Chapter Twelve

Choosing to Live in Reality

 David Johnson

 

I was born into the church, and a little over 40 when I left it. On my way out the door kicking and screaming, I tried liberal theology, and very liberal theology, and Pentecostalism, and ultraconservatism, and universalism, and non-religious spiritualism. I have a little expertise on the Christian view of reality, lots of Christian views of reality. And I abandoned them all. Here’s why:

I Grew Up

 

Paul said:

As a child I spoke, and thought, and reasoned like a child; when I grew up, I threw off childish ways. 1Cor. 13:11

But he was speaking of his human maturation. Spiritually, he insists that we are still as children. Jesus said it even more dramatically:

‘I’m telling you the truth,’ he said. ‘Unless you turn inside out and become like children, you will never, ever, get into the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 18:3

The Christian view of reality is like a spiritual never-never land where no one ever grows up, but are eternally god’s little babies in the safety of his bosom. In the Christian view of reality, the worst thing you can do is learn to think for yourself, do for yourself, and rely on yourself. The most heinous crime you can commit in Christian never-never land is to grow up.

I grew up.

As a Christian, you must not say that you will do this or that, but if the lord wills, you will do this or that. You should know this is a direct quote from the Bible; James 4 vs 15. Christians don’t know what is right in any given situation. They are incapable of thinking morally for themselves. They must consult god. Like children, they must mindlessly obey, not think for themselves.

Even spiritual things are beyond them. They cannot pray without the Holy Spirit interpreting their groaning and interceding on their behalf. The Christian can never take credit for any good thing they do. They can never feel the slightest bit of pride in their own accomplishments. That is because they are led to believe that they can accomplish nothing without god.

This god is a smothering, overbearing tyrant of a parent who never allows his children to grow up. Their emotional development has been retarded by this god of theirs. They have come to be afraid of everything that goes bump in the night.

Christianity is a denial of death cult. Christians are beyond afraid of death. They go as far as to deny its reality. They watch loved ones die and say they are not dead. They fantasize that they will use the occasion of their own death to transition into an even better body and place where the party never stops.

They think like children, and speak like children, and reason like children who proudly announce that they will never grow up. They look forward to living in their father’s house forever. I left never-never land. And I invite all other emotionally mature people to do the same.

I Could No Longer Pretend that God was Good

 

Christians have to pretend that god is good all the time, no matter what. In fact, many have a call and answer mantra: Someone says, god is good! And another says, All the time! This is sometimes formally done in black churches.

This saying has become a denial of the obvious, and a buttress against faith challenged. This mantra can be heard soon after street gangs snuff out the lives of 20 innocent teens and a family of six. But if one person in the attack survives, god is good, all the time.

A preteen can be brutalized by a human monster. But if the baby from that brutalization is carried to term, god is good, all the time. If a five car pileup happens on the freeway one lane over from you, but it somehow misses your vehicle, god is good, all the time.

I could go on this way for a long time. But I think you get the point. God is not good when the cancer goes into remission for a week before the patient succumbs to a freakishly bad death. God was not good when the cancer was contracted, or when the cancer developed in this world. And he was certainly not good when he failed to rid the world of it.

I could not go on with the denial, that game of make-believe Christians play about the goodness of their god. It was clear to me that god was not good all the time. In fact, I could scarcely come up with a time when he was good at all.

I Stopped Accepting that It Was My Fault

Every wife beater and child abuser uses the tactic of making the victim feel like the abuse is their fault. They go through a cycle of apology and abuse. And each time, the blame runs deeper.

This is the god of the bible on almost every page. God loves the first humans. God ludicrously punishes the first humans. God forgives humans. God destroys the world by flood.

God loves the Jews. God sends the Jews into slavery. God delivers the enemies of the Jews into their hands. God delivers the Jews into the hands of their enemies. God unconditionally loves his bride. God punishes his whoring bride by having her raped by surrounding nations. This cycle never stops, and bleeds over into the New Testament.

Jesus weeps for the Jews he regards as his children. Jesus prepares an eternity of flaming torment. God so loves the world. God will take revenge on the world. This love hate whiplash in the bible is hard to keep up with.

The thing to remember is that no matter what horror god visits on his people, it is all their fault. And it is still all their fault.

It gets worse.

Cancer is your fault. Labor pain is your fault. Bad crops are your fault. Very likely, supernovas are your fault. Sin did not just enter the world, you, or your kind, brought it here. Even if the first humans had not sinned, you would have. So even the stuff you didn’t do is all your fault.

Born blind? Sin.

Died of a disease? Sin.

Child has a birth defect? Sin.

You know what humans like you are really good at? Sin.

A relationship with god is a relationship on your knees, apologizing for all the bad things you have done, and taking the blame for things that are not your fault.

Sure, you put your hand in the cookie jar. God cuts off your hand and says, Look what you made me do! You spend the rest of your one-handed life apologizing for your awful crime, and thanking god for not taking your arm.

Not me. Not any more. It’s not my fault. Neither is it yours.

I’m Tired of Making Excuses for Unanswered Prayer

 

From John 14:13-14

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Anyone older than 4 years old knows that prayer doesn’t work this way, ever. The entire Christian doctrine of prayer is excuse-making about why it doesn’t work that way. All of the excuses can be lumped into two categories: You are a sinner, and You did it wrong.

These are impossible barriers to overcome. As the Bible describes it, of course we’re sinners. We never really stop being sinners. If prayer doesn’t work for you, that means you have some unreported sin in your life holding you back. It is not possible to be in any other state.

Think about all the ways you could be praying incorrectly. You might have some doubt. Of course you have doubt. Anyone who has had even one unanswered prayer can’t help but have a little doubt. Perhaps you were praying selfishly. Of course you were praying selfishly. Every desire we have is selfish, even the desire to do good. And on it goes.

To hear Jesus tell it, no prayer can be too frivolous or too big. He used the example of moving mountains. He didn’t even describe it as the traditional view of prayer in his example. It was more of an incantation – a direct command to the mountains, themselves. Jesus put it even more strongly:

I’m telling you the truth: if anyone says to this mountain, “Be off with you – get yourself thrown into the sea”, if they have no doubt in their heart, but believe that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. That’s why I’m telling you, everything that you request in prayer, everything you ask God for, believe that you receive it, and it will happen for you. Mark 11:23-24

Since that time, all mountains remain firmly in their place. Clearly, no one can have such doubtless faith. But if any possessed such faith, surely they wouldn’t waste it on a parlor trick. Surely, they would empty out every ICU in the land. Surely, they would make every farm produce crop. Surely, they would abolish cancer.

The most impressive thing Jesus could think of was telling a mountain to go jump in a lake. No matter. It simply doesn’t work. Christians know it doesn’t work. And the best prayer results they can get are about the same as the results for people who don’t pray at all.

The Christian view of reality has to pretend that prayer works, while making excuses for why it doesn’t. No more pretending for me. No more excuses for unanswered prayer.

I Saw No Evidence for Changed Lives

 

In the Christian view of reality, Christianity changes lives. I saw no evidence that this was the case. Churches were filled with the same petty, small-minded infighting, back-stabbing bickering, cliquish, bigoted, depraved, drug and alcohol abusing behavior that could be found anywhere.

The teen daughters of elders ended up just as pregnant. And the elders, themselves, ended up having affairs, often with preteen boys. Embezzlement and graft were often found on the other side of the collection plate. While church leaders counseled poor families about financial responsibility, they led their churches into debt on top of debt, addicted to borrowing and overextending in the name of faith.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that there were no changed lives as a result of becoming a Christian. But that same percentage of changed lives could be seen in converts to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and others. Lives have also been changed via non-religious things such as a good book or movie, a motivational speech, and rehab centers.

Christians often point to the 12 changed lives of the original apostles as evidence. Well I offer the millions of unchanged Christian lives since then as counter-evidence.

Conclusion: Alternate Reality

 

There is no such thing as Christian reality or atheist reality. There is only reality. Anything that runs counter to that is alternate reality. Christians propose an alternate reality where we never really die, but live forever. They have access to the creator of the universe who cares about them, and listens to what they have to say.

Their fantasy supposes that this all-powerful genie will reorganize space, time, and matter around their desires if he is asked in just the right way. They are convinced that everyone who does not think this way is eternally doomed in some unspecified way.

But this is not reality as I know it. There is no magic in the reality I experience. There is gravity, and cheesecake, and lactose intolerance. There is knee surgery with complications, and family – the good, bad, and ugly that family entails.

There are TV shows and movies and heartbreak and marriage and divorce and addiction and diabetes. Somewhere between a weekend on a beach and toenail fungus, there are wonders and mysteries, and questions and moments of awe over the way the sky looks after a snow.

Beyond that moment of awe is a Monday, and weariness, and a paycheck that doesn’t quite cover the tab. All this is wrapped in newness and redundancy and lessons learned and mistakes repeated, and all the joy and sadness of a messy, wondrous, stinking, glorious, painful, majestic life.

That’s the reality that I know. And I bet it is the reality that you know as well.

Justin’s chapter title is well-named. Living in the Christian view of reality is a choice. Living in reality as we all know it is not. We are not presented with gods and miracles and religious ideas as a matter of reality. Those things are a matter of choice. We have to consciously choose to believe them.

Isn’t it telling that in order to find god, we have to want to find him. In order to hear his voice, we have to listen carefully for it. In order to experience his presence, we have to empty ourselves. It is hard work to live in the Christian reality.

Regular reality (otherwise known as reality) is much easier to access. You don’t need to listen for still, small voices. You can hear the lively, shouting voices of your neighbor through your thin apartment walls whether you want to or not.

You don’t have to want to find a Starbucks. Wander any neighborhood for ten minutes, and you will run into one. You want to experience a presence? Walk around in mid-town Manhattan and you will experience about a million presences on the way to the 5th Ave. Apple Store. All these things are so because that is just how reality works.

You don’t have to choose to live in it. You are born into it. And you can never fully escape it in life. Drugs will not do it. Wasting your life playing games and consuming entertainment won’t do it. And wishing with all your might that you were in some other reality won’t do it either.

At the end of the day, believers find themselves in the same reality as unbelievers – a reality where you still have to look both ways before crossing the street, and where you have to pay your power bill on time if you want to use that George Foreman grill.

In reality, both Christians and atheists occupy the same doctor’s office waiting to see the same doctor, to get the same test from the same MRI, and hope against the same hope that everything will be alright.

When things aren’t alright, we have to help our aging parents get to their chemotherapy. We have to wrestle with the same insurance companies to cover the same long-term care facility. And at the end of the long day, we hire the same morticians at the same funeral homes for the same burial, and experience the same grief.

No, we do not get to choose our reality. We get to face it. I would prefer that we all face it together. I look forward to the time when we can all stare down the swirling maelstrom of reality, and press on together without fear.