Ancient dogma still messes with humanity: a few days ago, the illustration attached to this blog post showed up on my Facebook feed. I’d forgotten about this Old Testament verse that depicts God as a being with a body who sneaks around at night in the camps of ancient wandering tribesmen. Cover up your s**t, the verse adjures, because this anthropomorphic God might step in it and get his feet dirty. You sure wouldn’t want that to happen! [Note: The correct reference for these instructions is Deuteronomy 23:13-14. Verses 10-11 tell what to do to a boy who has a wet dream.] In my latest book, Prisons with Stained Glass Windows, I fill quite a few pages with details about Bible verses casting shade on fundamentalist claims that the book is the flawless, inerrant word of God. There are lots of those verses but this one above is perhaps the best to show that many biblical writers were merely putting together a set of rules for a very primitive band of nomads. What they wrote was not inspired nor is it applicable to us today. So, we end up with a volume containing instructions such as this that tells us to bury our poop while eking out an existence in the desert. It’s hardly a divine message or a holy announcement! There are many other examples supporting the claim that huge hunks of the Bible are merely ancient rules dreamed up by bronze age wanderers who held religious ideas that, today, seem crude and silly. How else can you explain the endless instructions in the early Old Testament books about how to sacrifice animals, where to splash their blood and how to burn their carcasses? What kind of a god would require such cruel, wasteful nonsense? Animal sacrifices are inherently repulsive but the practice, according to the Bible, was a favorite indulgence for the early Hebrews. For example, we are told that, in one week alone, King Solomon sacrificed 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen. That’s about 850 large animals killed per hour over seven days, a figure that is extremely difficult to believe. Were there any sheep or oxen left in that tiny country after this outrage? We aren’t told. And why do we still have in our so-called holy book admonitions such as the one telling us not to boil goat kids in their mother’s milk? Or the requirement not to mix different types of fabric in a garment? Or others telling us God demands we cut off penile foreskins that he allegedly put there in the first place? Instructions such as these are, today, pure baloney but, according to conservative Christians, they are the inerrant word of God. In my book I tell the story of my own upbringing in an environment where we were taught to believe all this stuff and to never question an iota of it. “To disagree with what the Bible says is blasphemy and no one can be a true Christian if he or she does not believe that book in its entirety,” I recalled hearing. And on the next page I quoted a prominent pastor who shockingly said, “When scripture contradicts your instincts, feelings, or culture, you go with scripture.” In my late teenage years, I realized I couldn’t stomach that mindset any longer; it was extensive reading of the Bible itself that convinced me the book was seriously flawed and was a poor guide for us today. While it is relatively easy to form that opinion about the Old Testament, the New Testament has a multitude of problems as well—something that’s thoroughly explored in my book. The point is this—churches exist and preachers earn their living because they convince shallow-thinking parishioners that the difficult-to-read Bible is the last word for today. Of course, the person telling that to parishioners is also putting himself forth as the best “expert” who can properly interpret the Bible for his audience. The fact is, tens of thousands of these “experts” have disagreed mightily with one another with the result that there are now more than 30,000 Christian denominations, each with its own, distinctive interpretation of what the Bible says! Frankly, the current Christian landscape is a disgrace. As Prisons with Stained Glass Windows explains, there is a better way forward! And that way forward does not rely upon stale, obsolete, ancient dogmas. Instead, it emphasizes education, shedding toxic beliefs, recognition of recent discoveries and, most of all, it proclaims the truth that each person is not a sinner but, rather, a marvelously free spirit who has untold worth.
The Zammits don Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mantle There are three individuals who stand out in my thinking as the most influential communicators of factual information about the truth of the afterlife. First would be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a medical doctor and popular novelist, who tirelessly, for decades, spoke and wrote about what was then the fairly new phenomena of afterlife communications. In our current era, while there are many trusted voices speaking about the massive repository of information supporting the truth that human consciousness never dies, I would have to point to an Australian couple — Victor and Wendy Zammit — as being the rightful, contemporary heirs of Doyle’s legacy. For more than 20 years the Zammits have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news that science supports—the fact that death does not end all; we survive death and many on the “other side” are willing and able to continue communicating with us. Victor Zammit, a retired attorney, has been a popular speaker at conferences and the book written by him and Wendy, A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife, is a go-to source of factual information about the afterlife. I quote from and highly recommend this book in my own book; it is, in my view, the perfect starting point for individuals seeking to move beyond trendy, materialistic denials about human consciousness in order to seriously investigate what open-minded research is revealing about the spiritual beings we really are. One of the Zammits’ most impressive accomplishments is their “Weekly Afterlife Report” distributed online to thousands of readers worldwide. For years I have been reading these free weekly summaries of the latest afterlife information but one of their recent Reports was a special surprise! Leading off their blog was a photo of my book’s cover and a positive summary of the message I presented in Prisons with Stained Glass Windows. I am grateful for this exposure and truly humbled that the Zammits felt my book was worthy of their mention. “Dave Howard's new book traces the reasons that he and millions of others have, over the past several decades, moved away from fundamentalist Christianity with its emphasis on sin and eternal punishment,” the Zammits write. “It provides a roadmap for those who want to develop a rich spiritual life outside the confines of a religion that no longer makes sense to them.” To read the entirety of their comments, go to http://www.victorzammit.com/archives/2021/September10th2021.html . I encourage readers of my book to subscribe to the Weekly Afterlife Report. Again, there is no charge to do so and, over time, the information followers will gain in weekly doses will prove to be priceless. The work done by the Zammits has been invaluable and I thank this splendid couple for their nod in my direction.
Just as I am, without one plea But that Thy blood was shed for me And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee O Lamb of God, I come! I come Re-thinking Born-Againism In my new book, Prisons with Stained Glass Windows, I irreverently contrast the hallmark evangelical experience of being “born again” to an orgasm. I note that evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians hype their process of becoming a “genuine,” “real” Christian as being the equivalent of starting life all over again – a rebirth. They claim the experience itself blows one’s mind, changes one’s heart and transforms the individual from that instant onward. It’s seen as a really big deal and without it, individuals are sentenced to an eternity of godly rejection and torture in hell. But is it really the big deal it’s claimed to be? I say “no.” In the book I relate my teenage conversion experience, at the altar of my childhood Baptist church, and note that the experience itself was rather “blah.” You’d think, I wrote in the book, that anything as important as being “born again” would be far more than “ho-hum.” Why, for example, was the rebirthing in church so much less of a sensation than an orgasm? It seems it would have been prudent for God to dress up this all-important moment so it would stand out as something more important and memorable than an every-day climax! “Over time,” I recalled in the book, “I came to the conclusion that the so-described magnificent conversion experience was actually a self-manufactured thing; an orgasm is the ‘real deal!’ And orgasms are repeatable!” Was my born-again experience emotionless? No, but those emotions I did sense were related to two factors: (1) The excitement of the moment. I had walked to the front of the church during the traditional “altar call” following the sermon and being the sole object of gaze for the hundred or so people in the sanctuary is a somewhat scary sensation. The term “stage fright” comes to mind. These feelings had nothing to do with being redeemed in the eyes of God, however. (2) There was a personal awareness throughout this flood of thoughts and feelings that what I was doing was what I was supposed to do and that all those people watching me were approving of my actions. From my earliest days I was continually told that being born again was the acme of life’s accomplishments; “don’t put it off because you might die tonight in your sleep and then it’ll be too late,” I was coldly warned, repeatedly. So, what I was feeling down there at the altar was not God washing away my alleged sins, it was a sense of accomplishing something that was expected of me. Looking back now at that moment more than 60 years ago, I wish I would have chosen an orgasm over the conversion! Right now, I’m reading a great book by former, longtime Southern Baptist minister Tim Sledge — Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer: Breaking the Spell of Christian Belief. The first of his four disturbing questions relates specifically to this discussion about the conversion experience. “Christianity claims to be energized by God’s supernatural power and promises to connect you as a believer with this supernatural power,” Sledge writes. “It promises to make you a new person and to enable you to bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and more. Unfortunately, in real life, the results of faith in Jesus can be hit or miss.” This observation brings Sledge to his first “Disturbing” question — “Why does faith in the resurrected, empowering Jesus generate such inconsistent results?” While reading that question, my mind flashed back to my youthful experiences in the First Baptist Church of Albany, Oregon. The congregation was filled with mostly good, caring, loving folks but I was aware that some of these were considered to be “better Christians” than others. Judgmentalism is rampant in evangelical churches, it seems, and that observation is not just my own. As I communicate with those who have left conservative Christianity for good — as did career minister Tim Sledge — I hear judgmentalism listed as one of the top reasons for their walking out the church door. The truth is, Sledge is correct. Conversion does produce inconsistent results and that fact alone is reason enough to question claims made for it. Sledge quotes one of his former parishioners who nicely summarizes my thoughts about Christian conversion: “What I found to be true was that ‘old things’ had NOT passed away and ‘all things’ had NOT become new. It was the same old, same old. Unless, of course, I pretended and continued with a fake smile!” To summarize, then, I have to repeat that the salvation experience is not what it’s cracked up to be. To be fair, for a small minority of Christians, conversion does bring about positive change. But for the vast majority, the experience is a bland artifact from their past that can now be seen as a rash decision that produced mediocre results. Like the parishioner quoted by Sledge, many continue to pretend they’ve had an earth-shaking experience but the reality is that being born again is purely smoke and mirrors. Thankfully, there are spiritual alternatives that do, indeed, result in positive, consistent outcomes but one is not likely to encounter them during the revival service altar call.
After several years of work, my latest book, Prisons with Stained Glass Windows, is now in print. It’s a large and heavy volume – heavy in both weight and subject matter -- but I’ve been told by several who have read it that it’s not at all ponderous but, instead, easy to read. With its release it will be helpful to briefly outline my objectives in writing Prisons. There are several: To tell my own story about leaving Christian evangelical fundamentalism. For decades after bolting from organized conservative Christian churches I assumed my experience was rather unique. I met few who could relate to what I’d gone through but beginning around the turn of the century pollsters and media began discovering hoards of us former evangelicals and fundamentalists. Over the past 20 or more years there has been a virtual flood of people, measured in the millions, who have walked away from the churches – all churches have seen their Sunday audiences dwindle. Even the mega-churches have noted that longtime attendees are fewer and fewer as time passes; Sunday crowds are increasingly made up of first- (and seemingly short-) timers. It became increasingly obvious to me that my experience of leaving Christendom may have been earlier than these throngs recently defecting, but the motivational factors compelling me to depart were also being shared by the newly un-churched. So, the book was begun as an effort to explain why I felt it necessary to walk away from organized Christian religion. In my case, the reasons for exiting the church were primarily intellectual. I was not physically abused as so many were in the church. I had some good experiences during my time as a believer and, yes, the actions and words of some other believers were difficult to take but, by and large, it was the teachings of the church that caused me to revolt. As explained in the book, research convinced me that many of those teachings were simply wrong while others were discovered to be a blow against healthy living. Being continually reminded that we are rotten, filthy sinners, totally unworthy of God’s love was an untrue insult. The book became a tool for me to record my findings and to share the path I walked toward greater understanding. It should be pointed out, however, that this book is aimed at those who are already dealing with doubts about their faith. I’m not trying to proselytize nor am I targeting my message to believers who are satisfied with where they are. Why not try to change the believers’ minds? Because most of them are not ready to consider anything other than what they’ve been told. For example, here is an excellent example of the mindset of most devout conservative Christians: "If somewhere in the Bible I were to find a passage that said 2+2=5 then I wouldn't question what I'm reading. I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it." That statement of religious closed-mindedness was penned by Peter LaRuffa, a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, Fort Thomas, KY. Nothing said to such a person would make any difference. To render encouragement to others who are leaving churches. As the pace of church defections began to increase around 20 years ago, I began to worry that all those suddenly churchless people would feel isolated, as I did almost 40 years before. They needed to know they were not alone, that others had made the same journey and survived, and that life outside the church could be a vast improvement over what they’d left behind. Thus, the book was seen as a tool to help reach these defectors, provide them with valuable information about their exit plus offer reassurance that they were far from being alone. In recent years there have been efforts to organize online support groups for former fundamentalists, evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons and others. Several professional therapists have penned amazing accounts that provide education for other therapists and for those leaving the church. My book, hopefully, will fulfill a need by helping to (a) give comfort and factual information to those on the path out of the churches and (2) support the ongoing efforts to provide a community for the formerly-churched. To offer several alternatives to organized religion for those abandoning traditional orthodoxy. Over several years of involvement with thousands of former evangelicals and fundamentalists organized in online support/discussion groups I’ve seen that a large majority of those who have left toxic religion adopt a materialist mindset that denies our spiritual nature and describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. Sadly, most people upon leaving organized religion think their only option is to reject all the dogma leaving them with little choice but to become a materialist (i.e., “the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Also, that consciousness and will are wholly due to material agency.”) But science has clearly shown that the rigid materialist doctrine is not provable and, furthermore, evidence is mounting that shows there is much in the universe that cannot be explained by the materialist theory. Human consciousness, for example, has been shown to be more than the function of the brain and ongoing research about near death experiences, telepathy, clairvoyance and other phenomena is further expanding our understanding of the universe. Physicists have long postulated that the universe and all that is in it more closely resembles consciousness than what materialists propose. In other words, materialistic atheism is not the only alternative to a religious point of view. As the book points out, much of organized religion is seriously tainted and ill fitted for modern people but we must acknowledge that humans – being greater than mere matter – have a spiritual source and a spiritual nature that dogmatic materialism cannot nourish. In the book I explore some of the latest research on human consciousness and then go on to explain what this may mean to searchers who have left institutional religion. There are several non-creedal options presented in the book for readers to explore. A chapter on ethics also provides insight into enlightened approaches to life. So, there you have it – my set of reasons for spending countless hours writing the book. It’s my hope that my experiences and discoveries as outlined in the book will be helpful to some of those who are escaping authoritarian religion in order to reclaim their lives, freedom of thought and action.