You Need to Be Saved Now!
My First Decade of Life
“You need to be saved tonight! If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, you’re already on the road to Hell. You might die tonight an’ wake up in the lake of fire an’ brimstone an’ burn forever.
“You’ll feel the flames crawlin’ on your face an’ all over your body, an’ smell the smoke of the brimstone.”
I was six years old that Sunday night when Brother Leslie Bell preached about hell again at Loving Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He preached about hell twice every Sunday and once every Wednesday night. If we had a revival, he could preach about hell for 15 nights straight!
So did my grandfather, in another church across town. So did my Dad when he got a chance to preach. And so did every preacher I knew. And I already knew a lot of preachers. We were that kind of family.
Seven decades later, I don’t remember Brother Bell’s exact words; but these are pretty close: “You’ll be like the rich man who died and went to Hell and said, ‘I am tormented in these flames.’ You’ll burn for all eternity, but never be burned up. The fire will never stop. There’ll be no end to your torture. Hell is the place ‘where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched’. Where the Bible says ‘the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever’. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are. If you’re old enough to understand you’ve sinned, then you’re old enough to need savin’.” I knew I’d sinned, because the Bible said “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23)
He continued: “You might NEVER have another chance to be saved! You might die TONIGHT! If you haven’t accepted Jesus yet, DO IT NOW!” (You could almost hear the capital letters and the exclamation point in his voice.) “Jesus loves you and wants to give you salvation, but you’ve got to accept His gift. Don’t wait. If you don’t decide now to be saved, you are telling Jesus you want to be lost and condemned to hell for all eternity.” We sang something like “Oh Sinner, harden not your heart…. Wilt thou be saved? Then why not, oh why not tonight?”
I didn’t accept Jesus as my Savior during that service. Later that night, though — for some reason — I couldn’t sleep. I lay in my bed and cried. I knew I had never been saved, and I felt SURE I was going to die that night — that very night — just as Brother Bell had said I might. And I was certain I’d never have another chance to be saved.
I could see the flames in my mind and smell the smoke. I knew what burning sulfur (also known as brimstone) smelled like. Grandpa Swaim had used it to drive rats out of a house. And I knew hell was more horrible than anything I could imagine. All the preachers said so. I called Dad from his bedroom to come “talk to me about grace.”
He came. And he told me again it was all true, but there was no need to be afraid any more. If I would just “accept Jesus,” I would be saved. He knelt beside my bed and suggested that I pray with him as he asked Jesus to save me. I prayed silently while he spoke the words, and I accepted Jesus as my Saviour that night. When we finished praying, he told me that I shouldn’t be afraid any more; because now that I had accepted Jesus, I had a place in heaven already reserved for me when I die. There was no more danger of going to Hell.
In recent years, a few people have suggested that I never “really” believed in Jesus as my Savior. This idea is absolute nonsense! I did. And I never even doubted (as others I knew did) until I began to question the many irreconcilable problems with the Bible when I was about 30. Until then, I “knew” absolutely beyond doubt that I was a saved, born again, son of God, because I believed in Jesus as “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16) and as my Savior.
A Few Questions
My Second and Third Decades
As I studied the Bible during the next few years, there were always things I couldn’t understand, of course. Why did God command certain people in the Old Testament to commit genocide (I Samuel 15:3), theft, and kidnap? (Deuteronomy 20:13-17) Why did He order animals to be sacrificed in bloody, gory rituals similar to those now often associated in my culture with Devil worship? (Exodus 29:10-25)
Why did He become so angry He killed a man for merely protecting the Ark of the Covenant, where the Ten Commandments and other holy items were kept? (II Samuel 6:6-7) And another for eating a piece of fat meat? Why did He forbid men with certain kinds of deformities from serving in the Temple? (Deuteronomy 3:21) Why did He sanction slavery? (Exodus 12:44)
Why did He create men and women with strong sexual desires, often for more than one partner, and then forbid us to have sex except with a wife or husband? I remember the preachers explained that God didn’t make us with such “perversions.” We were “born in sin,” they said, because Adam ate a piece of fruit. (Huh? Well, really it was because God had told him not to eat it. But still! What did that have to do with me?)
Anyway, we then perverted ourselves further through our lusts. Jesus Himself condemned lust. He said, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) But I never understood. How could I be born perverted because a very distant ancestor had sinned?
What made me even think about having sex with a woman I wasn’t married to? Why would it even occur to me to wonder what a particular woman might look like without her clothes on unless God had made me to think those kinds of thoughts? And then why would I have the same kinds of thoughts and desires about another woman? And another? And another? And what could it possibly have to do with that dumb piece of fruit somebody named Adam ate a few thousand years ago?
Some said those were not really my own thoughts until I began to dwell on them, but the Devil put them in my mind. I don’t know. They always seemed pretty much like my own thoughts. I often suspected the Devil got blamed for a lot of things he probably didn’t even have time to do. After all, we knew he was powerful; but nowhere near as powerful as God.
To repeat a question I asked a few paragraphs back, if God made Adam and Eve “perfect” and they sinned anyway, how could their sinfulness be transmitted to their descendants and make us automatically sinful? (Romans 5:12) Do genes really transmit sins?
Was this hereditary sin the reason He chose to “visit the sins of the fathers upon the sons even to the third and fourth generations?” (Deuteronomy 5:9) And sometimes even to the tenth? (Deuteronomy 23:2)
It shouldn’t even matter. Even if that were so, I must be HUNDREDS of generations away from Adam by now; so how can that silly piece of fruit still affect me?
And why would any kind and loving God allow the terrible suffering that exists in the world? Is it really because of your sins and mine that lions eat innocent zebras and wildebeests, as well as little African children? No! It is not! Despite the claims of many religious people, there were predators on earth long before the first humans.
Check out the recently discovered “Godzilla” crocodile that lived and gobbled flesh 135 million years before the first human lived. 135 million years before Adam ate that apple. Or whatever it was. Do those teeth look to you like they were for eating seaweed? Me neither. And there were a lot of other killers where this one came from. Long before anybody ever sinned. Or even existed.
A Natural Evil
Not long ago I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods and was awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs. One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another.
A clearer case of a horrible event in nature, a natural evil, has never been presented to me. It seemed to me self-evident that the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive was an evil natural law and that the obtaining of this law was sufficient evidence that God did not exist.
Quentin Smith, An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws
.Even more, I wondered why did He permit His devoted servants to have “trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, … bonds and imprisonment” or to be “stoned, … sawn asunder, … slain with the sword; … being destitute, afflicted, tormented; … they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth?” (Hebrews 11:36-39) How could He let these things happen to His own servants who loved, trusted, obeyed, and served Him?
Above all, why was He so obsessed with something called “justice” that every sin had to be paid for by death (Romans 3:23) — even the sins He chose to forgive? Why would the Creator and Ruler of the Universe have to send His “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to be tortured to death by evil men to serve that death sentence for us before He could forgive us of anything? That’s just plain crazy!
Was “justice” really that important? If He was truly merciful, couldn’t He just waive the penalty for any sins He chose to forgive?
But no! It took just one sin — and remember, we all have sinned. One sin — any sin — even just an “impure thought” — was enough to require the “death” penalty and a conscious eternity in hell for our “immortal souls.” A hell that was not even created for mankind; it was “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his (rebellious) angels:” (Malachi 25:41)
I believed that VERY MANY people were going to burn in hell. The majority of mankind made no claim to be Christians, and only through belief in Jesus could one be saved. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Even most of those I knew who claimed to be Christians didn’t appear to be True, Blood Bought, Born Again, Sons of God.
I personally estimated at least 99% of humanity was going to fry, though I couldn’t know for sure about any particular person. Only God can know the heart of man.
What can possibly be “just” about intentionally, deliberately torturing any conscious being forever? With fire or any other way? Whether devil, demon, human soul, or whatever? With no more opportunity to ever repent and escape the infernal eternal punishment of hell? Just burning on and on and on. Forever and ever and ever. For eternity. Never ever ending. What good would it do? What purpose could it serve? And a loving God would do that? To me?
Give me a break!
The best answer to whatever I asked usually seemed to be that it was God’s prerogative. He owns us, because He created us. Therefore, anything He chooses to do with us or to us is OK. He has the right. Furthermore, “His ways are above our ways,” so we can’t hope to understand them. We can only accept. “God said it. I believe it. And that settles it.”
If that’s really true that we can’t understand His ways, I wondered, why did He say, “Come now and let us reason together“? (Isaiah 1:18)
I learned early that Independent Baptists tend not to like “why” questions. It’s not difficult to understand their impatience with “why” questions, if you understand first that We Were The True Church.
We were True Baptists. True Independent, Fundamental Baptists. We had The Whole Truth of God, the genuine King James Version. Sure, lots of other people had the Bible, too; but most of them didn’t really believe it, and the rest didn’t understand it. We did. It was that simple.
To many, it still is.
We knew that every word of the Bible was true, because it said so (Psalm 119:160; John 8:26). And we knew that it was to be taken literally unless something was clearly stated as being seen in a dream (Genesis 37:5) or a vision (Isaiah 21:2) or “in the spirit.” (Ezekiel 37:1; Revelation 1:10)
We understood that God made the earth and everything in it in six literal days (Genesis 1-2) about six thousand years ago.
Those of us who thought about such things — at least some of us — contended that whales are fish, and not mammals as scientists say. We knew this because the Old Testament said Jonah was swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17) and the New Testament said he was swallowed by a whale. (Matthew 12:20) I don’t think anybody believed he was swallowed twice, by two different creatures.
Our religion was the same Old Time Religion that was good for Paul and Silas. Our God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Exodus 3:6) The First and the Last. The Alpha and the Omega. (Revelation 1:11) The Beginning and the End. (Revelation 1:8) The Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
We could disagree about little things like whether or not it was a sin to smoke cigarettes and whether or not it was OK to see a certain movie. Or any movie at all. But never about the basics: salvation by grace, the security of the believer, baptism by immersion, the evil of alcoholic beverages, or the debauchery of dancing with a girl. Unless you were a girl, of course.
About these vitally important things, We Were Right, and We Knew It. And, if you know God’s Truth, you don’t ask why. “It’s not ours to reason why. It’s only ours to do or die.”
My Fourth Decade
In my early thirties, I began reading literature from the Worldwide Church of God that seemed to give me better answers to some of my questions. This cult also accepted the Bible as God’s revelation to humankind, believing it was “without error as originally written.” This was different, because I and most of the other Baptists I knew had believed the KJV was “without error” even in its current English form. Many still do.
The Worldwide Church of God people were Christian fundamentalists, every bit as much so as the Independent Baptists I knew. But very different in many ways.
Since Herbert W. Armstrong died in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God has shattered into more than 300 fragments, according to some of their websites. (One report said more than 500.) Out of this incredible number of splinter groups, there now appear to be all shades of crazy doctrines. This was not so during the time I was a member. At that time, their crazy doctrines were well established and mandated from “headquarters” at P.O. Box 111, Pasadena, CA.
Anyway, the Worldwide Church of God people thought they understood an “instant destruction” version of hell that didn’t seem nearly so outrageous. (Though it still made no sense.) Their version was based largely on a different interpretation of the original Hebrew and Greek words. Of course, this is not possible for somebody who is locked into the “modern” KJV of the Bible in English.
They also taught, among other things, that God permitted suffering in the world because that was His method of building character in His people. (Acts 14:23; Romans 5:3) Character was said to be the most important thing in the universe, because only people with Godlike character could be trusted with eternal life and Godlike power in His Kingdom.
We believed we were being trained to rule over worlds full of newly-created life during future aeons as representatives of the Most High God, literally becoming Gods ourselves in fulfillment of several prophecies. (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34)
This seemed to explain the need for suffering. Well, kind of.
God was supposed to be capable of creating this whole marvelous universe with at least an estimated hundred billion galaxies that we know of, with each galaxy containing an average of a couple of hundred billion stars or so. That’s an awful lot of universe! He was able to populate at least one planet orbiting one of those stars with living, thinking, feeling creatures called humans that He intended to become like Him — His “sons.” Then why was He not capable of finding a better way to build character like His Own into these creatures?
Wouldn’t you think an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God could have come up with something better than suffering? Better than the absolute misery that most of mankind and nearly all wild animals still experience on a daily basis?
Even then, I didn’t realize the truly vast amount of suffering there really is on earth. It was a few more years before I realized the whole world is filled with violence inflicted by living beings upon other living beings, and that the vast majority of it has NOTHING to do with building character in humans.
Some Family Needs
I always had a job, but I could never make a living. I couldn’t pay for medical and dental care for my young children or other things they needed. I drove an old car that tended to break down in dangerous parts of town and that sometimes didn’t get me to work on time. We had bills I couldn’t pay. I needed help. I needed it bad.
I turned to the words of Jesus, “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart , but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 11:23-24
“What things soever ye desire.” Wow! All I had to do was pray with faith and my Savior promised help. He promised I could have anything I asked for.
I knew God had also said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:10
This promise even included a challenge from God. He said I should test Him, and I did.
Well, you already know what happened. Nothing. (How did you know? Because that’s what happens when you pray, too.)
They were wonderful promises! How could anything be better? Ask for anything you want, believing you will have it, and you will indeed have it. I paid my tithe and I asked for help and I knew Jesus was going to help me take care of my family. He didn’t.
I didn’t ask for anything outrageous. I just took God up on both promises. The help I begged for never came.
Some people try to spiritualize those verses away, but they sound pretty clear to me. As well as pretty physical and literal.
I understand very well that it’s not possible for everybody to have everything they desire. There would be too many people asking for opposite outcomes and too many people asking for horrible things. But I realized and rationalized that that couldn’t happen, because most people wouldn’t actually believe the promise. I did. And I knew it would be possible for God to help me.
He could help me get a raise or promotion or a better job. Whatever. I knew better than to try to tell God HOW to answer my prayer, so I left that up to Him.
His promise was clear. There could be no mistaking what Jesus plainly said. And there were no other conditions except that I should pray with faith. I did.
Jesus never delivered. He let me down. How could I still believe after that?
Mid-life Crisis? Or Mid-life Epiphany?
It was said by some who knew me that I had a “mid-life crisis.” In a sense, maybe that was true. I was about forty when I began to admit to myself that a living, thinking, creating God who cares about His people was probably a myth. For one who had been a devout believer, it seems reasonable to concede that constitutes a crisis.
But I really feel more like a blogger whose work I read many years later on the Internet. Using the pseudonym notabarbie, she wrote, “Some have said I had a mid life crisis, but I would call it a mid life epiphany.”
That God was not real was a conclusion drawn very slowly and painfully after more than a decade of thought, prayer, study, tears, fasting, and desperation. I did not want to be a fool, saying in my heart “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) Nor one of those who, “professing themselves to be wise, …became as fools.” (Romans 1:22) Of course, I can’t remember ever in my life professing myself to be wise. I’m probably reasonably smart in some ways, but that’s a lot different from being wise. Wise is better. Much better. I wish I were wise.
Besides that, I loved and needed my God. I needed His fellowship, His approval, His help, and His promise of a better tomorrow in His Kingdom. I needed to serve Him. I didn’t want to change. I believed in God and I believed the Bible was his message for us. I WANTED GOD TO BE REAL, AND I WANTED TO KEEP ON BELIEVING IT.
When I began to wonder, I asked God to “strengthen my faith,” as the apostles had done so long ago. I discussed some of my doubts with my pastor and other church leaders and friends. I knelt on my knees in prayer; I studied the Bible more; I cried; I fasted! All in an effort to keep on believing things that made no sense. Obviously, it didn’t work. And I’m glad, now. But it was terribly traumatic for a decade.
What meaning could life have without God? Who would define right and wrong, good and evil? Who would save us from ourselves and each other? These are terribly important questions, but I couldn’t help realizing they have nothing to do with His reality or lack of it. My belief in His reality could only depend on whatever evidence there might be.
The evidence used to seem obvious. I wrote about it when I was young. I could see people’s lives changed when they accepted Jesus as their Savior. Not all of them, of course; and sometimes the change didn’t last very long. But other people were “saved” and it really showed in their lives. I knew people who were seriously injured or sick, and God seemed to heal them. Not immediately, but they did get well. Or at least better. Others asked God for help of one kind or another, and said He helped them.
My own son, coming home from kindergarten, had seemingly been saved from a car. He didn’t stop, look, and listen, as he’d been taught. The car was moving too fast. Brakes squealed and tires shrieked. According to his mother, who saw it happen, the car skidded until it actually touched him. Yet he was completely uninjured — not even knocked down. Obviously, God had sent an angel to stop that car! (He remembers a slightly different version of the story, but pretty similar.)
The most obvious evidence of all was the very universe we live in. It could never have been created without a Creator.
But most things don’t seem so obvious any more.
When my employer sent me to a management seminar, we were taught repeatedly that adults rarely if ever change very much unless they have a “significant emotional experience.” I realized that “being saved” surely qualifies as a significant emotional experience, regardless whether or not any literal god has anything to do with it. That could very well account for lives being changed when people accepted Jesus as their Saviour. It didn’t mean He was God. It was just psychology!
Sick or injured people sometimes get well even when we thought they were not going to. And faith probably helps them, whether or not there is any kind of supernatural intervention. Faith is a very strong placebo. (We don’t understand that very well yet, but every doctor knows about placebos.) And brakes usually do stop cars. After all, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? I’m very glad those brakes didn’t take another inch to do their job.
But what about the very universe we live in?
As has been said, the universe is vastly more complex than a fine watch; and we know that a watch can’t assemble itself. It requires a watchmaker. So, the reasoning goes, the universe requires a “Universe Maker.” Otherwise, it could not exist.
I came to realize that appealing to a “Universe Maker” to create the universe really doesn’t solve that problem. It just raises the additional question of where the Universe Maker came from? Who created God?
Sure, I remember the usual answer was that He didn’t come from anywhere. He always existed. He was and is and will be, “from everlasting, and to everlasting” (Psalm 41:13), “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” (Hebrews 7:3)
If nobody made God, then maybe nobody made the universe either. Isn’t God — if He exists — infinitely greater and more complex than even this huge and wonderful universe He supposedly created? Then how can the universe be so complex that Somebody had to create it, if God Himself had no Creator?
When the realization finally came, it came fast. God is a myth, Jesus never rose from the dead, and the Bible is just a book of ancient stories. There is no heaven, no hell, and no angels or demons. The world was not made in six 24-hour days about six thousand years ago, there was no world-wide flood, and Methuselah – the grandfather of Noah – didn’t die in it after having lived for 969 years.
If Paul really had the experience he claimed to have had on the way to Damascus, it was probably a hallucination brought on by some strange kind of epileptic seizure.
It was just stories. All of it. And I finally realized that. That was the epiphany.
Dead people don’t live again. Snakes and donkeys don’t talk. And virgins don’t give birth to god-men. But people through the ages have always told stories.
I realize now the universe has probably always existed in one form or another. Certainly not as the great ball of space full of galaxies that we know now. Maybe it’s had an infinity of different forms over an infinity of past time. Humans may never know for sure, but so what? There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think our puny brains could ever know or understand everything.
Presumably, though, only the form of the universe changes, while the universe as a whole just continues on changing from one form to another. And then another. And another. On and on with never an end in sight. As far as we now know, the universe may be eternal.
How can one choose what to believe? I can’t. I believe what I must believe.
I became an atheist against my own will. It was no longer possible for me to keep on believing in god. Any god. I never made a choice to disbelieve. I just couldn’t keep on believing in the crazy god of the Bible. Or of the Koran. One is as impossible as the other. They are so similar that many educated Christians and Muslims consider themselves to be worshiping the same god. (After all, Allah is simply the Arabic word meaning “the god;” and Christians who speak Arabic use it to refer to their god.)
But I’m getting sidetracked. I could no longer believe in the God of the Christians, Muslims, or Jews because of the contradictions, inconsistencies, and other problems with their “Holy Books” and the atrocities and contradictory behaviors attributed to their God. I came to realize how ridiculous it was. How absolutely crazy.
But life would have been a lot easier if I could have just kept on believing, “like everybody else.”
Neither have I found any reason to believe in any other god. I’ve been asked if I could believe in a god who created the universe and then “stepped away” to watch it develop, or some similar god. The answer is that I could believe in such a god if there were any convincing evidence that he/she/it exists, but there is not. Since I know of absolutely no evidence that any god of any kind ever existed, I have no reason to believe in any god.
I am an atheist; and I’m glad, now. But the loss of my faith was extremely traumatic for a very long time. As psychologist Valerie Tarico dramatically understates, “Given that core beliefs are naturally resilient … it will come as no surprise that people go to extreme lengths psychologically to defend religious dogmas.” It took me more than a decade of struggle to get past that stage. But in the end, I had no choice. It was the only way I could see reality.
I call myself an atheist, not because I claim to have proof there is no god. Of course I don’t have it. The point is there’s absolutely no evidence God exists or that the Bible is His “Word”. And one shouldn’t believe something that wild without a LOT of evidence.
That kind of belief makes no sense and simply leads to superstition. So I call myself an atheist because I have no belief or faith that any god exists.
In addition to this lack of faith, as I already said, I personally also have a definite belief that certain gods do not and cannot exist as they are described by their “revelations” or their followers.
When I could no longer convince myself that I believed in any God, I left what we called “God’s Church,” as I had left the Independent Baptists a decade before.
A Few More Observations
Both physical and emotional suffering have always been particularly egregious to me. I would do nearly anything to prevent them for myself or other people or animals. Yet whatever god may have created our world seems to revel in pain, suffering, and violence.
The squirrel eating corn at my window continually faces the prospect of being ripped to pieces by a hawk or a cat. Little fish are eaten by big fish. Insects are captured in the web of the spider and literally drained of their body fluids for its nourishment. Or they are caught on the wing by birds or bats. Or eaten by snakes or lizards.
The rattlesnake in the field not only preys upon whatever rodents and birds it can capture, but is perfectly capable of bringing agonizing death to a human being as well.
There are terribly dangerous fish in the oceans, the Amazon River, and other places that you don’t want to meet up with. And beautiful jellyfish and snails that can sting you to death before the shark in the same water has time to bite a chunk out of you. The army ants of South America march across the jungle and overwhelm everything in their path.
Recently I watched some cute little puppies leaping at each other’s throats in play. The game is their instinctive method of learning to deal with the violence in nature.
There’s no need to go on and on. The point is that neither you nor I would ever have created such a world. As Woody Allen once said, “If I had been present at the Creation, I would have had some constructive advice.”
What does it all mean? Does it prove there is (or was) no intelligent, conscious, planning, living Creator? No. It doesn’t. But if there is or was any such Creator, it proves He is not Anyone who cares about His creation. Certainly, no “God of Love” made this world you and I live in.
If indeed we were created by Someone conscious and intelligent, omniscient and omnipotent, It had to be Someone Who enjoys violent death with lots of blood and guts and broken bones. Because there’s sure a lot of them in this world. And if He indeed gave all the commandments recorded in the Old Testament, including commanding David and others to murder whole kingdoms, or sometimes letting them enslave and rape the women and girls, … What? You don’t believe it? Read these passages one more time.
43 “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof:
44 “But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof.
45 “A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof.”
“A servant that is bought for money?” Exactly how is that different from a slave? And just in case it needs to be made any clearer, this slave is contrasted against the “hired servant” in the next verse.
I Samuel 15:2-3
2 “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
3 “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
Genocide? No, it’s worse than that. Murdering all the people is genocide. Killing their animals too is madness. It’s just plain crazy, as well as mean.
Numbers 31:1-2, 7, 9-10, 14-18
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
Notice this is God’s command to Moses, whom He had appointed leader of the Israelites. Remember we already discussed that vengeance belongs to God. Well, now He’s ordering Moses and the Israelites to take vengeance for Him against the Midianites.
7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
So, at God’s command, they killed all the Midianite men, took the women and children prisoner, and burned down their cities. Yup. Now it sounds like genocide to me.
14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Just killing all the men, taking the women and children captive, and burning down the cities wasn’t good enough. The women had to die, too. And the male children. God was really angry with these people. In fact, He was just plain mad.
But what of the girls? Keep the virgins for yourselves? That doesn’t sound to you like he’s promoting rape? Or probably forced marriage, which is essentially the same thing? Well, yeah. It does, doesn’t it?
There are plenty more examples. This god was bad when he was mad.
Some fairy tale!
It is only human civilization, technology, and culture that have finally brought some members of our species a little security. Civilization based on empathy with our fellow creatures, and technology brought about by a special way of practical thinking sometimes called the scientific method.
Thinking people need to understand this and never forget it, because it’s up to us to change ourselves and our societies for better. We are not omnipotent or omniscient gods, so we cannot change tigers or crocodiles into gentle herbivores. But we can and must improve our own behavior. Only by doing this for ourselves –and realizing that Nobody Else is going to do it for us — can we hope to build that “kinder and gentler nation” the first President Bush asked us for. It’s the only way we have any hope of surviving much longer as a species.
Far more events and processes than I have discussed here have combined to make me who I am. Nevertheless, these religious and philosophical matters have always been important to me. I have always wanted to know the truth about how things really are, even if that truth was not always what I wanted it to be.
The will of a god would seem to be the very most important truth to know. On the other hand, if God is a myth, then it is a waste of time to try to understand His will, and dangerous to depend on Him for help or guidance. As I said earlier, I can no longer believe that any literal, living, intelligent god exists. Furthermore, if he does exist, and if he created this violent and evil world, he is clearly no god that I can worship.
After Hurricane Hugo devastated much of the east coast in 1989, followed by an earthquake on the west coast and an explosion in a plastics factory on the gulf coast of Texas, someone was quoted anonymously as saying, “If God’s in charge, I’m angry. If He’s not, I’m worried.” I agree. And I’m worried. It seems clear to me, nobody’s in charge.
I have not been a Baptist since I was about 32 years old, nor a Christian of any kind since I was about 42. Now in 2015, at the age of 75, I’ve been an atheist and secular humanist for about 33 years. I don’t miss my old religion any more. I’m glad to be free of that nonsense. It was actually Jesus who expressed this so well. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.“(John 8:32)
I do miss some things about the churches: the fellowship with other believers, the gospel singing, even the ability to say honestly to a sick friend, “I’ll be praying for you.” “I’ll bethinking about you” sounds pretty lame in comparison, but it appears to accomplish about as much good.
Resolutions for the Rest of My Life
A fiftieth birthday seems like a good time to stop and think, to remember some of the things that made me who I am, to reconsider what I want to be, and maybe to make some resolutions based on these reminiscences. Mine was in 1989 on the fourteenth of September. I originally wrote this paper mostly for my own benefit, to record my own thoughts and memories. But I gave copies of it to a few friends and relatives just to say, as did Martin Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
And now (re-edited and updated a little) here it is for anybody else who might be interested. It’s not my wish for anything herein to create animosity, or to hurt anybody’s feelings. These are my memories and my feelings. I realize my relatives and friends won’t remember or interpret everything the same way I do, nor feel the same way about it. We’re all different, and our memories, feelings, and interpretations will be colored by those differences. That’s all right. That’s what living in a free country (as most of us do) is all about.
It’s never my intention to try to “de-convert” any religious person, but I definitely do want to help and encourage those who might be looking for ways to break the bonds of their religion. I’ve been religious and I’ve been non-religious, and I can tell you from experience that freedom from superstitious nonsense is better.
I invite you to think for yourself and ask yourself, “Is it really rational to believe in a being so powerful and wise that he/she/it can simply speak a few words and thereby create this whole wonderful, amazingly huge and complex universe?” Or even do it in six days, for that matter? Personally, I don’t think so. It just doesn’t make any sense, and there’s not the slightest evidence for it.
I very much want to help make this a kinder and gentler world. A world of tolerant, considerate, educated, rational, and helpful people. A world with as few “Thou shalt nots” as feasibly possible. And a world where we can work together to solve the difficult problems that concern us all. Problems like overpopulation, pollution, disease, poverty, crime, global climate change, overfishing, and other environmental problems, and irrational human behavior. I am resolved to spend whatever time I have left accepting responsibility for my own actions, fully understanding that I cannot abdicate that responsibility to any “higher power.”
I am resolved to be gentle, kind, considerate, thoughtful, and tolerant; to refrain from taking myself too seriously; to help other people to whatever extent and in whatever ways I can; and to leave the world a better place for my having been here, if at all possible.
I respect the rights of those who disagree with me in any particular; and I ask the same respect in return.
This essay cannot possibly contain 76 years of life experience. It’s a very brief summary, written to explain a little bit about why a devout Independent Baptist fundamentalist would leave his church to join a cult, and leave that cult a few years later, calling himself an atheist. These are my own memories and thoughts, and I understand that some people close to me won’t remember or understand everything exactly the same way I do. Memories and interpretations of events are tricky at best.
Written by Bill Dearmore in 1989 and first published in my now defunct website www.NoBull.ws. Revised and updated from time to time.