Thoughts on Doubt

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself. -Madeline L’Engle, quoted in The Case for Faith(p. 223) by Lee Strobel.
As I mentioned before I was raised and homeschooled in an insular Evangelical/Fundamentalist environment.(For more see here ). It is this type of environment that has cheesy lines such as, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” However in my case I’ve had doubts basically since I was 18(which was 2003). Over time, however, it was in my doubts that I had a deep spirituality. It was the Strobel book I quoted that first showed me that there’s a place for doubt. Chapter 12 of The Purpose-Driven Life built on this, as it talks about the need to be honest with God and points out the honesty of biblical characters with God.

Now to dig into this. I have come to view the line, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” as contrary to Scripture. When God told Abraham of Sodom’s destruction, Abraham talked with God until He agreed to spare the city for ten righteous people. Moses, when informed of Israel’s destruction, didn’t just accept it — he talked God out of it! The Psalms are full of the prayers of people expressing their doubts, anger, frustrations, and other emotions to the Lord. David summed it up as, “I believe, therefore I said, ‘I am utterly ruined’ “; that is, because of my faith, I expressed my true emotions. Job expressed his true feelings throughout the book of Job, whereas his friends offered pious clichés. At the end of it, God said to one of the friends, ” I am incensed at you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job”(Job 42:7b, New JPS translation). From this we learn that God wants us to be honest with Him; He’s saying He’s OK with our anger, doubts, questions, fears, etc.

Like Jacob(Gen. 32:22-32), it’s OK to wrestle with God and say, “I will not let you go until You bless me” (Gen. 32:26, New JPS translation). This wrestling with God is what made Jacob into Israel.(In the Bible a name is tied to who you are and all you stand for.) In the New Testament it is written, “Test everything, hold onto the good”(1 Thess. 5:21, NRSV). Romans 12:2 mentions ” discerning” the will of God, which refers to proving it through repeated testing. Romans 12:1 mentions our “reasonable”, ” logical”, or “spiritual” service/worship(depending on the translation). I take this to mean that thinking and questioning can, too, be Acts of worship.

So when doubt strikes, we should give thanks to the Lord, for He knows all things and we don’t. Nevertheless, we seek it out, seekers find — a promise existing in some form in the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon. We should tell God exactly how we feel, return to the things that draw us to faith, and just admire them and the Lord Who is behind them. Also seek to understand the Bible from different theological perspectives; seek out new ideas. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were praised for searching the Scriptures to see whether or not what Paul was saying is true.

I think doubt helps keep faith relevant, in that it forces people to face the questions those outside the bubble face. This, I believe, promotes empathy, particularly if the people involved are open-minded. Through doubt, if we are humble, we are reminded that God is bigger than our dogmas, our churches, our cultures, our nations, our races, or any other tribal identification you can come up with. By walking through the valley of doubt we learn which of our values are worth defending, why these values are important, thus teaching us integrity and giving us meaning. Doubt can be God’s way of expanding ourselves and showing us our possibilities. As Romain Rolland said, “Skepticism, ridding the faith of yesterday, prepares the way for the faith of tomorrow.” For millenia people have questioned popular dogmas(including religious ones); today we enjoy the benefits of their actions, for they were the history makers.


The Haunted Hut(for Friday Fictioneers)

The hitman approached the door to the old hut, guns drawn. “Uh, Kerry”, one of the men said, ” let’s stop. They say this place is haunted.”
“Come on, Will”, Kerry replied, “that’s just a superstition! We have to eliminate the whistleblower — or everything’s ruined!”
Kerry opened the hut door then they barged in, guns drawn. A head rolled on the floor and one of the men yelled as he burst into flames.  He hit the ground and started rolling. A voice shrieked, “The slain shall be avenged!”
An internet video showed a body and a terrified man fleeing the scene. 


This is a story for Friday Fictioneers, started by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields , photo provided by Piya Singh(no link).

Ethnocentrism in Evangelicalism

This post is inspired by a Russell Moore NYTimes article and its critique on Dianna E. Anderson’s “Faith and Feminism” blog. While Ms. Anderson addresses a number of issues, I’m going to focus on Evangelicalism’s ethnocentrism(the belief that one’s own culture makes the most sense and/or is superior to other cultures).
One thing Ms. Anderson addresses is a tendency for “multiethnic” churches to assimilate POC into whiteness; in other words, turn them into white people with dark skin. Many whites fail to recognize cultural differences between them and POC, and they fancy their churches multiethnic even if only a few POC wander in and the church makes no room for cultural differences. One way to explain this is to say that white people are accustomed to eating cake and POC to eating pie. Neither food is wrong. So, what’s wrong with having pie? Why does it always have to be cake?
This ethnocentrism also exists on a global scale. When Evangelicals talk about USA and/or Western civilization being Christian it often is an act of asserting cultural identity, perhaps even superiority. This implies that Christianity is a Western religion and thus causes missionary work to appear as cultural imperialism, especially when Christians proclaim the superiority of American and/or Western culture. This is supported by pointing to the best aspects of the West and the worst aspects of other cultures (thus committing the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and Confirmation Bias).
However, according to the Bible, it is not to be this way. It is written in Acts 10:34-35, “God is no Respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.” In Acts 15 the Holy Spirit revealed to the church that Gentiles do not have to enter the Jewish cultural mold. Furthermore, Eph. 2:14-15 says, “He is our Peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of Twain one new man, so making peace.” Similar to how some people in the early church who insisted everyone must fit into a Jewish cultural mold, so today there are people who insist Christians must fit into the suburban, white, American, Western, 1950’s cultural mold; just as in those days cultural diversity was affirmed, so today it must be affirmed.
Another passage I’m going to look at is the Tower of Babel. Many view the confusion of languages as judgment; however, it is never referred to as such in Scripture. It is said that language and culture are closely linked; and it’s said that learning a new language is learning a new way of thinking. It says about Babel, “The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” (Gen. 11:1). That is, one culture, one way of looking at the world. By developing multiple languages God essentially broke the uniformity, so that people will all be looking at things from different perspectives, like the different facets of a diamond. When Jesus began His ministry He said, “No prophet is accepted in his own country”(Luke 4:24), meaning no nation, tribe, ethnic group, etc can solve its problems alone — we need outside voices.(This insight is borrowed from the late Fr. Joseph Donders.)
We must also realize MLK’s words: ” An individual has not begun to truly live until he rises above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” It’s become cliché to denounce selfishness and narcissism(and a popular slam against Millenials), but this almost always refers solely to individual narcissism. Erich Fromm mentions group narcissism, observing that while there can be social checks against individual narcissism there are almost never checks against group narcissism. In fact, going against group narcissism is likely to attract accusations of selfishness, as “it’s not about you” often means “it’s about our group”. This needs to stop! First of all, we need to recognize it is written, ” God so loved the world”(John 3:16). Second we need to, like St. Paul, adapt our message to a variety of cultures, as Jesus said, to not sew an unshrunk cloth onto an old garment(Mt 9:16). Third(and a bit controversially) we need to recognize that offense is the price of diversity (an insight from Irshad Manji). We can(and should) critique injustices in other cultures, but we should NOT be blind to those in our own! We need to stop attacking those who critique injustices in our own culture, to stop telling them to critique other societies instead and accusing them of treason. We need to transcend the Outgroup Homogeneity Effect, to recognize that even as not everyone in our own group is alike, so not everyone in other groups is alike. We can support the reformers in these communities. We also need to fight ALONGSIDE(not for) those who have been historically marginalized, to expand the table to give them a place. We need to be willing to offend ourselves, for that is the route to having both empathy and principles; in other words, to speaking the truth in love. I close with the words of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. There are diversities of operations, but the same God Who worketh all in all.”

A Close Call(for Friday Fictioneers)

The waves lapped the rocks as the captain walked along the shore. Suddenly three men walked up to him; one of the men handed the captain a poster for a runaway slave, saying, “Excuse me, Captain, one of my slaves ran away and there’s evidence he’s in the area. Have you seen him?”
“No”, the captain replied.
The men showed the captain a warrant and searched his property but found no one. “Well, Captain, just keep an eye out”, they instructed.
The captain breathed a sigh of relief. Tonight he will take Tobi across the lake to Canada.


This is a story for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff Fields , who also provided the photo.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 4(The Last Part)

Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3
Now to take my spiritual journey to the present day. My apologies for how heavy the last post was, as it was a difficult period of my life. I’ll start with a renewed interest in Judaism, this time listening to Jewish podcasts. What this Goy(Gentile) heard on the podcasts was exactly what I needed. I was able to dream again, that God is not a dictatorial taskmaster. I was inspired by the idea that there is something that each person can do(only them), that even if you make a wrong turn God can still guide you to your destination. This also helped me get past the fear Jesus would return before I got married — I have a mission to fulfill first.
It was about this time the church started a massive building project, due to a dogma that there was going to be a massive economic collapse, that the government was going to start persecuting Real True Christians(TM), we heard of people who claimed to talk with Illuminists(the predictions NEVER came true). One prediction was that Obama would declare martial law and send Real True Christians(TM, who stayed faithful opposing interfaith and same sex marriage, whereas the others are the Deceived[TM)], the Apostates[TM], the Compromisers[TM]) to FEMA concentration camps. Also there were going to be trains with guillotines to decapitate said Real True Christians(TM).
Religion and Ethics did a report on the efforts of the Mormon Church to help Mormon singles find mates, as they encourage marriage(something that was discouraged in my environment). This kindled an interest in LDS. I listened to Mormon podcasts(including parts of the Book of Mormon). I also listened to atheist podcasts, trying to see if I could respond to their arguments. I kinda liked their sticking-it-to-the-man as well. I kept this very quiet. I only listened to the podcasts at home, I immediately deleted the podcasts from my i-tunes library upon putting them on my i-pod. If I was going to be with anyone I made sure to delete the podcasts from my i-pod as well.
In the midst of this the church became enamored of a hardcore Fundamentalist conspiracy theorist, who talked about giants(claiming the Smithsonian covered up any evidence of this or anything contradicting evolution, because they don’t want to admit the truth of the Bible), identifying aliens with demons, claiming that Obama was going to bring in Russian and Chinese troops to take people’s guns, and anyone who revealed who guns is a traitor and going to be killed. The guy thinks social media is a way for the government to monitor people (after he said this people were asked from the pulpit to get off Facebook).
Then suddenly our pastor(who I considered a trusted confidant) had a stroke. We had for a short time a surge of unity. Things ground to a halt while waited for a recovery. We shared dreams of his recovery.
For me a couple of things happened: I read a book on Muslims who converted to Christianity and saw a faith I was impressed with, as opposed to what I saw in my own church. For example a man in Bangladesh was reaching out to help drug addicts, who are reviled even by secular society. A Palestinian reached out in friendship to Israelis. These stories impressed me, and further weakened my anger towards God and helped in my religious crisis.
On the other hand I also felt God was just a heavenly dictator who imposed arbitrary rules and burned those who wouldn’t comply. Another issue was a lot of End-Times stuff with all the conspiracy theories. In Dispensationalism it’s taught that during the Tribulation the Antichrist will make everyone accept a mark in order to buy and sell, but God will burn in hell anyone who takes the mark. I heard people express concern people would cave merely in order to feed their families. For me I thought any god who would torture someone merely for feeding their family because of a freaking mark and arbitrarily refuse to forgive them but forgive people for child molestation or genocide was a jerk who had his priorities off. And I didn’t care who thought that was arrogant or whose feelings were hurt.(I didn’t say it publicly though.) Also during this time I became a bit of a smart aleck and was proud of it, as I saw taboos against this as hopelessly antiquated and a violation of human rights(the same with taboos against rebellion, even thinking the taboo was just set in place by power-hungry people wanting control).
However at the same time I heard talk that my friends were frustrated over the same issues, like the low wages. One friend even brought it up to church leaders; he was told they’d look into it, and not to get into Korah.(Something that didn’t make people happy.) My one friend explained they aren’t trying to do a coup d’etat but just reform. He explained that the guys were reading their Bibles even more, and it was through this that they started questioning the system. I also started mentioning some of the things that had been on my mind for years. One friend mentioned his loss of vision, which I, too, felt. I started rereading books that had inspired me years back(a few I mentioned in part 2). Some things got reformed, but one of my friends moved away. He dropped me off at shop, got in his van, and moved away.
At this time the old prosperity teachings encouraged me that God does not require that I remain poor.(I read a book by a pastor in South Korea.) I saw a Muslim video podcast in which a cleric said Muslims need to show people how Islam is relevant and he gave examples. I found that inspiring for something to do with Christianity. Also, I was about to turn 30, the age in which Jesus began His ministry. Knowing this and that 30 was a milestone year, I was looking forward to this. Interestingly a week before my 30th birthday I got a smartphone and an email address. I got a tablet for my 30th birthday(March 2015) and got a Twitter account at the end of April. I actually got to interact with people of different religious beliefs, rather than just listening to or reading their stuff. I learned for the first time about Religious Trauma Syndrome(RTS), and found blogs and accounts of people burned by purity culture and Fundamentalism in general. For the first time I learned about spiritual abuse(something I don’t consider myself a victim of, though I recognize things were messed up). I appreciate all the people on Twitter who follow me, allow me to follow them, who have influenced my thoughts.
Why do I share this? To tell my story. When other people told their stories it allowed me to compare/contrast my own. I’m still trying to process my own experiences. One passage I reflected on a lot for turning 30 is Isaiah 61:1-4 . Recently I also reflected on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 . That is why I share this story; I find others’ stories helpful, thus I share my own, as a way of saying, “Me too”; two words that, according to Anne Lamott, are the most powerful sermon in the world.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 3

For part 1, see
And part 2:
I mentioned at the end of my last post of a storm coming. Well it arrived when my friends and I got recruited to work for a guy at church at a very low pay rate. We were told it’s God’s Will(TM) for us to accept this job. As for me, I was told it’s the Kingdom of God[TM] and because it’s a kingdom I don’t get to choose. I was also told that if I didn’t accept this job my marriage and ministry would be postponed, with a “Thus saith the Lord.” The boss yelled at us, preached at us. I won’t get into the details. At the same time a book circulated in which the author claimed God paralyzed him due to his mouthing off to an authority figure who was being a jerk. The message I got was we had to just take all we were going through lying down, or God would be ticked at us. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, due to fear that it would be Korah(Num. 16, he got swallowed by the earth for rebelling against Moses). For the first time in nearly four years I began to question God’s existence. I began to see the god presented to me as a jerk, paralyzing people for petty things that aren’t even wrong while allowing child molesters and genocidaires to prey on children for years; and torturing you for all eternity in a place that makes Auschwitz seem like an amusement park after you die. I got to the point I was thinking I’d rather be an atheist than believe in the god being presented to me and I didn’t care if whose feelings were hurt(as changing religious views is a human right! This still gives me a bad taste for political correctness, but that’s another post.)
In addition the church started turning insular, especially after Obama’s election. We were shown a number of videos on the Illuminati, and how they’re trying to destroy the economy, destroy America, destroy [Real True] Christianity [TM], and all this is leading to the Great Deception[TM], the Great Apostasy[TM], and the Antichrist. There was one on how the interfaith movement is just an attempt by the Illuminati to destroy Christianity, that [Real True] Christians [TM] are singled out for attack, and set up a one-world religion. This caused cognitive dissonance, as I’m not an Illuminist and I support interfaith dialogue. People support interfaith due to the fact that fanatics who believe their way is the only way kill in the name of God those who disagree with them. As it was referred to as “The Left-Wing Shadow Government” I thought it just a way to demonize those who disagree with us; that this is just an “us vs them” mentality. I also saw a bit of xenophobia in this, in that just being interested in other countries would label you an Illuminist. All these things I saw are things I really don’t like! I even asked the leadership for permission to go abroad; but was told, “Not yet; not until you get in the Glory.” This became very frustrating.
I feared that I’d be told, “The Lord says that Sister So-and-so is your wife” but I wouldn’t like Sister So-and-so, and thus be forced to marry her. I really didn’t (and still don’t) want to marry anyone I grew up with, as I knew I’d have to Drink the Kool-Aid and probably give up my dream of living abroad (as some people said they don’t want their son-in-law to take their daughter away from the man of God). Later I grew fearful that I’d never marry(as I mentioned in another post, we had purity culture and dating was verboten. Parental approval was strongly pushed, and my mom didn’t think I was mature enough.) Thus I thought marriage was effectively banned. We were also told that we should be willing to never marry if God says so. Concerning going abroad people asked me what if God said to remain in this bubble the rest of my life. People got offended when I said I’d still go abroad (something that’s a human right — one reason I support the right to offend; but that’s another post). I was frustrated over being stuck in a job making hardly anything, unable to go anywhere, having no prospects for marriage, all because leaders said it’s God’s Will (TM). This definitely helped contribute to my religious crisis, as it seemed God just made arbitrary rules that were impossible to follow and was going to torture us for not keeping them, but Jesus convinced Him into beating Him instead.
However there were a few things I did to move forward. Since we traveled a half hour to an hour to reach the job, I listened to language learning podcasts in the meantime. (However I couldn’t stick to one language.) I also bought books on subjects of interest from Barnes and Noble.
Well, I’m going to end this post here. I apologize this is such a downer, and I promise the next post will have more positive content!(Seriously, this period was one of my roughest.)

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 2

This is part 2 of my post on my spiritual journey. Here’s the link to part 1:
The next event was getting confronted on lust. After the confrontation I mentioned questioning God’s existence, something that gave people a fright. I was told that if I went down that path I’d become a womanizer, get a venereal disease, and/or have a terrible, sexless marriage(but I could have all kinds of blessings if I stayed with God). I’m sure you could guess my decision. I followed the inspiration I received from The Purpose-Driven Life. I was tweaked over feeling coerced until I got praised for having experienced the most growth of anyone in the church, something that was a shock to me! I started reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, something I found inspiring. I decided not to go back to finding demons behind every bush(I didn’t see the need to), and I sought to see how religion and psychology can be reconciled seeing God as smiling on my interest.
I discovered a show called Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel(whose book Case for Christ I’d been given). With it being a discussion show I got exposed to differing perspectives even within Christianity, so that I was able to form more nuanced views than the Fundamentalism of my preteen/teen years. I had a similar experience with the “Religion” and “Opinion” pages of a local newspaper, as I got to see a diversity of beliefs and actually encounter liberals for themselves, rather than the right-wing straw man arguments. I also started watching Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS, which sometimes does reports on other religions, allowing me an understanding without the Fundamentalist filter. Another epiphany was Strobel’s saying that it’s OK to have doubts.(I’m going to do a post on this subject.)
In a moment of frustration over my horniness, I was thinking to myself “bad karma”; then it hit me that karma can be changed. I remembered the Noble Truths of Buddhism: 1)suffering permeates all existence; 2) Desire(thirsts, cravings) is the cause of suffering; 3) there is an end to suffering, called nirvana; 4) the way to nirvana is the eightfold path. In my reading about Buddhism I found that ” suffering” includes even discontent and frustration. “Birth is painful, death is painful, aging is painful… association with what is disliked is painful, disassociation with what is liked is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.” (The Buddha). That is something I can relate to! I began to see how the Buddha, Freud, and Jesus combine.(All these things I do that make Evangelicals and Fundamentalists nervous I’m going to call “Fundie-mistakes”.)
Another post on the journey was my discovery of a copy of MLK’s book The Strength to Love at my great-grandparents’ house.(The book is a collection of his sermons.) What appealed to me was his global perspective, his stress on our being human, more than the accidents of race, tribe, nation; his promotion of peace and criticism of war(this was the Bush era[c. 2005], the Hawks were out); it gave me a sense of purpose. In addition my Judaism interest was rekindled, this time without the Fundamentalist filter. I really connected with the greater leniency towards wrestling with the text, vis-a-vis blindly accepting it. I loved a lot of the rabbinic insights; in fact, they helped me to maintain my faith in the Bible. Though I didn’t read them, I found inspiration in the quotes I heard from Martin Buber and Rabbi Heschel.
One day in Borders I flipped through a copy of Jim Willis’s book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. In this book Willis critiqued both sides and introduced me to The Consistent Life Ethic, which is opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war(though there is space for just war). There was also talk among particularly younger Evangelicals of having a broader pro-life platform, including things like anti-poverty in the platform rather than obsessing about people’s sex lives. My knowledge of rabbinic thought even motivated me to support passing out condoms, as, opposing abortion, I saw it as better that if people were determined to have sex, to not conceive and have and abortion.
In 2006 I watched Bill Moyers’s Faith and Reason on PBS, which was a series of interviews with writers associated with PEN(poets, essayists, and novelists — I became and remain a fan.) None of these people were Fundamentalists; in fact many criticized Fundamentalism and sounded the theocracy alarm.(One defined Fundamentalism as trying to force an antiquated model of religion on people today.) I used the critiques as a way to better understand Christianity, to look at it from a different perspective.
It was through these interviews I first heard of A Handmaid’s Tale. Also through these interviews I developed an appreciation for the hip-hop art form. One of the writers explained hip-hop as taking something old as “flipping it”(that is, updating it), something he did with Sophicles’ play Oedipus Rex, and explained Sophicles himself did with an ancient Greek myth. This gave me a model, as I’ve flirted with being a writer from the time I was little. (That’s another post.) I also enjoyed the interview with Pena Chodron, a Buddhist nun.(I may go back to find the interview to find a text she mentioned; perhaps I’ll review it, no promises though.)
I was inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun-ha’olam(repairing the world), of making a difference. Reading on Islam I read that there’s a concept in Islam of struggling on behalf of the oppressed. I read in The Purpose-Driven Life that God gives us some of His passions that we could speak for Him. I support peace; I like people from different countries cooperating instead of hating each other; I like people of differing religious views cooperating instead of killing each other in God’s Name. I began to think maybe God’s calling me to promote peace and justice. Upon going to Rick Warren’s website I read of his promotion of education to lift people out of poverty. I connected with this, due to my intellectualism. I read that the Hadith say to share your knowledge (quoted in the why I’m here post). Of course I knew all this went against the grain of my church environment. Thus, I hoped to move abroad and once there, pursue these interests.
Well, I have pretty positive memories of this period, and thus will end part 2 in my happy place. (Storm warning for part 3!)