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And Then He Was Gone…

24 Sep
Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had another dream about him last night.  Even after all these years he still haunts me.  Not that I mind, it reminds me that I cared about him and care about those he left behind.

Keith-My Cousin

Keith was my cousin, but I didn’t meet him until his early teens when his Dad married my Aunt.   It was my first experience with a blended family.  Two sisters and three brothers now occupied my Aunt’s hallways when before there had only been the girls.  Those early years of visiting my Aunt’s (and new Uncle) home was filled with a ton of activity and excitement.  Of the three new cousins, Keith was outgoing, but not overly so like his younger brother.  But he could also be shy and sensitive, but not as introverted and awkward as his older brother.  He was like the perfect blend of my other two cousins; he was well liked and very talented.

The first time I ever envied him was after he was chosen to appear in a local TV ad for a very popular candy company.  In the ad, Keith was shown walking with a pretty blond-haired girl, walking and talking as the shared a tasty treat.  The ad aired during the broadcast of a local sporting event, and I was instantly jealous that my new cousin was on TV.  I grew even more envious when I learned he had been paid hundreds of dollars to appear in the commercial.  He was so lucky….I was so boring and broke.

As we grew older and went to college, I only ever saw Keith at the holidays when we would gather to feast on my Uncle’s cooking.  At these events, I’d catch up with Keith about college and other small talk.  But I sort of lost touch with him other than these few family get-togethers.  One year, he was trying to earn some extra cash by selling Ginsu knives.  I remember my family being gracious and even a few sales were made.  Keith was always so good natured and humble.  I thought he had the world at his feet.  But I was wrong….

Personal Demons

I really was unaware of Keith’s inner struggles.  I had just seen him at my cousin’s wedding.  He was handsome and looked sharp in his suit.  He was quiet, but spoke of his job and plans for a hiking trip with his brothers.  We laughed across the table at the wedding reception and had a generally good time in each other’s company.  I had no idea he was struggling.

Later that summer, my folks called to ask me to keep Keith in my prayers.  He had lost or quit his job (we never really found out) and moved back to my Aunt’s to live, at age 34.  My folks also said that Keith was struggling with depression and that my Aunt and Uncle were very worried for him.

I immediately began to pray for Keith.  I prayed that he would come to know Jesus and that the demons of depression would be bound from his life.  I prayed for him every day and even considered going over to visit him now that he was back in the area.  But I never got the chance.

Darkness

A few weeks later, my Aunt was home early from work and decided to check on Keith.  He had been staying in their basement converted apartment, while he tried to find new work and sort out his struggle with depression.

She called out for Keith at the top of the stairs…but no answer.  She decided to go down and check on him.  Opening the door to his room, she saw what no earthly mother should ever have to see.  She saw Keith hanging from the ceiling; lifeless, dead, gone.  The darkness of depression had won.  My prayers had failed.

Keith had taken his own life by hanging himself in my Aunt’s basement.

Why?

It’s been almost 20 years since my cousin’s death, and I still can’t tell you why he chose suicide over life.

Was it the loss of identity because of his job?  Was it because he was gay (something I didn’t know until after his death)?  Did he have AIDS?  Did he get fired for being gay?  Was he just a mentally depressed person by genetics? Why didn’t my prayers of protection and binding work?  Why would God allow this?  Why did God allow my Aunt to find him?  Why didn’t God do something?  Why, Why, Why!!!!????

The Dream

In the dream, we were all sitting around my Aunt’s kitchen table.  I think we were playing cards at the beach house, like we used to when we were all kids.  But this time we were all grown up.

We all seemed to be having a good time when Keith’s face appeared around the corner of the kitchen doorway.  It startled me a bit, because I remembered that Keith was dead.  But for a brief moment, he appeared around the corner and was being pushed towards the door in a wheelchair, by a man no one knew.  As he was wheeled through the kitchen, Keith turned his head slightly and acknowledged us with a slight nod.  A nod that was knowing, knowing that this might be our last goodbye.  We all nodded back in deathly silence, acknowledging his injury and his movement towards the door.

Maybe there was nothing that could have been said to stop him.  Maybe he felt like a cripple with no hope of ever rising to walk again.  Maybe the mystery man was death, a welcome friend at this point in Keith’s life….I just don’t know.

He then turned his head, the mystery man escorted him out of the house…and then he was gone.

And I awoke.

Young Life Tactics-Cultic or Legit ?

16 Apr

Eric asked a good question that I didn’t want to get lost in the comments of Is Young Life a Cult .

He asked

“does Young Life employ cultic tactics, or do cults and cultish organizations instead use legitimate techniques and manipulate them to accomplish what they want to do?”

The short answer, is that Young Life employs tactics common to cults in many (not all ) instances.  Of course, this is just my own opinion. But it is how I see the issue.

Befriending a vulnerable demographic (teens who are minors) without consent and without being up front about motive is cultic. It’s similar to the tactics of the Boston Church of Christ and Amway.

Friendship, enmeshment, and then indoctrination.

It’s a cultic tactic no matter how you slice it. It doesn’t mean that you or other leaders are not good people or that you don’t really love teens (I’m sure you do).

But, it is dishonest if you are not upfront with someone about your motives for befriending them (in Young Life’s case-to share Christ’s love and present the Gospel from an Evangelical/Fundamentalist perspective).

Some Good Questions From Chad

27 Mar
Question Mark Graffiti

Question Mark Graffiti (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

A reader named Chad, recently left a comment on my About post.  I thought he asked some really excellent questions and thought it might make for an interesting post.

Here’s what Chad had to say:

ChristianAgnostic,

Had a chance to review your background and read some of your posts. Fascinating stuff. Never really met anyone who’s migrated from Christianity to agnosticism but seeing as how you had the misfortune of being involved with two cults (YoungLife and SGM) I find myself thinking, “Geez, no wonder this dude became agnostic.”

My question for you is: Isn’t there a part of you that’s even minimally concerned about the whole ‘hell’ thing? That’s not meant to be a rhetorical question or a preamble to some kind of evangelistic pitch or a “love bomb” or whatever. I’m genuinely curious.

You’ve been brutally honest about your assessment of Christianity so I’ll do the same. I’m a Christian and buy into the whole package. Young earth, Noah’s Ark, inerrancy of scripture. I’m totally on board. I’ve gotta say though, the whole concept of eternity, whether it be in heaven or hell, bums me out to no end. It haunts me every day.

When Christians talk about the weaknesses of the atheist and/or agnostic position, they always bring up the utter despair that atheists must feel about the finality of death. Even articles written by atheists acknowledge this despair. But between you and me, I’m thinking, “Why the sadness? This is one of atheism’s primary *benefits*! When you’re dead, your dead. What wonderful freedom. No need to think about the endlessness of heaven and the tortures of hell? Where do I sign up?” I can’t help but think that atheism, or at least agnosticism, would make me a more relaxed person overall. If it weren’t for the hell bit, I’m tempted to think I’d jump ship in a heartbeat. I totally see the appeal of the atheist perspective…

and yet…I have to think…

There must be some part of you that wonders if you made the right decision. You don’t think about hell at all? Seriously? It’s gotta be nagging at you at least a little bit, no?

So let’s jump in and I’ll do my best to answer.

First off, I want to be clear that I have no doubt that SGM is a cult.  When it comes to Young Life, I do not view them as a full-blown cult, but as an Evangelical Ministry that has engaged in some methods of outreach that are similar to tactics used by many cults.  I know this may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I do not think that Young Life is on the same level as cults such as the Moonies or Jim Jones.   Also, my involvement with these groups are not what led me to agnosticism.  Even after I emerged from these groups, I still was an active Christian seeking to better understand my faith.  It was my study of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and early Church History that led me to conclude that the Bible is most certainly not the inerrant word of God.

As for hell (whether I am worried about it or not) the short answer is no.  I have no reason to believe in a hell because I don’t find any evidence that convinces me that there is an afterlife, let alone an eternal place of torture where an All Knowing, All Loving God sends creatures to be Eternally tortured for his glory and good pleasure.  Besides the fact that hell seems to be contradictory to a God that is loving and Just, I just don’t find any evidence for such a place.  If you think I am uninformed or being cavalier, I can assure you I am not.  Not that long ago I still believed in a literal hell, Young Earth, etc…because I still viewed the Bible as the Word of God.  Not sure if you read my posts on the subject of hell, but here they are if you want to know some of my background on the subject.

Hell,  Hell of A Start,   Hell Hath No Fury,   Hell If I Care,   Hell (for babies?)

As for the despair that some atheists agnostics speak of…I can say I just don’t relate to it.  Sure, if I dwell on the fact that someday I will die and no longer be, it’s a bummer.  But it’s because I currently enjoy a full and satisfying life, surrounded by people I love and projects I enjoy.   I think the bigger bummer, is constantly obsessing whether or not my faith will be good enough or correct enough to please a Heavenly Ruler who will once and for all, bring me to Eternal Bliss or to Eternal suffering.  Since realizing that this is most likely not the case, I do feel free to live my life without the extra burden of wondering whether or not I am doing God’s will.  I still attempt to treat all people with love and respect, but I no longer have the guilt induced teachings of Jesus and the church hanging over my head all of the time.

As for your own struggles,  I assume they stem from the teaching of the Bible.  My only advice would be to study the evidence supporting the idea that the Bible is the true Word of God.  If you find the evidence compelling, then you should be worried.  But if you find the evidence to be lacking, then you should regard the Bible’s teaching on Heaven and Hell in the same way you currently regard the Egyptian’s Book of the Dead teaching on the afterlife.  In other words, in the realm of myths and dead religions that hold no relevance to today.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment and questions.

Best Regards-CA

Related articles

The Curious Case of the Missing Comment

18 Sep
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (Photo credit: givingnot@rocketmail.com)

A couple weeks ago, I cruised over to the Young Life Leader Blog.

While there, I clicked onto this video

 

 

I then left this short comment, which was deleted in less than 12 hours.

AnonymousSeptember 8, 2012 4:00 AM

While I think the video is clever…isn’t it a violation of the High School’s code of ethics for a teacher to be evangelizing the students in her own school?

Secondly, talking about students sleeping over at your home would also seem to be a major breach of standard code of ethics for a High School teacher?

In my experience, groups that are unwilling to dialogue are groups that are willing to break rules when it suits them.   I’m still curious as to why Young Life feel it’s ok for a public school teacher to violate their school’s code of ethics?

The Powerlessness of Prayer

24 Aug
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t believe in the power of prayer.  The reason why…because of God’s lack of answer to prayer.  In all honesty, God really does not answer prayer in the way it’s promised in the Bible.  The Bible claims that God cares for you and me and wants to answer our prayers.

Matthew 21:22 plainly states

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

But this does not seem to be true.  Millions of Christians have believed that God has the power to save and heal, have begged God to do so, and he has not done it.  Babies have died, beloved parents and relatives have wasted unto death, while God ignores the prayers of those who have asked him to heal those whom they love.

I know many will object that maybe God had a different idea, or maybe we just didn’t believe enough.  But I think, that deep down, even the most earnest Christian does not really believe in prayer as described in the Bible.  They might think God will tip the scales a little more in their favor, maybe send a specialist doctor to save the day.  But most have asked God to heal cancers, only to see the cancer prevail.  Lord knows I’ve pleaded for babies that still went to the grave and left their parents in dismal grief, despite my many prayers.

Most Christians have lived long enough to know that prayer will not save the day…it may bring a little relief, kind of like meditation or silent centering, but it will not result in God’s miraculous intervention in the Biblical sense.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

We’ve all heard of the Christian parents that withhold life saving medical treatment for their children.  They trust God will heal, so they pray, wait, and watch as their children die or are seriously sickened from a condition that could have been prevented by human intervention.  Instead, they obey the Bible’s teaching to seek God for all their needs.  And in the end, many end up at a graveside, a court room, and some will even see the inside of a jail cell.

Why?

Because they took the Bible at it’s word about prayer.

But most Christians see this as extreme and would never do this to their children.  When the rubber hits the road, we say a prayer, but we pay a visit to the doctor.

Worst Case Scenario

Imagine an even more agonizing situation.

Imagine you are a middle aged mom whose elementary schooler has not returned home on time.  After ten minutes past the normal time your child arrives home, you wander next door to confirm that the bus is late.  When the neighbor’s child answers the door, you begin to worry.

Your neighbor confirms that the bus arrived on time, but your child was not seen exiting the bus.  A quick call to the school sends you into a panic. Your child was not seen at school all day.  In fact, the voice mail you ignored this morning was your child’s school calling to confirm that your child was sick and at home.

You slump to the floor sobbing as your neighbor dials 911….

Freeze Frame

Pausing this imaginary nightmare, ask your self this question.  Do you believe in the power of prayer to locate your child safely?

In other words, would you just call the prayer chain at church and trust God that he would lead you to your child?  What if the detective at the police station said they weren’t going to send out a description of your child, instead the officers were going to pray and wait on God to lead them to your child…would you really be ok with that response?

Of course you wouldn’t…you would be doing everything in your power to bring your child home again.  You would want to know that every stone in the county was being turned over in search of your child.  You would talk to anyone willing to listen and get the word out that something more precious than gold is lost and needs to be found.

This scenario reveals that when it matters most, prayer does little to no good when facing real world problems.  It doesn’t heal children who are sick.  It doesn’t save relatives that are dying.  It doesn’t bring children home who have been kidnapped or run away.

In short, prayer has no real power to change reality.

Creflo Dollar Denies Choking and Slapping Daughter…It was Only a Spanking?

12 Jun
Dr. Creflo A. Dollar

Dr. Creflo A. Dollar (Photo credit: iandavid)

I was never into the Word of Faith movement, so I don’t usually follow or comment on the semi-regular scandals that seem to bubble to the surface now and then.

As for the latest,  Creflo Dollar is the on the hot seat, after his 15 year old daughter called 911 and said her father had choked her and slapped her.  Her 19 year old sister backed up her story and an investigation is ongoing.  You can read a brief news report on the incident here.

I guess what stood out for me, was that while Pastor Dollar denies choking and slapping his daughter, he apparently admits that all he did was wrestle her to the ground and spank her.

Wait a second, that’s your explanation?  That’s your defense?  That it was just a little spat that ended with you ( a 50 year old man) wrestling your 15 year old to the ground and spanking her?

I don’t know about you, but the spanking of a 15 year old seems like grounds for possible abuse.  I have 2 teens close to that age and I would never dream of slapping them, let alone wrestling to the ground and spanking them…this whole thing is wrong at it’s core.

If I were one of Pastor Dollar’s 30,000 congregants,  I would want to know how he justifies spanking a child that old.

Wouldn’t you?

 

 

Did Your Bad Church Experiences make you leave Christianity?

5 Jan

As I have begun to open up about my doubts-one of the first questions I get asked is this one….Did the bad experiences you have with the Christian Church influence your decision to stop believing? The short answer is no, not really…let me explain.

My biggest reason for doubting the Christian faith has been my study of the Bible itself, along with a study in Church History and the historical formation of the Christian scriptures that have opened up my wellsprings of suspicion. These are topics that I will be posting on for sure…but I really can’t point out any of my bad church experiences as a major reason for doubting Christianity.

Now, for those who know me well, they are aware that I have certainly encountered some pretty ugly and abusive situations during my time in the church. But I can honestly say that I never viewed these episodes as reasons to disbelieve, I simply thought that there must be a better way to practice Christianity or that they were not “real” Christians.

As I reflect on this, one of my nagging questions is what is a “real” Christian anyway? I have changed my own opinions at least 10 times and the thousands of contradicting church traditions leads me to a big question mark….What is a real Christian? And how do you know your definition of a real Christian is correct?