Monthly Archives: September 2011

Happy Blasphemy Rights Day!

Today is the 6th anniversary of the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons, an event that inspired violence and death — and why? Because of the questioning of a religion.  No idea or ideology should be off-limits.  The Center for Inquiry initially started Blasphemy Rights Day, and according to their website:

The purpose of this event is to set a particular day as a day to support free speech, support the right to criticize and satirize religion, and to oppose any resolutions or laws, binding or otherwise, that discourage or inhibit free speech of any kind. The focus on ‘blasphemy’ is simply because it is such a salient issue, and one for which a lot of consciousness-raising is necessary.

I’m all in favor of a little blasphemy — because, after all, it is a victimless crime.

In honor of the day, here’s a video from our 2009 Blasphemy Day event on campus. Here’s my denial of the Holy Spirit:

For a good time, check out some of the comments that video inspired!

This book had me at hello

It’s here! Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost is finally in my hot little hands. Too bad I’m so exhausted from my last week that I’m too tired tonight to dive right in.

So far all I’ve had time to read have been the dedication page (“To my loving mother, who stands behind me even though she wishes I had told a different story on these pages“) and the book’s epigraph, both of which have already strongly resonated with me.

Here’s how Carolyn S. Briggs prefaces her story:


I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied it for a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then I says to myself,

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain


I think I’m really going to like this book.

Edit: I finished the book in less than a day. So much to think and feel about — when I’m able to talk about it, I’ll write a post on my impressions of the book.

another song on the life soundtrack:

Edit:  This song too — I got tingles:

In which I respond to my critics

Of my past podcast interview on the Unbelievable? show:

Hi Justin,

Thanks for fixing the link to the feedback section of last week’s show. I listened with great interest to the emails you read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that surprised at the many negative reactions to my out-of-the-faith testimony.

Usually when someone accuses me of never being an authentic believer, it’s for one of three reasons: it’s either out of fear (I don’t want to lose my faith one day!), defensiveness (how dare you reject something I hold so dear!) or it’s a response bred from a sense of competition (Christianity is so much better than atheism, let me tell you why!)

I understand the reasons behind all of these reactions, but it doesn’t make hearing them any easier. My motivation for going on Unbelievable? was not to spotlight my former faith and make a case for my past Christianity. I recognize the futility in persuading someone else that my past Christianity was genuine. What evidence could I provide that conclusively proves I was a true believer?  For some Christians, it’s not enough to believe me when I say I was honest in my past beliefs, and for others it’s not enough for me to recount the actions I did while I was in the church (actions that were motivated because of my faith).

I was excited to be on your show because I had hoped opening myself up about my story of apostasy would encourage more empathy on the part of Christians toward their non-believing friends and family members. Yet the judgmental feedback I’ve heard from the show is discouraging, mainly because I still hear the usual reactions of fear, defensiveness, and competition against atheism — and I don’t hear the  empathy I was hoping for.

While I’m not expecting someone in the faith to embrace my story out of the faith, I still hold hope that there are some Christians who will think twice before jumping to immediate judgmental conclusions about someone else’s life story.

Thanks for allowing my story to be told, and heard.


[So far my favorite line in an email was one that read: Atheism as a "morass of inconsistent, pseudo-spiritual, cold scientific Darwinism survival-of-the-fittest hedonism"  -- wow.]

Higher ground

There’s a new film coming out that looks very interesting — Ebert describes Higher Ground as “the life story of a woman who grows into, and out of, Christianity.”  Here’s the trailer:

The movie is based on the memoir This Dark World by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also wrote the screenplay.  I found this 2002 review of the book, and the last two paragraphs ring especially true:

But then, you get the sense that she’s describing her slow, gradual reverse transformation — from a bridelike soldier of Christ to a freethinking, questioning woman — as clearly as anyone could. Briggs harbors few illusions about her old self. She’s fully aware of what a pain in the ass she was in the days when she was beaming with love all the time, handing out Bibles and quoting Scripture to anyone who’d sit still long enough.

But the thing that makes “This Dark World” so affecting, aside from Briggs’ clear, resonant prose, is that she makes us understand that leaving her faith behind was the single hardest thing she’s ever had to do. Her religious friends bemoaned the fact that she had turned away from the Lord. But no matter how her spiritual beliefs have changed, has He really lost her? The person she became because of Him is still vital and thriving, and probably more alive than ever.


If Emma wasn’t asleep right now, I’d be heading on over to McNally or Indigo to see if the book was in stock. [note: I actually just stopped writing this post long enough to call and order the book from McNally]

If the trailer and book review are any indication, I think I’ll really like the film — maybe a little too much. In fact, watching the trailer made my heart hurt a little bit — because I know what it’s like to be lost – then found – then “lost” again.  About a month ago I talked quite a bit about my transition out of faith on the Unbelievable podcast, but even in the days since recording the show, I have thought about (and felt) more of the effects of my apostasy.

Fact is, when I decided to be honest with myself and others about my nonbelief, my choice to vocalize my atheism forever changed several relationships in my life — and NOT necessarily for the better.

The demise of some of these family and friend relationships still make me sad even now, years after my “outing.”   There have been some moments when I thought I could be heading into a serious period of depression — so much so, I even made a point of seeing a therapist and frankly asking if I needed to be on medication (if only to numb some of my heartache).

Thankfully my therapist not only is good at what she does, but is also wise.  One lesson I learned from my sessions with her is that my sadness isn’t rooted in depression, but is more of a type of mourning I’m experiencing.  I’m mourning the death of what I had hoped for in a relationship, and now I’m left to adjust to the stark reality of a broken connection.

But why are these relationships broken? In large part because of religion, and the hold it places on its adherents.  Sure it may sound great from the pulpit for a preacher to say “put Jesus first in all your relationships”, but the reality of Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.) really hurts when its applied.


A couple weeks ago I went to see Wicked with Jerry and some good friends. I love musicals, plus I had read the book, years ago, so I thought I was prepared for the performance. What I wasn’t ready for was how much I related to the play’s main character, Elphaba.  For the first half of the show, I found myself empathizing SO much with what this character went through (though, thankfully, I have no idea what it’s like to have green skin).

Elphaba was someone who didn’t quite fit in, and who was passionately motivated by social justice causes.  There are points in the play where she stands up for what is right, even at great cost to herself. She’s idealistic, hoping to have the Wizard (someone she admires) help her rectify the wrongs she sees in the world. She’s passionate, and willing to take a stand, even by herself.

But then — she finds hypocrisy in her hero the Wizard, and is faced with a decision: does she apologize, back down, and look the other way, or does she defy?

She sings:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by
The rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap…

It’s time to try
defying gravity
I think I’ll try
defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

So what do you do when you realize that “something has changed” within you?

In my case, should I have kept on my church-smile each Sunday, swallowed my doubts, and played the game?  No.

I took my leap of faith doubt.

Elphaba then sings:

I’m through accepting limits
‘Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I’ll never know
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost

and that kind of love — the kind that only embraces you in a particular way — it really is a love at “much too high a cost.”  I guess that’s a lesson I’m slowly learning to accept.

Anyway, by the time this song (“Defying Gravity”) closed the first half of Wicked, I was bawling — and I’m not talking about little tears, but big, ugly, end-of-Steel-Magnolias kind of sobs.  This video just doesn’t do the cathartic experience justice:

And if you’re reading this, hoping that I’m happy — rest assured, I am.

But I’m also sad too.