In 1986 I was emotionally in a place that essentially made me vulnerable to any influence that would correct my state of mind.
I was working long hours, drinking too much, unhappy with who I was and running too much. Going further than that serves no purpose for this piece, nor does the how of my drift into Pentecostalism took place.
I was ripe for the impact of anything that might change me for the better. So, in 1986 I became born again. My life did become better and the influence of the church and its people were responsible.
I became totally involved and I think subconsciously selected from a smorgasbord of goodies those things that enhanced my being.
But I am by nature a curious individual. My favourite word is ‘observation’ and I reinforce its influence on my thinking with my grandchildren as often as I can. For my entire life I have lived with the word “observation” as my closest friend. Deeply so.
In short, why do I mention this? Well, it was the logic of observation that drew my attention to those things that I found incompatible with my version of what I really should be.
Its literalism I found disturbing as I did its attitude to women, that gays were unequal to others and I abhorred the twisting of scripture to denounce women and I vehemently opposed.
The church’s perceived self-righteousness as though they had some sort of ownership of societies morality also disturbed me.
Sexual equality, gay marriage, the rights of women and civil rights in general, those things that were of political interest to me seemed to be of little interest to Pentecostals.
Free speech, Aboriginal rights, sexual harassment, the rights of the child, the environment and climate change, domestic and family violence, equality of opportunity in education, asylum seekers and multiculturalism all seemed to pass them by. Saving souls took precedence.
I always seemed to be fighting with a very right-wing conservative thinking church. After all, my entire upbringing had involved an appreciation of what it was like to be poor and all that went with it.
I think what atheists find most offensive with religion is not only that they reject theist belief, but also the injustice, immorality and hypocrisy that often comes with it.
This newfound church with its preaching that wealth was good was in itself foreign to me.
We are in the world but we are not of it seemed to be at the forefront of their thinking.
In my last post I examined the Pentecostals desire to change communities by saving their souls for Christ.
I said that communities all believing the same thing under some sort of theocracy was undesirable.
Imagine, if you will, a society of converted people all practising western individualism and materialism within a theocracy.
Societies are made up of many differing attitudes, points of view, cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, with atheists, and a smorgasbord of many and differing opinions all competing for your interest.
I am often staggered with the vigour American atheists use to confront religion. However when one examines the conduct of some religious institutions in that country I cannot say I am the least surprised.
Everything in the charismatic church is about self-interest, the institution the individual and capitalism. Narcissism has become a national pastime firmly embedded into charismatic church psyche.
Pentecostals teach that the Holy Spirit gives believers, regardless of their age, gender, class, education or ethnicity the power to save souls for Christ and that only the saved have an afterlife. The rest go to Hell. It’s as blunt as that.
Yes, the church services are smooth with music that attracts musicians and singers on the edge of professionalism. Many of them enter television talent shows.
Similarly, Pentecostalism or evangelical Christianity preaches a form of entertaining sermon that enables the individual – with the help of the Holy Spirit – to achieve beyond that which the individual has previously achieved or is indeed capable
Over the years I wrote and performed in many dramatic productions. I wrote music and lyrics that drew compliments; friends were aplenty but the language I found to be indifferent to intellectual logic and modernity. So literal that it couldn’t challenged.
Here are but five examples (From an article in The Conversation last year by Philip C Almond):
1 Do miracles happen?
“That miracles happen is a central tenet of Pentecostalism. As a religion, it sees itself as re-creating the gifts of the Spirit experienced by the earliest Christian worshippers. Along with the working of miracles, these included speaking in tongues and healings. They remain central features of Pentecostal belief and worship today”
What was it the Prime Minister said? “I have always believed in Miracles.”
2 Divine providence
“According to Pentecostal theology, all of history – and the future – is in the control of God; from creation, to the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, to the redemption of all in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In turn, this will lead to the second coming of Christ, the end of the world and the final judgement.
This is why further action on reducing carbon emissions to counter the environmental damage wrought by climate change may have little intellectual purchase with the PM. If the end of the world through climate change is part of God’s providential plan, there is precious little that we need to or can do about it.”
3 Prosperity Theology
“This “have a go” philosophy sits squarely within Pentecostal prosperity theology. This is the view that belief in God leads to material wealth. Salvation too has a connection to material wealth – “Jesus saves those who save”. So the godly become wealthy and the wealthy are godly. And, unfortunately, the ungodly become poor and the poor are ungodly.
This theology aligns perfectly with the neo-liberal economic views espoused by Morrison. The consequence is that it becomes a God-given task to liberate people from reliance on the welfare state.
So there is no sense in Pentecostal economics of a Jesus Christ who was on the side of the poor and the oppressed. Nor is there one of rich men finding it easier to pass through the eyes of needles.”
“That said, in some ways, Pentecostalism is pretty light on beliefs. Rather, it stresses an immediate personal connection with God that is the exclusive property of those who are saved. This leads to a fairly binary view of the world. There are the saved and the damned, the righteous and the wicked, the godly and the satanic.
In this Pentecostalist exclusivist view, Jesus is the only way to salvation. Only those who have been saved by Jesus (generally those who have had a personal experience of being “born again” which often happens in church spontaneously during worship) have any hope of attaining eternal life in heaven. At its best, it generates a modesty and humility at its worst a smugness and arrogance.
So only born-again Christians will gain salvation. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and non-born-again Christians are doomed to spend an eternity in the torments of hell.”
“In principle, the PM’s faith is “pietistic”. It is about the individual’s personal relationship with God. So faith is focused “upwards” on God in the here and now – and the hereafter. The result is that Pentecostalism is weak on the social implications of its beliefs. Social equity and social justice are very much on the back burner.
So you would not expect from a Pentecostalist like Morrison any progressive views on abortion, women’s rights, LGBTI issues, immigration, the environment, same sex marriage, and so on.
It would be difficult, for example, for a Pentecostalist to reject the Biblical teaching that homosexuals were bound for hell. The Prime Minister recently did so. But only after first evading the question and then through very gritted teeth.”
Nothing has ever stood in the way of science and technology. Its advancement has been staggering. So why are the conservative political and religious forces so opposed to it? I hope that these five beliefs answered the question.
I have not in the writing of this piece so far personalised it to the degree that some have asked me to. I will make some attempt now.
As to why I stayed in the church for some 20 odd years I find difficult to clarify. Suffice to say that we were surrounded with friends, work preoccupied me and I was well respected within the church.
It wasn’t until I retired and went to live in the country that I started questioning my belief in God.
At some point – while walking our dog Oscar – I asked myself a simple question what is it you truly believe in?
And so a battle began within me that has lasted more than a few years. I read the works of the popular atheists Sam Harris, Richard Hawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others.
I became enthralled with the logic of their intelligences. I watched many debates on the Internet and read many articles on the subject.
Along the way I found the Uniting Church and in terms of theology they are like chalk and cheese with the Pentecostals. They have a strong belief in science and follow the teaching of Jesus.
Of course, it was Mikael Gorbachev who said that Jesus Christ was the world’s first socialist.
I became friendly with ministers of that faith who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ; who were of the same political ilk as I was and who had the same interest in social justice, as I did.
I began writing religious articles for The AIMN.
The Future of Faith in Australia was one title, another on the Ten Commandants and another on the virgin birth of Jesus.
I smothered myself in a critical analysis of religion in general.
I studied the complexity of the Book of Revelation. The so-called explanation of the end times that Pentecostals are so fond of quoting, and found no concord within its pages.
The study of free will, I thought, was an important foundation of rational thinking and a requirement for an objective application of thoughts to actions.
However, its application, I found, is constrained by pre-determined facts that limit free will, and personal action.
In Christian doctrine, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead confronted my learning and something to me that could only be accepted in faith even though it is central to the Christian affirmations about God.
In the journey I had undertaken, as soon as six questions were adequately answered another six arose and I expect this will happen until my last days, and the implausibility of many things will remain unanswered.
The reader will no doubt be interested in just where I am now in my quest for the truth. I shall try to answer my own set of questions.
Are you an atheist?
When asked as to my belief or otherwise in religion, or indeed my atheist thoughts, I can only say that I am in a perpetual state of observation, which of course is the very basis of science or fact.
Do you believe in God?
There is no evidence to prove that there is and none whatsoever to suggest there isn’t. But on the balance of probability I would have to answer “no”.
Faith is the residue of things not understood and can never be a substitute for fact.
How would you describe yourself?
I think we humans still have much to discover about ourselves. For example, logic would seem to form the basis of our thinking. Just what percentage, we don’t know, but neuroscience is beginning to expose and reveal the basis of logic, belief, and disbelief, uncertainty, why we lie, why we commit atrocities and many other things. We still have a long way to go.
We are yet to discover the function and importance of emotion and reasoning in our person. Which of the two has the most relevance in our daily lives. How many decisions are based on our emotion rather than our logic?
So I would describe myself as nothing but an observer of life, a theorist, or a thinker. In short an ‘observationalist’. But I cannot deny that the church and some like-minded people within it changed me for the better.
Note: This has been but a small part of my thinking on this subject. It was just impossible to put a lifetime into a couple of thousand words.
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
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