My meme for the New Year is “Let 2013 be the Year of Love and Unity.” I coined this meme at the end of my New Year’s Eve article On Integrity as the Highest Value where I discussed the fundamental ontological unity of the concepts of love, unity, and integrity which is the basis of my moral theory described in The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality.
My recent reflections on the theme of integrity were sparked by a desire to answer the fallacious religious argument that there would be no objective morality without God and the equally fallacious secular response that there is no objective morality at all. My answer is that morality is fundamentally ontological in the sense that it derives naturally from what we mean for something (or someone) to be, to exist. That’s why the word integrity means both “to be complete, whole” and “to be morally upright.” Our language exposes the innate ontological relation between integrity and morality. And just as integrity is an objective fact, so also are moral values which are a measure of the integrity of our selves in relation to others.
One of my New Year’s projects was to update this blog to accurately reflect who I am and what I believe which has changed a lot in the last three years. In the process of reorganizing it, I encountered some of my old articles which reminded me how this theme of integrity has dominated my life for a long time. Indeed, it was integrity that solidified my Christian faith, and integrity that drove me from it.
It is important to understand where I was coming from. My discovery of the Bible Wheel led to a rather fundamentalist interpretation since it suggested a true integrity of Scripture as a unified whole which is why I subtitled my book A Revelation of the Divine Unity of the Holy Bible. The seemingly supernatural integrity of the Bible, coupled with its mystical numinosity, “trumped” all the problems that make it impossible for most modern rational people to believe it could really be the “inspired Word of God”. I was not ignorant of all its errors, absurdities, contradictions, and the moral abominations it attributes to God, but I did have a reason to ignore them since they appeared relatively minor in light of what I firmly believed to be “overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence for the divine inspiration of the Bible as a whole.” And my faith was not based on intellect alone – not by a long shot. I had many spiritual and/or psychological experiences in worship, prayer, dreams, and synchronicities that vivified the faith and made it very real to me personally and emotionally (see Why I became a Christian). The result was that for well over a decade I described myself as a “man saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” who was a “blood-bought Bible-believing Trinitarian Christian” holding to the “true faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (see Why I Quit Christianity). I was completely convinced that the Bible was “God’s Word” and was deeply devoted to Jesus Christ as my “personal Lord and Savior.”
But I was different than most evangelical Christians on two points.
First, I respected the Bible as “God’s Book.” I never thought it was “inerrant and infallible” because that struck me as obviously false, logically incoherent, and contrary to God’s own design. I was convinced that the Bible was “God’s Word” in the sense that it was exactly as he wanted it to be. If he had wanted to make an infallible book, why did he go to such lengths to make it appear to have errors and contradictions? And what good was the concept of inerrancy if each reader still had to choose amongst many contrary proposed solutions and so could never have certainty? We don’t have the original manuscripts and all existing manuscripts have differences, so we don’t even know specifically what the Bible originally said, let alone if it was inerrant. Neither do we have an inspired list telling us which books it should contain so Biblical fundamentalists are forced into the inconsistent position of appealing to tradition to justify their claim of Sola Scriptura. And who did these men think they were to limit God by their unfounded doctrines? It struck me as grossly arrogant and small-minded for mere humans to dictate how God must design his own book. And worst of all, the proposed solutions to the contradictions are often strained and unbelievable. Many are simply absurd. I saw a great irony – those who most strongly declared that the Bible was God’s Word seemed to be the least likely to admit what it actually said! They invent ludicrous “solutions” for the most blatant errors and contradictions as if God were some sort of idiot writing in crayon who needed to be “explained” by their sophistry. Their solutions directly contradicted their assumption that the Bible was anything like “God’s Word.”
Second, I differed from typical fundamentalists because the evidence of the Bible Wheel allowed me to hold Scripture with an open hand and open mind while maintaining that it truly was “God’s Book”. It also solved the question of Sola Scripture by proving which books belong in the Bible. I could allow for the problems because I was not holding to the fragile doctrine of “inerrancy and infallibility” that would shatter if a single error was discovered. This protected my integrity. It is why I have not had to retract any of the evidence I presented in the hundreds of articles on this website over the last decade. Sure, my interpretation of what the evidence implies has changed, but the evidence itself stands to the best of my knowledge. What it implies is now a mystery.
Thus it was my perception of the “supernatural integrity” of the Bible that solidified my Christian faith. I could not imagine it could ever be lost. But time heals all things, and little did I know that there was a gaping chasm in my personal integrity that required healing. I described the symptoms and the solution in my post Signs of Integrity Lost … and Integrity Found written on May 11, 2010 as follows:
My wife Rose could testify to the litany of complaints I have been voicing for many years:
- “I just don’t feel connected with anything.”
- “The grass has lost its color.”
- “I feel like I’m in a box.”
- “There’s nothing to do and nowhere to go.”
- “Nobody understands me.”
- “I feel cut off from the world … it seems so far away.”
- “There’s no meaning to life.”
These are the signs of integrity lost. I could extend the list indefinitely. These feelings were not always in the foreground – I would often have happy days, but the dark cloud was always in the background, like a shadow in my mind. Rose wanted to help, but did not know what to do. The problem began long before we met. I knew that these were classic symptoms of depression, but I did not believe that the answer was to be found in chemistry. And I thank God that I did not cover up those symptoms of my lost integrity with antidepressant drugs. I suspect it would have made the journey to wholeness much longer. Indeed, if the symptoms were buried I may never have recovered. Antidepressants can, of course, be lifesaving for others so I’m not speaking against them in any way. It’s just that they were not for me, and they are probably not a final solution for anyone. My fundamental problem was psychological in the most literal sense of psyche = soul. Simply stated, I had lost the integrity of my soul.
So how did I find my integrity? It has been a long process which I will be writing about over the next few weeks, but the turning point happened last December when Rose and I began a habit of spending hours talking around the campfire. Our one desire was to help each other speak truth with absolute freedom. Soon we began to discover what we really believe as opposed to what we thought we were supposed to believe. As the months went by, the truth began to be articulated with greater and greater clarity, and on May 3, 2010 I came to a fundamental realization that I had subjected myself to false ideas that I thought I was supposed to believe as a Christian. I consciously rejected sectarian Christianity and have retained only that which bears witness in my own conscience. That’s it. That’s freedom – perfect freedom. For the next three days I felt my soul expanding, opening, reviving. In nearly every conversation with Rose I would remind her that she had a transformed husband. And then this morning I awoke with an awareness that yet another layer of falsehood had “evaporated” over night. My soul is whole. I have integrity. I am a free man.
So what happened on May 3, 2010? That was the day that I wrote my article Ergun Caner’s Crimes against God and the Global Community. Caner was your typical bombastic Baptist preachin’ man who lies as easily as he breathes. Shortly after 9/11 he began promoting himself as a former member of the “Islamic Youth Jihad” trained in Turkey who came to America in his teens “to do that which was done on 11 September.” He invented this false history to launch himself into national fame as an “inside expert on Islam.” And as would be expected, his lies were uncritically accepted and heralded by many of the most prominent leaders in evangelical Christianity. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University, personally chose him to be the President and Dean of his Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. There was no question about the facts. He had posted his lies on his own website and proclaimed them in countless sermons. And what did the “Christian leadership” do? They conspired to cover it all up and slander anyone who spoke the truth. I followed the scandal for months, and was utterly dismayed to see the leadership of Liberty University, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, prominent apologists like Norm Geisler and John Ankerberg, and many evangelical Christian ministries covering up the lies and attacking anyone who would speak the truth. This was the final straw for me. The most fundamentalist Christians – those who proclaimed Christ with the most fervor – proved themselves to be active agents of both intellectual and moral corruption. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, I had unconsciously assimilated many lies from my decade of Christian fellowship. You’ve gotta be careful about the company you keep. I needed a dose of ipecac, the emetic syrup used to induced vomiting after a poison has been ingested. And that’s what this scandal provided, as I explained in my post of May 22, 2010 called Ergun Emetico Caner: The Ipecac of God (Nuclear, Weaponized):
The Ipecac has its Intended Effect
Ergun Caner’s decade of deception, supported by months of cover-ups by Liberty University along with the backup choir of countless denials, diversions, and deceptions by “Christian” pastors, apologists, and laypeople distilled itself into an exceedingly potent dose of ipecac that caused me to vomit out last remnants of sectarian, exclusivist, polemical, political, fundamentalist Christianity from my soul. It was not, of course, their public display of coordinated corruption that caused my transformation, but it did play a central role by helping me take the final step to genuine spiritual freedom. There now is no ambiguity. My soul is whole, complete, and clean. I have nothing to do with these creatures of darkness. I have nothing to do with their lies or corruption. I have nothing to do with their false version of God and religion. I wrote a little about this transformation in my post Signs of Integrity Lost … and Integrity Found.
This is why I call it the “Ipecac of God.” The Bible says that God “works all things together for good” – and the effect of this ipecac is good for everyone – it brings people back to God by causing them to vomit out putrid lies. It is good for everyone, including Caner and his supporters who will find freedom only when they choose to repent and live lives transparently in the light of truth. Imagine what it must be like to be a public figure who needs to lie every day about something as simple as his childhood! Ergun needs freedom – he needs to take a dose of the ipecac God has prepared by distilling his life of lies into a dose so potent a single swallow is enough for anyone.
Why the Ipecac was Required
I needed to vomit because I had ingested poisonous lies masquerading as religious truth. I did not choose to “convert” to Christianity – I slowly “awoke” in 1992 to find that I believed in Christ after a long spiritual search and a few years of independently studying Scripture. But I had a strange anxiety – given that I had discovered, rather than chosen, faith in Christ I did not know what else I might “discover” and I feared that I might “become like Jerry Falwell” (my exact words) if I were not careful. And such is what began to happen over the next decade as I tried to “fit in” with other Christians. It was a subtle process that involved intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual forces. There is, of course, a strong social pressure to conform within Christianity since it is defined by conformation to a set of propositions. And internally, I felt a very intense sense of responsibility towards “God and Christianity” since I believed that he had given me the revelation of the Bible Wheel. I mistakenly thought the Bible Wheel validated traditional, conservative, fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and this led me to accept things that otherwise would have been repugnant to my soul. Furthermore, I was driven to look for fellowship from the conservative crowd because they were the only folks who would even consider the validity of the Bible Wheel – folks aligned with liberal Christianity dismissed it out of hand without a thought. Their irrational rejection really hurt my feelings and convinced me all the more that they simply hated God and his Word. So I was pushed away from the liberals and pulled in by the fundamentalists, and it was not long before I began to slide down that slippery slope into the cult of polemical fundamentalist exclusivist political Christianity such as that espoused by Jerry Falwell. It was the final remnants of these poisonous ideas that the ipecac helped me to spew out.
I began to see that fundamentalist religions in general, and evangelical Christianity in particular, tend to corrupt both the minds and the morals of believers. Morality, truth, and integrity stand or fall together. They are one. How was it possible for such corruption to become so pervasive? Only by the systematic disintegration of the intellectual integrity of believers. The arguments used to defend Caner came from the same mouths that defend evangelical Christianity. For years I had been following the arguments of the most prominent Christian apologists and found them often to be utterly absurd, self-contradictory, filled with special pleading, deliberate evasions, outright falsehoods, and countless other errors. This is the greatest of ironies since Christianity has but one claim to any value – the claim that it is true! By perverting truth to defend their false doctrines, Christian apologists have proven beyond all doubt that their religion is not only false, but exceedingly corrosive to moral and intellectual integrity. I documented a particularly revealing case in my article The Art of Rationalization: A Case Study of Christian Apologist Rich Deem which well represents the general character of this crowd.
The most egregious examples come from attempts to defend the moral abominations attributed to God, such as his command to kill every man, woman, and child of the Canaanites. William Lane Craig, one of the most respected philosophical apologists of our day, attempted to justify God by asserting that the death of the children was “actually their salvation” because they automatically go to heaven. By his logic, abortionists saved many people whom God himself would have damned if they had been allowed to grow up to be unrepentant sinners. How a philosopher could fail to see such an obviously incoherent implication is beyond me. His defense brought much deserved criticism from secular folk, yet he maintains his position to this day.
It would take a thousand posts to adequately review how evangelical Christianity destroys the minds and morals of believers. In a debate between atheist Hector Avalos and evangelist Keith Darrel titled Is the Bible a Moral Guide for Today?, only the atheist could affirm that it was immoral to commit genocide. The Christian refused to agree because he knew that God had commanded it in the Bible.
As a final example, consider Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. It has received the highest praise from many Christian apologists though it is truly an intellectual abomination. A sampling of the responses from the blogosphere include such titles as Paul Copan and the epic fail known as “apologetics” and This is your brain on apologetics. Thom Stark, a self-proclaimed Christian, painstakingly dissected it and exposed error after error in his 300 page critique Is God a Moral Compromiser?. Here is a snippet from his preface where he describes exactly the kind of problems I have been documenting:
Books like Copan’s will only take Christianity ten steps backwards. In the name of inerrancy, the truth is trampled. Contemporary popular apologists tend to look for any way to salvage the text, no matter how unlikely or untenable the argument. They’ll use scholarly sources selectively, or pounce on one scholar’s argument and run away with it, without any concern for the fact the vast majority of scholars haven’t been persuaded by it. They’re not interested in what’s plausible, only in what’s “possible,” if it serves their immediate purposes. They trade in eisegesis, wild speculation, and fanciful interpretations, reading into the text what isn’t there, indeed, what’s often contradicted by the very passages they cite—something Copan himself does not infrequently, as we’ll see.
But they seem oblivious to the real harm they’re doing. Not only are they giving permission for Christians to be dishonest with the material, they’re reinforcing delusions that disconnect well-meaning Christians from reality, blinding them to the destructive effects many of these horror texts continue to have upon Christian communities and in broader society. Those Christians who aren’t genuinely struggling with the horror texts will read pulp apologetics books like Copan’s just to have their presuppositions reinforced, accepting the apologist’s word uncritically, even though, in most cases, these apologists aren’t even properly trained in biblical studies.
And how did Copan deal with Stark’s devastating critique that exposed countless errors? He essentially ignored it and has not given a substantive response in the nearly two years since its publication. His excuse? He complained that Stark’s critique was “laden with sarcasm, distortions, and ad hominem attacks” which makes “genuine dialogue and cordial exchange — the stuff of genuine scholarship — become difficult, if not preempted.” Genuine scholarship? If Copan had practiced that in his book, Stark’s critique would never have been needed.
As a final note, here is one of Stark’s statements that Christian apologist Randal Rauser deemed to be “way too strong”:
I know not a few former-Christians-turned-atheists who expressly credit Christian apologists like Copan for their loss of faith. These Christians, who are genuinely struggling with these texts, see right through these hollow, ad hoc, incoherent and inconsistent “answers” and recognize these “answer men” for what they are. And this is why I’m so critical of apologists like Paul Copan – not just because their arguments are frequently absurd and usually, at the very least, untenable, but because they are doing real damage to real people.
This quote is anything but “too strong.” It is perfectly accurate and describes me to a tee. It seems impossible to overstate the problem. Christian apologists are to intellectual integrity what Ergun Caner is to moral integrity. Both are corrosive agents of corruption.
Integrity is the highest value. Without it, we are disintegrated in a most literal sense. My perception of the integrity of Scripture displayed in the Bible Wheel solidified my belief that it was “God’s Word” and so led me into conservative evangelical Christianity, but when I got there the horrific lack of moral and intellectual integrity drove me out. I really had no choice if I wanted truth to reign in my soul.
The path to freedom and the restoration of integrity began in earnest in late 2009 with long conversations in which Rose and I explored what we really believed and why. We encouraged each other to speak with the greatest honesty and authenticity possible. Nothing was off limits. All questions were allowed. She describes one of her most significant turning points in her Progress Report on her blog, dated March 21, 2011. We “woke up” together – she after twenty-eight years as a Christian and me after fifteen. One of our earliest insights was the relation between laughter and truth, as described in my post After Much Laughter dated March 29, 2010:
Rose and I live on four acres in Eastern Washington. We spend a lot of time in conversation by our pond and fire pit. Our time together last night was particularly enjoyable. We made up this poem:
After much laughter,
My heart feels so fine,
I find myself seeking,
After laughter divine.
We recited this poem dozens of times while dancing around the campfire. We sang alternating lines to each other. We sang it like a country song, we sang it like blues. We sang it like a church hymn. And every time it seemed to open up to more insights into the nature of laughter and it made us laugh all the more. Mediation upon laughter – what evokes it and what inhibits it – became the center of our conversation.
My first insight was that laughter is a response to the “Aha!” moment of a sudden mental illumination. Rose immediately responded by saying “Right! It’s a “ha” moment – like a ha and a ha and a ha! Ahahaha!”
We both laughed – especially since the pun was (contrary to most) actually a pretty good one that captured the meaning in a memorable form. The “Aha!” moment is what happens when we “get” a joke.
This led to the idea of freedom of thought and personal discovery as central to laughter. In as much as laughter is a response to the “Aha!” moment, a lack of laughter indicates a lack of freedom to think independently and to explore the world with childlike wonder. This is something Rose and I have been talking about a lot lately because we have seen that dogmatic religious and political organizations tend to inhibit free thought. A sure sign of a mind-controlling cult is a lack of authentic laughter that spontaneously bursts forth from a direct personal recognition of light and truth. The suppression of truth manifests as a lack of authentic enlightening laughter.
This then made me think of the Charismatic “Holy Laughter” movement which encourages people to mindlessly “laugh” without any reason whatsoever. This appears to be a psychological compensation for the absence of authentic laughter that can only burst forth upon a direct recognition of truth and light. It follows the primary Charismatic paradigm designed to excite the flesh to mimic the things of the Spirit. Is laughter missing? No problem! Just following me and say “Ha. Ha. Ha.” until the “Spirit” takes over. When there is no truth nor light they manufacture a hideously deformed false cackle and “drunkenness in the Spirit.” It is amazing to watch the audience pick up and obey the commands from the Christian teacher stage hypnotist. For example, immediately after Kenneth Hagen tells his audience that those filled with the Spirit at Pentecost must have been “acting like drunks” folks begin to put on “drunk faces” and slide off their chairs as if completely intoxicated on alcohol:
Wow. That demonstrates the power of suggestion. Let it warn everyone of the danger of opening your mind to the control of others.
Obviously, this is not the kind of “laughter divine” Rose and I find ourselves seeking. On the contrary, we do not seek the laughter for its own sake, but rather as the response of our souls to the direct perception of light and truth. And how do we seek the truth? That is another theme we have been following for months in circles around the campfire. The first condition to find truth is quite simple: Be still and know … (Psalm 46:10). When the heart and mind are made quiet, the truth swells up from your belly, and you know what you really feel. It might take hours, days or weeks to put into words, but there it is – the primal state of knowing comes first, then the words that helps us share it with each other.
Well, this is my first “stream of consciousness” post and I am very happy with it. I will be posting more under the category of “Thinking Freely.” Comments are most welcome.
Freedom of thought and personal discovery evoke deep laughter – the laughter of freedom. The laughter that breaks forth from your belly when you know the truth and are free from delusion. The laughter of an innocent child whose integrity is intact. This gives new meaning to the famous saying attributed to Christ:
Matthew 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
If the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found anywhere by anyone, it will be in the hearts of those who have the natural integrity of little children. Integrity, morality, truth, laughter, and love are all one.
You can’t go wrong with integrity, and you can’t go right without it.
Let 2013 be the Year of Love and Unity!