January 20, 2019

An Evangelical Ambush at the Walmart

City parking lot

It was still dark at 6:30 AM as I walked out of the grocery store. We have surprisingly few options for groceries in the town where I live, and that means everyone shops at the same store. I do my shopping as early as I can stand in order to avoid the crowds, so this is usually when I am there. As I made my way from the overly store to my car, I had little idea what was waiting for me in the darkness.

I had just starting loading groceries into my car, when she emerged. I heard her before I saw her. She called out some sort of pleasantry along the lines of, "My, you are here awfully early. I guess you are just trying to get your shopping done and get out of here, huh?" An astute observation.

I looked up to see a well-dressed Black woman walking toward me across the parking lot. I'd estimate that she was in her mid-30s. Having been accosted many times inside this store and its parking lot by mentally ill individuals who screamed gibberish until law enforcement arrived, I was initially wary; however, that was not the vibe I got here. She was not wearing a bathrobe and flip-flops, after all. Given the unusually cold weather, I figured she might have a dead car battery or something. I decided I'd offer to help.

January 19, 2019

Tale of a Good Christian

man praying at dawn

I attended a Christian college not because I was Christian at the time (I was far more public about my atheism back then) but because the school had a great reputation in the region. I encountered my share of religiously-motivated bigotry, probably more than I would have at one of the state universities in the area. Some of the negative experiences I had did probably come about because most of the other students were Christian. Still, I suppose this ended up being good preparation for life in Mississippi. In fact, there is not much I would change about my college experience. It wasn't always pleasant, but it helped to make me who I am today.

Some of you who are on Twitter may have seen the recent tweets tagged with #ExposeChristianSchools. If not, many people have been using it to share their negative experiences attending Christian schools in the aftermath of Vice President Pence's comments about how Christian education should not be criticized because he and his wife (i.e., "Mother") are offended by such criticism. While I support the hashtag, my experiences attending a Christian college were far more positive than most of what I saw on Twitter. I feel very fortunate for that.

In this post, I'd like to tell you about a particularly outstanding Christian professor who I admired and respected a great deal. If nothing else, this may serve as a reminder that even devout Christians at Christian colleges can sometimes be wonderful teachers and good people. The professor in question had his appointment in the departments of philosophy and held degrees in both religion and philosophy. The course I took with him was an upper-level philosophy course on the philosophy of religion. I ended up minoring in philosophy after being unable to figure out what I would do with a philosophy major.

January 18, 2019

Can a Scam Become a Religion?

scam road sign

If the founder(s) and or contemporary leader(s) of a particular religion never actually believed in what they put forward as the core tenets of their religion, could their creation still be a religion? Does this matter in determining what should be considered a religion? Should it matter?

I'm thinking of this in the context of the Church of Scientology, something that strikes me as a scam that became a cult. I am aware that some people, including the Internal Revenue Service, do consider it to be a religion. Maybe it is. But what if L. Ron Hubbard never believed any of it. Would that matter? And what if David Miscavige recognizes today that he is presiding over an extremely lucrative scam and does not take any of it too seriously. Would that make Scientology less of a religion?

I am not claiming here that Hubbard or Miscavige did not and do not believe in the core tenets of Scientology. I have no idea what they believe or believed. I just find the question of whether it would matter in terms of whether Scientology should be considered a religion to be an interesting one.

January 15, 2019

Prayer Circles on the Playground

Laying on of hands

If you don't know what a "prayer circle" is, don't worry. You are in good company. I had never heard the term before moving to Mississippi. That does not necessarily mean they never happened in the region where I grew up, but they either went by a different name or I just never heard about them. But really, if you have not encountered this term before, consider yourself lucky. I wish I still didn't know what it was.

What is a Prayer Circle?

Imagine yourself back in the third grade. It is recess, and you are with your classmates on the playground. There is a teacher in the vicinity, but the level of adult supervision is minimal. Suddenly, a group of 6 or more children approach you and say something along the lines of, "Have you been saved?" You are not sure what to make of the question, so other questions about your religious beliefs and experiences follow. Without understanding the consequences, you tell them that you and your family are atheists, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, non-fundamentalist Protestants, or pretty much anything other than evangelical fundamentalist Christians.

January 14, 2019

Christian Belief in Demons

demonic candles

Some Christians will tell you that they believe in the existence of literal demons. They think that demons are real, that they are capable of possessing people, and that they do sometimes possess people. These Christians worry that straying from the path of righteousness in various ways (e.g., playing with an Ouija board, listening to the wrong kind of music, dancing, doing yoga) may make one more vulnerable to demonic possession. Do they really believe this stuff? Many Catholics and evangelical fundamentalist Christians probably do. But whether they believe in literal demons or only metaphorical ones, I have long suspected that the belief in demons is designed to serve at least two important goals.