My first blog post was made five years ago. Wow, time flies! I shared with you then my transformative experience at the age of eight that has so profoundly shaped my life, and looking back now at that rookie post makes me smile. I didn’t even add pictures!
Extraordinary experiences like mine remain forever present in our minds. Even more than sixty years later, it feels as if that experience of light just happened yesterday! And I realize now that forever after I have lived in the perfect love of Spirit, and my primary urge has been to magnify for you the Gospel words of Jesus. By Christian standards, though, I am an atheist. The plain dictionary definition of the word is “unbeliever in God or deities,” and I know for a fact that the cranky and judgmental Christian God does not exist. So I am an atheist. Who knew?
That Christian insistence on faith and not facts makes the existence of God just a matter of taste, so it is surprising that so few Americans will come out and actually claim to be atheists. The venerable Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that only 3.1% of Americans would self-identify as atheists, while another 4% called themselves agnostics. In Europe the landscape is quite different! A current Pew study of European Christians found that 46% of Europeans are non-practicing Christians, while just 18% say they attend church regularly. Across fifteen European nations, only 27% of the population said that they “believe in God as described in the Bible.” So almost three-quarters of Europeans contacted have been willing to flat-out declare that they do not believe in the Christian God. Clearly Europeans are far more comfortable than Americans are with being atheists!
Helping us to better understand atheism is the venerable afterlife scholar, Michael Tymn. Now in his eighties, Michael is an expert on the heyday of communications received in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from people that we used to think were dead, and his books have taught me so much! Michael’s latest blog post is about people who say to him, “You don’t really believe in this stuff, do you?” He tries to enlighten them, but most are hobbled by that insidious scientist/religionist dualism. He says, “It has been my experience that most atheists are stuck in the muck and mire of scientific fundamentalism and will have none of it, just as much as evangelicals are stuck in religious fundamentalism. Over the years, I have developed a profile of the typical hard-core atheist. He or she may not have all of the characteristics indicated below, but here are 21 fairly common characteristics I have observed.” He or she:
I am amazed to report that none of these twenty-one characteristics applies to me! So perhaps I am not an atheist after all? What Michael Tymn has produced for us is a gross indictment of Christianity’s insistence that a petty, judgmental, fear-based, first-century bogus notion of a God must nevertheless be taken on faith to be the genuine God that manifests this universe. But that creepy version of God was outmoded as soon as Jesus spoke His first words!
And then there is the horrendous fact that dogmas based on a bogus God cannot improve even our religious leaders. In response to recent appalling revelations of the sexual abuse by Catholic priests of thousands of American children, Pope Francis produced just a modified limited hangout. A concerted effort by American bishops to better respond to this crisis actually has just been quashed by the Vatican, and the Pope’s deliberate laxity in controlling Catholic clergy for the sake of the children is at last causing some American Catholics to arrive at the end of their long patience. But it isn’t only Catholic clergy who so often betray our trust! The news in recent years has been full of the revelation of protestant ministers who also were caught behaving badly.
Jesus warns us about this very problem. He says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (MT 7:15-20). Add the suffering of thousands of children at the hands of modern priests to the whole long history of Christianity in the world, especially the Crusades and the Inquisition, and you see still standing in our midst the Lord’s archetypical poisonous tree!
Of course you and I are not atheists. My friend Michael Tymn’s twenty-one characteristics of atheists are instead both judgment and verdict against a tragically failed Christianity. You and I have responded to the Lord’s invitation that we “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (LK 11:10). As followers of Jesus, we are seekers! And what we have found is the gloriously factual and infinitely perfect eternal God. When Christianity insists that we give our faith to a made-up God that many find repellant, the religion is making atheists-by-definition out of every genuine seeker. Most Americans are not ready to admit it yet, but surveys of European Christians show us clearly where this will be going.
It is time for us to come together and plant the seed of the Lord’s own tree! The number of those who follow the Gospel teachings may be tiny now, but Jesus told us long ago how His truth will blossom in the world. He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade” (MK 4:30-32). Now at last the Lord’s work can begin!