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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

Month

July 2014

Be Careful; Your Character Is Showing by Christina Knowles

CharacterDo all animals deserve to be treated with respect and compassion? How you answer this question will say a lot about your character. This topic has been boiling just under the surface of my mind for some time now. When I hear someone say something, which, in my opinion, is cruel about animals, I automatically think less of them as a person. This has been on my mind lately because I have recently been exposed to many shocking comments regarding animals from people I never would have suspected would think such things or consider them appropriate to say.

Here are some examples of the shocking things I’ve heard come from the mouths of seemingly ordinary people:

  • Regarding an elephant chained to a stake in the ground for its entire life: “Who cares? It’s just an animal, not like it’s a person or anything.”
  • Regarding a dog that faithfully stayed put when the “owner’s” fence blew down: “I was hoping it’d run away.”
  • Regarding two pet dogs in a family of three children: “I always forget to feed them, but it doesn’t matter because they snatch stuff from the kids.”
  • Regarding two dogs belonging to a family with two small children: “They’re not allowed in the house. I don’t care how hot or cold it is. If they die, they die. I can’t stand to have dogs in the house.”
  • Regarding a conversation on skeet shooting: “I don’t have a clay shooter. I practice shooting on birds ‘cause a moving target is best. No, I don’t eat ‘em. They’re too small and gamey.”
  • Regarding a conversation on testing make-up products on animals. “They should test it on animals before I put it on my face.”Unknown-1
  • Regarding some questionable looking meat: “I give it to the dog, and if it doesn’t make him sick, then I’ll serve it.”
  • Regarding a faithful 14 year-old dog that had been with a family her whole life: “I can’t afford an old dog if it gets sick. It’s not human. I’m not spending that kind of money on a dog. The kids need a dog to play with, so I’m taking this one to the pound and picking up a puppy.”
  • Regarding a conversation about illegal immigration that turned into a pro-choice vs. pro-life conversation: Them: “They’ll march and pay to save a dumb animal, but they don’t care about murdered babies.” Me: “Why can’t we care about unborn humans, children already born, and animals all at the same time?”
  • Regarding a time when I saw a child tormenting a tired old dog with a clothespin in front of his parents. Me: “He doesn’t like that.” Parents: “He’s not hurting him; the dog’s here for him to play with,” as if the dog were an inanimate toy for their child’s cruel pleasure.
  • Regarding a man I know who has land in a rural area: “I need a cat to put in the barn to catch mice. He won’t make it long out here though. I have to replace them every couple of months.”
  • Regarding a dog who was going to die, so his family could move conveniently: “She’s old and we’re moving, so we’re just going to put her down.”
  • Regarding cruelty to cows in 8 by 8 pens 24 hours per day, standing in their own mess and so sick that they have to be hoisted out to slaughter: “I don’t care. It’s just a dumb cow. God put them here for us to eat. Cheeseburgers are good.”
  • Previous neighbor regarding his German Shepherd, who was chained to a tree in the middle of a dirt yard with no shade but the house for a couple of hours a day, his fur rubbed off his neck, and receiving no attention except for a bowl of food and water shoved out to him once a day: “If I don’t chain him up, he jumps the fence, and the neighbors will complain.” I complained, but apparently he was receiving “adequate care” according to authorities.
  • Regarding a supposedly beloved pet (I’ve heard this one more times than I can count): “Our new house doesn’t allow pets, so we need to find them a new home.” What if they don’t allow children? Are you going to give them away?
  • Regarding moving across the state: “We’re moving and a dog and a cat are too much trouble to move with.”
  • Regarding a former coworker who was never home: “I don’t have time to spend with him, so we’re putting him down.”
  • Regarding animal testing: “What’s the difference? It’s only a mouse.”
  • Regarding animal testing: “Animals don’t have souls, and they aren’t as smart as people. That’s what they’re for. God put them here for our use and gave us dominion over them.”
  • Regarding a vicious and cruel child: “Better that he take his anger out on the dog than on his brother.” Really? How about counseling as an option? 360982957641_1
  • Regarding grieving over a beloved pet: “Get over it. It was just a dog. You can get another one.” No one had better ever say that to me.
  • Regarding a heartbroken girl who had to sell her old horse: “We had to sell my horse because he can’t jump anymore. I barrel race, and we can’t afford to keep him if he can’t race.”
  • Regarding a discussion of particularly cruel tests on animals for the safety of household cleaners: “Animal rights activists care more about animals than they do people.” Gee, I wonder why?

Unknown-2Hearing these same type of remarks over and over from people who claim to be caring, compassionate, and moral people caused me to wonder why we, as humans in general, think we are so much more valuable than animals because that’s what all these statements have in common. We see animals as objects existing for the use of people. Why else would people who supposedly try and teach their children right from wrong not feel the need to instill in their children respect and compassion for animals?

I could write this entire blog about the importance to humans of being kind and respectful to animals. For example, children who are allowed to treat animals with disrespect and cruelty often move on to bully others and become abusive adults. Treating an animal with kindness and respect teaches empathy, responsibility, humility, and compassion. Prisons have experienced very high rehabilitation success with animal programs for violent inmates. Torturing animals is a pre-cursor to violent crimes and is even known to be a profiling marker for serial killers. People who value animals tend to value human life more, are kinder, more humanitarian, and volunteer to help humans more. People who stand up against animal cruelty, also tend to stand up against mistreatment of humans. We all know this, yet we still think this abhorrent behavior is socially acceptable and even brag about it. Why?

It strikes me as quite arrogant to think we have more value than another living being. I know it is natural for most of us to prefer our own species in matters of life and death–we will choose our own child to save over the family dog, but I’m not talking about choosing animals over people in life-threatening situations. I’m talking about assuming, in general, that we are so superior to them that we have the right to do with them whatever we choose, regardless of their pain, loss of dignity, disregarding their inherent rights as living beings. I believe many people do not even believe they have rights; some do not see them as having feelings or thoughts, or they consider animals as undeserving because of their brain capacity or lack of their ability to use tools. Pets are seen as possessions to be owned, and therefore, can be disposed of whenever convenient.  Why do otherwise moral people think this is okay?Unknown

After considering these attitudes, I have narrowed it down to three different possible reasons why they may feel this way about animals:

  1. Many people think humans have a soul and animals do not–this somehow makes the animal into an object to them, rather than a living being with a right to happiness, a normal environment specific to their needs, and respect as a fellow inhabitant of the earth.
  2. Some people believe that it is an evolutionary trait that we prefer our species and denigrate “lower” species as means of survival.
  3. Many people think that human intelligence is so much higher than that of most animals, and this, in their minds, is a reason to care more for people than animals. Hence, “It’s just a dumb cow,” as if the intelligence level of an animal means they hurt any less from torture. This thought process also tends to include the idea of them deserving to wield power over a weaker species. We are smarter and more powerful, so we can do what we choose to them.

Let me address these attitudes one by one. Cultures who believe animals have souls, tend to respect them more, even if they use them for food. They may follow rituals to show respect for the animal’s sacrifice, such as some Native American tribes. But what if they don’t have a soul? Does it matter? Do they feel pain any less? Do they not deserve to a have a happy, peaceful life, or whatever life is natural to them while they are here? How do we know anyone has a soul or that they don’t anyway? Regardless, it should not matter whether they have a soul or not. I am not a vegetarian, but I do believe in only purchasing free-range meat and cage-free eggs from reputable organic farms because the animals live a normal farm animal life before they are slaughtered. They are not caged, they graze, roam, enjoy the sunshine, are not shot full of drugs, or abused in any way. If I am going to eat meat, I want to know that no animal was treated with disrespect or cruelty just to provide me with a meal, whether it has a soul or not.

Evolutionary preference: This one is a no-brainer, no pun intended. People have all sorts of instincts that we must daily overcome to be more humanitarian. We are not locked into a behavior when we consciously can overcome it. Supposedly, that’s what evolution has done for us–given us the brain power to think. Let’s use it for kindness.

We are more intelligent than “lower” species. This one is, perhaps, the vilest excuse of all. I mean, do we seriously think it is excusable to be cruel based on intelligence levels? How would this theory transfer if we said it was okay to torture or use for experimentation people with Down Syndrome? It’s an abhorrent thought. Of course, it is not okay. This is exactly the mentality of people who allow their children to kick the dog, tease him, and withhold food. It should be no surprise when the child learns his lesson very well, and at school, sees it as perfectly acceptable to bully the weak and defenseless because he sees them as a lower species, and that he believes he is morally justified in assuming that power or intelligence makes one superior. Do we really believe that? Is someone less valuable because they have less physical or mental power? I don’t personally believe they are.

I choose to believe that all living creatures are born deserving respect, compassion, and kindness to the extent that we are able to show it. If a tiger was attacking me, I would appreciate someone shooting it with a tranquilizer dart, or even a gun if that was all that was available. However, I would not capture the tiger, put it in a cage, chain it up, or experiment on it.

As for pets–I hate the term–I believe we should not adopt an animal unless we intend to bring it in as a member of the family. Dogs and cats, horses, or any other family animal, should be cared for with dignity and kindness. They should be allowed to roam freely without chains or cages. They should have healthy, enticing meals, fresh water, regular exercise, a warm bed, and a place to cool off. They should not be forced to be a toy for a child. They should have some decision-making power over their own lives. If they want to go to another room and be left alone, respect that. They deserve preventative medical care and medical treatment when they are sick. They have rights as living beings with feelings, emotions, desires, and personalities, and if you don’t think they have these things, then you have never properly observed them. And most of all, they deserve to have the stability of growing old without fear of abandonment. They deserve to live out their days being pampered and loved after a lifetime of devotion to their family. We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, throw out our elderly into the street and exchange them for the young. I can’t imagine anything more cruel than an animal faithfully loving his family, just to be thrown away as if they never valued him at all. Horses, cats, and dogs will willingly give their lives for families, and it is beyond cruel to be cast out like a worn out shoe by the only family they have ever known. There is no excuse for it. Think about what we are teaching children when we do this. Do not be surprised when they do not value you in your old age either.

RescueMe001_smThere may be circumstances that require someone to re-home their animal friend, such as a death in the family or physical illness where the human cannot provide a healthy atmosphere for the animal. In these cases, all other options should be exhausted and obstacles should be overcome if possible to avoid the trauma to the animal. In these cases the animal should be re-homed carefully through an interview process that determines the ability of the new family to provide a loving home and for the needs of the animal. Under no circumstances should a healthy animal be put down or taken to a kill shelter because his family can no longer provide for him. There are lots of organizations willing to help.

 

Mulder Pitman Knowles
Mulder Pitman Knowles

If you are unwilling or not ready to make this type of commitment to an animal, please, don’t get one. When and if you decide to adopt, please rescue an animal from a shelter or take one from a friend, but do not patronize pet stores or puppy mills. I have not even touched on the horrors of puppy mills or the dog fighting or racing industries, but hopefully, people are aware of how wrong this is. Consider adopting an older dog. Contrary to the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” old dogs are actually quite easy to train, much easier than a puppy. They are so grateful for a loving home and people whom they can love while living out their days that they are usually quite amenable to how things are done in their new home. And, in my opinion, there is no more noble a creature than an old dog.

 

You may be wondering where I stand on insects and rodents since I say I believe all living creature deserve kindness and respect. My belief applies to them much in the same way as it does to wild animals. I will not purposely and needlessly harm them if they are not bothering me. If I need to protect my home and family from their disease-carrying presence, I will do so in the most humane way possible. I would not allow my child to torture a bug anymore than I would allow her to torture any other living creature.

I’m sure there will be some who read this who still refuse to look at animals as anything other than a lower species to be handled any way we see fit, but keep this in mind, by and large, people who treat animals with compassion and respect, treat people with compassion and respect. If we want a better world for people, we need to be concerned with the treatment of all living creatures. Also, realize that when you make these heartless statements about animals to animal lovers, you have significantly diminished in our esteem, and your character is now in question because how we treat and think about animals says volumes about what kind of people we really are.–Christina KnowlesCharacter

 

 

 

 

 

All images courtesy of Google Images, except Mulder Pitman Knowles. Mulder was my beloved dog from 1993-2008 when she passed away after a long and beautiful life, but not long enough. A dog never lives long enough.  She was rescued from a kill shelter and became my best friend. I was proud to stay by her side, caring for her in her old age.

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Sick of Happiness Yet? by Christina Knowles

Snagged from peanutbutterbananana.files.wordpress.com
Snagged from peanutbutterbananana.files.wordpress.com

 

I am. About four months ago, I jumped on the 100 Happy Days bandwagon. I thought I would get something positive out of it because the last couple of Novembers, I really enjoyed the Thankfulness Challenge, wherein I posted what I was thankful for every day of the month of November. It was a poignant and affirming experience, and I even wrote a blog about it, Being Thankful Is Pure Joy.  So when I read about this one, I was really on board with it. The idea, I assume, is that if we take time each day to notice something that gives us joy for 100 days in a row, we will get in the habit of noticing the positive things in our lives and be happier in general. Sounds like a good idea, right?  Well, this may have worked for some people, but for me it was a total disaster. The challenge actually made me significantly less happy. The happiest moment of it was when it was over. Let me explain.

I’ve always snapped a lot of pictures. I love to scrapbook, and I really enjoy going through picture albums, remembering all the beautiful times I’ve had with family, friends, and especially, my husband. I keep play bills and movie ticket stubs from our dates to put in my scrapbooks. So as technology advanced, it was convenient to start using my iPhone as my primary camera. I started uploading pictures to Facebook and Instagram and making albums online. I enjoyed sharing my life with others, and I enjoyed seeing my friends and family’s posts as well.  It all started out rather innocuously, but lately it’s gotten to be a problem.  I never really noticed how obsessed with social media I was until this 100 Happy Days nonsense took over my life.

At first it was all right. I hardly had to think to come up with some cheerful thing to post. Sometimes it was quite a task to get a picture of it, especially if it was something abstract, and since I was posting to Instagram, I needed photographic evidence of my happiness. Photographic evidence–that should’ve been my first clue that it was more about who was seeing it than about me appreciating it. It didn’t take long to realize that I had begun doing things just to get a picture that would look happy.  I didn’t set out to stage happiness, but it started to become just that.

At first, I just didn’t want to repost the same old thing every day and bore everyone, even if the same thing made me happy. Sometimes the day was nearly over, and I still had nothing to post, so I would just post anything, whether it made me happy or not.  I would tell my husband, “I still don’t know what made me happy today, and I need a happy post.” He must have thought I was crazy. Most people would probably just skip the day if it was that difficult to come up with something, but I am OCD about stuff like this. If I commit to a challenge, I WILL finish it. But somewhere along the line, it became more about what people would see on Instagram and Facebook and less about what really brought me joy that day.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of my postings were genuine, enjoyable experiences that I wanted to share, but a couple of days, I really was not even happy, at all, about anything. I didn’t even want to be happy. I was depressed, and I didn’t want to pretend to be happy, but I did. And I regret it because I am not the type of person who only portrays my life as being perfect. I don’t just post positive things or try to make my life seem better than it is. I try to be real. I post way too much, but at least it had always been authentic up to this point. I was becoming fake as a result of what I perceived this challenge to be. But then it had an even more detrimental effect on me. I became obsessed with capturing these experiences to the point that I didn’t care so much about experiencing the moments any longer; I just wanted to document the fact that I did something, something totally for the benefit of people who probably couldn’t care less because they were busy having their own experiences and probably documenting them as well.

One example that comes to mind is regarding yet a different challenge in which I am involved, a challenge to be active this summer. This has been, for the most part, very beneficial for me. I committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, but of course, I have to post it. Well, I am not all that adventurous or athletic (understatement), so I get tired of posting that I used an exercise machine or practiced yoga every single day. I wondered how I could possibly get a better picture of this mundane activity that would be more interesting or more inspiring.  So this week my friend invited me to water Zumba at her gym. I straightaway said yes because I would be able to post something active that looked enjoyable and different! I actually got more enthusiastic over the fact that I wouldn’t have to post yet another workout machine picture that day, than I did over the idea of spending time doing something fun with a good friend whose company I always enjoy. I knew at this point that I had passed from eccentricity to obsession.

However, the aspect that disturbed me even more about my posting mania was that I have begun disregarding my in-person relationships. (I refuse to call them “real” relationships because I actually know, like, and interact with almost my entire friend list in real life, and the few I have not met in person, I actually do care about and intend to meet some day.) The fact of the matter is that I am too often engrossed, nose down in my phone or tablet, oblivious to the people around me whom I love with all my heart. And to add insult to injury, I have begun making my activities with them about my next post.

My husband and I used to take short breaks from what we were doing to check email, surf the net, read the news, or check in on our friends online, and then come back together and really be together.  But a couple of five minute breaks interrupting our time extended to several minutes throughout the evening once I got an iPad, and then my use became almost constant. I was consumed with it. Now I miss what is going on in movies and am only half in conversations. My husband pointed it out once in a while, but I didn’t realize how perpetual it had become until he started engaging in the same behavior. Suddenly, he was on his phone reading during a movie or while I was talking. Recently, he said he wanted an iPad for his birthday, and I thought, Oh no, he’s going to be just like me, and we’ll never talk again. It was then that I realized that I have to break the habit of constantly reporting to and checking on social media. No more challenges; I’m going to do things because I want to do them. When I am with someone, I will not be staring at my phone or iPad, I will be with them, making eye contact, listening fully. I will still take photographs, but I won’t post them until I’m alone, and we are done with whatever we were doing.

Why not stop altogether?  Because social media has actually improved some of my relationships. Because of Facebook, I am friends with people at work whom I didn’t even know before except by name. It put more than a face to a name for me. I know if they have kids, what their hobbies are, what they think about, how they live, even some of their beliefs. We chat with each other, something we don’t have time to do at work. I actually know who they are in a way that I would never have time to discover in the busyness of the workday. The same is true for people at church. I know people at church better from Facebook than from the few minutes we’ve spoken when we pass each other before and after a service. The comfort level for making friends is higher online than in person, especially for shy or introverted people.  We can see what interests them and what we have in common, and strike up a conversation based on that easier than simply introducing ourselves and making meaningless small talk. I have even become “in-person” friends as a result of getting to know people better on Facebook.

I also have met people in other states and countries with whom I share a great deal in common, and I feel like we have truly become friends, no less than if I saw them at work every day. And I have reconnected and kept up with old friends whom I rarely see or that have moved away.  I am interested in their daily posts and pictures, but only if they are showing their real selves, rather than an artificial representation of what they think would entertain us.

Check our this particularly apposite video:  “What’s on Your Mind?

For me the solution is not to give up social media altogether or to go on a technology fast for a couple of weeks, but to put limits on when I use it.  I intend to keep posting what’s going on in my life, what makes me happy, what has me down, but only what’s genuine, and only when I want to. I will not be forced into it by a happiness challenge or any other kind of challenge.  I don’t mean to disparage any of theses challenges for people who enjoy them and get some positive effect from them. If it really makes you happy, go for it.  For me, it changed my sincere sharing to meaningless tasks and took me away from being present with people and activities that used to truly make me happy.  So starting today, I will only peruse social media when I am not with a real person. I will not ignore the people I am with in favor of staring at a device any longer. So here’s my happiness challenge: Do what actually makes you happy and share it if you want to–I’d like to see it, but be fully in the experience of what you are doing and with whom you are spending time. Use social media to enhance your relationships and to reach out to those with whom you cannot be physically present; use it when you are alone and don’t want to be, but don’t use it to be alone when you are not.–Christina Knowles3021307-inline-fb-thumbsup-printpackaging

90 Days with God by Christina Knowles

IMG_2137Ninety days ago, I was convinced that I was doing something wrong. I was once again struggling with my faith–not in God–but with the bible. I just couldn’t make myself believe that it was the inerrant word of God, or the word of God at all. It seemed full of contradictions, there was no original text to track changes, and even if there was an original, it wouldn’t prove it was true, just old. Many things seemed to contradict what we know from science, but most of all, God did not seem like a perfect and divine being to me. He seemed like a man, a man created by a patriarchal culture, a flawed man, who valued vengeance and demanded worship to feed a man-sized ego that seemed to go against my idea of an all-powerful perfect and good god. Not only that, the god of the bible seemed to contradict himself. He demanded things from us that he did not deliver on himself, namely humility and mercy. He also created imperfect beings, gave them free will, and then demanded that they “freely” obey him, accept him, believe in him, or be punished.

Furthermore, it really bothered me that it blatantly states many places in the bible that God causes certain people to not believe; he closes their eyes and hearts to the truth, so they cannot receive him and salvation. How is that free will? And how is that fair? Supposedly, he then uses them to fulfill his purposes. Not only does this seem unfair, it seems downright evil. But because I believed God had revealed to me his existence, I thought it must be me. I’m not praying enough, or I have unconfessed sin, or I don’t have enough faith because I don’t read the bible enough, everything that most churches will tell you that you need to do in order to develop a close relationship with Christ. I have been told that I over-think everything, and I shouldn’t expect to understand it all. So I decided to do everything I could to do what was supposed to help me believe and have the right attitude. I committed to spending ninety days with God, praying, asking for faith, asking for God to reveal truth to me, reading the bible, journaling about what I read, and worshiping with music and meditation. Today I completed that commitment.

Every day I started by asking forgiveness for my unbelief and by praying Psalms 51:10-11, which says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
 And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence,
 And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (NKJV). I prayed for God to work in my heart, help me to understand what was illogical to me or make me not care that certain things didn’t make sense to me, to soften my heart toward the scripture. In short, to have faith, and I was sincere.

I began reading the New Testament in Matthew and read through Acts. Everyday I would read a chapter or more, continuing until coming to a logical place to stop in the narrative, or slowing down when I required more thought on a passage. I would highlight it, meditate on it, pray for understanding, and then journal my thoughts and a prayer or two to God. I would end with another similar prayer, but more personal. Later in the day, I would listen to praise music and worship along with it.

When I first made this commitment, I honestly thought to myself that this was my last chance. I had devoted hours, days, and weeks to reading theology, bible commentary, listening and calling into Christian talk shows, and looking for answers to questions I didn’t understand. I thought if this didn’t work, I was done. I would devote no more of life to searching in vain. The first few weeks were hard. I didn’t want to do it, I dreaded it, and I even had nightmares about the church being a cult that I needed to escape. Some people said this was a spiritual attack, and others said it was my subconscious telling me what I really thought about the religion.

Previously, I had always thought that most of my problems were with the Old Testament-version of God. He is the one who commanded that whole races be wiped out, including small children and people who had nothing to do with whatever the rest were guilty of. He was the one who said to stone children who disobeyed, kill homosexuals, and plunder villages, leaving no one alive. But while reading the New Testament, I saw similar contradictions. For one thing, Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles advocated for the behavior in the Old Testament and keeping the law. And then I read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. To paraphrase, the early church members sold their personal belongings and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to distribute to anyone as they had need. Well, Ananias and Sapphira sold their land, and gave some of the proceeds to the church. Peter confronted them saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4, NKJV). Ananias, after hearing these words, fell down and died. Then Peter asked Sapphira if the amount they gave was the whole price they had received, and she lied, saying yes. Then Peter, knowing she lied, asked, “‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5; 9-11, NKJV). Presumably, God struck them down for having an unfortunately natural human reaction. Yes, I realize that in Christianity, natural human reactions are sin, but if Ananias and Sapphira would have been given a minute to think about it, feel guilty about it, they most likely would have changed their minds and given it all. I mean, they didn’t have to give any of it, so they obviously believed in the cause, but the normal human reaction is to be afraid, afraid to give up everything and trust. If they were condemned for a momentary lapse of trust, then we are all doomed.

Whenever I’ve heard this story taught in church, the pastor always emphasizes that Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, not just men, and it wasn’t about the money, and God knew their hearts. So what? Does that make it right? Does that mean they deserve to be struck dead? I’ve always had a problem with a major tenet of the Christian religion–the idea that because we are all sinners, we deserve to go to everlasting punishment. I agree, no one is perfect. No one is worthy–wait, worthy of what? Heaven? Life? In the bible punishment for sin is death. Okay, that seems reasonable in some cases, maybe. But flaming torment forever? I don’t believe anyone deserves that. To me that sounds like a human invention, an angry vengeful, wronged, and bitter human answer to taking care of people who do things they don’t like. So, I don’t care if it was about the money or lying to God or being selfish or lacking faith. They didn’t deserve it. And I don’t believe a loving father-God makes examples out of his children, so others will learn. Would you let one of your children step in front of a speeding vehicle, so the rest of your children will learn to look both ways? I long for answers, but everywhere the answers are shallow, don’t make any sense, or just fall way too short of logic. You may be thinking, and I’ve been told this many times, that I am arrogant, thinking my idea of right and wrong, good and evil is right or better than God’s. I do rely on my moral judgement and inner conscience to determine right and wrong, but we all do; we don’t really have a choice unless we choose to blindly accept what anyone tells us. Christians do this when they choose to believe in Christianity rather than Buddhism or Islam or anything else. It seems morally right or better to them. The idea of the Christian god lines up with their moral judgements about who God should be better than other religions, and as it turns out, I think I am more moral than the god of the bible.

I continued reading, praying, and worshiping anyway, but my heart moved further and further from God. Did I even want to believe this stuff? The miracles didn’t bother me. If God created the world, then he could part the Red Sea, but the fact that he doesn’t obviously reveal himself to most of the world makes me wonder, makes me doubt. Doesn’t he want everyone to believe if there is really eternal torment at stake? Why the big game of hide and seek? The stock answer from Christians is faith. But if God felt it no problem to reveal himself to the Old Testament people, why not us? Why are we expected to believe on less evidence than them? Why the rule change? We need to believe without seeing, but they didn’t? Wait, I thought God doesn’t change? He seems to change a lot between the Old and New Testaments, but not enough. Just about as much as the culture had changed–hmmm, I was beginning to see why.

The other stock answer is free will. But this also makes no sense. Satan supposedly knows who God is, has personally met him, knows his power and his reported goodness, but he was still able to reject God, so the free will argument does not work. Theoretically, God could step out of the sky and introduce himself, and we could still reject him. So why not? Where is he hiding?

Another disturbing thing to me is the magnitude of contradictions in the bible about the basic tenets of salvation. Every religion claims to know exactly what, as Paul puts it, is the “Way” to salvation, but how could they, when it is not at all clear in the scriptures? For example, and I could give you many, it says in Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (NKJV). Catholics believe we have to be baptized to be saved, and Protestants believe it is by faith alone we are saved, and baptism is merely a symbolic gesture, part of the public profession of faith. When I ask Protestant Christians about this, I always get referred to a different part of scripture that says the opposite. But that only proves it’s contradictory, not which way is right. The very fact that it is contradictory may point to none of it being right.

Then the other thing that many Christians disagree about, but seem to think is really a non-issue, is the idea of predestination or Calvinism–that God chooses to whom he will give knowledge and faith, and who will be saved. Here is one verse among many that supports that: “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
 Lest they should see with their eyes,
 Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
 So that I should heal them’” (John 12:39-40). Verses like this made me think that I must be one of those people that God blinds because no matter what I do, I doubt. But then there are verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). Again, this doesn’t prove anyone can be saved; it just proves the bible contradicts itself, and no one, no matter what they say, can know the true “Way.” By the way, if I am one of these people God blinds just to send to hell, even though I earnestly and honestly sought him–well, that’s a pretty sick game to play with people he supposedly loves. Another example of the character of “God.”

Now some Christians say that this is not important; we can go on regardless of which way it is, but I can’t see how. If the bible contradicts itself, it cannot be trusted, so therefore, all of it is in question. I do see obvious moral lessons and wisdom from some parts of the bible that are valuable, as I do with the wisdom of many religions, but I cannot base my beliefs on it, especially when so many things in it contradict my own internal moral values, things like God ordering the killing of entire groups of people because some of them have rebelled, or raping and pillaging, subjugating women, or condemning homosexuals for feelings they did not choose. The more I study the bible, the more it seems like merely a book written by very flawed and prejudiced individuals with no knowledge of science, sometimes good, sometimes helpful, often not, very often damaging to society.

So the conclusion of my ninety days with God is that I don’t believe I was spending time with a god at all when I was studying the bible. I don’t know if there is a god or not. Maybe there is a creator who put things in motion and had a plan for us, maybe that plan involves us learning to love each other and to live in peace with each other on our own. Not so much a creator who is pulling the strings of our daily lives, shutting the hearts of certain men to use as villains in his master plan, not so much condemning us for doing what comes naturally, but one that put a higher calling inside of us, an altruistic impulse that causes us to become more than we what we are, that inspires me to be more than just me. Or more likely, this impulse evolved as helpful trait for community survival. I don’t know if a god set the world in motion and left us to learn these lessons on our own and evolve into a better human race, or maybe there is a  creator who is not good at all. Maybe he created life and then left us to evolve on our own, no not involved in the details of our lives at all.  But I can’t know if any of this is true, and neither can anyone else. In fact, the more I study science, and evolution, in particular, the more I doubt that there is any creator at all. And if there is, who cares? It doesn’t seem to affect my daily experience. I see no evidence that there is one, so I should live as if there is not one.

I, however, am not a relativist. I do believe there is an absolute truth, and this truth exists whether or not we know what it is. But I don’t believe anyone who says they do know it, and I don’t believe this truth is found in the bible. I am only capable of judging things by my own carefully constructed standards, the same as everyone else. I think that Christians who accept the bible’s morality do so because it already agrees with their own internalized morality, so it seems right to them. Or they haven’t read the bible and are just going by the nice ideas they’ve heard are in there. Or they are so indoctrinated from years of living in a Christian culture that they just don’t recognize how abhorrent the bible is.

Finally, I don’t need or want a reward for being good, and neither do I deserve to go to hell for being human. I’ve come to terms with this. I may be wrong. If I am wrong, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t make myself believe something I don’t, and I’ve decided that even if I did believe it, I wouldn’t follow the evil god depicted in the bible. I feel like these past ninety days was me trying to brainwash myself into believing again, and it wouldn’t work because once I woke up and realized that the bible is just a flawed book, I couldn’t un-know it. I’m breaking free of the cult of religion once and for all. (By the way, I believe my dreams were my subconscious mind telling me what I believed all along.) From now on I will live as the free person I am, free to be good without god, and determining how I can make the world a better place for me and everyone else, especially since this is likely the only life we will ever know. It’s even more reason to live a good life now and enjoy it without all the stress of making sense of something that makes no sense. So, the result of my 90 days with “God” is that I found out there is nothing wrong with me. I have just awakened to reality. If you are a believer, I highly recommend spending your own 90 days getting to know your “God.” You may be surprised at what you find.–Christina Knowles

Seeking Earnestly but Still Struggling, As Usual by Christina Knowles

baresouldaily.blogspot.com
baresouldaily.blogspot.com

In an effort to grow in faith and in my relationship with God, I have committed to reading the bible, journaling, worshiping, and praying for 90 days in a row. A couple of weeks ago, on day 67 of my commitment, I had a major setback. The truth is that I was already struggling, but then I heard the worst, most ridiculous, sexist, and simply illogical sermon I have ever heard in my life. This sermon caused me to reconsider this commitment, to even reconsider the desire to align myself with the Christian religion.

The sermon was on Judges chapter 4. Because it is the policy of the church I attend to teach verse-by-verse through the Bible, the teaching doesn’t always have a logical application to the congregants’ daily lives. Sometimes this causes the pastor to reach wildly for connections that do not exist. I think this was the case for this particular sermon. This section of scripture is about Deborah judging Israel and how she reminds Barak that God had commanded them to deploy troops at Mount Tabor. Barak responds by saying he would only go if she went with him. She says she will go with him, but that there will be no glory in it for him since they will be delivered into the hands of a woman.

Now to me, this sounds like this woman has authority over the men. She in fact is “judging” them, commanding them, counseling them, and most definitely, leading them. To counteract this contradiction that women should never have authority over a man, the pastor went on to explain that Deborah was not leading them, but being a “helper.” At this point, I was shaking my head at the obvious misreading.

Next, the text describes Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, and the pastor explained how she was a woman who showed a different aspect of the woman’s role. Jael lets Sisera, who fled the massacre and sought to hide in her tent, hide there. She comforts him and tells him not to fear. She covers him with a blanket, gives him warm milk when he asks for water. When he falls asleep, she drives a tent peg into his brain with a hammer. At this point, the pastor seems frantic to try and make this story make sense of this scripture in context to the Christian dogma that insists women must be under the authority of a man, so the only application he turns to is yet another aspect of stereotypical roles of women, which is in complete opposition with what the text actually says.

So while I am sitting there, shocked and appalled by the horrific behavior of Jael and the idea that all this was endorsed by God, my ear catches something about dirty diapers. Yes, I said dirty diapers. This refocused me on what the pastor was saying. He said something to the effect that Jael was the kind of woman who took care of the daily, mundane tasks, and the killing of Sisera was like a mother changing dirty diapers! Wait, wha–I couldn’t possibly have heard that correctly. Driving a tent peg into someone’s brain with a hammer while he slept, and while she was pretending to give him shelter and telling him to not be afraid is like a mother changing dirty diapers? He went on to say the Jael was a godly woman by doing the ordinary tasks that fall to a woman in order to help her man.

Sickened, I sat through the rest of the sermon, shocked and ashamed that I was a part of this religion. Is the Bible so illogical that one has to make these crazy leaps just to make sense of it? Unfortunately, it made even less sense than just taking the story on face value. To me, it had more of a “All’s fair in love and war” type theme. If anything, it showed that women and men are equally violent and capable of doing anything for their perceived “righteous” cause. But because this was all endorsed by God, a pastor could never have that take on the story.

Actually, I believe the pastor has a good heart, and he really believes what he is saying. But I can’t. I struggled through the next several weeks of Bible reading, finishing up the gospels and moving on to Acts, trying to reconcile the loving, sacrificing Jesus with the ideas of condemnation and punishment and pre-destination, the idea of God’s justice seeming so unjustified from the perspective of humanity’s version of it. From my own view of it.

Finally, I flipped over to Proverbs for a more axiomatic view of the scriptures. This was a refreshing reprieve. At last, logical wisdom. Advice that actually makes sense. I am honoring my commitment to seek God through the Bible, worshiping, and praying daily until the end of the 90 days (I’m on day 83), but the God of the Bible is moving farther and farther away, and a new view of spirituality is emerging within me, one not steeped in patriarchal and war-loving cultures, a Creator who is not petty and vengeful, a God who created humanity for better things than this, who values men and women equally, who doesn’t arbitrarily choose who will be given faith and who will be used as villains in His plans. A God who sent His son to show His love to all men and women equally, who is probably looking down at us in dismay for perverting His words and meaning, creating dogma He never intended and attributing to Him atrocities never condoned. This is the God I will continue to seek earnestly after when my commitment has been met, and I doubt my quest will involve much of the Bible or sermons like this.–Christina Knowles

UPDATE: After completing my 90-day quest for God, and exhaustively searching and studying many different versions of spirituality and an in-depth study of evolution, I have become an atheist. I am open to the possibility of a creator, but as of now, see no reason to believe there is one.

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