Concerning my own past experience as a “born again” Christian, letting people “see Jesus” inside me was something I deemed very important.
Only after years of Christian experience and self-evaluation did I slowly realize that something did not ring quite honest or genuine when it came to “letting Jesus flow out of me.” As I see things now, I was trying to convince myself that Jesus was inside me, flowing out of me, perhaps as actors do when they are inhabited by a role that is flowing out of them, which can entail a great transformation. But is it necessarily a supernatural transformation in either case?
And Iʼve seen many Christian believers channel their religious opinions, interpretations, condescension toward others.
But if Jesus is real and Christians have the truest beliefs along with having the greatest probability that Jesus is living in THEIR hearts, then why did so many Christians for so many centuries (both Catholics and the founders of Protestantism, Luther and Calvin) stress so firmly that rulers and magistrates must persecute, torture, and even execute people who dared to preach beliefs or holy rites and practices different from their own?
What I am trying to say is perhaps put best by the following quotations…
Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men. By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
—William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
I found myself in a Cambridge cafe having supper with some friends. We were on our way to a lecture by Harvey Cox, whose books Iʼd always found fascinating, though Iʼd filled their margins with vociferous criticisms [of his openness to alternative religious beliefs and practices]. I suddenly thought, “Listen, is there really that much difference ‘them’ and ‘us’?” I had always accepted the qualitative difference between the “saved” and the “unsaved.” Until that moment, it was as if I and my fellow-seminarians had been sitting in a “no-damnation” section of an otherwise “unsaved ” restaurant. Then, in a flash, we were all just people. My feeling about evangelism has never been quite the same.
—Robert M. Price, “Testimony Time”
One Sunday afternoon my cousin and I were eating at a restaurant. He paused, and started pointing at people. “Heʼs a Christian… Heʼs a Christian… So is she, and she, and that other guy.” I asked how he was so sure. His reply? “I was a hard-core Evangelical Christian for a few years, remember? Itʼs not hard to see once you know what to look for. Look for someone who looks like theyʼre wearing clothes just a little bit nicer than theyʼre comfortable in, that have a smile on their face. It wonʼt look like a happy smile, itʼll look kind of contrived and forced, like theyʼre trying to convince themselves theyʼre happy and rich.”
One of Christianityʼs chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.
—Chapman Cohen, “Essays in Freethinking”
In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mournerʼs bench”—asked for prayers of the faithful—had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences—how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become. They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ʽem both, in a great measure.” Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring. I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.
—Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”
Many of the most cordial Christians either hum hymns or listen to contemporary Christian music, or repeat Scripture in their heads, and wonder what they can do next to make someone think that theyʼre a “good little Christian.” I used to do the same thing, and now people wonder why I do not shower them with praise and gifts to make them think that I am a “good little Christian.” I used to go to peopleʼs houses and work and they would try to pay me, But No! I would not take a dime, because I wanted to emblazon on their brains the idea that I was a “good little Christian.” (The “people-pleasing-for-Christ” part of my life ended over 15 years ago.) Thatʼs what many Christians are, people pleasers, God pleasers, Jesus pleasers, preacher pleasers. Jesus was a people pleaser, thatʼs why he was so willing to die, either to please God or his ignorant followers.
—Ben at http://www.exchristian.net/ (edited by E.B.)
I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with Godʼs power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His peopleʼs sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul. I refused. No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.
—Dr. Charles Brewer, Professor of Psychology (as told to E.B. 7/18/06)
Psychotherapists will tell you that in dealing with an addict, you have to understand that the personʼs primary relationship is with the drug. The drug has the ability to control the addictʼs thinking to a remarkable degree, and you must understand that any relationship you may feel with the addict is a distant second to the one they have with their drug. The most devout Evangelical Christians are open and unabashed about this. Their “relationship with Jesus” as they use the term, is the primary relationship in their lives.
There are even scriptures that go something like, “Not unless you hate your mother and father can you be my disciple,” and, “Who are my mother and father? But he who hears and words of God and does them.” Jesus even suggested to one disciple that he ought not return home to help bury a dead family member, instead he ought to “Let the dead bury the dead.”
In other words, Evangelicals stress that oneʼs love for Jesus ought to be so strong that relatively speaking, oneʼs love for even close family members, must not compare. You may love your mother but you should love Jesus so much more that in comparison itʼs like you hate her. Doesnʼt this sound an awful lot like a drunkʼs love for the bottle?
It may be helpful when trying to have a relationship with a believer to remember that you and their relationship with you means very little to them compared to their need to continue in their thought addiction.
In fact “true believers” may happily sacrifice a relationship with their own spouses or children should those family members refuse to convert, or become “unbelievers.” In such cases the “true believer” feels they are making the ultimate sacrifice in “serving God rather than man.”
Evangelical beliefs may promise you comfort, security and power just like the ads for alcohol link its consumption with sexiness, sports activities, and a rippinʼ good time, but the promises in both cases often grow sour as the addict grows more hardened and insistent. Some people have an instant “conversion” to alcoholism. They take their first drink, or have their first good drunk and understand (in the words of a very young alcoholic client I once had) “This (drinking) is what I was put on this world to do.” For some people their religion is an illness they are trying to recover from and the recovery process is more difficult than recovering from alcoholism.
—Saint Vilis ([email protected]) at the Yahoo Group, ExitFundyism
An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save human beings nd restore them to their lost state of peace with God, themselves and others.”
Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country.
It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling.
If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely.
People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!” There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are.
I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is. If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?
—Robert Anton Wilson
Quotations from Christians on Christianityʼs Dark Side
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
—Blaise Pascal, Pensees, (1670)
“Christianity has committed crimes so monstrous that the sun might sicken at them in heaven.”
—G. K. Chesterton in the Daily News, as quoted by Robert Blatchford, God and My Neighbor
“Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lordʼs time—‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!). I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse… Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”
—C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewisʼ death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.
“For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought.”
—Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (New York: The New American Library, 1963).
“[E]ven the great monastic communities of western Europe, such as Cluny Abbey, founded on renunciation of the world and denial of the flesh, quickly became owners of vast estates and wielders of enormous political power. They no longer protested against the world. They were the world, in all its pageantry and power, and they validated the dream of empire, which they consecrated as Crusades to destroy the infidel. That is why people should not look to religion for salvation or for a solution to the ills of the world. Failure to see the possibilities for corruption and destruction in religion is a failure of spiritual perception of the first order. Few people fail to see the destructive possibilities of other peopleʼs religions, but they can be remarkably blind to their own.It is interesting that the above passage was written as part of an attempt to argue that religion continues to be good and relevant in todayʼs society. Keith Ward is a defender of religion, not an opponent, but even he can see these things and recognize just how dangerous religion can become.”
—Keith Ward, The Case For Religion
“Framers of modern democratic theory in eighteenth century Europe [and colonial America] were profoundly influenced by the religious wars that had dominated the previous century and a half. Lockeʼs emphasis on tolerance and Rousseauʼs idea of a social contract were efforts to find unifying agreements that would discourage religious groups from appealing absolutely to a higher source of authority. The idea of civil society emerged as a way of saying that people who disagree with each other about such vital matters as religion could nevertheless live together in harmony.”
—Robert Wuthnow, Books & Culture (a newsletter produced by the editors of Christianity Today)
Quotations From Non-Christians on Christianityʼs Dark Side
“Of course, what Keith Ward, above, describes is quite unremarkable. Sure religion can become corrupt and destructive—but so can any other philosophy. Ward makes a point of noting this as well, so why focus on religion? The difference between religion and other philosophies is the fact that other philosophies donʼt pretend to be holy or creations of a perfect God. Religions make total and absolute demands on adherents; other philosophies generally do not. Religion is not inherently evil, but it is not immune to all of the problems which afflict people generally and human organizations in particular.”
—Austin Cline (atheist)
The irony is that religious believers claim to possess the only inspired writings on earth, and claim to possess a prayer hotline by which they ask and receive guidance from God to lead them into all truth, and claim to possess a new heart inside them via divine favor, have come up with plenty of intolerant and unscientific points of view. Yet think of the types of supernatural claims made for such writings and the supernatural advantages that such religious believers claim to possess. Then compare the results for century after century. Christians advocated the necessity of persecuting outsiders, including fellow Christians whose beliefs or religious practices differed from their own, for over one thousand years. When a devout Christian (or a large majority of Christians) ruled over a city, country or nation, they instituted laws against blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, etc., and continued to do so for centuries, from the days of the Christians Roman Emperors who declared that all non-Trinitarians were demented and that the Emperor would punish them and destroy their writings, to the days of the Reformation when the same was still occurring, and hence they treated people like things in a sociopathic fashion.
Add to that Christianityʼs proven tendency to splinter, along with the decrees of rival theologians against each other, and subsequent harsh actions by Christian rulers. Does this appear like a more inspired story than is told elsewhere concerning human behavior? The same insecurity, the same belligerence. But of course an apologist might say, the difference is that Christians are “forgiven” [sic].
- Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter,” based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Churchʼs suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.
- Christian persecution of pagans—exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians
- Christian persecution of fellow Christians—exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians
- Reformation Christian persecution of fellow Christians—exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians
- Christian persecution of American Indians—exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians
- Decrees of Christian Emperors against non-Trinitarians [at bottom of this piece]
- Protestant and Catholic defenses of the necessity of persecuting heretics, blasphemers, infidels, etc.
Pulitzer prize-winning political scientist, Francis Fukuyama put it this way: “There was a time when religion played an all-powerful role in European politics with Protestants and Catholics organizing themselves into political factions and squandering the wealth of Europe on sectarian wars. [Like the “Thirty Yearʼs War” that began in 1618 when Protestant leaders threw two Catholic emissaries out of a Prague window, and which turned central Europe into a wasteland of misery, leading to the deaths of more than a quarter of Europeʼs population. - ED.] English liberalism emerged in direct reaction to the religious fanaticism of the English Civil War. Contrary to those who at the time believed that religion was a necessary and permanent feature of the political landscape, liberalism vanquished religion in Europe. After a centuries-long confrontation with liberalism, religion was taught to be tolerant. In the sixteenth century, it would have seemed strange to most Europeans not to use political power to enforce belief in their particular sectarian faith. Today, the idea that the practice of religion other than oneʼs own should injure oneʼs own faith seems bizarre, even to the most pious churchmen. Religion has been relegated to the sphere of private life - exiled, it would seem, more or less permanently from European political life except on certain narrow issues like abortion… Religion per se did not create free societies; Christianity in a certain sense had to abolish itself through a secularization of its goals before liberalism could emerge… Political liberalism in England ended the religious wars between Protestant and Catholic that had nearly destroyed that country during the seventeenth century: with its advent, religion was defanged by being made tolerant.”
I agree with Eric Hoffer that people become devoted adherents of mass movements and political ideologies, be they fascist, communist, Christian, or Muslim, for some similar overlapping psychological reasons. Here are some quotations from Hoffer.
Hoffer also pointed out that all successful mass movements eventually seek and gain influence or control in the realm of politics/government in order to ensure they can predominate, consolidate and centralize their influence further. This is just as true of Christianity as other successful mass movements in religion and politics.
I donʼt blame all the worldʼs ills on religion. The problem is primate politics, people following alpha males (and sometimes alpha females) with relatively blind devotion, people raised in a culture or sub-culture who remain unaware of its unique prejudices, people blind to their own limitations of experience and knowledge, people blind to the fact that their egos are so fragile they are quite likely to attach them like barnacles to some bigger ‘cause’ which makes them feel invincible and like everyone should now listen to them. And no matter how many of their friends or family or fellow citizens they turn off or offend, they take no personal blame because it is in the name of the cause, the greater good they now feel they are embodying, that is hyper inflating their sense of selfhood and mission. And they will go quite far indeed to spread their beliefs, which helps expand their egos even more, to try and gain ascendancy for their beliefs within their culture, even going too far to ‘defend’ their beliefs. Of course the idea of how far is ‘too far’ is something people do not agree on.
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