Well I guess it had to happen eventually.
A Pastor who handles snakes during church services as part of God’s anointing coming over him, Jamie Coots got bitten by one for the second time. This time he died.
The first time he was bitten, his finger fell off. Literally fell off because he refuses to seek medical attention.
He’s not the first religious guy to die from a snake bite. This stuff happened when I was a Pentacostal. I would read about this crazy sort of stuff mid-week and then head to church on the weekend to speak gobbeldy-gook during prayer meetings when we were binding the devil and roll around on the floor when we were filled with the Holy Spirit. You know what I thought about people like Ps Jamie Coots and his band of merry snake-handlers?
Which is so ironic it almost hurts.
The funny thing is, all my Pentacostal friends are annoyed at how badly the Crazy Snake People are representing Pentacostalism. All my ex-Pentacostal but still religious friends are annoyed at how badly the Crazy Pentacostal People are representing Christianity. And I’m annoyed at how experience, tradition and perception can override what we instinctively know to be ridiculous.
Deep down we know it’s strange. Deep down we know that people fall over when prayed for because they were pushed or cos it’s what everyone else does. Deep down we know tongues is just something we make ourselves do. Deep down we know that prophecies are just people saying nice, generic stuff with ‘God says’ before it. Deep down we know there’s a lot of faking going on.
When we look at Ps Mark walking past in the prayer meeting literally saying ‘da da da da da da da da da’ while high-fiving his mates and smiling at everyone, and the first thought is, ‘He could put a bit more effort into his tongues.’, we know…
When we watch Ps Phil going through the lines touching people on the head and when we’re lying on the floor after our turn and battling between the thoughts of, ‘Oh this is nice, the Holy Spirit making me lie down and giving me so much PEACE…‘ and ‘I don’t feel any different, what on earth am I doing lying on the floor?‘ we know…
When we sit in an event planning meeting and decide whether to ban people from speaking tongues on stage at an Evangelical rally because it’s not ‘seeker sensitive’, everyone in the room is acknowledging that deep down we know…
We know that what we do on a week to week basis is just. plain. strange. It’s kooky.
We can dress it up in funky outfits or drown it out in drum beats. We can justify it with three verses from the new testament (that’s at least two more than the snake guy!) and years of religious tradition. We can remind ourselves that ‘no-one can argue with experience’ by waxing on about how amazing it feels but we still wouldn’t be any better than the kooks who handle snakes…
“It’s such a happiness and a joy. You can just feel the joy in your soul that you just don’t feel all the time every day.”
– Wife of kooky snake handling Pastor, explaining why she likes to handle snakes when the anointing comes on her to do so
“It was as much a commandment of God, when he said they shall take up serpents, as it was when he said, thou shalt not commit adultery.”
– Ps Jamie himself using a bible reference to back up his handling of snakes during church services.
If you’re a Pentacostal, have you said any or more of the below?
“When God comes in the room and the anointing falls, I just feel such peace. God fills me with joy.”
“On the Day of Pentacost, everyone was speaking in tongues. All the early church believers did it…”
So strange how we can think other people are religious, crazy nuts but never apply that same logic to ourselves.
It’s always crazy when it’s somebody else.Read More
God is not afraid of your brain.
I write this because I used to think he was. I would never have phrased it that way, of course, but that’s the reality of it.
When I was a Pastor, I picked up a little book in the library called ‘How To Know God Exists.’ About the size of a napkin, it had a cartoon on every page and no more than one sentence under the cartoon, aimed at the 5-8 year old market. It shocked me that a book of such clearly Christian persuasion would be in a Public Library and I wanted to find out how they managed to do that.
Turns out, they managed to do that because it wasn’t actually arguing for God’s existence. Quite the opposite actually. It’d be more aptly titled, ‘How To Know God Doesn’t Exist’. The book ended up in the boot of my car for a few weeks as the return reminders piled up. One afternoon, one of my staff members – a mum with 2 kids – saw it when we were collecting some items from my car and picked it up.Read More
Warning: Some Spoiler Alerts But Not The Most Important Stuff
For the first few hours of reading, I hated Paul Beaumont’s book, A Brief Eternity, so much I wanted to throw it out the window. When I was greeted in the first few paragraphs with a Korean speaking broken english to direct the traffic of new entrants through Heaven’s change rooms after they just finished floating through the sky, the fact that I was reading it on my iPhone at the beach was the only thing that stopped me from doing just that. Sometimes a book will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s bad. Other times, it will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s touching points of contention you didn’t even know you had.
The first time I ever heard someone admit, ‘I don’t know’ was when I asked a lecturer in Bible College why God made the world and humans if he knew it was going to end up such a mess.
I’d caught him in the doorway of the classroom and he said quite simply as he bustled past to put his notes down on the lectern, ‘I don’t know. I wouldn’t have done it.’
I was speechless for a moment.
‘Are we even allowed to say I don’t know?’
Because fundamentals always know.
We know how the world was made.
We know what God is like.
We know the truth about the world.
We know how go to heaven.
We know the best way to live life.
We know because God spoke to us/we had an experience/can feel the Holy Spirit/just sense it in our heart.
Really. That’s why we do what we do. Preach. Evanglise. Go on missions. Cos we know and they don’t.
At the end of the day though… there’s that…
That little fact that…
Know, that is.
Of course we don’t. We believe.
If we knew, it wouldn’t be belief. It would be knowledge.
I got my fear of saying I don’t know from preachers. “Those poor people out there who have no sense of meaning or purpose. They wander from one thing to another, always looking, always searching. Us, on the other hand… what wonderful peace it is to know that we have the truth.’
Saying ‘I don’t know’ is not a sign of weakness.
Actually, it takes a lot of courage to say ‘I don’t know.’
When I finally admitted those three words to myself a number of years later, (“I don’t know if God exists…), I went home, washed the residue of tears from my eyes with a splash of cold water and fell asleep fully clothed on top of our bed at 10am in the morning. When I woke up, the sloshing anxiety that used to barge into my stomach on reaching consciousness every morning never arrived. I was slipped, instead of jarred, into waking for the first time in years.
That’s what it feels like to stop lying to yourself.
It’s wonderful. Shockingly wonderful.
And horrendously scary.
Here is a video I was sent by a busker friend I met on the streets of Copenhagen around this time last year. It’s a guy called Richard Feynman, an old dude from the 80’s if the video quality is anything to go by, with a refreshing perspective on this idea of ‘I don’t know’.
“But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things. By being lost in the universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”
Saying ‘I know’ limits your world.
It means we are finished, done with our exploration, have reached the limits of our discoveries. Our brain stops expanding. ‘I know’ is the catchphrase of the Middle Ages.
Saying ‘I don’t know’ opens up your world.
It means we aren’t finished yet, there’s plenty more to discover and we are always open to new information. ‘I don’t know’ is the catchphrase of the Reformation!
I love saying I don’t know.
I love being in a position to change my mind on the make up of the very fabric of the universe. It’s amazing to meet someone with a different perspective and pull out everything they think through genuinely curious questions unencumbered by an agenda. The awe I used to feel surrounded by God’s Creation is superseded only by the awe of being surrounded by such a big, fascinating world to discover.
Thankfully, there’s a small amount of ‘I Don’t Know’ in everything.
A final thought: Saying “I Know” only shows how much we don’t know what we don’t know.Read More
On a trip to London two months ago I had the pleasure of getting back in touch with a friend I went to high school with in Brisbane, Australia. Linus was the third amigo in a trio consisting of him, me and Sam, who was best friend to both of us. Amongst the memories of a cringe-worthy yelling match on the green outside the music room and gossipy updates on characters we were still in touch with, we swapped tales of our journeys from faith to freethought.
I asked Linus if he would be interested in writing something up and he responded the next day with this beautifully written account of his year long awakening. I have copy and pasted it just as it was written here for your enjoyment.
If you have a story or thoughts to share – anonymously if you like – let me know.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint the moment I lost my faith. There was no “ah-hah” moment, no singularity to bookmark in a calendar. Losing my faith was a gradual, awkward process… much like puberty.
It started with a discomfort about doctrine. Like a pebble in my shoe. How could Jesus have spent most of his ministry preaching about how the kingdom of heaven flies in the face of our conventional structures of power and status and caring for the powerless and the outcasts of society, and yet the church seems to spend most of it’s time preaching about how to gain earthly power and possessions and can’t give a sh*t about the powerless and the outcasts of our society?
After a year or two of this discomfort, in an increasingly politicised church, I went backpacking around the world for a year, solo. Apart from missionary trips and holidays with family, I had never travelled before. It may sound cliche, but travel really did open my eyes to things I had taken for granted.
Firstly, I got to see just how mercurial one’s lot in life truly is. I was “blessed” to have been born in a developed country. I was “blessed” to have been born into a middle-class family, where my father was able to work in a well-paid profession because of the opportunities given to him growing up. I was “blessed” to have grown up in an English-speaking country. But for each of these blessings, I am in the global minority.
What about the child born to illiterate parents in a favela in Rio de Janeiro? Was there something about me that was more deserving than that child? What about the tramp on the streets of Budapest? Or the prostitute in the slums of Kowloon? This idea woke me to the realisation that I had been cocooned in a microcosm of mostly white, middle class privilege. The idea that God wants you to be rich (or “blessed”) in order to be a blessing to others was, at best, an entirely laughable concept to those outside that “christian bubble”. At worst it was an incredibly patronising, imperialist attitude seeing as most of the people God “chooses” to bless happen to be Anglophone, white people who live away from major fault lines and climates conducive to catastrophic weather conditions.
Secondly, I went into this yearlong journey with the idea of “the Church” vs “the World”. “The Church” cared for its own and upheld good, Christian values. “The World” conversely was a dog-eat-dog place, which only valued materialism and self-interest. Of course looking back it was an extremely naive perspective, and of course I never would have phrased it that way then, but it was a deeply rooted belief that had buried itself subconsciously after 9 years of full commitment to the church. There is an idea in the church that Christians are different from other people. To the point where they believe that others can see that difference and will be drawn to it. It’s even part of some “praise and worship” songs; that the light of God will shine through Christians in such a way that people will approach them and ask them what their secret is and so they’ll get a chance to witness for the Lord!
Well, that’s one myth that I can say has been well and truly busted in field testing. Not once did I recognise a fellow Christian in my travels. There was no difference in demeanor that I could spot amongst the crowd. Perhaps there were no other Christians in all the hostels I stayed in for almost a year across 15+ countries? Not that I didn’t see any Christians at all — I saw plenty at church. At least in the English speaking countries, I did try to go to church regularly for the first half of my trip and not once did anyone go out of their way to talk to me. I was travelling the world, alone, the first time I had been away from home for more than a few weeks, and not one Christian invited me to their home, to join their friends, to show me hospitality.
I met a number of good friends in this time, some of which I still keep in contact with today. None of them are Christian. To my knowledge they are all atheists, except for one non-practicing Jewish girl. These people made me feel welcome, invited me into their homes, went out of their way to show me around in their home city. The scary, uncaring world seemed to care a whole lot more than the church.
When I returned home, I felt my equilibrium had shifted. I stopped believing that doubt was the devil speaking to me (such an insidious self-policing mechanism that it would seem apropos for the devil to have invented it). The one thing I had left was what pentecostalism leans on more than any other flavour of Christianity: my personal testimony. The good that religion had done in my family had to be proof that God was real, right? I began examining the problem of suffering (how an ostensibly all-powerful, all-knowing and all-benevolent God could allow such arbitrary suffering to happen across the world) critically, reading what real scholars had to say not just what was approved by the Christian bookstore. I highly recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s, “God’s Problem”, on this topic. It’s Malcom-Gladwell-ian in it’s readability to the layperson, but written by a serious and respected scholar of Biblical texts and church history.
It was sometime around then, while reading around this topic and about the history of the church and the bible itself, that I hit upon two lasting revelations.
All experience is subjective, and no experience, no matter how seemingly supernatural, can directly prove a specific doctrine, let alone an entire theological system. (E.g. A man in a wheelchair being “healed in the name of Jesus” getting up and walking can never prove the virgin birth, the resurrection, or that an embryo has a soul).
If God is real and personal like the church teaches, yet the majority of evidence leads me to believe that he does not exist, or has no interest in us and our planet, I cannot fool God into thinking that I believe in him when I do not.
It was upon reaching this point that I had to be honest with myself: I was no longer a Christian. After a few difficult months, I “came out” as atheist to my family. My mother cried. My father got angry. Hurtful things were said. It was like opening a raw nerve. It came to a point where I had to make a rule – if my parents wanted me to have a relationship with them, we would never talk about religion or religious topics (e.g. abortion, gay marriage, etc.) again. The good news is, things got better with time. It’s been 6 years now and we can now have philosophical discussions that skirt with questions of religion. I’ve become less strident in my atheism, and they’ve mellowed in their Christianity, so I’ve been lucky in that sense. My church friends are a different story, and this one is already dragging on as it is.
The long and short of it is, I broke ties with the church (which was not only my place of worship, but also my entire social network and my employer) and moved countries. I was essentially starting from scratch. I now consider myself an an atheist (still an unhelpful label, I’m also an “avegitarian” and an “aconservative”). I’m a humanist, I do not believe in a personal god, and as far as the supernatural is concerned, I believe that we don’t have all the answers. Science didn’t recognise germs until we had the microscope, and I believe that in time, we may find ways to measure and observe things we previously had no way of knowing were there. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, I feel that superimposing a meta-narrative to explain the unexplainable is fruitless if I can’t truly believe it.
As for the big questions — Why are we here? What’s the purpose of life? Perhaps those are the wrong questions to be asking. The question I’m asking most now is, How do we make life worth living? What is worth living for? I don’t have an answer yet, and may never find a definitive one. But at least I’m free to ask whatever questions I want, and nobody can tell me I’m wrong for asking them.
I received this tweet this month:
Yes it is hard. Impossible even. Which is why my answer may surprise you.
Let me explain.
Remember when you were an Evangelical Christian – if you were one – and you were at a party (okay, okay, gathering) tucking into a bowl of cheezels and making small talk with a stranger? Remember that moment they casually mentioned that they didn’t believe in God? Remember that sinking feeling in your stomach as you realised that any pretence at a normal friendship was now over? Because if you want to sleep tonight instead of spending hours in guilt-ridden prayer for their soul on the carpet next to your bed, you need to get to work on doing your best to convince them there is a God and that they need to give him their life or they are going to spend eternity in hell.
Remember how that never worked?
It’s hard enough to convince yourself out of eating the last row of an Oreo Cookies and Cream chocolate bar, let alone convincing someone else out of a world view that has provided them meaning and purpose for the past two decades.
This is why talking is futile. On both sides. We cannot be valiantly rescued from our own minds by others. There is no kicking down of mental doors and carrying out into the new reality. It is each human’s responsibility to make their own mind up.
Which is why it is better not to talk but to ask questions instead.
A question – the right question – is the most powerful force for change I know. It’s the first echo, the bubble that rises to the surface suggesting there is something underneath, a vibration through the ground you stand on giving warning to the life altering earthquake on the way. Questions open doors in the mind from the only way they can be opened; the inside. This is because Questions require Answers to come from the inside.
Which is where all answers need to come from. If answers are to do anything more life changing than a fleeting, ‘Oh that’s nice’ or ‘Hmm, that’s different’, they must be formed in our own minds.
There’s three other reasons questions are so powerful.
You likely need to keep your relationship / friendship with this person over a long period of time. That or you would just prefer not to deal with the twangs of awkwardness across the room of a birthday party for the next few hours. One conversation ain’t gonna do nothin’. Your priority here, not just for the agenda of changing someone’s mind, but for the far greater pursuit of enjoying another human being and experiencing the diversity this world offers us, is to keep the dialogue open. That is only done when these conversations are, at their base, respectful.
2) You may learn something.
Read my blog “How To Tell If Your Religion Would Hack Someone To Death and Why I Don’t Call Myself An Atheist”. To my good-hearted twitter friend, can I just say that actually you don’t Know The Truth. No-one does. You have what you believe to be the closest version according to our current way of thinking. That’s admirable because it’s not an ancient version of a sugar daddy but it’s still very far from knowing The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth. This is what I call the Fundamentalist Line and crossing it, in my opinion, is where the world’s problems with religion and belief begin.
3) The other person may reciprocate with questions of their own.
And this is your time to shine!!!! Combined with Point 2, your answers will sound like, ‘I think…’ or ‘When I looked into it, it seemed to me that…’ and then finish with the all powerful Question, ‘Have you ever looked into it? What did you find?’
I imagine the main reason we want to convince other people of our worldview is because we love them. This love makes us care very deeply about the fact that they are living in delusion. It makes us desire greatly that they would also experience the freedom that we have received from our new way of looking at life. It even makes us have awkward conversations with strangers over a bowl of cheezels about their eventual burning for eternity in hell. This is noble and kind and going about it all the wrong way.
There is a greater expression of love than wishing the best for someone. It is wishing their best for themselves. You may not agree with what is their best. For absolute sure they don’t agree with what is your best. So the only way out of this impass is to hope for each others’ best.
Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.
Oh god, he’s sitting down.
I should have been ruder. I’m attempting to get three hours of writing in before heading to the beach. 50-ish, slightly yellow teeth, blue polo t-shirt with a smear down the front, jowls puffed over prominent teeth and an air of superiority. I answered ‘No, I don’t have one.’ to the request for a lighter. He returned a few seconds later with a compliment and I was about to bury my head in my laptop again when…
…he told me he was a Reiki Master.
My only brush with Rieki was a few years ago. The Pastor of our church interviewed a new convert in front of the whole congregation one evening. She gushed about how wonderful Jesus was and then, almost in the same breath, how he was magnifying her Reiki experiences. She had increased her practice of Reiki as a result of meeting Jesus. You could feel the air leave the auditorium as everyone sat with wide eyes wondering how the Pastor would respond. In a wonderful show of grace, he simply confirmed that Jesus was a great guy who met us where we were at and took us one step at a time further into his truth. Those sorts of responses are just one example of why we all respected Phil so much.
Since then, I’ve been curious. And who better to explain it to me than a Reiki Master himself?
Swirling a half drunk chocolate milk drink he carried over from the other table, he explains that Reiki is simply energy. The energy – called Ki – exists, it is, always has been, and it knows what we need. Usually, we ourselves don’t know what we need but the energy knows. When a Reiki Master lays hands on a person, this energy is transferred and set to work. When we submit to a Reiki treatment, we are simply allowing the energy to work in our body and do the things it needs to do, bringing equilibrium to our lives.
Sounds a lot like how we used to administer the Holy Spirit.
‘Why do you believe in Reiki?’
‘Because I have had experiences that tell me it is true.’
I’m not surprised at his answer. After a long discussion with a believer on the finer points of Christianity’s logic and evidence, it usually arrives at this statement, ‘Well I know it’s true because I’ve experienced it.’
I’ve said that statement myself, having grown up in the highly-experiential world of the Toronto Blessing movement as a child. People literally rolled around on the ground for an hour and fell off their seat because they couldn’t control the laughter God was making them do. My dad carried me out to the car after a church service one evening, my 9 year old body limp and my head rolling backwards as if I’d fainted. I was ‘under the power of the Holy Spirit’ and had been so for the past hour.
What believers don’t realise is that every belief system’s converts have experiences that seem undeniable confirmation of its truth.
‘Give me an example.’
I regret this request almost immediately. He launches into a story about a woman who received the largest orgasm of her life, sitting on a chair in the middle of a spiritual tradeshow, after he simply touched her once on the chest.
‘That’s what happens sometimes with the combination of a Reiki Master and a Tantra practitioner.’
The conversation has suddenly taken an unwelcome sexual turn. Of course, I have my own theories that explain this woman’s orgasm which I will explain in a forthcoming blog post. How would I have explained it years ago? Probably devils. We sort of lucked out if Devil’s are the ones administering orgasms. Could explain a lot actually… 😉
After reading my palm he asks me to bring my knees out from under the table, pinches his thumb and forefinger together and places the tips on the indent of my left knee. Then I need to close my eyes. We sit this way for an awkward few moments. I won’t lie, I peeked a little.
When he senses I’m about ready to move on, he asks The Question.
“Is the energy going up, down or just staying the same?’
I know this question. It’s a trick one. There’s only one correct response for me here and it is neither of the three options he gave.
‘What energy?‘ I ask, opening my eyes and staring him full in the face.
It’s hard to do this. We want to go along with what someone is suggesting. By providing me only three options with which to answer, he was attempting to bring me into a game, into ‘the Magic Circle’, where neither of us question the existence of the energy. We just assume it exists and that I am feeling it. The only thing left to discuss is whether it is going up, down or just staying the same.
Here are some questions from the old life I remember of the same vein…
Surprise, surprise, the reason I don’t feel anything, according to my new friend the Reiki Master, is that I’m not open.
‘Okay, not a problem. Sometimes I just sense that someone is open to it and can sense something very easily. But obviously you’re not one of those.’ he says, leaning back in chair and pursing his fat lips a little.
It’s a trick of belief systems to make someone feel inferior for not ‘playing the game’.
A large reason I put off questioning for real for such a long time was because it was really looked down on. Faith and blind belief was upheld. People would say from the pulpit, ‘I don’t let my head get in the way of God speaking to my heart…’. Then I realised that God, if there was one, had created both organs.
The truth is not afraid of my brain. God is not afraid of my brain.
Lastly, the Reiki Master confirms the scientific validity of Reiki. Just last year, he was called in to teach nurses how to administer Reiki treatments throughout an oncology ward. The cancer patients on that ward recovered so wonderfully better than all the others that they now make it standard practice to teach their nurses how to administer basic Reiki. There have been loads of scientific studies done that prove it exists and works.
This honestly astounds me. How could the world have missed this? Unfortunately I’m out of battery now on my laptop so I can’t google Wikipedia.
When I do, this is the first sentence of the third paragraph.
“The concept of ki underlying Reiki is speculative and there is no scientific evidence that it exists.”
Which I guess doesn’t mean it doesn’t. But it doesn’t mean it does either. Either way, I’m excited about the idea that Pentacostal Pastors and Reiki Masters could hold joint conferences. Their ministry techniques are basically the same.
Maybe the new convert was onto something…
Trigger Warning: yeah, okay there isn’t one here.
I came across this phrase browsing Elizabeth Esther’s facebook page for her blog the other day.Read More
Your religion would hack someone to death in the street.
This goes for some of you Atheists too by the way, although I know you’re all frothing at the mouth at having your belief system compared to a religion (said in the same manner one would say ‘gobba of snot’).
Hear me out though…Read More
So I still can’t say the four-letter C word.
It’s just so… crass. To be able to say it, someone needs to put it into some sort of meme like “That shit cray” and “Da fuck?”. THEN maybe I’d say it.
There’s another four letter C-word, though, that is coming up a lot lately