New Atheism, Meet Existential Risk Studies

This is very important reading, whether you are religious or not. But it’s especially important if you are religious.

From http://thehumanist.com/magazine/march-april-2016/features/new-atheism-meet-existential-risk-studies:

While the New Atheist movement isn’t, and has never been, a monolithic phenomenon, its primary motivating idea can be reduced to a single statement, namely that religion is not merely wrong, but dangerous. In fact, religion is dangerous precisely because it’s wrong: it commands believers to act according to “moral” precepts and guidelines that are ultimately based on private revelations had by ancient prophets claiming special access to the supernatural. Put differently, religion is our very best instance of institutionalized bad epistemology, and this is what makes it unreasonable to accept. And when its doctrinal systems are put into practice, they often compromise our well-being and prosperity.

Copious evidence substantiates this contention. On the one hand, history is overflowing with bloody conflicts driven by antagonistic religious dogmas held by fanatics who cared more about the otherworldly than the worldly. And, as the 2014 Global Terrorism Index affirms, religious extremism constitutes the primary driver of terrorism around the world today. Even more, numerous empirical studies have shown that, to quote the sociologist Phil Zuckerman, secular people are “markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” than religious people. And the most secularized countries tend to be the happiest, the most peaceable (according to the Global Peace Index), and, as reported by the Economist’s think tank several years ago, the “best places to be born.” While Christopher Hitchens’ declaration that “religion poisons everything” might be somewhat exaggerated, religious belief is consistently associated with diminished levels of human flourishing.

I’m an ex-Christian, an Atheist, and a Humanist. I believe that we could build a beautiful world right here and right now if we just were willing to put aside our differences and work together. But the most important thing we can do right now is to fight the religious extremism that is threatening our very survival as a species. I’m certainly not one of the biggest atheist names on the Net right now. But even so, the realities in this article are why I speak out against religious belief and why I feel it is so important for us to leave religious belief in the dustbin of history as the bad idea it was and is and move on to much healthier ways of believing and living in this world.

A part of me just doesn’t understand why so many people still cling to religious belief when it is so manifestly ridiculous. I mean, come on, Christianity is based on the belief that the world is as it is because a talking snake convinced two obviously mythical people to eat magic fruit from a magic tree. And the mission of Jesus? He came to earth to magically undo the magical damage that the magic fruit caused (1 John 3:8). And after Jesus magically undoes the damage that the magic fruit from the magic tree caused, He’s gonna kick the Talking Snake’s ass once and for all.

How much more ridiculous can religious belief get? Christianity is absurd and it’s very easy to refute, yet millions of otherwise intelligent people cling to it and believe in it very strongly. In a way, I understand that because I was there too for fifteen years of my younger life. But I realized it was bullshit and I walked away and, of course, I’m much better off for it. I wish for everyone to be FREE! That’s why I speak out, so that hopefully I can leave the world a better place than I found it.

Glory!

Brother Jeff Responds to Brother Believer

Brother Believer left me this glorious comment a few days ago, and I would like to respond publicly.

You seem to be mad at God for some reason. It seems as though you had a close family member of wife or something die and you preyed to god but nothing happened. So you dedicated your life to discrediting and mocking the Bible.I just want to say if you don’t believe in the Bible keep it to yourself. Your so mad at God that you just have to offende all who believe in him?. Its either you don’t believe or you do. Don’t worrie I wont waist my breath on a nonbeliever that go to great lengths to bad mouth the Bible. Mostly cause the Bible say (Matthew 7:6 ►
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.) So that’s you but I will say that the way things are made the sun, human bodies, the way tree and humans depend upon eachother oxygen and carbon, stars,galaxys,and pretty much everything.I find it hard to believe that all this was created out of pure coincidence. I mean come on when you choose to believe in science you literally choose to believe (absolutely nothing created everything) ie the big bang if you believe in that. Even scientist say if the sun was to close it would burn up the earth and if it was to far the earth would freez. I’m sorry but me myself find it hard to believe that it’s like that purely by chance. While the Bible is nonsense to you its makes perfect sense to me. So why knock what I believe in? Just keep it too yourself and keep quite. It also seems you have some form of biblical knowledge so why not just wait to see if the Bible is wrong or right. We will all find out sooner or later

You seem to be mad at God for some reason.

I am not mad at your Imaginary Friend. I don’t believe that God exists, so being mad at him would be silly and a complete waste of time and emotional energy.

It seems as though you had a close family member of wife or something die and you preyed to god but nothing happened.

There have been two instances where family members died horribly of cancer, and very religious family members prayed and, predictably, absolutely nothing happened. One was my step-father’s grandson’s wife. She suffered much and died horribly from breast cancer at the age of 34 a few years ago. Her body was eaten up with cancer and she suffocated to death in the hospital emergency room when both of her lungs collapsed. The doctors could do nothing to save her. I’m sure she had several very religious family members praying for her, yet their god did NOTHING to alleviate her suffering or cure her cancer. That is 100% predictable given that fact that their god doesn’t actually exist. The other instance of cancer in the family was my very religious young cousin’s husband. I don’t recall what kind of cancer he had, but he suffered much and died horribly, and if I remember correctly, he was 27-years old. He had several very religious family members praying for him and their god predictably did absolutely nothing to alleviate his suffering or cure his cancer. However, these instances of cancer in the family where god predictably did absolutely nothing have nothing to do with my lack of belief in a god or gods.

So you dedicated your life to discrediting and mocking the Bible.

I have not “dedicated my life” to this work. But, totally and completely discrediting the Bible is amazingly easy to do and mocking it and silly religious beliefs is a lot of fun! Glory!

I just want to say if you don’t believe in the Bible keep it to yourself.

No, I will not, because the Bible is bullshit and the fundamentalist Christian religion is dangerous and harmful to individual believers and to the world as a whole.

Your so mad at God that you just have to offende all who believe in him?.

I am not mad at your Imaginary Friend and I’m not really concerned about who I offend. Hearing the truth about their holy book and their religious beliefs is predictably going to offend Christians, but I don’t really care. The truth must be told.

Don’t worrie I wont waist my breath on a nonbeliever

That assertion is contradicted by the fact that you took the time to leave me a somewhat lengthy comment.

Mostly cause the Bible say (Matthew 7:6 ►
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.)

Thanks for Insulting me for Jesus and for sharing the love of Jesus in such an glorious way! Glory!

So that’s you but I will say that the way things are made the sun, human bodies, the way tree and humans depend upon eachother oxygen and carbon, stars,galaxys,and pretty much everything.I find it hard to believe that all this was created out of pure coincidence. I mean come on when you choose to believe in science you literally choose to believe (absolutely nothing created everything) ie the big bang if you believe in that. Even scientist say if the sun was to close it would burn up the earth and if it was to far the earth would freez. I’m sorry but me myself find it hard to believe that it’s like that purely by chance.

You clearly have no idea what you are talking about and no idea what science is or how it actually works. That is sadly typical for a Christian. Our universe and our world were not created by coincidence or chance, but by purely natural processes which we now have very good explanations for. Modern cosmology beautifully explains how our universe and world came to be and the science of biological evolution beautifully explains the diversity of life on this planet. As far as the orbit of the Earth goes, the natural forces that determine the orbits of the planets in our solar system, including the Earth, have been understood for centuries now, and predictably, it has absolutely nothing to do with your god or with any of the thousands of others gods dreamed up by mankind.

While the Bible is nonsense to you its makes perfect sense to me.

A collection of ancient religious mythology riddled with hundreds of meaningful contradictions, several hilarious absurdities, and many horrific atrocities (see also this link and this link) makes perfect sense to you? You don’t know much about the book you claim to revere as the Word of God, do you? That too is sadly typical of a Christian.

So why knock what I believe in?

Because what you believe in is dangerous, harmful bullshit. And because it needs to be done. And because doing it can be fun! Glory!

Just keep it too yourself and keep quite.

Nope, I will not keep it to myself and I will not keep quiet. The truth about your holy book, your god, and your religion must be publicly made known for the good of everyone who hears it.

It also seems you have some form of biblical knowledge so why not just wait to see if the Bible is wrong or right. We will all find out sooner or later

I know a hell of a lot more about the Bible than you do and a hell of a lot more than most Christians do about their own damn holy book. I don’t have to “wait and see” if the Bible is right or wrong. I already know that it is wrong about just about every claim it makes (predictable for a collection of religious mythology that is thousands of years old), and that is very easy to prove.

Glory!

Christianity – A Clear and Present Danger

Christianity is not a benign or positive belief system. The reality is that it is a clear and present danger to everyone who encounters its teachings, and particularly to those who have the misfortune of getting sucked into the cult. Christianity is a toxic and harmful set of teachings, and the potential for significant psychological harm is great.

christianity defined

Christianity is an absurd and hilarious belief system, but it’s not so funny, considering the harm that it causes not just to individual believers, but to the world as a whole. On an individual level, Christianity causes all kinds of needless psychological suffering — a tremendous amount of fear, guilt, and shame — none of which has any basis in reality. Christianity is damaging to the world as a whole not just because of the psychological damage is causes, but because it teaches and promotes the hatred of entire groups of people (such as homosexuals), and it teaches that all non-Christians are destined for an eternity of endless suffering in a flaming Hell.

The core teaching of Christianity is that mankind has fallen from grace and needs a savior, and that savior is Jesus Christ. As the mythical story in Genesis relates it, God created mankind perfect and sinless, but because of the influence of a lying serpent (the devil), Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, and their rebellion caused the spiritual deaths of all of mankind that would follow. A savior is promised in Genesis 3:15, and Christians believe that Jesus is that savior and that he was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Christianity teaches that all men are born into sin and that without a savior we deserve to burn in Hell forever. As John 3:18 puts it (speaking of Jesus, of course):

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And consider Isaiah 64:6:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

With such a warped and false view of mankind — that we are filthy sinners deserving of Hell — how are believers supposed to develop a healthy sense of self-love? If, as a believer, I believe that I was born so bad that I deserve to burn in Hell forever, how am I supposed to feel good about myself? Or, as I asked myself in writing a few years ago:

With this kind of belief drilled into me for years, how can I be expected to honestly feel good about myself? How can I possibly really love myself and see myself as worthy of love with this kind of toxic garbage still infecting my thought processes and my sense of self-worth? How can I possibly have a healthy sense of self-esteem having believed this of myself for so long? I am fully aware now intellectually that “sin” is a religious concept with no basis in reality but after so many years of fearing and hating my supposed sinfulness and asking God often to forgive sins both of commission and omission and so often feeling judged and condemned and not forgiven and disregarded or forgotten by God, how do I overcome those toxic beliefs and find healing? How do I go from the “sin consciousness” that was drilled into me by the Christian cult to accepting and loving myself as I am – a flawed and imperfect but basically good and loving human being? Hmmm… I am indeed imperfect as everybody is, but am I really “flawed”? Such is the pervasiveness of toxic teachings, even after years away from the church.

Christianity is false and dangerous because it gets the basic facts about human nature horribly wrong. Contrary to what Christianity teaches, humans are not born evil or depraved, and we certainly are not born deserving to be barbecued forever in a flaming Hell. The truth is that, as a species, we are basically good. Most people in this world are good people who want what is best for themselves and for those that they love. Most people, given the opportunity, will enthusiastically do what they can to help others and do what they can to leave the world a better place than they found it. I have lived on this earth almost 50 years, and while I have encountered a few genuinely evil people, the vast majority of people I have encountered have been good, well-meaning folks.

From the tragic error regarding human nature, we get the doctrine of sin. Sin is usually defined simply as “missing the mark”, and in Christianity it means failing to live up to the supposed holiness and perfection of God. How much needless human suffering has this one religious concept caused? Christianity teaches that mankind is lost in sin and that our very nature is offensive to a holy God. Despite the fact that sin is a religious concept with no discernible basis in reality, millions of good human beings down through the ages have suffered needlessly from guilt and shame caused by this false and toxic teaching. How many genuinely good people have been trapped in mental religious prisons of guilt and shame from which they may never escape? Christians celebrate the freedom they supposedly enjoy in Jesus, but how free can you really be when you view your own basic nature through a warped religious lens and you spend your days constantly monitoring and censoring your thoughts and actions in an effort to please God? How happy can you be when your whole existence consists of trying desperately not to piss Jesus off? Christians spend their lives trapped in a tragic cycle of believing they have sinned and angered God and then having to ask forgiveness for that sin. What an awful way to live life! It is impossible to enjoy life when you live it constantly worried about pissing Jesus off!

There are two religious concepts that Christianity teaches that are extremely toxic and harmful — the doctrine of the sinfulness of mankind and the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. The doctrine of of the sinfulness of mankind constitutes an egregious basic error concerning human nature. What Christianity teaches about human nature is diametrically opposed to the actual truth. The foundational lie that the Christian religion is based on is that mankind is basically evil, while the truth is that we are basically good.

Eternal conscious torment? That’s what Christianity teaches is in store for all non-Christians. Depending on denomination, Hell is either a flaming torture chamber of fire and brimstone or simply “separation from God” (not biblical, but proposed to make the concept of Hell more palatable to civilized, modern minds). It’s what Christians live in fear of for themselves and those that they love and what they believe we are born deserving. If there is a teaching more morally reprehensible and egregiously wrong than the doctrine of sin, this would be it. This has got to be the most evil and demented concept ever dreamed up by mankind. Religious belief warps the moral compasses of men beyond recognition. Can you imagine a future more awful for the billions of good, decent, loving, caring, compassionate, well-meaning people who have lived their lives as non-Christians? According to this teaching, every atheist, agnostic, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, and everyone else who failed to put their trust in Jesus as Savior is destined to be tormented consciously forever, without any hope of reprieve. I personally cannot think of a more heinously evil or morally reprehensible and repugnant teaching than that of the eternal conscious torment of nonbelievers.

So… in Christianity we have a religion that gets the basic facts about human nature egregiously wrong and a religion that locks believers into endless cycles of religious fear, guilt and shame (think you’ve sinned/repent, think you’ve sinned, repent, think you’ve sinned/repent, endlessly, always living with the fear that you have sinned and angered God), a religion that teaches that we are born deserving Hell, and a religion that teaches the eternal conscious torment of all nonbelievers. I can’t think of any religion that I would run the other way from faster than Christianity for my own mental health, peace, happiness, and sanity.

It is Not Okay!

I just lost a friend over on Facebook over religion, and I posted this rant:

Just lost another online friend over religion. She couldn’t handle my outspoken atheism, she accused me of hating her god, and then she unfriended me and blocked me. Good riddance, I guess. I don’t apologize for being outspoken about religion. Religion causes tremendous harm in the world to the world as a whole and to individual believers. It’s not something that I can or should be silent about. I don’t really give a shit what people choose to believe privately, until they try to force it on everyone else. And hatred — hatred is NOT OKAY. I don’t give a shit what your ancient holy book says, hating gays is not okay! Oppressing women is not okay. Threatening children with Hell is not okay. Teaching ridiculous ancient myths in our schools in place of real science is not okay. Bombing abortion clinics is not okay. Murdering children is not okay.

If you are offended by my outspoken atheism, tough shit. Accept me and love me as I am, warts and all, or get off of my friends list. I am NOT going to change to make anyone else happy or comfortable. I agree to disagree with plenty of my friends about politics and religion and other things as well, and I expect the same consideration in return.

I will post whatever the hell I want and I’ll be as blunt and “in your face” as I want as well. I am doing my part to make this world a better place, and I will not apologize for doing that. If you decide to no longer be a part of my life, don’t let the door hit you in the ass. Plenty of people love and accept me exactly as I am, and I’ll take them any day over people who want me to change to make them happy or people I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around… Enough said…

I would like to expand on that a bit. Other things that are not okay include faith healing and crediting God with healing instead of hard-working doctors and nurses. And prayer… prayer accomplishes ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I am sick and tired of hearing about the alleged power of prayer. Prayer has no power whatsoever other than making the person doing the praying feel good for accomplishing NOTHING.

It is not okay for faith healers to bilk gullible religious people out of millions of dollars. It is not okay for Pat Robertson or some other religious nut to blame gays for natural disasters. It is not okay to advocate murdering gays so that we can have an AIDS-free Christmas.

It is not okay to condemn all non-Christian people to an eternal flaming Hell where they will be consciously tormented forever.

It is not okay to accuse atheists of “hating God” because we don’t share Christian religious beliefs.

And the list goes on and on and on… Christopher Hitchens was absolutely right when he said that religion poisons everything. Religion is the greatest tragedy ever to afflict mankind.

Debunking Religious Experiences

Reading an old post from my friend Matt over at http://www.ragingrev.com got me thinking about my own religious experiences from back in my Christian days. I used to absolutely love Charismatic praise and worship services! I spent hours daily praying and worshiping god. Seeking god was my very favorite thing to do! The emotional highs I experienced were intense and convincing at the time. I really thought that I was experiencing the presence of a very real and good and loving and holy god. But now that I have been out of religious belief for as long as I was in it (15 years), I can look back on it all and see that the incredible emotional highs were driven by the equally incredible power of belief. And now that the belief is gone, so are the emotional experiences. I no longer believe in or experience god, and I am perfectly happy and okay with that, though getting to that place took a while and it took a lot of work. Here is an excerpt from Matt’s blog post:

These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience. I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.

Today I’m not really writing to tell my story – I’m writing to try to explain the dangers of experiences like these pose to young people and how some of these youth will ultimately be let down by these experiences and why they, as great as they may seem, are the result of psychosomatic responses to emotional over-stimulation.

At this point in our understanding of human psychology and development we know that young people are more susceptible to manipulation of all sorts, more often that not those that remain in charismatic churches and uphold charismatic beliefs are those that are either born into the movement or are young when they get into it….it appeals to that lack of emotional maturity that so many young people have as well as the overwhelming lack of critical thinking skill that make them the perfect candidates for this newly emergent version of Christianity.

For me, these experiences eventually turned into a pursuit for more of god…almost like a better fix on your drug of choice, it becomes insatiable. This pursuit consumed me and had me on my face seeking “him” often – this pursuit and the eventual let down it became made me into the the atheist I am today. Yes, seeking god’s presence ultimately brought me to this place the moment I realized just how easily my emotions and emotional ineptitude could have lead up to the experiences I had already had and brought me ultimately to question the weight of experiences in determining truth. I had to reject those experiences, something many can never do because of the crippling fear instilled in them from an early age, in order to reject the god I had. That fear, coupled with this incredibly emotionally subjective experience are a cruel way of gaining converts.

So why do these experiences seem so very real?

The answer is quite simple, but somewhat complex to truly understand – the art of Hypnosis and Suggestion as originally coined by Franz Mesmer, is the ability to suggest to an individual or group under the right conditions as to what will occur and to have that prophecy of sorts come true. It can be complex or simple, intentional and completely accidental, but it is very very possible.

You can read Matt’s full post here:

http://ragingrev.com/2011/08/the-new-charismatics-debunking-experiences-with-god/

One thing he wrote that stands out to me is this:

These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience. I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.

I have been free from religion for 15 years, but I still feel an emotional pull when I hear the old worship music or old Christian Rock music that I loved back in the day, such as Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart. I understand that the emotional pull is not god or the holy spirit, but simply a reminder of emotional highs from the past and of beliefs once held sacred. I can look back to my days of drinking and using drugs too in the same way. Sometimes I feel an emotional pull to drink or to get high on pot and/or cocaine again, but that doesn’t mean that I go do it. When those thoughts come up, I recognize them as reminders of a past long gone now and of choices that I no longer make. I can’t drink right now because of medications I am on and I choose not to use drugs. I’m a bit old for that lifestyle now, anyway. My almost 49-year old body won’t take the abuse anymore even if I wanted to go there…

Another man I know of who has written similarly on the issues of conversion, brainwashing, and religious indoctrination is Dick Sutphen. He is a popular New Age author and teacher, and a while back he wrote a piece called The Battle for Your Mind. You can read it here:

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Secrets/TR/sutphen.html

I realize now that all those years ago back when I was 19 years old and I experienced a dramatic religious conversion and change of lifestyles (from a typical teenage party animal to a fundamentalist religious believer), I was the victim of religion-based emotional manipulation and abuse and the victim of tried and true religious conversion and brainwashing and indoctrination techniques.

Part of the journey from religious belief back to the real world is realizing what has been done to us and why. And then, we can begin to heal the damage that has been done to our minds and to our emotions.

You can and you should be FREE. You deserve to be FREE and to live this life FREE from the emotional manipulation and abuse of religious belief. Glory!

Our Founding Fathers were not Christians!

Saw this Phil Robertson quote posted to Facebook and had to respond.

robertson christian nation

Um… no. America was founded by men who were primarily Deists and who also understood the dangers of religious tyranny and theocracy. If you take the time to do the research and read what our Founding Fathers actually had to say about the Christian God and the Christian religion, you would find that they had very unfavorable things to say about both. Thomas Jefferson took the time to create his own version of the Bible, which is still available today. He took out all of the supernatural bullshit and left in the stuff that he liked. Needless to say, with the supernatural bullshit gone, Jefferson’s Bible is a much thinner book than most Bibles are.

America is not a Christian nation. America is and always has been a secular constitutional republic.

For more on what our Founding Fathers had to say on religion, see these glorious sites:

http://freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/07/04/35-founding-father-quotes-conservative-christians-will-hate/

“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” – 1797 Treaty of Tripoli signed by Founding Father John Adams

What Freedom Means – Christians vs. Atheists

The aim of this glorious post is to contrast what freedom means to Christians vs. what it means to atheists. Of course, I think real freedom comes from being absolutely and totally free of religious beliefs and fears. But, let’s take a look at the different views.

John 8:36 says “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”

The Christian Rock artist of the 1980’s and early 1990’s turned preacher now, Mylon LeFevre (of Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart) had this to say at a concert back in the 1980’s:

The Word says that we can be free in Jesus. And we need to be free, man. Everybody wants to be free. There ain’t but one way to do it. You can’t be free in religion and you can’t be free in yourself. You can be free in Jesus. We have something that is real to celebrate. It is new life. New life in Christ. This new life didn’t come from our parents. I just read in the Word today that the life that comes from our parents will fade away someday. But this new life that comes from Christ is real and true and it lasts forever. … God is love, and his love lasts forever. This is freedom. Enjoy yours!

And here is his song titled “Freedom” that celebrates what he considers to be true freedom — the freedom supposedly found in belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and in surrendering your life to him. I still love the music, though I no longer believe the message.

I can’t help but like Mylon as a person, though I know that he is a typical big name Christian preacher and musician who has made a career out of religion, and he has made a ton of money from it. I disagree very strongly with his religious beliefs and with his definition of freedom now, but I saw him in concert a couple of times back in my Christian days, and once when I was backstage seeking counseling and prayer, I actually got to shake the man’s hand. I commented to him about the concert that “that was fun!”, and he said something in return agreeing that it had been. It was awesome actually getting to meet one of my Christian music idols of the time, brief though the encounter was. Glory! 🙂 Mylon came across as a genuinely nice guy, and I’m sure that he probably really is. And to me, he was the definition of a “cool Christian” back in those days. I may still have a bit of hero worship going on with him though I no longer agree with his message, lol…

Mylon’s definition of freedom I can no longer agree with. It’s impossible to be truly free when you are enslaved to a bunch of fear/ignorance-based ancient myths that make no sense to modern, educated minds and it’s impossible to be truly free when you are constantly worried about religious concepts such as sin and about pissing Jesus off. It’s impossible to be truly free when you are worried about Hell and about people you care about and love possibly going there. I didn’t find freedom in religion at all (and Christianity is a religion. This “it’s a relationship, not a religion” nonsense is just that — nonsense).

The truth will set you free, but first it might piss you off. – Anonymous

I didn’t find true freedom until I got totally free from religious belief and totally free from religious fears! TRUE FREEDOM is the ability to live life authentically and honestly without being wrapped up in endless cycles of fear, guilt, and shame caused by religious belief and indoctrination. TRUE FREEDOM is being able to BE YOUR REAL SELF, free of religious programming and religious fears. I am free to be ME now, warts and all! I am FREE to choose a life for myself now that makes ME happy and that hopefully serves others and makes them happy too. I am FREE to ENJOY LIFE, totally free of concerns that what I think, say or do might piss Jesus off. I am FREE to live my life just being ME, with no reference to God or religious or spiritual beliefs at all. I am a much better person now than I was when I was a Christian. I am no longer concerned with the belief or even in the possibility that there might be a God to fear or a Hell to fear. I am no longer concerned that I or anyone else might be headed for an eternity of torment in a flaming Hell. I left that fear-based religious nonsense behind long ago in favor of the real world. Now that I am FREE of religion and religion-based fear, guilt, and shame I am free to live life honestly and authentically as ME! I am free to love everybody, and that certainly includes people who happen to be gay. People that I would have condemned to Hell when I was a Christian I am good friends with now, though I personally am straight as an arrow. One of my most valued friends over at the ex-christian.net forums is bi-sexual with lesbian leanings, and she is in to BDSM. Does that bother me now? Hell no. Not one bit. She is an awesome person, and I really enjoy hanging out with her online. We have visited over Skype once, and it went really well. I don’t have to be into the same things she is or have the same sexual orientation that she does to enjoy an awesome friendship with her. Our differences simply don’t matter, and that’s one of the most awesome things about being free of religion is letting go of unnecessary and harmful and often hateful religion-based judgment. I really don’t give a shit now what sexual orientation people have. I don’t even really care what beliefs they hold, as long as they are not hurting themselves or others and as long as they are good PEOPLE. Now that I am free of religion, I am free to love PEOPLE exactly as they are, warts and all. I truly love just about everybody on the face of this planet as people. I think I can name the people in this world that I truly hate on one hand, and that’s after 48 years of life on this planet. That was certainly not true of me when I was a Christian. I was busy hating myself for being such a sinner and I was busy hating others because of their sexual orientation or because they held religious or political beliefs that were different from my own. Now, the differences don’t really matter. I happen to be a very liberal American Democrat and an atheist. But I am free to be good friends with anybody I choose to be friends with because I find them to be good people, regardless of what their religious or political beliefs might be. I have good friends who are conservative Republicans and Christians. I don’t agree with them on those subjects, but I am FREE to not discuss or really care about our differences, and that is awesome! I think I have made my point. REAL FREEDOM is amazing, and it is awesome, and I wish it for everybody in this world. Glory!

The Journey from Christianity to Atheism

I have tried a number of times over the years to explain to people who have never walked the path from Christian –> ex-Christian –> Atheist what that journey is like and what it means to me and to others like me. It is not an easy path to travel at all. The journey from devout Christian religious belief back to the real world is one filled with doubts and questions and a great deal of strong emotion. As I explained it to my high school band director a couple of years ago or so:

My journey from devout religious belief to atheism has been a long and interesting one. I spent 15 years as a very devout fundamentalist Christian. I was the type who annoyed everybody. I wrote evangelistic letters to my family. I tried to convert my friends and co-workers. I handed out those ridiculous Chick tracts to convenience store clerks and toll booth operators. I was at church every time the doors opened, including early morning prayer meetings. I forced my beliefs on everybody all the time and though I meant well, I made a huge nuisance of myself. Despite all of that religious activity and belief, I still had questions that that seemed to have no good answers from my pastors or from the Christian apologists I read. Those questions finally built up to the point where I could no longer ignore them or write them off as coming from the devil.

In early 2000, I got on the Net as it existed back then and started researching my faith on both sides of the fence. I was absolutely stunned to find that the religious skeptics had far better answers than I had encountered from Christian apologists and I was also very surprised to see how easily they ripped my once cherished beliefs to shreds, not through ridicule but with facts. I started reading the skeptical side at www.infidels.org and went from there.

After I got over the shock of having my Christian worldview ripped out from under me, I became very very ANGRY! The fact that I was also very mentally ill at the time with not well controlled bipolar disorder didn’t help matters any. I felt foolish, used, and betrayed when I realized I had been intentionally lied to for 15 years and I had bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Having doubts and questions about religious beliefs is normal if you are a reasonably intelligent thinking person, but in fundamentalist religion, doubting and questioning is strongly discouraged. Just pray about it and have more faith, we are told, and God will take care of it. Sounds nice, except for the fact that it isn’t true. For Christians who want answers to their questions, a whole industry of apologetics has come into being over the past few decades. For some Christians, the answers given by Christian apologists may be enough to keep them in the faith. For others like me, the answers were not satisfying. They did not resolve my doubts or my questions, so inevitably, I went looking elsewhere and found good answers that made sense to me from the place that I least expected it at the time — from the skeptical side of the fence.

I can’t speak for everyone who has made the journey from devout Christian belief to Atheism. But I can share my own personal story and what my journey was like.

I was raised United Methodist until I was ten years old. At that time, I asked my parents if I could stop attending church because I didn’t believe what they were teaching. Since we attended church mostly for social reasons anyway, they agreed. For reasons that I cannot recall now, I was back at that church when I was in my early teens for the Confirmation process. I didn’t think much about religion after that until we moved across town and I got into some interesting religious conversations with my new fundamentalist Christian neighbors. I was a teenager at the time, and Bob and Roxanne were nice people. I discussed religion with them a lot and even attended church with them at least once, but at the time religion just didn’t “take” with me. I became a typical teenage party animal and was totally turned off by religion. A few years later when I was in college, I met a guy named Mike who was a devout Christian. He shared his faith with me and I gradually became more receptive to it. Mike finally got me out to his car to read some Bible verses, and when we read Hebrews 4:12 I felt something stir inside of me, and I thought maybe there really was something to this “Jesus” stuff. Shortly after that, I went to a public showing of the Jesus Film put on by a local Baptist church. I was extremely moved by the movie, and I knew by the time that film was over that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer, and I became a Christian on March 7, 1985. My transformation from a typical teenage party animal to a devout fundamentalist Christian was rapid and dramatic. I stopped drinking and using drugs and threw myself totally and enthusiastically into my new-found faith. I made friends with the music director at the local Baptist church, and I hung out a lot with my friend Mike. We engaged in a whole lot of religious activity and talked about how wonderful and awesome Jesus was all the time. Mike introduced me tho the popular Christian music of the time, and I fell in love with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith and particularly with Keith Green. I loved Keith Green’s music and his strong and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. I wanted to see him in concert badly, and when Mike informed me that he was dead (plane crash in 1982), I was devastated. Shortly after my conversion, my mother bought me a nice Bible and she arranged for me to attend East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX. I arrived there expecting a church-like atmosphere and students who were just as devout as I was. What I found was indeed a religious school, but my fellow students, for the most part, were just typical young adults who happened to have religious beliefs. That was, I suppose, the beginning of my disillusionment and questioning. While I was at ETBU, I began to have serious doubts about my faith. I can remember a friend of mine there using his wallet as an evangelism tool. He tried to assure me that Christianity was for real and that once I was saved that was a done deal that I could never lose.

We did not know it at that time, but I had bipolar disorder that was not diagnosed and so was untreated. What began at ETBU was a cycle of swings between devout religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief featuring severe substance abuse that I would be trapped in for 15 years of my life. I had a great time at ETBU while I was religious. I was able to put my doubts and questions aside enough that I could keep the faith, at least for a while. I had a great time traveling across the border to Louisiana for Christian concerts featuring the stars of the time. I particularly remember seeing a band called Cruse 2 and Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart. Mylon’s music was awesome and I loved the sincerity with which he delivered his message. I jammed for Jesus to their music for years! Back home near Houston, TX I went with my friend Mike to see Michael W. Smith and Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart. I had some really fun times in my younger Christian days! Here’s just a sample of his music from back in those days. I still love the music, though I no longer believe the message.

I had my first bout of doubt and unbelief while I was at ETBU and I started drinking and using drugs again — at a Christian school! Needless to say, they were not happy with me, and they kicked me out after the first summer semester of 1986. If I remember correctly, it was officially an academic suspension because I was not doing well in my classes.

Back home in the Brazosport area of Texas, I soon found a really fun church — Church on the Rock in Brazoria, TX. It was located several miles out of town on Hwy 521. It was a very fun place as churches go. I made friends with the pastor and other leaders of the church, and loved the Charismatic-style praise and worship services, and for a while I participated in the praise and worship choir. I sang solos frequently, and when I could manage to drag my young body out of bed early enough, I attended the 6:00 am prayer meetings. At that time, I was engaging in a great deal of religious activity. I prayed a lot, I worshiped for hours daily, I read my Bible frequently, and I told everyone who would listen about Jesus. I also frequently handed out those Chick tracts, which I thought were an awesome evangelism tool at the time. But even with all of that religious activity, doubts were creeping in. I suppose I could never see the connection between my cherished religious beliefs and the real world, and I know now of course, that that is because there is no connection between religious belief and the real world. I never read anything in the Bible that made me question my beliefs because at that time I had not been exposed to much of the Old Testament, other than scripture that was supposed to be about Jesus. I remember at one early morning prayer meeting, I was so filled with doubt and unbelief that my friend Mike had to pray me through to belief again so that I could enjoy the rest of the prayer meeting. I guess I found it hard to believe in God at 6:00 am in the morning. 🙂 There was also a time during one particular praise and worship service that I was so filled with doubts about the reality of it all that I couldn’t enjoy the service, but everybody else was experiencing a “powerful move of God”, as if we were getting a small taste of what Heaven would be like. Everyone else was awed by how awesome God was, but I felt nothing. I remember testifying later in that service about how I had missed out on the blessing of the awesome worship service, but that God had blessed me anyway. I don’t remember now how I thought God had blessed me or what I said, though. That church was fun. We had slogans for each year such as “Storm the Gate in ’88” and “Draw the Line in ’89”. A few times, the pastor allowed me to spend the night at the church. I played Christian music through their awesome sound system and prayed and worshiped and sought God all night long. At the time, it was an awesome experience, and I was grateful that the pastor trusted me enough to leave me alone in his church all night.

By the time the early 1990’s rolled around, I was working for my mother at her travel agency in Lake Jackson, TX and I had found a new church that I also enjoyed — Brazosport Christian Center. I made friends with the pastor there too, and I sang solos there as well, though not as frequently as I had at Church on the Rock. I made many good friends at both churches, and we all had a great time hanging out together. In 1992, I had the opportunity to perform one of my favorite songs at the time, Dallas Holm’s “Rise Again” at the Brazosport College Follies. I still have the video of that performance:

The next several years I was still a believer, but I was not nearly as religious as I had been when I was a bit younger. But I still believed in God and I still believed that the Bible was His Word. But by early 2000, my doubts and questions had built up to the point that I could no longer write them off to tricks of the devil, and I was not getting good answers from Christian apologists. As I related earlier, I got on the Net as it existed in early 2000, and went looking for information that was critical of the Bible and the Christian religion. I honestly was not expecting to find much. After all, the Bible was the inerrant, infallible Word of God, so what could really be said against it that was valid? I stumbled across http://www.infidels.org and I quickly began to get an education. I found my cherished Christian religious beliefs brought into serious question and basically debunked not with ridicule or derision but with solid evidence and facts. I soon also discovered http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net and my education continued. The author of that site unemotionally but thoroughly debunked the Bible and showed it for what it really is — a collection of ancient religious mythology, most of which was written anonymously. I became aware for the first time that Adam and Eve were not real historical people but rather they were part of an ancient creation myth that makes no sense to modern minds when taken literally. I learned that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are pure mythology. I was exposed to parts of the Old Testament that I had never laid eyes on before, and I learned that on numerous occasions that God had either ordered or directly committed mass murder and genocide. I began to learn that the character of the God of the Bible is not loving as I had been taught. I learned about failed prophecy in the Bible, and that was a shocker at the time because I had been told that fulfilled prophecy was a proof that God had inspired the Bible and that Jesus was the Messiah. I learned many things that brought the beliefs that I had held as Christian into very serious doubt. When I looked into what Jews had to say about Jesus, I was shocked again at how easily they proved from their own scriptures and religious beliefs and traditions that Jesus was not their long-awaited Messiah. I learned also that the two contradictory creation myths found in the book of Genesis have no scientific basis, that the Noah’s Ark story was borrowed from the much earlier Epic of Gilgamesh, the Exodus event never happened, that the events depicted in the Tower of Babel story is not how different languages came into being, and much more. I learned about the hundreds of meaningful contradictions contained in the Bible, which are graphically illustrated here. I learned about the atrocities in the Bible and also about the absurdities in the Bible, many of which I now find hilarious. For example, the book of Leviticus makes the claim that insects have four legs (Leviticus 11:20) and Psalms makes the claim that snails melt (Psalm 58:8). The Bible also clearly teaches a flat earth (see Isaiah 40:22 and Daniel 4:11 and Matthew 4:8), and the first chapter of the book of Genesis depicts a solid dome firmament (Genesis 1:7) with the stars stuck in it covering our flat world, which is supported by pillars (I Sam. 2:8).

While I was discovering all of these things and processing this new knowledge, I had some strong emotions to deal with. I became very, very angry that I had been sold a pack of ancient myths and lies for 15 years of my life and that I had mistook them for Divine Truth. I was rapidly losing my belief in God and I was realizing that Jesus was not and could not have been God in the flesh. He did not rise from the dead and he was not alive forevermore in heaven. Losing religious faith is a very painful and very emotional process. I didn’t just wake up and decide one day that I no longer believed in God and that I was no longer a Christian. It was a process that took months, and once I was no longer a believer, processing the anger and rage and betrayal that I felt for having years of my younger life stolen from me by a cult took several years to process, and it was not helped by the fact that I was dealing with serious mental illness at the time. It took a lot of research and a lot of time and a lot of thought for me to make the journey from devout Christian religious belief to atheism and the real world.

Leaving the Christian faith and becoming an ex-Christian does not automatically mean becoming an atheist, though that’s what it meant for me. Many former Christians find other faiths that they are happy with. I no longer find the Bible believable as the “word” of a God and my beliefs about Jesus have changed from “He was and is God in the flesh” to the much more realistic and mainstream among serious Bible scholars “he was an ancient Jewish apocalyptic preacher” who was the historical person behind the myths we find about him in the Bible.

There are five stages of grief that are generally recognized as valid, and I had to go through every single one of them as a part of losing my religious faith. I wrote about it recently on the http://www.ex-christian.net forums and I’ll re-post it here for your consideration. I apologize for the overlap and repeat of some of what I have already had to say.

The first stage of loss/grief is Denial and Isolation. I can’t really say I was in denial for very long about there being serious problems with my faith, but when I first started looking for information that was critical of the Bible, I honestly didn’t expect to find much! After all, the Bible was the Word of God, so what could unbelievers really have to say about it that would mean anything? I seriously roll my eyes now that I was once so uneducated and so naive, but I guess we all have to start somewhere. I believed that the Bible was the “inerrant, infallible Word of God” for many years because I was told that it was by people that I trusted at the time to tell me the truth. I had never actually read the vast majority of the Bible for myself, but the inerrancy of scripture was a major doctrine and for a long time I accepted it with little, if any, questioning. I was even quite impressed at the time with apologists such as Grant Jeffrey, whom I thought did a glorious job of defending the Bible as God’s Word. Anyway, when I came across sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net I was shocked to discover how easily the Bible and my once-cherished Christian beliefs were ripped to shreds, and it was done not through ridicule, but with good evidence, the latest biblical scholarship, and verifiable facts. I can’t say that I was in much denial about what I was discovering because what I was discovering about the Bible I was also discovering that Christians couldn’t logically or rationally or factually refute, but I did isolate myself a lot. I spent hours on the internet with my glorious 56k modem connection, reading and researching and learning everything I could that was true and factual about the Bible and the Christian religion.

The second stage of loss/grief is Anger. After I got over the initial shock of discovering that the Bible was absolutely not inerrant or infallible, that it contained many ancient myths, and that it was definitely not authored by God, I became very, very ANGRY. All I could feel for quite a while when I thought about religion was ANGER and BLISTERING RAGE!!! Back around 2002, I put my first “Religion is Bullshit” website online, and with webmaster Dave’s glorious suggestion to turn it into a blog (those were new at the time), it ended up becoming quite popular. I ran that site until August of 2004, and much of what I posted reflected the DEEP RAGE that I felt for being lied to, brainwashed, indoctrinated, and severely psychologically damaged for 15 years of my life. I was ANGRY that I had wasted so many of my younger years trying to please a nonexistent god who never gave me any feedback, and that I had wasted so much time and emotional energy worrying about sin and worrying about whether I was really saved or not, and about my family and friends going to hell. And, once I realized the morally reprehensible nature of the concept of Hell, I was shocked with myself that I had ever bought in to such a demented and evil concept as being for real and that I had thought my loving God would send anyone there, much less my family and friends, all of whom were and are good people. The flip side of my anger about Hell was anger and deep disappointment that Heaven was not for real. I was so mentally ill at the time and I was so looking forward to that wonderful place where God would wipe away all of my suffering and tears, and I would live forever with Him in eternal joy, happiness, and total bliss. And then… I realized that it was all just an ancient myth. That realization was extremely difficult to accept, and I stayed angry about it for a long time. And, of course, letting go of belief in God was extremely difficult too. I was very ANGRY that God was not actually real and that I had spent so many years of my life loving and worshiping a nonexistent being. Then, once I became aware of the many atrocities in the Old Testament that portray God repeatedly ordering or directly committing mass murder and genocide, I was ANGRY that I had been taught that God was Love, and that I had believed it so strongly for so long. There is no way now that I can accept the God of the Bible as loving, given what I know about the Old Testament, and even how he is portrayed in the New Testament. In Acts 5, God murders two people simply for lying to him about their finances, and if the book of Revelation were to come true in our modern world, billions of non-Christian people would die horribly and then be sent to an eternal hell to be tormented endlessly without any hope of reprieve, forever. This is a loving God? I don’t think so… And what about Jesus? I trusted him as my loving Lord and Savior for years! I never once thought about the fact that it was him who introduced the morally reprehensible concept of Hell to scripture, and I never once heard in church about how Jesus said we had to literally hate our families to truly be his disciples (Luke 14:26), and I certainly never heard that he ordered those who refused to follow him to be killed in front of him (Luke 19:27). And what about hacking off body parts that cause you to sin (Matthew 5)? Sure, I read that many times, but with my Jesus Goggles firmly in place, and I never gave it much, if any, critical thought.

The third stage of loss/grief is Bargaining. I can’t really say that I did a lot of bargaining, but I did still desperately want God to real and for Jesus to really be real and Alive in Heaven forevermore. I am sure that I did some bargaining in the form of prayer, asking God to prove Himself to me in a way that would be undeniable. Of course, he never did…

The fourth stage of loss/grief is Depression. I did indeed experience a great deal of depression when I realized that the Bible was mostly ancient myth and legend, that there is no God and that the God depicted within the pages of the Bible was not good or loving, and that there was no heaven wonderful beyond description waiting for me after I died. Depression and anger, at least for me, were two sides of the same coin, and I spent years flipping between them. Some of that, of course, was due to my bipolar illness, but a lot of it was a normal part of working through the loss of my God and my once-cherished religious beliefs.

The fifth and final stage of loss/grief is Acceptance. This is largely where I am now, and I bless the Lard mightily for it! Glory! When I write about religion here or on my glorious website or on Facebook, I do still often write with great passion and emotion, and sometimes I take trips back to the Anger phase of loss/grief, but I always end up coming back pretty quickly to Acceptance once I had done my writing and had my say. I have come to accept the fact that there very likely is no God and that there very likely is no afterlife waiting for us after we die. We just simply cease to exist, in all likelihood, and I am at peace with that probable reality now. Knowing that life is incredible and amazing and fun — but TEMPORARY — has given me reason to wring every last bit of happiness and joy and fun out of it that I can in the HERE and NOW! It has given me reason to show my loved ones how much I care about them NOW! I enjoy my life IMMENSELY with no religious or spiritual beliefs and no reference to God. It took me many years to work through the stages of loss/grief to finally arrive at Acceptance. I stayed ANGRY for years. But now, I am completely and gloriously FREE of religion! I am absolutely FREE of all religious fears! I am free to be ME and to enjoy the one life I have on this earth FULLY, with nothing held back and with no worries about pissing Jesus off or angering his father (who is also somehow magically Him). I don’t have much money and right now I am just beginning to work on building my health coaching career, but I am HAPPY, and I feel extremely grateful to webmaster Dave for creating this glorious site (his blog and these glorious forums), and I feel extremely grateful to have so many online friends here who share the bond of having left religious belief behind in favor of the REAL WORLD and who love me and accept me exactly as I am!

I am not really that angry about the years that I spent as a Christian believer now. Yes, I wish that things could have been different, but I think we all have some regrets in life once we have lived long enough. I am quite happy now as an ex-Christian atheist, and I firmly believe that the best approach to life is facing the real world exactly as it is — as brutal as that can be at times — instead of hiding from it through religious belief. Even the hardest blows in life, such as the deaths of loved ones — should be faced head on. There very likely is no afterlife waiting on us after we die. When people die, they really die and are gone forever. That’s why it is so important to spend as much time as we can with those we love and to grab every moment of life where we are here to enjoy it!

I apologize if this post has seemed rambling and somewhat disjointed. That’s a natural result of trying to cover thirty years of life and changing beliefs and thought and research in one post that is reasonable in length. But I hope I have conveyed at least to some extent what it is like to travel the road from Christianity –> ex-Christian –> Atheist, and to some extent why I am no longer a Christian believer..

For those who may be interested, I wrote a book in 2013 on my experiences with religion and bipolar disorder. I am happy to make it freely available to my readers.

Bipolar Religiosity – Bipolar Disorder and My Religious Experience

http://alaskanatheist.me/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Bipolar-Religiosity-Bipolar-Disorder-and-My-Religious-Experience.pdf

I hope this post has been helpful to those who have not been in our shoes to make the journey from Christianity to Atheism. It can be hard to understand the life experiences of people who have lived through things that you have never had to experience. Trying to explain mental illness is difficult to relate to someone who has never had experience with it. In the same way, explaining the journey from religious belief to the lack of it can be difficult to relate, but I hope I have succeeded here at least to some degree.

I am extremely happy now and I enjoy life immensely with no reference to God or to any religious or spiritual beliefs whatsoever. I find the real world exactly as it really is interesting, exciting, and enthralling. Life is amazing and fun and very enjoyable indeed, but it is not permanent. It is a very precious thing because it is temporary and impermanent. Enjoy this life while you have it. There is no good evidence that there is another one waiting for us on the other side of the grave.

Bipolar Disorder and My Religious Experience

I wrote a book last year about my struggles with bipolar disorder and my religious experience. I would like to offer it for free to my readers here on this glorious site. I have experienced several thankfully short-lived but very intense returns to religious belief during bipolar manic episodes, but other than those, I have been an atheist for 14 years now, and I plan on staying that way! Glory!

Bipolar Religiosity – Bipolar Disorder and My Religious Experience

http://alaskanatheist.me/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Bipolar-Religiosity-Bipolar-Disorder-and-My-Religious-Experience.pdf

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.