I was at home last week, and I had to put up with a bunch of my family’s weird friends. I stayed silent the whole time, because I’ve never told them what I really believe, and I really wished I could speak out.
My brother was there—let’s call him “Bob”—along with his girlfriend, his other friends, and one of those friend’s fiancée. All of them, like my family, believe in a 6,000-year-old earth, that evolution is an assault against Christianity, and in speaking in tongues.
The fiancée talked about this great book she was reading—it’s an allegory where a man marries a prostitute and ‘saves’ her. He shows her her worth, rescues her from the sex trade, etc. It’s based on the book of Hosea. It really didn’t sound like the kind of story that would make sense in a modern context, especially when she said the man married the prostitute practically against her will.
Then the other friend kept talking in this over-spiritualized language, that made him sound incredibly fake. But I don’t think he was being fake. I think he’s just studied pastoring and spirituality at his college so much that he doesn’t know how else to talk.
He asked the other friend’s fiancée about how she “operates within the gift of prophecy.” The fiancée said she does in fact have the gift of prophecy. She doesn’t tell the future, though. Instead, prophecy is giving a message from God to God’s people. It can be a word of encouragement, a word of correction, anything like that.
This definition of prophet is actually pretty common in some evangelical circles. It has great advantages for the practitioners—it feels really good to believe God is speaking to you through prophecies, but you don’t have that pesky “check to see if the prophecies come true” requirement given in the Bible. (Deut. 18:22).
For this woman, prophecy means she’s not afraid to say the “hard truths” that need to be said. The example she gave was, she’s from an atheist family. When she was alone with her atheist uncle’s young kids, she started telling them all about how Jesus came to save them, how everyone lives in sin, how they’ll go to hell without Jesus and what hell means. She terrified those kids and they went back to their atheist dad scared of hell. And I didn’t say anything about this.
The fiancée has another friend who’s a prophet, and this prophet does in fact tell the future. Or rather, God reveals the future to her; she usually doesn’t say it until it’s the right time to reveal it. In other words, when something happens, she says ‘I knew this was going to happen, but I couldn’t tell you.’ Even the fiancée said this makes her incredulous, but apparently she trusts her friend.
The example she gave of it working was, this friend knew the fiancee’s boyfriend was going to propose. She called him up and asked if he had bought the ring yet, right as he was praying and wondering who he should take ring shopping with him. It’s a very cool coincidence, and I would have called it God at work when I was a Christian, but it seems awfully empty compared to the other claims being made here.
They talked about speaking in tongues. They know of some church where the pastor speaks in tongues and then ‘interprets’ what the Holy Spirit said through him. The fiancée was incredulous at first, but they encouraged her to believe that we don’t know how the Holy Spirit works, so that could be true.
My brother mentioned a story my dad tells about a pastor who did that same thing. Dad says the message turned out to be basically the same every time, centering on a few of his favorite themes. The people didn’t seem to think this had any repercussions for the other pastor who does it.
Some of those things would have made sense to me, back when I was a believer. But now as I look at them I’m a bit shocked. Was I really like that? Are believers really out of their minds? It seems like they shut down all critical thinking when it comes to anything with the word “God” attached to it.
I really wished I could speak up, and say anything. It feels unnatural to stay silent. When I was a Christian, I would have shared my own experiences with prophecy, or my own insights on gifts of the spirit. I would probably have questioned the self-interpreting pastor, and maybe questioned the retroactive prophet, even as a Christian. I may have cautioned the fiancée to be loving and respectful, even as she shares the truth. As a Christian, I could have spoken out without fear, knowing that we both still believed in Jesus so if we got in an argument, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Now as an atheist I feel I have to stay silent for fear they’ll figure me out.
And then afterwards, some of us went up to the church and jammed. We played those worship songs I grew up with and I still love. I love playing bass, but I never get the chance except in church, and playing with these guys was so high-energy. All my frustration at the rest of the evening just evaporated.
Why is playing music so wonderful? Where could I go to play music like that if I was an atheist? They wouldn’t invite me along to their worship sessions. I don’t currently have any non-believer friends, much less friends who would get together and just jam for a while. Plus, worship music still means so much to me.
I feel like I’ve lost a lot by becoming an atheist.
How do you guys react? Do you have places in your real life where you are able to argue respectfully with Christians? Do you ever have to sit through and shut up with your religious family?
Don't become Undone, UnOne - as in, "Don't have a cow, Man!"
I had to check to make sure which topic I was in. This may be the most glaring case of hijacking a topic in many months.
And I didn't do it?!! Hard to believe, isn't it?
What...there was music in the OP. It's all good :)
I feel for you. While I grew up in a Christian core family, and while my extended family are churchgoers, nobody was totally obsessed with religion. Of course, most of my family is Episcopalian which is not a fundy sect by any stretch of the imagination. I'm glad I wasn't born into a Baptist (or worse) sect.
** “the one forbidden thing” denotes a fable for obedience training
A garden with a fountain and fruit trees enclosed by a wall (ortus conclusus -- an epithet of Mary), a vision of oasis in a desiccated near eastern landscape.
The Garden of Eden -- concerns one forbidden thing, disobedience. The fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden — did not matter at all to that anthropomorphic divinity, walking in the Garden at evening, who kept knowledge of good and evil to himself. His schtick was obedience and subordination.
Who twisted a fairy tale of a paradisaical landscape into lesson in paternalistic mores? Who but the god proxies of authoritarian religious institutions in the historical big-4 monster theisms. Zoroastrianism, judaism, xianity, and islam belong together as a dysfunctional family. Their fictional texts emphasize tests of obedience ad nauseum. (The very word 'islam' means submission.)
The western mind still suffers from ancient middle eastern, highly moralistic, paternalist doctrines which center on submission of the wayward son: disobedience, punishment, forgiveness, and return. They recur insistently.
Painful adolescent emotions and associated psychological states get interpreted as only guilt cultures can devise. Youthful attempts to find autonomy must be extinguished and replaced by an conditioned reflex of submission to authority. Personal growth and resistance to authority become “sin.” Negative thoughts and feelings about oneself, especially sexual ones, are reinterpreted as “guilt”. Death too becomes a punishment — as the “wages of sin".
Neural pathways are habituated to an expectation of “righteous punishment” administered by an abusive Father. Youth must “become one with the father" through a perversion of trust, called “faith.” The holy cycle of self-loathing, projected as hatred of others, and violence begins once more as a cultural poison spoon fed to the next generation.
An abusive father becomes divinized -- our father who art in heaven. He can always see, he always judges, his love is conditional on obedience. Thus priests, pastors, rabbis, imams can enjoy secular power, and make their absurd 10 de-mandments as a god’s proxies on Earth.
"10 de-mandments" - I like that, nice turn of a phrase!