Friday, September 28, 2012

The Minuscule God of the Evangelicals Part III - The Myopic God

Apparently their God needs glasses but has misplaced them.  He is blinded to the games that we all play.

While we manipulated people to our own gain, we can have refined techniques that fool people into thinking that we are nice people with nice motives.  We are even good at fooling ourselves. We look in the mirror and think, now that's a swell person.  Yet, most of our behavior is targeted in trying to find some sense that we have value.  Most us are willing to go to great means, manipulating and hurting other people, in order to accomplish that goal.

Now, with that said, I also think, deep down, that we really believe that we are fooling God too.  The Evangelical God seems quite naive.  After all, watch a  little bit of Evangelovision ( "Christian TV").  The thinly veiled self adoration doesn't even fool a six year old. But they must think they are fooling God.

In my life, the most Evangelical people I've ever known, (what some would call "godly") was also the greatest masters of deception.

The reason I think they think they are fooling God is because these people, in their heart of hearts, really do believe in God.  They also imagine Him as a God who has a potential of wrath.  Yet they totally disregard His sense of justice and play these games with impunity.  The school master is asleep in the back . . .  in their minds.

I see a God who sees me like no one else, including myself.  If we thought that Freud took it to an unbearable level, God knows us much deeper. There is no deceiving Him.  So when I manipulate my wife (make her feel guilty) God knows it.  He knows my true motives.  He knows what's on my heart before I do.

But observe the Evangelicals.  Their God has lost His glasses and finite in His ability to know us, to see us and understand us. We therefore can be the celestial tricksters.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Minuscule God of the Evangelicals Part II

Now imagine that if your God (god) sat on Mount Olympus and threw lightening bolts now and then, He would be seriously threatened by rivals . . . such as Satan, another immortal of the underworld (Hades).

So, your people would need to live in constant fear of this devil of the underworld.  You have to be careful where you go, because the devil could be there and obsess you or at least oppress you.  You would have to be very careful what music you listened to or allowed your children to listen to because the other god from Hades could trick your God and sneak in and destroy your family.  If someone brought in Ouija Board and your kids touched it, the god of Hades could enter into their soul and your good God wouldn't even notice it, nor could He stop it.

If any event happened, your car broke down, your shoe laces came untied, it would have to be either your God or the other god in Hades as they are in this constant battle . . . some days one wins, some days the other.

Your world would have to be defined by great boundaries . . . made of bricks of "dos" and "don'ts" to protect yourself from this powerful devil.  As one great Evangelical preacher said, "God and Satan are like two pit-bulls in my back yard that are always fighting.  The one that wins, is the one that I feed the most."  They are almost equals . . . the Titans against Zeus.

This good God of yours is also quite finicky. You have to be very careful what you say and do.  If you  don't walk into His temple every Sunday or if you get mad and say "shit" he is deeply offended because it threaten's . . .  well, His self esteem.

Now, my God is so big that it is totally beyond the mental capacity of mortals.  I can't even fathom the 14 billion light year distance across our universe and He has to much bigger than that.  Satan is a mere mortal and is of total insignificance to my God, although he has been of significance to this mortal world through the fall, but "obsesses us" only if we allow on a psychological level.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Minuscule God of the Evangelicals Part I

I have been told more than once, by evangelicals, that my problem is that "Mike . . . your God is too small!"  That is usually after someone described how they had been looking to buy a Mustang and they happen to see one at the car lot, proving that God wanted them to buy it.  Or maybe grandma's pneumonia got better and I suggested it was because of the azithromycin and they said that had nothing to do with it . . . it was the direct hand of God in a real, miracle.

So, I've spent some time thinking about this, and I want to start putting my thoughts down.  As it turns out, I'm quite convinced that the problem is the opposite.  Evangelicals still live under the Greco-Roman concept of God, who is slightly larger than a Marvel character.  I will try to prove my point in this series of posts.

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Imposed Hell -- A Voice for the Victims of the Righteous Sociopaths

Okay, I had two conversations with two different women (patients) in the last two days and the stories were so similar that it was eerie.

It goes like this.  A husband who is very, very evangelical, but who uses a constant and subtle tricks of psychological manipulation to control his wife.  So, if you weigh up the sum sin (no metaphysical way to do that) the man is usually doing horrible things, but when he is done with his masterful twisting and rational gymnastics, the woman comes out as the guilty one.

Now, these cases are extreme, but extreme cases helps us to explore the underbelly of thinking that applies to the more garden variety manipulation.  For example, I don't think I'm a sociopath but I have exhibited manipulative behavior with my interactions with others . . . as I think most of us have, save the few.

In the first case, when you strip away the charade, the man is totally consumed with under-age (as if age really mattered) porn.  He appears totally addicted.  He even had cameras in his stepdaughter's bedroom.  Of course all of this is not only evil but criminal.

However, he is such a strong christian leader in their community, and he is so skilled with his tongue, he has been able to make his wife feel like the cheater because she found his stash (and camera) and had a huge confrontational and even called the police.  The man is outraged that his wife would so betray him. You know, the man whom had this beautiful "James Dobson Focus on the Family" type of life on the surface.  I honestly, because of the nature of sociopaths and the deep influence of the Fall of Adam, think that this man doesn't see his own sin.

The second one was very similar except he wasn't dealing with pron but with multiple girlfriends.  He has been a womanizer for years.  Every time his wife is jealous, for example, him going on a business trip with the beautiful, young woman that he works with and coming home with her perfume and lipstick on his dress shirts, he is "deeply saddened by her sin of distrust."  But on the surface he is the leader of a large church and wants he to stay married for the appearance of normalcy. He called her the "bride of Satan" the other day when she was upset that he and another one of his beautiful female friends announced that they are taking an overseas trip together (not work but a fun trip).

So, I want to move beyond those stories and think about this.  Throughout my life I have known several people who were such righteous sociopaths.  A couple were pastors. One was my old boss (whom I had to think about lately in preparation for my "testimony").  I think with the evangelical paradigm of "Christian growth," "Discipleship" or "Spiritual Maturity"  we get lost in the notion that if you claim to be a believer, especially a leader in the church or Christian organization, that you become immune to sin and temptation.  But my view now is that the fall of Adam is much deeper than that.  Some of us are broken from birth and can't be fixed by Bible studies.  This is not to stand as an excuse but as a warning.

If someone appears to be evil or have evil motives, even if they are very skilled in convincing you that they are not, they most likely are . . . that is evil.  Evangelicalism also has this unwritten (okay it is written in one form) that we are not to "judge our brother."  But that thought totally dis-empowers those who are victims of the abuse.  They feel so guilty to even consider the Christian leaders motives are not pure, that they don't do it.

My personal spiritual hero is the late Francis Schaeffer.  When his son wrote very candid (and critical) books describing his family from the inside, it was not flattering.  I personally know people associated with that family and some of them were outraged.  For me . . . I can honestly say that the Becker series (semi-fictional) and Crazy for God, are within my top favorite ten books.  Yes, Dr. Schaeffer had some demons.  He was an angry man.  But that puts flesh on the image of a man that I didn't get to know that well.  Frank's words are believable because of what I have seen in their family, and what I've witnessed with myself and others.

I think this kind of openness (Vs naivity) is a healthy place to be. For one, I can't trick myself so easily. Before, when I was a good Evangelical, I could manipulate my wife for a very selfish cause but make her feel guilty about it for lack of submission (or a million other spiritual issues).  Also, before, I was subject to being a victim, but now I am far more resistant to that.  That is precisely why I had to leave my old church and am extremely happy with my new one.

So, in summary, I think this imposed hell most common in two situations. For the woman it is often the "spiritual husband" who constantly and subtly abuses them "between-the-lines" but covers it with Jesus talk. For a man, I think it is most common when they are manipulated by pastors and other people in "spiritual authority."  Now I have witnessed rarely when a man is manipulated by a spiritual wife where she has this quieter (than the abusing type of husband) constant criticism of the husband because he isn't spiritual enough . . . for example when he watches The Simpsons and such.  It is an act to make herself feel better about herself by being critical of her husband. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Testimony

Today was the big day . . . when I was chosen to walk in front of the big church and "give a testimony."

Now this was really interesting from a whole assortment of perspectives.  It is also strange (and I meaning nothing by that except for the surface meaning) that I was the very first person chosen to be part of this brand new program of having one testimony per month.  If there was any luck to this draw, it was the fact that the pastor considered me one of the most "unknown" members and the fact I quickly grabbed the first slot for speaking.

I didn't grab the first slot out of any type of eagerness but the opposite.  I've talked many times about the fact that I have an anxiety disorder.  I've had it every since I was born. But it was magnified during two very difficult times of my life.  It certainly isn't as bad right now as it was during the middle of each of those periods . . . but it is still a challenge.  One of the cornerstones to my anxiety is social anxiety.  The number one phobia in the world is public speaking. So, if I knew that I had to do something really, really hard . . . I would rather get it over with . . . like pulling the band-aid off quickly.

Okay, so that covers one aspect (social anxiety) of the testimony . . . okay, not yet.  No there's more.  If I were to pin point the most fearful thing I could face it would be speaking in front of a church. It is complicated, but the root fear of social anxiety is the fear of being judged and that judging mattering.  So, not just someone's opinion of me, but the fear that the opinion counts.  I am a jerk if they think I'm a jerk.  This is not just me but the root of all social phobia. So for me personally (and church is s common site for maxim social phobia for a lot of people) speaking in front of a church is the most fearful circumstance.

Still on this first perspective, I will say that one of my major reasons for accepting this invitation is that it scared the crap out of me. Facing my fears (or anyone facing their fears, or what they call "exposure") is one way out of this psychological trap. This is the same motivation for climbing the mountain a few weeks ago.

So my family doctor gives me 20 Ativan a year. I save them like magic beans.  I honestly think it is more of a placebo effect than anything.  They do play a role in helping me sleep the night before the stressful event rather than during the event itself. For example, I used 1/2 of a tablet for the two nights prior to our summiting the  mountain but not the night of the summit (didn't want my senses dulled).  So I did take the Ativan so I could sleep last night. I also put one in my pocket for the talk . . . but I choose not to take it.  It is a little like the choice to climb Mount Everest without an oxygen bottle.  Experts say that when we face fears in a raw way (without pharmaceuticals) we are in a better position for allowing the exposure to do it's work.

Enough for the anxiety part.  Now to the meat part to this issue.  You see, it was especially hard for me because I'm not a church person.  I am on the very edge of the church . . . by choice.  I'm fearful of the center.  Every church I've ever attended has this same black hole in the middle, one of emotional manipulation under spiritual pretense.  Now maybe this makes me cynical . . . or wise.  I hate to judge my present church in this way.  I have a feeling that I might be pleasantly surprised.  But on top of that, I really don't enjoy the church things that most other church people do, sing-along, most Bible studies and etc.

So here I, an outside, was asked to come to the very center of the hub (the podium on Sunday morning). This was a huge challenge . . . and risk for all parties.

Lastly, was the testimony itself.  What could I say in 5 minutes that would make sense to a typical church congregation?  It was a very hard choice to make, but I did choose to go through with it.  Then putting together the testimony, if I were to be honest, required me to relieve my painful experiences of the past and my crises of faith.  I must have spent 100 hours trying to think through that 5 minutes.  I didn't want to get into details of what happened on the mission field that caused that crises of faith. I really think that I have had good closer on that and I never want to open Pandora's diary again . . . ever.

So enough. How did it go?  I think it went well.  I was terrified.  I cried when I got to the hard part even though I had, intentionally, practiced telling the story with no emotion.  I didn't want to cry. I wanted to have full control.

I had a lot of people come up and thank me for telling the ugly truth of falling completely away from Christianity . . . and finding it again but on different terms.  We will see if that sticks.

But, I'm glad it is over.  Tonight I should sleep very well . . . without Ativan.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Code of Silence

Now what provoked this thinking has to do with the fact that I'm doing a short presentation about my spiritual journey at my church in a couple of weeks.  While speaking in church (even preaching sermons) was common in my old life, I really haven't spoken in front of a church about anything in about twenty years . . . not since I went through the looking glass and found myself at a different place.

To pack my "spiritual journey" into a 5 minute presentation has required me going back and thinking through some bad experiences, which changed my life for the better . . . and the worse . . . from a long time ago.  Those things have had healthy closure and it is not good to go back and think about them very much.  That was my great hesitation about doing this talk.

I tried to explain to my pastor that my great trepidation is the fact that I've never told this story in public and now I'm speaking of it in front of an entire church, many of the people I don't even know.

Now, I know that I've alluded to my experiences here ad nauseam (I know I use that phrase too often I guess that would be ad nauseam-ad nauseam)  but my comments are like looking at an eclipse without looking directly at the sun. I have not spoken of the details of our bad experience nor am I ever, but I do talk a lot about the process of suffering, especially Christian suffering.

It seemed strange to me that back when we had our bad experience, we had this big crowd of supporting church bodies (as all missionaries do).  Something terrible happened on the field but then we come back and we told no one.  As if I were examining the behavior of a complete stranger . . . or maybe a Rhesus Monkey . . . this week I was examining our own motives of silence (twenty years ago).

There is a unwritten code of silence for victims and I think that is even more true in the Church. But why is that? I wanted to look at some of the motives and false assumptions.

I've committed plenty of bad sins in my life, but one of my worse was when I was 20. My best friend at the time was a young (18 year old) lady named Dana.  It was Platonic. It had to be.  I was part of the Navigators and my leader already forced me to break up with my girlfriend so I'm sure he would have been livid if I had a new one. But Dana and I were close friends, but purely a friendship.  I think we would have been dating if I had been allowed to. But that's beside the point.

The point is, Dana had a very close and funny little sister (age 16) named Amanda.  She was equally a good friend . . .okay, not equally.  On one cold December day, my aunt called me to tell me that she just heard that Amanda had been killed.  It was her first solo drive as she had just gotten her driver license. She was going to the store in the family pickup, if I remember right, to get milk or eggs for making Christmas cookies.  The store was just a few miles away.  Somehow her tire dropped off the edge of the payment (she wasn't going very fast) and, being a new driver, she didn't know how to correct for that and it pulled her into the ditch. When she hit the ditch, the truck rolled . . . crushing her. It was a freak accident.

My great sin came in how I reacted. I was her sister's best friend at the time. She had to have been totally devastated. My great sin?  I never have seen or spoken to Dana since the day I found out about the accident.

There is no excuse for my actions but I thought through what made me abandon my best friend when she needed me most?  There were several factors. For one, I had a friend at the time in the Nav ministry who thought very dualistically.  I remember him advising me not to go to the funeral home or not to call Dana because, he said, "as Jesus said, let the dead bury the dead. We don't have time for this kind of stuff, we live in eternity."  I know that was strange but it had some influence on me. Now, I will deconstruct why he said what he said a bit, down to the very ground level. This nav guy, I am sure until this day, was romantically in love with me (while one the surface despising homosexuality) and he was trying to persuade me to go on an out-of-town ministry trip with him, forcing me to miss the funeral. So that is really why he came up with this "let the dead bury the deal" line. He stalked me all through college.

But moving on.

The other thing that was told to me by my other friends and even some family members was, "Dana needs some space," and "Don't bring it up until she does."

Well Dana never called. I'm sure she was distraught even more when I didn't show up at the funeral . . . while all of her minor friends did.

So, what was this myth about "giving them space."  Or "it is too painful to talk about." I think that is all bullshit!  People hurting need to talk . . . to talk in a place where there is pure grace.

When we got back from the mission field there were several reasons we followed a code of silence. First, when we reported the bad things our missionary boss had done to us to the mission board . . . they didn't believe us. He persuaded them that we had made it up.  Later he was proven to be the liar when he abused the next family that came over as well. But that was a huge reason we didn't talk.

I have had many patients who tell me they have been raped. Often they were raped in high school by the famous jock. Sometimes it was a family member. In either case, they kept a code of silence because they believed that the perpetrator had more credibility than they did. That is a big reason we didn't talk.  Our super-duper godly missionary boss was much more believable than we young punks were. So why take the chance?

Another reason we didn't talk about the terrible thing that happened to us was the the director of the mission board (the one who concluded we had made up our story) famous last words to me were, "For the sake of the Kingdom of God . . . don't mention your experience to anyone!"  I remember those words like they were yesterday. To deconstruct what he was saying, what he really meant was, "You better not say a damn word about what happened to you, even it is is true, because it will make me look bad and our organization. If our organization looks bad, it will be harder to raise money from people."

So it raised the next question, how often do we not talk about the bad things that happened because we don't want Jesus to look bad? Or, as someone has said, "ruin our wittiness." But if Jesus is who He said He was . . . then He is truth and truth never hurts. He would never hide from the truth. It is impossible to make "Jesus look bad."

Another reason that I followed a code of silence in our situation was personal shame.  My family was hurt badly and it happened on my watch.  I was so swept away with "Godliness" that I ignored the reality right in front of my face (as I was living on the 70th floor away from the ground floor of reality). I am responsible for my family being hurt by ignoring the warning signs of this nut-job who hurt them.  I'm, until this day, ashamed that I wasn't the husband and father who figured things out in advance and protected my kids and wife.

I have known many women who have been abused and keep the code of silence because they know (and it is sad that they might be right) that they will be assumed to be guilty by association.  It must be worse for men who were, say, sexually abused. I can't imagine the shame that must come with that, even if they were (and most are) totally innocent.

Sometimes there is a psychological factor that says even if a pure accident occurs, like with Amanda, that somehow it is our fault.  Not bad driving, but God wasn't watching over us . . . because we weren't obedient to Him.  This is that prosperity gospel crap. You know, love God and obey Him, then only good things will happen. Your son will be the one survivor on the 747 that crashes . . . not the ONLY one killed.

So, my point isn't that we need to blab constantly about being a victim. But there is a place for victims to talk . . . and it can be healing.  I'm hoping to create a place, such as a Internet forum, where people can share their stories and find comfort . . . as part of closure.

Let me add, I did come across Dana's page on our high school's page in ""  I posted on her page and told her I was very, very sorry and a jerk for what I had done to her 30 years ago. But I let my subscription expire soon after that (about 5 years ago) and I don't know if she ever read that or not.

This is too long and I must go. No time to proof once again.