When Your God Dies

Posted this to Facebook and thought I would share it here too. Glory! 🙂

Those of you who have been friends with me on Facebook for a while know that I used to bash religion – a lot, and usually I wasn’t nice about it at all. But back then I was still stuck in the “anger” phase of de-conversion. Walking away from 15 years of devout religious belief was not just a matter of me shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “Oh, well, that sounded nice but it’s not actually true” and moving on unscathed by the experience.

There are phases to religious de-conversion that closely correspond to the stages of grief. They are essentially the same. The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Most of the time now I find myself in the acceptance stage of grief, but for a long time I was stuck in anger and also in depression.

God

When your God dies, that is an event of major importance! We all grieve when a human or animal loved one dies. But when your God dies? That’s far worse, and it’s just as painful as a human death is, if not more so. Because when your God dies, so does the hopes you had for an awesome and eternal afterlife and your hopes of being reunited with lost loved ones at some future date. And what also dies is your hope that at some future date your God will dispense righteous judgment, right all wrongs and wipe away all of the suffering associated with this life.

When your God dies, so does everything supernatural associated with that belief. What dies too is belief in angels, demons, heaven, hell, and activities such as prayer that require a supernatural component to actually work. When your God dies, what you are left with is what is actually real and that we know actually exists — the natural world in all of its grandeur and beauty — the vast cosmos consisting of billions of galaxies, of which our solar system and our beautiful planet are but a very small part.

When your God dies, what dies too is the belief that you were specially created to serve and worship this God. What dies too is your belief that you are special to this God and that He loves you and cares about what happens to you. When your God dies, you realize that you are not the special creation of a God, but rather the product of millions of years of biological evolution, and you realize how amazing it is that you are here at this moment in time and you realize how precious and incredible and amazing this life is.

My God died almost 17 years ago, in early 2000. It was a death brought about by doubts and questions that had plagued me for years that I never found satisfactory Christian answers for. It was a death brought about by a great deal of thinking, reading, and research. It was a death brought about by seeing just how easily people on the skeptical side of the fence dismantled my cherished Christian beliefs not with ridicule and derision, but with solid, credible evidence and verifiable facts.

My God died a long time ago, and I have lived quite happily free from the fear, guilt, shame, and ignorance that so defined and drove the fundamentalist religion that I was once so deeply involved in.

So… when your God dies, that is a life-changing, life-defining event of major importance. When your God dies and everything that you believed was real dies along with him, it takes a long time to process and to come to terms with. It takes a long time to rebuild the framework that defines your reality. But it is possible to come out on the other side of the grief and all of the processing of it through its various phases complete and whole and happy and grateful to be alive.

If you want to know more, I wrote an article describing what it’s like to make the journey from Christianity to Atheism a few years ago. You can read it here:

http://smokeyinthebox.com/journey-christianity-atheism/

I can only speak for myself and my experience, but I hope this gives you a better understanding of me and what it was like for me to experience the death of my God all of those years ago.

My Books

These are books that I have authored that I hope will be helpful to others.

This is my story of my struggles with bipolar disorder and bouts of extreme religious belief.

This is the story of my journey from devout Christian religious belief to atheism.

This is my tribute to my cat Tasha. I had her for 16 wonderful years, and I held her in my arms as she passed away at the vet’s office on February 5, 2015. Worst day of my life, and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

The Harsh Reality and Finality of Death

I was a hardcore very religious Christian believer for 15 years of my life. I firmly believed in God, and in the Bible as His Word, and in a Heaven wonderful beyond description waiting for us after we die. Back when I was suffering so badly from the then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, I desperately wished for death so that I could be embraced by the loving God that I believed in so strongly, and have all of my tears and suffering wiped away, and enjoy an awesome afterlife in Heaven worshiping the God I loved with all of my heart forever!

But now.. I am very much aware that, as pleasant and wonderful as that all sounds… it’s just ancient myth with no discernible basis in reality whatsoever.

When I lost my faith 14 year ago and walked away from hardcore religious belief, one of the toughest things I had to come to terms with other than the nonexistence of the God that I had once loved so much, was the harsh reality and absolute finality of death.

I am old enough now to have had to face the deaths of loved ones several times. And, of course, it’s been agonizingly difficult to deal with every time. My grandparents have all been dead now for several years, and I still miss them terribly when I think about them. They were all wonderful, fun, loving people who loved life and loved living it. My Granddaddy Shelley suffered for many years from serious heart problems caused by the rheumatic fever he had as a child. He discovered his condition when he volunteered for military service during World War II. He was not expected to live more than about another ten years, and I could very well have never known the man. But medical advances came along that saved his life. He was one of the first people to have open heart surgery, and because of modern medicine, I got to love and enjoy my grandfather for the first 27 years of my life. He never let his health problems get him down. He had to swallow a lot of pills every single day just to stay alive. But he worked hard and still managed to laugh a lot and really enjoyed life. One of the last things he did when he lying in his hospital bed in late 1994, very close to death, was to invite friends over to the house for pie. He was very ill, but still wanted very much to live! He was a great man with incredible strength of character. But he has been dead and gone now for 20 years, and as much as I loved him and would love to be reunited with him someday, I never expect that to happen. Death is brutally final, and my grandfather is as nonexistent now as he was before he was born. It’s a brutal reality that is not easy to face at all, but that is reality as it actually is.

My grandmother Shelley was wonderful as well. She was kind and loving. She too laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed living. She loved me dearly, and we had great fun hanging out together. I still remember well visiting her in the assisted living home that she stayed in after her inoperable aortic aneurysm was discovered. She was still very happy, and we often drank Diet Coke and some kind of sweet snack while we visited. She died in 2002 at the age of 84 when that aneurysm finally ruptured. I still miss her very much when I think about her, but her too I never expect to see again. I will never again hear her voice or her laughter or know her love. She too is as nonexistent now as she was before she was born. Once again, the brutally harsh reality and finality of death. Not easy to face at all.

My Granddaddy Reid was the first to leave this wonderful world. He died in 1993 at the age of 85, peacefully, and hopefully with little pain or suffering. He was watching TV and was getting up to go eat a meal after my grandmother called him to come eat. He fell back down into his chair dead, probably of a sudden and fatal heart attack or stroke. He too was a very kind and loving man, and 21 years after his death, I still remember the awesome bear hugs he greeted me with every time I came to their house for a visit. He enjoyed a long and healthy life, and he too loved life and loved living it. He was active until the day he died. I loved him dearly and still miss him much when I think about him. But he too is dead and gone forever. I don’t ever expect to see him or to know his love ever again. He too is as nonexistent now as he was before he was born. The brutal and harsh finality and reality of death…

My Grandmother Reid also, of course, was a wonderful woman. Kind and loving and giving and wonderful to be around. And wow, could that woman cook! I will never forget her awesome meals or her delicious chocolate pies! She adored me and I still remember the fun times we had together when I was a very young child. She lived to be 87 and died in 2003. Tragically, by the time she died, she had completely lost her ability to form memories. She could not carry on a conversation or watch TV or read a book because she would so quickly forget what had just been said or what had just happened in any book she tried to read. That is no way to live, and in my opinion, death was merciful. She was very religious for all of her adult life, as far as I know. She firmly believed in God and firmly believed that she would go to Heaven when she died. I wish for her sake that her strongly held and cherished religious beliefs could have been true. But the harsh reality is that she is dead and gone forever. I will never see her smile or hear or voice or know her love ever again. And, she did not get the Heaven she so looked forward to when she died. She too is as nonexistent now as she was before she was born. No God, no Heaven, no peaceful and awesome afterlife. Just eternal nonexistence. Once again, the brutally harsh reality and finality of death.

My parents are still alive and well in their 70’s. They are healthy for their age, and my mother still works hard and is very active. My father does not take nearly as good care of himself, but considering the crap he constantly eats, he is reasonably healthy and is still able to work. But I know their time is coming, and I can’t imagine them not being around anymore. But someday relatively soon, I will have to face their deaths, and I won’t have the comfort of believing that they are in a “better place” enjoying a happy afterlife. I will be left with nothing but the brutally harsh reality that they are dead and gone forever, and that I will never again see them or know their love and support.

I am an outspoken atheist, but I am not a heartless asshole when I see my religious friends post on Facebook about their losses of loved ones or when they post about wanting prayers for sick loved ones or friends. I often don’t say much when I see such posts. What can I really say? I have nothing but the brutally harsh reality of the world as it actually is to offer them, and when people are grieving the loss of a loved one, that’s not the time to jump in and inform them that their religious beliefs have no basis in reality and that their loved ones are gone forever. But I do often share sympathy and well wishes. When people post asking for prayers for sick family or friends, I will often post that I am sending positive thoughts so that they know that I care and that I am thinking about them. But, of course, I am well aware of the reality that prayer has no power whatsoever other than making the person doing the praying feel good about accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Why America Loves Religious Con Artists

The Lard magically brought my attention to this glorious article in the latest edition of Reader’s Digest magazine. It does not mention religious con artists (for obvious reasons, I think), but what is said in the article certainly applies to them as well.

Con artists are greedy hucksters who sell us possibilities that never come true.

This is what religion is all about, and religious con men have been selling the masses an invisible and imaginary product that they can’t claim until after they die for thousands of years. The Catholic Church has made a fortune off of the myth of Christ. Pope Leo X is alleged to have admitted as much with this famous quote: “What Profit has not that Fable of Christ Brought Us!” The Christian Church has been selling the promise of salvation and eternal life for two thousand years or so now, and it’s nothing but a myth and a lie. Death gives every appearance of being the end of our conscious existence, so there is nothing to claim and no awesome afterlife with Jesus to enjoy after this life is over. Faith healers such as Benny Hinn always have been and always will be con artists who make fortunes bilking gullible and often desperate people out of a hell of a lot of money. People like Joel Osteen (pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX) and Joyce Meyer have made fortunes off of selling “feel good” spiritual/religious bullshit to their followers. Paul Crouch (founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), now deceased) and Pat Robertson (founder of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)) have made fortunes off of religion, thanks to constant pleas for money in exchange for promises of blessings from an nonexistent God. Brother Pat at least used to make quite a show of pretending to be hearing from God on his 700 Club TV show, claiming to magically know of their ailments through the power of the Holy Spook and claiming that God was healing them, especially if the viewers in question would simply reach out and touch their TV set in faith! I’m not sure if he’s still doing that or not since I have not watched the show in years, but what I once took seriously when I was a believer, I now find amusing and entertaining. But, of course, it’s also sad because those same gullible people allegedly being healed are often bilked out of their money as well. And then, of course, there are televangelists such as Robert Tilton (of Farting Preacher fame on YouTube) who make a fortune promising gullible believers that if they send in a $1000 “vow of faith” that God will open the windows of Heaven and rain down financial blessings upon them. And, of course, Robert Tilton gets rich while the gullible religious fools are left $1000 poorer, and the sad thing is that these are often desperate people who didn’t have the $1000 to spare. Oral Roberts was famous for his “seed faith” concept which made him a fortune, and of course it has been copied by many televangelists with lucrative financial results for them. The point here is that religion is nothing but a scam and a con game, and it’s been running successfully for thousands of years, because credulous people who want it all to be true keep buying into the myths and the lies and the false promises.

The curious thing, as the University of Pennsylvania historian Walter McDougall writes, is that “far from despising flimflam artists as parasites or worse, American popular culture habitually celebrates rascals as comedic figures.” Think of the movies of W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers; think of The Sting and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Even bleaker depictions, like David Mamet’s, get us to admire the dexterity with which con artists persuade people to part with their money.

This is often sadly true, but I find nothing at all admirable about religious con men bilking gullible and often desperate people out of a ton of money. People such as Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and the late Paul Crouch are not people who should be looked up to or admired, and of course neither are con men such as Oral Roberts or Robert Tilton. They should all be despised for the heartless con men that they are. But instead, gullible religious people flock to hear them and eagerly part with their money hoping to receive financial blessings or divine healing from God in return. And, of course, the false and empty promises go unfulfilled 100% of the time, yet people never seem to learn, so the con game goes on unabated by that pesky thing called REALITY.

As the sociologist Alex Preda writes, “Talent for persuasion is key: After all, the public must be convinced to part with their money on the basis of the simple promise that an idea will yield profit in the future.” Successful entrepreneurship involves hucksterism, the ability to convince investors and employees that they should risk their money, their time, and their effort on you. Like a con artist, you’re peddling optimism. As Mel Weinberg (the model for Christian Bale’s character in American Hustle) put it in Robert Greene’s book The Sting Man, “It’s my philosophy to give hope … That’s why most people don’t turn us in to the cops. They keep hopin’ we’re for real.”

Persuasive religious con men have been convincing gullible and often desperate people to part with their money for centuries, promising a glorious afterlife or divine healing or financial blessings in the here and now in return. And, of course, the glorious afterlife is a myth that the faithful will never receive, as is divine healing. And financial blessings in the here and now for turning cash over to a televangelist? That will, of course, never happen either. Most, if not all, televangelists should be in prison for financial fraud (at the very least), but because the con game is popular and is bought into faithfully by millions of gullible believers, the con men stay free to enjoy their ill-begotten fortunes.

Of course, the fundamental difference between entrepreneurs and con artists is that con artists ultimately know that the fantasies they’re selling are lies. Steve Jobs, often enough, could make those fantasies come true. Still, that unquantifiable mélange of risk, hope, and hype provides both the capitalist’s formula for transforming the world and the con artist’s stratagem for turning your money into his money. Maybe there’s a reason we talk about the American Dream.

I have little doubt, personally, that most religious con men know that the bullshit (lies, religious fantasies) they are selling is just exactly that — BULLSHIT. They certainly are living the American Dream of self-made wealth, but not in the way I would want to do it. They are criminals and they should be viewed as such, yet the religious public loves them. I find nothing worthy of admiration in making a fortune off of bilking gullible and often desperate people out of millions of dollars by selling them a pack of myths and lies and false promises. Yet, no matter how often these con artists are called out publicly for the charlatans that they are, the con game will go on because people want to believe that it is all for real, and religious con men will continue to make a fortune off of that unfortunate hopeful but gullible part of human nature.

Death is Nothing to Us

“Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.” – Epicurus

Thinking Through Religious Fears

FEAR is one of the primary driving forces behind fundamentalist religion, the others being ignorance, guilt, and shame. Religious fears, for those who have them, are very real and hard to overcome. But recovery from religious fear is possible! Let’s think through some religious fears so we can discover that in reality they are baseless.

FEAR: There might be an angry, vindictive God who will punish me for sins.

REALITY: Although God is often portrayed as angry and even evil in the Bible, there is no evidence that such a God actually exists, and therefore there is no rational reason to fear such a God. Sin is a religious concept with no demonstrable basis in reality.

FEAR: There might be a real Hell that I will go to if I don’t believe.

REALITY: Most of the major world religions have some version of a Hell that unbelievers supposedly go to. There is, however, no evidence that any of these hells actually exist, and therefore there is no rational reason to fear them.

FEAR: Demons might be real, and I fear demonic activity or being deceived by them.

REALITY: There is no evidence that demons or lying spirits or any kind of spirits at all actually exist. Fearing their activity or deception is, therefore, not rational. Knowledge obtained through reliable means (such as science) is not something to be feared but knowledge obtained through unreliable means (such as ancient error-ridden holy books, prophecy, fortune telling, astrology, etc.) should be avoided.

FEAR: I am afraid of what will happen to me after I die.

REALITY: Nothing can or will happen to you after you die. Death is simply the end of your life and the beginning of your nonexistence, and there is nothing to fear in it. There is no heaven to gain but there also is no hell to fear.

As Carl Sagan famously said,

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

It is indeed far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in religious fears and delusion. You can and will be free once you see religion for what it really is — a pack of ancient myths and lies with no basis in reality.

Carl Sagan also said,

“Personally, I would be delighted if there were a life after death, especially if it permitted me to continue to learn about this world and others, if it gave me a chance to discover how history turns out.”

I feel the same way, but I’m not optimistic that an afterlife of any kind actually exists. It all boils down to the evidence, and for religious beliefs, there simply is none that will pass critical scrutiny.

Religious fears can be powerful and very real to those who experience them, but in reality they are baseless, and once you see that you will be free!

Glory!