The following is an excerpt from a novel I have been wrestling with. . . . . . .
Eugene couldn’t sleep so at 4:00 in the morning he decided to head over to his office at the church. He parked, grabbed the bag of journals, and headed to the front door. Putting the key into the keyhole he realized he never locked the church when he rushed off to the hospital yesterday. While walking thru the auditorium he remembered yesterday’s coffee incident. Opening the door to his office he could still smell the coffee and could see its outline where it had dried on his desk. Instead of cleaning up the coffee, all he could focus on was Samuel and his journals. He pulled out the entire stack and laid them on the corner of the desk without any stains on it then grabbed the first one. With his heart racing, he sat back in his chair and opened the journal that said, “1: Start here.”
How do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what you believe is true? And “because I know” is not an acceptable answer.
Your map of the world—the map you use to orient your way through the world—is not the world.
When you assume you are in possession of divine truth, you are no longer open to learning anything new.
The more you learn, the more you understand. The more you understand, the less you know. The less you know the more eager you are to learn.
Have you done any in-depth studies of all the world’s religions?
Have you completed any studies on all the ways the concept of God has been used throughout history?
I have been thinking about how to unpack and share my beliefs—or lack thereof—with my family when the opportunity arises. The first point that needs to be made is that it’s a slow and gradual process. When you start out questioning your faith, you don’t even realize you are questioning your faith. You start to ask simple questions like, “Why do I believe what I believe?” or “Why are there so many religions in the world and how do I know mine is the right one?” And then the process of learning about other religions gets set into motion.
As you study all the different religions for yourself, you start to see some common themes shared by many of them. Then you begin to realize that many of the main religions are more cultural than anything. As a child is taught the native language and the native customs, that child is also taught the corresponding religious norms as well. The ties the child has to his cultural upbringing are very strong ties that become difficult to loosen so most people keep their childhood religion without ever considering another option.
How do I share this with people who aren’t very curious about me and would rather I just toe the line? As I began to ask questions I continued to become increasingly dissatisfied with the answers. For instance, in one of my Bible classes at Faith University I asked a professor a question about one verse in Genesis that talked about angels being cast to earth to have relations with humans. He had no answer.
This is the guy that bragged weekly about having four master’s degrees in Bible, Divinity, etc. Four master’s degrees and he couldn’t give me any direction on ONE VERSE! This was profound to me. If four-master-degreed-professor couldn’t help me, then I better start to read this book in-depth for myself.
The crazy thing was, the first time I actually read the Bible at face value—by face value I mean I read it as if it were just another piece of literature—I was astonished by all the glaring inconsistencies and obvious flaws. How had I never seen these before? How had I blindly believed the book—and this book alone—was God’s sacred texts and nothing more? For the first time in my life I honestly felt a little embarrassed to admit I was a Christian and I couldn’t believe I was the only one who ever felt this way. Surely other people have stumbled onto the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this book that is supposed to have been written by the God of the Universe himself.
If I’m being honest here I must say that I couldn’t dare say anything to anyone because what if I was wrong?!?! I always had that fear in school that I would raise my hand and say something so far from what the teacher was looking for that her and the entire class would burst out laughing because of my stupidity. So, because of this fear, I kept my mouth shut while secretly reading the Bible with the assumption that this book was in fact NOT the Word of God!
You probably have no idea how extremely difficult it was for me to even have thoughts that were contradictory or went against the Bible; let alone saying it out loud. I read and read and read as if it was the last book left on the earth and the more I read the more astonished I was by what I was reading. Once I wrestled with it long enough I started to feel like everything I was ever taught as a child was bullshit and I had to re-question everything.
I remember the first time I ever uttered the words out loud in public. I was at work in the main office sitting at the computer with just one other employee with me. I looked at him—a Christian himself—and boldly stated, “I have been reading and studying like crazy. I am finally at a place where I can say this out loud to someone. The Bible is no more inspired than books like The Shack, Tom Sawyer, or Pilgrims Progress. It’s full of a bunch of crazy authors who all got their works published by the same editing house. It was written by men, compiled by men, and said to be holy—BY MEN. So, I have no other conclusion except that the Bible IS NOT the Word of God.”
My fellow employee just stared at me with a blank stare as if he was unamused and uninterested. There I was, emotional and shaking, while he was bored. That was a great example of how two people can be in the same moment and walk away with two totally different experiences.
An interesting outcome to choosing to be open to new ideas is that your mind will be blown away. Staying curious and willingly choosing to learn takes one down paths never imagined. Where before I was afraid to venture any further than my local pastor (who happens to be my father), the Bible, and religious propaganda that was preapproved for me, now I was determined to read about both sides of every argument, learn about all the other religions, and study various gods that have been created and recreated throughout history. One of the outcomes to being open was an introduction to documentaries. This was a totally new genre for me.
With one foot solidly grounded on Christianity and the other foot outside the faith and atop a banana peel, I came across What the Bleep Do We Know at my friend, Sarah’s, house in Chicago late one night. I had always had a crush on Sarah and truth-be-told I was hoping to get laid but as fate would have it, she was extremely sick and needed sleep. So I looked through her movies while she was sleeping off a very bad cold and I decided to give this documentary a try. Oh My God!!! I sat there in bewilderment for an hour after the credits were done rolling. The DVD menu music repeated itself over and over while I tried to grasp what I just witnessed. Needless to say, my world had just been expanded! That caused me to wonder, “What the hell do I know? How can I be sure that everything I was taught as a child was right? My parents and teachers were all good people but just because someone is a good and sincere person that doesn’t make them right.”
I sat there astonished, blown away by the ideas that were displayed throughout the film. And then, after an hour of deep thought, I instinctively hit the play button again and watched it a second time. By the second time through, it was getting to be about four o’clock in the morning so I decided some sleep would be best. By mid-morning I woke up with a million thoughts and questions in my mind and a kink in my neck. Sarah was still asleep with a pile of Kleenex beside her on the bed so I turned the DVD player back on. On the main menu was a button that said Extras so I clicked it. This brought me to even more interviews from the movie’s speakers. Once again, I sat there in amazement while my mind was expanding. I remember saying to myself that day that no matter where it takes me I have to always be committed to learning new things and to always staying curious.
Sometime after that trip to Chicago I was talking to a coworker about the amazing documentary I watched recently. This coworker and I liked to have many conversations about how messed up the entire “American Dream” is; that we are all cogs in a wheel to keep the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. So anyway, I was telling him about What the Bleep Do We Know and he said, “I didn’t realize you were into documentaries, have you heard of Noam Chomsky?”
I said, “Gnome who?” (Get it?)
He told me about how in 1992 Noam Chomsky made this documentary called Manufacturing Consent—Noam Chomsky and the Media. Manufacturing Consent laid out all the manipulations that happen in our media in order to brainwash the public. Large corporations own the media and have the final say on everything that is printed or broadcast. With this kind of control and power, these corporations can shove their agendas down our throats without any kind of disagreement from us. We are nothing more than a large mass of people being controlled and told what to think, how to act, and which products to buy. The scary thing behind all of this is that we don’t realize we are being controlled. As a matter of fact, most of us would argue to our deaths that we make up our own minds and we choose for ourselves what we want to buy and what to read or watch.
Instead of making any quick judgments, I decided I would watch the movie first and see for myself what to think of this Noam character.
Once again, WOW! I was blown away by what I was seeing. It seemed to be a simple, low-budget film but packed a powerful message. My interpretation of that message was this: the general public unknowingly consents to the intentions of the mega-rich-and-powerful by easily being manipulated and controlled. Even when they think they have free will and make each of their own decisions independently from outside influences, they are being controlled. There is an entire science behind advertising that is designed to manipulate large masses of people.
So Manufacturing Consent and What the Bleep Do We Know are two documentaries that are must-see (in my humble opinion).
After talking to my coworker about that film, he asked me if I had ever heard of Eric Hoffer. I hadn’t so he told me about his book, The True Believer, which is a study about how people get wrapped up into mass movements. Hoffer explains the dilemma the individual has and why one would be drawn to a mass movement. He considered a mass movement to be a religion, a political party, a nation, or any movement that is larger than the individual.
When I read this book, I found myself in awe from the beginning to the end. I underlined so many passages throughout that book that I might as well have underlined the whole thing.
Another avenue for discovery and awareness for me is movies. When I see a movie that speaks to my heart I am enthralled by it. I find myself engrossed into the character’s story so deeply that I relate their life to my own life. Right off hand I think of Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It, The Last Samurai, Cinderella Man, Braveheart, Dead Poets Society, Finding Forrester, and Life of Pi. These amazing stories remind me that life doesn’t have any fail-safe answers and that usually the greatest stories are the ones that take place over a lifetime. When the audience can feel what the character feels and is drawn into their story—that is the magic of art.
Another author that has helped shape who I am today is Erich Fromm. When I first began reading Fromm I was a little overwhelmed but once I realized he thought on an entirely deeper level than the rest of the world I started to get it. I read his book The Art of Loving first and that was a good primer for the rest of his books to follow. There are several of his books where I found myself underlining what seemed like page after page after page; like Psychoanalysis and Religion and then We Shall Be as Gods.
I had always hated reading in school so one might wonder what started my deep love for reading. I can say when you find an author and it feels like they’re speaking directly to you, the words take on a whole life of their own.
Maybe I always hated reading when I was younger because I was always told what to read and what to think and what to believe. Now that my search for truth was genuine and my own, I couldn’t read enough books fast enough. I made it a goal to read a book every week and these weren’t fictional novels. They were non-fiction and usually something to do with therapy, religion, family, or personal growth. I would throw in an occasional novel but stuck mostly with non-fiction.
Once I started to explore my religion, the obvious question was simple: what if I was just born in the wrong part of the world at the wrong time in history? What if this modern-day version of Christianity was just not for me; maybe I just needed to get back to the basics. So that’s what I looked into next. I focused on the Bible and read through book and verse after book and verse. The problem with reading the Bible after one’s already a little skeptical is that instead of getting answers, you actually walk away with more questions. I discovered for the first time in my life that this magical book with all these magical powers has no real powers after all—no more than any other book that is.
Throughout this process of discovery and learning, nothing has been more helpful than my time spent with my counselor. Having a genuine active listener who isn’t afraid of pushing me out of my comfort zone has been invaluable.
Just something as simple as me asking if he was a Christian was so profound. He cocked his head sideways and went on a fifteen-minute explanation on how he’s hesitant to simply say yes in order to put my mind at ease because saying you’re a Christian means different things to different people. “If by saying I try to love like Jesus and show compassion to the poor and needy, then yes I am a Christian. If you’re asking, do I toe the party line and stand for the same issues politically that many other Christians stand for then no, I am not a Christian. I refuse to be labeled by one small word that carries with it so many different meanings. For me to try and express to you all my beliefs and all of my stances on different issues it would take days and weeks for me to unpack it all.”
“I say that to say to you, if you would like to start the process of getting to know each other and discover one another’s beliefs over time then I would like that.”
You mean we aren’t going to just prejudge one another and make assumptions about the other? We are actually going to take time to genuinely get to know one another? That’s new for me! And oh-my-god, how refreshing that was. Nowhere else on earth was I allowed to be vulnerable and honest about my experience before then. I felt as though everything in my life had to be viewed through the filter my parents gave me.
So much of Christianity is centered on freedom. Apart from Christ, we are said to be in bondage and yet Christ can set us free from that. My experience of it is exactly the opposite. I had never experienced true freedom until I experienced life apart from Christ. Being on my own, unbridled by the yoke that directed my every move was the scariest and yet most exciting experience of my life. Once you taste this kind of freedom and this kind of exhilaration by knowing you’re a free person it’s impossible to go back. Once you realize you were once a part of the unsuspecting ignorant masses who were led to and fro by leaders who cared for nothing more than advancing their causes then it’s nearly impossible to feel nothing but empathy for them.
In the first chapter of the Gulag Archipelago, on page 11 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says, “A submissive sheep is a find for a Wolf.” Those words jumped off the page at me. I instantly thought about the wolves that prey on the naïve sheep in religious circles. They are quick to brainwash and abuse the sheep in their presence.
While reading this I had a thought. People I know like my parents, and Jennie’s grandparents, talk about how we are living in the so-called End Times. One of their reasons for saying this is the decline of morality in the United States. They say the moral landscape of the US has declined so much that the Lord just has to come back soon. In my view, the morality of the US is nothing short of perfect compared to the Russia under Lenin and Stalin and also Germany under Hitler. I know there are other countries under other rulers to be compared with here but Russia and Germany were the first ones to come to mind.
Anyway, if these well-meaning Christians believe the Lord is coming back based on a decline in morality, why didn’t he come back when Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler were arresting and killing millions? The horrifying acts of cruelty committed to millions of human beings and their family members are more immoral than anything that goes on in the US today. Sure, there’s crime; sure there are senseless acts of immorality, but nothing compared to other countries that had no moral compass without any threat to stop them. If anything, the US looks like heaven on earth compared to the Hells that came before.
As a whole, I feel we are continuously evolving into a more loving and peaceful species. As our education increases so does wisdom increase. Our willingness to blindly sit and watch injustice play out without speaking out has diminished. There is currently more debate and more resistance before going to war than any time in our young country’s existence. The educated and peaceful people of the US stand head and shoulders above the past wolves of the world from a moral standpoint.
So, using this as an indicator of your reasoning for the end times to be set into motion is really quite ignorant. Choosing to ignore the billions of lives sacrificed around the globe in the last hundred years alone as being less moral than gay marriage and abortion is just pure craziness and complete ignorance.
The slow gradual process of losing one’s faith happens like the eroding of a mountain cliff continuously being hit by ocean waves. It withstands wave after wave but every once in a while, some of the rocks chip away. Then more waves, until finally another piece gets knocked off. Then, before you know it, the mountainside is back 20 feet from where it started.
Over time, the erosion of faith is inevitable for someone who wants to live honestly and aware. As you gain more awareness you start to see the shortcomings and ineffectiveness of religion. Don’t get me wrong, religion does good things too, but I believe from a psychological perspective it does more harm than good. The religious person gives all his powers away to an invisible deity and then begs his diety to give back some of the powers. The more he gives away his powers, the more sinful and empty he feels, and then the more empty he feels, the more he worships the invisible deity and begs for his powers back. It turns into a vicious cycle where the individual loses himself in the process. It’s a downward spiral that removes the individual so far from his true self that after a while his true self becomes unrecognizable to him.
Does living a Christian life and giving your life over to God solve any of your problems? Do you have fewer problems as a result of coming to Christ? Does anything other than your perspective change?
If you choose a life of Christ, what changes? You experience an emotional high for a while but eventually you have to face yourself. Sooner or later you have to come back to the ugliness of life. You can’t project all your powers onto something then beg for them back. Christians preach that Jesus will answer every question and fix every heartache but is that true?
Our culture promotes Jesus as if he were nothing more than a product being sold on an infomercial. Church becomes nothing more than more advertisements we have to sift through on a daily basis. It’s a wonder how people can even have an original thought when their brains are so saturated with ads. Every day we are told what to buy, what to eat, what to wear, what to think. Some days it just feels like we need to be deprogrammed by all the constant bombardment on our lives.
Everybody is selling us something. Everybody wants to take money from our pockets. Thousands of different things can be pulling at us at the same time. We are being pulled in every different direction by every different product. Even things that are good for us are sold and pushed in the same manner as the things that are harmful so it’s difficult to sift through it all some days. Half the battle is being aware of what’s going on. Most people simply react to everything around them without even giving two thoughts about any outside influences. Those are the people advertisers love, or shall I say prey on.
Eugene was startled by the sun brightly shining through the east window of his office. After reading part of Samuel’s first journal and pondering his thoughts so deeply, minutes turned into hours. Eugene’s love for Samuel was so deep, he couldn’t possibly be upset by what he was reading. Eugene knew Samuel had stopped attending First Baptist Fellowship several years ago for personal reasons but never assumed his faith had shifted so far from what he was taught as a child. Subscribing to his once-saved-always-saved philosophy, Eugene always felt secure in Samuel’s afterlife since he led him to the Lord himself—even though his life hung by a thread. After reading through the first part of his journal—and having seven more journals after this first one—he decided he needed to start a list of the different documentaries, books, and movies that led Samuel to shift his perspective so much.