said, she was desperate.
The Wagner family patriarch was a man whom we all called ‘Grandpa Wagner’. Dad loathed him, and called his wife ‘Old Toothless’. He was an old-fashioned hellfire preacher whom I am certain would get along just fine with the likes of Fred Phelps. They moved to San Ysidro with their four grown children and spouses, numerous grandchildren, and even a few members of their Jamestown church. We quickly became friends with all these people. It was in this cult-like religious atmosphere that we lived for the next few years, and it is in this environment that I was first exposed to Christianity.
Mom was desperate, and perhaps she accepted her new family and their religion because of that desperation. Perhaps she did not know at the time, when she married Grandpa Wagner’s oldest son, that she was desperate. Perhaps she really was in love. Perhaps she only thought she was in love. Who knows? All I know is that Michael Wagner (again a pseudonym) was single, had no children, and had the marketable skills necessary to care for three very poor children. Mom was desperate, and she had to do what she had to do. She married into the family of an old traveling preacher, and converted to their religion. In return, she was cared for, and we were fed.
And I learned to Love Jesus.
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Monday, December 19, 2011
Grandpa died before I was born, but grandmom is still alive and living in Los Angeles. She remarried a very kind man who I considered my grandfather, just because I never knew my real one, and camping and fishing with my grandparents are some of my most treasured childhood memories. Grandmom was born in 1920, the third child of a Dutch/Scottish couple who drove to Los Angeles from Iowa sometime around 1915. ‘Drove’ seems like such a pedestrian term in our world of interstate highways, but before my great-grandmother died in 1993, she used to tell me stories of being ambushed by wild Indians in Oklahoma during their cross-country trek. I am certain these stories were embellished, but on their arrival to the growing city of Los Angeles, they made a small fortune selling real estate around the growing metropolis. One prized photo in the family album shows my great-grandfather’s company trucks lining an empty road and loaded down with lumber, ready to build. They caught the housing boom in Los Angeles just in time to retire early. They spent the rest of their lives traveling and indulging in one hunting and fishing safari after another.
Somehow, with missing details that I never asked my parents for, the tall, handsome, muscular European man met the tiny, Hispanic woman. The mismatched couple wed and eventually had three children, of which I was the oldest. Dad had a troubled childhood. As big as my dad was, he had an older brother who was even bigger, and apparently had a nasty mean streak. When dad was young, his dad and older brother regularly beat him. I don’t really know what caused the beatings. Dad told me some stories about his dad’s temper exploding after he got in some kind of school trouble, but I suspect these were only lame excuses to justify more beatings. My dad’s father, who died years before I was born, was always somewhat sickly. My grandmom once said that he was born just for the purpose to die. But my uncle, my dad’s older brother, has always struck me as a mean and bitter man. I don’t think he would have needed much of a reason to bully a favorite victim. The beatings must have left severe emotional wounds on my dad’s soul – since the last time I saw him three years ago, he was still telling stories of decades-old abuse. I have always known about the trouble he had with his father and older brother, but he shocked me recently by telling me of his mother, who once punished him by repeatedly shoving his head under water. It is so hard for me to imagine my sweet grandmother, who lives in the fondest memories of my childhood, engaged in such abuse. I don’t know how much in these stories are true, and how much is my dad’s unintended embellishment. Dad has only bothered to tell me a single side of every pitiable story in his difficult life.
As strained as his immediate family relations were, he idolized his adventurous grandparents. My grandmom’s parents spent their real estate earnings on numerous hunting and fishing expeditions. Grandmom’s house was crammed with wildlife trophies, stuffed and mounted deer heads, giant fish and bear rugs. Dad and his cousins sometimes traveled with them on weekend outings, and spent as much time as they could away from the city and exploring the deserts of southern California, hunting game and training carrier pigeons. Dad grew to love the outdoor lifestyle that his grandparents instilled in him, and he became less and less comfortable with the crowded and complicated city environment. Los Angeles was becoming unbearable for him.
Dad worked as a gardener, tending the grounds of Los Angeles’ wealthy. Mom was employed as a telephone operator. Mom was never taught to drive - or taught much anything else for that matter. If she did not make the bus, dad had to drive her to work. I remember once sitting in the car while dad tried to give mom driving lessons. He got angry and frustrated, punched the car interior, and drove home hurling curses and insults the whole way. Knowing my mom as I do now, it is amazing for me to look back at what I remember of her in the late 1960’s. For a woman who rebelled against the religious traditions of her parents, she was unbelievably prone to influence and outside pressures. I remember her once hiding me under the bedroom window while she peeked out at a salesman ringing the doorbell. “Be quiet! That is a robber outside trying to get in!” I did not know at the time that she just too timid to deny a sales pitch.
Dad treated me the way he was treated growing up. He treated me the only way he knew how. I hesitate to write of the physical abuse that dad inflicted on mom or myself, because it does not fit the central theme of these blog articles. But those actions undoubtedly shaped me into the person that I am today. He did it. It happened. I might sprinkle an incident here or there in forthcoming blog entries, but it is not something that I want to spend much time writing about. Strangely, the treatment I got from dad does not seem particularly abnormal to me, but I suppose that is because my childhood is the only childhood I ever knew, and making comparisons with a supposed ideal childhood is arbitrary and impossible. I do not have scars, not physical ones anyway, I did not endure torture, and my dad’s outbursts were usually swift and alcohol induced. I don’t even like the term abuse, since it trivializes those poor children who have endured much worse than me. But in talking to friends over the years, they have expressed the concern that dad would certainly be doing some jail time had he acted the way he did in our 21st century, childcentric, bully-free zone. At the risk of validating Christian apologists who suggest that atheism is the result of a dysfunctional relationship with a father, I will say that I never really knew my father. I still don’t know him. Unlike the relationship I still have with mom, and despite years of trying, I have never been close to dad. He has certainly changed over the years, as we all have, and he will feature prominently in my story in future entries, but I can honestly say that he still remains a mystery to me. His abuse was more psychological than physical. A punch in my face only hurts just so long as I am choking down blood from my nose, but the emotional pain lasts for years. Even decades later, after I had grown and he had matured, even after we both tried our best to learn to love each other, he still intimidated the hell out of me.
In 1969, I was attending Kindergarten in Gardena, California. The school was two blocks from the house and in those days mom let me walk, alone, to school. One of the first memories I have of school is my teacher, Mrs. Michener, telling us youngsters to be quiet so she could listen to the news on the radio. Apparently something important was happening with astronauts who were travelling to the Moon, and Mrs. Michener later told us all about daring astronauts and the marvels of space travel. My introduction to science had thus begun.
For many years, I suspected dad was a Vietnam War draft dodger. Recently, mom assured me that this was not the case. I have always wondered why, in late 1969, my parents sold all their belongings, including the house, packed me, my toddler younger brother, and baby little sister, into a 1963 Volkswagon Microbus, and left Los Angeles. The transition was so sudden it was enough to induce whiplash. One day, we were living comfortably in a nice brick home just outside of Los Angeles, the next, we were on the road, with no income, no destination, no plan, no idea of what would happen next. Mom assures me that dad was not a draft dodger. He just found the city increasingly stifling, and he needed the freedom of the hills that he had learned from the grandparents he so loved. Reckless? Irresponsible? Who can say, but I must say that it was also the climate and changing culture of the time. Dad was letting his hair and beard grow. Mom shed her dress and started wearing pants. Rebellious and experimental music blared from everywhere and expressed the feelings of all young people - Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, and dad’s personal favorite, Bob Dylan. I still remember ‘Somebody to Love’ by Jefferson Airplane, probably the first song chorus I ever learned to sing, playing from the bus radio as we drove north and left our grandparents and all remaining family traditions and ties forever behind.
Little could I have suspected, but at that very moment, just 30 miles to the south of our house in Gardena, down south of Long Beach in neighboring Coast Mesa, a middle-aged Pentacostal preacher named Chuck Smith was shocking the evangelical world by inviting drug addicted hippies into his small church and converting them to Christianity. The Protestant Church, recently home to stiff 1950’s post-war formalism, was suddenly flooded with long-haired Jesus Freaks baptizing in the Pacific Ocean, performing signs and wonders, and creating a hybrid musical form called Christian Rock. This had no immediate effect on me, since at this time in my life, my religiously indifferent family had never introduced me to the concepts of God, Jesus or other Christian paraphernalia. However, these simple but shocking acts, performed in a church not far south of our Gardena home, produced ripples that were to affect our lives for many years to come.
I will continue this story after the Holidays. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everybody!
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Sunday, December 18, 2011
Mama is the sole torchbearer of any religious tradition in my family. She is still alive and well at 95, and still lives with the rest of my mother’s family in north-central New Mexico. I never felt the burden to tell her that I left the Christian Faith, and although there are other religious people in my family, they do not carry the tradition that Mama failed to pass down. I have some family members who are Protestant Evangelicals. Mama and Papa were strict Catholics.
Mama was born in Cabezon, New Mexico in 1916. Cabezon is a ghost town now, although I have visited the collapsing mud-brick homes of that town many times. It was abandoned around 1940 when the Rio Puerco, the sole source of the town’s water, dried up. Coincidentally, this was when the War was beginning to consume the planet, and work was to be found in Los Angeles. So Mama and Papa moved to Los Angeles and Papa found work by joining the Navy. The strict, Catholic, isolated, Wild West town in New Mexico was abandoned for a new life in the city.
‘Wild West’ is not hyperbole when describing Cabezon. To this day, there is a single, 20-mile long dirt road connecting the abandoned town of Cabezon to the nearest paved highway, then from there another 30 miles or so to the nearest small town. Mama never spoke much about what life was like living there when she was young, only that it was nothing but pleasure. I think that kind of talk is all romantic nostalgia. I do know that farming in the deserts of New Mexico at any distance from the Rio Grande is immensely difficult, and water is the precious gold of the rural highlands. I do know that the tiny Rio Puerco created a heavily eroded arroyo just outside of town, and navigating down to the water involves a treacherous hike down soft silt and packed desert dirt. Water had to be hauled up daily from the muddy river, first for cooking and drinking, then for farming and the animals, then, if there was any left, for washing.
Back around 1995, some volunteers refurbished the long abandoned Catholic Church in Cabezon. The graveyard in the back was cleared of brush and tumbleweeds, the old Stations of the Cross were fixed, the pews repainted, the old adobe bricks replastered, and Mass was held there for the first time in about 40 years. I was there during that celebration, and some of the older people from the area, people who remembered living there decades before, came to attend the Mass. I was certain I was related, in some distant and remote way, to most everybody there. Everybody, good Catholics that they were, knew the routine once the Mass started. I could only follow along by watching what everybody else was doing. Mama and Papa did not pass their religious traditions down to their grandchildren, and my cousins and I did not understand the religious celebrations and rituals there that had tied the entire community together. We were just thinking of the enchiladas, beans and red chile that waited to be eaten after Mass was finished.
The community planned to hold Mass in the old Cabezon church four times per year for all the old-timers. Unfortunately this plan did not last long. People who had once lived in Cabezon got older and died, and the younger generations did not remember the old ghost town of their grandparents. Today, the entire town is again melting into piles of mud where adobe bricks once stood, desert scrub again clogs the town cemetery, and the dirt road into town is gated and locked. The recently refurbished Catholic church is the only building in town not in danger of completely eroding again into the surrounding red earth.
I have often wondered why Mama and Papa were not able to pass down their Catholic traditions to their three children. I have never seen my mother, my aunt or my uncle all together in a Catholic church except at Papa’s funeral – and none of them participated in the Mass. Most families that I have witnessed, both here in the Catholic Southwest and in Philippines pass their religious traditions down through their children with seemingly no effort. Why was my family so different? This is one mystery that my mother has never given the complete explanation for, but I suspect, and it is only a suspicion, that it was the culture shock after moving from Cabezon to Los Angeles in 1942. My uncle and aunt, their two oldest children, were born in Cabezon and were raised speaking Spanish. My mom was born in Los Angeles and the Spanish language was dropped after the children entered public school there. During the wartime culture in Los Angeles, American citizenry was the top priority. The Spanish language was dropped when English became the only permissible language. I suspect that the Catholic Faith, while not dropped, was just no longer emphasized.
My mother once told me that she never accepted the Catholic Faith. She just never believed it because it never made sense to her. I think there is something more to this story, just because neither her older sister nor brother ever became devout Catholics, and that coincidence just makes me somewhat suspicious. I will have to ask her about this when I see her next week over Christmas. The three children, my mom and her older brother and sister, were baptized, went through confirmation, occasionally attended confession, and performed all the other expected Catholic rituals. But for some reason her oldest brother, the only one of the siblings to enroll in college, rejected the Catholic faith. Because of the pressure from her parents, mom remained a Catholic in name only. I was baptized as a baby in order for mom to keep peace with Mama and Papa, but that was the last of my sacraments. I never attended catechism, received first communion, or went through confirmation. I had no idea what a Catholic really was until decades later.
My young non-believing mother was still influenced by strict Catholic culture in one small but significant way. Mom married her tall, handsome, and non-Catholic high school sweetheart. Somehow, these two young, mismatched and immature people wed in a non-Catholic ceremony. I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1964. Dad was 19 years old when I was born, and was woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of fatherhood. Mom had certainly forsaken her parents’ religious tradition, but I don’t think dad ever had a tradition to forsake. The first few years of my life were completely and totally devoid of God, Jesus, tradition, ritual or religious character of any kind.
Edit 09 April 2012:
My mom read this article, and as I suspected I got a few details in this story wrong. A few factual errors have been fixed.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011
I always remember this book when I hear what Christians call ‘testimonies’ and atheists call ‘de-conversion stories’. Most Christian testimonies that I have heard, usually from those brave enough to answer the pastor’s call for a willing testimony from the congregation, are very similar. “I led a life of rebellion and sin against God. I did drugs. I drank. I cheated on my wife. But then I found a Man, who would take me as I am - a dirty and wretched sinner, and he washed me white as snow!” Most de-conversion stories are also strikingly similar. “I was as devout a Christian as any. I witnessed. I prayed. I read my Bible. But then I found a book by a man that told me I am the measure of all things, convinced me that evolution is true, and that God is a Delusion!” I loved testimonies when I was a Christian, and I love de-conversion stories as an apostate, but in both cases, the stories always seem both too similar and too simple. I guess that is why I have always enjoyed Livgren’s book, even as one who does not agree with his ultimate conclusion. He demonstrates that his conversion did not simply occur, as he relates, in a lonely hotel room while on tour with his band. Rather, his conversion started decades earlier, when he was a child in Kansas staring at a bookshelf and letting his mind wander. Similarly, when I was a more active blogger in the wake of my own de-conversion 4 years ago, people would ask me for my own de-conversion story. I could have simply repeated the pattern that is so often followed in de-conversion stories, and it would have been accurate, but only as a skeleton. I have always felt that, to be honest with myself, I could not repeat the simple ‘de-conversion pattern’. To this day, I have been hesitant to tell my de-conversion story, because I simply cannot pinpoint when my de-conversion actually began. I firmly left the Christian Faith at about the age of 43, yet I can see ‘Seeds of Change’ in my own life beginning before I even professed to be a Christian. Unlike Livgren, who has sadly not updated his autobiography in 20 years, I recognize that my spiritual quest, if I must call it that, has not ended upon my de-conversion. Conversion, De-conversion, call it what you will, has for me been a life-long process, that will likely, I hope, continue for the rest of my life. As I have said before, the story of my de-conversion is necessarily the story of my life. You want my de-conversion story? I have to start at the beginning.
But I think it is time. It is time for that story to be told.
I have been mulling it over for some time. True, nobody has asked me to share my story since I quit writing at de-conversion.com. But RoseMary has lately been asking probing questions about my past. These are questions that I welcome, but I find I sometimes have trouble piecing together vague and disjointed memories. I have been asking a lot of questions of my unsuspecting mother in the last few months – questions that fill in empty gaps from my youth. I had to ask her about certain things that I had either forgotten, or those strange mysteries that I had always wondered about but never dared ask. As I get older, and events fade further into the past, I feel them begin to slip out of my memory. Names, places, details – many of those are long gone. Most of my memories come from associations with photos taken years earlier – unfortunately my parents never owned a camera when I was young, and the only photos taken during my pre-high school years were taken by my grandparents when they occasionally came to visit. The record of my youth is scant. The other night, RoseMary and I struggled to remember the names of fellow church members who would visit the weekly Bible Studies that we hosted in our home. My fleeting memory, and the mere wisp of thread that holds it in my mind scares me. I feel the need to create a record of some kind to my past. Livgren has a record to his past, left in the legacy of the music and songs he wrote. When asked if he repudiated those old songs that dabble in Hinduism and Urantia, Livgren said absolutely not. They were an honest record of what he was thinking and experiencing at the time they were written. I am almost 48 years old now. I increasingly feel the need to leave that honest record of where I came from, mistakes, simple-mindedness, blunders and all.
It is time for me to write my de-conversion story.
Where to start? I am a physicist by trade, and I am trained as a technical writer. When I write, I usually start with paragraph or section headers and fill in the gaps. I usually start somewhere in the middle, and simultaneously work my way to the beginning and end. I flesh things out as I go, and I nearly always have an end in sight. The abstract and titles are the absolute last things to be set to paper. Blogging, in contrast, has always been somewhat difficult for me. It is a style of writing that I am still not yet comfortable with. And writing my de-conversion story? I tried starting it as I do with my research papers – first outline it with subject headers – or in this case, separate blog titles, then work my out and flesh in the details. Bah! I quickly realized that would never do. I will have to do the terrifying – start at the beginning with no middle or end in sight, and type my way through unknown and uncharted waters. I have nothing pre-written. No outline. No nothing. When I click ‘Publish’, I will have nothing but this intimidating reminder that I am now on record to finish this de-conversion story. Be patient with me, Dear Reader.
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Thursday, December 8, 2011
In his latest campaign video, weirdly entitled STRONG:
Looks like the video will not appear in a frame. Try HERE
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.
Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.
I'm Rick Perry and I approve this message.
Rick Perry, I don’t care if you are a Christian. I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. I know you want me to be at war with you, but I am not. How many times must we go through this? How many times must we point out to sneaky politicians that children can pray in school. Children can openly celebrate Christmas. Obama is not at war with religion. Since 1962, when the US Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer, children in United States public schools can privately pray during non-instructional time at school. They can pray during recess. They can pray during lunch. They can pray with groups of friends. They can hold hands around the flagpole during non-instructional time and pray openly and loudly. They can organize extra-curricular groups in which they can pray and read or study the Bible. Private prayer that is engaged in by Public School students, is not only allowed, not only legal, but is protected by our Constitution! These freedoms are not restricted to our nation’s most dominant religion – children may pray to any deity or deities of their choosing. Gov Perry, in contrast to the war you imagine is being waged against you, these laws protect your religious freedoms. They ensure that your children are not subjected to school-sponsored prayer that is not of your particular religious belief or tradition. Gov Perry, you know this.
Since when can children not openly celebrate Christmas? What in the world is Gov Perry talking about? And just how is Obama at war with religion? According to the Charlston City Paper, Obama’s war on religion comes in the form of supporting the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and cutting funds from Catholic charities because “of their stance against abortion”. Perry’s amazing ability to read minds and discern hidden intentions was not discussed.
I should not have to type this. Rick Perry knows he is deceitful. He knows children can pray in school. He knows they can celebrate Christimas. He has been govornor of the state of Texas for over 10 years, and he cannot possibly be that ignorant of the basic laws and freedoms of this country. But his campaign commercials are devoid of content. Instead, they are more of what I wrote about in my last article – emotional buzzwords and phrases. Phrases that enter the public conscience that are vague in their meaning, yet are powerful in their emotional pull: Christian Nation, War on Drugs, Judeo-Christian Values, and School Prayer. Slick politicians like Governor Goodhair know very well what these things mean, yet they decieve their electorate with misleading emotional catch phrases!
Do these politicians want their voting public to remain ignorant? I hate to be so cynical, but if they know they are deceitful in saying things like “Our children are not allowed to pray in school”, and instead do not take the time to explain themselves, it seems to me that they are relying on the public to be ignorant. They have to be ignorant in order believe what Gov Perry is saying. Gov Perry’s statement is so blatantly false to anybody that cares to do any fact-checking, that he has to rely on the base ignorance of his supporters. This makes Gov Perry, not only a liar, but demeaning to his faithful supporters – all in the name of votes.
Why am I discussing this? This is an obvious, plain, and simple observation. I don’t feel like typing articles like this, because they are just too easy. It requires next to no thought and it seems to me that everybody should already know this! Yet we hear constantly bogus pleas to emotion from these characters and people are suckered by them again and again and again and again and . . . . .
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
But see, there is a problem. I have been burned in my life. When evidence or logical reasoning is not available, people will resort to other tricks to convince me that they are correct. I have learned what those tricks are. Over forty years of Christian belief has given me lots of practice at spotting propaganda. As somebody who very recently left the Christian Faith I spent most of my life subjected to bogus argumentation, illogical reasoning, willful ignorance, and sometimes just good old-fashioned bald-faced lies. I often wonder if a person can more easily discern when they are being subtly manipulated and propagandized by various media if they have de-converted from religious Faith. I never took any college courses in advertisement or subliminal manipulations in those advertisements. I am sure I don’t know everything, but I am also sure that leaving Christianity has given me a good headstart.
My friend R---- is, as I have written about before, a Catholic activist for Social Justice. I understand that Social Justice means many different things. I think most everybody wishes for Social Justice, but the problem is that everybody defines it differently. One aspect of Social Justice advocated by R----, if I understand her correctly, is that every human should receive their ‘Fair Share’ (however that malleable term may be defined), and this involves those of us who are more fortunate, to live a more frugal and generous lifestyle. This also means that Big Business is typically (though not always) greedy and corrupt to the core, and the Biggest business of all is the easiest target of all – WalMart. If ever R---- reads this, I do hope she will correct me if I am misrepresenting her opinions, but I do know that this is a view that is common among those in the Catholic Church who advocate for Social Justice. Poverty is a virtue, and Wealth is a sin.
The other day, R---- forwarded this poster to my email. This poster, courtesy of FrugalDad.com, demonstrates The Weight of WalMart! Take a gander:
The propaganda behind this poster seems obvious to me. I initially started my critique of the poster by checking the sources listed on the bottom of the poster, but on further reflection, I believe that is irrelevant. I know next to nothing about economic theory, and I do not need to start chasing down and reading source material to see that the flaws in the presentation are right on the surface, and plain for all to see if only we apply a little critical reasoning. Even if every number and figure on this poster is correct (and I will assume they are), this poster is full of the same emotional triggers and dirty tricks used by the best snakeoil salesmen, televangelists, and other greasy hucksters. In saying this, I am not saying this to denigrate R---- or any of her friends in the Social Justice mindset. I rarely view things the same way that R---- does, but I know that her heart is in the right place.
Before I go on, please keep in mind that this poster was forwarded to me by a Christian who advocates the Social Gospel. The makers of the poster, FrugalDad.com, are not affiliated with the Catholic Church or any other religious organizations that I can tell. My critique is with the poster, but it uses arguments and logic commonly used by the Social Gospel Christian.
Of the 6 major bullet points on the poster (Revenue, Competition, Geography, Manpower, Trade, and Welfare) not a single one makes a direct negative charge against WalMart. Much of the implied negativity is in the pictures and analogies that are used. All negativity is only subtly implied, and never directly stated. This poster works completely and exclusively on the emotional level. The power of the message is from the emotional pull of the caricatures and cartoons. That is must my first red flag, and I have learned that at this point I must begin to be critical!
In the poster, WalMart is caricatured as a slug-like Jabba the Hutt, sitting on and fully engulfing the entire planet under the folds of his sluggish body. WalMart the Hutt’s face is the drowsy and drunken face of a glutton, relaxing for a nap after its fifth serving of Thanksgiving turkey. Underneath we read:
Walmart is more than Earth’s largest retailer. The finances, footprint, and personnel of this behemoth dwarfs entire industries and countries. Walmart’s epic 400+ billion annual revenues eclipse the GDPs of more than 170 countries, and its 2,100,000 employees would form the second largest standing army on the planet.
With the change of just a couple of trigger words, there is nothing negative implied in this paragraph. In fact, much of the text from this entire poster can be used in a pro-marketing presentation inside WalMart headquarters. But the implication is made by the use of the grotesque WalMart cartoons and the choice of negative analogies and comparisons. The first implication is that Big = Bad. Big = Corrupt. Big = Greedy. Big = all-consuming. This is never stated, but it is to be understood. Also, why is the workforce of WalMart compared to a standing army? Why is that comparison chosen if not to draw a negative inference from the largely pacifistic Christian of the Social Gospel.
Let’s look at all six bullet points in this poster:
1) Revenue. Another cartoon shows Jabba the WalMart glutton as he stuffs himself with cash. Are all WalMart executives greedy SOBs? Maybe they are. I have no way of knowing. But that is irrelevant to my critique.
Walmart’s 2010 revenues were bigger than the revenues of America’s largest oil company, largest manufacturer, and largest pharmaceutical company. Even when combined, the revenues of Chevron, General Electric, and Pfizer still total less than Walmart’s. If revenue were Walmart’s national GDP it would be the 25th LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE WORLD.
Again, nothing negative is stated. It is merely implied that Big is Bad. It seems to me that the Social Justice Christian believes our economy to be the same as that of 1st century Palestine. Isn’t one of the flagship Scriptures of the Social Gospel one of the sermons in the Gospel of Luke, as preached by Jesus himself?
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
25 Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Jesus was assuming an economy of conserved wealth. Capitalism did not yet exist. Wealth, be it in the form of prosperity or poverty, was a conserved property. If somebody like Zacchaeus had money, it was because he swindled it from somebody less clever than he. If Lazarus was poor and allowed dogs to lick his open sores, it was because the Rich Man had the limited money that could have been shared with Lazarus. Only a fixed amount of wealth existed in the world, and there was not yet any means of creating wealth. That is why Jesus told the poor that their day of happiness would one day come. He told them that the rich may be presently rejoicing, but they would soon suffer and their stripped wealth would soon pass to the more virtuous poor. It seems to me that the makers of this poster, and many Social Justice Christians for that matter, believe that we are still living with an economy that Jesus preached about – an economy of limited and conserved wealth. If WalMart is huge, it must be because they are greedier than Chevron. If Chevron is larger than Pfizer, well so much the better for Pfizer – not that 67.8 billion in revenue makes Pfizer any paragon of virtue.
This same false assumption permeates the poster.
2) Competition. WALMART IS EARTH’S LARGEST RETAILER, with 5x the sales of the second largest U.S. retailer Costco, and 10x the sales of the largest online retailer Amazon. Not stopping there, Walmart is also the largest grocer in the United States, with $129 BILLION IN GROCERY SALES ALONE.
Blanket statements that I assume are correct, and are in themselves emotionally neutral. But coupled with a cartoon of Jabba the WalMart stuffing himself into a shopping cart, while terrifying helpless and tiny Costco in his modest shopping basket, and inconsequential, thumb-sized Amazon, strolling by almost unnoticed. Costco and Amazon may be threatened by the terror of WalMart, but if WalMart did not exist, you can bet that Costco would be the Big Business target of the Social Justice Christian – simply because they would be the biggest game in town. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon of diminutive little Amazon; the makers of this poster think they are also too big and threatening.
Lined up side by side, Walmart’s warehouses would COVER ALL OF MANHATTAN’S 880 MILLION SQUARE FEET. 60% of the U.S. population lives within 5 miles of a Walmart. 96% LIVES WITHIN 20 MILES OF ONE.
You know, it occurs to me that I can easily replace the word Walmart with Catholic Church, and after tweaking the numbers a bit to keep it accurate, I could make the same point. In fact, the same holds true for most of this poster. Instead of Jabba the Walmart cartoons, I could Photoshop a silly papal hat on its head, call it Pope Benedict the Hutt, and make absurd comparisons and analogies to demonstrate the size of the world’s largest, most dominant religion, and Christendom’s most pervasive denomination. It would make just as much illogical sense as this poster does.
WALMART’S 2,100.000 EMPLOYESS WOULD FORM THE 2ND LARGEST ACTIVE MILITARY IN THE WORLD, equaling the combined armies of North Korea (1.1 million) and Russia (1 million) Walmart’s 8,000 delivery drivers burn 118 MILLION GALLONS OF FUEL EACH YEAR. Spilled, Walmart’s oil slick would cover an area OVER 1/2 THE SIZE OF BP’S GULF DISASTER, and OVER 4X THE SIZE OF THE EXXON VALDEZ SPILL IN ALASKA.
This is the biggest non-sequitor and illogical leap on the whole poster! Why are WalMart employees compared with a standing army? What makes an army, in particular, the most logical point of comparison? It is because this poster works solely on an illogical and emotional level. WalMart = Armies. Armies = War. War = Bad. Trucks = Oil. Oil = Spills. Spills = Bad. Why not use another comparison? How about - WalMart employees number about 10X the total number of Peace Corps volunteers. WalMart trucks delivered 5X the supplies to post Hurricane New Orleans than the National Guard and 10X more than Salvation Army relief workers. (NOTE – I am making these numbers up for demonstration only) Why not use those or similar comparisons? Because on an emotional level, Peace Corps and Relief Workers = Good. But it is imperative that WalMart be evil. Comparing the number of employees to standing armies and oil spills is about as relevant as comparing them to the number of leaves that fell in my yard last night. FrugalDad, the maker of this poster pulls a similar stunt in another poster in which he compares the aggregated size of Butterball turkeys eaten by gluttonous Americans to the unrelated size of the Tunguska bolide or an atom bomb. These are in no way natural comparisons.
Walmart is the largest U.S. importer of Chinese goods. (15% OF ALL U.S. CHINESE IMPORTS ARE WALMART’S)
Again, this is more of equating size with moral virtue. Like a filler-song on a classic rock album, this lame bullet-point is placed in next to last place. But we finish this thing off with a bang:
If Walmart were a national economy, they would rank 1st in the world for income inequality: CEO MICHAEL DUKE MAKES MORE IN AN HOUR THAN HIS SALES ASSOCIATE WILL IN A YEAR. The Waltons are the 2nd wealthiest family on earth; yet, 20 BILLIONAIRES DONATE MORE THAN THEIR PALTRY 2% CONTRIBUTION.
Under this are more caricatures meant to pull emotional triggers. Jabba the WalMart is a big, pipe-smoking Daddy Warbucks, staring down at the tiny, shriveled, discolored, employee. The calandar is set to December, which I suppose is meant to symbolize (in a clumsy way) Christmas. I think WalMart Warbucks is not handing out any holiday bonuses this year. What a miserly Scrooge!
I have always been baffled by the argument that the Social Justice Christian gives concerning this thing they call ‘income equality’. I confess, I make a very good living. I am one of the lucky ones I guess, and am fortunate to have a well-paying job in this tough economy. I want to understand, but these demands for ‘income equality’ leave me completely dumbfounded. The figure given for a ‘Full-Time Associate’ of WalMart is given as $13,650 per year (or as they state $6.50 per hour). First off, considering the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with regional variations, I am mighty skeptical of that figure for a full-time associate. Dividing $13650 by 52 weeks per year and 40 hours per week gives $6.56 – a truly full-time employee who takes no unpaid time off. I am sure I could dig up something closer to the truth if I did some snooping around, but that is all really a rabbit trail for another day. Let us suppose for argument’s sake that this figure is correct. Let us suppose the worst-case scenario: that all 2,100,000 WalMart employees are working at an average of $13,650 per year ($6.50 per hour) and the CEO is hoarding a crooked, greedy and gluttonous salary of $35 million per year ($16827 per hour). In fact, let’s make the scenario even worse by supposing the top 100 WalMart corporate executives all conspire against their exploited employees and each earn $35 million! Let’s make all the 100 top WalMart executives as greedy, evil and corrupt as these cartoons want us to believe. Let us now give in to the demands of the Social Justice Christian, and live in a world of income equality. All 100 top executives miraculously have a change of heart, and decide to work for the entire year salary free, and further, to distribute their earnings to all their employees. What could be more fair, just and equitable? Imagine the entire WalMart board of directors becoming as generous as possible, living off their ill-gotten savings, and passing their continued earning to their underpaid employees. What more could they possibly do? How much more generous could they possibly be? It is the dream of the Jesus himself, the preacher of the sermon on Social Justice, to have the rich become poor and the poor become rich. The problem that the Social Justice Christian never seems to notice, however, is the total number of employees that this CEO salary must be distributed to. The math is easy enough: 35 million dollars CEO salary, multiplied by 100 for his hypothetical evil cronies is 3.5 billion dollars. Divided by 2.1 employees, this comes out to an annual salary increase for each employee of 1667 dollars. If, hypothetically, not just the CEO, but one hundred top WalMart executives earned $35 million annually, and then all one hundred decided to live for one year without any salary, the total benefit to the average WalMart employee would be a salary increase of a paltry 80 cents per hour. The average WalMart employee would still be scraping by at $15,317 annually before taxes! So how exactly is 'income equality' supposed to be beneficial to underpaid WalMart cashiers, shelf stockers and truck drivers?
This is admittedly a very simplistic picture, as it ignores the many adverse corporate effects an unsalaried executive board would have. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand the fixation on ‘income inequality’. We are not living in 1st century Palestine. Jesus is not here to bless the poor and pass woe on the rich. The simple math tells me that it matters little what my boss, or their boss, or anybody higher up on the corporate ladder is earning. In contrast to Jesus’ preaching, their pay has little reflection on my pay. I am not saying there are not genuine abuses, poor and exploited workers, greedy SOB corporate bosses and the like. But this poster, and so many of the Social Justice crowd would have me believe that the solution to our economic problems is a simple matter of income equality. Sorry, I am just not buying it.
My critique of this poster is not a vindication or of Captalism, corporate greed or any of our other economic ills. I am certainly no economic expert, and I am learning, slowly, about how all this works. I also know that this country’s preferred economic system, Capitalism is a human invention, not a dogma to be defended at all costs, and I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. With that said, I also think I understand how propaganda works, and I think I know the difference between reasoned and logical argumentation, and presentations designed to manipulate my feelings and emotions. That is where my critique lies. I hope you understand my intentions in writing this critique.
Monday, October 10, 2011
I susbscribe to Texas Freedom Network’s online newsletter. Nearly every day, I get a newsletter in my email box that informs me of all the current church/state separation and related issues in the state of Texas. A couple of years ago, the newsletter was dominated by Don McLeroy and the state board of education. These days, the newsletter has Rick Perry fever.
While the newsletter does a great job of keeping me informed about the shenanigans in the state of Texas, they don’t seem to be aware that my adopted home of El Paso is also a part of Texas. True, El Paso is not a shining metropolis like Dallas. El Paso does not have the glistening skyline of Houston. We don’t have the funky college liberality of Austin. And while the Texas Freethought Convention looks like it will annually rotate between these three east-Texas cities, El Paso, that dusty, desert border town in far west Texas, is in serious need of a little Rational Thinking.
I just did a search on the Texas Freedom Network’s site for news stories concerning El Paso and came up with only two pages of stories where El Paso was briefly mentioned, but no central news concerning the city. I should not be surprised. Even governor Rick Perry confuses El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
I did another global search on the Texas Freedom Network for Tom Brown and again drew blanks.
Tom Brown? Why would I search for news stories for Tom Brown?
In El Paso, Mayor John Cook and two city council members are facing a recall election next May. You see, it all started back in 2009, when they committed the grave error of supporting an ordinance to pay for the health insurance of domestic partners of city employees. The ordinance was passed and now unmarried domestic partners of city employees have the came health benefits as those married to city employees.
Wait – Domestic Partners? Could that include ... GAY people?
Yup. Don’t tell me you did not see that coming. It sure can. As we say here in El Paso, “I knoooow, huuuh.”
As a result, local Christian church pastors took action. Within a week of the ordinance’s passing, El Paso church members were picketing city council. All the action seems to be coming from Charismatic Protestants. I have heard nothing from the Catholic majority in this city concerning this issue. The protests are being led by Pastor Tom Brown, pastor of Word of Life Church here in El Paso. Through his church, he was able to petition enough signatures to ask the council to overturn the ordinance. The city council ignored the petition. Pastor Brown again, using his church as a platform, gathered enough signatures to force a voter referendum. El Paso voters were asked if the city should be barred from giving health benefits to unmarried couples. The referendum passed by 55%.
Now comes the political ping pong. Mayor Cook and the city council voted to overlook the referendum. Pastor Tom Brown then gathered more signatures, this time petitioning enough to force a special recall election. So now, a special recall election is scheduled for May 2012, for the purpose of forcing Mayor John Cook out of office.
Yesterday, the El Paso Times ran a front page story on Tom Brown. In the article, Pastor Brown explains his passion for meddling with local government with one logical fallacy after another. Unsubstantiated claims (“By laying hands, Brown says he's cured "hundreds" of physical ailments, though he doesn't take credit for the healing”), historical distortions (on Thomas Jefferson’s ‘separation of church and state’ - “He meant that this wall is going to protect the church”), scientific ignorance (“According to Brown, most other men who perform gay acts were drawn in by a man who took the place of an absent father, were so bullied by boys at school that they spent their time with girls and came to identify with them, or were driven to the lifestyle by some other bad experience”), and bald-faced superstition (“Brown tells his congregation that if their lives are going badly -- their finances are a mess, their kids won't behave, they keep getting sick -- they may literally be cursed”).
I support the city council’s efforts to make El Paso a more progressive city, but their political tactics so far have been dreadful. They committed the grave mistake of invoking Jesus and the Bible to refute Tom Brown Ministries, when they should have simply invoked the Constitution. Mayor Cook asked Pastor Brown to cast the first stone if he was without sin, when he should have asked for an early investigation into illegal gathering of signatures by a non-profit religious organization. When asked about why he is so passionate about the issue, Pastor Brown speaks of spiritual warfare, demons and curses – subjects which do not belong on a political platform. He does not bring up any fiscal concerns over the ordinance, any concerns for equal benefits for the elderly, veterans; or any like concerns worthy of debate. All he has to offer the city council are items which have no meaning outside the domain of religion - Sin, Hell, Demons and the power of Curses.
Mayor Cook, if by some miracle you stumble onto this blogsite, please read this advice I have for you. The minute somebody brings up the subject of sin, hell or demons into a city council meeting, that person should be laughed out of the room – plain and simple. Please do not play into their hands by quoting Scripture back at them, or telling them what you think Jesus would do. The city council has no business basing El Paso’s civil rights issues on what you think Jesus did or did not say about homosexuals! Simply ask them to demonstrate, with evidence, the existence of demons, and if they cannot provide this evidence, have them removed from the city government assembly.
But Mayor Cook played into the hands of the religious right, and I fear the city council and the mayor have underestimated the power of charismatic religion. It may be too late to stop the growing momentum.
I sent several news tips to the Texas Freedom Network, with links to the news articles in the El Paso Times. I am asking the Freethought Community in Texas, most of whose members are in cities hundreds of miles to the east of El Paso, to keep this backwash, desert community in mind. Please spread the word!! Between Charismatic Bigots for illegal petitioning and Catholic Guilt Peddlers for "border justice", El Paso needs a serious dose of freethought and rational thinking!!
If you want to view some of Pastor Tom Brown’s sermons, he has a YouTube page. You can listen to him speak on the subjects of exorcism, angels and spiritual warfare. He kind of reminds me of a younger John Hagee.
Picture: Protestors against Tom Brown, during a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore - courtesy El Paso Times.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Of course, this was years before I owned a computer and could access rejoinders freely online. What McDowell is doing by warning his followers of the dangers of information, is nothing new. They never needed to warn me about the dangers of information in the pre-internet age, because that information was not readily available. There were no blogs, no online articles, no dissenting opinions or information, just the reassuring words of Pastor Skip and his invited speakers. There were no online bookstores and open source book archives, just our highly selective church bookstore and sermon-on-tape archive. I had no i-Tunes U, podcasts or internet radio, just TBN, the 700 Club and Family Life Radio. There was no need for McDowell to tell us about the dangers of information back then. It existed, but it was just well-hidden and inaccessible.
Those days are gone. The world has shrunk, and the Church can no longer pretend that dissent does not exist.
My local library played a small part, but I am an ex-Christian and an atheist primarily because of the free information on the Internet. I can now recognize dogma for what it is, shed myself of it, and free my life of those mental shackles. I have come to believe that information combined with critical thinking skills is crucial for growth and maturity. McDowell has every reason in the world to fear for his Christian beliefs.
I showed RoseMary the article from McDowell the other evening. She had never heard of him, and only familiar with apologetics because of my exposure to the subject. So I had to explain who he was, explain the unfortunate influence his, and similar, books had on my life, and once again remind her what Christian apologetics were. I became more emotional as I spoke, remembering the lying and manipulation that McDowell and others engage in when they declare victory with bad arguments and no counter-arguments. I guess I will always have those emotional scars, that feeling that I cannot get over being hoodwinked for so many years, and I just have to remember to be grateful that I am finally free of that mindset. But I guess my emotions also spill out when I think of so many of my friends who are similarly blinded by these crooks and charlatans, and I admit it does anger me that they are able to get away with it. I was recently advised by a workmate to read Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ if I wanted my doubts answered. I nearly gagged. I am also frustrated that even in this online age, many Fundamentalists already share McDowell’s fear of information. I can loan my workmate any book of my own choosing in return to reading Strobel, and I know full well, from experience, that any book I loan him will remain unopened and unread. Dogma can stand no dissenting information. McDowell is flat out lying when he says that today’s Christian says, “There is no truth apart from myself”. Baloney. Anybody who has gotten any kind of education certainly understands that the more they learn, the more ignorant they feel. The more I learned about pulsars as a graduate student in astronomy the more questions sprang up; the more I learn about the Bible, the Christian religion and Christian history the less I feel I understand it; and the more I learn about Life in general, the more uncertain I feel (which is not a bad thing by the way). But Christians know this and are terrified of it. Faith requires certainty, and if information brings uncertainty, then Faith must require Ignorance. I can loan my friend The Cat in the Hat, but as long as it comes from the godless atheist, that book will remain to the Christian an evil influence to be avoided at all costs.
I was going to write a blog article about McDowell after my emotional rant to RoseMary, but I saw that I was already late to the game. Several others had already written articles, and I did not want to just repeat what had already been said, and I did not want to be just an emotional rant. That is the strange thing about blogs – when I want to write about something that interests me, it seems somebody has already written about it, only much better than I ever could – so I lose motivation and end up not writing anything. So I will leave this article about Josh McDowell stand here where it is.
Monday, May 23, 2011
As I watched the spellbinding daily updates behind Camping's organization up to Judgement Day, I imagined the videos would be removed after the failed prediction of the Rapture.
I thought EzekielThirtyThree3 was an insider in Family Radio.
But all is revealed in the most recent video.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I am not partying this weekend. I have too many chores waiting around the house, and my wife RoseMary, who was raised in a conservative Catholic home, does not understand Apocalypic Fever. I think that I do understand the Apocalypic mindset. As a young boy in the early seventies, I was taught to expect the Rapture, the great Catching Away, where we would meet Jesus in the clouds, literally at Any Moment. We were poor, uneducated, and in the grip of a cult-like religious environment in the rural Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. It was a time when wandering Jesus Freaks and Holy Vagabonds would mysteriously wander into town, live in our houses for several days or even weeks, preach the love of Jesus and the soon-coming Rapture, only to just as mysteriously vanish from town, never to be seen again. At the time, Hal Lindsey’s best seller, Late Great Planet Earth was flying off the bookstore shelves. I do not remember seeing anybody in my community actually reading that book, but the book along with the growing Jesus Movement certainly influenced our Apocalyptic culture. It was like bellbottom jeans, embroidered vests, long hair and Mister Tambourine Man – just a product of the times. And while I never read Hal Lindsey, at least not until many years later, I do remember reading religious comic books (with characters and art blatantly stolen from Archie and Jughead comics) which described the Rapture, the Great Tribulation and the Judgment of the vengeful Jesus riding on a white horse. (How I wish I still owned those comic books – what surreal memories that would bring) I remember being kept out of school on at least a few occasions, gathering with fellow believers for a few days of fervent prayer, speaking in tongues, and casting out of demons, all in the expectation of being snatched away into the clouds. During one of our frequent baptism sessions in the barnyard watering tank, I vividly remember a young neighbor girl pointing to a cloud in the sky that she said looked like Jesus with outstretched arms and holes where the hands should be. She stared, pointed, screamed and passed out cold. Others, some soaking wet from a recent baptism, looked at the sky, trying to see what young K---- had seen, and began wildly praying in tongues. Eventually, I am sure, K---- was revived, everybody toweled off, and we went on home, not thinking about what had just (not) happened.
This was years before waiting for Jesus in my teenage years in a private Baptist High School, years before 88 reasons to wait for Jesus in 1988, and many years before Skip Heitzig and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel told me the Rapture could occur at any mement.
I think I understand the mindset of the Apocalypic Culture. I have lived it.
So I did not plan on commenting on Harold Camping of Family Radio. Our churches paid little attention to him in the early 1990s – and I know that few actually believe or follow Camping now. The only thing that gives these stories such heat is what we did not have in 1992 – multiple 24 Cable News channel and widespread use of the Internet. Now even the smallest blip on the radar can become an international phenomenon. It is not unlikely that if the Internet had existed in 1970, our insignificant little religious cult in Northern New Mexico would have wound up being trashed and ridiculed on some Atheist Blog.
Then last night, I did the unthinkable. I typed “Harold Camping” into the YouTube search engine. I tried to resist. I knew better. I tried to divert my attention. But blast my fingers – I could not keep them from typing on the keypad!
Up popped the most fascinating channel. There is some insider from Family Radio posting daily warning videos. They are high quality, professionally edited, interviews and behind the scenes peeks into Harold Camping’s thoughts, his motivations, his radio program, and most chillingly, his followers. The first upload was the two-week warning, and a video had been posted every day since. Last night, the two-day warning was posted.
Check out this channel – the videos there are absolutely spellbinding: I suggest watching them soon, while they are still up. If the Rapture does not take place on May 21, I predict they will not be there after May 22.
I only watched one video and planned to stop there, but I started with Day-14 and worked my way forward. As I did, the memories, the emotions, the recognition of the old mind-set just flooded back. I have talked about this with Christians at work, not because I have brought it up – they bring it up, and all acknowledge that Camping is a “False Teacher”. But then, as I watched the YouTube videos, I recognized that, while Camping is crazy enough to actually give the date of the Rapture, May 21 6PM EST, and that there is “no possibility of this event not happening”, the Christians that I am familiar with, those Evangelicals from the tradition of Sola Scriptura, Calvary Chapel, etc, do the same sort of thing that Camping does. As Camping speaks in these videos, I recognized the same buzzwords, the same clichés coming from his mouth as I heard constantly from behind the pulpit and continue to hear from radio Evangelists.
In good, mainstream, Evangelical tradition, Camping says:
“I have no authority; the Bible is the authority."
“A very high esteem for the authority of the Bible”
“What is your authority? Is your authority man-centered, or God-centered?”
“This teaching comes straight from the pages of the Bible.”
“We follow the Bible, we do not follow Man”.
"I will never maintain that my analysis is a better one than the analysis of God"
"It is never what I want, it is what God wants. We follow the Will of God"
Camping uses the same language, and apparently the same techniques as every other Bible-based Evangelical church. He came up with a different interpretation, that I do not consider unusually screwy or nuts, when taken in the context of every other Evangelical exegete out there. It is just a mystical interpretation, like the particular interpretation of every other Church who feels free to gauge the Bible. He is doing nothing different from Skip Heitzig or any other Calvary Chapel pastor who feels free to interpret the Bible for his willing flock.
Some of these videos break my heart, as in this one where a lady calls into Harold Camping’s radio program “Open Forum”:
(Seems this video channel blocked permission to embed these videos in a blog. The video is HERE)
Camping: Welcome to Open Forum.
Woman: Hi Mr Camping, I live on the east coast. A few weeks ago the station - local station – it was down for a few days and I was beside myself because I couldn’t get Family Radio and I don’t have a computer. I just want to thank you for getting the station back online. I’m a grandmother. I have two beautiful grandchildren and I have one on the way. And I’m not going to get to meet…*sobbing*… it’s really a shame **sobbing** but **heavy breath** I know I’m not alone.
Camping: Well you know the fact is that the only one who can give you comfort is not me, not any human being. But God is a god of comfort and remember he knows everything about your situation better than you know it. Way better. And you can cry to him and plead with him and beg him and let him know all about it…
This stuff disgusts me. It makes me sad and angry. How I wish that these people were given real hope in life. Instead of celebrating life with her grandchildren, she is reduced to mourning their loss. People deserve better than this – this is a life that is completely wasted. And it makes me angry at those who teach people that they cannot be happy, complete or worthy without help from an invisible, magical man named Jesus. People are taught that it is a virtue to be weak and dependant, as this woman obviously is, and I believe that people deserve better than that. But if we teach a better way of life without Jesus, we are obviously tools of Satan. I remember Calvary Chapel regularly lambasted secular motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, because they teach that you can be happy, strong and independent, but they never mention the Gospel!!
Next, here is the video that really got my blood boiling. Camping explains, in part, one of the calculations he uses as a proof of the May 21 date:
The video is HERE
I resonate with this one the most, because it is the type of mystical Gamatria that many in the modern Evangelical church have fallen for, a trick that the likes of Chuck Missler have made careers out of, and one which I once fell for – hook, line and sinker. I hope to write more about this in the future, but I will briefly explain why this type of Bible interpretation gets me so upset.
Camping (and many, many, many others) teach that the Bible is a code-book, full of riddles and puzzles, to be deciphered by the aid of the Holy Spirit. RoseMary loves movies like National Treasure and Da Vinci Code, because of the peculiar puzzles that adventurous detectives must solve just in order to get to the next puzzle to solve. After a long chain of puzzles, riddles and codes, a treasure is hopefully to be found. Biblical numerology approaches the Bible in the same way, in which, as Camping says, “words are numbers” and each number has a mystical meaning.
In this case, it is claimed, from 1 April 33AD, the day when Jesus was crucified, to 21 May 2011 is exactly 722,500 days. These large numbers can be broken down into smaller factors. 722,500 = (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17). These numbers mean very specific things in the context of Scripture. For instance, 5 signifies the atonement, 10 is completeness, 17 is heaven. So we then have (atonement x completion x heaven). But this is squared - (atonement x completion x heaven) x (atonement x completion x heaven), and we know from Genesis 41 that when something is declared twice, God formally ordains that thing to be so, … well… there you have it. What more proof could you want?
I asked my ever-suffering wife RoseMary to watch that particular video, and because of her conservative Catholic upbringing, did not understand all the Bible interpretation via numerical manipulation. But she commented that it all reminded her of Chinese Astrology – a gem of a comparison that I want to remember!
Of course it is nuts. But how many of us have fallen for the same trick? Yes I know you have heard it. The number 3 is the number of God, since 3 signifies the Trinity and the number of days between the Crucifixion and Resurrection. So every time you read ‘three’ in scripture, you must see what significance it has towards the Triune Essence of the Godhead or how it points to Christ’s Resurrection. Herbert Lockyer’s mind-numbing book All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible is stuffed to the brim with mystical interpretations where the number three occurs in the Old Testament.
But it goes further. Not only the numbers four, five, six, seven, eight, … etc all have mystical interpretations, but colors, metals, animals, etc, every mention of which can be given some kind of mystical allusion to Jesus, or the Disciples, or Sin or the Eschaton, or anything else the Biblical interpreter may wish. How many of you have heard that Yeast or Leaven always refers to Sin or Pride? So when we read of the Passover Seder in Exodus and of how all Leaven is to removed from the dwelling, we are to interpret that as the removal of Sin before the sacrifice. But what is the difference between that and telling me that forty means testing, meat means truth, iron means military strength, birds mean evil, thorns mean temptation, brass means judgment, eight means new beginnings, silver means blood, seven is completeness, the Sea means the Gentiles, etc, etc, ad infinitum? Seriously - what is the difference?
And once you start down that path of interpretation via numerical and mystical manipulation, the Bible can be made to say absolutely anything. There are no limits because there are no rules. I am ashamed to admit that I was once completely under the spell of this trap – a world of codes and puzzles, where the Bible is an infinite well of mystical truth, and every word, every number, every phrase has multiple levels of meaning that can be divined. And it burns me up, because I know I was not the only one trapped in this way of thinking. I remember when Chuck Missler would guest speak at Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque. He would talk codes and puzzles and numbers and mystical meanings for hours, and his captivated audience would remain seated after the marathon sermon for a question/answer session!! Unbelievable.
I guess I have commented enough on this. Nothing terribly witty or profound or unique here – just my own take on these crazy events in the religious world. Time to stop procrastinating – I am now off to work on building that closet. Until next time, Dear Reader….
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Satan, if he is able, would rather not fight with you. Instead, he wins his battles by convincing you that the sinful path is the correct path, and then he stands back and watches you ruin yourself with your bad decisions. Because you believed Satan! But that is his strategy. He will just tempt you, convince you, entice you. He will never battle with you or force you though! Do you know that Satan has no power over you? Jesus defeated Satan at the Cross! So Satan can no longer do anything to you! He can’t attack with his teeth! Satan will gum you, but he will never bite.
At about this point, I changed the station.
Later last night I thought about what Matt Fox could have meant by this. The idea of Satan being “defeated at the cross” is something that I had heard before, but honestly, in all my years as a Christian, out of all the countless sermons I have heard over the years, I never actually thought about this statement until last night.
I know about the crucifixion being the sacrifice and expiation for Sin. But what part does Matt Fox believe "Satan" had in this sacrificial act? Does Matt Fox believe Satan had some kind of biting power over Yahweh’s faithful before the crucifixion, which Satan now no longer has? And if so, how did this power of Satan manifest itself? Matt Fox’s message implies that Satan once had the power to actually force Yahweh’s faithful to do things against their will, since he now only has the power of suggestion. If this is so, and considering the fact the Matt Fox is a good inerrantist, evidence of Satan’s forceful power must be found in the Old Testament. The first, in fact, the only story I can think of where Satan does physical harm to one of Yahweh’s Faithful is the story of Job. But Satan’s deed of harming Job and killing his family was done only after Yahweh had given his approval and permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). If Satan, when demonstrating his destructive powers, can only act on that power with Divine approval, it is contradictory to suppose Jesus needed to perform a sacrificial deed to then strip Satan of his destructive powers.
My point here is not to debate the correct interpretation of particular Scriptural passages, or even to discuss Satan’s proper roll in our world and his relation to Jesus. I do not cite The Bible as any kind of authority, and I believe that Satan is a wholly mythological creature. I believe that these stories, when taken out of their realm of myth, have no relevance in our world. My point rather is to highlight, even assuming the existence of other-worldly Beings and Divine authorities, the theological sloppiness of many popular ‘Bible Teachers’. I do care when authority figures abuse their call as teachers to an unquestioning crowd. I have written several articles about the nonsense I have heard from various Catholic homilies, and, even if one assumes orthodoxy, how the uncritical Faithful accepts every word of nonsense uttered by the priest. And I fear that is what we have here in the person of Matt Fox. The idea of Jesus’ defeat of the once powerful Satan is just one very simple example of the blatant fabrications that come from these charismatic Bible Teachers, and the pews are swollen with the Faithful who uncritically lap it all up.
Nothing is as simple as it is presented.
I had always been taught that Jesus’ death was necessary for the atonement of our sins. But does Matt Fox think that a magical deed other than sin atonement occurred during the act of crucifixion? If Yahweh could, back in the story of Job, cause or restrict the destructive power of Satan by his simple word of permission, why did it later require the death of Jesus to bind Satan’s destructive power? In another story, when Satan opposes the High Priest, Yahweh is able, by his divine word and authority, to rebuke Satan (Zech 3:1-2). Are we to believe that Yahweh is now somehow unable to enforce his word over Satan without the action of the sacrifice and the shedding of blood, as he was able to in the books of Zechariah and Job? Does Matt Fox believe that Yahweh is now powerless without the aid of magical rituals and incantations? He must believe this if he thinks that it took no less than the death of Jesus to remove the fangs of Satan, and restrict his power to biting with gums.
Where could Matt Fox have gotten this idea? As a good inerrantist, I am certain Matt Fox thinks he pulled the idea of Jesus defeating Satan at the Cross out of one of the 66 books of the Bible, and nowhere else. This is the where the inerrantists think they get all their ideas. Let’s look at some possible options, and see if they have any relevance to the idea that Satan once had, and now no longer has, any power over the Faithful via the Crucifixion.
The most commonly cited passage concerning Christ's defeat of Satan is from the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
This passage describes the Devil, whom I assume Matt Fox equates with Satan, as being destroyed via Christ’s death. It also says that The Devil has the power of death, and that through Christ’s death, those who were once afraid of their own death are now delivered. Christ does not strip Satan of his power, but completely destroys him by giving himself up for death, thus releasing The Devil of the power he once had over death. It seems to me that the author of Hebrews mixes and confuses, as so often happens, separate descriptions of spiritual and physical death into the same passage, so that while he may mean the death of Christ in the physical sense, he may also mean that Christ delivered those who were afraid of spiritual death. Does the author then mean that The Devil had the power of spiritual or physical death? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if anybody knows the precise intent of this scriptural passage, but I think that this passage is the closest we have to the teaching of Matt Fox that Satan no longer has destructive power over the life of the believer. But it is quite a reach.
Here is another passage we may consider as a possibility:
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He (Christ) was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1John 3:4-10)
In contradiction with the passage from Hebrews, in which The Devil is destroyed, in this passage it is stated that the death of ‘the Son of God’ destroyed the works of The Devil. The foul work of The Devil is Sin, which is lawlessness, and Sin was destroyed by the death of ‘The Son of God’. The destruction of Sin is evident in those who ‘dwell in God’ because they do not sin (v. 4, 6, 8, 9), and the lawless works of The Devil are destroyed (v. 8). If Matt Fox pulled his teaching from this scriptural passage, he would have to assume that the destruction of the works of The Devil leaves the Devil with the power to further tempt believers (or in Matt Fox’s words, ‘gum you’) but this is nowhere hinted at in this passage. Further, Matt Fox would have to assume that the destruction of Sin means that those who dwell in God no longer keep on or make a habit of sinning, as I have heard these passages mis-quoted many times. But this is not what the text says, and the statement regarding the work of The Devil, Sin, which was destroyed by the death of the Son of God, only makes sense if that Sin is utterly destroyed in the believer, and the believer no longer commits sin. If it took the death of Jesus to give the believer the mere power to resist the temptations of The Devil, the power of Christ's death is rendered unnecessary and superfluous when we consider the power of the righteous faithful of God before Jesus walked the earth. If Job, for instance, was able to overcome all the temptations of Satan without the power of Christ’s death, why is the death of Christ even necessary? Unless Sin is allowed to be completely destroyed in the believer, as 1John 3:4-10 actually states, and not merely made a habit of, as Matt Fox seems to believe it states, then I don’t see how 1John 3:4-10 makes any sense at all.
I can only think of one other place where Matt Fox might be pulling this idea from - the famous “first Messianic prophecy” (Gen 3:15). Yahweh, describing his punishment to the Serpent after the incident in the Garden says:
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.
Even if we accept the common interpretation of this passage, in which we assume the Serpent is Satan, and that this punishment is a foretelling of somebody who will subsequently bruise the head of Satan, it is too vague to fit Matt Fox’s thesis. If we assume that Matt Fox accepts this as evidence of Christ’s destruction of Satan at the Cross, we cannot interpret “it shall bruise thy head” to mean “because of Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan no longer possesses his formerly destructive force. But he can gum you.” Such wild extrapolations of meaning are arbitrary and gratuitous. Further, this ignores the second part of Yahweh’s statement to the Serpent, “And you shall bruise His heel”, which is left unexplained in Matt Fox’s message, in fact, in nearly all quotes of this verse as a Messianic Prophecy. But even if we ignore this, and even if we grant Matt Fox his Fundamentalist theology, and agree with him that this Scripture refers to Jesus bruising the head of Satan at the Cross, this is still contradicted by Paul’s personal greetings in his epistle to the Romans.
Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. (Romans 16:19-20)
Paul, writing after the crucifixion of Jesus, interprets Genesis 3:15 as something occurring still in his future. Unlike Matt Fox, Paul takes the entire quote from Yahweh into consideration, and incorporates “And you shall bruise His heel” into the meaning of Satan bruising the feet of the Faithful in Rome, but they shall, in turn, crush Satan’s head with those very feet that Satan is “bruising’.
But wait, how can Satan bruise, when, according to Matt Fox, Satan has somehow lost that power?
Here is my point. In the grand scheme of Biblical interpretation and exegesis, Matt Fox’s opinions on Satan, that I confess I am overblowing, are meaningless. I have no desire to argue and debate fine points of Biblical interpretation. This is how I read these passages, and in no sense, in no way, shape or form do I see where in the world Matt Fox, a pastor, a person who wields authority over his Faithful Flock, pulls this admittedly very trivial teaching from. The Bible teachers of CSN radio hold up the Bible as an inerrant standard, they claim it as a sole authority; they demonize those who do not follow, interpret and believe it as they do. Yet, when faced with complicated and contradicting scriptural passages, they all tend to iron everything into the simple, basic and meaningless sludge. The bumpy complications and bothersome technicalities of the varied writings in Scripture are homogenized into smooth, placid, flavorless, jello. These pastors and Bible teachers numb their captive flock with salt that has lost its savor.
They are getting off easy – I am commenting on a mere 30 second quip from a roughly 25 minute radio broadcast, which itself is just one of dozens of interchangeable teaching programs broadcast on CSN radio, a station that prides itself on its own claims of sound exegetical Bible-based teaching. Many times have I been tempted to comment on the base nonsense that I have heard from CSN radio, my old Skip Heitzig cassettes, and various Evangelical pamphlets and booklets, only to stop myself for fear of starting an exegetical debate blog-war. But such simple, popular Christianity is theology for kindergarteners, a theology that I immersed myself in for far too long, and not a basis of teaching or living for any thinking person – Christian or non-Christian alike. So many of these types of expository, verse-by-verse Bible teachings, such as those popular with Calvary Chapel, are so ironed flat, that any number of them can be deconstructed, as I have done in this article, with minimal effort - if only their flocks dared do so. Convolving the complex, diverse, and sometimes contradictory, yet profound, thinking of the Scriptures into the trite messages that I so commonly hear, render their own Scriptures as meaningless – and the message is delivered and accepted purely on the authority of the Pastor. What a waste.