Sunday, January 20, 2013

The skeptical phase

Most of us who have hung out together on the blogs in the last couple years have been in a skeptical frame of mind. We want proof. We want to know if what we believe has merit. Where is the evidence? Have I been believing a lie?

It is interesting to note that two prominent psychologists of religion have identified a skeptical phase in religious maturation. Most good, loyal, church-going Christians never get to this phase. They stay squarely within the confines of the box. So, are we to be congratulated that we have moved beyond them? If you're waiting for the pat on the back, good luck. We get it from each other; that's about it.

I am going to describe the skeptical phase of both Fowler and Peck. Actually, I am going to lift them straight from this web site.

Fowler's Individuative-Reflective stage

"This is the tough stage, often begun in young adulthood, when people start seeing outside the box and realizing that there are other "boxes". They begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own and often become disillusioned with their former faith. Ironically, the Stage 3 people usually think that Stage 4 people have become "backsliders" when in reality they have actually moved forward."

Peck's Skeptic-Individual stage

"Those who break out of the previous stage usually do so when they start seriously questioning things on their own. A lot of the time, this stage ends up being very non-religious and some people stay in it permanently."

So... there are labels for us!

Both Fowler and Peck describe stages which move beyond the skeptical. Time will tell whether we will move forward again, through another metamorphosis, or stay comfortably where we're at.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

fishers of men or just fishy

I work at a hotel front desk.

Sometimes guests will come to the desk to chat. Some of them do it as a pretext, because they actually want to bring up the god topic. ugh

I want to be civil and polite, but I don't want to just agree with them either. Lately, I've taken the strategy of telling them I'm a Christian, have a good church, etc. Is that a cop out? I just want to get them off my back.

Tonight a guy just starts telling me about the confrontation he had with his 21 year old nephew who he said was "going off the path, but was trying to justify it biblically." Oh gee, I had to listen to all his brilliant arguments, finalizing with "How do you think the moon got there?" Apparently there is some debate about scientists as to how this happened, and since we don't completely understand it yet, it must mean "God did it." He was pretty happy with himself.

I am starting to get real fed up with dogmatic religious people. ugh

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The enormity of conformity

Spending Thanksgiving with my Father reminded me how strong the social pressure is/was from my parents (and the culture at large) to be a Christian.

My Dad is a great guy. Does so much for so many people. But he embraced the religion of his parents as a youth and never looked back. He has never doubted, and cheers on the Christian team whenever he can. It's his whole world and subculture and language. It's all he reads and listens to and watches. (Well, he also watches Fox News.) It's all his friends and acquaintances.

I feel awkward now when I'm with him. It was just the two of us for Thanksgiving and each of the three days I was there we had "devotions" at breakfast. One day he asked me to do the praying, if I would. OMG. I wanted to remain true to myself, but I didn't want to offend him either. I had to make a split-second decision... Since I consider myself an agnostic at the moment (maybe there is some type of God) I launched in as nonchalantly as I could. However, I addressed the deity with the generic "God," as opposed to Dear Lord, or something more personal or specific. And when I closed I said Amen, instead of the obligatory "In-Jesus'-name-amen." Phew. I got through it. Was that good enough to satisfy him?

But then I got thinking of the book I'm writing which is intended to be a book of wisdom to pass on to high school graduates. It is not going to be a "Christian" book, so I'm sure that will be a BIG disappointment to him. He will see it as having no value if I don't include God and Bible verses liberally throughout. And the chapters on Religion and Sex will have elements that will knock the wind out of him. geez. I don't want to deal with the aftermath.

Can't I just be an agnostic and have everybody ok with that?? Thankfully, my Mom has passed, cuz she was even more fundamentalist than my Dad. And my two sisters seem to be adapting to the new me ok.

But my Dad... I started thinking, "I won't be free until he dies." How horrible is that?

This is not going to be easy or smooth.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Messianic Judiasm Review

The next religious institution my Room Mate and I visited on our Steeple Chase was a Messianic Jewish church. The basic concept of this type of church is that Christianity should be much more Jewish than is common and the Torah (the laws of the Old Testament) should be respected - they were never abolished. So, they basically try to create a Jewish synagogue, with the exception that Jesus is acknowledged as the Messiah.

We could only find one Messianic church in our city, so we picked a day to go. Best Friend wanted to go with us, so we were three.

I didn't have too much apprehension about going to this church because I had already been schooled in Messianic thinking for some time from books I had read and from Messianic friends. I had also attended a 10-week video course called "The Jewish Roots of Christianity" by HaYesod. But I was still curious to attend for myself, to see what it looked and felt like.

We arrived right at 9 AM to a 3-building complex (they have their own day school) and entered through the main doors where we were warmly greeted. We confessed that this was our first time and was there anything we should or shouldn't do in order not to stick out like sore thumbs. We were assured that everything would be fine, and they explained a little bit about what would happen during the service.

We entered a large, modern sanctuary with a high vaulted ceiling in the middle. We made our way about half way up and sat on the edge. Soon after, a flamboyant woman came and introduced herself, asked if she could sit with us, then then sat down in between us! That was weird. Oh well, she was nice. The sanctuary was about one-third full at the start, maybe around 150 people, and grew to about 250 over the first hour. All ages were represented, mainly white. A few men were wearing yamakas and some men and women were wearing prayer shawls.

There was lots of music. A lively band kept things moving. The band included an electric violin, which gave it a "Jewish" feel. Words were displayed on two screens at the front so it was easy to sing along. There was also a lot of prayers and scripture reading, which were displayed on the screens as well.

One of the interesting things about the singing, scriptures, and prayers was that sometimes they were in English and sometimes in Hebrew, a balance of both. The Hebrew pronunciation was always spelled out in English which was fairly easy to read or sing along with.

Another cool thing was dancing. Much of the music had a Jewish feel to it, as I mentioned, and the young ladies would go to the front corner of the sanctuary and form a dance circle. It was really fun to watch, and was not suggestive in any way. Once in a while an older man or woman would join them. It added to the sense of life and joy which permeated the whole service.

A high point of the service was when they brought the Torah scroll out of its shrine at the front and paraded it around the sanctuary. In-Between-Lady explained to us that "the Torah is the foundation of all scripture." As the Torah passed by we touched it with our Bible (or something else, like a scarf), and then kissed our Bible. This was a way to show reverence to the Torah.

At another point in the service all the congregation was invited to come stand under a makeshift tent in the front, symbolizing the tabernacle, and the Pastor prayed a blessing over us.

The sermon was thoughtful and had a lot of scripture teaching; but it was long... 45 minutes, bringing the whole service to a conclusion at 11:30.  With the total length of the service at 2 1/2 hours I and Room Mate each got up once to go to the bathroom and stretch our legs, and I stood in back for awhile.

After the service In-Between-Lady talked our ears off for about 15 minutes until I finally said I had to leave to get ready for work. (It wasn't true, but I was literally starving, not having eaten anything yet that day!)

Upon reflection, I would recommend this church to any Christian who wanted to consider taking the Torah seriously in their life; or to any Jew who wanted a church that felt familiar, and yet was open to looking at the Jesus-as-Messiah proposition. It appeared to be a good, solid, well-run, joyful and alive church.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Buddhist Review

The fifth religious institution my Room Mate and I went to on our steeple chase was Buddhist.

There is a Japanese Lady at work who does the laundry. She is very sweet and often gives me food. Can't argue with that! She is also a Buddhist. Not knowing that I and Room Mate were on this steeple chase she began giving me Buddhist literature - magazines, newspapers, etc. At one point she mentioned they have a meeting on Wednesday nights where newcomers were welcome. I talked to Room Mate and we agreed it would be worth the experience, even though I had nerves about attending something so UN-Christian. This would be the farthest from mainstream that we had ventured on our steeple chase.

Surprisingly, my Best Friend caught wind of our steeple chase and decided he wanted to get in on the action. Best Friend is a life-long evangelical/fundamentalist Christian, and I did not think he would be interested in this venture. He is an evangelist at heart and maybe this was a way for him to get an inside look at another religion so he would be better able to witness to them in the future?

Japanese Lady told us all to meet at the K-Mart parking lot and then we would carpool from there. Room Mate was the first of the three of us to arrive and while he was waiting for us he was accosted (in a very friendly way) by Japanese Lady's friend who had also come (Other Woman). She told him how excited she was about us coming because they need more men in the group. She told him how much Buddhism had meant to her and her life.

Best Friend and I arrived and we got in our cars and drove down the boulevard for about a mile before pulling into a plaza, like a strip mall. Certainly wasn't the ornate temple I was expecting. We walked in to what was like a storefront and inside it was a plain space with white walls and red carpeting. A small entrance way opened up into a long rectangular room with folding chairs in rows to about half way back. At the front on the stage there was something encased like a shrine.

We were some of the first people there, and it seemed to be very disorganized. There were some technical issues with a video or something. There was one guy who seemed to be in charge (Guy in Charge) who had a wife who was actively bustling about as well. Eventually things began and the three of us were allowed to tell why we were there. Then we did some short readings out of meditation books. They let us do some of the readings.

Each of us had a Buddhist mentor sit next to us to help us through things. I had Japanese Lady. Best Friend had Guy in Charge. And Room Mate had a lovely young woman. (sly)

Then we got down to the main event.... chanting. The guru who started this branch of Buddhism several hundred years ago taught that by chanting the Chinese name of the Lotus Sutra (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo) a person's spirit could become aligned with the universe and good things would happen. He had also selected two chapters from the Lotus Sutra that he deemed worthy of being chanted as well. (He believed that the Lotus Sutra was the highest expression of Buddhist wisdom and enlightenment ever.)

We started for about 5-10 minutes chanting "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" over and over and over and over again. Guy in Charge's wife was leading the chanting and was seated on the stage with her back to us, facing the shrine thing. At first it felt awkward to be repeating these syllables over and over. However, the group found its rhythm and began accenting the first syllable, "Nam," with a higher tone and more volume, so it became somewhat sing-songy.

Then we switched gears and chanted the two special chapters from the Lotus Sutra. Everyone had books to read from, and there were English syllables written under each Chinese word. We chanted page after page of these chinese words which said who knows what. Most people there did not understand Chinese either, but that didn't seem to matter. Just by chanting the words the vibrations will go out into the universe and good will result.

After we were done chanting there was some interaction with us newcomers. Best Friend made some joke about this is what it feels like to be evangelized, since Guy in Charge had been very involved in helping him through this experience. Then there was a bunch of talk about a video. Apparently, the problem with the video system that was being discussed in the beginning was that the DVD itself was missing, and now there was further discussion about where it could be. The DVD was to give us an introduction to this particular branch of Buddhism. Since the DVD could not be found we all relocated to the back end of the rectangular room and sat in a circle of chairs facing each other. By this time a few more people had come and all told there might have been about 15-20 of us. There was quite a mixture of races and ages.

The conversation was a mixture of us rookies asking questions, and the regulars telling about how much this chanting practice had improved their lives. Best Friend said, "So let me get this straight... there's no God?" He was assured this was correct, and that as adults we are responsible for our own lives.

It was a lively discussion, and at different times various regulars monopolized the conversation and there was a struggle for group control. (Odd for Buddhists?) Guy in Charge generally had the final word about what we were doing, although he sat next to a guy who knew a lot of the details of the history of this sect, and deferred to him several times to explain one or another of our questions in greater detail than any of us wanted, or understood. The overall theme, whatever the question or confusion, was, "Just try it." Try chanting every day and you will see the good things start to happen. Verify it for yourself. One lady was honest enough to say that she had been following this path for a year and was still waiting to see the good stuff come.

Then the meeting broke up and we newcomers were accosted (in a friendly way) by various people thanking us for coming, asking if we would be coming again, piling us up with literature. Me and Room Mate stepped into the small book store for a minute and looked around.

Outside on the sidewalk Other Woman started talking to me about how great this all was, and how much it had helped her. She had been a Hindu, but had difficulties with the caste system. She liked the fact that Buddhism held everyone in the same regard. She also said that I had a "Buddha spirit." I always knew I was holy, but having the Buddha spirit?? woo hoo

After several minutes of Japanese Lady and Other Woman doing their best to get us to promise to come again we all got in our cars and left. In the car we discussed how surprised we were that they were so evangelistic in their approach. Best Friend said, "When they said there was no God, I knew right then they were on the wrong path." (By the way, about a month later he gave me a Christian pamphlet to give to Japanese Lady. I couldn't bring myself to do it, as it was loaded with scripture and would only hold weight with someone who already believed the Bible was the Word of God.)

I'm glad I went. It was an interesting experience. But the whole notion of chanting syllables that you don't understand in order to align yourself with the universe strikes me as just plain wacky!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spiritualist Review

The fourth church my room mate (RM) and I went to was a Spiritualist church. If you've never heard of it, I'll get right to the point. They speak to the dead. Right during the service.

I had attended a few of these kind of services many years ago (in a church in Salem, Massachusetts no less), so I knew pretty much what to expect. Even so, I had some misgivings about going because of the Biblical injunctions against mediums and communicating with the dead. Even in my skeptical Christian state I did not want to offend the Christian God, should he exist. My RM had some qualms, but was definitely curious and wanting to check it out. His opinion before he went was, "I think there will be some supernatural stuff going on, but it will not be of God. Even Pharaoh's magicians could copy the miracles of Moses and Aaron."

My RM was late picking me up, and it was a long drive, so I was disappointed we wouldn't get there on time. I wanted him to have the "full experience." Luckily, he has no regard for speed limits, and even though we made a wrong turn on a highway we got there just a few minutes late, and the service had not started yet.

The church was an old white shack of a place, and the sign out front was in disrepair. There were just a few cars in the yard, and I had some hesitation about going in if we were going to stick out like sore thumbs as visitors. But we pushed through the rickety doors and entered the sanctuary.

There were probably about 50 folded chairs set up and we sat near the back. There were only about 3 or 4 other people in the congregation besides us, so it was difficult to "hide." The place was dimly lit, had a typical stage with a pulpit, religious pictures, organ, and had a dank atmosphere. It was hot! The thermostat on the AC was broken so we suffered the heat of July in Florida, fanning ourselves with manila folders that were handed out.

A stocky woman of about 60 led the service. We sang old hymns from well-worn hymnals, accompanied by a rickety organ. In one hymn they had changed the words to "I'm so glad I'm a spiritualist." (I can't remember what the original line was.) There was prayer and scripture. More people drifted in.

Then we had a time of meditation. We were instructed to close our eyes, the lights were dimmed (even further), and we were guided to visualize a garden with Jesus in it. We were instructed to sit with him and talk to him and ask him any questions we had. Then Jesus gave us a hug and we left the garden and opened our eyes and "came back" to the room. (I remember a Christian therapist guiding me through something similar once.) I've never been a great visualizer, so the experience was not dramatic for me.

Next was a time of healing. They placed 2 chairs up front and "healers" stood behind them. Soft music was played on a CD player. The leader read several scriptures throughout. Anyone that wanted to could come and sit in a chair and receive healing. I was there for the experience so I went up. I was told to put my hands on my legs, palms up. The healer put her hands on my shoulders, then head, then waved them around my body, and brushed away negativity.

When I returned to my seat I had no idea what my RM was thinking of all this. Surprisingly, he got up and went forward for healing as well.

The finale was the "readings." This is where someone stands on the stage, points out someone in the congregation, and asks for permission to "come to you." Everyone says yes, of course. Then they go ahead and give a reading, meaning they tell the identified person what various spirits might be trying to communicate to them (a la Jon Edwards). As there were only about 8-10 people in the congregation, the "reader" went through the whole congregation, one at a time.

My reading mentioned mental anguish, a difficult childhood, and that I am a "sad clown," as I bring joy and calm to a lot of people in spite of my suffering. At one point she mentioned that I should write down "belief systems" in order to sort them out, which got my attention as I have spent the last two years studying religion in depth. My initial impression was that my reading was fairly accurate.

My RM's reading said he was a "wild man" and that he needs to be more careful (like driving) because he needs to be around for his kids, which he will have one day. Also, it mentioned business opportunities that would be coming along soon that he shouldn't neglect. Also, that he was procrastinating, wasting time on things that were not important. I thought his reading was even more on target than mine. RM is all about speed and business.

The service ended shortly thereafter. I shook the leader's hand and left quickly because I was late for work.

My RM was smart enough to record the readings on his smart phone, so since the service we have had a chance to review.

  • MINE: Even though I identified with the sad clown comment and the difficult childhood, I did not agree with what much of the reading was about... changing my belief systems about past events (not religious systems), and learning to accept that they have made me what I am today. I feel like I have done that work thoroughly some time ago, and my mental anguish now is primarily biochemical. It would have been handy if I had been told what medicine my doctor should try me on next. 
  • RM: At first he said the procrastination topic did not apply to him, because he is constantly busy and getting stuff done. A couple of days later a light dawned, however. He saw that he was procrastinating on the major goals of what he believed his life was supposed to be about. It lit a fire under him that has borne fruit to this day. 
My RM was thrilled with the whole experience. He said it was very similar to charismatic churches he has been to, albeit in those churches it is a "house prophet" that gives words of prophecy or knowledge or wisdom to individuals in the congregation. 

In my current skeptical state, I'm not an easy believer. My experience was interesting enough that I would like to do more research. My main question is whether there is something actually supernatural going on there or not. Whether it is from God, the devil, or something in between is another question that only comes once I verify that something supernatural is going on. That's a big question, and if the answer is "Yes," then it helps me on my spiritual journey, being comforted that there is something beyond what we see in this world. If the answer is "No," well I'll have to deal with it, won't I?

Why didn't Jesus stick around?

Soon after Jesus resurrected he disappeared into the sky, never to be seen again for about 2000 years so far. Why?

It seems to me so many problems would be solved if he had stuck around. The whole world would have had a chance to see that it really was Jesus resurrected, instead of just the reported five hundred. He could have reestablished the Kingdom or Israel with himself as King. No one would have been forced to "believe" or "have faith" in the testimony of questionable witnesses in order to be saved. And we would have all lived happily ever after.

But no. He does his disappearing act and for 2000 years we have had confusion and strife over who he was and what he did and what he will do.

"Aha," you will say, "he went away for two reasons. One, to build a place for us. And two, so that the Holy Spirit could come."

But I ask, "Just how long does it take someone to create a place for us to live who was able to make the entire universe in seven days just by speaking?" And two, "Why couldn't the Holy Spirit come while Jesus was still around? Why did he have to exit first?"

And how good of a job has the Holy Spirit done? Would there not be more believers if Jesus had stayed and lived and reigned forever? Would there not be more unity of doctrine and practice with Jesus as the head of the church? An invisible Holy Spirit seems like a poor substitute for the real thing!

And, from a skeptical point of view, it's too convenient for the believer to have an absent Jesus, the miraculous evidence no longer there to inspect. Some will say that the absence of a body in the tomb is evidence for the resurrection. I say that the absence of a body after the resurrection is evidence of something sketchy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wanted: Near Death Experience

Apparently, 8 million Americans have had some kind of Near Death Experience where they went through a tunnel, saw lights, etc.

 I would like to interview someone who has had this experience, so if you know of anybody please have them write or call me to discuss.


douglasrdoan at

Friday, September 14, 2012

United Methodist Review

The third church my room mate (RM) and I visited was a good size United Methodist church around the corner.

I had attended a few "Celebrate Recovery" meetings at this church, although the meetings were in a small outbuilding. That building has since been torn down to make room for a new expansion of the facility. It's now quite a large complex, but it's fairly land-locked, and it's on a busy avenue, so getting in and out and parking are a challenge. Oh, I also attended one Dave Ramsey class here.

We drove to the church and there was a policeman in the road directing traffic. Driving through the parking lot we were guided along by parking attendants in vests using walkie-talkies. A sign instructed visitors to go to a designated spot near the church entrance. As we parked a man in a suit made his way quickly from the church to our car to greet us. He was overly eager, like a used care salesman, asking us what brought us here, giving us literature, explaining the two services that were available, and telling us to fill out the visitor's card and bring it somewhere after church for a free gift.

We decided to go to the "traditional" service since we felt that it would give us a better taste of United Methodism. The sanctuary was very full, and was a mixture of ages, leaning toward older. There was a fine choir, and hand bell choir. There was a very positive spirit. Somehow I was able to intuit that these folks were very happy with their church and got along well with each other.

There were traditional hymns, but also some old-time folksy songs, like What a Friend we have in Jesus and Fairest Lord Jesus. Although I was familiar with those type of camp-meeting songs from my childhood, they seemed oddly out of place here, like a relic of the past that was being artificially kept alive.

A female pastor led the whole service. The sermon was entertaining and easy to relate to. She said that praying was not like going on and ordering something to your specifications.

We celebrated communion by walking down the aisle to pick up a piece from a loaf of bread, then further down the line dipping it in wine (or Welches?) and eating.

Overall, the experience was uplifting, and when I was leaving I thought I would enjoy going back someday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?

This rabbi goes through all the Old Testament scriptures related to the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age and shows how Jesus did not fulfill those prophecies. Very compelling.

It's two parts. Each part is about 1 1/2 hours.