After seeing the news that a church shooting happened in Alabama over the weekend, I thought it might be a good time to revisit this post from May 26, 2020. It seems just as relevant today.
Would Buddhist and Taoist practices help the people in our country be better people? I think so. The problem is that both get a bad rap in America. It’s because almost everyone thinks of both as a “religion”. And that’s fair because both can be practiced as religions. But I’m not talking about Buddhism and Taoism as religions. I’m only interested in the practical practices of both. It has been said, don’t use Buddhism to become a Buddhist. Use Buddhism to become a better whatever-you-already-are.
One practice is mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness has been around a long time. Only recently has it been marketed in a way that makes people money. Regardless, it’s still a great practice. Mindfulness involves focusing your awareness on the present moment. It means paying attention to your sensations, feelings, thoughts, and environment in the here-and-now with an attitude of acceptance. Some of the potential benefits of mindfulness include lowering stress, decreasing depression, improving memory, and strengthening your relationships, among other things. You can do a search online to study this out more.
Meditation is another wonderful practice. There are many kinds of meditation. The practice I use the most is simply sitting and being aware of, and following, my breathing. If my mind wanders, I simply notice the wandering and then go back to paying attention to my breathing. There are also loving kindness meditations. One that I learned from a Buddhist friend is where we say things to ourselves. It starts with, think of someone you don’t like very much. Say to them, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease. Then think of someone you are neutral towards and say the same. Then think of someone that you love and say the same. And finally, say to yourself, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease. The benefits are similar to mindfulness. And these benefits are science based, so it’s not a bunch of woo woo stuff. They include reduced stress, controlled anxiety, better emotional health, reduced age related memory loss, can generate kindness, better sleep, and can decrease high blood pressure. Again, you can look up the benefits on the internet. There are also some cautions regarding mindfulness and meditation for people with certain mental illnesses and issues, so please look that up as well.
I encourage you to do some reading on the Buddhist and Taoist concept of the self. There are practices and meditations that can help hold the idea of “I” or “self” a little more loosely. Some people look at this as the ego. If we can let go of our ego a little more, here and there, we won’t take things so personally. Like getting cut off in traffic. Often, this evokes a strong emotional response, accompanied by a “fuck you” and a finger saying the same. We can be mad about this for hours! Even if the person did intend to cut me off, It’s most likely that they don’t know me and I don’t know them. So to take it personally really doesn’t make sense. If we can loosen the grip of, “I’m offended”, or “That pisses ME off”, or “I can’t believe they treated ME that way”, etc, it’s a good thing.
Then there is the idea, like Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. This is the idea of non-judgement towards situations in our lives. I’m not talking about the extremes here. Mainly things that happen day to day. If I walked to the parking lot after work yesterday and saw that I had a flat tire, I’m sure my initial reaction would be, well, shit. Especially since the heat index was 112 degrees! But, I can stop, take a breath, and realize it’s just something that happens. It’s not good or bad, it just is. I’ve got a spare tire, so I can still get home and to the tire store tomorrow. It’s acceptance of what is, right now. When I first started reading about and trying to practice this, I had trouble because I saw acceptance as resignation. And that is not the case. In the flat tire example, I could resign myself to the fact that the tire will always be flat, and I’ll never get to drive the car again. But acceptance is just saying, yes, the tire is flat, flat tires happen. Ok, so what can I do to remedy this situation? And by accepting what is without judgement or over-reaction, I will generally make better decisions.
The last thing I want to talk about is self-love. Often, we react to a situation or a person in a way that is a reflection of how we view ourselves. If I have a negative view of myself, I’m likely to react or respond from that point of view. And vice versa. Growing up as a Christian, I was often told that I was a sinner, saved only by the grace of God. My righteousness is like filthy rags compared to God’s righteousness. So when I heard a Buddhist monk say that we have to love value ourselves first if we are to love and value others, it pretty much blew my mind. It took a long time to work through that, but now, I’m at a place where I like myself. I like who I am. I want to grow more in certain areas, but in the meantime, I love myself. Most of the time. LOL There are some cultures that teach their children that they are not broken, they are not lacking, they are not bad or evil, they are a manifestation of the divine. Wow. What if more children were talked to that way? I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t make a positive difference in our country and in our world.
There are many other practices that I could talk about, but I think this is a good start. If you adhere to a religious belief outside of Buddhism or Taoism, please don’t be afraid to look into some of these practices. Remember, they can make you a better what-ever-you-already-are.
People in America love their thoughts and prayers. Shortly after the horrible shooting of school children and teachers in Uvalde, TX, I read where a pastor organized a “prayer circle” near the school. I couldn’t help but cringe! That being said, I know that the vast majority of people who pray after hearing of something like a school shooting have good intentions. I know when I was a Christian, when I prayed, I had good intentions. I know that the people who pray feel like they are doing something to help and praying makes them feel better. Many who know people are praying for them take some comfort in that. But surely, after a while, after so many horrible events like this, wouldn’t you think about it? Praying to the same God for help/healing/comfort, etc, that allowed it to happen in the first place. That makes zero sense to me anymore.
This morning I read that over the weekend, from 6/10 to 6/12, there were 10 mass shootings. 10 people dead, 42 injured in 10 different cities. We’ve had around 250 mass shooting in the US since Jan 1, 2022. Many of the shootings have been in some of the most religious areas of the country. Recently, an AZ Senator blamed school shootings on teaching evolution and not enough of the Christian God in schools. He said that schools are teaching that there is no God. And that prayer is not allowed in school. Both of these statements are incorrect. Kids are not being taught that there is no god. And students can pray anytime they want. Prayer cannot be forced on students, but the students are free to pray, and many of them do throughout the school day. I do not know what the answer is to the gun violence in America. I imagine it will be a combination of many things. But more God or more prayer (only to the Christian God, of course) is not likely to help much. If at all.
The city I live in is consistently ranked in the top 8 most violent cities in America. Yet, it’s also one of the most religious cities in America. we come in 5th in churches per capita at 1 church for every 804 people. This is true through most of America and the world. Countries with the most violence, lowest education scores, highest teen pregnancy rates, highest infant mortality rates, etc., are often the most religious countries on the planet. 93% of registered sex offenders consider themselves “religious”. I’m sure I don’t have to go into all the details regarding years of sexual abuse in the Christian/Catholic church. That’s where most praying goes on! Why isn’t God stopping all of that mess?
Anyway… if prayer makes someone feel better or helps them cope in their day to day lives, go for it. But please don’t expect thoughts and prayers to make a difference in gun violence in this country. Or a difference in anything. I say pray if you want, but then live like an atheist. An atheist doesn’t believe that there is anyone to pray to, so if they want something to change, they have to figure out a way to change it.
As I get older, and hopefully wiser, and further from religion, the more I appreciate George Carlin. I thought I would just post some of his quotes that stand out to me today. Enjoy.
“I want you to know, when it comes to believing in God – I really tried. I really really tried. I tried to believe that there is a god who created each one of us in his own image and likeness, loves us very much and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I gotta tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize…something is FUCKED UP. Something is WRONG here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is NOT good work. If this is the best god can do, I am NOT impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently run universe, this guy would have been out on his all-powerful-ass a long time ago.”
“When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”
“Trillions and trillions of prayers every day asking and begging and pleading for favors. ‘Do this’ ‘Gimme that’ ‘I want a new car’ ‘I want a better job’. And most of this praying takes place on Sunday. And I say fine, pray for anything you want. Pray for anything. But…what about the divine plan? Remember that? The divine plan. Long time ago God made a divine plan. Gave it a lot of thought. Decided it was a good plan. Put it into practice. And for billion and billions of years the divine plan has been doing just fine. Now you come along and pray for something. Well, suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s divine plan. What do you want him to do? Change his plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a divine plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down schmuck with a two dollar prayer book can come along and fuck up your plan? And here’s something else, another problem you might have; suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? ‘Well it’s God’s will. God’s will be done.’ Fine, but if it is God’s will and he’s going to do whatever he wants to anyway; why the fuck bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me. Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and get right to his will?”
“So rather than be just another mindless religious robot, mindlessly and aimlessly and blindly believing that all of this is in the hands of some spooky incompetent father figure who doesn’t give a shit, I decided to look around for something else to worship. Something I could really count on.
And immediately, I thought of the sun. Happened like that. Overnight I became a sun-worshipper. Well, not overnight, you can’t see the sun at night. But first thing the next morning, I became a sun-worshipper. Several reasons. First of all, I can see the sun, okay? Unlike some other gods I could mention, I can actually see the sun. I’m big on that. If I can see something, I don’t know, it kind of helps the credibility along, you know? So everyday I can see the sun, as it gives me everything I need; heat, light, food, flowers in the park, reflections on the lake, an occasional skin cancer, but hey. At least there are no crucifixions, and we’re not setting people on fire simply because they don’t agree with us.
Sun worship is fairly simple. There’s no mystery, no miracles, no pageantry, no one asks for money, there are no songs to learn, and we don’t have a special building where we all gather once a week to compare clothing. And the best thing about the sun, it never tells me I’m unworthy. Doesn’t tell me I’m a bad person who needs to be saved. Hasn’t said an unkind word. Treats me fine. So, I worship the sun. But, I don’t pray to the sun. Know why? I wouldn’t presume on our friendship. It’s not polite.”
“He – and if there is a God, I am convinced he is a he, because no woman could or would ever fuck things up this badly.”
I’ve been following Brian Hines’ “Church of the Churchless” blog for a while now. He writes about atheism, secular Buddhist principles and philosophy, mindfulness, free will, how the brain works, and other topics. He is a good writer and his posts are always interesting to read. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him is older blog posts before, but I thought this would be a good time to re-visit his blog.
His latest post is titled, Calm acceptance of what is – my newest adage. I recommend heading over there and giving it a read. https://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/
When I started studying Buddhist philosophy, I remember having a hard time grasping what is meant by acceptance. I always thought it meant the same as resignation, but that’s not it at all. Brian’s latest post addresses this and explains it nicely.
I don’t remember who said this, but it’s been on my mind lately. Life makes more sense if there is no god. If you get rid of the questions like, “why did god let that happen?”, or “why didn’t god stop that from happening?”, things do make more sense.
I remember talking to a friend years ago who didn’t believe in god and I was a devout Christian at the time. She asked me, “where was god when my husband beat me and choked me unconscious?”, “where was god when my husband threw me down the stairs and I lost my baby?”. I had no real answers for her. I believed god was good, all the time. That he protected people, especially the vulnerable ones. And yet, here was my friend being beaten and choked and thrown around, with no supernatural protection. Well, what if there is no supernatural protection? What if it’s just a broken, hurting person, hurting other people? It’s like any tragedy in life. A tornado rips through a town and destroys 9 out of 10 homes in a row. Does some god hate or just not care for the 9 people who lost their home? Or is it the randomness of nature on this planet? A guy falls asleep at the wheel, runs a red light, and kills someone. Is it a god allowing this to happen or an attack of the devil? Or is it just some guy getting off a 16 hour shift who happened to doze off on his way home from work?
There are a lot of good and wonderful things going on around the world every day. There are also a lot of bad and tragic things going on around the world every day. I believe this is simply the ebb and flow of life. No god required. Life just makes more sense to me that way.
I’ve been following Bruce Gerencser for a while. He was an evangelical pastor for 25 years, and a Christian for longer than that. He is intelligent and writes in a way that is easy and fun to follow. And he cusses sometimes. I love that! Go ahead and check him out. You know you want to. 🙂
I have been reading atheist blogs, listening to atheist podcasts, and watching atheist themed YouTube channels, following atheist Instagrams, etc, for a while, now. I’m still not sure what “label” I would put on myself today. I would probably stick with agnostic Taoist with a sprinkling of secular Buddhism. Regardless, I’m trying to stay away from any kind of dogma or being dogmatic about any spiritual beliefs. I looked up the definition of dogmatic to make sure that I’m using the word correctly. It’s definition is: Inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true. I had to look up the word incontrovertibly. It is defined as: adjective. not controvertible; not open to question or dispute; indisputable: absolute and incontrovertible truth. So yeah, that’s what I meant. I personally think of religious dogma when I think of dogmatic. But, people can be dogmatic about many things, but I’m going to limit this to religious/not religious. Most of the places online have sections where people can leave comments. I’ve found that it’s rare that someone makes a well thought out comment that would possibly make a person say, hmmm… I’ll have to think about that one. It usually quickly devolves into a lot of, “you are stupid for believing what you believe!”. “Oh yeah, well you are stupid for what you believe!”. And it keeps going downhill from there.
It makes me think that one person, most likely, cannot change another person’s beliefs. Not if they are into the dogmatic stage of things. In fact, in most cases, when two dogmatic people with conflicting beliefs try to make the other see their side, it just makes both sides that much more dogmatic. I’m certainly not saying don’t have friendly, respectful, intelligent conversations with people who don’t believe the way you do. I would say, maybe don’t go into it thinking you will change the other person’s mind or beliefs. I have been in some form of customer service all my working life. I sometimes have to remind myself that a person’s perception is their reality. They could get what I perceive as first class service. But if they perceive they don’t, then to them, they got bad service. That applies to so many things in human existence. Their perception is their reality.
My own deconstruction from Christianity started with simply studying a subject that a friend had asked me about. I thought I had really studied it out before, but as I got deeper into it, I realized that I had only scratched the surface and used choice scriptures that made the subject say what I had been taught. Once I really dug deep, I found that the whole of scripture on this subject didn’t say what I thought it said, at all! Holy shit! So what else do I believe based on the Bible that isn’t what it really says? That one question, that seed of doubt, brought about by my own study, was enough to get me to start asking myself questions. It got me doing research and really digging deep into the Bible. And, I came out on the other side realizing I can no longer believe what I had believed for so long.
I’ve written to online agnostic/skeptics/atheists who like to debate religious people. I asked if they were ever in question about not believing because of something that a believer said. So far, they have all said no. I asked if they thought a believer ever found themselves in question about what they believe after discussing/debating. Most have said something like, not at that moment of debate. But they have gotten correspondence from people weeks, months, years later saying that something in that exchange made them loosen their dogmatic grip, just a little. And I’m sure it’s happened the other direction with a non-believer hearing or seeing something that loosened their dogmatic grip, just a little. I hope that I never stop telling myself, I could be wrong. It is easy to get to where you don’t believe you are wrong. Looking back at most things I believed as a Christian, I often think, how could I have believed that? And now, it does seem impossible that I would ever go back to believing what I used to. I heard someone say, when you find out Santa Claus isn’t real, can you really go back to believing that he is real? Most of my friends and family do not know the extent of my loss of faith. They know my beliefs have changed a lot. I do sometimes get the question, why can’t you just go back to believing the same way again? Because I can’t un-see or unlearn what I’ve seen and learned. But that’s just me where I am now. Going back to perception. Could it be that my perception is “wrong”? Yes, I could be wrong. But beliefs are funny like that, aren’t they? Something that played a huge role in my no longer being a believer is the lack of physical, measurable evidence or proof. But when I was a Christian and I did hold to those beliefs without any proof. If someone asked me for proof, I would have said something like, “I just know in my heart”, or “I just chose to believe”, or something like that.
So, the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I was taught, as a Christian, don’t ask questions! Don’t question your faith! It will contaminate your faith! But isn’t that how we grow and change, in any area of our lives? Asking questions? Shouldn’t the god of the universe be able to stand up to and answer a few basic question asked by critical thinkin humans? I would think so.
Please don’t be afraid to ask questions.
My journey towards deconversion started slowly around 2008. I had been discussing the teaching about tithing with a friend of mine. We had some disagreement about the subject so I went into a very in depth study about tithing. Long story short, what I had been taught in various churches, and what I had taught as well, didn’t line up with what the Bible says and doesn’t say about tithing. Then I started wondering what else does the Bible say and not say regarding different topics. The more I read the Bible without the church lenses, and learned to think critically, the less and less it made sense. I would say my deconversion probably took about 8 years total. In some ways, it’s still happening.
On this side of things, Christianity really doesn’t make much sense anymore. At least not to me. Starting right off the bat with the creation story. God creates everything, ending with man and woman as the last thing created. He puts them in a utopia, creates a tree that they are not supposed to eat from, and puts it right in the middle of the garden. Then a talking snake convinces Eve, who convinces Adam, to eat the fruit from it. Thus dooming man-kind to sin and sickness and death and eviction from the garden. Surely, with God being all knowing, he knew that’s what would happen, right? So why do it? Then there is the part about them “realizing” they were naked and god having to make clothes for them. Soon after, Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel, god gets pissed, and sends him on his way to the land of Nod. There apparently are people here because Cain gets married and had kids. Where the hell did these people come from?
A while later, Genesis talks about the sons of god started hooking up with human women. There is much speculation on who the sons of god were. But anyway, the women apparently gave birth to giants. Then god decided that all the humans were wicked to the bone and regretted making them. What? Again, did he not know this was going to happen? And so he decides to kill all the humans and animals on the earth, except Noah and his family and just start over. Looking past the fact that he is committing genocide, let’s look at how he does it. He could have just done a Thanos and snapped his finger and just wiped out the humans and the animals. Quick and painless. But, that’s not how he chooses to do it. He’s going to drown all the humans and animals. It’s not only a slow death, but a terrifying one as well. Can you imagine the panic and terror that all the humans and animals went through? That’s a sick mother fucker, right there! God is good, my ass!
Then there are all the people and animals that god had his people kill later on because they wouldn’t worship the right god.
Skipping ahead to the new testament. You can do a simple Google search to find all the inconsistencies in the gospels and throughout the rest of the new testament, so I won’t go into those. Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts? The believers had decided to put a commune together and sell all their stuff and put it in a joint account. Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they sold the land for and god killed them for it. God will kill someone for lying but he allows thousands of children to be molested by clergy around the world on a regular basis. What… the… fuck?! The god you read about in the bible versus the god of today’s real life don’t line up at all. The Bible tells about Jesus and the apostles healing people all the time. The accounts of “healing” that I’ve run into, I’m skeptical about. How about some folks with ALS getting healed or amputees limbs growing back. That would get me back to drinking the Kool Aid again! All the stories and “accounts” through the Bible just don’t make sense to me anymore.
The fact that there are at least 200 Christian denominations in the US and something like 40,000 world-wide doesn’t make sense. Surely if the Bible is the “word of god”, god could communicate the same truth to all the Christians. Right?
And what about the idea of a literal hell. Even though god has quite a long history of killing people, the Bible states in many places that he is good and his mercy endures forever. Huh. That’s interesting. Supposedly, god is love and 1 Cor 13 describes what this love looks like. In case you are not familiar with these verses, they go something like this: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, it is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It keeps no record of wrongs. Oh really? Adam and Eve, genocide of the human race, slaughter of multiple groups of people, and the doctrine of hell all say otherwise.
And if a person studies the history of the Bible, how it came to be, the historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible (or lack thereof), and so on… it doesn’t make sense!
This post only scratches the surface of what no longer makes sense to me about religion, specifically Christianity. I’m not 100% convinced that there is no deity/god of any kind. I don’t think that can be proven either way. But I am pretty damn sure that if there is one, or many, it/he/she/they are not the god of the Bible or Christianity. Or of any other holy book that’s ever existed. I think part of the reason religions exist is man’s way of trying to describe something that is indescribable.
I still really like this quote by Barry Taylor, a road manager for AC/DC, “God is the name of the blanket we throw over the mystery to give it shape.”
When I think about my own deconversion/deconstruction from religion, and many others, I can’t help but think of scriptures that talk about people being deceived in the “last days’.
A few that come to mind are:
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
1 Timothy 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
2 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
There are a few others, but you get the point. These all seem to indicate that the devil and his demons and spirits are the ones who are supposedly deceiving believers in the last days. And I have to admit, I do think about these things from time to time. It seems like more and more people are leaving their religious beliefs behind in favor of a more humanistic world view. Could it be that those of us who have “fallen away” are deceived by the devil or demons? Or could it be that we have more information and ways to learn at our fingertips than ever before?
Then there is this scripture:
2 Thes 2:9-12
9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness
This says that God will send strong delusion so that they would believe the lie. Hmmmm…
Many of the last days scriptures also talk about sign and wonders that the devil/anti-Christ/demons will have something to do with. And I haven’t yet seen any of those.
So, those of us who have left the faith, are we being deceived by the devil, or maybe God himself? And if we are deceived, how would we know that we are? Again, hmmmmm… I tend to think that many people are starting to do studies of their own into the history of the Bible and how it came to be. The history of Christianity and the modern church. People starting to ask questions and think critically. And, of course, there is the lack of any demonstrable evidence for the God of the Bible, angels, demons, or the devil. Yep. There is that.