From Christianity to … spirituality?

For those of you who have been following this spiritual transformation of mine, it’s about time I told you the specifics of what I’ve now come to believe.

I suppose it started off with me reading about “chakras,” energy vortices that are beyond the physical realm and aligned with the body – seven of them, from the crown of the head to the base of the spine, each with its own function. Whether this is your soul, part of your soul, or whatever, I’m not sure, but it’s seen in terms of energy, rather than something far out that can never be understood.

This gelled with me, because of an experience that I had when I was twenty-four, when I was praying with my girlfriend. She prayed that God would touch me, and I experienced an intense vibration in the stomach area for several minutes (skip the dietary, jokes, please; I’ve heard them all). Very pleasant, very exciting, and very real. Also documented by other Christians. Touched by the Holy Spirit? I thought so initially, but the conservative Evangelical in me soon dismissed the whole thing as purely physiological. Over a decade later, now reading about chakras, I couldn’t help but wonder, did I experience energetic activity in my solar plexus chakra?

The trouble is, rationality is king with me. I needed to bring this knowledge down to a level where I could hang it on something rational. And so, I decided to experiment with something I remembered from my teenage years: I saw a friend perform telekinesis (more correctly called psychokinesis), the moving of an object with the mind. So I tried to do it myself, and as you’ve seen lately, I got some excellent results. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything specifically about chakras, it does bring the view that we are beings of energy a little closer to credibility than the laughability that many people attach to it.

There are other reasons for believing in chakras, too. For instance, the heart chakra, in the centre of the chest, is our emotional centre. We don’t feel emotions with our brains. Our souls experience them in the chest area. Anyone who has felt deep emotional distress knows the crushing pain in this location. It’s where we get the expression “broken heart.” It’s certainly not the organ that pumps blood around the body that is suffering. It is the energy centre that occupies that physical space. The throat chakra is said to be responsible for matters of the will. Think about some of the contexts in which our throat becomes uncomfortable, or dry, and makes us gulp.

Okay, so I can connect some of the dots to things we know from this physical world. It isn’t proof; it’s just a way of looking at things. Here, briefly, are more ways in which we can look at reality. I’m going to use some terms that I will be hard pressed to define accurately, because I don’t fully understand the concepts myself, and it’s going to sound like I’ve jumped off the deep end.

Everything that exists is consciousness. All matter is consciousness. Yes, that means that every blade of grass, every rock, every piece of matter in the universe, is in some sense conscious. Everything is in a state of vibration, and matter is consciousness condensed to a slow vibration. What we see as the physical realm is only a fraction of what really exists.

Our own consciousness is tuned into this “frequency” – one of a great many frequencies. Our birth in this life was not our beginning. We didn’t have a beginning because we are each an aspect of the infinite consiousness that is everything – God, if you like. It is very likely that our consciousness experienced other incarnations before the one we are currently in. Being born is not the beginning of your life. It is like your consciousness chose to incarnate, to condense itself into this body, thus shutting off a great deal of its “higher self” including all the memories of every life it has lived. After the experiences of this life, your consciousness with leave the body and reconnect with its higher self and you will move on to whatever’s next, whether that is another incarnate life or something different.

On a more down to earth level, we perceive the physical world in a certain way, and we think that’s the way it really is; we say that a blade of grass is green or the sky is blue, or whatever. What we should realise is that that’s not strictly true. Other creatures are perceiving this world in different ways. The cat or the lizard see the world differently, with their slit-like pupils. Flies, with their compound eyes, have a vastly different means of processing visual reality that our eyes do. Bats are near blind and rely on a form of radar. Birds migrate by sensing something we don’t. Dogs experience a world of smells that we know little about. My point is the world isn’t actually as humans see it. The physical world is just an energetic frequency, and the body is just a computer that interpets the physical world in a certain way to the brain. The old philosopher, I think it was Rene Descarte, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” was onto something: the view that you can’t really prove that anything exists beyond your own consciousness, because everything that you gather through your five senses is transformed into impulses in the brain that your consciousness interfaces with and experiences. Your brain is between you and the world.

There’s a book called The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot that I’m dying to read on this theme. If you have the time, here’s a good video that explains the idea behind it. Be warned, it’s 20 minutes long:

So, try to stretch your mind to conceive that we may all experiencing a collective “illusion.” Something like Neo in The Matrix. When you rap your knuckles on the desk, it feels solid, but it’s actually the illusion of solidity created in your consciousness by the “computer” that holds all this together. Not even your body or brain is real. It’s all part of the program. A screwball idea? Remember, the illusion of solidity is something that even we mere humans have made great strides in. We invented the hologram. Look at the incredibly detailed worlds that you can interact with in today’s videogames, a three dimensional illusion behind a flat TV screen. I’m suggesting that physical reality may be the same thing on a vastly more spectacular scale. And behind it all is not Neo sitting asleep in a vat of smelly gunk in a human battery farm. Behind it is infinite consciousness, of which you are a tiny and unique aspect undergoing an experience in your evolution. You, and everyone else, and everything else that has conscious reality are one.

Oh boy. I really did jump off the deep end, didn’t I? Do I really believe this stuff? I’m afraid I do. But who’s to say it isn’t just the biggest load of poppycock? Nobody. I can’t prove this stuff. These are hard admissions for me because I’ve started believing certain things without knowing quite why I believe them. That’s a strange thing for me to say because anyone who knows me knows I prize rationality above anything. While these beliefs aren’t irrational, they are unprovable. The only thing I can attach these beliefs to is “intuition.” And that’s another weird thing for me to say, because I’ve never thought much about intuition until now, and I’ve certainly never lived by it.

I think it works like this. Once you let go of the mind prison that says “this world is all there is” and the other mind prison of religious belief systems that restrict you to a strict set of beliefs – once you open your mind to all possibility – then you connect to your higher self and to knowledge you had before you were even born. People live lives shut off from this knowledge because they are disconnected, at a mental level, from their higher selves.

Of course, it’s very convenient for me to believe something and then to say I don’t have to prove it because it’s intuition. And I know someone will accuse me of just believing what I want to believe. But for me, the strength of conviction I feel goes beyond wishful thinking. That’s why I’ve been reluctant to really let fly and talk about this stuff. I also want to be careful to say that this isn’t something I want to impose on you. It’s just another way of looking at life. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.

For me, I can’t understand rationally why I believe so strongly in this stuff – so stongly that it has transformed my life. Did I merely read some good material by David Icke and decide to take the rest on faith? Come on, I’m smarter than that. Something else is going on here, and I don’t know what to call it except intuition. For me, the proof of the pudding has been in the eating. And next time I’ll talk about some of the ways this new understanding has benefitted my life.


The light side of Christianity

So I have abandoned my Christian faith. But to what extent? Was it so bad that I would spit upon the Bible? Am I looking forward to returning to the pleasures of sin without a guilty conscience? Do I feel as if I have been wasting my life on a pipedream up to now? No on all counts.

I’ve been speaking quite negatively about Christianity recently because it was necessary in explaining the changes I’m going though, first in the reasons why I felt I had to abandon organised religion, then ultimately why I abandoned my Christian faith. But the truth is, it wasn’t all bad. Far from it. And this post is to reclaim that balance, lest I be viewed as someone who abandoned his faith out of bitterness for past experience.

The Bible is full of excellent standards to live by. A couple of weeks ago I accompanied a young Christian friend of mine to a church quite far away where he had been invited to preach. I went purely to give a friend a little support. But you know what? It was a pretty good sermon overall, even though I was listening as someone who had abandoned his faith. He preached from the Book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how they refused to submit to the Babylonian king’s laws because they conflicted with standards of their own. My friend talked about how we can choose to do what we believe is right, regardless of circumstances, or be as changeable as the wind when it starts to cost us. Great stuff.

And the Bible is full of great stuff. I’m a wiser man from having studied so much of it. I am free from the mindless pursuit of material wealth because of the Bible. I am aware of the meaningless of life without an eternal aspect. I prize honesty. I believe in sexual purity. I could go on. The Bible is responsible for many good things in my outlook on life.

On the athiestic flipside, which I fell into at times, there was merely a brief respite from some psychological problems that had crept into my life as a result of a distorted church experience, followed by a depressing reality that death is the end. I won’t elaborate. I’ve discussed this in depth in previous posts. Suffice it to say, you can tell that, even having abandoned my faith, I feel a lot more positive about Christianity than I do about athiesm.

Possibly a slightly wrong impression is given when I talk about abandoning Christianity. It’s closer to the truth to say that I discovered something that was a few steps closer to the truth that what I had been believing as a Christian. I did not leave Christianity because I was looking for a way out. The new information that led me in this direction came upon me unexpectedly. In fact, I felt quite disturbed by it initially, because it made sense to me and challenged my beliefs. It became a choice of whether to bury my head in the sand or rise to the challenge of contemplating what I was reading. I chose the latter, and this is where I ended up. Not a pissed off ex-Christian fuelled by bitterness. Not somebody who’s been dying for the chance to do the bad things he misses, without having to feel guilty anymore. I haven’t changed one iota morally, except for the better (and I’m looking forward to discussing the specifics of that when I can work up the courage to be open about it).

I suppose it has to be asked, then: why did I stop being a Christian? Because I don’t see the Bible as the infallible word of God. Because the problems are there, not only in the Bible, but in the church, and in the church’s chequered history. And in some of the concepts the Bible demands that you believe (I will elaborate, in time). For the past seven years, I think I felt that Christianity had to be true because the polar alternative to religion, athiesm, is was so obviously untrue to me. Lately, I started to see that there was an alternative to both athiesm and religion. And when you consider that I’ve always had problems with both of those (I’ve done a lot of hoppng between them in my life), it’s maybe not so surprising that I would choose this new avenue of thought.

I am the one and only

“Eek! Has Darryl Sloan got a messiah complex?” you cry. Nope. “I aaaam the one and onlyyyy … Nobody I’d rather be!” Good ol’ Chesney Hawkes, eh? You can’t beat ‘im. I’m serious, actually. I love that song. If you can get around the 80s cheese factor and listen to the lyrics, it’s actually carrying a really positive message championing individuality.

Individuality is claiming the freedom to think for yourself, to form and hold your own opinions. And the enemy of individuality is anything which denies you that freedom.

In the previous post I stated that our freedom to think for ourselves is “taken away by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind.” Let me clarify and expand on what I mean by that.

Our freedom to think for ourselves is only taken away because we give it away willingly, and are encouraged to do so. This is illustrated by the way that most Catholics don’t become Protestants; most Protestants don’t become Catholics; the majority of adult Christians are those brought up in Christian homes, rather than people who converted to it from here, there and everywhere. Churchgoers generally aren’t moving towards greater awareness of “the truth,” despite listening to countless sermons week after week. They are buzzing around merrily in their own cliques. That is not my opinion; it is observable reality in all the countless church factions. In my personal case, it is illustrated by the imbalanced state of mind I went through in my earlier years as a Christian – the days when I took at face value what I was told about what it is to be a good Christian. Only by taking back my freedom to think, by slowly realising that I was being fed error on some levels, was I able to say, “No. The way you people want me to think is not right.” And to step away. It was very hard to do, and took a long time. The scope of the problem is illustrated by how many people choose to blindly tow the line of whatever their individual church scene says is right. Churches are not teeming with people who embrace their individuality, nor are they encouraged to be individuals. Paradoxically, all the factions in the church were no doubt created by certain people expressing their individuality and rebelling, but this does not negate the point that the only way to escape the prison of a particular church faction that is in error is to start thinking for yourself and to stop giving up that responsibility to your minister.

The Bible itself, as an authority, is also a problem because when you become a Christian you have to accept all its precepts en masse. If your own intelligence leads you in a different direction on some points, you have to agree with what the Bible says regardless of what you think, because it’s the word of God. Take homosexuality for instance. I believe it’s not natural, okay? I did as a Christian; I still do. But if I allow myself the luxury of disregarding that the Bible calls it an “abomination,” I suddenly find myself able to empathise with other Christians who have been dealing with homosexual urges all their lives, with no evil intent (two of whom I’ve known as close friends, incidentally, and one of whom was responsible for leading me to Christ). And yet, typically, if I’m sitting with another Christian and a homosexual comes on TV, the Christian will happily pass a remark about “that queer.” There is the general feeling among Christians that homosexuality is a great evil, with Bible verses to back that up. My personal individual view is that there’s something very unbalanced about that attitude. So, do I believe what the Bible says, or do I believe what my experience of knowing homosexual Christians tells me? When your indivuality conflicts with a belief system, you’re in trouble. And that’s the problem with belief systems. For me right now, rejecting the belief system and embracing my right to have my own view, it is so refreshing to be able to look at somebody and say, “It doesn’t matter to me what you are,” instead of regarding them with suspicion as if they must be some kind of deviant. If I’m honest, I haven’t looked upon homosexuality as “evil” in a long time; “not normal” is as far as I can reasonably go. So, I’m guilty perhaps of covertly reclaiming a little of my individuality that was not strictly permitted for me.

I’m not just Bible-blasting here. This giving away of one’s freedom to think is equally true of people who vegetate in front of soap operas, and base their moral outlook on the behaviour of what they see there. On the topic of homosexuality, it’s interesting to note how society’s view of it has become gradually more tolerant over the past couple of decades. Is this because people have suddenly become more enlightened? Could be, but (the rights and wrongs of homosexuality aside) I’m more inclined to think the change came about by the bombardment of the population by positive depictions of homosexuality on TV dramas and movies. It’s covert manipulation, folks, made possible only by our willingness to accept what we’re told without thinking for ourselves. True, attitudes to homosexuality really were in the dark ages a couple of decades ago, and social consciousness has probably been moved to a better place, where we’re less likely to kick the crap out of a couple of “queers” in a dark alley, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the means of delivering this better understanding was a manipulative one. I mean, these days a guy like me can hardly raise a single objection to homosexuality on purely rational grounds without being immediately branded homophobic.

The big problem is that we can so easily sacrifice our ability to think for ourselves without realising we’ve done it. Another manipulation I fell prey to at a point in my life is the idea that the scientific view of reality is the only one that holds any water. You get an impression from society – and that’s all it is, just an impression, with no actual substance – that scientists are the truly smart people. Before you know it, you’re beleiving in an axiom like “Nothing is true until I can smell it, taste it, touch it, measure it, or quantify its substance by some means or other.” A man who opens his mind to the possibilty that there may be a God, and who chooses to pray to this God, is seen as backward by comparison. But the wider possibility that science won’t acknowledge is that a whole lot of stuff might be true that we just haven’t discovered with our microscopes and telecopes, etc. It’s no surprise, really, that a great many scientists have an athiestic perspective. They have decided that if they can’t find it, it mustn’t be real. To only have room in your heart for scientific thinking is a great pity. Once you ackowledge that it’s possible to discover truth beyond the narrow constraints of scientific investigation, you realise that the scientific mindset is a prison for your mind – useful within its own capacity, but inadequte as an exclusive principle to live by. The problem is, the wool is pulled over our eyes without us realising it.

Yet another aspect of this lack of freedom to think is what goes on with friendships during our school days. The more I look back on my youth, the more grateful I am to have been a geek – an outcast from the popular crowd. It was painful at times, sure, but the most beautiful gift of this is that peer pressure has absolutely no power over you. Since the popular crowd have already made you an outcast, there is absolutely no benefit to you in doing anything that would please them. You grow into a true individual, making your own decisions, and thinking your own thoughts, without any great feeling that you ought to conform. It’s no surprise that I finished school having never smoked a cigarette or consumed any alcohol.

The ultimate expression of indivuality is when you just don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks of you. That’s largely what’s motivating the direction of many of my posts in recent months. It’s easily mistaken for arrogance, but it’s really just the detemination to live up to a standard that I’ve set for myself: to speak out about what I care about, to be unafraid of rebuttal or ridicule.

It’s an interesting experiment to observe others, keeping your ears peeled for evidence of the fear of what others think – various expressions of the old “What would the neighbours think?” attitude. Even more challenging to look for it in yourself. As ol’ Chesney says, “You are the one and only you.”

I am no longer a Christian

Before admitting this to myself and others, I thought it was best to let the dust settle – to make sure I’m not now embarking on some whimsical spiritual detour. But, after several months, it seems less and less likely that I will be returning to the fold of Christianity. So, how did this happen? I’ll do my best to explain.

You could say it began with reading something inspiring by David Icke on the topic of open-mindedness, from his book I Am Me, I Am Free (see my review), but the real origins of this change go back much further. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, what exactly is the nature of this open-mindedness? I’ve blogged about it at length over the past couple of months (see Truth seeking vs. emotional attachment). In summary, it’s an attitude of mind that says “Go where the information takes you, not where you want it to go because of a pre-defined set of personal beliefs that will cause you to edit the information to your own ends.” Sorry that’s a bit of a mouthful. Even now, after much discussion with blog commenters, some are still insisting that this kind of open-mindedness is impossible. Of course it isn’t. All you have to do is make the choice to distance your emotional attachment to a set of beliefs, at least on a temporary basis – to take those beliefs away and see whether the same beliefs occur when you reconstruct what you think.

I found that they didn’t. In doing what I did, the dust was being blown off many problems that I had allowed to stay on the shelf for so long that the shelf was pretty much forgotten. These problems related to the Bible itself, to Christian history, and to my life’s experience as a Christian. The latter is what I mean when I say the origins of this change in me go back much further than reading David Icke. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve stepped away from Christianity (see My 13-year war with doubt and What I learned from being an agnostic. I’ve hopped from Christianity to agnosticism and back again many times. In summary, what would happen is that Christianity would fail to work on a practical level, so I would seek solace in escaping to greener pastures. And it’s not hard to make the jump on a rational level, because you can always go grab some things from that dusty old shelf and give yourself a reason not to believe.

But things have been different for the past seven years. The fallacy of agnosticism & athiesm has been so consistently clear to me that there was no going back to it. And Christianity was much more tolerable because I had also learned to see through some of the BS that made it so difficult, BS that is largely inflicted upon you by erroneous church teachings and attitudes. I remember going through a period where I would feel I was committing a sin just by allowing my attention to drift during the singing of a hymn in church. For a time, church became an activity where we all got together to tell God how much we’ve let him down during the week. I would hear the most depressing prayers, and something in me would be screaming, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” For this reason and others, I don’t relate to church people and church life. I don’t go because it can so easily be an uninspiring and depressing and destructive influence on my life. My previous pastor has such a narrow view of me that he views my lack of church attendence as lack of discipline and he sees me as having lost my way as a Christian. He looks back on the good old days when I was coming every week and participating, and he recently referred to this period as my spiritual peak. He has no idea how I have progressed over the years, and how the memories of those good old days look from inside my head. He has no idea how manipulated I feel. And it’s not as if he’s the manipulator. He’s as much a victim as I was, his own mind shaped by the theologies that he has absorbed through incessant study in a single direction. I hope some of this illustrates reasonably why I abandoned church life and also why I viewed a lot of Christian literature as dangerous (see The Christian book minefield).

Well, I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I held fast to my Bible – a lonely pilgrim without a home. Hang on, that’s not accurate. Yes, some years ago, I managed to be one of those rare Christians who actually read the whole Bible in its entirety. But in the last couple of years it’s only fair to say that it’s a struggle to pick it up and read it. The struggle has been prevalent for most of my Christian life. And this apathy can only be a reflection of the lack of inspiration I’ve felt. And I don’t think I’m alone. It has to be asked why so few Christians actually read the Bible regularly. And I would hazard a guess that it’s because their experience of their religion is as uninspiring as mine was. For the most part, I was addicted to wasting my life on pointless entertainment. I’ve known there was something wrong with this, that it was a form of escapism in an unsatisfying life, but I’ve felt powerless to counter it, despite my Christian faith (see Altuism and Altruism – Part II). Now, with my new outlook, I appear to have countered it with the greatest of ease, but that’s a larger topic for another day.

What I began to suspect a few months ago was that the leap I made from agnosticism to Christianity seven years ago may have been too great a leap – one that I made because I only saw two options: there is no God (and therefore no religion), or there is a God (with all the trappings of religion by default). No sooner had I accepted the reality of God than I accepted Christianity. There were understandable reasons to do so. It is the big world religion (strength in numbers, so to speak), with a massive history dating back to the ancient world, and the Bible does contain some inspirational material – the Book of Proverbs being a prime example, which I recall reading at the time of my “re-conversion.” What I didn’t see at the time was that there is an alternative to religion, one that does not involve turning to an athiestic view of life and the depression it causes.

When you know, from a rational basis, that athiesm is in error (see The lie of the joyful athiest) and you then learn that there are major problems with your religion that give you good cause to abandon it, this alternative then becomes the only option for you. (I will go into more detail later on the specifics of my problems with Christianity – not here, because numerous heated discussions are likely to ensue.) The alternative is simply to seek the truth without sacrificing your freedom to think for yourself. That freedom is taken away on the one side by the Bible, and by Popes, pastors, and every other religious authority that insists it has a right to your mind. On the other side, that freedom is taken away by the mind-prison where science is seen, not as a tool to help us understand the universe, but as a God-like authority where “this world is all there is” is the unproven principle under which it operates and which many people hang their entire concept of reality. Openness to possibility is where the real answer lies. Freedom to investigate without being forced into an “ism.”

You might think that this alternative view leaves me in a bit of a vague conundrum of not knowing what to believe, since I’m not allowing myself to be tied down to the specifics of a particular school of thought. Not at all. I think intuition has a lot to do with it. But boy, oh boy, that’s a real can of worms for another day. I have so much more to say, on so many things. This post is merely a summary of why I’ve changed.

Briefly, in closing, some of the positive changes in my life: more courage in speaking out; no fear of what others think; massively increased sense of emotional balance in my day to day life; vastly increased resistance to personal vices; most importantly a much greater capacity to love others, along with empathy and tolerance. In short, the past couple of months have felt like one massive great sigh of relief that the spiritual side of me has been longing for but until now unable to make.

Am I merely in the “honeymoon period” of a new belief that will, in time, fall flat on its face? Time will tell. But I figured enough time had gone by for me to start talking about it with some confidence.

Bible (mis)interpretation and personal agenda

[Appended 4 July 2008: Since writing the article below, I have changed my thinking on certain aspects of it. Please read the associated comments for a fuller picture.]

I used to believe in the six-day creation account, in the Garden of Eden, in Adam and Eve, the serpent, the eating of fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Having read the Bible carefully, I was pretty sure that the original writer of Genesis intended the work to understood in a literal, historical fashion. That much is clear by the manner in which it’s written. Genesis is, after all, the history of man, and it starts with the first man, Adam, who I’m clearly supposed to believe was a real person. This view is further supported by the fact that the rest of the Bible puts on display several genealogies that go right back to Adam.

But I had a problem. And that problem was the pressure of scientific thought. The Bible says man wasn’t subject to death until after the Fall. Can you imagine what would have happened if man hadn’t fallen. Can you imagine man, an immortal being, making babies (who make further babies) ad infinitum, in the confined space of the Earth? And that’s just problem 1. The concept of death hasn’t been invented, but you have physical beings dependent on air to breathe, so what happens if you hold your head under the lake? Why does a lion have such big claws, if not to tear up his prey? Why does a hedgehog possess the ability to curl into a ball and project protective spines? Why does a sporpion have a sting? What would happen if a scorpion stung an immortal human? Christian scientists have made attempts to marry the first chapters of Genesis with what we know to be true from science, but the results aren’t convincing.

So, as a Christian, what did I do? I compromised. I said, “I know it couldn’t really have happened like this, so I’ll say it’s some kind of allegory. Something (I don’t know exactly what) happened. Mankind fell from grace. Death and sin resulted. The world is the way it is today because of that.” At the time, this seemed like an honest reasoning process. But is it? No! It’s a prime example of exactly the kind of attitude that I’ve been arguing against in all my recent posts.

Here’s the underlying truth of what really went on in my mind: I read the creation account and I interpreted it in a way that seemed correct (that I was reading historical narrative). I then came to a scientific understanding of the matter, and I found the two “realities” to be incongruous. I then said, “The literal interpretation must be wrong, so I’ll change it to allegory.”

Do you see what I did? I did exactly what I cautioned myself against doing in the previous post (regarding the interpretation of the “sons of God”). I applied a rigid set of existing beliefs (scientific ones this time) to the interpretation of Genesis and I allowed those beliefs to change the meaning of something that was perfectly clear and plain. I’m only now starting to see the intellectual dishonesty of this kind of thinking.

We all have beliefs of one kind or another. And when we encounter new information that conflicts with those beliefs, the solution is not to twist the new information into submission. The solution is to examine both the new information and the existing beliefs and determine which needs to change. The big problem arises when a belief becomes more than a belief – when it becomes an unshakeable treasured possession that must never be tampered with. This is especially true of religious thinking (what with the importance of dogma), but is also true of the scientifically motivated (as has been evidenced by recent comments).

I now have a new-found respect for those Christians who doggedly hang onto the literal creation account, despite the pressure of scientific evidence. At least they’ve chosen their side. What I’m losing my respect for is the mentality (in myself) that is prepared to hang on to some watered-down version that tries to join two sides of an argument into an ill-fitting monstrosity. It’s like saying Frankenstein was handsome.

Now that I’m refusing to come at things with a personal agenda, I can see the matter more clearly. Genesis 1-3 says one thing, science is saying another, and ne’re the twain shall meet. Answer: Pick the one you think is true.

Now that leaves me in one hell of a predicament. Easier said than done. Because I do have a rigid belief system. And the side of the argument that is calling out to me is the side that threatens to put a major crack right up through the centre of those beliefs. This is where I reveal a little of the cowardice of “Reaction 2” from the previous post: “Maybe something’s missing from the way I’m looking at this. Why don’t I just shelve it for now. Good idea. Whew!” One thing’s for sure: a decision will not be put off indefinitely.

I’ve seen many example of personal agenda being brought to bear on Bible interpretation. More than I can remember. The one example that sticks out in my mind is when I heard someone preach on Genesis 1:16. In context:

[14] Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;
[15] and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
[16] God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.

I’ve heard the words “He made the stars also” interpreted to mean that the creation of the whole universe beyond Earth was like a mere afterthought in the mind of God. The intent is for us to marvel that God would do something so big and complex as a mere afterthought. But an additional side-effect of this interpretation is that we create the mindset that those 200 billion stars in each of those 200 billion galaxies are unimportant and irrelevant. A convenient way to unwittingly encourage the view of reality that says there is no life out there. When, oh when, will preachers stop inventing their own flowery interpretations of Scripture and actually start communicating what the Bible is saying instead of what they want it to say. Look out for this tendency to over-interpret next time you’re in church, because it’s everywhere. And it’s one of the main reasons I can’t stomach church anymore. It’s the subtle difference between “Look what I can make it say” and “Here is what it says.”

In your own quest for truth, learn to drop your personal agendas and let a thing say what it’s trying to say.

The Nephilim: A challenge to the closed mind

The theme of my last few posts has been on achieving clear, open-minded thinking and freedom from conditioning. On that note, let’s do an interesting experiment. Let’s take a controversial Bible passage and try to interpret it in its proper context, on its own terms, without bringing along all the baggage of a pre-defined theology. The passage I have in mind is … cue drum roll … Genesis 6:1-4.

[1] Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them,
[2] that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
[3] Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
[4] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Getting the right meaning out of this should be pretty straightforward: Find out what happened before these verses. Find out the meaning of any ambiguous or difficult words. And then just let it say what it’s saying.

We’re pretty close to the beginning of the Bible, and this first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells of man’s origins from the Garden of Eden right through to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph – the beginnings of the nation of Israel. From the beginning up to chapter 6, in summary: the world is created, man falls from grace by disobeying God, Cain murders Abel, various other sons and daughters are born, industries begin. Several generations (and little detail) later, we read this strange little account. Okay, it’s clear to me we’re reading Bible history at this point. Not some methphor or vision or whatever. This is an event in our history that the author expects the reader to interpret literally.

What are the problem words? “Sons of God” and “Nephilim” jump out. Let’s tackle them. “Sons of God” first. I’m no scholar, but a little research shows me that there are only a couple of other references to the terms in the Old Testament, in the books of Job and Daniel.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6; see also 2:1 and and 38:7)

He [King Nebucadnezzar] said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25)

Technically, the Daniel reference is a slightly different expression, but we’re splitting hairs. These references are clearly to otherworldly beings. I see no reason to interpret the Genesis 6 passage differently. In fact, the view is strengthened by the “of God” (the sons) being place in direct contrast to the “of men” (the daughters). I’m happy that we’re clearly dealing with angelic beings of one kind or another. (For those still on the fence, a study of 1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Peter 2:4-5, and Jude 6-7, lends further confirmation of this interpretation.) If you read the New International Version, you’ll notice “sons of God” is confidently translated as “angels,” although that’s actually a little disappointing, as you lose the richness of meaning in the original term.

Moving on. Now what does “Nephilim” mean? It’s tricky. There’s seems to be no clear opinion on the origin of the word, only several suggestions. But speculation doesn’t count. Helpfully, the word is used later in the Bible (as well as qualified), in Numbers 13:33:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”


So, with the difficult words now understood, what is Genesis 6:1-4 saying to us. Simple. A non-human species bred with mankind, creating a hybrid species with giant characteristics. Yes, whatever the Sons of God were, we are talking about actual physical, biological creatures with DNA – with sperm, for goodness sake. There’s just no getting around that.

“Stop, Sloan!” says a little voice in my head. “That’s crazy! Take it back now, before you get laughed at. Angels don’t breed, even evil ones. They’re spirit beings. Man is made in the image of God. It’s monstrous! Impossible!”

Okay, the way I see it, you can do one of several things when you encounter a passage like this (i.e. a passage that has a clear, obvious meaning, but it’s one you don’t like).

Reaction 1: “I’m scared. Don’t make me think about it, and certainly don’t expect me to talk about it.”
Reaction 2: “Maybe something’s missing from the way I’m looking at this. Why don’t I just shelve it for now. Good idea. Phew!”
Reaction 3: “This just doesn’t fit with my existing set-in-stone beliefs. Perhaps there’s another interpretation? No? Well, can I make one up? And can I make this word mean this. Ah-ha! I’m happy now.”
Reaction 4: “Wow. I am learning bizarre and wonderful things here. I don’t know exactly what to do with this info, but it’s exciting.”

Reaction 1 is outright cowardice, from the sort of person who worries about what other people think of him. 2 demonstrates a slightly dishonest attitude to truth-seeking. 3 is the guy who says, “‘Sons of god’ means descendents of Seth. Yes, I know the term isn’t used that way in any other Bible verse, but I need to pull that explanation out of my arse, because the alternative is something insane … What about the giants? Oh, yes, well if we forget about what it says in Numbers and view Nephilim as ‘fallen ones’ instead of ‘giants’ …” Oh boy. Even if I conceded to this mishandling of the words, when you re-read the passage, watch the mental gymnastics your brain has to perform in order to make any kind of proper sense of it.

Yes, I know that the New Testament states that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. But let’s not forget, we’ve heard about Seraphim and Cherubim, but who knows how many kinds of “angels” there are. And who knows what other business God gets up to in this vast universe, that we are not privy to.

If you want some interesting reading, Google the term “Nephilim” and read through the mix of good and bad interpretations of the passage. With the bad ones, you can almost sense how the writer’s brain is ticking. They aren’t the words of someone whose thinking, “This is mind-blowing stuff!” He’s thinking, “I don’t like this. How can I force it to fit what I already believe?”

Whether Christian or athiest, let’s be aware of cowardly and deceitful tendenies in our own minds, reject the rigidity of our existing beliefs, and be open to all possibility, regardless of where it may take us. I think it’s the only truly honest way to reason.

(Further study: For several in-depth and scholarly treatments of Genesis 6:1-4, follow this link.)

The dark side of Christianity

In the last few “Spirituality” posts, I asserted that we’re all being conditioned, by science, religion, media, culture, education. Science was the category that really came under the spotlight. So, in fairness, and to prove I’m as open-minded as I claim to be, this Christian is going to put his religion under the spotlight.

The first really bad piece of religious conditioning I encountered was an unfair attitude to sex. There I was, a horny seventeen-year-old, sitting in church, listening to a guest preacher say, “Young men, when you see an attractive girl walking down the street, and your eyes linger … turn your eyes away!” If I heard that from a pulpit today, I would stand up and walk out in defiance. It’s the worst example of an attitude that is taught by the church, to one degree or another. And what’s worse is, it’s not even in the Bible. It’s based on a misinterpretation of something spoken by Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-29)

What should be painfully obvious from the above passage is that Jesus is referring to married men who indulge in desire for other women. Notice it said “adultery,” not “fornication.” This is not applicable to boys and girls discovering their sexuality, nor is it applicable to any single person of any age. In a perfect world, what’s supposed to happen? We get our first ever erection on our marriage night? “Eek! What’s happening to me?” The idea is absurd. And yet ignorant preachers will carry on the age-old mission of driving this “sexuality is sinful” message home to the young. We end up with guilt-ridden teenagers who think they’re stuck with a horrible vice. It took a long time for me to realise I could look at a hot chick and think, “Phwoarrr!” without having to feel guilty.

Another issue: One of my pastor’s hobby-horses was the idea of “feelings orientation,” as he called it. When church life became uninspiring for me, and my attendance wavered, I would be accused of being “feelings oriented,” i.e. doing what I wanted to do instead of doing what I knew was right. So, believing myself to be “feelings oriented,” I would feel guilty about that and fix the immediate problem by being disciplined, i.e. attending church once again. It sounds like the problem is solved. But what you’re left with is an unhappy person, going through the motions of a spiritual life out of militaristic duty. And no one ever asks the really important underlying question: “Why is church no longer inspiring?” So the real problem gets neither noticed, addressed, nor fixed.

I should have perceived long before I did that this idea of “feelings orientation” is just some pop psychology that my pastor liked. I imbibed the idea that the “feelings” are not important. All that matters is duty. But then you end up feeling inadequate because you know you’re supposed to be joyful. And you can apply this accusation of “feelings orientation” to any problem that causes a church member to falter; you can make the problem instantly go away and turn them into obedient, guilt-driven robots once again. Cure any emotional problem by denying the importance of emotions. So, you can be a mess on the inside, but that’s apparently okay, as long as you’re going through the motions on the outside.

In more recent years, as someone who had now studied the Bible deeply, I grew sick of hearing error from the pulpit. One example: About a year ago, the pastor preached on the subject of the Sabbath, and it was terrible, conveying the idea that it was wrong to let your child play football on a Sunday. Only not just saying it outright – hinting at it in a subtle, manupulative way. Later, I heard another sermon by a younger member of the church about how “God is our friend.” When it was over, I realised I couldn’t take anything definitive away from it. It was an exercise in pretentiousness.

I was also disappointed by the distance between people in the church, or possibly the distance between them and me. Maybe it’s because I don’t belong to the shirt-and-tie brigade. Maybe it’s because I once turned agnostic, and when I came back they were never sure about me any longer. I can only guess. Maybe it’s just because I feel aloof from them because I see the poison under the surface of what’s being said and they don’t. All I know is, I don’t fit.

You might say, “Go find another church.” Been there, done that. I once wrote an article called “The Christian Book Minefield,” where I addressed the view that I think most Christian books are best avoided, because on a grand scale all those books together are a minefield of opposing and contradictory beliefs. Well, what is true of authors is surely true of preachers. We do, after all, have our Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Methodists, Independent Methodists, Pentecostals, etc, etc. If only it were as trivial as choosing ice cream!

I know what my friend Chris would say. “Become a Roman Catholic.” 🙂 I’m not convinced about that, but I won’t close my mind to it, either. The anti-Catholic attitude possessed by Protestants is yet another example of closed-minded conditioned thinking. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to see things a little more clearly, and it’s actually pretty simple, if you’re prepared to step away from your rigid belief system and be open-minded. Think about this: Protestantism was founded sometime in the 1500s. But “The Church” has been around since the first century. And what does history tell us that Church was? Uh-oh. It was the Roman Catholic Church. So what are we Protestants saying – that God was without a true Church for over a millennium? Think about it the next time you feel the words “Roman Catholics aren’t true Christians” coming to your lips. Conditioning! Conditioning! Conditioning! Somebody wake me up!

I’m sure there are some reading this now who are thinking, “Gee, Darryl, if you believe all that, why are you still a Christian?” Because of the Bible. Because I have undeniably learned more insight about life from it than from anything else. So I’m a Christian, but I have abandoned organised religion. And I’ve decided, as of now, to stop feeling guilty about that.

If you are a Christian and you’re feeling a bit angry that I’ve got the audacity to speak out against aspects of our religion, then you need to wake up. Go watch Jesus Camp, then tell me that our religion can’t be hijacked and used as a tool for brainwashing of the young. I refuse to be afraid to wake up to reality, regardless of how much ammo I might be handing to the athiest opposition. If they want to look out from their rigid belief system and add this to their list of reasons not to believe in God, that’s up to them. They’ve got their own conditioning to wake up from, too.

My mind was recently opened up to how much I’ve been conditioned, by a certain writer who isn’t even a Christian. In fact, he is quite opposed to Christianity, and every religion, seeing them all as exercises in control of the many by the few. Nevertheless, what he’s saying in principle is right. We pretend we’re open-minded when we’re really thinking from inside a prison cell in our minds, seeking only to defend a rigid belief system and knock down an opposing argument, instead of being open to all possibility. I have actually been more inspired by this book than by any Christian literature I’ve read, period.

Who is this author? Well, he’s a famous British personality that 99% of the population once thought was completely off his rocker (and many still do). Have a listen. Are these the words of a madman? …