by Perry Bulwer
I was recently publicly accused of being anti-Christian by a Christian fundamentalist who believes that everything in the Bible is literally true. It is a false accusation, but doesn't surprise me given the confused, narrow worldview of my accuser and the fact that I publicly identify myself as an atheist while helping to expose on my website abusive religious behaviour that violates the rights of others. Other believers who have contacted me through my site stopped communicating with me after they realized I was an atheist, or have told me my website is too 'dangerous' to visit, perhaps out of fear that they might stumble on some uncomfortable facts or that I might try to 'convert' them, a practice I left behind when I deconverted from Christianity. It seems that some believers automatically assume I will be hostile towards them because I openly declare my unbelief, help expose religiously motivated harm, and occasionally blaspheme or ridicule religious dogma in the process of exposing that harm.
I'm writing this, therefore, to clarify for my Christian family members and friends, who probably do find the accusation surprising, as well as for Christians and other believers who visit my website, that just because I am an atheist does not mean that I am anti-Christian (or anti-Muslim or anti-Jew, etc.). In fact, I will argue that even though I have completely rejected my Christian indoctrination, no longer believe in God and think the Bible is a book of myths, metaphors and misrepresentations, I am more respectful of Christians as a whole, and their right to believe whatever they want, than is my fundamentalist Christian accuser.
I am one of those atheists who came to that position via fundamentalist Christianity, so I know that mentality too well. I was indoctrinated into that belief system as a naive teenager in 1972 by manipulative, evangelical Jesus freaks called the Children of God. After almost 20 years of being a psychological prisoner of fundamentalist Christian dogma, I managed to break free of the hold that Christian cult, now called The Family International, had on me. But getting out of the cult was just the start, getting the cult out of me was an entirely different matter that took much time, introspection and education. So, a year after I escaped that mental prison, I started university, which became for me a kind of self-directed cult exit therapy.
Getting a formal, secular education was the best decision I ever made as it exposed me to facts and ideas I had completely closed my mind to as a result of Christian indoctrination that taught me that worldly knowledge separates you from God and a carnal, worldly mind is the enemy of God. (Genesis 2, 3; Romans 8:6-8) For almost twenty years I subsisted intellectually on nothing but the Bible and the writings of the self-proclaimed end-time prophet, David Berg, who said he was God's final mouthpiece on earth before Jesus' return in 1993. We know how that turned out. The false prophet rotted in his grave a year after that failed return, and Jesus will never come back, if he even existed in the first place. With that measly dogmatic diet, my mind had turned to mush from under use, so exercising it with academic studies was exactly what I needed to get my brain back from the brink of madness.
The eleven years I spent in the British Columbia education system prior to joining the cult never taught me how to think critically on any subject, let alone religion. In fact, at public elementary school every day started with a legally mandatory reading of a Bible passage and saying the Lord's Prayer. Christianity pervaded mainstream culture in various other forms and not once did I ever hear anyone, including the non-church goers and non-believers in my large extended family, criticize Christianity, religion or belief in God. In hindsight, I think my life would have turned out differently if one of those unbelievers had dared to discuss with me their reasons for their unbelief, or if I had been made aware of criticisms of Christianity, such as Bertrand Russel's tract Why I Am Not a Christian. Surely I would have thought twice about dropping out of my family, school and society to serve Jesus with an itinerant band of garbage eating hippies if I had been exposed to such a different interpretation of Jesus' message. But as it was, it never occurred to me to question the Bible's authenticity and authority since I was so softened up by my family, the Catholic church and the dominant culture to blindly accept the Jesus myth. That made me an easy target for unscrupulous, fundamentalist cult recruiters.
After nearly twenty years of the cult's mind mush, I finally left in 1991. It was clear to me even before then that Berg was a false prophet and that the ring-leaders of his cult were as corrupt, manipulative and abusive as he was. I was in the Far East at the time, though, and totally controlled by those leaders, so it took me a couple years to make a plan and secretly save money to get back to Canada. After escaping, I spent time recovering at my mom's place and soon realized that without an education my job prospects and ability to create a new post-cult life for myself were severely limited. So, regardless of low self-esteem as a result of Christian dogma that denigrates and denies self (Luke 9:23,24) I was cautiously excited to start university exactly a year after I escaped the cult.
Although I had recognized the cult was corrupt, I still held on to my Christian beliefs for awhile as I tried to sort out what to do with my life, but that started to slowly change as I began to read more and more books in preparation for university. I discovered in the small local library a fantastic encyclopedic series called The Great Conversation, which directly exposed me for the first time to many of the great works and ideas in the Western canon. I would revisit many of those books at university, but it was a different book I stumbled on by chance during the first month of classes that started me on the path of discarding the dogma I had been indoctrinated into.
That book is God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr.. It was not on any of my course reading lists, but I caught a glimpse of the cover on a display shelf as I climbed some stairs in the campus library. It was still the early months in my student life, so fortunately I still had the luxury of time for extracurricular reading because the book helped change my life. It provides a critique of Christianity from a unique point of view I had never considered. As I began to question my religious beliefs, I realized that the best course of action was to suspend my belief, but I did not become an atheist over night, or even over a year. I concluded that I needed to try and start my life over with a clean slate, and defer any decisions on what I now believed concerning God and religion until I had a chance to more thoroughly examine the facts, evidence and ideas that education would expose me to.
That strategy worked. I opened my mind to knowledge, theories, facts and evidence. I questioned, doubted, and debated. I applied my new critical thinking skills to my knowledge of the Bible, reading passages in it for the first time without the blinkers of dogmatic literalism, critically citing it in numerous course essays in philosophy, literature, and history. Perhaps most importantly, I discovered the facts of evolution and came to the conclusion that far from being The Big Lie, as I was taught by fundamentalist indoctrination, evolution is a beautiful theory that is far more convincing and sensible than creationism. Of all the issues I struggled with most as a fundamentalist believer the most difficult was the dogma that the Genesis creation story is a literal one (or two, since there are two different versions), because there is so much about it that is simply unbelievable. It was a great relief intellectually and psychologically to put an end to that particular cognitive dissonance. Thanks Charles!
My pre-cult 11th grade education did not adequately instruct me on the nature of evolution, inform me of the solid, scientific basis for it, or deal in any way with the 'controversy' between evolution and creationism. My grasp of the issues was extremely simplistic, based largely on that widely used chart that misrepresents evolution as being a straight line from monkeys to humans, like that opening sequence on The Simpsons showing the ascent of Homer and the descent of Mo. I only understood that some people claimed humans were animals that evolved from monkeys and that others thought humans were 'higher' than animals, special creations made in God's image. So when the fundamentalists did their dirty work on my uninformed mind they had an easy time over-coming any feeble reasoning I attempted to counter their arguments with. I was ignorant of the facts, so faith took over. It was only when I finally read Darwin's original work, in my third year of university, that I realized the biggest lie is not evolution but creationism, a lie that continues to keep millions imprisoned in ignorance. The evidence for evolution has been piling up for 150 years, unlike the evidence for creationism, which simply does not exist except in the imaginations of its proponents.
After graduating with distinction and an award for the highest GPA in my program, which was a bit of a boost for my persistent low self-esteem, I continued my education a few years later at law school. By now I was no longer a believer, but never had occasion or reason to publicly declare my unbelief, or even privately with family and friends, as religion was a subject I now avoided. Then one day I was in court, not in my usual position representing a client, but as a witness in a criminal trial. It was the first time I had to decide between swearing on a Bible, or other 'holy' book, or simply swearing an oath. I had not given it any prior thought, but on the stand I immediately decided to swear an oath. I had seen plenty of people, including police officers, lie after swearing on the Bible, so I knew that was a charade and no guarantee of truth-telling. I realized afterwards that that was my first public rejection of the Bible and my former beliefs.
So, as I said, I did not become an atheist over-night. I was never on an anti-Christian crusade and don't consider myself a militant, evangelical atheist or other similar pejorative used to describe atheists. I was simply on my own personal path of recovery, discovery and enlightenment that led unavoidably to atheism. The fact that I now openly discuss my unbelief, work to expose religion-related abuse, and in the process sometimes criticize or ridicule beliefs of others, some of which I too once held, does not make me anti-Christian or an atheist crusader.
In law school I focused on areas such as human rights, civil rights, aboriginal rights and social justice. I was more interested in being an advocate for those on the margins of society and speaking truth to power than in supporting the elite and the status quo. I became a community advocate and activist for drug addicts, street prostitutes and the poor. It is that human rights training and experience that I bring to this question of who is the real anti-Christian, me or my fundamentalist accuser, who is also a former member of the same Christian cult as me, I should point out. However, his path to cult recovery was very different than mine, as he chose to remain a fundamentalist and close his mind to any further inquiry outside of that dogmatic system. He took some theology and pastoral courses, and discarded the more radical, extra-Biblical doctrines of the cult, but otherwise simply moved from one fundamentalist position to another. It's as if we both escaped from the same dangerous situation, but he simply moved across the street whereas I moved to the other side of the world.
He made his accusation on a website chat-board for former members of the cult, where he and I have clashed more than once in the past. I used to be a frequent commenter on that site, but have rarely posted there the last couple years. Now I just check the site for any news about the cult, and occasionally post a link to news items. Here's what happened to provoke the recent accusation by him.
In July, a woman named Jewlz posted a short message [see postscript below] that some members of the cult were infiltrating an Australian church called Hillsong and that she had warned the church about those extremists. My accuser, Pastor Don, responded with: “Thanks, I like Hillsong. They do great stuff!” I then replied: “Here's some of the "great stuff" Hillsong does [links take you to news articles archived on my site]” and provided links to seven news articles archived on my website [see links below] about abuse in the Hillsong church and Mercy Ministries, which Hillsong helped to support in various ways. I purposely mentioned in my reply that the links were to my website as a heads up to Pastor Don because I knew he was one of those who had repeatedly said he had no interest in going to my site. I was attempting to respect his decision not to go to my website and didn't want to ambush him with links. I posted the links not for him, but for the benefit of others reading the conversation who would be interested in reading those articles. Here is his unedited response to my post:
You and I never change Perry, I am a Christian and you are anti-Christian. There is not much more to say than that. If you think I am going to go to the websites you linked I have better things to do than that. Maybe you can research me and find about bad things I do and have done. I'm sure you are more than happy to do what you can to fight the cause of Christ, who you some blatanly [sic] hate. Myself being a firm believer, in the Bible, there will come a day when every knee will bow. The main word being every. Sorry to be religous [sic] on GenX but I did not feel like being silent.
I've been called far worse, so it is hardly a devastating accusation, and considering where it was made not many people outside of that community have likely read it. However, it does reveal what may be a common assumption about me, and atheists in general, that I am trying to correct with this article, as well as show who the real anti-Christian is. Here's how his comments break down. He starts by saying that he and I never change, which may be true for him, but not for me, as I have demonstrated above. I have not only constantly changed since leaving the cult, including my entire worldview, but I remain open to changing my current position on any issue if proper evidence is presented to me. For example, I would revert back to belief in God, or accept that reptilian aliens from space live among us, if any reliable evidence is ever found, though I'm not holding my breath.
Pastor Don could never change in such a dramatic way as long as he remains a fundamentalist. How can I say that with such certainty? Well, he admits he never changes, but also because there is already abundant, strong, verifiable evidence that the earth is older than 10,000 years and evolution by natural selection is how we all got here, evidence that Pastor Don will never accept because it would require him to abandon his creationist beliefs. But he can never change his beliefs as long as he subscribes to Biblical literalism, which does not require empirical evidence, just blind faith. My new belief system, however, does require scientifically verifiable empirical evidence, and I can easily change my belief that something is either fact or fiction based on the latest reliable evidence.
Next, he seems to think he is simply stating an obvious fact by calling me anti-Christian. I'm not entirely sure what he bases that on since he doesn't provide any examples. He won't go to my website and we have never met in person, so he is either basing that accusation on something I've written in our debates on those ex-member chat-boards a few years ago or on the simple fact that I am an atheist who warns others about abusive religious behaviour. It is probable that in the heated debates I've had online with him and others that I have said something offensive to Christians, but does merely being offensive make me anti-Christian? If, for example, I express my opinion that the Bible is a book of inconsistencies, inaccuracies and impossibilities, that will surely offend many Christians, but my mere opinions do not make me anti-Christian. If a Christian says to me Jesus is real and if you don't accept him he will force you or send you to hell, and I disagree saying Jesus is a myth and there is no hell, my opinion may be offensive to Christians, but not any more offensive than the Christian's opinion is to unbelievers.
Perhaps Pastor Don has a problem with reading comprehension. Although my comment he reacted to was only one short sentence, half of which pointed out that the included links all went to my website, he still replied that he would not “go to the websites you linked”. If that is the case, maybe his accusation is based on misinterpreting something I've written. If anyone can find any original statement by me, whether on my website, those chat-boards or elsewhere on the net, that they think demonstrates that I am anti-Christian, then I will either explain in context why I think it doesn't, or retract the statement if it truly is an anti-Christian sentiment.
Pastor Don goes on to claim not only that he is certain I am happy fighting “the cause of Christ”, but that I blatantly hate Jesus. Wow, he really must have some divine super power to know the state of my emotions. Apparently, I am a happy hater of someone I doubt even existed. And what is the cause of Christ he speaks of? According to him it is to make every knee bow down, “[t]he main word being every”. In other words, in his version of Christianity, Pastor Don believes that Jesus is a dictator who will force everyone, under threat of eternal punishment, into conformity and servitude. This really gets to the heart of the matter, because many Christians do not subscribe to that fundamentalist dogma. In fact, there are many individuals and churches who consider themselves faithful Christians that fundamentalists like Pastor Don do not consider Christian at all because they do not adhere to strict Biblical literalism. That makes Pastor Don an anti-Christian in my opinion because he does not believe in religious freedom for others, but instead believes that everyone, including other Christians, must eventually conform to his particular brand of Christianity.
I do not make that discriminating distinction between Christians. Unlike Pastor Don and his dictatorial Jesus, I am content to let all Christians of any church, denomination, sect, or cult believe whatever they want to believe, and have no desire or motivation to deny them their religious freedom. However, religious freedom is not absolute and the law draws the line on religious behaviour that harms or infringes the rights of others. For example, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, you have the right to make a martyr of yourself, but not the right to make martyrs of your children. That is where I focus my advocacy work that Pastor Don calls fighting the cause of Christ. Remember, I simply posted links to news articles that provided factual accounts of religious harm in the Hillsong church that he had endorsed. Those accounts included stories of abusive exorcisms, which as he knows, was a serious problem in the cult we were both part of. But as a fundamentalist he still believes in demon possession and so rather than investigating the stories I provided, he automatically defended the church from this 'dangerous' atheist by declaring me an anti-Christian who hates Jesus and fights his cause. Well, if the cause is to make every knee bow through denunciation, abuse and torture, then yes, I will fight that cause, but it is not a Christian cause.
So, who is the real anti-Christian? Is it the atheist who thinks everyone should be free to hold any religious belief, interpretation or opinion they want, including Christians, as long as they don't harm or hinder others? Or is it the Christian fundamentalist who implicitly thinks that no one really has religious freedom, not even Christians, because there is only one correct interpretation of Christianity and everyone will eventually be forced by a divine dictator to accept it? I think the answer is obvious. If Pastor Don was not so afraid to visit my website, he would notice that I name it Chain the Dogma, not Chain the Christians. It is religious behaviour and rigid dogma that promotes, condones and incites harm to others in any form that needs to be restricted, not religious belief or opinion. As a secular humanist who recognizes humanity is unlikely to shed superstitious beliefs anytime soon, I think religious pluralism is preferable to fundamentalism, and that religion ought to be confined to the private and kept out of the public sector. As Paul, the former anti-Christian, said: “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” (Romans 14:22, KJV) In other words, keep your faith to yourself, but that doesn't make Paul, or me, anti-Christian.
Following is the chat-board discussion referred to in the article above. I have included only the originating post by Jewlz and the replies by me and Pastor Don. I have excluded comments by others joining in the discussion. You can read the other comments on this chat-board on the exfamily.org website.
Posted by Jewlz on July 15, 2010 at 23:26:08
I have heard that many of TFI have been infiltrating Hillsong in Sydney for quite a while now. I work for a Christian company so am pretty much in the loop as to who is where etc. TFI have spun a very different tale regarding their sordid past - but I have told them the truth & to BEWARE.
Posted by Pastor Don on July 16, 2010 at 07:18:16 In Reply to: Re: Hillsong Church - Sydney posted by Jewlz on July 15, 2010 at 23:26:08:
Thanks, I like Hillsong. They do great stuff!
Posted by Perry on July 16, 2010 at 14:59:18 In Reply to: Re: Hillsong Church - Sydney posted by Pastor Don on July 16, 2010 at 07:18:16:
Here's some of the "great stuff" Hillsong does [links take you to news articles archived on my site]:
They sought help, but got exorcism and the Bible http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/03/they-sought-help-but-got-exorcism-and.html
Cult-rescue group 'concerned about' Mercy Ministries http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/03/cult-rescue-group-concerned-about-mercy.html
Mercy Ministries claim exorcisms cure mental illness and drug addiction http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/07/mercy-ministries-claim-exorcisms-cure.html
Mercy Ministries exorcism books leaked http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/11/mercy-ministries-exorcism-books-leaked.html
Hillsong: Exorcism in the suburbs http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/11/hillsong-exorcism-in-suburbs.html
Hillsong accused of closet zealotry http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/07/hillsong-accused-of-closet-zealotry.html
Hillsong hits schools with beauty gospel http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/07/hillsong-hits-schools-with-beauty.html
Posted by Pastor Don on July 16, 2010 at 16:39:23 In Reply to: Re: Hillsong Church - Sydney posted by Perry on July 16, 2010 at 14:59:18:
You and I never change Perry, I am a Christian and you are anti-Christian. There is not much more to say than that. If you think I am going to go to the websites you linked I have better things to do than that. Maybe you can research me and find about bad things I do and have done. I'm sure you are more than happy to do what you can to fight the cause of Christ, who you some blatanly hate. Myself being a firm believer, in the Bible, there will come a day when every knee will bow. The main word being every. Sorry to be religous on GenX but I did not feel like being silent.
Posted by Perry on July 16, 2010 at 19:41:36 In Reply to: Re: Hillsong Church - Sydney posted by Pastor Don on July 16, 2010 at 16:39:23:
You mistakenly think my post was directed at you personally. It was not. I posted it as a response to your post because you claimed Hillsong does great things. Where else should I have posted it?
For the benefit of others, I simply wanted to counter balance your opinion with some facts about how that organization abuses young people, including through exorcisms, which is a relevant topic on this board, in my opinion, especially when someone endorses their abusive methods, and considering the news that some TFI members may be getting involved with that church.
You've made it clear in the past that you have no interest in my site, so I did not post those links for your benefit, and in fact, I purposely gave a warning for your benefit, and others like you, that the links go to my site. There was nothing personal in my post directed at you, unlike yours, which pretty much sums up what kind of person you are.
The liberal state has a duty to ensure that all children acquire the ability to think for themselves