Monthly Archives: March 2014

What’s a Physeter? A post about metaphors and prophecy

This is a post about finding meaning. Also crossposted at

Why do I call myself The Physeter online? My internet moniker is the name of a beautiful and majestic creature:

The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), or cachalot, is the largest of the toothed whales and the largest toothed predator. It is the only living member of genus Physeter, and one of three extant species in the sperm whale family, along with the pygmy sperm whale and dwarf sperm whale of the genus Kogia.

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Abraham Sacrifices Isaac: What it teaches Christians today

My previous post made an example of why the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac has so many problems. I’d like to share how this story haunted me personally while growing up Christian.

In Genesis 22, God demands that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac, to test Abraham’s obedience. Abraham is blessed for doing whatever God says, no matter how hard it was for him.

This surely tells us something about God’s character. A Christian believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and everything in it is meant to teach us something, to help us grow in Christ. I can nearly type this verse from memory: “All scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim. 3:16-17). So the story of Abraham’s sacrifice must be important.

Because of this, I thought God would speak to me and tell me to do something, and I would have to obey unquestioningly. I had no guarantee that what he told me would be reasonable. An unreasonable demand could be a test, and must be followed like a reasonable one. But how do you know if you are hearing from God? Continue reading

Abraham Sacrifices Isaac: Not how modern Christian think

Here, let me tell you two stories, and see which one you think has the better moral.

A poor man has been looking a long time for a job, and finally gets one. After a time the boss tells him he’s thinking of promoting him to a supervisory position with a big pay increase. But the poor man will have to look the other way while the boss does some cooking of the books. The poor man really needs this raise. And, he’s afraid that if he says no, the boss will find some excuse to fire him, leaving him with no job to feed his family. But after praying and thinking it over, the poor man says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t lie for you, because it’s wrong.” The boss then gives him the bigger job, because it was a test to see if he was honest. The boss didn’t want to hire a person who would lie to get ahead.

Second story: exactly the same as the first. The poor man is offered a bigger job if he’ll just lie about this one little thing. The poor man thinks it over and replies, “I trust you, boss, and I know you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t have good reason. So I’ll lie for you if you want.” The boss gives him the job, because he wanted to make sure his worker would do what was required.

So…in which situation did the worker do the right thing?

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My Journey to Atheism, Part 3: Little steps toward whatever’s next

Originally posted Dec. 2013

I wrote in part one a bit about my religious background. In part two I explained how, shortly after a missionary trip, I ended up praying a prayer of committal to the truth, even if it meant leaving Jesus.

After I prayed that prayer on Nov. 6, 2010, I began a long and confusing journey. One of my first steps was to try and convince myself I was wrong—that God was actually true after all.

I asked God to give me a sign. I asked him to speak to me in some way. When I asked for simple things, that could happen by coincidence, my prayers seemed to be answered. But when I asked for slightly less simple things, nothing happened.

I asked him to give me a vision, or a vivid dream—something that would clearly let me know he was searching for me like a lost sheep who had wondered off. Something that I couldn’t interpret as just my mind playing tricks on me. I got no answer.

I asked for God to send someone. I have many friends from the mission program who are in tune with the Holy Spirit; God could ask one of them to call me up. Or God could use my current pastor, or my former pastor, or my former roommate who is now a pastor. They would tell me God had told them I was struggling with my faith, and has asked them to pray for me. But nobody called.

I prayed that someone would interpret a dream I’d had, without me telling them what the dream was, like Daniel did for a king in the Bible. But no one did this either.

I attended church regularly, and played on the worship team. I waited for God to punish me for standing in front of the congregation and worshiping dishonestly. I thought he might suddenly wipe away my ability to play, or take my voice, or even just overwhelm me with emotion. But it did not happen.

We took communion every month. Communion is the most solemn ceremony of the Christian faith, and my pastor treats it as such. He always reads from 1 Corinthians 11:27-30:

 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Don’t come up to eat and drink just because everyone else is, he would say. If you have something you need to get right with God first, just wait. You can always take communion again next month.

It sounded like a promise that a person taking communion dishonestly would suffer some sort of consequence, and I believed God would keep his promise. As I took the bread and juice, I prayed, God, I don’t think I believe in you anymore. If you are real, God, turn this bread sour in my stomach. Make me throw it back up, God, because I have eaten in an unworthy manner. Make me sick, God, or knock me flat so I can’t take the bread at all. But nothing happened. There was no effect. The body and blood of the deity I was dishonoring went down smoothly like ordinary bread and juice, just as it always had.

I attended several different churches during this time, some of them very Pentecostal in their worship style. I always prayed that God would speak to me there. Knock me flat on the ground, “slain in the spirit”; strike me blind or deaf or dumb; cause me to start speaking in tongues; give me a vision or a prophecy; send someone else to me with a vision or a prophecy. Nothing happened.

I attended a church service by a traveling prophet at another church. He prophesied about people in the audience, giving them encouragement or advice. Some of his insights seemed pretty accurate, but nothing that couldn’t be duplicated by a skilled illusionist. He called people up one at a time out of the audience, and I kept praying that God would have him call me. At the same time I was terrified that he might call on me. I was afraid he would expose my sin and disbelief in front of all those people. I was afraid it might be true, even though I was praying for it to be true. Instead, nothing happened. The speaker ignored me.

It was the same at a revival service I attended later. They gave testimonies of a miraculous healing that had occurred, which actually sounded like an unlikely but very possible physical healing. I didn’t see any healings occur that day; no people leaving their walkers or wheelchairs; no limbs growing back.

I was filled with anxiety throughout this time. Questioning God didn’t lift a weight from my shoulders; if anything it pushed me back into a morass of not trusting myself. I don’t know if you’d called it “depressed” or not, but I sure got down.

I didn’t talk with my friends as much, because I was afraid they’d find out what I was thinking. I didn’t spend time looking for jobs as much as I should have, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life without God to ask for directions. I was afraid to read atheist blogs, or research, because I still was afraid of being right.

But gradually, things began to change. I got a full-time job, which kept me from sitting around moping so much. Then, about a year ago, I moved out of my parents’ house and into my own apartment. Suddenly I wasn’t in their Christianized atmosphere anymore; I was free to make my own connections.

I started reading the atheist blogs on Patheos regularly. I started digging into other sources, like I eventually got up my courage and posted on an atheist website for the first time.

It was scary, but over time I started to get used to it. It became more and more normal for me to write out the things I was thinking. I’d been keeping a journal for a long time, but now that people were reading what I wrote, it seemed more real.

When I look back over my journal, I see that I slowly stop being afraid. I write a lot about being depressed at first, about feeling like a sinner, about my worry that God is upset at me, but that slowly drops off. Instead, I become more used to this ‘godless’ idea. I become more comfortable with myself and with my own inquiry.

I feel like even if I am wrong—even if there is a God, and I end up needing to repent and return to him—this time was essential for me to figure out what I believe. For me to try questioning what I was taught and discover that it is possible to live differently than how I was raised.

Three years after I vowed to follow the truth, I’m feeling more comfortable as an atheist. But I also feel like I’m stuck again.

I can’t bring myself to tell my family what I’m thinking. In fact, none of my real-life friends know what I’ve gone through over the past few years. My parents still think I haven’t changed—I’m still a creationist, anti-gay, traditional Christian.

I live on my own, and handle my own finances. But I still go home a lot, and enjoy spending time around them. I know we couldn’t be friends like we are now if they knew the truth about me. I honestly don’t know how they’d react.

But I hate not being able to speak about what I believe. When my mom makes anti-gay comments, I can’t say anything to counter that. When I hear people talk about faith healing, I have to keep my mouth shut. When people talk about how Christians have it so hard in America these days, I don’t feel free to point out the many, many things wrong with that statement.

I don’t want to be quiet and just keep things to myself. I have never enjoyed not being able to speak up. I want to be vocal about what is right. I want to stand up for what I’ve always believed—peace, justice, love, anti-imperialism—as well as new things I’ve come to believe in, like gay rights and religious tolerance.  I want to encourage people to use reason instead of blind faith.

I hope at some point here, three years after my big decision, I will be ready to make another big decision, and let the world know. I hope by then, I will be strong enough to survive through the fallout.

My Journey to Atheism, Part 2: The prayer for Truth

Originally posted Dec. 2013

My journey from the faith I grew up in to my current state of doubt had a clear beginning point: Nov. 5, 2010. I wrote part one of my story about how my questions about faith were easy to push to the side until I got to college.

During and after college, I took a couple trips that changed my view on life in profound ways. I could fill a book, or a blog series, on my experiences from each one.

I went to Israel in 2008, for a two-week trip. We learned about the history of the Palestine/Israel conflict. We stayed in the West Bank, and even spent a night in a Palestinian’s home. The trip changed the way I look at politics, pushing me farther left, and gave me the desire (though not the courage) to be an activist, a protester, someone who stands up and makes a difference.

But more relevant to the topic at hand, the trip made me see that there are good people and bad people in every religion.

There were Christians dedicated to peace and justice, like Palestinian priest Elias Chacour, who built a school in Nazareth and worked for understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. And then there were Christians like the mainstream conservative Americans who like to preach that all Muslims are evil, and anyone who opposes anything Israel is doing must be following Satan. There are peace-loving Jews in organizations like Zochrot, and then there are the Israeli settlers who terrorize Palestinian villagers. There are Muslims who want to live in harmony with others, and Muslims who want to blow up shopping centers and elementary schools.

I saw that people could be good or bad in any religion, or even without religion. What good, then, I wondered at the time, is our religion?

I went to Africa as a missionary after I graduated college, in late 2009 and 2010. I spent three months in spiritual training here in the U.S. and then eight months in an extremely poor, primitive area of the world.

As I said before, my faith grew in many ways on this trip. For the first time, I really began to think I could feel God leading me. I thought God was speaking to me, even though hearing him wasn’t quite like I had expected, or as clear as I had hoped.

I had questions, still, but I felt like I was finally getting answers. It was only later on I would question the quality of those answers.

I saw there weren’t many more miracles over there, and church people seemed to quarrel and fight over petty nonsense just as much as they do in the West. At the time, I thought this was encouraging; it meant that we weren’t doing something spectacularly wrong in the West. We were only human.

Later, though, I questioned whether, based on this observation, I could really believe that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Even with divine help, this is all the better we get?

After I got back, I began to think about how the ‘leading’ I got from hearing God’s voice never seemed to lead very effectively. I thought about how our team seemed to accomplish so little, even though we thought we had an omniscient being as our leader. I thought about how the members of the team fought with each other to the point of our team practically falling apart, even though we were supposed to be filled with the love of Christ. I thought about how the team leaders, the team members, and the leaders back in America all said they were hearing from God but were not hearing the same thing.

And once I came back to the U.S., I began looking at things on the Internet again.

Maybe if I had avoided the Internet and read nothing but my Bible all day, I would have been okay.

But I found that things I were interested in kept leading me back to skepticism, for some reason. When I read liberal politics that I was likely to agree with, these were often published by atheists. I found those who cared about the Palestinians like I did were more likely atheists. I ran across, mostly because they were making fun of Conservapedia and I thought that was funny. I liked a lot of what I read there and agreed with it; I didn’t learn until later that Rationalwiki was an atheist website.

Questions were building up, and this time they did seem important. Questions about evolution, creation, and the reliability of the Bible when faced with this simple fact of science. Questions about homosexuality, which was solidly condemned by the mission organization. I had read testimonies of homosexuals before, and it didn’t sound like they ‘chose’ their lifestyle so they could sin; and modern medicine seemed to back up that view.

Questions about difficult Bible passages were harder to brush away. Why does it talk so much about women submitting to men, when anyone can see that this is harmful, and what’s really needed is mutual respect and equality? Why do the books of Joshua and Judges first say that YHWH gave all of the land into the hands of the Israelites, then give three different excuses as to why the land wasn’t all given to the Israelites?

I had gone to Africa as a step of faith. My faith was weak before the trip. I went out, not to test God, but to trust God. He said he’d be there for me, and I chose to behave as though it were true even if I wasn’t sure. So why hadn’t God spoken to me more clearly over there? Why had there been no miraculous healings, no clear prophecies, no strange and wonderful works of the Holy Spirit? And why did he seem so distant now in America?

I thought maybe I should just avoid reading things that made me uncomfortable. But I thought if God was the Truth, he should be able to stand up to honest questioning. And it was weird how much I identified with the things I was reading.

I don’t remember how I ended up browsing Amazon the night of Nov. 5. But there I was, reading the free samples of atheist books. When I’d read as much as was allowed in one, I moved on to another and kept reading. Instead of feeling indignant at reading lies, I felt terror because it sounded like the truth.

The things I read made my heart hurt. Belief in God is like a virus that destroys its host, they said. People are better off without their imaginary friend. They said leaving the faith wasn’t something fun they did to keep sinning. They said they weren’t angry, and they weren’t just rebelling; leaving God was like a painful divorce. They pointed out ways the Bible is unreliable and inconsistent—ways I had never noticed before, and that I couldn’t just brush away or rationalize.

Faced with these thoughts, which lined up so closely with what I’d been thinking on my own, the next night I prayed what might turn out to be the most important prayer of my life.

I didn’t turn on God, or become angry with God. I certainly didn’t renounce God, or renounce my Christianity, or tell Jesus I didn’t want him in my life anymore.

Instead, I said a prayer in which I vowed to follow the truth, no matter how difficult.

I’m not going to believe in something that’s not real, I told God. Jesus, no matter how much it hurts, I’m going to give you up if you really, honestly aren’t real. I think that’s what you’d want from me—to believe and follow the truth.

I will live based on what is real. If Jesus is Lord, I will serve him, but if not I will figure out my own way.

I half-expected to get a response from God on this. I spent the next three years trying to figure out what this prayer meant for me.

Stay tuned for part three, as I try to figure out how to live now.