By Dave Palcsak
I kept my fingers crossed as we pulled into the parking lot. In a matter of moments I would have a much better idea of the torture ahead. I knew it was going to be bad, it always was. The same trepidation every week. Maybe it was that little sliver of hope that kept me from utter despair. Maybe this would be one of the easier days. I exited the vehicle and silently headed towards the stairs. My two brothers were right there with me. We were normally a loud bunch but there was no conversation during this time. We’ve never talked about this, but I think they too were hoping for the best of a bad situation. We reached the steps and climbed them anxiously. The doors opened and I glanced toward the altar………..Whew.
It wasn’t going to be as bad as it could have been. My favorite priest, Father Schultz was saying mass. It wasn’t that I liked Father Schultz. I don’t think any kid liked him. He never spoke to most parishioners, much less insignificant kids. I had no respect for him either, but I did fear him. To be honest I felt the same way about all the priests and nuns. Father Schultz did have one major asset. He was fast. Other priests could rob up to an hour of my valuable Sunday time. Father Schultz got you out the door in a half hour max. I know he was an avid golfer which would explain the warmer months, but the temperature didn’t matter, Eighty degrees twenty degrees, you could be out the door in twenty four (I think that was my personal best) minutes.
I never once had a conversation with Father. Believe me there’s no regret in that statement. The nuns, who didn’t really need help in punishment techniques, would occasionally threaten kids with a trip to Father Schultz office. That’s all it took. I know of no kid who didn’t do whatever was required to avoid that dreaded march. As a matter of fact, I never saw or even heard of any kid actually being sent to him. I think the nuns used it as an idle (albeit effective) threat. They knew Father Schultz had no interest in dealing with kids and to send one to him may have incurred his wrath. Which even nuns would hesitate to do. He was a big wheel. Hobnobbing with the heavy hitters was his thing. The parish was very wealthy and he had ample opportunity to schmooze. I know this because the powerful members of the congregation loved to hang out with him. My parents didn’t rate. For one thing they didn’t even belong to a county club.
One parishioner who was worthy to associate with Father Schultz was Mr. Davis. I went to school with his daughter and she was a casual friend. My family lived in the city, but we were close enough geographically to belong to the rich suburban church. Most kids didn’t understand caste difference as well as Father Schultz and the adults did. We were middle class but poor by parish standards. Mr. Davis was rich among the rich. I never thought about the disparate value of worshippers until I overheard my parents talking about Mr. Davis with another couple, who, like my parents were from the wrong side of the tracks. Mr. Davis didn’t fancy arriving to church early. His time was obviously too valuable to waste with parking and walking. He wanted his very own space right up front. So he bought one. Right in the front row with his name on it. During service the next Sunday Father Schultz giddily announced Mr. Davis’ very large donation (I prefer purchase). We were told to never, under any circumstances use that space. I didn’t pay attention during services but I got that message. It was repeated several weeks in a row. What a happy time for Father Schultz. I had never seen him so reverent. For all I know Mr. Davis still has his spot to this day.
This was part of my Catholic experience. It’s not an indictment on Catholicism. My mom and two sisters are Catholic. There are doubtless many fine Catholics. For me, it was torture, and I hated every minute of it. Each Sunday, the same bad play by the same goofy costumed ill- tempered actors. To be fair, I put in very little to no effort. I never once wanted to go to church. I went because I had to and was told I would burn in hell if I didn’t. I was about eleven when the burn in hell threat lost its teeth. I can’t say I lost my faith, because I never really bought in. When I was in the sixth grade my parents allowed my brothers and me to attend services on our own. For the three of us, that was a get out of jail card. Other than an occasional mandatory (which was ok because it was during school hours) mass we were done.
I attended Catholic schools for nine years and went to church until I was twelve. In that time, I never owned a Bible. I don’t recall ever reading one. I’m sure scriptures were quoted during services but I never paid any attention. I was familiar with the general Jesus story, but it didn’t seem too critical. I honestly have no idea what that church was trying to do, not that I gave it any thought. I don’t think there were any poor folks in the parish and I never knew anything like outreach even existed. St. Andrew’s parish in Upper Arlington, Ohio rated folks according to the amount of money contributed. At last that’s how I perceived it. This didn’t trouble me. I never viewed it as right or wrong, it was simply the way it was.
Every kid I knew in the school had one thing in common. Their parents were Catholic. I assume most of their grandparents were also Catholic. My last year of Catholic schooling was freshman year in high school. My parents told me I would have to pay my own way to continue attending Bishop Watterson High school. They were afraid I would be devastated by that news. I must admit, although I was thrilled, I did act disappointed. I thought maybe I could parlay that into a car down the road, but no luck there. I noticed, in public school, the few people I knew who attended church had something in common with those I knew in Catholic school. They all went to the same church as their parents did. It seemed to me that no one chooses where they go to church. Kids went where their parents’ went, and I assumed that was true of their parents’ parents’ also. I thought I had religion figured out. It has nothing to do with reality or genuine faith. It makes sense to desire eternal life and most folks value tradition. Blindly following others was the most common and understandable reason to be whatever you were.
I was an agnostic before I knew the term existed. As I grew, my experiences and education did nothing but bolster my worldview. I was far from a great student, but I did have an interest in Darwinian evolution. I found it amazing that people could cling to mythology in the face of scientific fact. I was never an atheist. I assumed that one day an acceptable explanation for order in the universe would be found, but it hadn’t been yet. However The Bible was clearly a storybook contradicting known science, therefore folks who played The Bible card were dead from the start. I found myself in religious discussions (as an agnostic apologist) from time to time. I began to describe myself as a devout agnostic. From personal experience, I can tell you many believers were agitated by my self description. Those who dared argue with me did so at their own peril. Faith makes folks feel better, it doesn’t make them right.
I understood why believers wanted the religion crutch. In my mind I, never actively sought discourse on the topic. Sure, I may have been overly enthusiastic proclaiming my agnosticism, but I didn’t start discussions I finished them. It wasn’t that I considered myself smarter than any believer. I was simply more enlightened. Christians weren’t hesitant to condemn me, they were merely and understandably inept at countering logic and reason . Don’t shine the light if you want to remain in the dark. It didn’t matter that I never studied The Bible, it was so easy to disprove you didn’t need to know much. People don’t live for hundreds of years. A boat can’t be built to hold two of every animal on earth. If it could, how would they be gathered, on and on. To be fair, I found that most Christians understood that The Bible was not historically or scientifically accurate. I also fully acknowledged that science can’t explain everything…..yet.
Again, I was not an atheist. In fact, I found atheism to be at least , if not more ridiculous than belief. Science may never explain everything. On the other hand, folks use to pray so Mr. sun god would show up, or Mr. rain god etc, etc, etc. The fact is the more we learn and the more science advances, the less we need these gods. We don’t know, doesn’t mean God is the explanation. In over thirty years I never lost a faith argument . No one ever came close. In fact many would admit they were being intellectually dishonest with themselves and acknowledged that the facts didn’t support their faith.
That’s the beauty of agnosticism. No one has the answers. It wasn’t an anti Christian thing. I knew I could convince believers of any faith. In fact, my proudest “conversion” was an atheist. My brother Joe. It took me all of five minutes to get him back to the agnostic fold. In that conversation and most others, I didn’t even pull out what I called the agnostic show stopper: Many different people, smarter than you, smarter than me, believe many different things. Likely they’re all wrong. At most only one is right. How can you be so arrogant to place your belief system above every other. There was no counter to that….or so I thought.
My aforementioned brother Joe lives in Colorado. About two years ago he called me. We have (still are) always been close, but distance and busy lives had greatly reduced our communication. I was glad to hear from him and expected the usual light banter. Instead, he dropped a bomb on me. He told me he was a committed Christian. I told him committed is what he needed to be. I remembered that his wife is a life long Christian . They have two beautiful young adopted daughters from China (they have three fine older sons also), and it’s the natural thing in society to provide a faith foundation. He had valid reason to “play the game”. I told my brother I understood the family pressure causing his charade but he didn’t have to run it on me. But as we talked, I realized this was something he had personally studied for some time. He was completely serious and he was also the same guy I have known all my life. Very smart, very funny, very passionate. He was just misguided. I had converted him before so I figured I could convert him again. I opened up with the ole agnostic show stopper: Many people believe different things blah, blah,……How can you be sure you’re right? He said: “You either believe Jesus Christ is Son of The One True God or you don’t.” I have to admit, that was an interesting angle, but it didn’t solve his problem. He was basing facts on a storybook. The Bible contradicts science and it’s loaded with clear impossibilities. He said he could prove otherwise. I knew it wasn’t possible, but I always claimed to be open minded so I agreed to look at an e mail. That e mail led me to read, watch, study and research several topics more than I’ve studied anything in my entire life. It began a journey for me that I thought I would never take. But I did. My path was (is) unique. Hopefully those who don’t believe will be compelled to question their foundation of doubt. Perhaps some who do believe, will be aware of witnessing opportunities that might have otherwise been missed. I went three decades plus before I heard effective witness. It’s true that many are blind and will not look. Just as (if not more) often, folks will be as I was, willing to watch , but being unaware “good programming” exists. Hard core atheist are close minded, hateful and arrogant. Everyone else is reachable.
The Bible is the only place to end, but it’s often a bad place to start. My brother knew that was the case with me. The e mail he sent me contained nothing about The Bible or God. It was about science: the science of intelligent design. During our conversation, my brother astounded me when he said he no longer accepted Darwinian evolution. I was aghast. Who was he to question scientific fact! He understood that I, like so many others, believed in Darwinian evolution purely by faith. Science says, therefore it is.
But his e mail WAS about science. It was fascinating but it was suppose to be. I decided to counter his ID garbage with an equally (likely more) impressive Darwinian response. After all, virtually every scientist of the past century and a half (if not more) have been firmly in the Darwinian camp. It would be a piece of cake. Worst case, I cast enough doubt on his view to remain in my blissful state of being unconvinced of anything. In that mind set, I went to work.
Don’t take my word on this, check for yourself. We’ve done the heavy lifting. Every Darwinian (or naturalist) argument boils down to this: Creation is not possible because creation is not possible. Evidence they ACKNOWLEDGE is dismissed because it points to design. I went in to my investigation convinced ID was not provable. I came out only wondering if the case for ID was more of a slam dunk cosmologically or biologically. There is zero reason to doubt that what we are and where we are far exceed the abilities of randomness. ZERO.
I’m going to provide the names of four prominent naturalist apologists‘, and four manes of Christian apologists’. If you want to branch from these, you’ll see ample opportunity. Well structured fair debates helped me. There are plenty of these available on you tube. Naturalist: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Eugenia Scott. Christians: Stephen C. Meyer, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and Hugh Ross. Watch with an open mind and you WILL be amazed.
Intelligent design convinced me of creation, but it didn’t convince me of who or what did the creating. It did make me very curious. I wasn’t willing to buy into any worldview without scrutiny. I intentionally saved The Bible for last. I don’t mean to diminish or disrespect any belief system. Christians must always remember Jesus’ most important command: Love God, love your fellow man. With that in mind, I must also be honest. Christianity alone stands up to scrutiny. The Dead Sea Scrolls proved the Old Testament was written before Christ was born. Many don’t understand (I didn’t) how profoundly critical this fact is. The only possible way to doubt that The Bible came from a dimension far beyond our own was to question The Old testament date of origin. Nothing else can explain the many, historically verifiable, phenomenally detailed fulfilled prophecy’s (among so much more). There is no scientific dispute regarding the dating of The Scrolls. The Bible also exceeds ALL other works of antiquity COMBINED in terms of textual veracity.
Jesus not only allows critical examination, He demands it. Islamic sharia law forbids questioning Allah or Mohammed. Jesus taught that every single person has intrinsic value. Hindu’s are reincarnated into a caste system they can’t escape because of their failings in a previous existence. Jesus claimed to be The Son of The One True God and He also proved it. Buddhists have no deity. A Universalist (mystifying as its’ increasing popularity is) says pick what you want from where you want, ignoring the fact that truth can not be obtained by acceptance of different aspects of mutually exclusive views. Albert Einstein said “Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame.”
My journey, as it so often happens, is relatively unique. The blatant wrong thinking of the church I was forced to attend soured me on religion. It was in the leap that followed where I now see my error. I assumed The Word of God to be flawed because of faulty messengers. After all, these priests and nuns spent there lives studying and training to serve The Lord. I trusted them as experts, and I wanted no part of what they were doing. Any who would follow these “teachers” must be misguided also. My problem wasn’t the data, it was the conclusion.
Now I want to be very careful here. God is the sole judge regarding salvation. But those who portray themselves as His servants are held to a higher standard. If they are in error, it is more important for them to realize this and change than it is for others. Believers ARE the church. Those who consider themselves to be above reproach likely need it most. Too often, political hierarchy and lust for position causes men to value their word over God’s Word. Striving to maintain position and power doesn’t further His work ,it corrupts it .
“Seek and ye shall find”. This verse sustained me through months of struggles. It also provided me with my first glimpse of God’s sense of humor. I used that verse very differently as an agnostic. It was one of the very few verses I knew. Keep in mind, I was never an atheist. I thought it was intellectually untenable then, I know it is now. As an agnostic I could claim to be open and seeking. He didn’t reveal Himself to me so He didn’t exist. That was in my arsenal of agnostic garbage that helped me go undefeated for more than 30 years. Pathetic? You bet. A fact none the less. If you ever have a witnessing opportunity with an agnostic, always assume you will be the first effective witness they’ve ever heard, all too often your assumption will be correct.
I have many friends and acquaintances who profess belief. I had many encounters with believers as an agnostic. I thought I knew what they did… Argue with me and you will lose. As it turns out I was open. I don’t claim to fully understand God’s plan for me, but part of it involved getting my brain on board before my spirit. The intellectual trickle preceded the spirit downpour, and Jesus is the rainmaker. This is one of my blog postings. It has been slightly altered.
Jesus was never rich. He was never elected to any office and he had no political agenda. He never served in the military and He never used force or violence. In fact Jesus promised his followers that they would face persecution, torture and even death for proclaiming faith in Him. How is it possible a man like that could change history more than anyone before or since. Was it because he said He was The Son of God? Go to any psyche ward in this (or any other) country. Chances are several folks there will be making a divinity claim of one sort or another. What they can’t do is back it up, Jesus did. I think C.S. Lewis states this perfectly:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic- on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Our faith must be in God, His Divine Son Jesus and The Holy Spirit of God. If you attend any church that doesn’t have preaching God’s word as it’s absolute main purpose, GET OUT. “You can not serve two masters”. The God of the universe came to earth as one of us and suffered the most horrific torture and death in history. He did this not for Him. He did this for each of us. He did it for you, he did it for me. Those who will tell you, Jesus wants to know you, may be well meaning, but they’re misguided. Can we really believe The Sovereign God of All doesn’t know us? Preposterous. It is on us to know Him, not the other way around. You must read The Bible. There is no other way.
Does this mean we have to go it alone? Yes and no. Believers must spend time, in solitude with The Word. If you don’t study The Bible you can have no foundation for discernment. God humbles the proud and exalts the meek. That’s why I denounced what I didn’t know! I trusted lovers of ceremony and ritual. I didn’t respect them, but I thought they were representing God. Those who claim to do this without His Word as their center piece are in need of rebuke, not regard.
As you begin to understand God’s word you can begin to recognize His true representatives. Titles mean nothing. They neither qualify or disqualify. One of my best friends is a Pastor. He is convicted and kind, bold yet humble. If anything he may be too self critical. On the other hand, maybe those in official capacities need to be more self critical. Actually, we all probably need more of that. I know I do.
The mistake made by what I call “sunshine and lollipops” preachers is this. They replace the miraculous, wonderful Truth of God with false promises of earthly rewards. Last week I sent a prayer strip (put it under your pillow and pray for a pony) back to a St. Matthew’s church, in Tulsa I think. I have no clue if it was sent randomly or otherwise. I wrote a letter advising them that I rejected their idolatrous trinket. I asked them to support, by Scripture, why we should expect more from this world than Jesus or The Apostles. We are called to pray for his will, not personal wealth. If persecution, chains and death face us. So be it. His burden is light. Not so outside The Spirit. You can only be properly equipped to endure if you’re prepared.
When speaking of God’s riches, human analogies, by definition fall short. With that in mind consider a brain surgeon. I’m no expert, but I’d guess a Dr. like that has at least 14 years of intense, nearly constant study from College frosh to 1st scalpel contact with gray matter. That is, if he makes it at all. Lot’s of sacrifice but big payoff. His struggle is sustained by the ultimate reward. Easy rarely, if ever equals worthwhile. How much greater is the reward our Heavenly Father has for us? I won’t sully it by attempting to put it to words. There are none sufficient.
Some time ago I had a phone conversation with this ministry’s founder. My brother had told me about him so I decided to ring him up. I didn’t even realize it, but at that time, I was on the fence. I didn‘t know this but he did. We laugh now reflecting back on that, but it wasn’t a humorous chat. Part of what he told me was immediately clear, part of it took a while to sink in. 3 days after we spoke I was baptized. The need for that was clear. I didn’t get the rest right away because it frightened, confused and intimidated me. He didn’t just tell me this, he warned me. “You’re better off forgetting this whole thing than going in only part way”. Looking back, I knew he spoke the truth. I was hoping to find a place to rest on the journey. A beach exit with a luxury hotel would be kind of cool. That’s not how it works. You either keep traveling the road or you get off. It’s that simple.
I suspect that road and the speed limit can vary. “To whom much is given much is required”. It‘s not for me to judge other folks on the path. I can no more do that than deny what I know I’ve been given. Money, power and fame are refuse in comparison. I have eternal life with The Creator of everything. So I’m putting all my chips in. It’s an easy bet when you have the lock hand.
I can’t sell my house for a year. I would lose an $8,000 tax credit. I couldn’t help my youngest with college as much as I would have liked to so I’m letting her live here, rent free for that year. I’m moving to Denver. My retirement and 401k will be cashed in to do this. I’m 52, not in the best of health and the world would say I’m crazy throwing away all security. I’m going to do everything I can, for the rest of my life, to convince as many as possible that I’m not throwing my security away, I’m insuring it. To my brothers and sisters I already know in Co. Can’t wait to get there. To those I haven’t yet met……..we’ll chat then I guess.
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