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“When I was a child , I spake as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 kjv

One of my most memorable experiences from childhood was my baptism in the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

The Holy Ghost was formally introduced to us when Jesus ascended into heaven saying to his disciples:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26 kjv

The disciples we understandably distraught over Jesus’ departure and weren’t particularly comforted by Jesus’ proclamation of the comforter, that is until the day of Pentecost.

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance Acts 2:1-4 kjv

The role of the Holy Spirit was to provide a guiding voice in the life of believers. He is that ever doubting voice in the back of your head encouraging you to do thus or discouraging other actions. He is a constant presence providing direction in a cloudy world and the completion of the Holy Trinity. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.

Interesting that he is called a Ghost.

Indeed the Holy Ghost is so important, that of the members of the Trinity, he is the only one of whom has been said:

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. Mark 3:26

Reason tells me at this point in my life that this is because of the 3, the Holy Ghost is the most unbelievable and serves the least purpose. Therefore, the unforgivable sin is invoked to prevent undo questioning of him.

As a child and even into my teen years I often worried if I had committed the unforgivable sin. When I would ask the answer was always the same: “If you had committed it you would not care if you had or not”. Not an especially comforting answer for a developing child wrought with guilt but it sufficed on multiple occasions. I suppose my current state would suggest I have finally succeeded in committing said sin.

What I think the fundamentalist church does not fully understand, or maybe it does, is the impact that it’s teaching have on children. We will discuss at length the effect that they had on my life specifically but I do not believe my experience to be in way unique. Children look to the adults in their life for guidance and confirmation that they have made good decisions, they want to please the adults and of course in particular their parents.

Fundamental churches believe that the day of Pentecost is not reserved for some of Jesus’ followers in a loft but rather a manifestation of a gift from God for all and still actively ask God to bless them with the same gift given to his followers in the New Testament.

Going back to my spiritual baptism then at age 12. The service as I recall was not unlike any other service in which the power and the comfort of the Holy Spirit was taught. These types of services were always followed by an invitation by the speaker to come forward to the alter to be baptized in the Holy spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Those of us who had not been baptized felt immense pressure to do so but the fear of failure was monumental. The thought of going up to the alter in front of all those people and not being able to speak in tongues was petrifying, but each time there was such a call my parents would gently nudge and ask if I wanted to do so. On this occasion, for whatever reason, I was feeling particularly worthy and agreed.

I would like to describe the setting at some length here because I believe it is an important for you to fully understand the experience and a part of this experience is the environment in which it is set.

I attended a large church, the sanctuary, which is the large theater where the congregation sat, held around 500 people. A far cry from the mega churches but a large audience nonetheless. It had very tall vaulted ceilings, at its peak, in excess of 50 feet, this made sanctuary feel much bigger than it actually was. The pews sat in three rows. The center row was the widest with narrower rows on either side of it divided by aisles. Above that sat the balcony and it stretched about half the length of the lower level. The sanctuary its self, was ornate with fancy decorum in differing shades of purple. The pulpit was made of glass and stood at the end of a 35 foot deep platform in front of a very large wall with 25’ Cross which stood above the baptism tank that was used for water baptism. The front of this platform was the alter and it stretched the full length of the sanctuary in front of the pulpit.

The service always starts with worship. Worship is not the reserved practice you may have seen in a Catholic mass but an energized event full of loud singing, dancing in place, hand waving and crying. Occasionally this service would be interrupted by an especially holy event called “Tongues and Interpretation”.

In a lull in the worship service someone (as often as not my mother) would begin loudly speaking in tongues. As the speaker spoke their foreign language the building would fall silent and everyone would listen. Once the speaking of tongues was done the silence remained as all waited for another person to interpret what had just been said. I remember well the growing tension as time would tick by, every second seeming like an eternity, as we waited for the Lord to move upon someone with the correct words. Then it would come, it always did, and it always began the same way: “My people, my people I say unto you” I always thought it interesting that God spoke in King James English but I certainly was not going to judge the Lord himself. After the message had been interpreted the congregation would clap and rejoice in the words of the Lord and the worship service would continue.

Between the worship service and the preachers message there was the collection of money. This event was generally precipitated by the reading of the Word of God commanding his people to give their 10% and a prayer over the offering asking God to move his people to give. In the event of a special speaker, a second offering called a “Love Offering” would be taken at the end of the service.

The preacher speaks from the platform though I dare say rarely from behind the pulpit. In my fundamental upbringing it was much more common for the speaker to be pacing back and forth from one side of the platform to the other speaking loudly then softly and then loudly all the while wiping the sweat from his brow with the customary white kerchief. As seen through the eyes of a child the preacher is nearly superhuman. All the adults listen intently to his words, they nod their heads, they shout in agreement and write down all the things he has to say. He is clearly an important person and appointed by God and the child in the church tip toes around him for fear of making him displeased.

At the end of every service is an alter call. The nature of the alter call varied depending on the content of the sermon, but nearly always included a portion for those who did not know Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior to come forward and accept him and eternal life. Upon coming forward the lost or in need would have hands laid upon them by the elders of the church (chief among them my father). The elders would pray for them in unison, generally slipping in and out of the tongues of angels in the process.

On this occasion the sermon was about the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit and I, a 12 year old boy, answered the call. I moved to the front of the church towards the alter and immediately wished I hadn’t. Doubt clouded my mind and 500 sets of eyes were peering down on me from all around. As I walked down the aisle I could hear the whispers of “hallelujah” and “praise Jesus” and sniffs of old ladies rejoicing to see a young person answering the call of the Holy Spirit. I was mortified! What if the Holy Spirit rejected me, what if I was unable to speak in tongues, what would they say?

As I approached the elders I looked to the left and the right and to my dismay realized I was the sole respondent to the call that evening.

At 12 I was tall drink of water. I stood maybe 5’7” and weighed all of 80lbs. Always the tallest in my class, I was also the thinnest. As I approached the group of 8 adult men they opened to form a half circle and asked me to kneel, as I did so the group collapsed around me as all 8 full grown adult men formed a circle around me with their hands on my back, shoulders and head. They began to pray.

7 of the 8 men (including my father) began, as was often the case, to pray in tongues speaking words that I could not understand but which, presumably, God did. The eighth man knelt in front of me and endeavored to coach me through the process of loosening my tongue and allowing the Holy Spirit to take over my body and control my tongue. The pressure was insurmountable, I simply did not know what to do, I knew relatively quickly that this was not going to work, perhaps I was not worthy, perhaps I did not believe strongly enough, whatever the case it was evident to me that the Holy Spirit was not going to enter me that day. But what to do? The embarrassment would be to much to bear and with my father so adamantly praying over me, how could I face him? I decided to try and fake it. To my surprise with each grunt or noise I made the more enthusiastically the men prayed and the more joyful their tone and expressions. As an imaginative child I had made up my own language long ago and as I slipped into this language it gained credibility as a gift from God.

When it was over I was pronounced baptized in the Holy Spirited as evidenced by speaking in tongues. My father and mother were elated, they took me out to dinner to celebrate and all the others in the church congratulated me on this big step in my relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

But as I saw it, there was no other acceptable outcome. To fail would have been devastating and my already lowered self confidence, thanks to the continual teachings of unworthiness, would have collapsed entirely as I watched my role models hang their heads in disappointment.

It was that night that my skepticism began to set in. “These were men of God” I thought, “that should not have worked, they should have seen right through my deception”. But it did work and from that point on I was looked at in a completely different light. I was encouraged to use my new prayer language all the time, to foster it and grow it. It never occurred to me before that night to question the gift of the Holy Spirit but after that I did. I listened to everyone’s prayer language and wondered if they too had just made it up and I wondered if they believed they were speaking in the tongues of angels or if they too were just trying to do what was expected of them.

~AP~

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A curious believer has sent me an email with some questions in it. She is sincere in her questions and I have taken a stab below at answering her honestly. Her questions are broad though and I do not want to speak for all Atheists so in the interest of fairness I will post her questions and my answers here so others may comment as well.

We will call our writer Kelly. Kelly writes the following:

I am a Christian but I feel very uncomfortable “evangelizing” to people. I cringe when fellow Christians tell me they’ve brought people to Christ. I believe that the omnipotent and omnipresent Lord sort of has control over that situation. For them to take credit for someone else’s conversion kind of makes me chuckle. However, I am equally disturbed by atheists who feel the need, as you say, to evangelize their unbelief. Also, I’m of the belief that if you start a conversation with me about religion then I get to participate. Unfortunately, I’ve had the bad experience of being told that I shouldn’t push my religion on them. Huh??…….

My experience with atheists and agnostics has been negative.

Truth be told, I can accept that you don’t believe in God. I just wanted to be accepted for believing in God. Why must I be considered stupid, naive or at worst an extremist? Isn’t this a form of prejudice/discrimination? Not every Christian is a screaming, judgmental evangelist who beats unbelievers with a Bible. Conversely, not every atheist is a screaming, belligerent college student with a superiority complex.

No doubt, religious and political beliefs are often passionate and deeply held convictions based upon each individual experience.

These are some questions I have:

Do atheists feel a need to disprove the validity of Christianity?

What do you care what Christians believe about your afterlife? You don’t believe it. Isn’t that all that matters?

If a majority of Americans claim that they are Christian or of some other religion then why shouldn’t we have a National Day of Prayer?

Has anyone been arrested or persecuted for not praying recently?

Why are atheist offended by “The National Day of Prayer”, “In God We Trust” National Monuments with the “Ten Commandments?”

**These are sincere attempts on my part to understand. I’m not being sarcastic. I look forward to your response.

Here is my response:

First of all allow me to say that I do not speak on behalf of all Atheists, I can speak for myself only, I will allow other Atheists to speak to their approach.

Do atheists feel a need to disprove the validity of Christianity?

Only insomuch as the validity of Christianity is used as the basis for judgment against Atheists. Not just Atheists might I add but all other non-Christian religions. I do not care what you believe or do not believe. I don’t care if you serve a Chihuahua in a tuxedo, a Unicorn, or an omnipotent being. Your beliefs are yours and yours alone and you have every right to have them. I write about Christianity because it the single greatest controlling factor in the nation in which I live.

What do you care what Christians believe about your afterlife? You don’t believe it. Isn’t that all that matters?

I don’t care what Christians believe about my afterlife provided they keep their opinion to themselves. I do care when their opinion causes my every day life to be disrupted. It matters.

If a majority of Americans claim that they are Christian or of some other religion then why shoudn’t we have a National Day of Prayer?

If a majority of Americans want a day of prayer they should have at it. They should work amongst themselves and organize the event. Just like Gay pride day, or fathers rights rallies, or the truckers organizing events in DC. I am 100% in favor of your right to pray. What I am not in favor of is a government sponsored event advocating any religious belief. This is not rocket science, The United states government is a representative of ALL people. What if the government had a national White skin day? It is true to say that the majority of Americans are white skinned, would that be OK?

Has anyone been arrested or persecuted for not praying recently?

Arrested? Not that I am aware of at least not in America, persecuted? ABSOLUTELY! Atheism has been demonized (sorry but I can’t come up with a better word). Open Atheists have many challenges with believers including challenges at work and other social and economic challenges. This is the reason that so many Atheist blogs and writers do so under assumed names. We are forced to protect our identities. Many of these blogs receive violent, threatening emails on a regular basis. The big name Athiests – Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and the like receive regular threats against their lives, why? Becuase they don’t believe in God and have the courage to say so in public.

I appreciate that you threw in “Recently” because this illustrates that you are at least somewhat familiar with your religious history and the massacre of so many in the name of so little.

Why are atheist offended by “The National Day of Prayer”, “In God We Trust” National Monuments with the “Ten Commandments?”

Again these slogans and activities are not the role of the federal government of the United States. If these slogans were concerning the superiority of Men, or the superiority of a particular race their meaning becomes different to you this is how I view the meaning of these slogans and activities.

I hope that helps you understand a little bit better. Further reading on my blog on this subject can be found in the links below.

You ask me why I care
Do Unbelievers Evangelize?

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I got hooked on a band named XTC in 1989 when they realeased their album entitled Oranges and Lemons.  A few years later Purchased the album Skylarking and discovered Dear God.  The song rang true with my soul and in that time of decision making was a comfort to me.  If you haven’t heard it (which I find unlikely) I hope you enjoy it.  If you have I hope you enjoy it again.

Frankly I don’t think it can be said for me much better than they have said it here.

~AP~

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“No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means” – George Bernard Shaw

Kaleidoscope
As a child one of my favorite toys was a kaleidoscope. A simple but imaginative device it is a tube of mirrors containing loose colored beads, pebbles or other small colored objects. The viewer looks in one end and light enters the other end, reflecting off the mirrors. Typically there are two rectangular lengthwise mirrors. Setting of the mirrors at 45° creates eight duplicate images of the objects, six at 60°, and four at 90°. As the tube is rotated, the tumbling of the colored objects presents the viewer with varying colors and patterns. Any arbitrary pattern of objects shows up as a beautiful symmetric pattern because of the reflections in the mirrors(1).

The wonder of this childhood toy for me was if I got bored with or didn’t like the current configuration of pattern presented, I need only twist the lens to see something more to my liking. Peering through a kaleidoscope offers a variety of different views but it is only possible to see a variation of views provided by the limited components of the scope. So there I would sit with one eye closed to the world around me and the other eye firmly planted to the end of a tube that represented the world in a pleasing and satisfyingly changing way.

The lens of religion works in much the same way. The religious close their eye to the world around them and peer through their religion to find a pleasing and satisfying world view. If they are unhappy with what they find they need only tweak the lens until they find a desirable configuration. Like the kaleidoscope no two views are the same.

The Assertion
Christianity today is a shadow of it’s previous self. What believers tout today as “moral living” and “upright behavior” would, in previous eras, be considered heresy. Those who preach anything resembling historically accurate religious theology are considered fundamental and obnoxious. Among their ranks are religious zealots such as Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps and young earth creationists including Patrick Young (PH.D). Many, if not most, main stream Christians have included into their doctrines certain basic scientific proofs including older earth theories, evolution (within the same species), basic astrology facts and have acknowledged the power of medicine. They have taken special care however, to credit God for allowing all of these truths to exist and using them as examples of his greatness.

If any of today’s Christians were to time travel to mid 1300’s they would be tortured and killed for heresy, yet their claims of belief are unchanged. They still serve the same God; they govern good and evil from the same text and preach the same basic message. The moral code upon which their faith is based is unchanged and yet what is considered moral and true has changed dramatically.

If we were to ask Christians today about such things as slavery, genocide, child abuse or rape and inquire as to whether or not such actions were a sin they would certainly (at least in my experience) and universally say that they are. Furthermore, defense of the position of these actions being immoral would be produced from scripture. Upon contest of their stance utilizing alternate scripture, the defense is given in regards to the time the scripture was written. One must take care to remember that in many circumstance these same scriptures, in generations past, were used to support what today would be immoral actions.

Christianity, in all various forms, has been and remains the religion that takes the least amount of ownership for its actions and has also been the least consistent religion on the planet. Christianity shares with its chief rival, Islam, a conviction of being the only true path to God and also has a commonality of a particularly bloody past. The primary difference being that Islam, has, for all intents and purposes, embraced these attributes while Christian apologists have attempted to justify or disown the immoral actions of previous generations.

There are more than 34,000 variations of the Christian religion(2) including Catholicism. Each of these variations have turned thier kaleidoscope with which to see the present world and the history of mankind and each of these believe they have found the true key to salvation.

Many Christians have chosen to leave the label of “religion” behind them. These believers have decided that no religion is representative of what they see through the kaleidoscope and state that they have found the “real” Jesus. These types feel that the previous 2000 years of Christendom are all incorrect and they have received a personal revelation as to the truth about God. The narrow lens of religion is very accommodating and will allow a person see whatever they want to see as they look through it.

The Narrow Lens
The narrow lens of religion is a term I use to describe the view the religious person has of the world around them. It extends from how they read and interpret the Bible to their views on the after life. The lens filters world history and indeed, in many cases, eliminates all historical contexts for belief between the time the New Testament ends and the present, because the events do not fit the viewers current interpretation of God or his will.

The lens’ range inhibits the viewers thought processes. It conditions the mind to stop asking questions and accept that the unknown is God’s doing and no further investigation is needed. Indeed, historically speaking, the lens has made its viewers quite violent towards those who have stepped beyond its scope.

The lens narrows the viewer’s reality to the contents of a book and those concepts and realities forced upon them by society. The intriguing thing about the lens however is its ability to, once included, make what it sees seem like the way it has always been. Again, the lens negates history and insists that the current view is the one, true, and correct view and that said view has always been thus.

The lens’ historical filter enables the viewer to embrace concepts such as Pascal’s wager, the proofs of Thomas Aquinas and the “miracles” of the patron saints but filter out the unpleasantness of the inquisitions, slavery, women’s rights, witch trials and the murder and torture of freethinking men and women of philosophy and science. The lens is a versatile tool, employed largely unconsciously, throughout human history.

My Lens
As a former believer I remember well the inner struggle to quench the questions that almost universally began with “What if?”. When the questions were to strong my lens was there to remind me that “What if?” was irrelevant – close one eye and peer through the scope at the symmetrical patterns of faith I had learned so well. The lens of religion calmed my mind and allowed the world to make sense once more.

As I began my voyage away from belief, I tucked my lens away in its velvet case, placed it in a drawer somewhere in the recesses of my mind and I remember feeling quite naked and exposed. I also reeled, as I still do, at the exploration of the pebbles and beads of religion, science and philosophy that were not reflected in the mirrors of my own kaleidoscope. Everything that I found, discovered and learned since that day has solidified my decision to leave behind me the world of fairy tales.

~AP~

(1) Kaleidoscope (2)World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions – AD 30 to 2200

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While I am not a religious person and I find religion to be the “beast” of our world there are three things about religion that I relish in.

First the art, from the chaotic drawings in Dante’s inferno to the stained glass windows of the Cathedrals to the wondrous paintings in the Sistine chapel. Religion has provided some of the most amazing art ever created. To Dawkins point, would we have the same works of wonder if the times they were created under were had different beliefs? Perhaps, perhaps not, either way they are amazing to look at, I am grateful that they exist.

Secondly the music, since I was a small boy I have learned and loved the old hymns, from “I’ll fly away” to “Amazing Grace” , Catholic monk chants and the prayers of Islam. Being raised in an evangelical church the songs were usually upbeat with bass sections that I would enjoy listening to my father sing. As I got older and distanced myself from my religion the words lost their meaning but oh how I still love to hear the old songs. You will often catch me singing an old hymn and if you know me you will initially be confused.

Lastly I find the rituals of the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic Churches intriguing. The pomp and circumstance can be trying but when you combine the mythology of the religion with the rituals it can be quite a beautiful thing. Of course some the rituals are horrible and some are down right brutal but some are quite beautiful.

Shame that an institution (religion) that has so much beauty is so ugly at its heart.

The wonderful thing about being an Atheist is the ability to find beauty in all things. The Christians have a saying that goes like this: Hate the sin, love the sinner. For me I hate the message of religion but there are many things about the underlying culture that I find pleasing.

This is a very beautiful Islamic song I found. It is in English and Arabic but I also enjoy many traditional Islamic songs as well. If you can distance yourself from the religious aspects and the goal of endoctrinating children and settle into the ebb and flow of the song you may find it quite pleasing. It is sung by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), granted not your typical Muslim, or maybe he is. This is off a children’s album he dedicated to his daughter.

Do you find beauty in religious things?  If you are a religious person do you find beauty in other religions?

~AP~

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Not sure what I did but some how I landed smack dab in the middle of Zombie Nation this week. This is a new blog and I have been averaging between 40 – 70 visitors a day generally. In the last 2 days the ~AP~ has had over 500 visits with over 150 of those visits coming from visitors looking for zombies, according to the stats.

I’m good with that, I’m a zombie fan and zombies fit right in here since Jesus was the ultimate zombie, so welcome zombie nation I will have more in the future for sure 🙂

Welcome to everyone else that has found this blog in the last couple of days as well!

This one is for the Zombie seekers:

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This is Nate Phelps speech at the American Atheists convention in April of 2009. Nate is the son of the extremely fundamental Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist church.

I was not prepared for my reaction to the speech. The first half is his story about growing up in the Phelps household and all the abuses he endured. The second half, his de-conversion story, is what got to me. I am not a person prone to emotion but this telling had me with tissues.

His speech is entitled The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life I encourage all to take the time to read this speech.

~AP~

(Via UnreasonableFaith)

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