Review: “When A Pagan Prays” by Nimue Brown



I never really liked prayer when I was a Christian. The act of bowing my head in church and listening to somebody else represent my needs to the Divine Father never made me feel connected or represented. I could never close my eyes while standing because vertigo would take over and I would feel myself weaving. My eyes would snap open with visions of me lying sprawled in the aisle. I would stare at my feet, at the backside of the people in front of me, or I would take surreptitious glances around the room to see who else had their eyes open.

My own personal prayers weren’t much better. They always seemed too formal and scripted. “My loving heavenly father… Jesus name, Amen.” Sometimes I didn’t want to say those words. I wanted to feel the presence of the divine and telepathically send out my feelings of awe, gratitude, and love.

When I step out into nature and stand before a breathtaking sunset or revel in the power of the ocean, I want to open my arms wide and stare up into the sky with eyes and heart open and receptive. I don’t feel inclined to drop to my knees, bow my head, cross my arms over my chest, and act penitent. Such a position implies humiliation before a disciplining tyrant. Like a dog that’s been whipped too many times and has only learned to cower.

Prayer should be a spiritual experience, not a religious experience. Prayer is the ache which comes from the heart moved beyond words.

As a recovering Christian, I still felt the urge to pray but didn’t know how to go about it without engaging my mind to the exclusion of my heart. For this reason, I decided to read “When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond” by Nimue Brown.

I’ve read a lot of pagan literature and was anticipating a light-read with this book. I was wrong. Ms. Brown’s approach to prayer was intelligent and scientific. She made many of the same observations I have always felt regarding formalized prayer. She even gives a recipe for successful prayers versus empty prayers. The book is honest and the author reveals her humanity throughout.

I am not a Druid, but I did not feel the information was limited to Druids alone. The information is valuable for anyone who has experienced a spiritual crisis and is finding prayer either a major turn-off or a challenge. In the last pages of the book, the author reveals the changes she has noticed in her life thanks to a regular practice of prayer.

Who does a recovering Christian pray to? This is a question I have asked myself numerous times. I find any word associated with my life as a Christian very off-putting. This includes: God, Jesus, Jehovah, Lord, Heavenly Father, Almighty, etc. When I do attempt prayer I address: Ancestors, Ascended Masters, Spirit Guides, possibly even Archangels since they were not  a prominent part of my Christian instruction. (When I first got started as a Pagan I addressed Goddess, but always felt rather silly so I stopped).

Ms. Brown addresses:

  • Who should we pray to?
  • Does prayer really works or is it just a placebo?
  • The social ethics to praying.
  • Different kinds of prayer and different ways of praying.
  • Can we live a prayer-filled life? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • How do we know if our prayers are answered?
  • Why isn’t deity more forthcoming with his/her responses?

I found the book very interesting and informative. Ms. Brown admits to being a bit of a wordsmith, so the text sometimes bogs down and turning the pages becomes difficult. It took me all month to read the book, and some of it I scanned through because the information didn’t seem wholly necessary to the overall theme. But I am very glad I finished “When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond,”  because I found a greater appreciation for the author as a wordsmith, a Pagan, and a woman with struggles and flaws. I recommend it to anyone looking to explore an aspect of humanity that is often taken for granted.





The Continuing Saga….


In my previous post “My Story” I marveled at the total absence of encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses. On retrospect, I feel the universe was giving me a gift–the gift of time. Though I may deny feeling any grief at being disfellowshipped, I have to admit there was some emotional backlash as I slowly came to grips with the loss of all I had ever known and valued.

In the last couple of months I have been working on meditation as a means of personal empowerment. My feelings of gratitude have gone through the proverbial roof and I am feeling happier and more content than I have ever felt in my life.

A few weeks back, I had a long day of massage at Exhale. After the third of five massages, I noticed a stabbing pain right under my rib cage, about where my diaphragm is. When I got home I put on some comfortable clothes, grabbed my foam roller and got on the floor to try to work out whatever was going on with my abdomen/diaphragm. After a few contortions, I found this tight line of tissue that extended from my pelvis, lateral to my rectus abdominus, and up to my rib cage. It felt like a line of fire, so I just slowly rolled the foam roller along this line until it pushed up against my diaphragm and I felt a flood of emotion wash over me.

It was a sensation I remembered having almost continuously as a child: shame, guilt, hopelessness, loss, fear, isolation, and the certainty that no matter what I did I would never fit in with Jehovah’s Witnesses. All those feelings were the result of that religion.

I was shocked to find that locked away in my diaphragm! I just laid there, with the foam roller pushing into that knot of pain and memory, and let the feelings wash over me. After a minute or two the pain, physical and emotional, faded.

Since then I have felt profound healing and no longer have panic attacks and severe feelings of sadness and loss. Some days I feel such happiness and serenity I wonder if I am glowing. I have been exercising and losing weight and my energy level is through the roof, which has no doubt helped with my mood (gotta love endorphins!).

So, apparently the universe has decided I can handle some JW exposure. Last week, I was at a local fruit/vegetable stand when I spotted a JW sister from a local congregation. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye and saw such a look of profound sadness on her face it surprised me! I gave her a dazzling smile, which she returned, and we both went about our business.

That look of sadness that flashed across her face gave me some insight into how people are feeling about me. They don’t hate me–or fear me and my witchy-ways–they appear to pity me as much as I do them. Which showed me all the more that they aren’t the ones to hate. Most of them are as duped as I was. It’s the Watchtower organization and its lies that is truly reprehensible.

A few days ago, I received a text from an old JW friend who is still very active. She said she just wanted me to know that she loves me and misses me. I thought about firing back a text that said something like, “I love you too, but I am not going to return.”

Today, I went to the local Starbucks for my customary “4 shots over ice, grande” when I spotted a sister I used to pioneer with (pioneer = full-time service). She smiled at me before she remembered my status. So I gave her a big smile and said, “Hey! How’s it going? You look good!” She hurriedly shuffled away. Then I ordered my coffee from another JW sister who actually treated me more warmly than she ever has. We talked massage and I told her I could help her husband’s thumb.

After that, I was talking with the acupuncturist I share an office with and he told me a JW brother (who admitted to some dissatisfaction with the religion a couple of years ago) had asked if I was still working there; then felt he should inform my business partner that “if I did anything weird, {he} needs to know I am no longer affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Wha?! What’s the point of that except to maybe slander my name and/or reputation?

So I go to the county fair and run into the JW-Starbucks worker and her husband. While I am working on his arm under the tattoo tent, he tells me he has left the religion and doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He said he was tired of the judgment and hypocrisy and the fact that the organization seemed to be pulling most of the doctrine out of their asses (my words).

After that, they go their way. While wandering through the quilt exhibit I run into the friend who texted me a few days ago. She smiles at me, but does not speak. She does speak to my husband (who is standing a foot behind me), however, and punches him in the arm (he isn’t df’d).

I admit to being a bit frayed by all the JW-exposure today. Growing up with the doctrine of disfellowshipping and always being on the other side of its application, I never realized how really stupid it was. Now that I am on this side, I see a doctrine that forces people to act counter to their instinct. We instinctively smile and greet people we know and are friends with, but JW’s are forced to stop acknowledging such ones. In fact they are told to treat former members worse than total strangers.

If  Jehovah’s Witnesses truly had the truth, why is its application so counter-intuitive? If God’s love transcends our own, why do those who represent him act so harmfully? Isn’t it possible that God (presuming he exists) is the God of life, light, and love that Jesus portrayed? The acts of judgment and excommunication and strict adherence reflect Paul’s Christianity, not that of Jesus.

Martin Luther, who ignited the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth-century, began as a Catholic Monk. He was filled with self-doubt and anxiety in his endless attempts to please a wrathful, demanding God. Then he would read passages in the Bible that spoke of how God loved and accepted the faithful regardless of how good (or bad) they were. Luther underwent a major experience of mystical insight when he came to grips with the realization that God was pure love–not the agent of anger, rage, and rigidity that his previous religious training had led him to believe.

The Protestant Reformation was begun by someone who believed God better than his strict representatives. The people in the organization that is Jehovah’s Witnesses are largely good people. But they are being used as a whipping post for those who cannot continue to worship the god of the Watchtower–a god that cannot be pleased. If it wasn’t for the doctrine of disfellowshipping, there would be far fewer Jehovah’s Witnesses than 7 million. That doctrine alone keeps people trapped in that religion. Some stay out of fear of alienation, while others stay because they know no better. They are never allowed to talk to anyone with a differing viewpoint, so doubts are never allowed to creep in.

So ask yourself: Do I truly worship a loving God? Does my belief make me a better person? Am I free to be whomever I want and speak to whomever I want? Or is my every action controlled? If you are trapped in a lifestyle that forces you to act against your better judgment, it is time for you to regain your autonomy and leave the collective. Speaking from experience, embracing the authentic-self is exhilarating!


“Agora” vs. Christianity

A friend recently recommended to me the film Agora (2009). I had a hard time getting into it at first, but I am glad I persevered to the end. Set in Alexandria, Egypt in the fourth century, it tells the true story of female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (played by Rachel Weisz). Hypatia had the misfortune to live in a world in which Christianity was quickly becoming the dominant religion due to Emperor Constantine’s conversion. Egypt was a Roman province at the time and Alexandria was a gem in Rome’s crown. Philosophy, schools of thought, astronomy, polytheism, and paganism were widespread in the important maritime port of Alexandria until Constantine issued some edicts that quickly brought about some changes.

I had never heard of Hypatia, which is not surprising considering much of my education was based upon first century Christianity and important men of the past. I was surprised to learn this woman actually lived, but it only reaffirms what I have been learning about the surprisingly equal treatment women received within pagan many communities.

The first thing I noticed in the film was that many of the early converts to Christianity were slaves and peasants. They despised higher learning and had no problem condemning all who thought differently from them. It reminded me of the modern tendency for conversion among the lower socio-economic classes. I noticed it as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many of the people who would study and convert were typically people whose lifestyle wasn’t ideal. In fact the JW’s would call the preaching work a search for those “who are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things” (Ezekial 9:4). Who but the uneducated and impoverished would look for answers outside themselves and cheerfully anticipate the demise of everyone “better-off”?

Finally we get to the root of the reason women have endured two thousand years of suppression. One particularly murderous, Christian fanatic gets up and reads from Paul’s letter to Timothy:

Let women learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.”  (1 Timothy 2:11, 12)

Hypatia, an independent, learned woman, has earned the hatred of the misogynistic faith. As friends try to encourage her to convert she accuses them of “peddling faith,” forcing public baptism in exchange for permitting such ones to keep living. Then she tells a former student:

“Synesius, you don’t question what you believe. You cannot. I must.”

I was floored. I felt like the movie was written for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I realize that all Christianity at the time believed counter-points a sin. That’s why Galileo was forced to recant his findings that the earth revolved around the sun and people were burned at the stake for even reading the Bible.

When I was a JW, I developed a healthy hatred of Christianity—or I should say ‘Christendom’ because that is how JW’s differentiate themselves from the rest of the rabble. I hated the arrogance and the narrow-mindedness, the judgment and the willingness to kill, or rejoice in misfortune; all in the name of god (I do not capitalize that word intentionally). It sickens me to realize that I was a part of a faith that still practiced the kind of religion that brought about the Dark Ages.

After Hyspatia utters the words above, her Christian friend continues to plead with her to convert and save herself:

“If you don’t agree, I won’t be able to protect you any longer. I won’t be able to have dealings with you or even greet you.”

Wow! That sounds familiar. So, in the early days of Christianity when they were killing and torturing all dissenters, they practiced shunning—just like Jehovah’s Witnesses do today—robbing people of their freedom to live their life as they choose just as Hyspatia simply wanted to be left  to her philosophy and astronomy.

Where would our world be if Christianity had never been allowed to take power?  Carl Sagan once wrote that, if not for the descent of the religious dark ages that crushed rational inquiry and stifled human progress, we might have reached the stars hundreds of years ago. We have lost so much thanks to religion in general, and women are still fighting for equal rights thousands of years later. This Christian nation still feels it is their right to govern a woman’s choices regarding her own body. I firmly believe our race and culture will not evolve to the next stage until it realizes the stupidity inherent in religion. Until we rid ourselves of the thinking that still resides in the dark ages. As individuals, we should long for the peace and prosperity of the human race and withdraw from systems of beliefs that only anticipate mass destruction!

“Free at Last”

I have been thrust from obscurity into the glaring light of public censorship. Maybe this is a good time to point out that I wasn’t being as obscure as I hoped I was. I have a tendency to think most people don’t pay attention, or care, and this has proven to be grossly negligent on my part. When I began writing this blog it was specifically for the purpose of exploring my spiritual revolution. I kept it separate from my other blog and my Facebook account and even wrote it under a pseudonym. In recent weeks I have become less careful.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to an old friend who still subscribes to the tenets of my old belief. She asked if it was true that I was calling myself an apostate and Wiccan. She said everyone was asking her and rumors were rampant. This proved my earlier point–I had underestimated how many people actually were paying attention. So I admitted it to her. Last week I received a visit from an elder–only one–asking me if it is true I was posting things on Facebook regarding Wicca. Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that I thought I had insured my privacy settings were set too high for any probing eyes. Once again, I was wrong. So I decided to come out of the proverbial broom closet and admit my witchy-ways. He begged me not to be so reckless and warned me of ruining my relationship with Jehovah. This surprised me. It seemed common sense that if I was becoming a witch it should be obvious that the opinion of Jehovah, or any other Christian god for that matter, doesn’t matter to me. So he asked if a couple more elders could come for a visit and share some scriptures with me. I have read the bible so many times I know it inside and out–I told him I didn’t think there was anything he could tell me that I didn’t already know and hadn’t already discounted.

Then he saw the pentacle around my neck and almost gave himself a hernia trying to get out my front door, which has a tendency to stick in winter weather. I actually laughed at him. Once he was safely on the outside of my house where no goulies or demons could get him, he turned and asked if I was in fact denying any assistance from the congregation. I said I was. Then he asked if I was determined to continue my wayward course. I said I was.

For those of you who don’t know, this means I am disfellowshipped. A public announcement is made at the next meeting and all obedient Jehovah’s Witnesses will not only stop associating with me, they will pretend I don’t exist. It’s like what happened to Ayla in Clan of the Cave  Bear when she was banished from the clan. In their minds, I am as good as dead. Initially, I was upset because I had committed the unforgivable sin. Everyone I had ever known and cared about would be grieved by my rebellious choice. By the next day, I felt incredible gratitude! I would not have taken this step on my own and it needed to be taken. I was limiting myself far too much out of fear of this exact thing. Now I have nothing to fear and I can choose to do what I want. I feel the same basic freedom as I did in El Salvador when I had everything stolen from me and had nothing left to lose.

A year ago, when I left the JW’s, I felt like the world lay before me and my options were unlimited. In recent months, I have experienced a feeling of floating. I’m not sure what the next step is and it is frustrating. The day after the elder came for a visit, a door opened and now I know where my path lies. I have used the word ‘gratitude’ more in the last 10 days than I have in my entire life, and it was brought on by the very thing I was taught to fear above all else–alienation from Jehovah and his earthly organization. I had hoped the elders would call to tell me when the announcement was going to occur just so I could thank them for setting me free, but that hasn’t happened. I guess it’s possible it could happen this week, but I kind of think it was made last week.

I think my greatest regret in all this is that none of the people who I used to care for will understand why I did it. They won’t know how miserable and neurotic I was under the tyranny of the Watchtower Society. They won’t understand my study of Wicca is to regain my power as a woman after a lifetime of humiliation by men in leadership positions. They will be unaware of just how happy and empowered I feel and how they could experience the same thing if they just chose to.

I wrote a poem in recognition of this. It’s a Shakespearean sonnet and it isn’t great but it expresses my feelings:

Free At Last—a sonnet

Praying for apocalypse day and night

Calling the birds to feast upon the slain

This world and its character gone from sight

“The meek shall inherit the earth,” is their refrain.

These do not grasp the darkness of their dream

“We are God’s happy people,” they insist.

Tired, tortured eyes betray souls that scream

Rot and ruin corrupt their very midst.

“Do not question, do not doubt. Believe all!

Hide who you are out of fear of God’s wrath.”

God is not the judge—they heed their own call

Knocking all sinners who stray from the path.

Their threats are empty, their vengeance is scant

Away bondage! “Free at last,” I incant.

Apocalyptic Fixation


Most adherents to apocalyptic faiths have a different reaction to rising crime, poverty, and disease. As these things increase in frequency, such ones rejoice. How can they rejoice, you might ask. Because such things were prophesied as the sign of Christ’s coming and/or presence:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 
 and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after 
another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful 
sights and from heaven great signs." (Luke 21:10, 11)
But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and 
lift YOUR heads up, because YOUR deliverance is getting near.” 
(Luke 21:28)

Such ones are so eager for the destruction of this earth (and 99% of life upon it), that they practice confirmation bias. They see only what they want to see and hear only what confirms their bias. All else is dismissed, and in many cases, not even heard. Yes, I have seen it:

ME: “Did you hear that? They said crime is down.”

CONFIRMATION BIAS: “No, they didn’t. Didn’t you hear of that shooting in a nearby town?”

You see? Such ones will always hear what validates their deeply held biases and ignore everything else. It reminds me of a conversation I had with an old friend when I decided to stop serving as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She looked straight at me and said, “But, the end is so close. You can see how bad things are getting. It’s everywhere. How can you want to leave now?” I remember just looking at her sadly. All I wanted to say was, “The world isn’t as bad as you think. There are good people and great things being done every day. Stop looking for the bad and you will see the good.” Did I say that? No. I remember being in her shoes and no matter what anyone said to me if it did not fit within my carefully constructed network of beliefs I didn’t hear it.

So what is the point of this blog? To show you that things aren’t getting worse, but are, in some cases, actually getting better. Check out these charts and graphs on the numbers of earthquakes over the last 40 years. Does it look like they’ve been increasing?

And this recent article in Time magazine about the drop in crime over the last 20 years:,9171,1963761,00.html

So, will these documented articles matter to doomsdayers? Not likely, because of this scripture:

For YOU know this first, that in the last days there will come 
ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their 
own desires and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? 
Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], 
all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”
(2 Peter 3:3, 4)

It’s a funny thing with confirmation bias for no matter what contradictory information comes their way, it gets explained away. Therefore, even science and documented evidence cannot break the crusty exterior of their faith. Why? Because many of these people have spent their lives hearing about a promised new world in which all the griefs of this life will be removed. Many have never invested in retirement or anything else, they have no health insurance and their health is declining because they never took care of themselves like they should have. “Why bother? Everything’s going to be fixed in about six months.” Armageddon was always six months to two years away. For such ones to finally admit they have been living their lives waiting for a mythological utopia would be shattering.

What can we do? Not look for the bad. See the good and contribute to it. Be a good neighbor and a conscientious citizen. Rejoice! Maybe mankind is actually evolving to a better plane.


In my western literature class we are discussing the Age of Enlightenment. This took place roughly between 1650 and 1850, though it was chiefly focused during the 18th century. For those of us who have never been clear what this Age of Enlightenment entailed, Immanuel Kant offers a good description:

Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority [i.e. “The legal status of not being able to speak for oneself” n.1].  Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another.  This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another.  Sapere aude! [Latin for “Dare to know,” from Horace, Epistles 1.2.40; n. 2]  “Have courage to make use of your own understanding!” is thus the motto of enlightenment.

I don’t know about you but I never realized how much freedom was tied up with enlightenment (which may explain why the French and American revolutions both happened during this time). I can also understand why this Age occurred. Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages in which “the church” reigned supreme–and a terrible reign it was! It would have been an evolutionary necessity for mankind to have banded together and broken the tie of religious fanaticism.

One of our required reads was by Denis Diderot (French, 1713-1784). He was most widely known for a series of encyclopedia’s he and a colleague attempted to write enumerating all new knowledge produced since the Renaissance [i.e. since the 15th century]. He tells a tale of a man from a Christian nation who visits a Tahitian village. This man gets offered the sexual favors of the chiefs wife and daughters as a form of hospitality. The Christian refuses. The Chief tries to convince him that he would be doing his family a favor as his youngest daughter has not yet bore a child and is disrespected within her community. This young girl kneels before the Christian and begs him to save her from her humiliation. He relents.

The next day he talks with her father, the chief, and explains the morality of the Christian faith. The chief, Orou, gives his opinion:

I find these singular precepts opposed to nature and contrary to reason, made to multiply crimes and to plague at every moment this old maker, who has made everything, without help of hands, or head, or tools, who is everywhere and is not seen anywhere, who exists today and tomorrow and yet is not a day older, who commands and is not obeyed, who can prevent and yet does not do so. Contrary to nature because these precepts suppose that a free, thinking, and sentient being can be the property of a being like himself. On what is this law founded? Don’t you see that in your country they have confused the thing which has neither consciousness nor thought, nor desire, nor will; which one picks up, puts down, keeps or exchanges, without injury to it, or without its complaining, have confused this with the thing which cannot be exchanged or acquired, which has liberty, will, desire, which can give or refuse itself for a moment or for ever, which laments and suffers, and which cannot become an article of commerce, without its character being forgotten and violence done to its nature; contrary to the general law of existence? In fact, nothing could appear to you more senseless than precept which refuses to admit that change which is a part of us, which commands a constancy which cannot be found there and which violates the liberty of the male and female by chaining them for ever to each other; more senseless than a fidelity which limits the most capricious of enjoyments to one individual; than an oath of the immutability of two beings made of flesh; and all that in the face of a sky which never for a moment remains the same, in caverns which threaten destruction, below a rock which falls to powder, at the foot of a tree which cracks, on a stone which rocks? Believe me, you have made the condition of man worse than that of animals. I do not know what your great maker may be; but I rejoice that he has never spoken to our forefather, and I wish that he may never speak to our children; for he might tell them the same foolishness, and they commit the folly of believing it. Yesterday, at supper, you mentioned “magistrates” and “priests”, whose authority regulates your conduct; but, tell me, are they the masters of good and evil? Can they make what is just to be unjust, and unjust, just? Does it rest with them to attribute good to harmful actions, and evil to innocent or useful actions? You could not think it, for, at that rate, there would be neither true nor false, good nor bad, beautiful nor ugly; or at any rate only what pleased your great maker, your magistrates and your priests to pronounce so. And from one moment to another you would be obliged to change your ideas and your conduct. One day someone would tell you, on behalf of one of your three masters, to kill, and you would be obliged by your conscience to kill; another day, “steal,” and you would have to steal; or “do not eat this fruit” and you would not dare to eat it; “I forbid you this vegetable or animal” and you would take care not to touch them. There is no good thing that could not be forbidden you, and no wickedness that you could not be ordered to do. And what would you be reduced to, if your three masters, disagreeing among themselves, should at once permit, enjoin, and forbid you the same thing, as I believe must often happen. Then, to please the priest you must become embroiled with the magistrate; to satisfy the magistrate you must displease the great maker; and to make yourself agreeable to the great maker you must renounce nature. And do you know what will happen then? You will neglect all of them, and you will be neither man, nor citizen, nor pious; you will be nothing; you will be out of favour with all kinds of authorities, at odds even with yourself, tormented by your heart, persecuted by your enraged masters; and wretched as a I saw you yesterday evening when I offered my wife and daughters to you, and you cried out, “But my religion, my office!”

Do you want to know what is good and what is bad in all times and in all places? Hold fast to the nature of things and of actions; to your relations with your fellows; to the influence of your conduct on your individual usefulness and the general good. You are mad if you believe that there is anything, high or low in the universe, which can add to or subtract  from the laws of nature. Her eternal will is that good should be preferred to evil, and the general good to the individual good. You may ordain the opposite but you will not be obeyed. You will multiply the number of malefactors and the wretched by fear, punishment, and remorse. You will deprave consciences; you will corrupt minds. They will not know what to do or what to avoid. Disturbed in their state of innocence, at ease with crime, they will have lost their guiding star...(Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville)

I found this short story interesting for it broke down religion, and especially Christianity, into its basic tenets of strict and unquestionable obedience. There is no reason and very little accountability with some of the “moral” requirements among Christians. Diderot says such “laws” make the condition of man worse than that of animals–simply following commands with little to no reasoning or questions. This “pagan chieftain” breaks down the whole obligation of man into basic tenets such as being good to ones fellow-man and following the natural laws within and without. The heavy burdens religion binds upon our shoulders does not make us better people, only creatures awaiting the first sign of freedom. We are not intelligent and conscientious but controlled and manipulated by guilt. The first time that control is lifted can be seen in the riots and looting this Christian country succumbs to whenever things go wrong. Yes, laws are good, but micro-managing is not. Mankind would be a better place without the burden of religion.

Faith Verses Reason: A mutual necessity

Today’s post was written by my husband. I thought the subject appropriate and post it here with his permission. A complete Bibliography can be provided upon request.

Faith verses reason is the eternal struggle to find out who we are and where we came from and sadly, it seems, might be a debate that might never be fully settled. It is never a comfortable thing to doubt one’s faith. Nor is it convenient to question reason in the face of evidence. For it is distinctly human to have faith or to reason out a thing. To change one’s belief or alter one’s opinion because of truth does not exist in any living thing but the Homo-Sapiens. Perhaps we can assume that the two go hand in hand, that they complement one another. It all depends on who we ask, how we were raised and what we believe.

What is reason? In his speech “Reason and Faith: A Lenten Reflection” by Pierre Manent the Professor defines reason this way: “Reason, one might say, is what allows us to link sight to touch.” (page 84) But then, almost in contradiction he says: “We can even see what does not exist, since we can imagine it.” (Page 84) This comment begs the question: can we always believe what we see? Reason, it seems, can be relative.

The bible has its own definition of faith. At Hebrews 11:1 we read: Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”(New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Page 1438) The word “faith” once defined someone who was loyal and trustworthy, a faithful friend. But with the advent of Christianity the meaning was, over time, changed to something like the scripture quoted above. Jesus himself even encouraged the kind of faith that would in other situations be laughed at. At John 20:29 we read: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet shall believe.” Here Jesus was speaking to the Apostle Thomas after his resurrection. Except for those present in that room two-thousand years ago, how could anyone really know if this exchange really happened? Faith, it seems can also be relative.

Just before his death Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this question:”What is truth?” Pilate did not wait for an answer. Though that question was asked two millenniums ago it was hardly the first time humans have uttered those words and it certainly was not the last. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and many other great thinkers of the ages of men have struggled with the concept of truth since the dawn of time.

The scripture in Hebrews shows us that faith in itself is immobile; it is a concept based on hope. Faith tells us we must wait on God. We might think that God has left us to our own devices. Unlike the Mosaic Law of the Jewish people, Christianity requires more faith. The Mosaic Law was spelled out to the very last detail and enforced by God himself. If one was an ancient Israelite one did not have to guess at God’s existence–he knew. Therefore it was a law. The Christian faith is based on hoping things will happen even though there is no evidence it ever will.

It would seem that if we chase after truth, be it based on reason or faith we are chasing after the wind. After all, truth is itself relative. Pilate’s questionWhat is truth?” is not one that can readily be answered. How many books have been written about “reason”? How many about “faith”? How many have held the real truth?

The Concept of Reason and Faith

Reason asks us to question everything. It asks the believer to come forth with evidence about what he believes. “Where is your evidence?” reason asks, “Where is your truth?” Faith on the other hand asks reason when it will stop questioning and accept something as truth? Can one really spend eternity trying to prove every little point and ever find the truth? Does this mean that truth is unverifiable?

Faith, I believe, is very important. But one must temper it with reason. The two are not mutually exclusive. Blind faith is not reasonable–conversely, reasonable faith should not be blind. Science is ever changing. What we knew fifty years ago is often no longer the case. It is reasonable then to have faith that the science is correct, that the proof is believable…for now anyway.

A person must be careful not to confuse reason with faith or vice-versa, but the key is to learn how to make them work together. Two heads are better than one. Is it reasonable to ask whether or not one should put faith in something? At John 17:3 it is said that everlasting life is dependent on “Taking in Knowledge”. Why? Did Jesus recognize that one could not have faith in something without something to reason on? Can we come to the conclusion then that faith without reason is useless? I think so.

I believe that faith without reason cannot understand what it has faith in, and reason without faith cannot understand why it exists. The why is very important. Why do we love? Why do some give up their very lives based on the things they have faith in? Why do we form friendships? Why do we want to believe in God? And if this life is all there is, then why does any of this matter? These questions cannot be answered unless one uses the power of reason tempered with faith. Why?  Because there are two questions that need to be answered: what and why. What do I have faith in: Fill in the blank; why do I have faith: logical reason.

Why?  We use our senses to gather evidence and use reasoning to decipher it and draw a conclusion. Sometimes it is hard to define evidence that is not encountered by our senses. That is where we must reason whether or not something deserves faith. These things can be rather personal. That is why it is said that truth is relative.

In his speech Professor Manent concludes by saying “Reason, which questions, does not always listen to the answer; but the believer who believes he has the answer often has not listened to the question. The rationalist and the believer do not limp on the same foot. Thus they sustain each other, despite everything, and our limping species makes its way towards truth.(Page 86)

I think the illustration of two people limping on different feet supporting one another to a common goal is a very apt one indeed. It correctly describes how we need to moderately use both faith and reason to make decisions in life. That is how we may find truth, at least our truth.  Oscar Wilde said “that the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Two heads are better than one.

In my own journey through life I have found that the older I get the less I understand. I heard my father say this and I am only now beginning to understand what he meant by that phrase. I have found my faith shaken, not by God, but by man. I did not use reason like I should have and now I find I am paying the price. Everything I thought I knew I am slowly debunking and throwing unceremoniously out the window. I find now that I need more than just blind faith. I need more than just “Because I said so.” I still believe in God, I just don’t believe in faith without reason anymore–my mistake.

“You never find yourself until you face the truth”, Pearl Bailey said. I am finding that out now after all this time. Reason and faith together are a formidable duo if used properly. I cannot say that I will always do so but it is reasonable to say I will try and I have faith in myself that I will overcome the habits of extreme naivety.

In his review of “Reason and the Reasons of Faith,” edited by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hutter. David Trenery points out: “The starting-point of this book is the perception of a double crisis. On the one hand, there is a crisis in theological confidence in reason as a means of disclosing the nature of the reality presupposed by a belief in Christian doctrine. This crisis of

the application of reason to faith in theology is paralleled by a crisis of faith in reason

in philosophy”(Reason and the Reasons of Faith, David Trenery page 1).

Trenery shows how people cannot seem to grasp the relevance of using both faith and reason in tandem to come to their own conclusions about life, God, relationships, etc. It seems mixing religion and philosophy is like mixing oil and water–it never works. Because all things are relative though, we can make it work on a personal level. We just have to reason out what is best for ourselves and have faith we can make it happen, not forgetting the scripture that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). You get out of something what you put into it. In his review of “Reasonable Faith,” by John Haldane. Ryan T. Anderson quotes the author: “In his 2004 book Faithful Reason, “John Haldane noted ‘without qualification’ that throughout his training in analytic philosophy he never felt any tension between faith and reason. He went on to add that ‘my faith seems reasonable and my reason faithful.’”  Maybe that’s all we can expect. Maybe that’s about as close to settling the debate as we will ever get. Faith, reason and truth are all relative and the paths we choose and the journeys we take make them personal. Being reasonable and keeping the faith can be a struggle in this world, but all we can do is try, think, and hope.


Dissolution of Beliefs

I just watched a video on youtube:

It describes a religion started back in the early part of the 20th century. It had tens of thousands of adherents worldwide and a firmly established system of beliefs. At one point some of the older ones in leadership noticed some Bible accounts that contradicted their beliefs. They researched it and realized they were wrong on numerous things. The head of the church got up in front of hundreds and admitted their misguided beliefs. The video portrays the difficult change that resulted and the divisions it caused, but it calls the whole thing a modern day miracle since the church did survive. The people are happier now for the God they served before was harsh and demanding. The followers always felt guilty and unworthy. They were under constant pressure to measure up, but under the new beliefs as laid out in the Bible they realize that God is love. He wants people to come to him. It makes me think of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday who said she was always taught that God is knocking and trying to tell us, “Here I am. I am here for you.” All we have to do is open for him.

Take the time to watch the video all the way through. (I played solitaire while I listened to it). The video brought tears to my eyes more than once at the gratefulness people felt for their spiritual leaders who were humble enough to admit when they were wrong and make the needed adjustments even when they knew the fallout would be great. Let me know what you think after watching.

Armageddon Postponed

“End-Times”, “Last Days”, “Armageddon”, “Rapture” are various beliefs that fall under the study of Eschatology. Eschatology is derived from the Greek terms eschatos meaning last or final and logos meaning word or study. It is therefore the study or word of last things (Bell 1). The term was coined in 1844 and its year of birth is significant. The year 1844 was when William Miller predicted the end of the world. He was not the first nor is he the last to make such predictions, but his assertions impacted tens of thousands of lives and we still feel its effects today. Eschatological, or Apocalyptic, belief is harmful and disrupts people’s lives resulting in resentment, disappointment, and life altering choices that would not have been made without the conviction that the “end” was imminent.

The years (A.D.) 666, 1033, 1260, 1284, 1492, 1496, 1524, 1588, 1656, 1666, 1700, 1789, 1800, 1844, 1914, 1925, 1975, 2000, and 2012 all have something in common. They were and are years proclaimed to be the time when Christ would cleanse the earth of sinners and his thousand year reign would begin. (Belief in the Millennial Reign is called Millennialism and those who believe in it are knows as Millenarians.) Mark Kingwell in his book Dreams of Millennium noted that while “not all the militant prophets have been Christian…millennialism has proved more popular with Christians than with people of other religious persuasions” (Kingwell 47); for this reason I will primarily focus on Christianity in this paper.

Reasons for Faith

There have been many reasons why people have declared a certain time “The Last Days”. The years 666 and 1666 A.D. are self explanatory as having the Mark of the Beast of Revelation (Revelation 13:18). Other years were preceded by famine, plague, fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, political coups, or simply the harbinger of another century. The reason such events inspire millenarian zeal is because the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate signs Jesus gave which we could recognize on earth as the sign of his arrival. These were: “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another” (New World Translation Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10, 11). Ever since those words were uttered, Christians have imagined themselves living in the “Last Days”, believing their specific lifetime particularly unique. Such ones find comfort in the belief that they and their time will see “the end”. To believe in rapture or some other form of deliverance enables Christians to imagine they can cheat death. They never have to watch loved ones die, or worry about their own mortality–hence, the reason every generation wants to be the one to witness Armageddon. On careful examination such reasoning appears rather self-serving. However, when faith and religious affiliation are based entirely on future rewards, worship tends to focus almost exclusively upon such things rather than the love and devotion we are told to feel. Such a single minded focus only creates disillusionment when predictions fail.

There are also other aspects of an apocalyptic fervor which will always provide plenty of adherents. According to the aforementioned author “the Jews and Christians predict the end of this benighted world, and the beginning of the next one, as a way of coping with their very real slavery. In these tales there is always, then, a chosen people who are beset by some complex of misfortunes, usually combining the political and the natural” (Kingwell 30). Judaism and Christianity have certainly had their share of persecution which makes the appeal for deliverance all the more appealing. Yet, one could wonder how much of their slavery and persecution is a direct result of their apocalyptic approach to life.


The 1800’s seemed to have the lion’s share of failed predictions so let’s start then with William Miller. Mr. Miller was not a preacher but a military man. Yet, he did extensive research and thought he found the day when Armageddon would occur. He traveled widely and spoke extensively. His prediction, October 22, 1844, was anticipated by tens of thousands. How did they display their faith in Miller’s date? They “forsook family, friends, and beliefs to await this glorious arrival. Many gave away or sold land and possessions which they were quite convinced they wouldn’t be needing any longer” (Wimer 3). As dawn ascended on October 23rd, Miller lost his credibility and his followers. This time came to be known as The Great Disappointment:

Humiliations and hardships befell those who bought into the teachings of William Miller. In addition to shattered lives, lost homes and possessions, they were frequently scorned and ridiculed by others and in some cases even beset with violence. A Millerite church was burned in Ithaca and two vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. (Wimer 4)

These Millenarians not only received a great deal of persecution from their confounded neighbors but also brought a lot on themselves by cutting off all ties from a world they believed was passing away. Their faith was so complete they burned all bridges and lived to regret it. Creating such exclusivity offends those on the outside. To cut oneself off from society in general, in preparation for an apocalypse, indicates the rest of humanity isn’t going to make it. Only those exclusive adherents to the dictates of the current prophet can hope for deliverance. This creates anger and resentment among those on the outside, bringing persecution upon the ones arrogant enough to believe they are in sole command of the truth.

Millerites faded into obscurity, but William Miller’s conviction could not disappear. His teachings significantly influenced the foundation of the Advent Christian Church, which later splintered into such sub-groups as the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even the Branch Davidians. These groups have continued to set dates for doom and millions of their followers have been impacted—sometimes to the cost of their lives (Kingwell 49).

Costly Faith

Imagine from birth, being told we will never die. We will never grow old. Disease or unhealthy decisions need not be a primary concern, for this life is passing away. Don’t get married or have children, they will only distract from total devotion to God. Millions on earth today have heard these exact words and still believe them. Such a life-altering set of beliefs oftentimes results in wasted lives. Children are pulled out of school so they can serve God before Armageddon resulting in a lifetime of struggle and low socio-economic status when Armageddon delays. People, like the Millerites, who sell all they have to serve more fully only to reach retirement age and have nothing to live on. Young adults encouraged to avoid higher-education for the spiritual damage it may cause. Now imagine approaching death. Sickness and disease push us toward our mortal end. But we were told we would never see death! How frightening! How disheartening! How disillusioning:

This belief, called the ‘Ur Delusions’ (Masserman, 324-333) is, in essence, the denial of the eventual reality that one will, someday, die. Observers who work with a large number of chronically ill and terminally ill cases find that patients with a belief in an afterlife tend to fare much better. Conditions which reduce the Ur Delusion tend to be associated with rising suicide rate (thus suicide is quite high among the retired, those over 65, and the widowed, and those who have recently experienced the death of a loved one, shocking their sensibilities to this reality). (Montaue 137)

This leads us to the next bi-product of apocalyptic delusion: psychological damage. Millenarian groups are typically isolationists. Their beliefs have a tendency to compartmentalize them and even teach exclusive association. This creates a “high level of fear anxiety, severe neuroticism, introversion and/or social isolation tendencies” (Bergman 4).With the viewpoint that this life is only temporary, higher education is not only not encouraged it is highly discouraged. There are few university professors among millennial adherents. In fact, there are few high school graduates. This contributes to a naiveté amongst the followers that guarantee total reliance and acceptance without question (Montaue 141). However, as time goes by, these faithful adherents lose satisfaction in their menial, blue-collar jobs. With years of service behind them and a fading faith in a future deliverance, they begin to question. Worries over retirement or social security never touched them in the past—but suddenly they do. These ones, who were told they would never graduate from High School, are facing middle-age, their children are graduating from High School, and the parents they thought would never die are doing just that. Time-tables are shifting, interpretations are being reinterpreted. Faith begins to falter as explanations for the delay fall short.

But it is not as easy as that. As doubt sets in and faith falters, panic rears its ugly head. Imagine having a future that has always been a part of life being snatched away. It’s like being set adrift without a life preserver. To realize everything in life has been misdirected is not only terrifying but traumatic. Add to the internal trauma, the possibility of losing all friends and family who still adhere to the old system of beliefs and it is easy to understand why “many suppress their doubts and continue in the same routine, true feelings hidden deep” (Bergman 10).

Certain ones of these apocalyptic groups have a strong evangelizing belief and send out all or some of their adherents to preach and warn their neighbors about the coming end. These laymen, although existing in an isolationist religion, are required to take the message to frequently hostile neighbors. Psychiatrists have found widespread incidence of “paranoid schizophrenia” among such ones due to the frontal attacks they are daily required to subject themselves to (Bergman 12).


Eschatology was coined in 1844, immediately after the Great Disappointment when William Miller predicted the end of times. The word comes from the Greek term eschatos which literally means farthest or last. It is used to identify all forms of theology that look to the second coming, Armageddon, the last judgment, resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world as we know it. My assertion is that it is unhealthy physically and mentally for people to live for a future event that keeps fading into the distance. It is tantamount to standing on a precipice, always afraid to move for fear of slipping off and losing the only chance at happiness. People postpone life always presuming if they make certain sacrifices now they will be paid abundantly in the “near” future. When death or sickness comes into such a life; questions, doubts, and resentment arise for a life half-lived. The very worst emotion one feels, however, is fear. Fear of the prospect that a lifelong goal may not exist. A life of self-sacrifice may have been for nothing. If one is unfortunate enough to realize this fallacy, the feeling of a life squandered is the result.

End of the world predictions create a mindset that is destructive. People, whose every decision is based on how it will affect their survival at Armageddon, live their life in fear, occupied by thoughts such as:

If we would like to take up a new hobby, better not. It will take away from the time that should be spent in the ministry or reading the Bible.

If we have a hungry mind; don’t read anything unless it is printed by the church for anything else could corrupt your mind and lend place for the Devil.

Everything in the world is there to tempt us away from God.

Be on guard at all times!

As soon as doubts start to occur, Satan has found place in the heart.

Everyone who follows their heart and neglects the specific tenets of the faith will die at Armageddon—forever.
Dying is not all we must fear, though. A change in ideation could result in the total alienation of family and friends. The loss of everything we have ever known and valued.

Don’t doubt! Don’t question! Accept as the only path to the real God.

Such viewpoints insure a regular following—until the emotional damage caused by the religion encompasses the fear of eternal death. Humankind cannot sacrifice everything—forever. There must be some rewards along the way, some freedoms to contribute to a happy, contented life. Living as alien residents is exhausting and emotionally taxing. Let the end come when it will—if it will. Only let us live our lives without fear. (Complete bibliography can be supplied upon request)

What is a Cult?

I finished reading a book I had been working on for a while: Escape by Carolyn Jessop. It is the true life experiences of a woman, raised FLDS(married at 18 to a much older man[8 kids by the time she was 34]), who escaped the polygamous cult with her kids. It was a very interesting perspective of life among the Mormon Fundamentalists. She only escaped a few years ago and lives in a Salt Lake City suburb. She and her kids are thriving, with the exception of one who chose to return to the cult.

Having been raised in a religion referred to by many as a cult, I have always found that word offensive and disliked using it. However, not too long ago, I decided to look up the meaning of it. My understanding of the definition of cult is similar to that of Newsweek “normally small, fringe groups whose members derive their identity and purpose from a single, charismatic individual.” Asiaweek has a similar definition: “the term [cult] itself is vague, but it usually denotes a new religious creed built around a charismatic leader, who often proclaims himself to be the personification of God.”

One day I was watching a program on TLC re: cults and was angered to hear my religion referred to as such. I decided to prove them wrong and look up the word “cult”. I was already aware of how my faith defined the term (see above) but I wanted to see if there were other definitions that made people label us as such. I tried my old dictionaries and encyclopedias and found a very generic definition:

1-worship; reverential honor; religious devotion

2-the system of outward forms and ceremonies used in worship;                             religious rites and formalities

3-devoted attachment to, or extravagent admiration for, a person,                         principle, etc., especially when regarded as a fad; as, the cult of                           nudism

Those definitions didn’t seem to cover it and I thought the word might have evolved, so I needed a more current definition. I  tried the internet. Wikipedia defines the word cult as “a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange.” I thought that  definition equally vague as most religions have teachings or traditions others might find strange. Wikipedia’s definition was obviously longer than those nine words, but I wanted other sources.

I found other sites and definitions and most agreed with Wikipedia’s overall summary:

  1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations;
  2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized;
  3. They receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group;
  4. They get a new identity based on the group;
  5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled.

I thought some of the things could apply to my religion (i.e unconditional attention, isolation, and information control). But still believed most religions could meet some of those requirements.

I quickly learned that the word “cult” had evolved over time and, thanks to groups such as The Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate, had taken on a sinister meaning. In fact, many sociologists and theologists choose not to use the word at all because of its negative connotation.

That being said, I did come across some very interesting explanations for “cult”:

  • www.cultfaq.orgA cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian Faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.   I imagine they are referring to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity (i.e. trinity, immortal soul, rapture, etc.)
  • Rich McGee, a theological scholar, wrote a paper  on cults that can be found He narrowed it down to:
  1. Cut-off: isolated from family and friends
  2. Undernourished: deprivation creates followers with low resistance
  3. Leadership: absolute and unquestionable
  4. Theology/truth: the faith claims sole possession of truth and has an”us vs. them” concept

McGee goes on to define a difference in religious cults: Western Cults,               Eastern Cults, and New Age Cults. Notice what he says about Western               Cults:


  • Western Cults. These have their roots in Christianity, usually claiming to be the true church. They use the Bible as one of their sources and Jesus Christ as a central figure. These are groups such as the Mormons, Unification Church (Moonies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Science. The People’s Temple and the Branch Davidians would also be in this category. (Hmmm, there it is again. Only now I don’t feel quite so defensive. Could it be they are right about the whole cult thing?)

  • My third and final source comes from and is extremely interesting. This site begins by breaking down misconceptions many have regarding cults:
  1. Easy to spot because they dress weird
  2. Full of weak-willed and emotionally unstable people
  3. Just a bunch of religious nut cases
  4. Such groups not only don’t think they are cults but call all other groups cults

The site then went on to explain all the things that characterize a cult:

  • Single charismatic leader.
  • People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
  • Instant friends.
  • If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
  • They hide what they teach.
  • Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
  • Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
  • Experiential rather than logical.
  • Asking for money for the next level.
  • Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
  • Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
  • Old publications by the group. Often the older cults have predicted the end of the world or changed their beliefs significantly, hence their older publications become a danger to them. For some of the older cults people have produced books of photo copies of these changes.

All very thought-provoking ideas. So, the final analysis? Yes, I do think my religion could qualify as a cult, but I agree with theologians who claim the word has taken on way too much negative baggage to be tosses around freely. When examining the history of the word (pre-20th century) it didn’t have the sinister meaning it does now. Is it wrong to belong to a group widely characterized as a cult? If that group brings happiness to someone and they are not expected to commit suicide, or, if they are in it with their eyes wide open, then no. A member of my family recently posted something on Facebook which I found interesting, and though I don’t agree with it, find it illustrates this point quite nicely:  “I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light.”