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A Little Background

Once again I have heard the Christian claim that I am angry with god and I can’t understand the bible because of my anger. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not angry at god. Can’t be angry at something I lack belief in. Saying I don’t believe in god is not the same as saying I believe there is no god. I will go so far as saying a god as defined in the bible doesn’t exist but that has nothing to do with anger. As far as my knowledge of the bible goes, well it is surprising what assumptions Christians make.For about 8 years I was Christian. For the first 2 years I played an instrument in a praise and worship team in a non-denominational Church and my last year at that Church I taught a Sunday school class. Being Jewish they asked me to teach not a New Testament class but an Old Testament class since I was assumed to be more familiar with it. One of the many instances of the growing hypocrisy [which started with the bible study class ] of that Church was when they built a new building. Being a member of the praise and worship team gave me some small benefits as to knowing what was going on and when so I saw the menu for the planned barbecue to celebrate the dedication of the new building. Being a Jew, I kept kosher not for any reason other than it was a custom in my family. The only meat on the menu was pork which isn’t kosher. I spoke to the assistant pastor and explained to him that I couldn’t eat, could they please add something that wasn’t pork. I was not asking for the meat to be prepared separately, I just wanted something I could eat. Was that an unreasonable request for a day 14 days away? The assistant pastor said I was a Christian not a Jew and I didn’t have to be kosher. Then he blew me away by adding that he never saw a Jew in the Church that wasn’t a radical and always stirring the pot. Never knew asking one question was considered a radical act but like a good little sheep I shut up and continued playing for the praise and worship team. These instances kept popping up with an increasing frequency and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. At the time I worked in a retail pharmacy and as I was ringing up prescriptions who should appear but the pastors 17 year old daughter with her boyfriend on her arm. She asked for her prescription which much to my surprise was birth control pills. She sheepishly asked me not to tell her father. I told her not to worry that I wouldn’t but I never returned to that Church again only for the reason that how could a man presume to run ‘gods’ house if he can’t even run his own house? I was still a Christian [sort of] but was totally against the politics and hypocrisy of that Church. During the entire time I played on the praise and worship team I had many friends in the Church and not a few told me they felt god moving on all the team members on most Sundays. Kind of strange since I never felt god moving on me and looking back I can say I wasn’t really convinced god or even Jesus existed. The end result of me leaving, not one phone call from any friend in the Church nor from anyone on the praise and worship team, nobody from my Sunday school class, nor from the pastor or assistant pastor. So much for Christian love.

After I left that Church I strangely looked for another although I knew nothing would be different and Christians [rather the Church] viewed Jews as either second class citizens or super Christians due to their “assumed” Old Testament knowledge. Turned out to be put quite strangely by a Weslyan pastor to me that the Church is akin to a home field for the Gentiles and the Jews were visitors. I pointed out chapter and verse saying the opposite, that the Church is only in existence because of the Jews and it is through the Jews the Gentiles are saved so it is really the gentiles who are the visitors. All he could do was weakly retort that the bible says there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free for we are all one in Jesus. I laughed and told him he forgot to mention there is no male nor female either but that makes sex pointless. Anyway, I stayed at that Church for a few weeks because I was attracted to the format of the service yet I was growing more and more frustrated with what seemed to be clear and anti-Jewish sentiment in the Church and it was firmly rooted in the New Testament itself.

I met a man one day that changed my life. No way he even had an idea that he would ultimately lead me away from the Church or should I say congregation. He was a messianic Jew. Not a Jews for Jesus sham but a real honest to goodness Jew that believed as a Christian yet still had strong Jewish roots. As we spoke it became clear that we had many of the same views on the bible, worship and how thoroughly corrupt and full of hypocrisy the Church had become. In a twist of irony I later found out that this man was a ‘radical’ with ties to the militia and he kept an Uzi under his bed. Anyway, we did cofound a messianic congregation in which I served as cantor. Here I was leading a congregation in prayer, giving a sermon every week yet I didn’t feel any closer to god as a result. I did feel more confused by that lack but I pushed on. About 1 year later I moved out of state but there was no way I was going to a church. For about four days I was homeless and I was living in a shelter. They had a guy come in and do a bible study once a week and it was on a night I was there. It was a Christian run shelter so attendance was mandatory [nice, force people to listen – I thought the crusades were over] and the guy leading the study was from one of the local baptist churches. I spoke to him at length after the class and he seemed genuinely interested in my views being a Jew who led a messianic congregation. He decided to help me repair my car and find an apartment. In return he asked me to visit his Church with him and his family Sunday and he would take me to a messianic congregation the next week. I went. Hated the fire and brimstone hellfire preacher at his baptist Church. Had to bite my tongue when he said that Sunday was the Sabbath day as that genuinely hurt my Jewish ears. Next week as promised he brought me to a messianic congregation and introduced me to his friend. Being a messianic congregation, it was really odd that his friend [and his son] was the only Jew besides myself there. Just seemed odd that there were more non-Jews than Jews but that has been my experience every time I went to a messianic congregation. We both expressed wonder at why there was nothing closer to home since this was about a 45 minute drive from our neighborhood. As it turns out, my new friend lived about 5 miles away from my apartment. We founded a messianic congregation in our neighborhood and I again became the cantor by default this time because I was the only one who could read Hebrew. Turns out my friend was a Sephardic Jew [I am Ashkenazi] and being in the ‘great’ state of Texas there was a huge amount of people that spoke Spanish so our liturgy was written in three languages. Hebrew, English and Spanish. Being Mexican he decided to read the Spanish leaving me the task of Hebrew and English. One day he had laryngitis so I read all three languages. The next week he had his voice back [thank god, I didn’t look forward to singing Adon Olam solo again] although I must admit reading in Spanish was quite enjoyable and felt somewhat natural. When he started reading Spanish I was floored because his father yelled out shut up and let Phil read since he has a better accent than you. I am not Spanish so needless to say I was stunned.

Since I was giving a message each week since I first became a cantor, I obviously had to study and had a great command of the bible [both Testaments]. I was growing more uncomfortable with the obvious anti-Jewishness within the New Testament. One thing that really irked me was the changing of names between the Old and New Testaments. Not really the changing of names but the freely changed translations of the same Hebrew names. Just two examples should illustrate nicely. For example there is a Ya’akov in the Old Testament and that name should be familiar to all Christians since the name was eventually changed to Israel after his wrestling match at Peniel. In case you still can’t figure it out I am referring to Jacob. There is a Ya’akov in the New Testament and it is quite an important character. It is James the brother of Jesus yet instead of being translated consistent with the Old Testament as Jacob it became James? Another is Miryam in the Old Testament. Miryam was the sister of Moses and her name was translated as Miriam. There is a Miryam in the New Testament and she was important enough that the Catholic Church worships her as an intercessor between us and Jesus who himself is an intercessor between us and god. I am speaking of Mary the mother of Jesus. Why was her name translated as Mary instead of Miriam as it was in the Old Testament. These were among the reasons I was being pushed towards a more Jewish version of the bible. I still outwardly believed in Jesus but inside I had many more questions than I did before. Much to my surprise my friend’s views were also changing.

As time went on, it became apparent in my messages that I was focusing more on god and less on Jesus. As I said, so was my friend only I didn’t know his direction was taking him back to rabbinic Judaism. I was actually afraid to mention some of my views thinking my ‘troubles’ were unique and my intentions were not to hurt my friend. One thing we did agree on is that dancing on the edge of a razor between being too Jewish [going to Judaism] and being to Christian [ignoring our Jewish roots] leads to one either falling into one camp or ending up cut. Looking back on this I can say with certainty that I tried. I walked the walk and talked the talk but I didn’t really believe. At that point, my belief in Jesus was as no more than a man not as a god. And I tried to understand his teaching as that of a man. A human man capable of error just as you and I were. And believe me the New Testament is full of his human errors.

It took a while but my friend [notice the immoral atheist is not mentioning names since he didn’t ask permission to use them?] after having a new son decided to visit a Sephardic synagogue one week. That one week turned into two then quickly grew. He eventually decided to move closer to the Sephardic synagogue which left me to run the messianic congregation. To be honest, I didn’t feel led to nor did I feel any obligation to run the congregation on my own. I have no idea if my friend in Texas is still attending the Sephardic synagogue or if he has turned back to the Church. I seriously doubt he went back to Church. I last spoke to him about 5 years after he started going to a Sephardic synagogue and he was still attending. As a matter of fact he was a full member of the synagogue. If an atheist did pray, I would most certainly pray that he would learn to think critically and leave the faith out of his Judaism. I wouldn’t necessarily want to see him leave the synagogue if he is going because of tradition but if he was, that would be in the Roman Catholic Church since that was how he was raised. Here it is 10 years after my exit from the wacky world of Christianity and I can truly say a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and the veil of faith was lifted off my eyes [like the temple curtain was split in two] and now I can see clearly. This is the reason why when I hear a well meaning Christian mention Pascal’s wager and tell me they have nothing to lose if wrong yet everything to gain if right, I laugh since I essentially bet on god’s existence for 8 years and lost those 8 years of my life. That is the one life we have and it should be the one we enjoy not in abject slavery to a book or a tyrant named Yahweh. One thing I noticed since I became an atheist is that as Christians like to claim they are ‘persecuted’, try being an atheist. Christian’s have no idea what persecution in this country [the USA] is. I have lost many friends and some of them good ones since I came out as an atheist. I really have no trouble whatsoever with any of my family. I will admit even as an atheist, I still have many friends that are Christian, we just don’t speak about religion although they are aware I am an atheist.

I said this was a little background. Sorry I lied and wrote so much. It was just a rant that was slowly building.

Some further reading you might enjoy

[tweetmeme source=”noreligionblog” only_single=false https://noreligionblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/a-little-background/%5D

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10 Responses

  1. Thanks for that. I’m very sorry that you had such a negative experience.

  2. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Have you read Dan Baker’s book, Godless? He has an interesting story also. Thanks, I enjoy reading about your journey.

  4. Sorry to hear what a bad time you have had, but happy to hear that you have kept up your ability to read Hebrew and become a cantor, despite not really believing in God and the Bible! Why don’t you just read the Tanakh in Hebrew, reading just His Word and nothing else, shutting out the ideas of Christians, and maybe you will find it will strengthen your beief in God? The prophets strengthened the faithful in Biblical times, and the latter days are now upon us.

    • You haven’t read much of this blog have you? You haven’t even read this entire article or you would see that I am an atheist and I was a cantor. I don’t believe the bible is god’s word, never have and never will. Genesis itself has two differing creation stories in chapter 1 and 2. Anyone who claims the bible is inerrant has not even read those two chapters. The bible claims not once but twice that pi is 3. Either god is really shitty at math or the bible is wrong. If god is supposed to be perfect, then a bible with any errors is not and could not be his word.

  5. Hey,

    That is an incredible journey. It’s a little disappointing that you feel you lost those 8 years. Even if you took the long way on the trip, the personal growth and confidence you gained have created a much stronger resonance in your thinking, it seems.

    I’ve gone down a few dead-ends in the past 15 years or so, but I don’t regret them. I can draw something from each one.

    You mention Ya’akov. It’s a real strange feeling to find yourself wrestling with ‘something’ for such a long time, only to find it is nothing at all, eh? (or at best, maybe just wrestling with yourself).

    The more I look at any written ‘word’ as literature only, and not inspired anything, ancient or modern, the more I find I can respect it. I don’t find God there, but I do find humanity, falling into all the same traps that we know are there…

    • I don’t regret it. I’m sorry I lost those years and I will never get them back but they served as a learning experience. Oh, the mention of Ya’akov was not accidental 🙂

      • he he, awesome.

        Just recently I read Jack Miles “God: A Biography” and he offers another potential ‘translation’ if you’ll allow me the word. He suggests there was some familiarity with the combatants, and with a stretch it could have even been Esau that Ya’akov was wrestling with. So, we gots ourselves lots of options on who to wrestle with…

  6. Thanks for sharing so openly and honestly. I’m sorry to hear that religion has so far brought so many difficult times.

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